All posts by David Rowell

How to take great photos

We can’t easily get out into the countryside at the moment – so why not spend more time admiring what is around your home. We are inviting you to submit photos of your garden to our Facebook site so we can share the delights with everyone. 

Sarah Lambert

Here expert wildlife photographer and Langdyke member
Sarah Lambert gives us some handy tips on how to take better pictures without having to move out of our gardens …

 

The current restrictions on movement mean that many of us are spending a great deal more time at home or in our gardens than usual.

For photographers, this can feel very frustrating, particularly as the world is now bursting into life after a long and dreary winter.

However, most gardens provide a wealth of subject matter for the wildlife photographer and being restricted to a small area allows us to develop a more in depth understanding of the wild animals and plants that share our space – which can be the key to getting that special photograph. 

There are several advantages to garden wildlife photography – firstly it’s literally on the doorstep, and, as long as you have a camera ready, you can pop out whenever lighting or weather conditions are particularly good, though getting up at dawn may still be a struggle!

Additionally, most birds and animals that visit gardens are used to human activity, enabling you to achieve intimate shots more easily than you would on a nature reserve or in the countryside.  We can also actively attract wildlife to our gardens by providing food, potential homes or even going as far as purchasing pheromone lures for clearwing moths. 

Garden fox

 

Figure 1 Garden foxes are generally much bolder than those in the countryside

If you are one of the people who are self-isolating, spending time with your camera near an open window can yield some excellent shots.

Observing wildlife and looking out at natural spaces is known to stimulate feelings of well-being, and during extended periods of observation you’re more likely to capture an image that illustrates interesting behaviour or some beautiful light. And sitting at home is generally a lot more comfortable than sitting in a bird hide!

Or, if you’re able to go outside, and are very keen on bird or mammal photography, now might be the time to construct a hide in the garden or purchase one of the many pop-up hides that are available on the internet.

 

Figure 2 Providing food attracts a range of garden wildlife. This Nuthatch was photographed through an open window from the comfort of our sitting room.

During periods of fine weather, garden flowers attract many insect visitors, and these can provide an endless source of subject matter, particularly if your camera has a macro facility.

Before you even get the camera out it’s a good idea to just spend time quietly walking round your garden, stopping frequently to watch what’s about. Many insects seem to be constantly on the move, but if you take your time, you’ll see that there are certain areas that they return to.

Many bees have favoured pollinator plants – the best way to spot Hairy-footed Flower Bees, which are currently on the wing, is to stand by a clump of Lungwort, which is irresistible to them. Later in the year Purple Toadflax is a magnet for Wool Carder-bees.

Butterflies often have favoured sheltered basking spots, while dragonflies usually return to a selected perch between hunting trips. Time spent watching is never wasted, and will potentially reward you with some excellent macro shots.

 

Figure 3 A Wool Carder-bee stopping to sip nectar from Purple Toadflax, one of its favourite flowers

The wildflowers, mosses and fungi that inhabit your garden shouldn’t be overlooked as a photographic resource and may be easier to capture than fast-moving insects.

Take time to look for interesting angles, stunning colour contrasts or intricate patterns. Many wildflowers look best if you take them from ground level.

Now that many cameras have flip-up screens, this no longer means you have to lie on the ground, though this can be a pleasant way to spend some time in warm, dry weather.

Good lighting is particularly important for wildflower photography – I enjoy shooting against the light in early morning or late evening, to highlight the translucence of delicate flowers or the presence of interesting spines and hairs.

Detailed shots of flowers are best taken on calm days with high cloud cover, when the sky acts as a giant soft-box, eliminating any harsh shadows. 

 

Figure 4 The delicate beauty of Wall Screw-moss, a species present in nearly every garden

As well as more traditional wildlife and nature photography, why not try out some more creative approaches such as in-camera movement, multiple exposures and long exposures? Or techniques that you might not have attempted before such as stacking or photographing flowers on a lightpad?

There’s plenty of information on the internet to help you with these techniques. 

 

Figure 5 Corncockle photographed on a lightpad.

While their reserves are closed because of the current pandemic, the Langdyke Trust are running a  garden photography competition.

It’ll be very interesting to see the range of wildlife that you find, and the act of taking photographs will provide welcome diversion from the current situation. 

f you’d like to see more of my photographs have a look at https://www.blipfoto.com/mollyblobs

MARCH IN PICTURES

The signs of Spring are definitely in evidence if these pictures shot on our reserves during March are anything to go by.

They were all taken before the Government issued its Coronavirus advice to all of us to stay at home.

We’ve chosen the photo of the wild pear tree taken by Kathryn Parsons as our image of the month.

It’s probably the last time for a while that we will be focussing on pictures taken on the reserves.  We’ll be concentrating on photos of wildlife in the gardens of members for the time being.  Please start posting them – so that we can all share the delights without having to go out and put ourselves and others at risk.

Each month we select photographs taken by our members. They might not be technically perfect – but they sum up the events of that month. Here are some other images from March.

Kathryn also took this picture of our full time volunteers at work on the Etton Maxey reserve, grazing the grass and keeping the reserves in shape – having to do their work without the assistance of human volunteers for the time being.

Langdyke’s sheep at Etton Maxey. Photo: Kathryn Parsons

It is hoped that we will have the first Langdyke lambs during April, so please keep visiting the site for news of new arrivals. In line with Government advice we will be maintaining our livestock checking regime to ensure our sheep remain healthy.

An early morning walk along the Maxey Cut by Angela Trotter resulted in this great shot of a weasel, apparently on the hunt for a rabbit for breakfast.

Weasel along the Maxey Cut. Photo: Angela Trotter

This common field speedwell was captured at Swaddywell Pit by Sarah Lambert.

Common field speedwell, seen at Swaddywell. Photo: Sarah Lambert

There was plenty of birdlife on view during the month. This redshank was spotted at Etton Maxey by Steve Zealand.

Redshank, Etton Maxey. Photo: Steve Zealand

Nathan Stimpson was also at Etton Maxey to capture this shot of a Heron, a regular resident on the reserve.

Heron, Etton Maxey. Photo: Nathan Stimpson

And this greylag goose caught the eye of Steve Zealand at Etton Maxey.

Greylag goose, Etton Maxey. Photo: Steve Lonsdale

And finally the splendour of Barnack Hills and Holes was captured in this image by David Alvey.  We’ve chosen to use it as a reminder that we should all stay at home and only exercise where we can practice safe self distancing.  Keep safe!

Barnack Hills and Holes. Photo: David Alvey

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19: Stay safe in nature!

All Langdyke events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future because of the Coronavirus outbreak.

This is in response to the Government guidance on COVID-19. We are sorry to have had to take this decision, but we know you will understand.

This includes the annual meeting which is due to have taken place on April 23.

Langdyke chair Richard Astle said:

“In light of the Prime Minister’s new advice to stay at home, we can no longer encourage people to visit our reserves – that would seem irresponsible. We have suspended all work on our reserves. Our hides at Etton Maxey Pits are now locked.

“But we will be doing everything we can to keep you in touch with the nature you can find in your gardens over the coming days and weeks. We will also maintain – strictly in line with Government guidance – our livestock checking programme to ensure our sheep remain healthy.

“We will continue to use our Facebook page to keep each other in touch with what we see and what we hear; to ask questions about what to look out for and to ask for help with identification!

“We will shortly be launching a spring migrant project through Facebook so we can see who really did hear the first cuckoo and see the first swallow.

“Stay in touch, stay safe and enjoy the natural world around your home.

“Best wishes to you, your families and friends and to all our key workers, thank you.”

Richard

The monthly newsletters will continue as normal. We will also be publishing an annual report and sending it to you.
Please keep in touch via this website for further updates.

New birds on the reserve

Five new species of birds were seen on the Etton Maxey Reserve during 2019, according to a fascinating survey report completed by Langdyke’s Bob Titman.

They included Great (white) Egret, a Purple Heron, Hen Harrier, Common Stonechat and a Common Raven.

Purple Heron. Photo: Brian Lawrence

According to Bob’s records none of them have been spotted at the reserve before.

He recorded a total of 122 different species during his visits in the year.

Other notable sightings included:

  • A starling murmuration of around 3,000 birds
  • 114 mallard spotted on one occasion
  • 54 northeren shoveler seen at the same time

Although European turtle doves have not built a nest on the reserves there is evidence that they have been breeding just a few hundred metres away from the reserve.

Operation Turtle Dove was also set up to feed and attract them to the site and this was  a big success during the year.

Turtle Doves Photo: Brian Lawrence

There are two reports compiled by Bob on the website under the science and surveys section of our site.
They are:  breeding birds survey here  and waders at Etton Maxey here

  • There were also reports of a 30,000 starling murmuration over the reserve but this does not figure in Bob’s eyewitness report

February in pictures

Water, water everywhere

One thing summed up the month of February 2020 … water.  And lots of it.

So that’s why we are using the image of a flooded Etton Maxey Pits Nature Reserve as our image of the month.

Each month we select photographs taken by our members. They might not be technically perfect – but they sum up the events of that month. This month’s image was taken by David Rowell. Here are some other images from February.

The rainfall has seriously disrupted farmers and gardeners in their preparations for the year ahead. And we will have to wait and see what affect it has on nature generally.

One thing that the heavy rainfall might have improved is the chances of getting more wading birds on site at the Etton Maxey site.

This picture was taken by Brian Lawrence.  It is hoped that both waders and lovers of mud will be attracted to the site in greater numbers.

High water levels at Etton Maxey Photo: Brian Lawrence

More evidence of the rainfall could be seen in this image captured by Keren Thomson of the wooded area of Etton Wood Meadow. It shows more water than wood!

Vergette Wood Meadow in flood Photo: Keren Thomson

One of the highlights of the month was a visit by Langdyke volunteers to help with conservation work at Marholm Field Bank – the smallest reserve looked after by the Trust.

It is a little gem of a place hidden just off the A47 and is not open to the public.

Nathan Stimpson took this shot showing evidence of a woodmouse that had been chewing away on a nut at the site.

Signs of a woodmouse, found during a visit to Marholm Field Bank Photo: Nathan Stimpson

Some delighted specimens among the undergrowth were uncovered and photographed by Sarah Lambert.  They included this Primrose.

Primrose Premolar Vulgaris at Marholm Field Bank Photo: Sarah Lambert

This is an unusual magnified photograph by Sarah of neat feather moss.

An enlarged photo of neat feather moss found at Marholm Field Bank Photo: Sarah Lambert

 

 

Work parties take place across most of the Langdyke reserves and we are always looking for volunteers to help out. They usually last a couple of hours and end with a friendly chat and a cuppa. If you would like to take part please email editor@langdyke.org.uk

Another work party – this time at Etton – was busy litter picking and lifted this old tree guard to uncover snails in winter hibernation.  The guard was left where it was, allowing the snails to slumber on.

Hibernating snails found during a work party at Etton Photo: Kathryn Parsons

And finally …  during a visit to Swaddywell Pit Sarah Lambert photographed these juvenile smooth newts.

Juvenile smooth newts at Swaddywell Photo: Sarah Lambert

Our plans move on

Richard Astle

Plans announced by the Langdyke Countryside Trust to develop an ambitious vision for nature across the area are moving on.  Here chair Richard Astle explains how things are moving forward …

 

Langdyke launched its vision for John Clare Countryside in September at St Kyneburgha’s Church, Castor to an audience of over 120 local residents.

That  vision seeks to create and protect a heritage landscape with 

  • Outstanding natural biodiversity through major habitat restoration connected through a mosaic of smaller wildlife havens and corridors 
  • An unspoilt landscape that is used by local people and the people of an expanding Peterborough, providing them with a large area of unspoilt countryside on their doorstep 
  • Well-kept heritage sites, accessible to all and working together to involve and attract visitors 
  • Cycle paths, footways and ‘quiet roads’ – a green transport infrastructure – where priority is given to walkers and riders 
  • Prosperous and successful farming, profiting from a combination of environmentally friendly farming practice, sustainable tourism and recreational activities

You can find the vision document on the website https://langdyke.org.uk/2019/09/11/vision-for-clare-country/

Since the launch, the Trust has been working with partners across the area such as Peterborough City Council, Nene Park Trust, PECT and Sacrewell Farm to develop plans to make this happen. 

We have spoken to almost all the parish councils in the area as well as landowners and businesses.  And so far, everyone we have talked to is keen to support the project!  We have also been talking to national and regional organisations such as Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts who are offering their support.

So, what happens now?  

We are applying for financial grants to help us with habitat creation for nature across the area. 

We will bring all our partners together in the spring to discuss a co-ordinated habitat creation programme possibly to include ideas for long avenues of trees across Clare Countryside, planting species rich hedgerows that create wildlife corridors; creating ponds and putting up bat and bird boxes.

We would particularly want to work with schools and parish councils and any private landowners who would be interested in joining us.

 And just think what our countryside could look like when we get this done!

An area where nature is at the heart of our lives. Where swifts and swallows are a central feature of our summer evenings, where otters continue to enthral people as they play in the Maxey Cut, where bees and other insects thrive, not decline, and where there are far more, not less, ponds, meadows, wild flowers, hedgerows and trees. And where people can walk or cycle out in safety and tranquillity across this thriving countryside, enjoying the sights and sounds and even the silence of the natural world; enjoying dark skies and cherishing the heritage – both natural and man-made- around them.

And we certainly need as many people as possible, not only to support the project, but to get actively involved!  So if you think you could help or just want to know more, please contact me on chair@langdyke.org.uk 

 

Lost Manor dig continues

The search for Ufford’s lost manor  continues over the weekend of Saturday February 29 and Sunday March 1.

Members of Langdyke’s  History  and Archaeology group (HAG) will be resuming their work in a bid to find out more about the site at Downhall Wood in Ufford.

The area appears to be the site of a manor house abandoned in the late 1600’s and now completely hidden above ground.

Anyone interested should meet at at Torpel cabin at 9.30 on the Saturday, with the intention to finish at 4.30. Sunday meet at 10.00 and finish for 4.00.

All are welcome for all or part of either day, though please book in advance to allow for planning. No previous experience required and all equipment supplied, just bring enthusiasm and a packed lunch!!

Refreshments available at Torpel cabin. There is no shelter at the wood so please dress appropriately.

There may well be a video research student along from York University.

You can contact Mike Clatworthy on 01780 764062.  Alternatively email: mikeclatworthy@hotmail.co.uk

The art of nature …

Kathryn Parsons put some of the work on display at a Langdyke open day

Kathryn Parsons has just completed her first year working as Langdyke’s artist in residence in which she led the Langdyke Stories project which coincided with our 20th anniversary celebrations. Here we ask about the project’s progress and plans for the future …

Q: How did you feel the project went?
A: Langdyke Stories was a great success in so many different ways! More than 500 people participated in one way or another, with more than 300 of those creating miniature artworks inspired by Langdyke’s wildlife and heritage.  It was magnificent and I’m hugely grateful to everyone involved.
Q: What exactly did it entail?
A: Langdyke Stories was managed by Art Pop-Up, an arts organisation based in Stamford who specialise in community projects.  Working closely with Langdyke, we devised a project designed to draw people in and share with them some of the stories of our local wildlife and history. 
Nature and art combine
We wanted to enthuse, to build new networks, reinforce existing relationships by giving people as many different opportunities as possible to be part of the celebrations around Langdyke’s 20th anniversary. 
There’s far too much to list everything that happened, so here are a few of my personal highlights….
  • teaching so many art workshops at local community groups and festivals, including working with schools, W.I., Scouts, Guides and GLADCA. I loved seeing the enthusiasm to take part as different groups came together to support one another – sharing their space for the workshops, welcoming others along and once even lending equipment to another group.  Thank you all!
  • the Peterborough Heritage Festival, when we took over the Vivacity unit in Queensgate for the whole weekend.  While outside the Civil War re-enactors fired their echoing guns and canon, indoors with us there was an oasis of calm with poetry readings, the art workshop and a team of friendly Langdyke volunteers with beautiful photographs of our local wildlife and a mini natural history museum too.
  • the Open Day in July, when visitors of all ages braved the heat-wave to come to Etton-Maxey and join in the fun.  I hung some of my own artworks in the young oak trees, and my eco-printed ‘poems’ fluttered in the breeze.  As part of the project we also had artist-led workshops including making mini-sheep with Sue Shields, and beautiful paper wildflowers with Rose Croft. 
  • hearing Keely Mills read her new poem at the Torpel Open Day, on a beautiful sunlit summer evening, with a Red Kite soaring overhead.  The poem was commissioned especially for the project, and is included in … 
  • the beautiful Langdyke Stories book.  It was a real labour of love, with contributions from many Langdyke members and well-wishers.  The book was edited and designed by Sam Roddan of Art Pop-Up – it’s gorgeous Sam, thank you!  We’re hoping to print more soon, so that it can be made more widely available.

    Part of the Langdyke stories collection
  • the “Langdyke Museum of Objects”.  Conceived by David Cowcill, this virtual museum is a collection of personal stories and images of objects that tell of individuals’ connection with our local countryside … the objects and their stories are included in the book.
  • the display of the 300+ miniature artworks at Castor St Kyneburgha Church, and later at John Clare Cottage, where they were enjoyed by hundreds of visitors.  The artworks will be treasured and displayed again in the future.

    Scenes from a working party reflected in a leaf image
  • and for me the art residency part of the program, from which the workshops were developed, was a real delight.  I got to work with so many amazing people along the way, and have loved learning about Langdyke’s amazing nature reserves. I’ve explored and developed new ways of working with leaves from those reserves, and created a series of new artworks using those techniques.  The final collection of artworks in the series is a “Herbarium” of pressed leaves which I patterned into photographs using sunlight (see www.kathrynparsons.co.uk for more photographs) … I aim to develop this further in the future.
  • and most importantly….. seeing the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the project participants as they learned about Langdyke and worked to create their own miniature artworks in response to the wealth of history and wildlife … and the delight of new connections made with other people from our local community and with the natural world, both of which are so good for us all.
Some of the work on display at John Clare Cottage
We’re extremely grateful to Peterborough Community Fund and Athene Communications for sponsoring the project, and enabling us to offer all of this at no cost to Langdyke or the workshop participants.
 #PeterboroughTogether
Viewing the work
Q: Will you be continuing your work with Langdyke?
A: The Langdyke Stories project has finished now, but I’m delighted to be continuing as Langdyke’s Artist in Residence.  We’re putting new plans in place at the moment, but it’ll definitely include an exhibition of new Langdyke-inspired artworks at the Langdyke Open Day on  June 27, at Barnack Hills and Holes.
I’ll have some of the leaf-photographs with me, and I hope to see you there!  
Meanwhile, I’m continuing to blog about my Langdyke-related work on Langdyke’s Facebook group which is open to everyone to follow and join in the conversations  here

Great day at Frampton

Langdyke members had a spectacular day at Frampton Marsh – the premier RSPB Reserve in Lincolnshire – enjoying the chance to see thousands of birds.

Located just south of the Haven on the River Witham, approximately five miles from Boston, the reserve consists of a number of freshwater scrapes and grasslands together with a large area of saltmarsh, bordering the Wash.

During the winter months it is home to a large number of waterfowl and wading birds. In most winters the number of birds is breath-taking with over 6,000 Lapwing, 5,000 Golden Plover, 2,500 Brent Geese, and large numbers of Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal and Pintail.

Around 25 members of Langdyke made the visit under the guidance of Brian Lawrence and Bob Titman. The weather was kind in that visitors could enjoy spectacular views although there was a strong wind to battle against while walking.

Langdyke members enjoy the view at RSPB Frampton Photo Cliff Stanton