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Tuesday 31 July 2018

Mandarins at Burnham Beeches

A spur of the moment visit to Mum-in-Law in Maidenhead provided the opportunity for a visit to Burnham Beeches Country Park. To my pleasant surprise, there were just a few small family groups around the cafĂ© area, so (after a cup of tea and a Red Kite!) we walked down through the woods to the two pools. These are both heavily grown-in by water lilies and reed mace, but we quickly found two family groups of Mandarins: despite being in eclipse, the adults were still very striking birds..

Major delight was the numerous odonatids: as well as Brown and Southern Hawker, we saw several Downy Emeralds: no photos, though! At the lower pool we saw lots of Emerald Damselflies as well as a delightful Grey Wagtail.

Monday 30 July 2018


These are my favourite types of meteorite! They originated at the boundary between the core (nickel-iron) and the mantle (olivine) of disrupted planetissimals. Beautiful crystals of peridot / olivine are suspended in a shiny metallic matrix: the crystals can be red, green, brown or yellow. The one I'm holding is a recent find from Kenya called Sericho (The majority of meteorites are named after the nearest town to their place of fall or discovery) The others are all Russian: Seymchan and Pallasovka... This class of meteorite is several orders scarcer than diamond or gold, but still surprisingly inexpensive.

Iron meteorites

I've been having a bash at making some condensed promotional videos of the various groups of meteorites in our inventory: these might appear on the Spacerocks UK website, and in some of the powerpoints I'll be using at some important lectures later in the year. The first one is of a group of Campo del Cielo iron meteorites: 4.2 billion years old, the shower landed in Argentina several thousand years ago. These are probably our best-selling items!

Sunday 29 July 2018

Linda's grandchildren meet the bees!

A bit of subliminal environmental education for Linda's delightful grandkids today: they watched while she checked the honey levels (as you can see, the combs are dripping with it!) and we explained the importance to all of us of these marvelous little creatures.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Lesser Stag Beetle

When I was a kid, growing up in metropolitan Essex, Greater and Lesser Stag Beetles were a familiar sight in the Summer. I really enjoyed watching the male Greaters tussling together with their antlers and for several years I kept both species in aquaria. Despite being told by my primary teacher that adult Stag Beetles only live for a few days after emerging from their pupae, I kept Greaters for many months. They were easy to feed - I just dipped their little furry, forked tongues into sugar solution in a milk bottle cap: they lapped it up!

Since moving to Norfolk in 1972, I have never seen either species in the wild, although when I was Head of Environmental Sciences at Hellesdon High School on a single occasion a pupil brought in an antlered male he'd found down by Hellesdon Mill. I know that Greaters are virtually unknown from Norfolk, but Lessers are allegedly quite common: strange, then, that I've never come across one.

I happened to mention this to old friend and top natural historian Mike 'Red' O'Hara, who informed me that Lesser Stag Beetles are not uncommon in his back garden! Today he phoned to tell me he'd kept one in the fridge for me (in a specimen bottle!) so I popped over to see it. Red kindly let me take it home to release in our garden, where I took the following photos!

Lunar eclipse - a total washout!

It is astonishing how frequently long-anticipated astronomical events are preceded by a spell of fine weather, only for the clouds to roll in at the last moment! Last night was a classic example: with just thirty minutes to moonrise the cumulo-nimbus thunderheads moved up from the south to cover the whole sky.

Linda and I drove out to the top of the Heath where there is a 360 degree clear horizon, but soon went 'gap chasing' eastwards, trying to find a window through which we could catch a glimpse of the Moon: no luck! We did come across a spectacular corvid roost on the fields at Halvergate and enjoyed some almost apocalyptic skies and lightning flashes...

Friday 27 July 2018

The bees and garden hold their breath!

Still no hint of any potential thunderstorms in East Norfolk: the temperature outside is 28 degrees with a gentle, cooling breeze. There are lots of butterflies, including a couple of mint-fresh Painted Ladies as well as several Buzzards, including the beautifully-marked example below.

Linda's bees are enjoying the flowers - particularly the various lavenders - but are responding to the heat by 'bearding': when the hives get too warm, the bees loiter around the entrance, fanning cooler air into the combs. What amazing creatures bees are! Although the two hives are side by side and the second Queen is the daughter of the first, she must have met a nice dark male during her courtship flight, because her workers and drones are visibly darker-bodied than the original swarm!

Total eclipse of the Moon

If you have an interest in Astronomy - or just enjoy seeing unusual sights in the sky - when the Moon rises tonight it will be in the Earth's shadow and appear dark red in colour. The Moon, of course, doesn't itself give off light, but 'shines' by reflecting sunlight. During a lunar eclipse the only light it receives is red, having first been scattered through the Earth's atmosphere.

Ironically, the weather forecast for Norfolk at 9.10pm tonight (when the Moon rises) is for heavy showers or thunderstorms - the first in weeks! Still: fingers crossed that the clouds stay away long enough for a glimpse of the event: if you've never seen a lunar eclipse, this will be the longest this century!

Thursday 26 July 2018

Norwich Cathedral Peregrines and some more Hares!

Linda and I had to pop into Norwich to buy a new microwave (our electrical goods keep blowing up!) so we thought we'd 'bag' a few more Go Go Hares. These ones were mostly around the Station, Bishop's Bridge and the Cathedral Close, so we had a look at the peregrines: there were two young (calling continually!)  and an adult: obviously I only had a small lens (18 - 135) but it was great to see the birds circling the spire.

The first Hare is a 'Moongazer': these are dotted around the county - this one was at Holt Country Park

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Back to the North Coast: fabulous valesina Fritillary and some good birding!

Brian was free for a morning on the North Coast, so - despite the gloomy 'stay indoors' warnings by the BBC - we met early and were at Cley by 8.00am. First stop was Bishop's Hide, from which we enjoyed great views of a cute juvenile Little Ringed Plover and all the usual waders. A walk along the East Bank revealed five Spoonbills on the Serpentine and Arnold's, while a juvenile Sedge Warbler gave great views as we tried to photograph a flighty group of Bearded Tits. There are several clumps of a beautiful blue shrub along the EB: if anyone can i/d it I'd be most grateful!

After coffee we tried our luck at the Centre Hides, where six distant Green Sandpipers and a Curlew Sandpiper provided interest. More Spoonbills flapped around, while Brian and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to photograph an Emperor dragonfly in flight: eventually we found a more obliging individual!

The short drive to Holt Country Park gave us marvellous views of another valesina Silver-washed Fritillary attracting plenty of attention from several local males, while a brief trot across the marshy region beyond the back gate revealed lots of Keeled Skimmers and large clumps of Sundews.

Final stop was Kelling Heath: no Dartfords, but we found an incredibly tatty late Silver-studded Blue...