A seal experience

After reading a recent post of Becky’s my own comment on that post got me thinking back to an amazing wildlife experience I had at a place on the Lincolnshire coast back in 2007, so in the absence of a Monday walk I thought I would post an account and a few photos of that experience. I can’t remember now how I first found out about this particular place – probably from the camping forum I frequent – but the more I read about it the more I wanted to go there so I started doing some serious research and came across a very informative website for photographers.
Donna Nook National Nature Reserve covers 6.25 miles of the Lincolnshire coastline and is made up of sand dunes, sand and mud flats, salt marshes and inter-tidal areas ; it’s also part of a larger area owned by the Ministry of Defence and the sand flats are used during the week for RAF bombing practice. Interesting plant communities flourish in the salt marshes and 47 species of birds breed regularly in the area, with over 250 migrant species passing through, but the main attraction for visitors is the large colony of grey seals which, from the end of October to late December, use the sand flats and salt marshes in one particular area for breeding and giving birth to their pups before returning to sea.
A special enclosed double-fenced viewing area at the foot of the dunes is staffed by volunteer wardens from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, but back in 2007 serious photographers were allowed to go out onto the sand flats to observe and photograph the seals at close quarters, though certain rules had to be followed. Anyone wanting to photograph these creatures close up would need  to be serious about it too as there was a bitingly cold wind blowing and the mile trek across the sand involved wading through water channels several inches deep ; it was necessary to wear at least three layers of warm clothing plus dark coloured waterproofs and wellies and in some instances to act like a seal by crawling or sliding along the wet sand.
In the course of my research that year I found out that there was a nice little camp site only a couple of miles from where the seals were so I booked four nights for myself, my partner and our caravan and off we went at the end of November, arriving at the site at lunch time. Our first full day there was treated as a recce of the seal area and even from behind the fence I could see that this place was pretty special ; hundreds of seals, both young and adult, were dotted about over a huge area and as far as the eye could see, and several were close up against the fence with one pup having its head actually under  the inner fence.
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A small part of the seal colony
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The following day, suitably dressed in warm layers, waterproofs and wellies, we set out from the viewing area on our trek across the sand and out towards the sea, following a designated marked out route to avoid the possibility of being blown up by some unexploded object buried in the sand – presumably, as long as we followed the rules and the route, we would survive with arms and legs etc intact. Eventually we got close to the sea – seals were dotted about everywhere and I spent well over an hour getting shots of various adults and pups. I got close but not too  close – I had to kneel, sit, crawl or lie on the wet sand several times but it meant that I got the shots I wanted without disturbing the seals so it was worth any minor discomfort.
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The next day we returned to the reserve as I hoped to see a seal pup being born, though this time we stayed behind the fence. Unfortunately I didn’t get to witness an actual birth but I did see a little one which had obviously been born not long before. I got several more photos of these wonderful creatures but the intermittent sunshine wasn’t enough to give any warmth to the day and it was bitterly cold so reluctantly I said goodbye to Donna Nook and we returned to the camp site for our final evening.
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A newborn pup
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Maybe the world looks better upside down
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A final view of Donna Nook
Five years later I went back to Donna Nook on my own. I’d enjoyed the previous experience of getting close to the seals on the sand flats so much that I wanted to repeat it but when I got there I found that things had changed – access to the sand flats and beach had been blocked and all  visitors had to stay behind the fence. On talking to one of the wardens I was told that since my previous visit the handful of serious photographers allowed onto the beach had turned into coachloads of visitors and as many as 300 people a time were walking out across the sand flats. This meant that at least 65 seal pups per season were being lost, abandoned by their mothers and left to die because of all the human disturbance.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I couldn’t repeat my previous experience ; I was  disappointed as it had been such a fantastic thing to be able to do, but I fully understood and respected the reasons for preventing public access to the beach while the seals were there – just one pup lost to human interference is one too many. Seals have been breeding at Donna Nook since the 1970s and numbers have been increasing each year, with a total of 2,066 pups being born during the short 2018 season.  My once-in-a-lifetime experience back in 2007 had proved to be just that, but if I ever go to Donna Nook again I know I’ll still get some great photos even if I do have to stay behind the fence.
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South of the Liffey and St. Stephen’s Green

As I crossed the Samuel Beckett bridge I stopped in the middle to take a couple of photos of the river in both directions then continued along the south quayside, and with not many people about that part seemed to be a lot quieter than across the river. Heading west the sky lost its blue colour and became dark grey and heavy although the sun was still shining so I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t actually rain. Almost opposite the Jeanie Johnston ship I came across something which I didn’t expect – set back off the road and surrounded by modern office buildings and commercial premises was a row of 3-storey terraced houses which looked like the lower level was all basement flats with the actual houses up above. A highly commercial area seemed a strange place for a row of residential dwellings but they actually looked quite nice and they certainly had a good view of the river.
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Looking east with the MV Cill Airne – the Blue River Bistro Bar – in the foreground
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Looking west
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The Jeanie Johnston
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On City Quay and just past the Sean O’Casey bridge I came across The Linesman, a life-size bronze sculpture by Irish artist Dony MacManus. The winning entry in a public art competition in 1999, it commemorates the tradition of docking in the area and is a tribute to all the dockers who worked at Dublin port throughout the years. A few yards further on and across the road I descended from the sublime to the ridiculous when I came across a closed down cafe with a roller shutter displaying its daft name and picture which rather amused me.
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The Linesman
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I wonder who thought of this name?
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The Custom House and Talbot Memorial Bridge
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The next bridge along was Butt Bridge and just up the road on the left my eye was caught by a brightly coloured building so I went to check it out. There was nothing which gave any clue as to what the building actually was but later research has told me that it’s the Tara building, a co-working hub with a gallery and cafe, and the outside was painted by the Irish street artist Maser ; it was certainly very eye catching and worth a photo.
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The Tara building
Past another couple of bridges and opposite the wide O’Connell bridge I took a left turn and went in search of a couple things I particularly wanted to find. This area was much more central and compared to the quietness of further back along the quayside it was heaving with people and extremely busy. Although I hadn’t planned it the first major thing I came to was Trinity College ; there seemed to be a lot of people going through the gates so I decided to take a quick look. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth l it’s a sister college to Cambridge’s St. John’s College and Oxford’s Oriel College ; it’s also one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland and is Ireland’s oldest surviving university, with the ancient Book of Kells being kept in the library there.
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The campanile (bell tower) in the college’s main quadrangle
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The Graduates Memorial Building
Next on my list was the Molly Malone statue which I found outside St. Andrew’s church in one of the narrower shopping streets. A group of buskers were singing on the nearby corner so there was quite a crowd gathered, and as is often the case with famous statues it seemed that everyone around wanted to have their photo taken with this one and I had to wait quite a while to be able to get a shot with no-one else in it, though unfortunately I couldn’t do anything about the information kiosk behind it.
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St. Andrew’s Church
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The Molly Malone statue
Having previously studied a small map in a free booklet about Dublin’s attractions I followed my nose up to the top of the nearby pedestrianised shopping street to St. Stephen’s Green, a decent-sized park with a couple of lakes and oodles of green space. Surrounded on all four sides by blocks of offices and other commercial buildings it was a lovely peaceful, and obviously very popular, oasis and it was nice just to wander at will and take photos here and there.
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Park map at the main entrance
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The first lake
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The second lake
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Even though it was now winter there was still some autumn colour left in various parts of the park and it looked so nice that I could imagine it would be really lovely in spring and summer. I could have spent much longer in there but there was somewhere else I particularly wanted to find so reluctantly I headed back through the main entrance and off on my next quest.

Firwood Fold’s hidden lake

As it seems that the long hot summer is well and truly over and many of us in the UK have now experienced two weeks of dull, grey and often rainy weather, my Monday walk this week brings back the blue sky and sunshine from the end of June. After my walk round the hamlet of Firwood Fold back in March – the first time I’d ever been there in spite of it being less than two miles from home – I was impressed enough to want to go back during the summer months, and since March I’d found out about a lake which was ‘hidden’ round the back of the place so the day after my Rivington ramble the dogs and I made a return visit to Firwood Fold.
Back in March I’d noticed that several of the cottages had rather bare-looking window boxes outside which presumably would be filled with flowers during the summer months, however if I’d been hoping to see the place full of pretty colour I was destined to be disappointed. Apart from the greenery of the surrounding trees and various shrubs there was very little colour anywhere, although with it being the football World Cup season two of the cottages had their front walls ‘defaced’ by two huge England flags hanging from the upstairs windows – certainly not something I wanted to take a photo of.
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Down the lane to Firwood Fold
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Samuel Crompton’s birthplace
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At the bottom end of the hamlet was a tarmac lane, the only way into Firwood Fold for vehicles – turning left just led to a dead end and some garages but just before the dead end a footpath on the right took me through the trees and down to the lake hidden behind the hamlet, although there was no signpost or anything to say it was there. The lake, known as The Bunk, had actually once been the reservoir belonging to Firwood Bleach Works which was established in 1803, but with the bleach works long since gone the lake and its surrounding area has been left to thrive and support a good diversity of plant species and wildlife.
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The Bunk – Firwood Fold’s hidden lake
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The lake wasn’t all that big so it didn’t take long to walk all the way round it, then back at the bottom of Firwood Fold I took a path off the left of the tarmac lane and down a dirt track where a right turn took me to a couple of fishing lakes which I’d been to back in March. Both lakes seemed to have a lot of yellow-green weed floating on the surface of the water but there was quite a lot of wildlife around with plenty of ducks, geese and coots, and a family of swans with three young gygnets which came gliding up to say hello. The parents weren’t impressed with the dogs though and they did quite a lot of hissing to warn us off.
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The path to the fishing lakes
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Retracing my steps back towards the hamlet, and just out of curiosity, I took another path which led me across a bridge over the nearby Bradshaw Brook and onto the end of an open field. At the far end the land went up a slope so I decided to see what was up there – it was another big field with trees on each side so with my curiosity growing with each step I walked on and came to another field. In the distance I could see yet another field and behind the tree lines were even more fields, one with grass mown so well that it looked more like a golf course than an open field, and with no fences or boundaries anywhere one open space just led into the next. This place was both beautiful and amazing – and to think I’ve lived in this town all my life and never knew it was there!
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My good sense of direction gave me a fair idea of where I would end up if I continued walking straight on, which would be a good distance from where I’d left the van, so reluctantly I turned and headed back towards Firwood Fold. Those were to be my last shots of the walk, which had turned out to be more surprising and interesting than I’d expected, and I headed back towards home having made the decision that sooner or later I would return to that area to do some further exploration.
Linking up with Jo’s Monday walk which this week takes in some wonderful views over the North York Moors – the photos really make me want to go there but it’s raining again so I’ll settle for a brew and a good read over breakfast instead.

A local chainsaw massacre

Monday being a day when I don’t have to go to work until late afternoon/early evening I often treat it as a day of leisure, getting up when I wake up at whatever time that might be, however yesterday I was disturbed soon after 8am by an almighty noise outside in the street and when I looked out I saw various vehicles parked up near the house and part of the street cordoned off. A man with a chainsaw was up the big tree in the garden of the house two doors away cutting the branches off it while another guy down below was feeding them into a tree shredder thing – the noise was horrendous and though I could retreat to the back room and just about live with it I felt sorry for Michael who was trying to sleep after a 12-hour night shift. The noise went on for most of the day but by 4pm the tree had been completely stripped and the men had gone, leaving just the bare trunk standing in the garden.
This morning I got back from work at 9am to find that the men were back – they’d cordoned off the street again and cut the tree trunk off to just a couple of feet above ground level, it was lying across the pavement and halfway across the street and a couple of the guys with chainsaws were cutting it into manageable chunks. Again the noise was horrendous and Michael’s sleep was disturbed for the second time, but fortunately after the guys had a clear up they were gone by 10am and Michael was able to settle down again.
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Following the chainsaw massacre two doors away the guys have moved on to butcher a tree in a garden further round the estate – as I type this I can hear them in the distance but fortunately the noise isn’t loud enough now to be disturbing. I just hope that’s the end of it as far as the trees near here are concerned – Michael is working night shifts all week so he won’t be very happy if his sleep is disturbed again!

A short holiday away

On Tuesday evening this week I arrived back home after a short almost-six-days holiday on Anglesey. I’d actually booked seven days off work and with two weekends I should have had eleven days starting on the first Saturday of the month, but circumstances beyond my control kept me at home for the first few days. I finally set off for Anglesey late last Thursday morning, with the recent good weather staying with me all the way from home, and once at the site, which was very quiet, I was able to set up camp in near enough the same place as last year. Having had no opportunity to open out and dry my new tent, which had been packed away very damp at Easter, I was dreading what I might find so I’d packed my spare green one ‘just in case’ and set up the van to sleep in but I needn’t have worried – although quite a bit of moisture had got trapped between the plastic windows and the blinds the rest of the tent was fine and surprisingly there wasn’t a mark on it anywhere. After a quick wipe over the moisture on the windows soon disappeared in the hot sunshine and the tent served me well over the next few days.
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All dried out
Day 2 arrived sunny and warm again so I decided to have my ‘big day out’ off the island and set off late morning for Llanberis, just over 18 miles away on the mainland. Ages ago a cafe in Llanberis had been recommended to me as a good place to get a meal so I decided to try it and I wasn’t disappointed – I opted for a cheese and onion toastie and it came absolutely oozing with filling and with a salad garnish, and Sophie and Poppie even got a treat of a sausage each. Unfortunately not long afterwards the sky clouded over and the sun played a good game of hide-and-seek but it didn’t spoil the afternoon too much and I still walked right along the lake side to the slate museum and back. When I got back to Anglesey I found the sun and blue sky were just as bright as when I left so with hindsight maybe I should have stayed on the island.
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The cafe where I had lunch
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Llanberis lake side
Day 3 was another hot and sunny one and after starting off at the car boot sale just outside the village I made a return visit to Portobello beach in Dulas Bay, which I first went to last year. This time though I went when the tide was going out and almost at its lowest so there was no danger of getting cut off on the riverside like I did before. From the beach I drove into Llangefni and parked up at Asda then took the dogs for a walk through The Dingle nature reserve and up to Cefni reservoir and back, and it was when I was approaching Asda from the entrance to The Dingle that I noticed an old windmill with a strange top, on a rocky outcrop above and just beyond the store. Of all the times I’ve been to Llangefni I’ve never noticed that before so I just had to find it and photograph it.
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Portobello beach
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Afon Goch (Red River) estuary flowing across the beach
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Bridge over Afon Cefni, The Dingle
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Cefni reservoir
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Llangefni windmill
Day 4 started off at the big car boot sale on the Anglesey show ground then from there I went over to Rhosneigr in search of Sausage Castle. Not actually a castle but a large house with castellated walls – real name Surf Point Villa – it was built next to the beach in the early 1900s by Charles Palethorpe, a member of the famous pork butchery family, and soon became known as Sausage Castle. A short walk along the beach soon found it and from there I continued along the sand to where the Afon Crigyll flowed out across the beach.
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Sausage Castle (Surf Point Villa) from the beach

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Afon Crigyll estuary
From Rhosneigr I drove up to Penrhos Coastal Park and enjoyed a coffee and cheeseburger from Pete’s Burger Bar overlooking Beddmanarch Bay, then went to Breakwater Country Park on the far side of Holyhead. After a walk round the lake I tackled the steep path up Holyhead Mountain but only went up far enough to get a couple of photos overlooking the park and the rest of Holyhead;  it was getting on for 6pm by then so time to make my way back to the camp site.
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The lake at Breakwater Country Park
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View overlooking the park
Day 5 was hot and sunny once again and this time I was on a quest to find and photograph the old abandoned brickworks at Porth Wen, a place I’d been told was very difficult to find and get to, so difficult in fact that many of the locals didn’t even know how to get there. I was put on the right track by a lovely old gentleman I got talking to while wandering round Cemaes harbour but it still proved to be quite a long and challenging walk along part of the Anglesey Coastal Path, with a couple of rather hairy places where the path was within inches of a very steep and unprotected drop down the cliff into the sea. I found the place eventually though and also had the added bonus on the way there of unexpectedly finding the old Llanlleiana Porcelain Works.
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Cemaes harbour
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Difficult to photograph through the hedge but I couldn’t resist this one
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Llanlleiana old porcelain works
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Porth Wen
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Porth Wen old brick works
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Porth Wen stone arch
Day 6 was going home day but it was still hot and sunny so I decided to prolong the day as much as I could. I took my time packing everything away and left the site just before 1pm, but as is my usual custom I took the dogs for a final walk along the beach; it was so nice down there that I decided to stay a while longer and as it was lunch time I made myself a couple of sandwiches from some chicken I had in the cool box and got a takeaway coffee from the nearby kiosk, then sat in the van and had a leisurely lunch with a great view of the beach.
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Benllech beach
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It was getting on for 3pm before I finally managed to tear myself away and set off for home, though I did make three more stops on my way along the coast. The first was at Llanfairfechan, a lovely little place I hadn’t been to for several years, and the second was at Penmaenmawr, smaller than Llanfairfechan and maybe not quite as pretty but still very pleasant. My third and final stop further up the coast was an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen, and we spent a very nice couple of hours having a good natter over a mug of coffee. It was nearly 7.30pm when I finally set off on the last leg of my journey and after a very quick stop at Chester services, where I briefly saw a squirrel near the van, I arrived home at 9.15pm.
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Llanfairfechan
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Penmaenmawr promenade
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Admittedly the holiday hadn’t been near enough as long as I’d originally intended but I’d made the most of the few days I did have and packed as much into each day as I could so I hadn’t missed out on too much. At least I’d found out that the tent was okay after its Easter collapse and subsequent soaking, I’d found and photographed a couple of out-of-the-way places, the weather had been great all the way through and I’d gained a near-enough Mediterranean tan just by walking about and exploring so I can’t complain too much. Now all I have to do is update my camping blog with more details and photos from the last few days – that should keep me occupied for a while!

The return of the sparrows

Last spring I was delighted to find that a family of sparrows was using the outside window sill, less than 3ft from where I sit when using my pc, as a regular perch, and my times spent on computer-related activities were often accompanied by various flutterings, tweets, chirps and squabbles coming from outside. More than once I tried to snatch a photo of some of them but the minute they saw me close to the window they would take off into the trees down the garden so I never managed to catch them at close quarters.
The sparrows stayed around all through spring and summer and probably into September, and though I didn’t really notice exactly when they disappeared the realisation dawned on me one day that although there was plenty of activity in the trees they hadn’t perched on the window sill for quite a while. It’s been quiet ever since but this afternoon while I was checking my emails I heard the familiar chirps and flutterings and looked out to see three sparrows just the other side of the glass. The same family or different ones? I don’t know, but if they want to take up residence on the window sill that’s fine by me. I did try to take some photos of them but again they took off, though I did manage to get a few through-the-window shots of them in the trees down in the garden.
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After the bitter cold of last week the snow finally disappeared over the weekend and today has been quite mild in comparison to recent temperatures so I’d like to think that the return of the sparrows means that spring is finally on its way. They are cute little creatures and it’s lovely having them just a couple of feet away so I do hope they stick around for a while.