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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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