Tuesday, 21 May 2019



the future's bright - the future's gold
If you’re a lover of wildlife, you’ll know there are places that you visit which touch your soul. I’ve recently returned from just such a place. 
This place isn't grand, it's just a shallow half-acre lake surrounded by woodland and fields with a little river running through it. Neither is it ancient, for until recently it was a silted up hole in the ground which required three years of hard graft by members and volunteers to transform into a haven for wildlife. It's become very valuable.
carving the lake from the overgrown countryside with the owners blessing
thousands of tons of silt were removed

drastic measures but what a transformation
nature's powers of recovery are remarkable and when clean water is provided, extremely rapid

just a few of the large numbers of tench and crucians stocked into our lake
Why it has a magical quality is a mystery but lying in a hollow in a quiet corner of sunny Dorset, it is the very essence of peace and tranquillity, apart that is from the deafening birdsong. In just two visits I’ve already identified thirty-seven different species, so all of them think it’s a special place too.

With a steady flow of crystal clear water, weed growth is prolific, so the lake makes an ideal home for tench and crucians. The club has stocked lots of both this past couple of years and they are growing rapidly. They have even bred successfully. The water is alive with food and fat fish.
what a cute little tench, hardly out of nappies

all the tench are in superb condition and fiesty when hooked
1st May was the day our members were allowed to fish it for the first time so a couple of days later I arrived at sunrise to see whether our club had created the ideal fishery for some traditional angling.

The mist rose gently from the calm water as I carefully cleared a narrow strip in the weed, using a small rake on the end of my landing net pole very close to the bank.

Tench love weed and the food and cover it provides, so I was careful to only scrape out enough to provide a clearing for my tiny pole float and create a spot for my bait to rest on the silt.

Quietly lowering a small pole cup of chopped worms in dark groundbait along with a pinch of hempseed, pellets and maggots into the swim, I inched my little bit of worm over the top before enjoying the damp air rising above the willows and alders.

Those moments when waiting for the first signs of interest from the fish are as good as they get, though I didn’t have to wait long before the float tip trembled before being pulled slowly under. A gentle strike, a wriggling resistance and the fattest little tench lay in the landing net and made my day.

my very first tench from our new pool, tempted by a bit of worm
Luckily it was the first of many, so another little pot of tempting morsels was added to the swim after every couple of tench and didn’t they fight, stretching my elastic to the point where I thought I’d be broken. They were the most perfect fish, golden red-eyed beauties, the females so fat that spawning was surely imminent.

they are the most perfect example of tench
It was a little cool and early for the crucians to add to my enjoyment but they will surely be delighting us all before too many weeks have passed and I was more than happy with the eleven tench caught in the four hours I was able to escape the world. 

butter melting in the early morning sunshine
Chris casting into the future
They weren’t all small either, several being around the three pound mark or more and really feisty too. Neither did I  catch as many as several other members, so for our Wimborne Club, it has been mission accomplished.

a happy angler with a good 'un
Three years ago the WDAC set out to create a traditional tench and crucian fishery for our members and with the help of many volunteers and organisations like the EA and Angling Trust, the results are simply delightful. I’d strongly recommend you give it a try ; it really is a jewel in our crown.
Chris catching the future

For further info on WDAC membership and our other waters, please visit our website :   http://www.wimborneanddistrictanglingclub.co.uk/

Wednesday, 6 March 2019


it's disconcerting to be ignored by a hawk that is just eight feet from me - only this once did he pay me any attention
Many special events have happened in our wooded wildlife friendly garden but few come close to this summer when a pair of sparrow hawks decided to nest in the heart of our patch in sunny Dorset.

they are long gone now but the nest was up in the birch tree on the left
a Scottish nest photographed from a forty foot scaffold hide carefully assembled over three weeks to minimise disturbance
I have filmed them in several wilder places around the country and if one character epitomises them it is shyness, so to have a pair that decided we were harmless and allowed us to carry on gardening while they sat watching was remarkable. I write a lot about the privilege of living close to wildlife but this was as good as it gets.

our tame male at his fast food restaurant

Over the years we've seen sparrow hawks fairly regularly around the garden but the first time I noticed something ‘different’ was on the 16th January. A male was perched above the bird feeders in our magnolia in what I guessed he considered a fast food restaurant.

I took a happy snap or two from the office window, then crept downstairs to get closer to the target. Pics through double-glazing are never going to be that clever so I carefully opened the door and he didn’t even look at me, even when I stepped outside. He stayed for twenty minutes, looking around and preening, seemingly without a care in the world.

the female was almost as confiding as our male

He was back on the 31st, perching above the feeders close to the side of the cottage, I say ‘he’ but when I came to download the pics the eye colour was yellow instead of orange, so this was a female and tame too.

no wonder we named him 'Fancy Dan' - he was always preening his colourful feathers
He was back by the feeders on the 4th March and I decided to be bold, stepped outside and ever so slowly stalked to within a few metres. It was exciting being so close but he didn’t even bat an eyelid and stayed there for an hour.

the female was calling her mate as we dug the garden below

On the 24th the female was in a tall birch above us, calling to what had become her mate in the wood. 

Next day he was back by the feeders but I had to creep right around our wild flower meadow to get a clear shot and then ever so slowly stalked to within eight feet. It was a moment of magic. There is so much beauty in nature, usually at a distance but for once I could admire his colourful plumage intimately. Isn't he a little cracker!

I love this pic, the only sharp bit being his claw. I need a faster camera! 
It was disconcerting that he almost completely ignored me for half an hour, only glaring at me forcefully once and flying close to my head when he left to join his mate. He was good at providing food for her too.
our female eating a blackbird on the giant oak outside my office window

I left them undisturbed when they were mating for fear of putting them off

In early April I missed photographing them mating but the next few weeks I saw them do so several times and spent hours in the wood watching them collect sticks for the nest and building up the structure in a birch tree that we could see from our bed. The whole episode was quite remarkable.

they built the nest in a tall birch in the middle of our woodland walk

it was exciting seeing her breaking off twigs for the nest - the male helped a bit too.

she placed the twigs carefully on the base of the nest
building took more than three weeks as the leaf cover for the nest increased
They had decided our garden was home and nothing was going to convince them otherwise but we decided to be cautious so that they could lay eggs undisturbed and started to avoid walking under the nest. However, they seemed completely bomb proof and would happily sit around in the branches while we sat watching close by.
he was so cool he slept even when we sat a few feet away - quite remarkable

her tail just visible as she formed the cup for her eggs
By the end of April they had completed the nest and were paying a lot of attention to the cup, fiddling with little twigs and wriggling down to make it comfortable. By early May the female was laying and with a telescope I could watch her tail rising and falling as she forced the egg out.

Over the next three weeks the male brought food to her regularly and it was amusing to see them both chasing away any intruders to the area. They all got energetically pursued, wood pigeons, crows, magpies, jackdaws, jays, even grey squirrels. I imagined they quite enjoyed putting the fear of god up their visitors asses!

he would sit happily on the tree tops soaking up the sunrise while she incubated their eggs - it's a man's world

By early June we watched the female feeding small young and by now we had nicknamed the male ‘Fancy Dan’. He would regularly go and bath in the stream close to the nest, then spend hours preening in the sunshine. Who’s a pretty boy!

Fancy Dan at his morning shower. His mate would bathe in the afternoon while he did his duty on the nest   © Mike Read
A great friend of ours Mike Read came round to take a few pics. He’s a professional photographer with proper gear, [I just had a Panasonic ‘bridge’ camera with small zoom], so we were really grateful that Mike could take delightful pictures that did Fancy Dan justice.
he loved having a thorough soak in the shallow pools, spending many minutes at his ablutions   © Mike Read

his bathng became a daily routine so no wonder we called him Fancy Dan   © Mike Read
a different female eating a kill close to our nest - quite a surprise    © Jane Adams 
On another day we had a great friend round, Jane Adams, who hoped to see the chick being fed and Mum duly obliged. However, we were looking at Sue’s veg plot when a sparrow hawk zoomed across and landed with its’ prey in the nearby weeping willow. I assumed it was Fancy Dan with another kill but it was another female, only fifty metres from the nest where our female was feeding the chicks, surely a most unusual happening.

Fancy Dan would pluck some of the feathers off his prey before presenting it to his mate    © Mike Read
the food pass usually took place close to the nest   © Mike Read
our precious cuddly bundle would soon turn into a fast flying killing machine that are not always popular with bird lovers
Fancy Dan seemed to be providing plenty of food for the chicks but by early July there was only one survivor in the nest. Perhaps the tropical heat of our wonderful summer had taken its’ toll? However, the chick successfully fledged and within a few days the show was over, the birds dispersing into the surrounding woods. We were sad to see them go but were now free to walk under the nest again.  We had made a self-imposed curfew to avoid disturbing them too much.

We still see Fancy Dan occasionally as he sits quietly on one of his favorite perches or zooms past in pursuit of some intended victim and we’re hoping that they return next year to try to raise a family in our presence once again. It was a remarkable privilege for which we will always be grateful.

If you would like to see more of Mike Read's splendid pictures then please visit : www.mikeread.co.uk

Friday, 1 February 2019


our favourite little patch of sunny Dorset - well, sunny most of the time
As I write on the 31stJanuary flakes of snow start to fall from a leaden sky and Sue and I are immediately reminded of last years ‘Beast from the East’.
our singing blackbird lost some of his enthusiasm

our garden nesting mallards had to delay egg laying

snipe took advantage of the warm water from springs under the garden
all birds still need to drink and song thrushes are no exception

we fed a dead rabbit to a struggling buzzard
I’m sure non of us will forget that extreme chill and though we have amber weather warnings out now and the rainfall radar map looks threatening, I’m guessing we are all hoping that this particular threat won’t be as severe as last March.

we were very sad that despite all that we did for this hungry buzzard it wasn't enough

there's beauty in the beast
our many camelias were adorned

However, that fall of snow turned our little patch of rural England into a garden of beauty and we tried to ensure it was also a welcome haven for wildlife. We have plenty of unfrozen water flowing through the garden but made sure all the bird feeders were full of seed as well.

putting out seed means we enjoy regular visits from stock doves that nest nearby but never as many as eight before

We enjoyed seeing many garden species much closer to us than is usual and though the weather was unwelcome we were able to provide for birds that were suffering in the cold.
fieldfares were attracted by the fallen apples that we had saved for them

this redwing was weak and struggling but a few good feeds by the kitchen allowed it to recover

we never tire of the beautiful snow scenes that we can look out at from our warm snug - we are very lucky
Waking today at dawn on 1stFeb reveals a magical transformation as the damp snow overnight has stuck to every small branch and our hungry birds are flocking to the feeders with enthusiasm, the RSPB coconut treats being particularly welcome.

our male great spotted woodpecker is here several times every day.
in spite of the 'Beast', enough long tailed tits survived to bring us joy this last year
bullfinches prosper on our brambles and seed

We hope that a repeat of last year is not going to happen any time soon for you may remember that the ‘Beast’ [from the east] was followed rapidly by a visit from a storm called ‘Maria’ from the west, it’s wet snow coating our garden with ice and making life almost unbearable for the birds.
this weak and cold long-tailed tit might not have survived the 'Beast' and 'Maria'

coal tits seemed to remain active and healthy
We were mighty relieved when that lot melted and we were able to return to warm spring days and enjoy flowers and warm sunshine.
we love the glorious spring blooms of camelias

It was minus eight degrees locally yesterday and too chilly for gardening but Sue and I laugh now about how in a past life I wouldn’t hesitate to head off to the far north for six weeks to film polar bears in the Arctic blast at a daily average of minus 36 degrees and I’m reminded of those frost bitten days by news of Chicago caught in a ‘polar vortex’ of minus 30.
by 'eck it was cold skidooing over the sea ice in Svalbard to film denning bears - the wind chill was a killer

the ever charasmatic polar bears kept us alert and focused on their hunting strategies

I didn’t feel the cold much in those days even if I did suffer lots of frost bite along with hypothermia twice but the mere thought of going outside now makes me shiver and put another log on the fire. I guess that means I'm past my 'sell by date'.
our regular fox has become fat on the remains of pheasants that the local shoots keep dumping on our doostep

Happy days. The snow is melting, the robins are singing, our snowdrops are up and spring is on the way …
the richly scented witch hazel is always a treat in the winter