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Lockdown

Lockdown Mayhem – Nature Special 2020

My fourth and possibly last blog based on my occasional travels during these unusual times during Covid19 lockdown and the phased return to a new normality. This one focuses on pictures I’ve taken that fall into the ‘nature’ category that didn’t make it into my previous ‘Lockdown Mayhem’ series.

I hadn’t realised how many places I’d visited. As well as my local wanderings, some were taken in open areas where social distancing was easiest to maintain, or latterly to gardens which operated a timed entrance slot to help reduce the numbers at any one time. 

In a small way, these pictures help to define the Lockdown summer of 2020. I hope you like them?

#01: Cornflower

a single bright irridescent blue cornflower head

Centaurea cyanus, commonly known as cornflower or bachelor’s button, is an annual flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe. In the past it often grew as a weed in cornfields (in the broad sense of “corn”, referring to grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, or oats), hence its name.

The bright, almost iridescent, blue makes this flower stand out, and is one of several varieties which was amongst a collection of wildflowers we were given as a wedding anniversary present earlier this year. Other colours we noticed were pink and white, but to be honest the blue ones stood out by far.

From germination, they flowered for about four months and were a great addition to several pots attracting a variety of bees during the summer. Before discarding the flowers, I sprinkled their seeds along a border hoping to create a homemade wildflower area for next year. For anyone who wants to grow simple, maintenance free flowers, then I’d recommend the Cornflower.

  • Location: Home garden
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 2nd June 2020 at 6.44 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO640 

#02: Field Grasshopper

a grasshopper perched on a leaf as if ready to pounce

Chorthippus brunneus, also known as the common field grasshopper, is a species of grasshopper of the subfamily Gomphocerinae.
…and this male, one of many, was living quite happily in a corner of the garden dedicated to wild grasses.

Despite their ability to jump quite quickly, they weren’t too difficult to catch, or even get close to and this little chappie was happy posing for his picture.

I think the collection of grasshoppers were around for about a month, and reading about them, I suspect the local ants were harvesting their eggs. We had an ant infestation nearby in a walled border and each time we tried to move them on, there was a mass of eggs they shifted quickly. I appreciate they were also ant egg cases, but given their proximity, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mixed batch.

Well, let’s see if these hoppy critters return next year?

  • Location: Home garden
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 2nd June 2020 at 7.18 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO6400 

#03: Where’s the Ice Cream?

eastbourne pier in the background. Seagull standing on a lamppost in the foreground. a black and white picture

Have you ever had your ice cream pinched by a flying seagull?
Well I hadn’t until a couple of years ago. I’ve laughed at seeing others being taken, but I have to admit when it happened to me, I was shocked at the speed and accuracy with which these ice cream pirates attacked.

This one, perched atop a lamppost on the upper balustrade of Eastbourne bandstand was evidently looking out for its next free meal: be it ice cream or chips. It didn’t happen during my brief walk past, but the picture does help epitomise today’s seafront with the pier in the background.

It was a nice stroll out though, and I have to applaud everyone’s desire to walk past each other responsibly and at a distance.

  • Location: Eastbourne promenade
  • Date/Time: Saturday 20th June 2020 at 3.26 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/500; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#04: Yorkshire Fog

three single strands of meadow grass brightly lit by the day's sun. black and white picture

Nomansland Common is an area of land about 6 kilometers north of St Albans and consists of open heathland, and a wooded oak woodland. It’s ideal for nature spotting, whether your interest is in insects or birds. And for younger kids, the trees and wooded area have been creatively managed to help encourage some fun activities. 

The common lies across two parishes, Sandridge and Wheathampstead, and during the 15th Century the monasteries of St Albans and Westminster both contested the Common for their respective parish. The Common acted as the ‘no-mans-land’ between the two warring factions, with over twenty years of disputes. Finally in 1429, a jury agreed that the parishes should share the grazing rights.

On the day I visited, the insect wildlife was awash with bees, several types of butterflies, ladybirds and spiders, all of which entertained the grandchildren in one way or another. But it was this sunlit grass that caught my attention.

It’s the kind of grass that you casually stroke as you’re ambling along a country walk or you pull up to scatter the seeds without a thought. I decided to leave well alone this time and just enjoy the simplicity of what I think is Yorkshire Fog

  • Location: Nomansland Common, St Albans
  • Date/Time: Saturday 11th July 2020 at 10.33 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO640  

#05: Pigeon Hotel

a black and white picture of scores and scores of pigeons perched on a tiled roof, basking in the sun. a church steeple in the background

What a sight this was. On the roof of the boarded up church just behind Romford Central Library. I wanted to shout at them to see them all disperse and catch the resulting mayhem, but I thought better of that.
Pigeons aren’t everybody’s favourite bird, and I understand why, especially as they poop everywhere, and when clustered like this, it’s a lot of poop.

The ground in front of me was also smothered with pigeons and I was treading carefully to avoid them as I moved about to get the best angle to capture this shot. They were quite unperturbed too, and casually moved as I got amongst them.

I’m not sure if it’s coincidental, but has anyone else noticed an increase in pigeons in the outer reaches of London since they were scared out of Trafalgar Square over 15 years ago?

  • Location: St Edward the Confessor’s Roman Catholic Church, Romford
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 21st July 2020 at 12.05 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 125mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#06: Geese Ahoy!

a black and white picture of canada geese in a V formation swimming towards the river bank

Lee Valley is an excellent expanse of managed waterways, parklands and sporting grounds and it’s somewhere to explore more than once. There are so many different areas, that once you’ve been, you’ll want to return and investigate somewhere different.

I’d been to the Lee Valley before during my endoftheline visit to Cheshunt station when I walked down the canal to the white water rafting centre, which was built for the 2012 London Olympics. You can read about that journey here.

But today’s visit is a family event and we meander around an area of Fishers Green, just north of Waltham Abbey. Not really knowing where we were going we tried following the park signposts and thankfully ended up at our intended destination.

Along the way, there are many of nature’s wonders to enjoy, and no doubt these will be seasonal too. But this flock of Canada geese, zooming towards us in ‘flight’ formation is one of my favourite memories of the visit. They must have thought we had food, as there was a determined charge in our direction, and I was surprised to see them swim in formation. But I guess the same principles of flight work equally well in the water.

  • Location: Hooksmarsh, Lee Valley Park, Fishers Green, Waltham Abbey
  • Date/Time: Wednesday 22nd July 2020 at 10.16 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/500; Focal Length – 147mm; Film Speed – ISO500

#07: Sunflower

a single bright yellow sunflower head

There’s nothing like a sunflower to bring a smile to your face. So easy to grow, and they come in many different forms. My personal favourites are varieties called ‘Toyshop’ and ‘Firecracker’. Toyshop grow no larger than three feet tall, and have a variety of flower heads. Firecracker have a distinct orange colouring, and both varieties attract pollinators all season.

On one of my local days out, I walked down a path alongside the library in Gidea Park emerging in the cul de sac of Balmoral Road. I hadn’t realised, even after living here for 30 years, that there are allotments here. In fact it’s the home of the Romford Allotments Association, and if you’re interested in acquiring an allotment, you’re invited to make your way to the allotment entrance in Balmoral Road on a Sunday morning. Alternatively, contact Bob Mercer on 07779 519911.

Alternatively for any enquiries about allotments in Havering, have a look here.

This was a solitary sunflower standing about eight feet high

  • Location: Romford Allotments Association, Balmoral Road, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday 30th July 2020 at 11.47 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 89mm; Film Speed – ISO160

#08: Just Fishing

a grey heron standing still in an algae covered pond

This was a day out at Beth Chatto Gardens, east of Colchester. If you’ve never been, and you’re a keen, or even casual gardener, it’s well worth a visit and ideal if you’re looking for inspiration, or simply want to enjoy the different gardens.

The gardens are based on ecological planting: the right plant for the right place. Created by award-winning gardener, author and lecturer Beth Chatto OBE VMH, who won 10 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, in the 70s and 80s.

There are five garden styles over 7.5 acres: Gravel garden, Scree garden, Reservoir garden; Woodland garden and a Water garden where this heron was captured.

I’ve been fortunate to photograph several herons over the last couple of years, but this has to be my favourite picture. With my zoom lens at full stretch, I’ve balanced the barrel on a handy nearby fence. The heron didn’t move, but rest assured it was studying the water very intently looking for any slight ripple of movement ready to pounce; it’s almost a seamless motion, swift and precise.

I took two pictures, one in black and white, and this one which highlights the green of the plants and water borne algae. Not sure if this is the dog dangerous blue/green variety, but in this controlled environment, it wouldn’t pose a risk to dogs.

  • Location: Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens, Elmstead, Colchester
  • Date/Time: Saturday 1st August 2020 at 11.01 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO320

#09: Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

an almost black succulent flower head. alomost rosette like with petals radiating from it's core. dark dark red colouring of this aeonium zwartkop

My final nature shot is also from the Beth Chatto gardens in Elmstead Market, east of Colchester.
We were coming to the end of our visit and heading out past the scree gardens and exiting through the tea rooms and this almost black succulent caught my attention.

Looking closely, it’s more of a dark red/purple, but it was one of many flower heads on a shrub sized potted plant. The flower heads sat on the end of long woody stalks, almost miniature tree like. It was quite a display.

I looked for the name on the display, but there was none to be seen, so an internet search suggests this to be a member of the Aeonium family. In particular the ‘Zwartkop’ variety.

  • Location: Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens, Elmstead, Colchester
  • Date/Time: Saturday 1st August 2020 at 11.23 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO5000

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Categories
Lockdown

Lockdown Mayhem – August 2020

My third occasional blog sees me travelling around the northern stretches of Romford, and a  seaside visit down to the south coast at Eastbourne. I hope you enjoy this short selection of the month’s travel pictures?

North Romford

I had an ambitious notion of walking to Bedfords Park, a nature reserve managed by the London Borough of Havering and the Essex Wildlife Trust. I knew this would be a challenging day as it had been a number of years since I last visited and my recollection of getting there on foot was a little hazy. But I knew if I followed a simple trail through Raphael’s Park and Rise Park, it should be straight forward…

Well, despite Google Maps, and a belief I had a good sense of direction, I got a little lost. Not lost in the sense I didn’t know where I was, but more in that I believed the Park was more to the left of where I was walking (it was actually more to the right). So I ended up traversing across an open field in front of Bower House, part of the Amana Trust building, and emerging onto Orange Tree Hill instead of into the main Park area. Ah well, it was good exercise.

The Walled Garden in Bedfords Park is well worth a visit, staffed by volunteers, and it gives an insight into how an estate would have provided for itself in days gone by. My trek into the village of Havering-atte-Bower was concluded by my walking back towards Romford through Havering Country Park – a predominantly wooded forest with a striking avenue of Wellingtonia trees at the northern flank of the park. It was a very hot day so I ended my day returning to town by bus.

#01: Bedfords Park

a black and white picture with a treeline in the foreground and an overhanging branch framing a distant view across the Thames to north Kent


This view from the visitor centre in Bedfords Park looks across the Thames and into Kent. On a hot, clear day, it was a welcome, mid point stop after traipsing through the Park forest and open land.

For those who don’t know the area, the park sits in 217 acres of open land and deciduous woodland, between the northern boundary of the London Borough of Havering, and the village of Havering-atte-Bower.

Open parklands make it an ideal picnic spot and play area, and an enclosed deer park provides ideal viewing.

The park has a chequered history, with its origins being made up of two estates dating as far back as 1285. There are many internet references if you want to find out more. But for those looking for a nice day out, there’s something for all here. Alas, the visitor centre is currently closed due to the Covid19 restrictions, but don’t let that deter you from exploring this wonderfully maintained landscape.

  • Location: Bedfords Park, Havering-atte-Bower. Outside the Visitor Centre
  • Date/Time: Thursday 6th August 2020 at 12.21 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO100 

#02: Spooky Tree

a black and white photo of a (presumably) dead tree as it has no foliage. A fe black birds are perched on some of the outlying branches

I spotted this on my way out leaving Bedfords Park from Broxhill Road overlooking the open space. It’s at a distance, so full zoom needed to capture the tree in shot, which seemed to be a good resting place for a few birds.

The tree stands defiantly in isolation amid an open plain. Perhaps one of a crop of trees felled maybe to create the open plain. But if so, why wasn’t this one felled too? Perhaps it has mystic or mysterious properties which draws the crows to stand guarding its barren branches. Even in the bright daylight, it reminded me somewhat of the Daphne du Maurier story The Birds, and subsequently translated into Alfred Hitchcock’s spooky film.

Time to move on methinks…

  • Location: Bedfords Park, Havering-atte-Bower. Broxhill Road, opposite entrance to St Francis Hospice looking south
  • Date/Time: Thursday 6th August 2020 at 12.51 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ10; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO200 

#03: Havering-atte-Bower

a village sign of havering-atte-bower

Part of my intended day’s walking route was to make my way to Havering-atte-Bower. The northernmost village in the borough of Havering as it borders the county of Essex.

I’ve often driven through here whilst taking the back roads to join the M11 at Harlow, and in doing so wondered what lay behind the picturesque village green.

The village sign, which stands prominently on the village green depicts three scenes. The sign, incidentally, was unveiled in 2010 by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to commemorate the village’s 1000 year history.

I now take a little liberty in deciphering the three events depicted on the sign as despite many internet references to the sign, I’m unable to unearth any information about it’s make up. So here goes, but I’m happy to be corrected:

  • The top picture, I speculate, may represent the original ‘bower’ or country retreat and hunting lodge owned by Edward the Confessor, which later became known as Havering Palace. There are several interesting references worth reading to help you differentiate between the real and fabled history here: Wikipedia and Hidden London.
  • The final image represents the Havering coat of arms with the date 1042, no doubt symbolising the earliest known date of the village. This is some 44 years before it’s reference in the Doomsday Book under the name of ‘Haueringas’ meaning a ‘settlement of the followers of a man called Hæfer’

So the next time you pass a village sign, why not stop and explore its history too?..

  • Location: The Green, Havering-atte-Bower
  • Date/Time: Thursday 6th August 2020 at 12.56 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 106mm; Film Speed – ISO400

Eastbourne

For over 40 years, Eastbourne has been my second home as it’s my father in law’s (FIL) home town. Our trip was to spend time helping FIL recover from a spell in hospital. Not Covid19, but nevertheless one that serves to remind us of our frailties. Thankfully, FIL is making a good recovery.

On this particular day, it was very interesting as there were high winds and I wanted to explore the shoreline under the pier at low tide. Very reminiscent of my childhood days exploring under the Pier in my own home town – Aberystwyth.

Personally I don’t think you can beat a bracing walk along the shoreline, the incoming tide splashing on your shoes and getting a little wet, and being mesmerised by whatever the sea and winds throw at you.

#04: Speckled Shoreline

a sepia toned black and white picture of eastbourne shoreline as the tide comes in

I noticed the tide times were quite favourable with the low tide conveniently at mid morning, so time enough to get the early morning chores done before making my way to the beach.

A combination of the strong winds and the effect on the tourist industry due to Covid19 saw the prom almost empty. Only a few hardened, or maybe foolish souls were out and about.

This shot is taken right on the shoreline looking west towards The Wish Tower and beyond to the Western Lawns where the frame of the summer ferris wheel stands out. I’ve applied a sepia filter to add a little mood to the shot, which shows tidal debris on the sandy beach being washed in by the incoming tide.

The upturned marker buoys in the distance, act as a warning of deep water and of the submerged barriers to bathers and swimmers during high tides.

  • Location: Eastbourne Beach
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.04 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 46mm; Film Speed – ISO100  

#05: Mid Flight

a black and white photo of a young seagull, amid wing, with the scrolling waves underneath

Seagulls are I think a bit like Marmite. You either like them or hate them. But for me they are synonymous with the seaside, chips and ice cream, and their squawk/cry is so unique that once you hear one, you instantly know what the bird is.

I once recorded a seagull sound as my phone ringtone…I always found it funny.

There’s a large flock of seagulls on the waterline, all standing into the wind blasting from the west. Adults and youngsters alike, the later with their distinctive brown and mottled plumage. Some are happy wading, others dipping for food, and there was one pair fighting over a pebble.

When on the wing, their flight pattern could be quite erratic, but taking off was an intentional act on their part. Their flight is determined by the swirling gusting wind, but give them credit, they’re just as happy being blown about to recover their intended flight path to achieve their goal. For some it was just to get back to where they left. But I suspect it’s not a folly to randomly fly into the wind and end up going backwards, but an attempt to gain some height to search for food.

This is one of the youngsters which I’ve captured showing off its immature colouring against the pier in the background and the incoming rolling tidal waves.

  • Location: Eastbourne Beach looking towards the Pier
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.11 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO200

#06: Watery Legs

a black and white picture of eastbourne's pier supporting legs

I took a similar picture in my teenage years when I first started exploring black and white photography. It was under the pier in Aberystwyth at about 5.00 am in the morning as the sun was rising behind and casting amazing shadows. That picture has stayed with me all these years and was one of the ones that inspire me to enjoy photography.

I had a notion to try and recapture that image, but clearly there are several things not the same: there’s no sun to cast shadows, and it’s not Aberystwyth Pier. Nevertheless, the hour or so I spent this morning taking a collection of pictures here was just as invigorating.

I probably collected a portfolio of over 20 pictures in this short spell, and this ONE, evokes the image I wanted to capture. Taken in black and white in homage to the image I had in mind, it also transforms what would otherwise be a dull and drab colour picture blanched by the windswept seaspray. The strong black tones of the pier legs against the rolling seahorses on the incoming tide sells the picture which is framed by the body of the pier at the top and the shadowy breakwater on the bottom.

I’m happy…

  • Location: Under Eastbourne Pier looking west
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.14 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 39mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#07: Eastbourne Pier

eastbourne pier

Okay, okay, okay. This is a postcard picture of Eastbourne Pier. But it’s one that I played with for a while to decide how best to represent it.

You see, after over two years of using my trusted camera, I’m still learning how to get the best out of some of the settings, and this one jumped out at me.

Whilst composing the shot, the boulders in the foreground were an obvious candidate, and then I played with several settings. This is taken with an ambient setting, and what struck me immediately was how the golden towers just stood out as if under a spotlight. The picture looked exciting, almost like an antique postcard with the towers painted.

From local knowledge, the pier’s owner is overtly flamboyant and he has deliberately emblazoned all his properties (of which there are several) with splashes of gold. He even has a gold plated car!

  • Location: Eastbourne Pier from the shoreline
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.41 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#08: Just Visiting

a black and white profile photo of Mary Elizabeth. An elderly lady enjoying the windswept view looking out at eastbourne pier

Meet Mary Elizabeth.

This young lady was sheltering under the bandstand canopy away from the windswept rain as she caught my attention as I was walking by. She had been watching me take pictures along the shoreline and questioned whether there was a dead seal down there; I reassured her that what she could see was simply a collection of boulders.

That led to a long conversation where we shared each other’s stories and how she had come to be in Eastbourne during the Covid19 lockdown. A very adventurous lady with a thirst for life and a passion to enjoy herself.

If you happen to be her relative reading this, please rest assured that I was fully vetted by Mary before we chatted and that she decided I was OK to chat to. You see, as Bob Dylan once sang “the times are a changin” as her children have warned her not to talk to any strangers. I hope I’m no longer a stranger? It was a delight to meet you Mary…

  • Location: Under Eastbourne Bandstand shelter
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 11.09 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/250; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO400

#09: Stormy Sails

a black and white photo of a windsurfer caught beteen railings

Even in stormy seas there are those who want to challenge the elements. I just hope those who do, do so carefully and sensibly.

I caught this windsurfer as I peered through the railings on the Bandstand parapet, and I followed his progress as he sailed into the wind. I’m not sure how long he had been surfing for, but soon after this shot, the session came to an end.

Here ends my windswept walk along Eastbourne seafront, and my August lockdown memories

  • Location: Looking out to see from Eastbourne bandstand paramet
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 11.14 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO250

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