I met my friend Carolyn for lunch at her home on the Wirral on Tuesday. The weather had been dreadful all morning, but the sun suddenly came out, so we decided to take her very reluctant dog for a walk.
It's all starting to feel a bit back-endish, as they say in these parts.
A restless night. A tawny owl ke-wicking somewhere in the garden in the small hours. A stifled-sneeze-induced splitting headache mid-morning. Time for a walk down Burlees Lane to clear my head.
It's at this point that my natural history journal loses its U-certificate rating. Look what I found in the woods:
The aptly named stinkhorn (with the equally apt Linnean classification Phallus impudicus): a fungus which, when it spores, emits a smell similar to rotting flesh. The smell attracts flies (as shown), which then fly away, bearing fungal spores to new locations.
My hero, Charles Darwin, was fascinated by plant dispersal mechanisms. I'm sure the stinkhorn fungus's spore-dispersal trick would have delighted him.
(And yes, it stinks to high-heaven!)
I paid a short visit to the RSPB's Burton Mere reserve on Tuesday afternoon. As I approached the main bird hide, a birder passing the other way informed me that a hobby was ‘displaying well’. I gathered this was a good thing, so I thanked him and carried on.
I hadn't seen so many people in the hide before. Every single one of them bore extremely expensive optical equipment in the form of binoculars, telescopes and telephoto lenses. I tucked my own horse-racing binoculars and bog-standard zoom lens discreetly under my arm, and sneaked my way in amongst the experts.
The chap who had tipped me off had been right about the hobby. It was putting on a magnificent show, gliding high, then plunging down, twisting and turning, snatching hapless dragonflies from the air, and eating them on the wing. Unfortunately, the light was appalling, and the hobby was a very long way away, so I couldn't take any decent photos.
The hobby continued hunting in this way for about half an hour. All the birders in the hide were extremely excited about it—as was I.
Once the hobby had left, a kestrel approached the hide, and I got some better photos. But, as I say, the light was appalling. I had to turn the ISO setting way up on my camera, then deliberately over-expose to get any sort of shot. I then had to crop and process them on my computer, tweaking up the contrast and removing a lot of the noise. Modern digital technology really is remarkable. I would never have been able to get photos like these with traditional film:
The weather was glorious yesterday afternoon, so I managed to find time for a quick walk down Burlees Lane, up through the wood, and back home down the lanes.
I really need to get back into the walking. I seem to have got out of the habit.
Talking of habits…
Just went to the compost heap, where I was joined by a wren. It didn't seem at all bothered by my presence, flitting along the wall in search of insects. I was indescribably excited.
I paid a quick visit to Burton Marshes on Tuesday. There wasn't an awful lot to see, but I saw a few skeins of Canada geese flying in V-formation:
Oh, yes, and some people who seemed to know what they were doing had set fire to the marsh for some reason: