Friday, 24 March 2017

It's only rock & roll, but I like it!

As I was reading through recent posts on Facebook today, I came across a newspaper page listing the bands playing in and around Norwich thirty years ago! Glancing down the list, I found that the band of which I was lead singer and rhythm guitarist was playing at the Festival House. Sobering to read the list of venues and realise that many are now closed and hardly any of the remainder have live music.

'My' band was called Serious Risk: we played the circuit for ten years, with three different drummers and two vocalists: initially our front-man was the charismatic Tony Spencer, who had a fabulous soul voice but powerful appetites for too many of the fleshy pleasures! When he failed to turn up before a big gig at the Florida Club on the East Coast, I stepped in and stayed behind the microphone for five years. We made a well-received CD called Scrapbook and were rated one of the top Norwich rock and blues bands.

We eventually all went our separate ways: I still play at my local club on a Thursday night, while bass player Paul and lead guitar Howie occasionally turn out with a middle-of-the-road three piece. Our last drummer Chris played with the Veil, Red Hot & Blue, and, for the past five years, Firewire, a very successful function five-piece.

The photos below are various Risk's gigs over the years: interesting to see how my 'look' altered!


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Six more weeks without my Pentax 300mm lens...

While I was trudging around Cockley Cley yesterday, the tripod mount on my Pentax DA 300mm f/4 ED lens broke again! The 'shoe' that the monopod / tripod screws into has two tiny cast alloy lugs to hold it in place on the moveable ring: for the second time in three months this has failed during normal use. Back to Wex today!

The warranty has around six months to run, but I'm really concerned what happens if the mount breaks again after this period: I'll end up with a hefty bill, no doubt.

Astonishingly no-one seems to sell the small shoe: it couldn't cost more than twenty quid, so if I found a supplier, I'd buy a couple!. Does anyone out there know where a replacement can be obtained?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Brecks bonanza! Great Grey Shrike, Hawfinch and Crossbills

A very early start saw Brian, Norman and me at Lynford Arboretum by 7.15 am. Our initial stake-out of the 'feeder tunnel' was unproductive, so I walked down to the stone bridge: immediately I heard the distinctive calls of a small flock of Crossbills. I trotted (!) back to call the others and soon we were enjoying excellent views of two pairs of these recently-elusive finches.

We walked back to the tunnel, where Strumpshaw regulars Kim and Elaine and Breckland specialist Carl had pinned down a female Hawfinch. Although distant, the views were most welcome: we also added Brambling to the day's finch haul!

Riding our luck, we drove north to Cockley Cley. After a fruitless walk around (enlivened only by a beautiful pale Buzzard and a Yellowhammer) I suddenly had one of my famous hunches. Within minutes we found ourselves within thirty feet of a most confiding Great Grey Shrike: shame the skies had become so gloomy. Just after 1.00pm the clouds opened, so we drove back to East Norfolk: a terrific day out!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Venus and Mercury

Excellent! I managed to see - and photograph - both Venus and Mercury tonight: Mars wasn't far away, either! Didn't manage to see the comet, however: it might be easier by the weekend.

Egrets, planets and a comet!

Brian Tubby to the rescue! Having spent some hours last night reading the manual and trying to get best performance from the new camera, I met both Brians (T & S) at the Fen for a shortish try-out. In the event I was having all kinds of trouble: the leap from KS-2 to K-3 is a big one and I just couldn't get the autofocus to behave. Brian (as always!) took pity on me and made a few quick adjustments to a camera model (and maker!) about which he knows even less than I! Needless to say, the results were instantly improved! Still lots to learn...

Sadly, there were very few birds braving the high winds, but some distant Little Egrets and  Marsh Harriers at least revealed some of the potential of my new 'toy'. The bee is some kind of Miner Bee: cute little thing, less than 2cm in length.

Nice to bump into lots of other regulars - Elizabeth D, Sue, Mike (AKA Red!) and Mike: a short outing, but pleasant nonetheless, although I did waste an hour at Reception Hide when a 'pinned down' Jack Snipe flew out of cover to reveal a cream crown stripe and long bill!

Now a heads-up: if it's clear tonight just after sunset the thinnest crescent Venus, Mercury and Mars will all be quite close together above the western horizon. Also, the snappily-named Comet 41P Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak will be just below the bottom right-hand star of The Great Bear / Ursa Major / Big Dipper's 'bowl'. If it's clear, the comet should be easily visible with binoculars as a fuzzy blob!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Buckenham Marsh RSPB

Although the sky was threatening and I was wearing my 'just been to the Doctor's' clothes, I thought I'd see if any Garganey had arrived at Buckenham yet. To keep it short: they may have, but if so, I didn't see them!

There were still large numbers of Wigeon: interesting to note the Marsh Harrier lurking on the edge of the pool hoping for a chance to snatch one! Ten Avocets and a few Ruff were feeding among the duck and a Little Egret allowed me to check the new camera in difficult conditions: still lots to learn, but I can see it and I are going to get on just fine!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Snow Buntings at Winterton

Linda fancied an eagle hunt along the East Coast and we were parked by the roadside at Horsey by 8.45. In the event we did see lots of raptors, but they were all either Buzzards or Marsh Harriers.

After a while we moved on to Winterton: we parked by the beach cafĂ© and strolled westwards along the dune-tops in the hope of a Glaucous Gull. We soon realised that half of Norfolk's canine population was running unfettered on the beach, so things weren't looking very promising. However, following an extra half mile slog, we found a small flock of around ten Snow Buntings. The light was terrible and the birds somewhat distant, but I managed a few try-outs with the new camera: looks promising.



Saturday, 18 March 2017

Ooops, I did it again!

Linda had to visit Wex today to get one of her Trailcams repaired under warrantee. While she did the paperwork, I wandered around and checked out the cabinets: inevitably I found a possible addition to my camera armoury! Among the tiny display of Pentax gear was a demo model K3: just a couple of hundred shutter ops and available at half list price. I must have been wearing the right aftershave (Joop, since you ask!) because Linda insisted on buying it for me!

It's a great piece of kit: apart from the really expensive full-frame K-1 it's the only camera advertised  by Ricoh / Pentax as 'professional'. Stuck indoors this afternoon, but I managed to photograph the Robin below: it's 200 feet away against a murky grey sky, but already I can see the benefits of a 24.4 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor.

Roll on my next birding trip: let's hope yesterday's White-tailed Eagle visits the Yare Valley!

Friday, 17 March 2017

From as rare as hen's teeth to positively common!

I was looking for something in the recesses of a wardrobe when I came across a photo album, filled with very old bird pictures. I'm almost certain these are all my own - the dodgy quality suggests that's the case! - but if not, I do apologise.

At the time I was very much more inclined to drive long distances to see a new bird, sometimes at the drop of the proverbial hat. I had a Praktika SLR and 300 prime, but neither were anywhere near approaching the Pentax KS-2 and 300 / f4 set up I use these days. Nevertheless, I frequently clicked away, only to be very disappointed when I picked the results up from Boots a fortnight later!

What the photos below have in common is that they all represent what were very unusual and twitchable birds when they were taken:

1) Great White Egret at Horsey. I queued for an hour and paid ten bob for a five minute view from the top of the mill. I recall it was only the twelfth UK record at the time!

2) Great White Egret at Minsmere. Similar situation: the queue at the entrance waiting for staff to open the carpark was several hundred vehicles long! This was the first occasion I met Lee Evans!

3) Little Egret at Welney. I left a dinner party and drove from Norwich to see this bird! It was a tick for me - and lots of others - at the time.

4) Glossy Ibis at Stodmarsh. Back in the eighties two of these had been resident for a number of years. One Winter, Linda, Bob Walker and I drove down especially to see one of them, having to wait until dusk for it to glide in to roost.

5) Cattle Egret. The first time I met Martin Reed was when he and his then wife Sally came over at Nancy's and persuaded me to drive to Hykeham in Lincolnshire to add this bird to our life lists.

Of course, all of these are either established residents these days (I've seen seven different Cattle Egrets and six different Great Whites since last Autumn!) or are either breeding or showing signs that they soon will.

Some Herons are getting scarcer though: Night and Purple Herons seem much harder to connect with these days, whereas I remember both either breeding or being rumoured to do so at several sites in the nineties...