Swifts !

We had  been told about some White-collared Swifts that had been seen in a cave, behind a waterfall, though they had not been seen for three years.

At dawn one morning we climbed up a mountain,  then down into an arid valley and followed a small stream.  Although it was the dry season the presence of the stream indicated that the waterfall would be there and it was.


Birdwatching under Waterfall,_


We spent some hours searching  in vain for the swifts, they may have been present, hiding in the dark recesses of the cave.   We decided to wait and see if any returned to the cave for the night.

White-collared Swifts breed all the way down from Mexico, through the western side of South America as far as Argentina, so we were at the very southern limit of their distribution.  Three years before, there had only been juveniles seen in the cave, no one had recorded adults.  These swifts being mainly tropical breed in March and April so if they were around now it would indicate year round residency – very important to know.

The sun dropped behind the far mountains, then a blur above us and a flurry of  activity inside the cave: swifts!


No 1 Swift


It happened so quickly.  We had seen nothing in the sky above us; some swifts had flown into the cave almost unseen.


No 4 Swift


We  crept around the waterfall, water was dripping everywhere, including on what was now a very wet swift clinging to the wall.  We could make out its white collar and amazingly long wings, but had to retreat out of the drenching water and maintain our vigil outside.

Another hour went by and the same thing happened. This time we just managed to see the swifts coming.  A small tightly bunched group flew low round the distant curve of the valley.  Like black leather-clad racers, they passed us like a lightening flash straight through the curtain of water and disappeared. I didn’t have time to raise my camera – they were gone into the void.


No 2 Swift

The same thing happened several times.  Small groups appeared as if from nowhere and darted into the cave.  By now we had counted at least 35. As the numbers inside grew so did the noise inside the cave.  Whenever new birds arrived, they were greeted with high pitched screams.  They bunched up together, water pouring over them.


No 3 Swift

It was getting dark and thunder clouds started to roll over the hills.  Afraid of rain making the return treacherous, we headed home.

We had found what we wanted, a resident population of at least 50 White-collared Swifts, rare birds this far south.

Not only swifts but also a stream fed by a graceful waterfall,  a watery haven for a host of animals.

Swallow migration over Charnwood Forest

For the past 2 weeks we have been watching as Swallows and House Martins have been migrating through  Ulverscroft valley, part of the Charnwood Forest

As Paula and I have our breakfast about 8.30am, we have noticed the birds as they start to fly past in small groups, maybe twenty or so.  This has been going on most days at hourly intervals, maybe more often.  We see them perched on wires close to the house, feeding low over the adjoining fields and swooping around the Oak trees, which are scattered all around the fields and hedgerows.

Barn Swallow

Last week, especially from September 18th the numbers started to increase, larger flocks and more often. Our house is situated at about 600 ft and the ridge above us is about 750 ft, very high for Leicestershire.  The birds seem to be following the line of the valley which leads roughly North – South.

A Barn Swallow zips across the field

However on Saturday 19th, the numbers went crazy.  I woke up and looked outside and already by 7.30 birds were swooping over the field at the back of the house.  As I was cleaning my teeth I looked out of the window and counted 51 mixed swallows and House martins sitting in a long row along the power line.


Birds on the wire.

All day long, more birds, different ones arrived and passed on in tumbling groups.  Then about 5.30 in the evening, birds arrived en- mass, thousands of them.  They were feeding around the tops of Oak and Silver Birch trees, even perching in the uppermost branches, I have never witnessed this before, they must be feeding on a myriad of insects.  By 6.30 everywhere we looked there were birds, they were making  lots of noise, chattering and twittering. Their behaviour was erratic, crazy, almost frenzied. then in the space of ten  minutes they had disappeared, gone, vanished.  I tried to see where, but couldn’t.  They hadn’t flown away, as other groups had during the preceding days.  I can only imagine they had roosted in the trees, but by now the light was fading fast, night was closing in.

The following morning- yesterday and to-day I have not seen one Swallow or Martin, they have departed Charnwood Forest and headed south.  The garden and fields seem so quiet.  We will not see them again till next summer, for us their migration is over but for them its only just beginning.


House martins feeding around a tree top.

Great Grey Owls from the North

Ottawa river

Last week I was invited over to Ottawa in Eastern Canada to photograph Great Grey Owls which this year have moved further south than normal. Such population eruptions occur maybe once a decade, so I had to go. I was on one of the last planes out of London Heathrow as a snow blizzard covered the runways.  Within a few hours of landing we were walking alongside the Ottawa river in search of the elusive owls.

Great Grey Owl scans the woodland floor for small mammals


Great Grey Owl


A different forest

Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire all have a share in the realm of a great forest in the making, the national forest. When visiting this realm do not expect to wander for hours and hours in the shade of great trees, as you might expect in Epping or the New Forest, where you are totally surrounded by nature.

Epping forest in autumn

Pollarded Beech in the ancient forest of Epping

Walking through the National Forest is a  completely different experience, a place to simply enjoy yourself in a whole variety of ways.

Every turn could bring an unexpected surprise, be it wildlife, archeological, geological or artistic. The National Forest is not just a forest, it is a fusion of english life intertwined between trees.

A week or so back we visited the new National Cycle centre at Hicks Lodge, near to Moira. I was birdwatching as usual, but was just as happy to see a whole variety of people enjoying themselves in the countryside in their own way.

Miles of tracks alongside new plantations, mature woods and lakes.

Newly opened in the autumn of 2012, the National Cycle centre

No matter where you go in the National Forest there are ample signs and information boards to tell you about the area.

Staffords Wood is close to the delightful village of Melbourne, a community established on its expertise at market gardening.

I go to the Staffords wood area to check on some rare trees, Black Poplars. There can be few people who do not like trees, if fact I believe absolutely everyone loves trees. So to finish this blog I will let you into two small secrets  of the National Forest, ‘How to walk on ‘GOLD’ and to find a tree that almost ties itself into a KNOT’ ?

To walk on 'gold' is to visit a Larch wood in the late autumn after a severe frost, a transitory event but magical when discovered.



Well not quite a knot but almost.



Is this a tree or the biggest 'tree-swing' in the world. The Beech trees on Beacon Hill are magnificent, to visit them is to visit a 'home of Ents'.


More stories about t the National Forest in future blogs or for more images visit my website Websterswildshots






















Death of Evidence rally

In Ottawa on July 10th scientists gathered in great numbers to protest government.

The rally demanded more evidence-based policy and the need for the government to drastically reconsider some policy changes to the Fisheries Act and the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area.

Couple this with the muzzling of government scientists and you have a host of issues that makes you question our democracy.  This rally was the largest of the year on The Hill, with an estimated 2000-5000 people… and all this by a bunch of geeks who would gather be in the lab, not talking current affairs.

 No Science. No Evidence. No Truth. No DEMOCRACY.

Media quality downloads. Use the password: evidence

Want do we want, evidence based policy. When do we want it, after peer review!

 Science under the Harper Government is dieing a death of a thousand cut. Science is under attack.

Organisers of the Death of Evidence Rally said the event captured the mood of scientists and the public. Evidence is needed to make good decision for Canada. The Harper Government ignore evidence and cutting funding to cheap, cost effective, well performing research projects. Is this the start of something new? Has Harper awoken a sleeping political force? What is known is that Harper political messaging an oiled machine. But if numbers speak louder than words, maybe scientists can change our political landscape…

Documentary Rowing the Arctic

Two great bits of news:
i) Websters Wildshots has finally releases the online gallery of photographs from Row to the Pole.
ii) The BBC documentary Rowing the Arctic will be broadcast very soon!!!

Here is a message from Jock WIshart of Row to the Pole

I am delighted to let you know that a documentary film about the quest to reach the 1996 Magnetic North Pole by rowing boat will be broadcast this month on BBC One…and announce the official publication of our book FURTHEST NORTH.
The 60 minute programme – ROWING THE ARCTIC – will be transmitted on BBC One at 10:45pm on April 25th.
Having seen a preview already, I can say it is an outstanding film, capturing a lot of the drama, tension and adventure of our expedition.
The filming for it was all done by Mark Beaumont, who joined the crew to make the doco. So I’d like to invite you to forego A. an early night and B. Newsnight on BBC2 on April 25th to sit down and enjoy the programme. As if securing a prime slot on BBC One is not enough, we are equally proud to have a book published telling the entire story, illustrated with some outstanding photos taken on our voyage.

FURTHEST NORTH is published by Frozen World Books and is on sale at Amazon and www.frozenworldbooks.co.uk (Click on links) as well as selected Waterstones and independent book shops.
It is written by Rod Macrae and has many photographs by Websters Wildshots. It is a real treasure of a book: a factual account which captures the true atmosphere of the whole endeavour, from the tensions as we set out to the real moments of danger and frustration experienced on the way.
Now that the entire story can be told, it stands as a remarkable adventure, simply because most experts said it was impossible – and yet six people made it happen.
So, please make a mark in your diary for April 25th – and please buy a copy of our book FURTHEST NORTH as a permanent record of the Old Pulteney Row To The Pole.
Frozen World Books has a series of video interviews clips with Jock Wishart and Billy Gammon talking about the expedition which can be seen at frozennorth, the official Row to the Pole website and on YouTube. They make an appetiser for the book and film.


Lea Meadows Nature Reserve April 2012


The Bullhead fish

The Lea Meadows nature reserve is to be found in the Ulverscroft valley, on the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, England.  The reserve is bisected by a brook which rises in the hills a mile upstream

and as this catchment area is low intensity pasture land where few if any chemicals are used ,the brook remains clear and unpolluted by modern farming practices.

Either side of the brook lie  meadows which have probably not been ploughed since medieval times.  Such lack of disturbance means that the meadows are rich in wild flowers.



Lea Meadows nature reserve


Although the brook may appear small and inconsequential, its cleanliness is rare in the modern industrial midlands of England.  The brook is characterful, some sections with gravel islands, some with muddy edges.

Where the water flows over a harder rock  the water is only two fingers deep, however in other places, where the gound underneath is soft, the water has cut down and will come up to your knees.

The course of the brook twists and turns between  alders, hawthorn and oak, tight bends have created small banks and winter floods have led to the creation of small ‘ox-bows’ here and there.

Each of these tiny variations and nuances in the character of the brook provides a multitude of niches where wildlife can specialise and thrive.

The brook has an infinate variety of niches where wildlife can thrive.

Bullhead fish are common, in April they lay eggs under stones in the brook.  Here you can see the larvae, each surrounded by a spherical yolk sac which sustains the larvae until they hatch.



The eggs of the Bullhead are guarded by the male fish until they hatch.

Bullhead males have a large mouth and for the size of the fish a large set of fins, which helps to keep the fish steady in the fast flowing, shallow water where they live.

They do not have scales and their skin colouration of mottled dark browns camouflages them well.


Bullheads are nocturnal and at night feed off invertebrates especially along the vegetated edges of the brook  but during the day they conceal themselves on the bottom of the brook amongst the stones.



The Canadian Ski Marathon


The Canadian Ski Marathon is an epic winter event situated in Quebec.  Skiers come from all over Canada and the USA, as well as other northern countries such as Norway and Sweden.  Skiers of all abilities and ages can participate by choosing any number of course sections through the snow covered western Laurentian mountains and its surrounding forests and frozen lakes.

For those who dare to ski the full 100 mile course -a true test of endurance- they earn the right to call themselves Coureur de Bois and in so doing take on the challenge of Canada’s winter.

 To see more photos click here!!!

Ski marathon startline

Start of the Ski Marathon


Beginning of the ski marathon



x-treme cross country skiing

Geoff White completes his first GOLD Ski Marathon





Speed Skating

A popular winter sport in Canada is Speed Skating

Racing starts at Brewers park speed skating ring Ottawa


The skaters enter the first bend


Skating fast


One of the strategies of Speed Skating is the use of the 'pelaton'