#2minutebeachclean

Check out #2minutebeachclean and #2MINUTELITTERPICK on Twitter. The premise is quite simple. Whenever you are out, take two minutes to pick up some litter. The aim is not to scour the area clean (although that would be good) but to pick up a few bits of litter to make a small difference. And let people know about it so that they can consider doing it too.

I first heard of the concept on the BBC Springwatch programme and it seemed quite straight forward. I started taking a small bin liner with me on my walks in Gower with Rufus. I’d wait until we were on our way back and pick up litter. I concentrate on recyclables as these tend to be the things that will last the longest in the landscape. I also make a point of picking up anything that might cause injury, such as broken glass, sharp edged metal and anything that wildlife could get tangled in.

Be sensible. I tend to leave anything that could be contaminated, such as tissues or any container with liquid in it. If I was doing a proper litter pick with all the right kit it would be different, but this is just helping out. Only pick up what you’re comfortable doing. Every little bit you remove makes a difference. We only have one planet, lets help keep it tidy.

Today, Rufus and I went down to Whiteford for a paddle. I made a point of taking a larger bin bag with me as I wanted to pick up a load of litter on the way back. A 30minutebeachclean. On the walk to the beach we were watched carefully by a small robin who was happy for both of us to walk close by and even posed for the camera. On the beach, I let Rufus off the lead and he went off in search of aromatic things to roll in while I snapped away at the Oystercatchers on the water’s edge.

As we walked along, the tide was coming in and the Oystercatchers were getting closer. Rufus is inquisitive and I knew he’s be off to see what they were up to. I pointed the camera at the birds and waited. Sure enough, as soon as he got close, they rose as one and I got some fine photos of Oystercatchers on the wing. We left them alone and headed inland to a point where the tide was closest to the dunes. Here I threw stones and sticks for Rufus to chase into the sea, not that he needed an excuse to paddle. I love watching him bounce around and splash in the water and although he’s not as quick as he used to be, he makes up for it by enthusiastically barking to encourage me to throw more sticks.

It was time to turn around and now was when I got my bin bag out and started to pick up other people’s litter. Very quickly, it was clear that I couldn’t manage to collect everything so I decided to prioritise plastic and my personal objects of hatred – plastic fishing line and net. Soon I had a bag full, including two beer bottles and a broken plastic spade. Unfortunately, the sharp edged plastic tore the bag and before I knew it, the bin bag had shredded. I had a dilemma. I was about 30 minutes from the car and there was no way I could carry all the rubbish back with me.

I don’t claim to be practically clever but I today had a moment of insight. Most of the rubbish was plastic fishing line and with a little re-arranging and with the aid of two of Rufus’ poo bags, I managed to truss up most of the rubbish into a package I could carry. Unfortunately, I had to leave the two beer bottles but they weren’t broken so it wasn’t a disaster. For the next half hour, I carefully carried the bundle of rubbish through the dunes and along the tree lined pathway to the car park, where there was a convenient bin to deposit it all in.

Neither of us were ready to go home so we took a little detour to Broadpool on the way back. I think the heron has taken a dislike to my blue car. When I used to park the red one next to the pool, it would hang about but as soon as it sees the blue one it’s off. We don’t chase the heron as it’s nervous enough. Instead, I watched swallows diving for insects, the Canada Geese taking a nap and the turtles still basking in the sun. I tried to get photos of the dragonflies but they were too quick for the camera to focus on.

Back home, a shower was on the cards for the one of us that was covered in salt and sand.

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Broadpool

Rufus and I head off to Broadpool a lot. It’s within 20 minutes of the house (on a good day with little traffic) and it’s a beautiful environment. Occasionally we have to give it a miss if there are cows around and I tend not to stop there if there are horses or sheep as they can easily be spooked and end up on the road. But more often than not we can spend up to an hour wandering around the lake and over the common. The variety of wildlife there is surprising. Apart from the farm animals, we’ve spotted rabbits, ducks and a solitary lapwing. I try and avoid the pool when the heron is there as she gets a lot of visitors and is very nervous. There are swifts and swallows, tree pipits, long tailed tits and geese. I’ve watched a barn owl hunting at the end of the day and recently a kestrel has watched over us as we walk.

Last Sunday it was a beautiful morning and we were at the lake before 8.30. The sun was warm and golden, the sky cloudless and the water mirror smooth. In the distance, cows called as milking time approached. We set off from the car and I let Rufus wander. We were testing Rufuscam which you can read about in this post, and he got some nice photos. All the wildlife photos here are from that morning.

I was happy witch my photos too and you can see them below. But how things change. At around 4pm, I saw a thin sea mist coming in over Mumbles and I thought it would make a great photograph to catch it in the sunset light over Broadpool. So Rufus and I jumped in the car and off we went. By the time we reached the pool, the visibility was down to yards and there was no sign of the sun. We went for a short walk in the gloom, which sucked all the colour from the landscape. Although the photos I took were in black and white anyway, had I used colour the only difference would have been a slight blue cast.

For most of the walk the road was invisible and only the sound of traffic betrayed it’s presence. In the distance, the cows still called, along with sheep and horses. The familiar became unfamiliar. It’s what I like about Broadpool; there’s always something different.

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The ones that got away

We had a lie in this morning to allow the bad weather to clear, so it was a relatively late 10am when we left the car to walk through Cwm Ivy woods out towards Landimore. The sky was still grey and there was a threat of rain, as the shower we passed through get here proved. It was humid, too, and probably the most uncomfortable kind of weather to be walking in, too. But we both needed a long walk to stretch legs, bust some stress and breathe some fresh air.

I always have a camera with me and this time it was a small compact that I could hide away if the rain came. But it’s slow to start up and so I’m prone to miss fleeting snapshot opportunities with it. Today, I’d regret that.

First regret was not getting a photo of the grey squirrel that ran over an overhanging branch while Rufus watched, open-jawed. He was aware that there were loads more around, judging by the nose up, stand still attitude he adopted several times. But from my slightly higher viewpoint, I could see them hopping and scurrying around in the vegetation, occasionally darting up a tree.

Then, as I was concentrating on the squirrels, I failed to notice the cow by the side of the path. In my defence, so did Rufus. But I didn’t fail to spot the thick copper ring in his nose. Finally, just before I chose retreat, I noticed the thin metal wire of a fence between us and the bull.

We wandered on, both a little more wary of our surroundings. Although there were a lot of leaves on the ground, there was very little Autumn colour in the trees, which was disappointing. But I was in a black and white mood with the camera, so I didn’t miss too much.

The sea wall path is still closed because of damage following the storms earlier this year. So today, we took a different path across the marsh and heading off towards Landimore. It was very muddy, as I expected, and there were great pools of water from rough trenches cut into the marsh. Of course, Rufus managed to explore most of them.

On the way back, we took more notice of our surroundings. I wanted to try and get photos of the bull, particularly the copper ring, and the squirrels. I was hoping to get a photo of Rufus and a squirrel in the same shot. But the bull had gone and the squirrels were camera shy. But as we neared the little village of Cwm Ivy, I heard a commotion over in the fields on the right and I looked to see a buzzard chasing a heron low across the field, just above the heads of curious cows. I was so surprised that I didn’t even reach for the camera until they had both disappeared behind a tree. There was more commotions but I would be surprised if the buzzard got the better of the heron, as herons are big birds.

Any one of those sights would have made a great photos, one I could be proud of. I missed the lot. Time to give up the camera and pick up the crochet needles.

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Heron

Awake early and with the prospect of wind and rain, I set off for Penllegare woods again in the hope of spotting the elusive Kingfishers. As soon as I saw the river, swollen with yesterday’s heavy rain, I knew they wouldn’t be around. Kingfishers prefer a gentle flow that they can dive into; this would have swept them downstream in an instant. So I headed off along the river bank and was rewarded almost immediately by the presence of a robin, which came towards me and my camera as if it wanted to appear in this blog!

Once again, the birdsong was loud and continuous. I’m useless at identifying birds by their singing but even I recognised the blackbirds, and this was confirmed by the numbers hopping about on the ground searching for food.

But then my attention was caught by a long neck, grey feathers and sleek head and as I looked, the heron leapt into the air and flew off along the river.  I watched it head off over the trees and managed a couple of snapshots as it made off. I love herons and despite seeing quite a few around the area, have rarely managed to get photos of them as they are so shy and cautious.

I carried on into the woods and across a recently restored bridge to walk on the opposite bank of the river for a bit. The Rhododendrons are starting to bloom and I found one tree that had bright red flowers, very much like the ones I saw in Nepal in 2011.

With the first drops of rain, I decided to turn back for the car and I retraced my steps across the bridge and along the side of a small lake. Suddenly, I spotted the familiar shape and colour of the heron again. I was surprised to see it as I thought it would have left the area. I stopped still and it eyed me up from the lakeside. I managed to slowly raise the camera without spooking it, and took a few photos. Then I moved gently so there was a large tree trunk between me and the heron, and slowly crept forward.

As I emerged from behind the tree, I had time for two quick photos before the heron took off but I followed it to see that it had only flown a few yards down the path. So I continued to slowly and quietly make my way along towards it, keeping bushes and trees and other cover between me and it. Had anyone been watching, they would have wondered what I was up to.

And then there it was, eyeing me up as I stood with the camera to my eye. I guessed that the camera partially blocked my face and may have confused the heron, as I was able to creep a little closer. I managed to snap a few more frames before I saw the bird tense up and launch into the air and fly off again, this time high up over the trees opposite where I stood. I decided not to wait around as I didn’t want to disturb the bird any more than I already had.

Still didn’t see any Kingfishers though.

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Broadpool

Back to Broadpool this evening to have another go at snapping the heron. It was a lovely evening and there was the promise of another nice sunset to tempt me, too.

I also wanted to try a couple of lenses on the infra red camera to check for hotspots. Boring bit alert. Some lenses suffer from internal reflections, particularly in the infra red spectrum. These manifest themselves as bright areas in the centre of the frame, but only on the image, not in the viewfinder. It’s nothing to do with the quality of the lens, rather the materials used to construct it. It’s almost impossible to get rid of the hotspot effectively post camera. Tonight I was trying a 24mm prime lens and the 18-270 zoom. Both passed with flying colours (well, flying shades of near infra red actually).

At the pond, a young couple were fishing. That’s not a euphemism. They were actually fishing. So I didn’t hold out much hope for spotting the heron, which is very shy. So I walked around the pond and concentrated on the tiny world of macro. You can see from some of the photos, there were a few tiny things around.

Making my way back towards the car, I suddenly heard a commotion ahead and at the same time, the heron leapt up into the air from about 5 yards away and flew off into the reeds. I hadn’t seen it and I was almost close enough to touch it. I have to learnt to walk more slowly to give me time to look more closely.

I was quite pleased with the infra red photos, though.

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Heron

I’m turning into a bit of a birder. First Kingfishers, now a Heron. They’ll call me Bill Oddie next.

I first spotted it yesterday with Rufus but this evening I went back to see if I could get closer and snap a few more pictures. There was also the promise of a colourful sunset. How could I miss out on that?

My first sighting of the heron was as it flew over me, having spotted me first. It crossed the road and settled in the ferns opposite the lake. I didn’t want to disturb it too much, so I headed back to the car with the intention of using it as a hide. But the heron saw me and flew back to the lake again. I got the photos of it flying then. Carefully, I edged around the lake shore until I spotted the heron in amongst the reeds. I approached it using a tree as cover and took a few more photos through the branches. The heron looked relaxed and wasn’t looking at me.

Conscious that it needed to settle for the night, I turned and walked away.  I managed to get some nice sunset shots, the but they weren’t as great as I’d hoped.

On a technical note, I’ve been using the D600 with high ISO settings in low light conditions and I’m really pleased with the results. Most of the wildlife stuff I’ve posted over the last few months has been at high sensitivity settings either on the D7000, D700 or it’s replacement, the D600. The heron in the reeds was taken at 1600 ISO.

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The boys are back in town

One of the good things to result from cancelling my trek is that I can get back to more sensible walks, and that means Rufus can come along again. So today, I picked him up and we headed off to Broadpool in Gower for a couple of hours of exploration.  Water attracts Rufus like a magnet, but Broadpool itself is hard for him to get in to and out of, so he treats it like an obstacle to be overcome. I can almost sense his frustration as he sees me stop to take yet another photos of some interesting bit of flora.

We skirted the north end of the pool, heading away from the road and towards another, hidden pool that we discovered a few months ago. While Rufus made his own way there, I stopped to take photos of the heather. I looked up to see that Rufus had disturbed a heron, which was flying over Broadpool. But he didn’t care and as I watched the laboured wingbeats as the heron gained just enough height to clear the road, Rufus was back on track. He disappeared behind some ferns and for a moment I wondered where he was. Then I heard the tell-tale splashes and I knew he was fine. By the time I reached, the water, Rufus was ankle deep, looking at me and waiting for the first stone of the morning.

Many stones (and some nifty catches) later, it was time to venture further west to parts of the common we hadn’t been to before. While I was distracted snapping away at a small grasshopper on an orange fern leaf, Rufus disappeared, lured by the aroma of something he had to roll in. The first I knew about it was when he got within 10 feet of me. It was the most appalling stink he’d ever managed to find, and he was so proud of it that he kept coming up to me to show it off. As I brushed the worst of it off with some dead fern leaves, I was gagging.

We went straight back to the pool for a bath. Stones were thrown to tempt Rufus deeper until he was swimming. Then I wiped him down again. Of course, it was all a game to him and there was much tail wagging and barking. When we finally got back to the car, the aroma was much weaker but I still drove home with the windows open and the air-conditioning blasting air from the front to the back.

Rufus had a long shower when he got home, which was punctuated by deep groans and sighs.

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Rufus and Dave’s lads week day 7 – The Bovine Dimension (By Rufus)

I popped in to see Dave early this morning. Awww, he was sleeping and looked so relaxed. So I didn’t shove my nose in his face to wake him up. I went back to bed and waited until 5.30. Too long in bed isn’t good for him. To be fair, he got up and we went out to make sure the garden was still there (I understand there is a fox around and I wouldn’t want her to steal Dave’s garden).

We went back to bed for a lie-in. Yesterday’s adventures took their toll on Dave so I let him rest. We got up around 8am and I let him make breakfast as he likes to feel useful when I’m around. We watched tv for a bit and then we had a chat about what we were going to do today. Dave suggested Pembrey and I thought that would be a good place to go – plenty of places toe xplore and things for Dave to photograph. It’s also flat, which means he wouldn’t be pushing himself too much after yesterday.

Dave drove. He likes that kind of thing. I prefer to contemplate the world from the back seat. I know my rightful place. We left the car and made our way along the estuary to the north of Pembrey airfield. Today, as we walked along, there were swans, lots of geese flying low overhead (they nearly bumped into Dave) and several herds of cows. The cows were all in the distance though, so there was no need to dodge them like we did last time. We walked past the pillboxes (for some reason, Dave likes these) and through the outer perimeter of Pembrey airfield. Apparently, according to Mr Interesting, it used to be a WW2 airfield and most of the derelict buildings date from then.

We entered the forest on a track that ultimately leads to the bombing and gunnery range. Last time I was here with Dave they had just finished landing Hercules aircraft on Cefn Sidan and when we got there, we had to dodge out of the way as several large fire engines made their way from the beach. There was nothing going on today so we had the run of the track. There were plenty of puddle for me to paddle in (my paws get hot with all the walking) and Dave seemed happy enough with his camera. Before long, we got to the beach. I haven’t been to the beach for a while so it was great to be able to run off in the soft sand.

Dave threw sticks and I made sure I gathered them up; you can’t be too careful leaving sticks just anywhere on the beach. The tide was going out but I managed to get some more paddling in. We had some snacks and I made sure Dave had a drink; he gets thirsty but sometimes he won’t drink. Then it was time to head back to the car. We took the same route back. By the time we reached the airfield again, one of the herds of cows had moved and some of them were very close to the path. We both decided to take it easy walking past them. I ignored them and carried on past. When I turned around to look, two cows were running straight towards Dave.

I had to stifle a laugh. He does some daft things but turning to face them, waving his arms in the air and talking to them like he talks to me was rather funny. They stopped and he turned to go and they started towards him again. I think they were after me, as they were staring at me. Dave turned to face them again and started shouting at them. I think they got the message because they stopped. They only came after us again after we’d gone through the gate and reached the path by the estuary. I enjoy a little bit of adventure on our walks.

Just before we reached the car, we saw a grey heron that had been in the pool with the swans.

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