Little Venice

We took a trip to Bristol last week and London Underground got us to Paddington with time not only for breakfast, but a brief walk along the Regents Canal before our train left.


The smog full of dust from North Africa imposed a hazy kind of light, but I was delighted to find a couple of red headed pochard dabbling in the murky depths.


They are pretty little ducks and not that common. Even their eyes are red.


It had been a long time since I was here last and the area has had a bit of a makeover with some nice looking bars and restaurants, not to mention the odd sculpture.


This one is called Standing Man by Sean Henry.

However we couldn’t hang about, a really tasty breakfast at the Sloe Bar in Paddington Station beckoned, £8.75 for full English with black pudding and a cafe late included, knocks spots of airport rip off joints.

Raven Mad

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door —

Not a Raven after all

Not a Raven after all

OK it wasn’t the Raven, but a pheasant sitting on our window sill at the Alton Towers Hotel last weekend.

‘I’ve never been so close to a pheasant before’ quoth the Powder Monkey

‘you were when we ate one’ I replied.

I made sure the window was well fastened I didn’t want to come back and discover he’d invited his mates round to scoff the complimentary biscuits.

Party room 105 everyones invited.

Party room 105 everyone’s invited.

Ducklings, Thistles and Fledglings

The mallard ducklings at Earl’s Path Pond in Epping Forest are still going strong.

Mallard ducklings

Mallard ducklings

There are at least eight of them and they are quite bold, even when mum isn’t about.

Mallard ducklings

Mallard ducklings

In the forest the thistles have finished flowering  and now the seeds are waiting for a draft of wind to see them on their way.



We have a new visitor to our garden., excuse the quality of the shot, it was sneaked through the kitchen window as I was hiding behind the chilli plants.



This is Scraggy and he’s a recently fledged magpie. I put some breadcrumbs out for him most days, but he is very nervous and spooks easily.

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact for commercial reuse

Baby Bird Alert – Epping Forest and Woodford Green

Now that the mandarin ducklings have grown up and left Earl’s Path Pond a mummy mallard has moved in. She has eight new ducklings. They mostly kept to the shade, but one of them came out to feed amongst the water lilies.

baby mallard

baby mallard

I was quite pleased with this picture as you can see the water the duckling is spitting out.

Over at Strawberry Hill the terrapins are still enjoying the Sun,



although one of them seems to have fallen out with his mates.

The Garbo of the chelonian world

The Garbo of the chelonian world

There are more baby mallards at the pond at Woodford Green.

Mallard ducklings

Mallard ducklings

They are very keen on bread and we were really sorry that we didn’t have any when they came to join us at the water’s edge. There were also a pair of moorhen chicks which wee a bit more wary.

Moorhen chick

Moorhen chick

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact for commercial reuse

Baby Birds at Verulamium Park, St Albans

We had lunch at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans on Saturday, it was a very good lunch too, but one of the greatest pleasures of lunch at one of the oldest pubs in the UK is the walk from the car park to the pub through Verulamium Park.  This is because of the huge numbers of water fowl that live around the lake.

Cananda Goose Goslings

Canada Goose Goslings

Most of the birds have broods of young right now, including the coots,



and the Canada geese.

Canada Goose goslings having a wash and brush up

Canada Goose goslings having a wash and brush up

Some families are more grown up than others, as I was shooting the two little guys above this mob came bearing down on us like a pack of velociraptors.

Like a bunch of dinosaurs

Like a bunch of dinosaurs

I’m intrigued by water rails like moorhens



and coots, I think its their big feet.



you see both of them are good swimmers, but unlike ducks or gulls that don’t have webbed feet. Instead they have fleshy lobes on their toes that they use to propel them through the water. you can see them quite well on the photo of the coot above.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any baby herons, perhaps the strange weather we have been having this year has messed up their breeding season. We did see some swans, greylag geese, lots of mallards and some handsome tufted ducks though.

Tufted ducks - drake on the right

Tufted ducks – drake on the right

Verulamium was the name given to the town by the Romans. It was one of the first to be settled by them in the south of England following the invasion in AD43. In AD60 the British Queen Boudicca burnt it down along with London and Colchester. Us Brits like to celebrate such heroics while calmly brushing the following 350 years of Roman domination under the carpet!

Leeds Castle Revisited

Being a complete skinflint I noticed that our free admission to Leeds Castle was about to expire (when you buy a ticket it’s valid for a whole year) so we decided to get the car out and head for Kent.

We crossed the Thames by means of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge,

I’m getting into this motoring photography

which links Essex with Kent. The bridge is 812 metres long and rises to 137 metres above the Thames. Completed in 1991, it’s the 44th longest cable-stayed bridge in the world and the second in the UK after the Second Severn Bridge, so there must be room for a whole host of trolls to live underneath it. Speaking of trolls, the toll to cross the river has just gone up to £2 for a car which is a bit steep. As I wasn’t driving I took a few snaps as we passed over.

The Bridge is a pretty amazing piece of architecture

I won’t go into the history of Leeds Castle and why it isn’t in Yorkshire, as you can read all that in my previous post here. On arrival I was disappointed to discover that since our last visit the aviary had been closed, but we were lucky enough to catch the last part of the Birds of Prey Show with Oreo the Great Grey Owl.

Oreo the Great Grey Owl

Found in Arctic Russia, Canada and Norway the great grey owl is very fond of eating lemmings, which it can spot from afar with those eyes. As the handler was bringing Oreo around to meet the spectators I heard a honk from behind my back, I turned around and found this fellow, who was hoping I had a bit of old sandwich for him.

Hopeful black swan

Sadly I had already had lunch so he was disappointed, as was this jackdaw.

‘What are you looking at?’

There were still plenty of wild birds to see on the castle moat, lake and ornamental canals, including some whooper swans who had already arrived from their summer home of Siberia.

Whooper Swan

Whoopers are slightly smaller than the UK’s native mute swan and have a yellow rather than an orange beak. I was also very pleased with this photo of a black headed gull in his winter plumage.

Black headed gull

The only remnant of his chocolate-brown head is the spot behind his eye. It’s odd when you think that in the UK we now have two species of gull (the little and the continental) with a black head and the one we call the black headed gull actually has a brown head, but then we call them seagulls when most of them seem to live in supermarket car parks!

Other birds spotted included: Canada geese, barnacle geese,

Barnacle goose

greylag geese, moorhen, coot, magpie, mallard, blue tit, feral pigeon, great crested grebe and mute swan.

Mute swan and cygnets ‘Call me an ugly duckling and I will break your arm!’

Some of the black swans were still on their nest.

Domestic bliss

Of course the black swans originally came from Australia and were introduced to the park as ornamental birds like the peafowl.

‘Don’t even think about sticking an electric tail on me!’

Who were still looking lovely despite having lost their display plumage.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks and some Ducks

The summer came and briefly visited the UK on Sunday, so we decided it was time for a pub lunch. Not in any old pub, mind you, oh no, because according to The Guinness Book of Records,

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans  is the oldest pub in the UK. The original building close to St Albans Abbey dates back to the 11th century and owes its basic octagonal shape to its first use as a dovecote.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

In 1539, when Henry VIII fell out with the Pope over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and decided to start his own church, the Abbey was dissolved and the building moved to its present location close to the cathedral. It is rumoured that underground tunnels link the beer cellar with the cathedral, which I suppose is handy if the Bishop ever runs out of communion wine. First known as the Round House, it became Ye Olde Fighting Cocks when the Cock Pit from the Abbey was installed after the dissolution. When cock-fighting was banned in 1849 the pub was briefly called The Fisherman before reverting to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in 1872.

This is a great little boozer which fortunately still has many of its original features like the bread oven by the main fireplace.  It also has a deserved reputation for its food

The only chicken you will meet in Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

As it was Sunday there was a selection of roasts on offer. I went for the chicken which had been roasted with tarragon and lime (£11.95). It was fantastic. The chocolate brownie (£4.50) that Mab couldn’t finish was pretty good too.

So having eaten a pretty delicious bird we went to feed the birds in nearby Verulam Park.

Mallard duckling

There are a lot of baby birds around at this time of year including a host of Aylesbury/Mallard hybrids, Canada Geese and coots.

Coot and chick, ‘now you see us

The coot parents were busy teaching their chicks to dive.

Now you don’t’

I was charmed by this little moorhen chick being fed by its mother, that I photographed from a bridge.

Mother and baby moorhen

Incidentally St Albans has a lot of history having been settled by the Romans, conquered by the British Queen Boudicca and fought over by the forces of Lancaster and York in the Wars of the Roses. I did spend three years working there in the 90s, but the nearest thing to a historic event in that time was Timmy Mallett turning on the Christmas Lights. Must see stuff in the city are the Cathedral, the Roman Theatre and the Hypocaust (Roman central heating system) in Verulam Park.

Leeds Castle – It’s not in Yorkshire

It’s actually near Maidstone in Kent, so not a difficult trip by car, if you fancy a day out from London.

The castle was built in 1119, on the site of an original Saxon fort, by the new Norman overlord Robert de Crevecoeur. It was built on islands in the River Len close to a village called Leeds from which it takes its name.

Leeds Castle on the River Len

Edward I made Leeds Castle a royal palace in 1278, but it’s most famous past royal residents must be Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Incidentally not far from Leeds Castle is Hever Castle, which was in Henry’s time the home of second wife, Anne Boleyn’s family. After Henry, the castle passed into private ownership and survived the English Civil Wars, thanks to the new owner’s, the Culpeper family, siding with both sides.

Moat Bridge, Leeds Castle

More recently the castle has played host to peace talks for both the Middle East (1978) and Northern Ireland (2004) as well as becoming a major Kentish tourist attraction in its own right. Aside from the castle and its grounds, there is a maze and grotto, the rather magnificent Culpeper Gardens and an aviary full of parrots, toucans and other birds, including this magnificent pair of African Crowned Cranes.

Crowned Cranes

The red makings on the throat are the inflated vocal sacs since the pair of them were making quite a racquet at the time. They share their enclosure with some Black Swans, Baikal Teal,

Baikal Teal

Red Eared Terrapins and this fellow.


Now he’s a Shoveler, this is one of the UK’s rarer ducks and so named after its shovel shaped bill, which is used to strain food particles from the water. I’m not sure that he was supposed to be in the aviary, since there are quite a few of these ducks to be seen on the lake, although none of them were quite so obliging for the camera.

Grounds, Leeds Castle

Another highlight of Leeds Castle is the Dog Collar Museum. Aside from some quite fearsome studded and spiked collars belonging to hunting hounds and watchdogs you can see the collar belonging to Sooty’s pal Sweep.

In the extensive grounds the trees were ablaze with the reds and yellows of the British autumn.

Blazing reds and Yellows

On and around the water  we saw Mallards, Mute and Black Swan, Canada and domestic Emden Geese, Black Headed Gulls, Feral Pigeons, Jackdaws, Magpies, Coots and Moorhens. We also came across this more unusual pair of swans.

Whooper Swans

These are Whooper Swans, which are a bit smaller than Mute Swans and have a yellow bill with black markings. From October they start arriving in the UK from the Arctic, for the winter.

Mute Swan

We paid £18.50 each (child £11) for our tickets which are valid for a whole year. This includes entry to the castle and grounds. For food there is a sandwich bar and the self service Fairfax Restaurant (named after Thomas Fairfax, the great grandson of Parliamentarian general Thomas Fairfax defeater of the Royalist forces at the Battle of Maidstone in 1648, who was born at Leeds Castle in 1612). Like many tourist attractions the food is a bit pricey, (I paid £8 for a cheese platter of four cheeses, salad and bread) but it is made on the premises to a high standard.