Holiday snaps – yawn!

“As the sun goes down on the hottest day of the year so the swifts return. There are hundreds here in Dinan, Brittany, and everything about them is mysterious. The more I watch them the less I understand. Here comes a group of three now, close but not too close, following but not in line, they dash past the roofs and screech twice. I think one calls and another answers. They seem only to call when near a building. A second later they are way above the houses. Some of them are alone and some are in groups of 5 or more. I saw one flying way up alone. Suddenly it dived down and tagged another loner. It looked like play. Groups of three seem common, but what is their relationship?” (Alas, the pictures I took when I wrote this were not good enough, but I did get some good Swift pictures – see below.)

A few days ago we walked down the steep cobbled street which used to take all the traffic to and from the port on the river. It’s  very like Clovelly and seems a little unreal. We had lunch on the quayside at the port and the House Martins and Swifts were coming to drink. I just missed the classic shot of the scoop of water. 

The next day I was up early and took the bike a few miles along the river north of the town to where I had spotted a Peregrine Falcon nest site. Naturally the bird I had seen a few days ago was nowhere in sight, but I set up the camera and waited. Nothing happened. Then it occurred to me that these birds often perch high up near the nest site watching. Sure enough there was one doing just that.

We watched each other. Then it disappeared, but I caught up with it flying out and back – must be a youngster. Then another appeared, and finally a third, and it was clear that this was the nest site and they were waiting for the adults to bring them some food.

They were a long way off and I wasn’t sure they would stand up to editing, but I pedalled back a happy bunny.

Don’t you get tired of all those images of picturesque historic towns; the cobbled streets, the half-timbered houses, the ancient bridges over wide rivers? Too bad, here are a few more:

This time it’s Laval further east where we went to get some special paint, and work on my Franglais. The paint is for the annexe at La Bruyere, my daughter’s French base where Thelma and I are staying for the second week of our holiday.

Holiday pictures of course have to include memorable meals and museum visits.This was the second course of our lunch in Laval. To get to the museum in the castle we climbed up a specially landscaped path to an exhibition of naive art and origami. The artist of “Tourists at Easter Island” is Youdi des Aubrys, Chinese/Dutch/French woman with a wicked sense of humour. Now we are surrounded by trees and long grass and it’s full of insects: hundreds of Meadow Brown butterflies, some Peacocks and a few Commas, but the stars of the show are the Damselflies – the wonderfully named Beautiful Demoiselle, and this gorgeous gold-plated creature which I have yet to identify.


At least, they were the stars until this fabulous beast appeared.

It’s a Hummingbird Hawk Moth which like its namesake hovers in front of flowers which other insects can’t reach and sips nectar with its extra-long proboscis. The wing movements are so fast that even 1/2500th of a second did not stop them.

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Bubbles in Dinan

One of the joys of photography is to discover something in a picture which you didn’t see when you pressed the shutter.

The boss and I are in Brittany for a week, staying in a beautifully converted ground floor flat in the centre of Dinan. A few hundred metres away are the remains of the old city walls, and in a long section of the old moat a remarkable little festival was taking place. It’s called “L’Enfant Dans la Ville”. There were dozens of activities stalls  but no IT in sight. Instead they were encouraged to have a go at rock climbing, zip wire, archery, making paper hats, rope walking, target shooting, sword fighting, giant chess, bouncy castles, riding a plastic bronco, climbing the mast of a sailing ship, taking part in live table football with real children as the footballers, and wrestling in huge padded costumes – All a perfect antidote to those addictive screens.

Blowing bubbles seemed pretty tame after all that, and the bubble machine blowing out a cloud of little bubbles was fun but not unusual. However, there was just the right amount of wind to create, using poles with rope, the biggest bubbles I’ve ever seen, and with a dark woodland background they looked perfect.

The watchers, young and old, were entranced. Here you can see the bubble being created: the moment where the surface tension gave way (the boy’s right hand had touched it), and then the inevitable dispersal into water droplets. One second it is there and the next it is gone; a model of ephemeral art.

 

It was not until I started editing the pictures that I could blow up the reflections inside these wonderful creations. This feels like a new kind of surrealist art.

The bubble pictures were taken with Sony’s A7R4 69 megapixel camera with their 135mm f1.8 lens at 1/640s f5 and ISO 50, the others with a Samyang 35mm f1.8. There are more bubble pictures here:  Bubbles – Richard S Turner PhotographyRichard S Turner Photography (phototwynog.co.uk)

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Stories from the Early Morning

There is a long period at this time of year between dawn and sunrise when light has a special quality –  less contrast, less colour, yet far from gloomy. The picture above captures it. I parked the car at 5:30 and set off on a long trudge through long grass so intensely wet it defeated my walking shoes and gaiters within minutes. By 5:50 I and my wet feet were set up (with permission)  in my little pop-up hide by one of my favourite stretches of the Towy.

Alert for any movement, I waited, and then I waited some more. Two Carrion Crows away upstream; a few Mallards also a long way off; then I noticed a flicker of movement much closer. A Reed Bunting had flown across in front of me to a little shingle island where a few willows had taken root.

Did he have a nest there? After a few minutes he flew back to the bank. Then a female appeared and rustled around in the willows. Ah .  . .  I see, they are collecting nest material. The flood water must have left bits of dry stuff tangled in the willows, but where could they be nesting? There are no reedbeds nearby.

Now I see that my little group of Mallards has drifted closer and, with the crows for company, are searching diligently among the pebbles. There are four youngsters and a mum, and they are very busy for a while, but they are still only a couple of weeks old and get tired, so settle in for a snooze.

I focus back on the more distant gravel spit and watch a Mute Swan approaching, swimming at considerable speed downstream. A slightly different pebble (almost invisible to the naked eye) reveals itself to be a Ringed Plover – gorgeous little waders who nest among the pebbles.

As the swan gets rapidly closer I see a disturbance in the water ahead of her. It’s an otter, and it’s moving very fast. I catch a shot before it swims behind the willow island and then position the camera to catch it the other side. Nothing happens. Somehow I missed it – must have dived. Never mind, great to know they are here still.

Now the sun is elbowing its way through the cloud and lighting up the big daisies on the opposite bank. It’s the “golden hour” for photography.

There’s a flash of blue zipping across the water to the far bank. Kingfishers are quite common on this part of the river, but I’ve yet to have any idea of where they might nest. The bill is black so it’s a male. He dives and returns, fidgets around and then dashes across the river and does a circular tour of the bank just beneath me. What’s he doing? Over a period of perhaps 20 minutes he makes several trips to this part of the opposite bank. Could this be a nest site?

I realise I have been almost two hours sitting here watching. This is the closest I can get to meditation – a term which fills me with dread. I can’t do deliberate relaxation, but I can do this.  This is my therapy.

Now it’s time to go and give my feet another drenching. On the way back  I pass this tree which reminds me of the famous line from “The Garden” by Andrew Marvel

“Annihilating all that’s made

To a green thought in a green shade”

I’m still the only person around and this fox can safely go where he likes.

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Return to the midsummer sunrise

It’s 4:00 am. Why did I wake an hour earlier than usual? Following the dictate of my current guru Rangan Chatterjee,  I have the room blacked out. This even extends to a slipper hooked over the LED charger by the bed so that the little blue light is hidden. Something is driving me and when I haul myself out of bed and look behind the blind, I know what it is. Out there is the intoxicating promise of a clear sky and a midsummer dawn, a promise which my unconscious mind had registered before going to bed.

Do I really want to load myself up with camera gear and trudge up the mountain on an empty stomach? Sipping my cup of hot tea I register the importance of doing again what I did 2 years ago. I feel like a hero of the Ukrainian resistance fighting off the inevitable slow advance of the tyrant, though in my case the tyrant is old age – not quite so heroic. In early summer 2020 I wrote about two early morning treks: http://phototwynog.co.uk/dawn-in-may  and this one: http://phototwynog.co.uk/a-dream-of-hares

Three things I hope for: sunrise, a hare and a cuckoo. I would have to be a mad pessimist to doubt the sunrise, but the other two I would need a lot of luck to see or hear let alone capture on camera. I captured a cuckoo here a few weeks ago, but cuckoos don’t make nests so they could be anywhere. I haven’t seen a hare since my dream encounter in 2020.

It took me half an hour to get going  – did I check the camera battery? Would I need gloves? Which binoculars should I take? Blah blah blah. At last, at 4:30 I was walking briskly down the empty village street. Two swifts were flying up to one of the eves, but the sun was still well below the horizon and the light was too poor to photograph them. Even before sunrise the dawn light is special, but I don’t think the sleeping occupants of this tent would thank me for pointing it out to them.

Onwards and upwards and here in the “ffridd” the land at the edge of the mountain, the sun breaks through and I have my pictures. Good, job done. I change my small landscape lens to the big telephoto and continue slowly up the hill. Even though I have never seen a hare here, it’s worth moving carefully in case  . . .

Oh dear lord what is that brown shape there on the path? Help! my settings are wrong, I fumble around. I’m going to lose the shot, but miraculously when I peer round the vegetation it’s still there, waiting, watching.

I step back out of sight, set up the monopod and improve the settings, but when I cautiously move into view again it’s gone.

That’s fine. I did it. At least one of the pictures looks OK so feeling very pleased with myself I move on up to the edge of the mountain where I saw the cuckoo a few weeks ago. I find a place to stand and wait. It’s very quiet; the odd blackbird and a few thrushes, and then a faint sound. Yes! My cuckoo is still around but where? With only one half-functional ear I can’t  tell where the sound is coming from. It moves around but it’s getting faint again. Hey ho, two out of three is good. 

As I trudge back I look at my watch and see I have been here two hours, but the tents are still closed. These two ponies want to come over and say hello but they are confined by an electric fence. The village street is deserted by humans but to my delight a pair of House Martins are building a nest. I didn’t see a single nest last year – a gloomy record – so to see more of them this year makes me feel it’s not all downhill.  My coping strategy  http://phototwynog.co.uk/the-good-news-is-everything-is-getting-worse  is working, and I rejoice in anything which bucks the trend.

 

 

 

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The good news is – everything is getting worse!

Yes, everything everywhere is getting worse and that realisation makes me feel so much better.

I grew up in a world which thought it had learnt from the receding threat of nuclear war, which thought it had learnt how to abolish poverty and deal with disease, a world in other words which believed things would go on improving for most of us. The mantra was (and still is in some circles) “economic growth”. As our material wealth increased, as information technology made everything so much easier, as we learnt so much more about how everything from our brains to the cosmos worked, so we would ride the wave of progress to ever more comfortable lives.

A few early mornings ago under a clear sky I walked down to the river and beyond looking for hares. I didn’t see any. All I saw were fields bitten to the bone by thousands of sheep. One of the farmers has recently cut down hundreds of trees, (why not?) All I could see what was missing: the birds, the insects, the animals, the fish in the river. All I could hear was the silent spring.

Then I began to notice something else: this place is beautiful (see above). There are wild-flowers in those hedgerows, the tree stumps are sprouting again. When I got back to the village I saw the swifts, and amazingly there were if anything more of them than last year. (I have yet to take the definitive swift picture)

I spent an hour in my hide by the river. The absence of life is no longer depressing. The grey wagtail is nesting in the ivy, a tiny flower stands out against the water, and suddenly, there in front of me is this beautiful creature – a female goosander fishing in the rapids.

Of course there is a war in Europe – Ukraine is massively resource-rich, and humans are greedy. Of course there are floods of refugees from there and from Africa, Asia, the middle East; in a few years there will be far more.

Of course our wildlife is in free-fall; how could it not be? Of course our lives and culture are dominated by American corporations: they control the internet. It’s only to be expected that the languages and culture of small nations like Wales will be overwhelmed by English language culture. Naturally our politicians are floundering. If they came up with real policies that might make a difference – such as reducing our standard of living – who would vote for them?

Perhaps you have no anxiety problems? Your career is going well, you can easily afford the rising prices, you have a loving family, and you have managed to ignore the signs of impending global catastrophe? If so I suspect you are in a minority. Most of us are anxious, some of us are driven to drugs and therapy to try to make things better. I am one of those, and so far the most promising idea I’ve come up with is this:

If  you can accept that everything, everywhere is getting worse, then you are free to enjoy anything that seems to be getting better.

This is how it works for me:

I am old so of course my memory is declining. It will get worse. My back aches, it’s hard to get out of bed and get moving. I will become less mobile. If I can convince myself that this slow deterioration is not my fault, that it is in some way shared by everybody, then I am free to rejoice in the fact that I can still walk. I can still drive. I may be deaf as a post but my eyesight is excellent. I no longer have to feel driven to try to reverse the tide: to run again, to remember why I went into the next room, to bring back the birds.

 

 

 

 

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