Monday, 28 June 2021

Dragons, Damsels, Butterflies, Orchids and Proud Parents


Every so often and often unexpectedly, special time is spent in a special place, and the sun shines.  Today was one of those occasions.  We had decided rather than traveling to explore habitats near Kielder that our time would be spent closer to home.  What a wise choice this turned out to be.  I will not name the locality, but local naturalists will I’m sure work it out for themselves.

Large Red Damselfly on Northern Marsh Orchid

As we approached the lane leading to the rather unusual and almost hidden entrance a Common Buzzard flew overhead and Speckled Wood Butterflies flew from the hedge.  We entered via the gate come fence and found utopia, and were immediately surrounded by the song of Willow Warblers.  We had the area to ourselves for the next few hours apart from a family calling by to count the cygnets.  I completely forgot that there was a busy road nearby and I even cut out the sound of artillery fire which had initially made me feel as though we were entering an ongoing conflict.

Mute Swan and cygnets

Little Grebe carrying young

The Mute Swan pen stood sentinel like over her brood, and the hissing threat aimed towards us made sure that we understood not to approach too closely.  I don’t like the use of the term cute to be used in respect of wildlife, but I suppose I could make an exception in this case.  The cob of the pair was energetically washing and preening in the centre of the pond.  I watched the brood climb from the water and settle on the grass.  They were not the only family of birds here.  A Little Grebe carried her young across the water of the larger of the two reed bordered ponds and a pair of Canada Geese guarded their one youngster.  We kept our distance so that none of these birds were in any way disturbed.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly

The odonata caught the eye as soon as we approached the larger pond and initially it was the large number of
Four-spotted Chaser Dragonflies that caught the eye.  After a while we saw the continually active Emperor Dragonfly, male and female flying together at one point.  I was unable to catch an image in flight, but did eventually find a female ovipositing and managed a rather distant image, which I do think shows the size of wings to good effect.  As Sam said at the time, I’m pleased that these dragonflies are not two feet long.  It is believed that prehistoric Dragonflies had wingspans of well over two footDamselflies were there in great number and included Azure, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly

Azure Damselfly

Emperor Dragonfly ovipositing.

Having seen the Speckled Wood Butterflies as we approached the area, other butterflies recorded were Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral and Meadow Brown.  A Cinnamon Moth lifted as we approached.

Common Blue Butterfly

We found a Great Crested Newt, but sadly a dead one.

I tell you this newt isn't pissed, it is dead! 

There was much botanical interest, but it was the orchids that stole the show.  I cannot ever remember seeing such an abundance of Northern Marsh Orchids in such a small area.  They far outnumbered the Common Spotted Orchids and there were many fine specimens.  No doubt amongst them were some hybrids.

A naturalist at work

The stars of the days extraordinarily strong cast were the Bee Orchids.  I have certainly never seen Bee Orchids in such number.  Sam’s initial count of spikes was 17, later updated to 28.   I pondered over these exotic, and so finely adapted orchids and how the flowers have evolved to look like bees, and had similar thoughts as I had had when a few days earlier had considered the plate structure of the Fulmar’s bill.  By strange twist of fate, The Bee Orchid is rarely pollinated by Bees, as it simply relies upon slight breezes to blow the hanging pollinia onto the sticky stigma which leads to self-pollination.   One can understand why so many plant hunters who have travelled the world in search of rare orchids, have on occasion become completely obsessed by them.  Such interesting and often beautiful plants, the orchids form probably the largest flowering plant family.

Bee Orchid

I left feeling, as I usually do, having been out in the field, that I am a half glass full man.  It is best to remain positive as to what wonderful habitat, flora and fauna can still be found close to home, this despite the attempts of those in power to allow building on every patch of green land available.  I have restricted myself to mentioning the orchids only on this occasion despite other interesting flora in the area.

Bee Orchid

A quick visit to Arcot Pond provided the call of Lesser Whitethroat, but little else.  Having enjoyed visits to this area in years gone by, I was rather disappointed on this occasion.

Black tailed Skimmer Dragonflies in tandem.  Kibblesworth, as are following images.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly on Yellow Flag Iris.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly

A few days later we spent a short time south of the river at Kibblesworth Ponds where again we found grassland and pools providing a good array of plants, insects and birdsong.  I have added a few more images by way of a bonus.

Scorpion Fly Pamorphidae

Common Blue Butterfly finding nutrient in the mud.

Five spot Burnet Moth

Small Heath Butterfly


Monday, 21 June 2021

Evening Coastal Nature Walk

Trips far afield are not necessary to enjoy nature, and this evening’s meander around the area of Hartley and surrounds is proof of that.  On reflection I feel had I the need to introduce an individual to the rewards of showing an interest in Natural History, this evening would have been a perfect beginning.  There was just sufficient entomological, mammalian, avian and botanical interest so as not to blow the mind with numbers and confusion, yet sufficient to allow real interest, excitement, and time to watch, study and take in the surrounding flora and fauna in a relaxing manner.  Very often less is more when it comes to studying nature.  The North Sea appeared flat and still, the air pellucid, the temperature controlled by cooling sea air, and there was a feeling of peace and calm.


We initially walked a little way north to see the Fulmars and ended up spending a relaxing time in the company of these wonderfully evolved long distance travelling seabirds.  They obviously felt very safe on the cliff and were not at all phased by our proximity.  As well as the birds close by us on the cliff we watched as numbers of other Fulmars flew on straight and stiff wings above the edge of the cliff.  The pinkness of the Thrift was already fading, but it still formed a carpet in places forward of a background of rock, sea and sky.

On the way to the Fulmar site a pair of mating Seven Spot Ladybirds, a Soldier Beetle and a large patch of I think Common Fumitory had been found.  As we turned to walk southwards a Carpet Moth, that give no sign of moving, was an ideal subject for photography.  The colour of the ladybirds was striking and of course a warning to possible predators of the poisons these insects contain.  The ladybirds can release foul tasting fluids from their legs.  A voracious eater of aphids, this species of Ladybird, our most common, has been imported on occasions into the USA to act as on insectivore on valuable crops.  Each wing casing, the elytra, has three spots and another spot which overlaps both casings.  This is one of the larger ladybirds and it can travel 1,000 metres in search of food and suitable habitat.  It may surprise some folk that there are 47 different species of Ladybird in the UK and Ireland.

Mating Seven Spot Ladybirds

Soldier Beetle

Silver-ground Carpet Moth

I remembered that whilst living his latter years in an asylum John Clare wrote many poems including (not one of his best) Clock-a-Clay, an alternative name for Ladybird.  This stems from an old Northamptonshire belief that you can tell time from the number of taps on the ground it takes to make a ladybird flyaway.

As we checked out plants along the cliff and grassland we also watched seven Bottled Nosed Dolphins  on the flat calm sea as they travelled north in two groupings.  The conditions were ideal for watching, and this was one of the highlights of the evening.  Birds were never forgotten and perhaps the finest bird sighting of the evening was three Manx Shearwaters skirting the water as they flew south.  Other seabirds seen included small flocks of calling Oystercatcher, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Guillemots, Common Scoter and a raft of Eider Ducks.

I never tire of the view towards St Mary’s Island and this evening showed it at its best, with the lighthouse reflected across the water and large ships in the background making towards the entrance of the River Tyne.

As we passed by one of the mounds we bumped into Ray, who it turned out was not only a regular reader of this blog but also, almost a neighbour of mine, living on the same estate.  Having had a long chat, we said our farewells and I said I would give him a mention and so I keep my word.  As we chatted we watched a Common Whitethroat displaying, and later found out the pair had young and we eventually saw the entire family.  This pair was of one of two or three in the immediate area.  Reed Bunting, Skylark and Meadow Pipit were among other species seen and heard.   

By now the evening atmosphere was one of tranquillity and stillness which clearly encourage a buck and doe Roe Deer to feel relaxed out in the exposed field.  Both seemed in peak condition which was reflected in the condition of their colourful coat.  By the way the buck was scent tasting and approaching a none too keen doe, it appeared that the doe was in heat.  It is not often one can watch Roe Deer so well.  We agreed whilst watching these small deer that there is a tendency to imagine them larger than in fact they are.

Common (??) Fumitory

Three plants that in particular caught the attention were Common Fumitory (or was it Common-ramping Fumitory), White Campion and Sea Plantain.  The former plant took my interest because I had recently wondered why I had never seen fumitories.  The latter plant, and plantains in general, are easy to pass by, but I do find them incredibly attractive plants.  Sea Plantain is adapted to stand up to harsh coastal conditions and can survive short periods under water.  The taproot extends deep into the ground acting as an anchor and the narrow slightly waxy leaves can survive the constant sea spray.  The White Campion's  calyx is formed by fused sepals.

Sea Plantain

White Campion

As we made off towards home, the calm evening was still warm and bright.  The journey was broken by a stop to listen for Quail.  None were heard on this occasion, but what a wonderful evening it had been. 

Friday, 18 June 2021

Ninety-nine and Lifer Ends Day

 It had been a long day in the field, so some refreshment in the shape of a ninety-nine ice cream was most welcome before we made off to our last stop of the day at Newbiggin.  I can recommend the ice cream parlour at Cresswell, which my father visited with his cycling club in the 1930s.  Cresswell must have had a vastly different feel to it all those years ago.  I learned from the owner that the parlour first opened in 1932 but that he had been owner a mere ten years.  After a refreshing few minutes we made off on what is the nearest to twitching I ever do in the hope of seeing the Rose-coloured Starling.  This twitching lark is amazingly easy I reckon, as no sooner had we parked the car we found our target bird perched and waiting for us.  Giving a little time we had excellent sightings as the bird came out into the open.  A lifer for Sam and a UK tick for me.  I have seen the species more distantly only once before and that was in Romania within the bird’s more natural range.  It seemed content to be alone until eventually joining the small Starling flock.  I have some empathy, as in general I too feel happier away from the flock, especially when enjoying nature.

Rose Coloured Staring courtesy of Samuel Hood

We had begun the day close to home at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  Oh, how the reserve is changing, with the work done to improve a meadowland area paying great dividends, walkways repaired and work going on for a new centre which will have some empathise on encouraging youngsters’ interest in nature.  I would guess that there are many more visitors to the reserve than in past years, but it has lost none of its atmosphere and I would encourage anyone local, with the slightest interest in Natural History, to join the Natural History Society of Northumbria.  Botanical interest was the primary reason for the visit and in particular a wish to photograph Coralroot Orchid.  Sadly, it has been another poor year for this orchid and we were unable to find any, although we did find a developing Broad Leave Helleborine, Early Purple Orchid, Northern Marsh Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid and what we think were hybrids.  It could be argued all of these are more attractive than the insipid Coralroot Orchid, but to a large extent what attracts us is the rarity and the fact that it is largely dependent on nutrients it obtains from the fungi associated with the surrounding trees.  This orchid gives nothing in return so is therefore parasitic.

At the reserve we we greeted by the manager, volunteers and a posing spider.

Along the pathway

Yellow Flag Iris

Many other plants took our interest as did Orange Tip Butterfly, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselfly, Grey Squirrel and birds seen and heard included Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Bullfinch and Grey Heron.  Admittedly, we gave little attention to the birds in general whilst in the reserve.

Emerging Broad Leaved Helleborine

Having spent longer than planned at the reserve we made off for Amble where we watched over the sea towards Coquet Island and we were able to add Roseate Tern, Gannet, and Puffin to the bird list.  Grey Seals were also seen.

Next stop was East Chevington where we spent an enjoyable time watching a female Hen Harrier hunting over the reedbed before spending time watching and listening to the Great Reed Warbler.  This latter bird was another UK tick for me and brought back happy memories of having watched these birds in Europe.  Because of the distance the full effect of the sound that this large warbler can make could not be fully appreciated.  The North Pool was quiet but it was enjoyable seeing two pairs of Great Crested Grebes, one of the pair carrying young.  A Little Grebe was heard and Sandwich Terns were bathing and large numbers of Cormorants were on the island.


Dovesfoot Cranesbill

A walk was taken to Chevington Burn as we searched for more botanical interest.  The Bloody Cranesbill, Northumberland’s county flower was especially numerous and attractive.  We were studiously watched by the Belted Galloway cattle as we returned vis the dunes, and we assumed that these were being used to aid conservation.

Belted Galloway

Bloody Cranesbill

Bloody Cranesbill

Druridge Pools were quiet but we enjoyed the stop here and watched birds such as Avocet, Little Ringed Plover and Black Tailed Godwit.  The Willow Warblers and Sedge Warblers provided a nice sound scape and we found some attractive Vipers Bugloss along the path to the hides, and not far away from it a Small Skipper Butterfly.

Bladder Campion

Mouse-ear Hawkweed

By the time we reached Cresswell Pond the sea breezes were adding not a little coolness to the air.  Unusually the water was exceptionally low.  Birdlife initially looked minimal but our watch was rewarded by nice sightings of a Spoonbill which on this occasion was not asleep but feeding, a Little Gull and more Avocets.  The Avocet certainly must be one of our most attractive waders.

Then we were off with fingers crossed that the ice cream parlour was still open, before going for our mini twitch and the sighting of the Rose-Coloured Starling, which was a great way to end a long day.  I have not included all the birds seen today, and mention only a few of the plants.  A wonderful day of natural history.


Thursday, 10 June 2021

Slaley Forest. Nightjars and Atmosphere.

 Welcome sweet eve thy gently sloping sky

& softly whispering wind that breaths of rest

& clouds unlike what daylight galloped bye

Now stopt as weary huddling in the west

Each by the farewell of days closing eye

Left with the smiles of heaven on its breast

From Sunset by John Clare

 Halfway to Hexham on a glorious sunny evening and I realise I had forgotten to change into my boots.  Am I losing my mind or was it the prospect of a great evening that had me focussed?  I like to think it was the latter.  Anyway, there was no turning back, so I was going to have to cope.  We began with a walk along the tree lined River Tyne at Hexham checking out trees and a few plants.  Tree species included Oak, Elm, Lime, Horse Chestnut, Ash, Sycamore, Swedish Whitebeam, Crack Willow and Silver Birch.  From under the shade of the trees we looked out onto a sunlit parkland that had a hint of the African savannah.  Nuthatch and Wren took our eye, Willow Warblers sang, a distant Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed out a beat and a passing sighting of Common Sandpiper was made.  There was a lack of Hirundines, but the occasional Swallow was seen. Mallards were on the river.

By the time we reached Slaley Forest the temperature had dropped by several degrees and there was a chill in the air.  Before setting off we had a bite to eat and I sprayed myself with Avon Skin So Soft to ward of the dreaded insects.  As it turned out the drenching was unnecessary, as few insects were on the wing this evening, but at least I smelt desirable, well I thought so!  We had the forest to ourselves for the evening apart from the accompanying flora and fauna.

Several Song Thrushes sang as we set off along the aromatic forest ride where the grasses were thick and verdant, with yet no sign of the many orchids we had seen last year.  We are usually at least a month later in making this trip.  A Cuckoo called continuously and we spotted it atop of one of the taller trees where it was accompanied by Meadow Pipits.  The calling continued into the evening, but from further and further within the forest.  More Willow Warblers sang and Siskin were heard briefly.

Laid back birders vigil begins.  Travelling light, so all images courtesy of Samuel and his phone.

We were soon at our place of vigil, a perfect spot that we had found last year.  We were able to overlook an open area of the forest with its low dense arid ground cover and the occasional remaining tree stumps of various height.  The anticipation and the view took my mind off how bracing the still air was.  The rounded hills of the Cheviots were to the north of us and edged by a carmine sky.  An occasional and distinctly shaped Woodcock was picked up as the light faded, flying over the treeline to the south of us.  The sky above us was a cerulean blue, changing to turquoise colouring towards the horizon and sunset.  A thin strip of white cloud gradually changed to rouge hue before gradually disappearing as the sun dipped below the horizon.  A lone and silent Curlew flew across the open area from the direction of the moorland and a nearby Tawny Owl give a fleeting ethereal call.  The flaming sky on the horizon gradually changed to more subdued hues of grey and had I not known better I would have thought it had merged into a sea.  A sea which in places appeared calm and flat and in other places having waves thrown high, all an illusion of course, all the greater when viewed through binoculars.   Water appeared to flow towards the Cheviots.  What was not an illusion was the pillow of white smoke lifting from the industrial area in Hexham.

Nightjar Churring

At times, the only sound was the sound of silence, broken only by the occasional bird call and our own quiet chatter.  Then suddenly from the distance and before darkness had fallen came the mechanical and distinctive churring of Nightjar.  Looking at the distant lights from the outskirts of Newcastle City we wondered how many folks sat beside televisions and computer screens this evening would even know that these birds of the night existed in the area.

Hark! There’s that churring noise we heard

And thought it some wild frolic boy;

‘Tis sure enough an unknown bird,

I’ve seldom heard so strange a cry.

From The Fern Owl by John Clare


The churring gradually become louder and louder and it became apparent that a Nightjar was close by.  We found it perched and calling from the top of the highest dead tree stump.  I watched it intently whist I waited for it to fly.  The Nightjar did lift, but seemed to have no wish to hunt insects of which there were so few, and quickly dropped to the ground and out of sight.  Sam was on rather higher ground than I was and watched both a Badger and Roe Deer in the vicinity of where the Nightjar had landed.  From this point on there was little to no more churring.  We found this unusual as we usually make home with a churring accompaniment.  Was it the cold, lack of insects or simply the earlier visit we had made?  We were in no way disappointed as we began our return walk as the evening had been a great success.  The plan is to revisit in July.

The torch had been forgotten, but we had no concern as the evening remained clear and light, although by habit I occasionally looked behind in the eerie atmosphere.  Before we were back to the car we heard a Roe Deer barking, watched another Woodcock fly by and enjoyed the company of Common Pipistrelle Bats.  As we prepared to enter the car a Tawny Owl gave some shrieks from almost directly above our heads.

The heater was turned on and our journey home was without incident apart from sightings of a Brown Rat and Rabbit at the roadside, and a fleeting sighting of an owl, probably a Barn Owl.

Once home I made myself a coffee and was soon nodding off with thoughts of what is always one of the year’s birding highlights.


Some local names for the Nightjar.  fen owl, fern owl, jar-owl, churn-owl, goat-owl, goatsucker, nighthawk, dorhawk, moth-hawk, wheelbird, eve-chur, eve-jar, puckeridge, puck-bird, gabble-ratch, litch fowl and jenny-spinner.  (The Nightjar-Yesterday and Today/Margaret Grainger and Richard Williamson 1988).    

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Ancient Yews and Calaminarian Grasslands

 The early morning rain had ceased as we drove towards St Cuthbert’s Church, Beltingham.  This Northumbrian church is of historical importance, but the reason for our visit was primarily to view the Ancient Yews in the grounds.  There are three Yews of considerable age and it was the Yew on the north side of the church that most drew our attention, an estimate of age most often given as 900-950 years, with other mind-boggling estimates of around 1,500 years and even 2,000+ years.  Even if the lower estimate is nearer the truth, this would make the Yew the oldest in Northumberland.  The younger Yews south of the church, whilst magnificent specimens in themselves, are thought to be about 500 – 600 years old.  I understand that in the recent past there were plans to examine scientifically all three Yews to attempt to prove or disprove a relationship between the three.

Ancient Yew and a not so ancient Sam.

We entered the grounds via the Lych-Gate after having noted numbers of Swifts and listening to the song of Song Thrush.  Lych stemming from the Old English or Saxon word lic, meaning corpse.  Prior to mortuaries existing and when most people died at home, the body would be taken to the Lych-gate and would be guarded by vigil watchers so that body snatchers were unable to approach and interfere before burial.  In more recent times the funeral possession would await at the lych-gate until the arrival of the priest.  We made for the most ancient of the Yews, passing on the way a Commonwealth War Grave and several sandstone tombstones which had been heavily eroded over many years.

Weathered Sandstone Grave

Ancient Yew

The ancient and hollow Yew is most impressive.   Yews contain poisons of course which  can be hallucinogenic and I warned Sam that I had read in Fred Hageneder’s book Yew A History that people have reported funny things happening as they stood under a Yew.  I breathed in heavily, but on this occasion nothing occurred.  We did think and discuss our thoughts about our place in time and what the surrounding area of Northumberland may have looked like when this tree was a mere sapling.  The tree is supported by at least three iron collars, and Hageneder expressed mixed feelings about the use of these implements.  Having taken in the atmosphere of the Yews we looked around the church grounds and checked out plants such as the area of Bluebells, a Flowering Currant, Wild Garlic, Marsh Marigold and Green Alkanet.  Sadly, the church remains locked and so a future visit is planned for further exploration.

Ancient Yew

Remains of Celtic Cross

Flowering Currant

We kept to our plan and next visited 2 areas along the South Tyne that include Calaminarian Grassland.  At our first stop we checked out plants along the roadside and then through woodland along the bank of the river before looking at the small area of the grassland which was our primary target.  The dull rather subdued lighting conditions seemed to increase the intensity of the botanical colour, and the air was filled with the honey like scent of Crosswort and other accompanying plants.   The song of Blackcap was especially noted and many more Swifts were counted.  The land was sodden following weeks of May showers, but the atmosphere was that of a spring day post rain, and we had the area to ourselves apart from meeting a local villager walking her patch.  Examination of the verges and woodland meant that the walk was taken at a slow pace.



Green Longhorn Moth

A male Orange Tip Butterfly seemed almost intoxicated whilst feeding on Forget-me-not and so allowed a photographic opportunity as did a rather stunning Green Longhorn Moth found on the information signage.  A Common Sandpiper was heard calling by the river.

Orange Tip Butterfly on Forgetmenot

I must confess that Calaminarian Grassland is something I had no knowledge of until Sam mentioned it recently and I have since read quite a lot about this unusual and rare habitat and have learnt much about it.  Calaminarian grassland is named after Viola calaminaria which grows on such metal rich soils in Europe although the plant is not found in the UK.  However about 30 percent of this European grassland is found here.  This type of grassland in Northumberland has developed on nutrient poor soils with high levels of toxic heavy metals associated with mine workings and where metals from mine wash have accumulated on river beaches and terraces.

Mountain Pansy

Although the vegetation is usually sparse in these areas there are specialist plants that have adapted and thrive here.  Plants we found in the two area we visited included Mountain Pansy, Thrift (thought to be a type adapted to the metals), Alpine Pennycress and Pyrenean Scurvy- grass all able to tolerate the conditions and are known as metallophytes.  Now that mining in the area has ceased the habitat is very much at risk and is shrinking due to leaching of the metals and changes in land use.  Some of the areas are now managed and often rely on grazing by rabbits and sheep to prevent scrub taking over.

Alpine Pennycress

Pyrenean Scurvygrass

Some years ago I visited the Keen of Hamar which is a calaminarian grass land on the Island of Unst, Shetland, which was a very stony area.  I didn't relise its significance at the time,  although I enjoyed its variety of plant life.  In the case of Keen of Hammer it is an area containing serpentine rock containing heavy metals so is not caused in the same manner as the Northumberland grassland.  I remember seeing a rare plant called Edmonston's Chickweed here, which I believe grows only on the island.  This was named after a local Scottish botanist, Thomas Edmonston of Unst, who was said to have great knowledge.  Sadly he died in his early twenties having mistakenly discharged a gun during a field expedition, and cutting short what could have been a great career.  Note to more about him.

Having examined the areas we decided to revisit at a latter date as there are other plants that we wish to find but our day was not over yet as we called in on my brother for a coffee and a chat before visiting Grindon Lough and surrounding area.

Scots Pine

Red Campion

By now bright light lit the wild countryside and a Skylark was in full song and ascending as I stepped out of the car at the Lough.  After so much rain this month I was surprised to see the water level of the Lough so low.  The most interesting bird finds here were calling Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover.

We also stopped at the old, renovated Lime Kiln to take some landscape images.  We found another interesting area for plants and have noted this for a later visit.  Water Avens grew nicely near the road and young Jackdaws called from a nest in the Lime Kiln wall.  We noticed the adult bird anxious to return to the hungry chicks so we did not hang around too long.  As soon as we were back in the car the adult Jackdaw came to the nest.  A Kestrel was seen close by in the trees.

Water Avens

We drove home along on what was a wonderful spring evening, clear light showing the area at its best and with the distant verdant fields occasionally broken by the brilliant yellow of Oil Seed Rape and the roadside also yellow with the flowering Gorse.

Evening Light

On arrival home we realised we had been out for nine and a half hours on what had been a most interesting and informative trip taken at a leisurely pace in great habitat.