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Books, nature

Bobbie Robin’s red feathers

Nannie RaRa has published a new book, Bobbie Robin’s red feathers, written originally for her youngest grandchildren.

The story is about Bobbie Robin who started life as an egg in the nest box in Nannie’s garden. When he left the nest box he couldn’t wait to have red feathers, but it wasn’t that easy.

Bobbie tried to make red feathers with paint, then jelly and finally red lipstick, but none worked as he expected.

The book is illustrated throughout with delightful watercolours by Nannie RaRa. The paintings were based on photographs taken of robins who had indeed laid eggs in the nest box in Nannie’s garden. The eggs hatched and the fledglings wandered about the garden.

Bobbie Robin on the paint pot
Bobbie Robin on the paint pot
Bobbie Robin putting jelly on his chest
Bobbie Robin putting jelly on his chest
Bobbie Robin brushing past the leaves
Bobbie Robin brushing past the leaves

Young Bobbie Robin
Young Bobbie Robin
Bobbie Robin with his red feathers
Bobbie Robin with his red feathers

The book is available both electronically and as a paperback from Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Bobbie Robin’s red feathers: ebook

Bobbie Robin’s red feathers: paperback

Cover of Bobbie Robin's red feathers

nature

Early summer walks

Nannie RaRa has been out and about with her camera taking photographs of nature both during her morning walks and in her garden. She is lucky in having woods, fields, a river and a wildlife site all nearby.

Here are a few pictures from those walks. I’ve named the birds as best I can, but do correct me if I have them wrong.

First up is a black cap. I heard him singing every day as I walked along the path and managed to get this photo.

Black cap
Black cap

Then over the wildlife site I saw a jay. I first noticed it when a lot of the smaller birds were making a ruckus.

Jay

Down by the river I stood watching a cormorant drying its wings. It stood there for ages.

Cormorant

On the river one morning when it was as still as a mill pond I watched two great crested grebes doing their neck dance.

Great crested grebe
Great crested grebe

The last two photographs are not the clearest as the birds were a long way away.

A goldfinch was perched on the overhead wires.

Goldfinch
Goldfinch

The next two photos are of a common whitethroat. It was among the brambles which were growing near a small lake on the wildlife site.

Common whitethroat
Common whitethroat
Common whitethroat
Common whitethroat

This bird looks similar to the common whitethroat. Is it the same or is it a lesser whitethroat?

Lesser whitethroat (?)
Lesser whitethroat (?)

Also near the lake on an old tree stump was a rook, or was it a crow?

Rook or crow
Rook or crow

A group of long-tailed tits were in a tree.

Long-tailed tit
Long-tailed tit

A chaffinch was patiently sitting on a twig.

This bluetit was taken in the garden as it was looking for insects among the holly.

Bluetit
Bluetit

Nearby there have been some robins nesting. First I saw the male robin with insects in its beak. Then the baby robins appeared and were fed for a while before finding their own food.

Robin with insects
Robin with insects
Feeding the baby robin
Feeding the baby robin
Young robin
Adult robin

There was a family of starlings in the garden looking for food. The young sat there waiting to be fed, then opend their mouths and squawked when they couldn’t wait any longer.

Starlings looking for food
Starlings looking for food
Young starling squawking for food
Young starling squawking for food

Finally there are a few photographs of insects found in the garden.

Honey bee on orange buddleia
Honey bee on orange buddleia
Bumble bee diving into a chive flower
Bumble bee diving into a chive flower
And finally a dreaded lily beetle
And finally a dreaded lily beetle

Do let me know if any of the birds are mis-identified. Nannie RaRa is fairly new to birdwatching and to photographing them. There are so many blurry photos I won’t show you.

Let me know if you like these.

Albatross colony
nature, Travel

Island hopping in the Falklands

This is the account of an expedition cruise around the Falkland Islands in March 2020. This is the final instalment of the cruise on MS Fram, an explorer ship run by Hurtigruten, which visited the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This blog only shows a few of the pictures from the trip. Many more can be seen in the YouTube video (link at the end).

We were at sea for two days from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands. While at sea there were albatross and petrels and other sea birds. There were also hourglass dolphins – black and white – swimming beside the ship.

Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands
Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Island trip began at Stanley, the capital of the Islands, where I went on a nature walk from Whalebone Cove to Gypsy Cove. The weather started out misty but the sun came out later. The guide pointed out many birds and plants that live on the Falklands.

I saw upland goose; kelp goose; turkey vulture; Falklands skua; blackish oystercatcher; pied or Magellanic oystercatcher; Falklands steamer duck, known locally as the Logger Duck, a flightless bird found only on the Falklands; Falklands thrush; long-tailed meadowlark; dark-faced ground tyrant; Magellanic or Jackass penguin; black-crowned night heron.

Steamer duck
Steamer duck
Dark-faced ground tyrant
Dark faced ground tyrant
Black-crowned night heron
Black-crowned night heron

We saw some low-growing plants that were diddle-dee bushes. They had red berries which are made into jam – they also make a sauce similar to cranberry sauce that goes well with upland goose. We also saw scurvy grass which had a citrus taste, wild celery, small fern, tall fern, tussac grass, native boxwood (hebe), marsh marigold and balsam bog which looked as though it was moss growing on a rock but was the whole plant.

Balsam bog
Balsam bog

There are still mines from the Falkland War being found and disarmed.

Shags on rock near Gypsy Cove
Shags on rock near Gypsy Cove

In the afternoon I wandered about the town seeing the cathedral and an excellent historic dockyard museum. It was interesting seeing the post office with its red telephone boxes and post boxes – it seemed more British than home in England.

Stanley post office
Stanley post office

We then had excursions on several of the islands that make up the Falklands archipelago: Saunders, Carcass, West Point, and New Island.

There were many shags flying around on the way to Saunders Island. The weather was clear skies and sun. Saunders Island had white sandy beaches and emerald water making it look quite tropical. No trees grow on the island.

Saunders Island
Saunders Island

There were four colonies of penguins: magellanic, king, rockhopper and gentoo. It was quite a long walk up a hill, Mount Richards, to get to the rockhopper colony and then even higher to the black-browed albatross rookery with the babies on their nests. Some were starting to fledge and were flexing their wings.

King penguins with young
King penguins with young
Young albatross flexing its wings
Young albatross flexing its wings

Saunders Island is privately owned and the owners have about 4000 sheep. It was strange seeing sheep and penguins together on the hillside. There was a shop which was a landrover with the owner of the island selling a few odds and ends from the back.

Sheep, penguins and geese
Sheep, penguins and geese

There were caracara birds which reminded me of pigeons in that they were pecking around looking for anything to eat. They are scavengers.

Next stop was Carcass Island which was only a short distance from Saunders Island. There was an 8k walk to Leopard Bay where there were more penguins. The walk was on grass over where the tractors go so it was an easy walk.

There were tussac birds – like small blackbirds – running around the beach. They were very tame. There were several caracara around as well as geese. The best part was seeing Cobb’s Wren – a bird endemic to the Falklands and then only on islands that are rat free. The wren was hopping about among the stones on the beach. It didn’t mind us standing there watching.

Tussac bird
Tussac bird
Cobb's wren
Cobb’s wren

The next morning was a beautiful sunny day with just a few whispy clouds, perfect for exploring West Point Island. The water in the bay was extremely clear and the sand was fine and white with large smooth rocks and pebbles.

We walked from the jetty at West Point Island over rolling hills to the other side of the island where there was a colony of rockhopper penguins and albatross nesting together. The albatrosses were mostly ready to fledge. We had to walk through six feet high tussac grass to get to where we could see the birds on the cliff.

At one time a caracara came into the nesting area. All the penguins made a racket and pointed their beaks towards the caracara.

Albatross and rockhopper penguins
Albatross and rockhopper penguins

On the walk I saw several tyrants, long-tailed meadowlark (known locally as a robin or military starling because of its red breast) and a Falklands thrush which was similar to our thrush. A caracara went around the head of a couple of walkers in front of me.

Our final day in the Falkland Islands was New island. We landed firstly at South Harbour where there were rusty ruins of a whaling station that was active for about eight years in the early 1900s. The water in the bay was clear and there was a lot of seaweed about. On some rocks on the beach were hundreds of mussels. We walked up a hill over diddle dee bushes for a scenic view over the bay.

Remains of whaling station at New Island
Remains of whaling station at New Island

There was a colony of gentoo penguins. A group of them seemed curious and came down towards us from the colony. The group would follow each other down, then stop as the leader became a bit wary, then they’d walk down a bit further. Occasionally they’d stop, turn around and dash back before coming down again. There were also a few caracara gliding in the wind. They came quite close.

Our final stop was Settlement Harbour. There were a couple of houses, a museum and a gift shop (closed). The water again was very clear and the beach fine white sand. In the water was the wreck of a boat, Protector, from the late 1930s. She was brought to the Falklands for a sealing venture and was eventually run onto the beach at Settlement Harbour.

Settlement Harbour
Wreck of Protector in Settlement Harbour

On this landing we had two routes to follow, one to a penguin and albatross rookery and the other to a viewpoint. The rookery had rockhopper penguins and albatross chicks. Shags are usually there as well but they had already left. There was a very strong breeze from on top of the cliffs when we were there, but there were several rocks to perch on to watch the birds. Between the cliffs was a gap where the water from the sea surged in.

Rockhopper penguins screeching
Rockhopper penguins

Caracara were not far away flying overhead. I walked back and saw a tyrant hovering. There were many geese on the hillside.

The next challenge was a climb up a 200 metre hill. It was easy footing but the first part was very steep. At the top was a WW2 lookout post built of dry stone. It was hollow on one side so you could lie in there with the stone walls protecting you from the prevailing wind. There was a magnificent view from the top of the hill.

View looking down to Settlement Harbour
View looking down to Settlement Harbour

Every island had wonderful scenery and the abundant bird wildlife so friendly. The Falkland Islands are definitely worth a return visit.

You can see many more interesting pictures of the Falkland Islands through my YouTube video:

nature, Travel

Visiting South Georgia

In March 2020 I went for an expedition cruise on MS Fram, an explorer ship run by Hurtigruten. We visited the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This is the second of the accounts of that trip, showing the pristine nature of South Georgia.

We were two days at sea for the journey from Antarctica to South Georgia. During our time at sea we saw lots of birds including white-chinned petrel, diving petrel, prion, light-mantled sooty albatross and my favourite, the wandering albatross. We’ve also seen whales.

Wandering albatross
Wandering albatross

We had to clean our boots meticulously in preparation for South Georgia, picking out any stones and tiny bits of grit from the soles of our muck boots. They were inspected by the expedition team. We had to hoover out rucksacks and the velcro from our clothes – all to ensure we weren’t taking any foreign organic material onshore. My boots were rejected first time as I had several bits of grit left, and then again after I’d washed them as I’d left some penguin poo behind. Once boots and clothing were passed we had to sign that we had read and complied with the regulations for South Georgia. They were later inspected by officials from South Georgia before we were allowed on shore.

First sighting of South Georgia
First sighting of South Georgia

Eventually we arrived at South Georgia, coming from the south and seeing Cooper Island, then passing by the coast northwards to Grytviken, the capital of South Georgia and our first landing place.

Grytviken
Grytviken

As soon as we were in South Georgia waters there have been many more birds from albatrosses, to blue-eyed shag, to macaroni, king and gentoo penguins in the water. We also saw a whale diving close to the ship and lots of seals.

Penguins swimming
Penguins swimming

Outside the harbour at Grytviken was HMS Forth, an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) of the Royal Navy.

HMS Forth
HMS Forth

There were lots of seals ashore at Grytviken among the ruins both on the grass and on the paths. They were mostly pups as the parents had gone fishing. Some of the pups came quite close to us and barked at us.

Seals among the remains of the whaling station
Seals among the remains of the whaling station

Grytviken is an old whaling station. Dotted around were the remains of the equipment they had used. There was also an excellent museum and a post office and shop.

The grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton is in the cemetery at Grytviken. In a building near the museum is a replica of the John Caird boat that he travelled from Elephant Island to South Georgia on, to get help for his expedition team.

Replica of John Caird
Replica of John Caird

The next, and last, day in South Georgia, we anchored in Fortuna Bay. There is a massive king penguin colony here with approximately 7000 breeding pairs. There were also hundreds of fur seals that we had to walk through to get to the penguins. They were mostly young pups and kept coming towards us, not worried by our presence at all but seeing what our reaction would be as they came closer. The penguins just carried on their walks ignoring us.

Seal pups in Fortuna Bay
Seal pups in Fortuna Bay
King penguin colony
King penguin colony

In the afternoon the ship moored the other side of Fortuna Bay so that those of us who were going on the Shackleton trek could go ashore.

As we landed, we saw a South Georgia Pipit, the world’s most southerly songbird. It nearly became extinct but the numbers are rising after a rat eradication programme was successful on South Georgia. It is only found on South Georgia.

South Georgia pipit
South Georgia pipit

I took part in and completed the 6 k Shackleton trek. We climbed up to 300 m over tussac grass and slate. This was the last part of the trek that Shackleton did in South Georgia when he was finding help for his shipmates. We walked half way up and stopped for a break, then stopped again at the highest point.

View back to the bay
View back to the bay

While we were on the trek the ship went around to Stromness to pick us up. It was good to see the MS Fram waiting for us when we got to the other side. It was a very steep slope down to the shore. The weather was perfect – sunny skies and a couple of clouds. At the top there was a cold wind but apart from that the temperature was perfect for walking.

MS Fram waiting for us at Stromness
MS Fram waiting for us at Stromness

Stromness is an abandoned whale factory but you couldn’t look inside the buildings as they were unsafe and also had asbestos in them. There were loads of seal pups around.

We left South Georgia. The next morning there were a group of fin whales around and coming close to the ship. I counted six of them at one time. There have been many albatrosses flying round the ship all day and several seals in the water. It was reported that dolphins have been seen but I didn’t see them.

Fin whales near the ship
Fin whales near the ship

In the distance were some pointed rocks – Shag Rocks – 250 k from South Georgia and 1000 k from the Falklands. As we got nearer South Georgia shags (blue-eyed shags) flew over; more and more as we got closer. Looking at the rocks there were thousands of shags standing on the rocks and flying around.

This was our last sight of land until we reached the Falkland Islands two days later.

You can see more pictures of South Georgia through my YouTube video:

nature, Travel

Antarctic adventures

In March 2020 I went for an expedition cruise on MS Fram, an explorer ship run by Hurtigruten. We visited the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This is the first of the accounts of that trip, showing the spectacular scenery of the South Shetlands and The Antarctic Peninsula.

I flew from Heathrow to Buenos Aires, staying overnight before flying down to Ushuaia at the southernmost tip of South America. I had a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park before boarding MS Fram in Ushuaia.

Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego National Park

The ship headed through the Drake Passage to Antarctica. The Drake Passage is supposed to have either the ‘Drake Shake’ or the ‘Drake Lake’. We had both: it started off very rough and then became calm the next day.

We had several landings in the South Shetlands, our first was at Yankee Harbour on Greenwich Island where we met with a colony of Gentoo penguins and a few seals.

Penguins playing in the water in Yankee Harbour
Penguins playing in the water in Yankee Harbour

Our next port of call was Orne Harbour, part of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. The morning was misty and there were several icebergs floating on the water. On the way to Orne Harbour we sighted many humpback whales going past. You see the blow, then the back and when they dive you see the fluke. There were between eight and ten whales in the bay where we were moored so we could watch them.

Whale swimming near the ship
Whale swimming near the ship

We landed on a narrow stony beach at Orne Harbour and walked along to see a couple of penguins and seals. The beach had big chunks of ice and big boulders. The conditions were too icy for a climb, but if we had kept walking south we would have eventually reached the pole. We also passed cliffs with chinstrap penguins nesting high up.

The beach at Orne Harbour
The beach at Orne Harbour

In the afternoon we went towards Damoy Point through spectacular scenery of mountains and ice – the ice was both pink and green caused by algae growing on it. Damoy Point is a rocky isthmus off the west coast of Wiencke Island, Antarctic Peninsula. We had some rain and snow on the journey.

Damoy Point with the ice pink from the algae
Damoy Point with the ice pink from the algae

Damoy Point had a large Gentoo penguin colony – you could smell them as soon as you got near land. I was lucky enough to see one of the young penguins being fed by a parent. There was also an historic British Antarctic Survey hut that you could go inside. It was very interesting seeing the artifacts left there.

Young penguin being fed by parent
Young penguin being fed by parent

Early the next day we went down the Lemaire Channel and landed at Petermann Island, our southernmost point.  It was very misty and as we waited to go ashore the weather deteriorated going from rain to snow and the sea became rougher. Not many people went ashore because of the weather but I did, and was glad I had, as it was wonderful seeing the penguins with the snow falling. The fresh snow covered the rocks and made the landscape pristine.

Penguins enjoying the snow
Penguins enjoying the snow

On the way back through the Lemaire Channel the sky cleared and we could see the stunning cliffs at the sides with many glaciers. None calved while we were there although we heard several booms from other places where they had calved.

Cliffs in Lemaire Channel

Our last landing in the Antarctic was Whalers Bay on Deception Island. Deception Island is formed from the remains of a volcanic caldera. When we first went ashore in Whaler’s Bay it was misty but the mist soon cleared. There were the remains of a whaling station and also huts used by the British during the second world war. One of the huts had been demolished by a landslide during the eruption in the late 1960s, so the volcano is still regarded as being active.

Seal among the remains in Whalers Bay
Seal among the remains in Whalers Bay

There were several seals around, both in groups and singly. They were hard to see and were the colour of rocks. Some of the seals were young males and they kept fighting and annoying each other. They were quite happy to be among the remains of the buildings and the whaling station.

There were several penguins including a couple swimming close to shore. They came out the water while I was there. Seeing penguins in the water reminded me that they are sea birds and only come on land to breed.

We walked up the slope to Neptune’s window which gave a good view over the bay. On the way back there was a ‘fog bow’, like a rainbow but without the colour.

Fog bow
Fog bow

When the mist cleared and the sun came out it was sunny and warm, giving us wonderful views as we left Deception Island. The sun stayed with us as we saw huge flat icebergs, some over a mile long, that had come from an ice shelf.

Leaving Deception Island
Leaving Deception Island

It was time to leave Antarctica and spend the next two days at sea as we traveled to South Georgia.

You can see more of my pictures from this Antarctic Adventure through my YouTube video:

There are information sheets on the various landing places we went to available as Antarctic Treaty visitor site guides:
Yankee Harbour
Orne Harbour
Damoy Point
Petermann Island
Whaler’s Bay