Monday, 28 February 2011
Rainton Meadows and Joe's Pond can be found by following the brown signs from the A690 between Durham and Sunderland. By bus, the services 222 and 220 regularly leave Park Lane in Sunderland, or the bus station in Durham and set down at the nearby Mill Inn. There's a short walk under the A690 continuing until you reach the last roundabout of the industrial estate. The entrance to the Reserve is called Mallard Way.
During the Spring and Summer months I make regular visits, usually with my son who gets as much enjoyment from the place as I do. Many species of wildlife can be seen here, including Foxes, Hares, Rabbits and Owls, as well as breeding birds such as Swans, Geese, Grebes, Kestrels and Warblers, to name just a few.
Armed with a 300mm lens and Canon 7D body I usually pull in some decent shots, especially during April to July when the Mute Swans are nesting and the cygnets readily feed from visitors - subject to parental approval of course. Don't get too close as you might get a clout! There is normally two new families of Mute Swans on the reserve each year and each nest is normally visible from the designated paths.
Swans usually pair for life and have elaborate courtship rituals including the famous heart shape they make with their necks. They normally start breeding in their fourth year. The male, or cob, is larger than the female or pen and when together the longer neck, larger webbed feet and larger black berry of the male make identification much easier. Unfortunately many young swans die each year but some live to about 25 years in favourable conditions. The cob will establish a territory large enough to supply his future family with sufficient food and will valiantly defend it against all comers, whether they be other swans, foxes or intrusive humans. Swans are protected birds and it is illegal to harm them or steal their eggs.
The male and female choose the nest site together and use any material within about 40 feet to make the nest. The pen lays between 1 to 12 eggs, the average being 6. The eggs are laid every other day and only when the last egg has been laid does incubation start. The incubation period lasts about 35 days and the pen only comes off the nest for very short periods to drink and stretch her legs. The cob takes over after a recognition head lifting ceremony. The cob will defend the nest against foxes, dogs and other predators. Cygnets normally take to the water 24 hours after the last cygnet has hatched, usually in May. The parents do not feed them, but the pen will 'foot paddle' to bring food to the surface for cygnets to eat and pull out reeds which the young would otherwise be unable to reach. One parent will always be on guard and they often travel in line with one parent at the back, the other in front. The pen will carry the young ones on her back.
The swan family is very close and if a cygnet is lost, the parents will often look for it up to a week. Natural predators are pike, foxes, mink and cold wet weather. Unfortunately man poses further hazards. Nature has been clever with the swan's moulting period when they cannot fly. The moult takes about 6 weeks and for non-breeding birds takes place about July time. A pair with cygnets moult at different times, first the pen and then the cob in August to September so that one of them can always defend the young.
Here is a couple of photographs I took on Sunday morning (27th Feb) - the first was taken at Rainton Meadows (Pond 1) and the second at Joe's Pond which is situated at the other end of the reserve, near the Rainton Bridge Industrial Estate . Lastly, I have uploaded a short video clip of a nest site in the reeds at Pond 1, captured last May, showing newly hatched cygnets. Only a few chicks are visible but the full clutch of ten eggs hatched successfully.
A nice taster for what is round the corner in 2011. Spring is almost here!
Cheers, catch ya later.
Thursday, 24 February 2011
Skyclad are often referred to as ‘The Originators of ‘Folk-Metal’ – a sub-genre of metal that mixes thrash/speed metal elements with traditional instruments and folk-style melodies – as typified by their seminal album ‘The Wayward Sons Of Mother Earth’ (1991). The band produced a string of highly acclaimed albums – ‘A Burnt Offering For The Bone Idol’ (1992), ‘Jonah’s Ark’ (1993), ‘The Prince Of The Poverty Line (1994) and ‘The Silent Whales Of Lunacy’ (1995) - and gained a reputation as a powerful and energetic live act with many European tour and festival appearances (such as Dynamo Festival, 1992). During the late 90’s, despite several line-up changes, the band continued to develop and experiment with their musical style - producing albums such as ‘Irrational Anthems (1996), ‘Oui Avant Garde a Chance’ (1996), ‘The Answer Machine’ (1997) and ‘Vintage Whine’ (1999) – they even undertook several ‘unplugged’ tours across Europe alongside appearances at festivals such as Wacken Open Air (1998) and ‘The Gods Of Metal’ (1999) before returning with a more ‘metal’ album, ‘Folkemon’ in 2000. Whilst Folkemon proved to be the last album for founder member and vocalist Martin Walkyier, the band decided to continue and released the ‘Swords of a Thousand Men’ single (featuring ‘Eddie Tenpole’ himself) and the ‘unplugged’ album ‘No Daylights Nor Heeltaps’ in 2002.
A new studio album ‘A Semblance Of Normality’ followed in 2004. As well as having all the usual folk instruments and influences, this album also featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was well received by both fans and media worldwide. ‘Semblance’ marked the start of an exciting new chapter for Skyclad, who, while continuing to play in strongholds such as Germany (Dong Open Air, 2003 & 2005 and Burgfolk, 2004), also made successful appearances in new territories such as Sweden (the ’34,000 ton of Metal’ Cruise, 2004), the Czech Republic (Rock Café, Prague, 2005), Finland (Tuska Open Air, 2005) and Portugal (Beja, 2005). All this live work culminated in a full European Tour in early 2006, which took in ten countries, and the release of the ‘Jig-A-Jig’ EP – which the band produced themselves as a special one-off release for the tour. Since then, as well as playing gigs and festivals across Europe – including the ‘Battle of Metal’ 2007 and Club Tochka in Moscow in 2007 and ‘Folk’n’Roll 2008’ in Pecs, Hungary - Skyclad have written and recorded a new full-length studio album (the band’s twelfth). Entitled ‘In The…All Together’, this ten-track album was recorded in Italy during August 2008. Again, as with ‘Semblance’, Dario Mollo engineered and mixed the album at his ‘Damage Inc’ studio in Ventimiglia. However, unlike ‘Semblance’, this album was recorded completely by the band members – so there are no ‘guests’ or orchestras etc. This was a deliberate move to try and keep the recordings as ‘live and fresh’ as possible and one aimed at taking the band into the studio ‘all together’. This wasn’t exactly a ‘back to basics’ strategy, as the songs on the new album are far from basic as the band continues to experiment with odd timings and tunings. Another benefit of this approach is that Skyclad will be able to play more of the album songs live. ‘In The… All Together’ is scheduled for release by Scarlet Records in late spring 2009.The band continue to record and tour in 2011, continuing the Skyclad legacy that is now into its 22nd year!
I'd previously met the members of Skyclad, in late January 2004 and again a few weeks later. The first occasion was to photograph them separately as they needed headshots for their forthcoming album sleeve. The second meeting was at a local venue, Bede's World, where I took some location shots of the band as a unit. The resulting shots will be uploaded here in another RETRO entry - coming soon!
In April 2004 I was invited to photograph Skyclad at the Celtic Warriors 12th Birthday Bash in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire (same bill as The Quireboys). By the time Skyclad entered the stage the venue was filling up quite nicely, but still fairly short of capacity. From memory, I think they were pencilled in for a forty minute slot, before ageing rockers Saxon took their turn. The band kicked off with a couple of songs that typified their opinions of disapproval towards government rule down the years - outspoken tales of torment, quite often shared with others during a drunken stupor. Seven years on it's not easy to remember the full set-list of songs that Skyclad delivered, but notable inclusions were Parliament Of Fools, Another Drinking Song, The Widdershins Jig, Penny Dreadful and Inequality Street. The audience lapped it up, which was a surprise to me because I felt Skyclad were 'Off the wall' compared to the more heavier metal bands on the bill at Huntingdon. Biddle on the fiddle is a prime example of that - I mean, how many metal bands include a violinist? It didn't matter though, as Skyclad were up there on merit and this was reinforced by appearing so high on the bill, with only Saxon and The Quireboys ahead of them on the day. Frontman Kevin Ridley was well up for it - his banter between songs was very amusing and kept the crowd entertained. It was almost as funny as his inability to pitch a tent just a couple of hours earlier on the nearby field! Oh well, tents and rock gods don't go hand in hand, do they (wink).
Saturday, 19 February 2011
The Quireboys are an English hard rock band formed in 1984 in London, England, with strong ties to Newcastle. When the band formed they were originally known as The Queerboys and later as the London Quireboys in the United States. The band were successful during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with their debut album A Bit of What You Fancy reaching number 2 on the UK charts. Their highest charting single for the band was with the song "Hey You", it reached number 14. With a new drummer, Rudy Richman, they began working on the follow-up, Bitter Sweet & Twisted, which was released in 1993; but the birth of grunge changed the music scene and they were left behind. Axl Rose asked them to join the "Use Your Illusion Tour" with Guns N' Roses, and they followed the band for a while during their 1993 summer European tour. In 1993, the Quireboys broke up but briefly reformed live in 1995 with different members. A more permanent reformation came in 2001 when frontman Spike, guitarist Guy Griffin and bassist Nigel Mogg put together a new line-up. The band is still active, recording new material and playing live. In 2010, The Quireboys teamed up with Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott to record an album under the name 'Down N Outz'. Two singles have been released to date, both of which are covers of Mott The Hoople songs: England Rocks (June 2010) and Overnight Angels (January 2011). Down N Outz will be supporting Paul Rodgers on tour in April 2011.
Backstage was a bit of an eye opener. The brick shithouse of a bouncer let us through the security gate after we flashed our passes and we were met by a guy sitting at a table who's job it was to make 'rock n'roll cigarettes' for all who fancied one. I politely declined the offer before walking through to the dressing room area directly behind the stage. After a few minutes I felt half-stoned just from passive smoking. I'm pretty sure on a clear day you'd be able to see the main stage!!!
Friday, 11 February 2011
Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Thursday, 3 February 2011
Two more television clips to bring you, folks. Tyne-Tees television broadcasted one of my photo's last week, on two separate nights. On the first night, my latest shot of the Seven Sisters was shown on the weather bulletin, followed a few nights later during the news bulletin itself, which was a nice surprise. It was picked out by new presenter Kerrie Gosney, who is familiarising herself with the area through photo's like mine, which has a story behind it.
The 'Copt Hill' monument includes the round barrow known as Seven Sisters. It is situated in arable land on the western flank of Copt Hill and is 300m south of Copt Hill public house. Excavation of the barrow in 1877 revealed that the primary burial was a Neolithic cremation, believed to be an example of an axial mortuary structure. There were also several Bronze Age cremations and inhumations, and an early medieval inhumation.
I've heard a few stories relating to the fact that there any only SIX trees, when there should actually be seven, if the name is anything to go by. One was burnt down by charvers. Others say the Seven Sisters were in reality, seven witches. One of the witches died and that same evening one of the trees was struck down by lightning. What to believe, eh?
Recalling the day I took this particular shot...
Leading up to sunset I anticipated a good one. Prior to this particular day we had a few cold and frosty mornings, with decent sunsets, so maybe this occasion would be the pick of the bunch. I quickly got my arse into gear and headed up there as the sun dropped towards the skyline, parking in my usual spot in the Copt Hill pub car park. Within five minutes I was set up and ready to go, right in front of the barrow with the sun about to set right behind it.
Just then, I was joined by a local fella who I had chatted to briefly the night before as he passed me whilst walking his dog. The visitor, Gordon, from just over the way, knew quite a bit of history surrounding the Seven Sisters. Interesting stuff. I told him I was hoping for a good shot to send in to the people at Tyne-Tees Television. As the clouds turned pink he agreed that tonight was going to be a good sunset and he even took a couple of shots of his own, courtesy of his nice iphone. Might have to get one of those! If you're reading this Gordon, let me know - there's a nice print heading your way with you and your mutt on it!
As Gordon and companion crossed over the barrow I quickly tripped the shutter, hoping I'd captured the right moment. I only got one crack at it, as I forgot about setting my camera on continuous shooting mode. I got lucky. One shot and it was a good 'un. Probably my last visit to the Seven Sisters until next winter. I only photograph the trees as a silhouette, when they've shed all their leaves. Not much attraction in the spring and summer seasons, to be honest.
I've got to say though, I love this shot, plus the three exposure panoramic sweep I had the foresight to grab while the sky was in 'full bloom'. Here they are. Hope you like them.
Thanks for visiting!
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
Anyway, I received an email from BBC Tyne informing me that they'd used a couple of my old shots in a new gallery, featuring illuminated subjects in the North-East. Here's the link - Joseph Swan's light bulb legacy on Tyneside and Wearside. It features two of my shots and these are image 4 and image 7.
And just for the record, here's that gallery of images I mentioned earlier - Ashley Corr's Northern Highlights. Until the next time, see ya.