Water Tower at Park Hill

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The Croydon Water Tower is a grade 2 listed building built-in 1867 to provide clean water to the expanding population. It stands 125 feet high and was designed by Baldwin Latham, the borough engineer, in a Norman terracotta style.

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The tower has a 30 foot diameter and cast iron girders supported a high level tank containing up to 40,00 gallons. A further tank of 94,000 gallons was situated in the basement.  The top of the tower was 292 feet above sea level and this provided the necessary gravitational force to provide water to all of Croydon.

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The site was discontinued in 1923 and replaced by a new reservoir on higher ground at Addington Hills. Both the tanks in the tower have been removed. There is a plaque marking the site as part of Croydon’s heritage, but it has long since been covered by vegetation. The metal fence keeps out any unwanted visitors.

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vegetation obstructing the view of the tower

The Canadian singer Susan Jacks sang about the  Tower in 1973, it was called “Build a Tower” with an accompanying video of the Park Hill site. She was married to Terry Jacks who had a worldwide hit with “Seasons in the Sun” in 1974.

To see the Susan Jacks video Build a Tower that shows a clearer view of the Water Tower.

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Mini garden at the top of Park Hill

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East Croydon entrance to the park

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Park Hill itself is located only five minutes from East Croydon tram and rail station and provides an oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of commuters and shoppers. With the recent announcement that Westfields have had their latest plans approved to build central Croydon’s mega shopping centre, it will be even more important to preserve this area.

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Beyond and below the railings is the main rail line into East Croydon station

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Birds sing at dusk

A recent late trip to Waddon Ponds ponds was undertaken with the light fading fast. As the light dimmed the chatter from the birds in the trees grew exponentially. I knew birds sang in the morning but I wasn’t as aware that they also sang at dusk.

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roosting birds

They sing in the late afternoon to tell other birds they are regrouping in the trees at night to sleep, as there is safety in numbers from predators. It is like calling the family together for the evening meal, but not everybody arrives at once so they make many calls to their fellows to say I am here please join me for a soirée.

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It is usually the male birds that sing and it can take a lot of energy. So they will often leave the trees for a quick feed and then return in numbers. I tried to capture their flight patterns but with the poor light and only my compact camera the results, as you can see, are not so effective.

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Birds roosting  in trees at Waddon Ponds  include starlings, rooks and the ubiquitous parakeets. Water birds will sleep sitting or standing up in the water, They often stand on one leg to keep warm. If you have been following the progress of the two cygnets then you will be pleased to know they are still with their parents and would now be unlikely to be evicted from the family home before xmas. But come the new year and with the adults swans thinking of nest-building, it will surely be time for cygnets to move out on their own.

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I also noticed a large carp or is it a trout in the far pond away from the birds? There was a little more light in this area so I was able to capture the dark black fish against the dark bottom of the pond.

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The far pond where the carp was located -see below

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The fish seemed to be on its own so how it got there must remain a mystery as there is no friendly fish ladder from further downstream  into the ponds. Perhaps a bird took the fish egg and transported it or it might have been a family pet that had outgrown its fish bowl and was surreptitiously deposited into the ponds.

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Currently the entrance to the ponds at Mill lane is closed as paths and entrances are being improved. I will of course keep you updated with developments.

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Hornets nest at Bramley bank

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On my usual walk in Bramley Bank, I encountered this sign warning of a nearby Hornets nest. They had taken advantage of a large hollowed out tree to make a nest for the winter.

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Hornet stings are more painful than your average wasp, because a hornet sting contains acetylcholine that attacks the central nervous system. Hornets can sting more than once as the sting mechanism is not barbed like bees. The European hornet sting is milder than their Asian counterpart. If you are allergic to insect stings then you should not walk any further, please retrace your steps back towards the entrance of the woods.

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To get you closer to the action Central Parks used their five times optical zoom (not very close to be honest) on their standard compact camera to take the above pics. By standing still away from the nest, the few hornets that were about continued their daily movements to and from the nest without being interested in me. Don’t wave you arms around, stand between their flight path to the nest and of course don’t disturb or look up into the nest!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShould hornets sting your clothes this will release pheromones that encourage further hornets to visit you. Perhaps, this is why hornets get their bad reputation. But it was a cold day, few visible hornets and then the rain came down between the sunshine to give a gentle rainbow once I had cleared the woods.

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The heron whose pond is about a hundred meters from the hornet’s nest continued fishing for his dinner unperturbed.

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Heron (centre right)

 

 

 

 

Two cygnets

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Back in May 10 cygnets  were born to proud parents at Waddon ponds. Now just five months later only two cygnets remain with their parents and I managed to catch up with them on an unusually warm day for mid October.

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To remind you of how small the cygnets were I have included a photo from my previous blog “ten cygnets”

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When we were young

On average cygnets stay with their parents for about six months before the parents push them away, forcing them to depart the ponds and find a flock of swans to join. At around four years of age they will find a mate and in turn have cygnets of their own.

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Today though with the unseasonably warm weather there was no evidence of the swans pushing off the remaining cygnets they were all too busy preening themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInterestingly, there are new information boards around the ponds informing visitors of the different species of ducks and mammals you can find at Waddon ponds and warning of the dangers of dumping unwanted aquatic pets in the water. I include a selection of the boards for your information.

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Apple tasting in the storm

The annual visit to the orchards at Heathfield to participate in free apple tasting got off to an inauspicious start when it began raining heavily. Fortunately a gazebo had been set up to protect the picked apples from the elements, so we began the tour by tasting a selection of the organic apples, all varieties of which were on sale after the tour.

Mick the volunteer orchard manager used his apple corer tool and knife to slice the apples into numerous segments and offered them to the group while he explained the history of Heathfield house and the development of the gardens that I have documented in previous open days 

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looking through the Arch Window – hoping that the rain will stop

Fortunately the rain abated, so Mick showed us the mock-up beehive he uses to explain to children on school visits how the bees populate the hive. The ground floor is the assembly room where the male bees do the “waggle dance” to attract the females to the hive. Mick added it might not be to the same standard as “Strictly”, but it seems to have the desired effect.  One queen, 200 boys to keep her company and the rest are female worker bees, including some princesses. They all congregate at the first floor for a networking event.

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Mock up of a hive

The second floor houses the layer of  honeycombs which can take three months to fill with nectar and honey. In a good year, like last year, 3 lots of layers were added to match production. The top box is reserved for the nursery where the queen bee lays four thousand eggs a day. A hive can hold up to thirty thousand bees.

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Library picture of hive in full flow as bees don’t like the wet and cold

As the queen bee gets older she is challenged for supremacy of the hive by the princess bees. The queen usually triumphs so the defeated princess will release pheromones that will attract up to half of the hive to leave with her and find a new home. The bees will swarm to a nearby tree before scouting for a new residence. Heathfield will alert the beekeeper that a new hive is required urgently and so grow the local bee population. The boy bees will then mate with the new queen and die.

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the quince apple

No chance of any bees swarming today so we moved onto the various trees in the orchard. The quince apple bears a remarkable resemblance to a pear, but the quince skin is hard and very bitter, a deterrent to eating it raw as it would give you a nasty stomach ache. Please always cook a quince. The American Mother looks like a cherry and the Lanes Prince Albert sounds like royalty .

 

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Crowds on the orchard tour – faces not shown for privacy reasons

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Once tours of the orchard have been completed, all the apples can be picked and juiced in good time for the apple day at Heathfield on Sunday 1st October.

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Ben reluctant to show his face – perhaps the wet weather was making him feel a little sheepish!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Arrows Fly Over Addington Park

At the recent Biggin Hill Festival of Flight the red arrows flew over Addington. How do you photograph aircraft flying at up to 600 mph with a basic camera with 5x optical zoom? The answer is not very easily as you can see from the photo below.

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It would be nice to see them to see them nice- my tribute to Brucie

I positioned my camera in the lower part of the picture hoping to anticipate when the arrows would appear, all I got was the vapour trail!

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The white vapour is produced by injecting diesel into the hot exhaust at 400 degrees centigrade. This gives five minutes of white vapour. The red and blue colours are made by mixing dye with the diesel to provide one minute of each colour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAddington Park itself is across the road from the Gravel Hill tram stop.  The park was acquired from the Addington Palace estate in 1930. The Palace was used as a summer-house by the Archbishops of Canterbury in the 1930 and the enclosed Palace is still standing today at the upper end of the Park, though it is not visible from the park. The Palace is not open to the public but its grounds contain a public golf course. I am sure the pilots got a good view!

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Sun Flowers and Banana plants

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The Sunflowers are tall and majestic at Coombe Wood Gardens.

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The sunflower head consists of many tiny flowers called florets. The central ones resemble normal flowers, whereas the outside florets look like yellow petals to produce a “false flower”. After pollination every little flower produces a seed and there are nearly two thousand seeds on one sunflower.

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The seeds are arranged in spirals around 34 in one direction and 55 in the other. You might think that is pretty random but these numbers actually follow the Fibonacci sequence. Every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.

Many other wildflowers can be found in the gardens.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou will also find Banana Plants at Coombe Woods. The plants do not produce any actual fruit as the weather is still too mild despite our recent heatwaves. But they look majestic and give a tropical feel to the gardens.

A recent article by Monty Don, the TV gardener, in a weekend magazine explained how he grew his banana plants in pots but took them indoors for the winter. Terence the gardener at Coombe Woods says he likes Monty Don and that he talks a  lot of sense. Mind you he added “they have many advisers to ensure their programmes are factually correct”

Back at Coombe Woods, in the autumn the stems are cut back to stumps and wrapped in a hessian sack. A tarpaulin then covers the top to prevent the plants from succumbing to winter frosts

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These stems will be cut back to prepare the plant for the winter

The lavender bushes are also popular in the gardens and are a firm favourite with the bees.

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Heron of Bramley Bank

I was privileged recently to see the Heron fishing at his home in the largest natural woodland pond in Croydon, at Bramley bank. The elusive heron is quite shy unlike his more gregarious cousin at Waddon Ponds.

When I caught up with the heron it was intent at fishing for his supper and did not mind my presence which usually induces a mad flurry of wings and a swift exit. The heron adopts two approaches to hunting , either standing still and quiet in the water waiting for a fish to swim past nearby or by moving around the pond snatching a fish at close quarters.

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The heron adopted both tactics as you can see from the photographs. Whatever approach is used the sixth vertebra in a herons neck is longer than the others and pivots over to the seventh vertebra to permit a fast strike when food comes into range.

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Heron arrives at his second destination, Heathfield

The heron finally became aware of my presence and flew the short distance from Bramley bank to a nearby pond at Heathfield. Hotfooting it, me not the heron, I caught up with the heron  while he was in the water, but again not much luck in catching any fish. Shortly afterwards he was spotted flying back to Bramley bank, although yours truly was too exhausted to mount any further catch ups that evening!

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Heron flies home to Bramley Bank. Their wingspan can measure between 150 and 200cm.

Butterflies at Hutchinson’s Bank

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHutchinson’s bank is located five minutes from New Addington tram stop or off Farleigh Dean Crescent, Featherbed Lane, Addington. However, this road is narrow and there is no parking on site. If exploring the site please beware that the paths can be narrow and the gradient is very steep.

The bank is one of the largest areas of chalk grassland remaining in Greater London. It is found on thin soils over chalk rocks and was originally created by clearance of trees and shrubs and grazing of livestock over eight thousand years ago.

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Kidney vetch

Photographing the small blue butterfly proved problematic as like most butterflies they don’t stay still for long. The blue is UK’s smallest resident butterfly although the blue colour is not very distinctive, it is more of  a tinge. The common yellow was, as its name suggests, easier to identify but the most distinctive butterfly was the brown peacock.

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Yellow and blue butterflies together

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The brown peacock butterfly below has large eyespots that can startle predators and give it a much better chance of escaping foes than relying solely on camouflage. It can also rubs its wings together to produce a hissing sound that is audible to humans.

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Volunteers at Hutchinson’s have spent much time clearing the area and fitting fencing and benches.

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Overlooking Addington Court golf course with Heathfield in centre background towards Croydon.

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Shorn sheep help to keep the grass mown. The two sheep in the foreground are Herdwick sheep the same type as at Heathfield.

Terrific Terabac Play at Heathfield

The organisers of Croydon Ecology Centre arranged for Terabac, a drama and dance group, to visit Heathfield to perform a play about insects, their life story and the effect that mankind has on them.

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Due to the inclement weather, it was a bank holiday after all, the play was moved from the far rose garden to the walled garden immediately next to the side of the house. The backdrop of multiple trees and bushes at Heathfield provided the ideal setting for the play.

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The unusual array of objects spread out across the lawn  represented an insect and served as props to be used throughout the play. The lead drama actor and  coordinator Vanessa welcomed us to the production . Atmospheric music and some ethereal singing set the stage.

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The opening scene was a dramatic if sombre affair with the death of an insect and how its demise should affect us all. The players took us through the life cycle of a variety of different insects with humour and pathos.

The australian dung beetle, hope you are not eating while reading this, came in for a bashing as it was unable to deal with the cow dung that the imported european cow was producing. Initial blame was laid on the Australian sun that caused the beetle to only move in straight lines, but then it was remembered that the dung beetle came out only at night! The solution was to import European and African beetles to do the digestion and save Australia from the 12 cow pats a day that each animal produced.

The lifespans of a dragonfly enabled the dancers to show their prowess to good effect.  A dragonfly spends the first two to three years of its life as a larvae under the water. When the larvae are full-grown they climb up the stem of a plant and shed their skin. This metamorphosis was dramatically demonstrated by the dances who emerged together from a sack cloth. Further dances were performed with some acrobatics during the play with good choreography and some movement through the audience.

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A lady dressed in black performed the role of the Black widow spider. She engaged the children sitting at the front of the audience and sent a shiver down their spines as well as some adults. Before we annihilate the more familiar  house spider, a fly popped up to remind us that without the arachnids the place would be overrun with flies like her! She then made humourous exchanges with the audience about the hazards of flying into windows; but she concluded that mainly it was a good bugs life.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall a most enjoyable performance with good interaction with the crowd and some sexual references  that were funny and appropriate for all but the youngest of children (of whom their were none in this audience).

A poignant moment came at the end when it was explained an elderly lady from Brighton who had cherished her garden could only have artificial flowers when she moved into sheltered accommodation. She watered the flowers everyday as it reminded her of  home.

The play, about an hour long, was performed free of charge although donations were requested and we were also invited to retire to the Heathfield pantry cafe for tea and cakes.

Afterwards one of the performers explained that the play had been two to three years in the making and the dancers were brought on board in the last two months.