Sud France

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The scenery is spectacular along the south coast of France as I head from Barcelona to Montpellier. Water stretches both side of the train and occasionally it seems like we are traveling in some sort of high speed boat. Masses of flamingos, herons, egrets and birds of prey can be seen along the marshy strips of land. A nature paradise, perfect for wading birds and ducks.

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Flamingos group together on an inshore lake as the sun sets behind them.

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Two flamingos wade in shallow water with their heads down.

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What appears to be a siege of herons heading south, maybe for the winter. Below more flamingos on the waters edge.

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Autumn

It’s a mild autumn day and perfect for a stroll among the falling leaves. The squirrels are out in force today and the first one I encounter is just a few feet from my doorway. After that I see several more collecting nuts ready for their winter hibernation.

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It is still so mild that even butterflies are out and I also see another humming hawk moth but fail to photograph it. However while sorting through my images I came across two nice photos I had overlooked in my eagerness to post the previous humming hawk moth photos.

Meanwhile I reflect on today’s welcome news that eleven supreme court judges have unanimously ruled against Boris Johnson. I think it is the first time I have felt any relief since the start of the whole Brexit saga. It is a great day for the rule of law, if not democracy.

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Just minding his own business … zen-like.

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‘Nuts whole hazel nuts’ … a mouthful of nuts ready for winter

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The humming hawk moth close up from my last encounter.

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Note the particularly long proboscis.

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A red admiral butterfly seen for the first time this year.

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A jay finds a convenient wooden handrail to perch on.

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… and sheep are doing their best to keep the grass trimmed on the hillsides.

Reflections

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A visit to Karlsruhe for their spectacular ‘Schlosslichtspiele’. This is an annual light festival event lasting for several weeks from August till September. Many artists and companies are involved in putting together a light show projected onto the impressive baroque facade of the palace.

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The setting was perfect with a warm summer evening and clear skies. The event is free and there was plenty of space in the enormous grounds to find an ideal viewing spot.

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After a weekend in Karlsruhe it was back to Pforzheim and time to reflect on how different the two towns are.

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Pforzheim suffered greatly during WW2 and I took time out to visit the memorial, which stands high on a hill where the debris from bombed building was taken and now over looks the town.

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It’s a bit of a slog to get up to but well worth it just for the views over Pforzheim and Baden Wuerttemberg. The shiny metallic memorial sculptures reminded me of a mix between 911 and 2001 and below this plaque explains the event:

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Which roughly translated reads as follows:

Debris hill 23rd February 1945

This artificial hill was created on the Wallberg (hill) from the debris of Pforzheim.

It reminds us of the horrors of WW2, particularly on the 23rd February 1945. In less than 20 minutes the town was completely devastated. More than 18,000 people died.

The total war – started by the National Socialists, Germany – aimed now also at our own town.

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A beautiful mix of wildflowers alongside the Enz riverbanks.

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A duck on the River Nagold, which also flows through Pforzheim. The two rivers intersect in the town centre and this made it attractive to the Romans who first settled here. In fact for all I know I would not be surprised if the duck was standing on old Roman ruins.

The Zone

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Have you ever noticed how little animals and birds do. Look at your average dog or cat, they sleep all night and then for much of the day. Notice a field of sheep or ducks beside a pond, they too spend much of the day sleeping and I am pretty sure they are not suffering from insomnia.

You have to ask yourself what are we humans doing wrong. We dash around the world polluting the environment, provoke wars or else we spend hours frustrated waiting in traffic queues, checkins and such like.

Is it not time to rethink what we are doing and where we are headed. Why are people working their butts off just to buy things that give a momentary buzz. What’s with all these famous, rich, celebrities living in those huge mansions you see on YouTube. Empty mansions, spotless, sterile, never lived in. Too big even for three generations of one family. OK, so some are investments and some are historic buildings being preserved. However, even your average middle class family own a large house that will soon only echo to the hollow sounds of the children who once lived there.

I read that algorithms will soon replace most of what we humans do. No profession is untouched. Even art! A computer that composes music has already dumbfounded music critics. They could not tell the difference between real Bach and this computer that had been programmed to create Bach style music. The speed of change is so great now that even educating youngsters for specific professions is rapidly becoming obsolete.

Never mind, there is always Weezer.

Weezer – Islands in the sun.

Egrets

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… a change of scene.

This is an old composite image of egrets I photographed mainly in Spain some years ago. I felt a short break was needed from nature walks, Boris and 3D modeling. What with Boris getting his just deserts, Rhino 3D software update costing me 1000 euros and with the summer being all but over, time to reflect on where I am going, what I am doing and what in the world is going on.

Sunday walk III

Yesterday felt like the hottest day so far this summer, even if it failed to break any records. Today as I venture out on my Sunday walk it is cooler but still very warm. However it looks like from now on it’s downhill all the way as far as temperatures go.

I wade through ferns on a zigzag path that eventually meets a dirt track halfway down the hill and plonk myself on my favourite bench to soak up the sun. It is pretty quiet and I have yet to photograph anything interesting. While meditating I listen to the sounds of the forest. Bird calls, twigs crack and leaves rustle as a cool breeze filters through the trees.

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I open my eyes and spot what at first I think is a buzzard but it turns out to be some sort of hawk. I manage one poor shot but the silhouette is enough to identify it as a bird of prey, but what, I have no idea. I shall leave that to the ornithologists.

Soon after this, walking along the dirt track, a buzzard shoots out of the undergrowth in front of me and crosses the track in a slow low glide before disappearing into the forest below. No chance of a photo but always impressive when you see them close up instead of just a silhouette up in the sky.

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I notice the ‘prehistoric’ plants from last week have all been mowed down along with what was left of the wildflowers. It seems rather pointless cutting forest grass especially as it had only been done on one side of the track. Last year there had been a large bush of thistles that had attracted a variety of butterflies but when I arrived there this year to take photos it was gone. It seems to me that foresters have little interest in nature. I see this all the time. Mowed grass that could easily be left wild but there is a western obsession with mowing lawns. ‘Must keep things tidy, what will people think!’ The trouble with that is all the wildflowers are destroyed too, essential for butterflies and bees. I used to write to councils about these sort of things but they invariably ignored me. Give young unemployed guys a noisy polluting strimmer or leaf blower and it will keep them happy and off the streets. That is the mindset of councilors.

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I came across this curious thing in the forest, which was a web with what looked like a burrowing hole for a small animal. No idea what it is. The hole was a bit bigger than finger size and had not been touched as the web had been constructed around the hole as far as I could tell. Any suggestions welcome ?

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A jay hides in long grass searching and listening for bugs, eventually taking flight back into the forest.

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Finally a photo of my favourite tree, which I have often photographed and probably already posted here before.

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Sunday walk II

Another hot day in the upper twenties as I head out to repeat my Sunday walk from last week. There is dew on the ground and I notice there are already plenty of mushrooms, so it looks like being a good year for them. Odd leaves fall from some trees that are changing colour, a sure sign we are on the cusp of autumn. There are no butterflies today probably because most wildflowers are past their sell by date.

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My first encounter is a strange croaking sound from a bird I have often heard but never seen. This time however a pair fly directly overhead and I manage one poor photo, (VC on my camera was switched off, which probably did not help). However the silhouette is enough to intrigue me. Could this be the elusive Capercaillie, famous in this region but very rarely seen and on the endangered list, I think. I could hear their wing beats as they flew by, despite being high up, which indicates to me a large bird that’s too big to be a crow. They were certainly not birds of prey, so I am not sure what else they could be.

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Dew on a bracket mushroom of which there were quite a variety to be found today.

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(below) A bench with a view over the valley that I often use for a short pause.

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… and some of the few remaining wildflowers to be found along the roadside.

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Finally this mysterious plant that looks almost prehistoric and one I have only recently noticed.

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Sunday walk

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I set out before lunch on the same walk as the previous. It is fresher today with 50% cloud cover, but still warm. My first encounter is the same butterfly/moth as before but this time I am able to get closer to photograph it. The red butterflies I keep seeing must have been one of these as in flight the red underside of the wings is visible but once it has landed on flora the red disappears and is replaced with its dramatic black and yellow markings.

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Something about it makes me think it is a moth, though I am not sure what exactly, maybe its shape. This delta wing shape is not typical for butterflies and from behind it looks like a Vulcan bomber even down to the red from the jet engines. It does make you wonder if the Vulcan designer was inspired by such a butterfly.

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Doing my Internet research it would seem that it is some sort of Tiger moth.

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There were also a number of other butterflies to be seen today.

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… and the usual insects of course.

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The crickets are out and about today too, but hard to spot being very small and nervous. In the past I have photographed many grasshoppers but the last two years I have seen none but I am sure they are around somewhere.

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Finally, yesterday I spotted this mystery bird, which had grabbed some debris the squirrels had discarded after consuming nuts in the hazelnut tree. At first I thought it was a bird of prey, then a jay, but after seeing the blurred images I decided it must be a sparrowhawk. However on closer inspection it is clearly non of these as it has a long sharp beak and vertical stripes. Any ideas?

Nature today

Well, yesterday really.

It is quite humid today but pleasantly warm with a bit of wind so I take my camera out for a stroll through the forest. I am actually homing in on the buzzards, which are hanging out in nearby trees and hope to get a decent photo. As it turns out, I neither see them nor hear them.

A poor shot I captured early this morning (see below) does not look like a typical buzzard as there seems to be too much white and the wing feathers look more like an eagle’s than a buzzard, so I am wondering what else it might be. I have seen red kites here but they are easy to spot with their forked tails and distinctive wings. It’s clearly not a kite. Any ideas?

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I descend halfway down the mountain on a pathway overgrown with ferns. The birds are silent, it’s just after lunch and probably not the best time to venture out in search of wildlife. However once I reach the dirt track a butterfly catches my attention. Is it a butterfly or a moth, I am not sure but it is certainly not one I have seen before.

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Moth or butterfly?

It has dramatic black and white markings on top with red underneath. I decide to focus on butterflies but miss several interesting red ones, which could have been tortoiseshells or the one above. There were some small white butterflies and the ever present brimstones.

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These very small blue butterflies are out and about today, but being so small they present quite a challenge to photograph. Still, I am given ample opportunities and manage a few photos.

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They have iridescent blue wings on the top side and underneath a more traditional butterfly pattern.

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On my return leg I disturb an animal. I can tell by the noise as it flees that it is something interesting and not just a squirrel or mouse, it’s too loud for that and not loud enough to be a deer or wild boar. I peer into the undergrowth not expecting to see much but then I see it. A fleeting glimpse of a small short haired animal about the size of a small dog, rust coloured with short ears and legs, scampering away. I wonder what it could be as I have never seen such an animal before.

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I was going to ignore this cute young black restart but it seemed determined to remain on the log so I took some shots anyway and it posed nicely, changing its head position, just like a photo model. Black redstarts are more common here than sparrows and no wonder they usually have five chicks and two broods a year is not unusual.

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Finally, this was probably a young fieldfare taken a few weeks ago in the valley. There seem to be many young birds around at present, rather late in the year I feel. Even the ducks last week had chicks that looked just a few days old. Is this the result of climate change or just my imagination.

Focus vs shutter

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A buzzard glides on thermals rising from the valley this morning. I hear buzzards almost daily now but only see them on occasions. Once again this image is out of focus, probably due to the slow 1/60th shutter speed. I only got a couple of shots before it disappeared over the roof.

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A beautifully constructed wasps nest on my balcony. Here I used fill-in flash to help freeze the image. I am not a lover of flash as I find the images tend to be less realistic with hard shadows, but fill-in has its uses.

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I had another attempt at the squirrels this morning but little improvement despite some sunshine. Probably due to the slow 1/60th shutter speed again.