Wednesday 31 December 2008

Icy Earlswood

The last day of the year and it's been a cold one. Getting back from work early afternoon, gave me a chance to pop out with the camera, initially thinking I'd probably be only getting scenic shots. With the subzero temperatures, I headed to Earlswood Lakes.

Upon arrival, the light was as expected; terrible, and after climbing the steps to the causeway, I tutted, as there were no birds in sight. My mate (taking scenic shots) had wandered off around the lake already, so I headed alongside the lake to catch up. Things improved...

In the shrubs beside the stream, a fieldfare rooted about for something to eat, and above me in the treetops, a small flock of siskin fed. The usual robins, blackbirds, pigeons and tits were about, as well as black-headed gulls and mallards on the frozen lake. An unusual call however, stood out, and mooching over to Terry's lake at the back, revealed a pair of goosanders. Dreadful light, and quite misty, but worth a couple of shots.

Wandering back to the causeway, the goosanders had moved to the metal bridge, and were amongst the mallards. Also spotted as we walked alongside the lake were 4 pochards, a tufted duck and a kingfisher, whizzing by, probably looking for a crash helmet to wear to go fishing in.

Back to the causeway, and 3 great crested grebes fluttered by, wings going furiously, searching for somewhere soft to land, and a lone pied wagtail scurried along the tarmac. Not a great afternoon for photos, but worth the walk.
Apart from a hangover, I wonder what the New Year will bring.
Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Padlocks and Cloud at Whitacre Heath

Sunday started brightly, and I was desperate for some photos since Saturday's visit to Marsh Lane had been a bitterly cold disappointment, seeing nothing of interest at all. Sunshine and winter - it seemed to be a perfect day for Whitacre Heath.

Upon arrival at the gate, I wondered why there was a car parked on the road, and a few moments later I realised why. The padlock wasn't working. Frozen or broken, it wasn't opening. Not a massive annoyance for me, as I could park elsewhere, but for the poor chap who had got access earlier on and now couldn't get out, it was providing a bit more of an obstacle!

Fortunately, the owners of the other car returned, and we all worked together to undo the bolts on the chain, and then lift it over the post. Unfortunately, whilst this was going on, the cloud had returned, and it was no longer ideal to be there. What the hell, I was going to have a look around anyway.

Straight to the woodland feeders, which were empty, and little was about. But, I'd come prepared with some seed from home, and within moments of sprinkling it about, the flocks descended upon it.

Nothing spectacular though. I had hoped for redpoll and siskin, but it was the usual suspects of robins, chaffinches, blue, great, coal, and willow tits, pheasants, goldfinches (though they never came near enough for pics), reed buntings, blackbirds and dunnocks.

The highlights of a dull day were seeing the frequent attacks from the local sparrowhawks, a passing jay, a brief visit from a great spotted woodpecker and a darting nuthatch, which was in and out before I could get anything decent of it.

Most of the shots taken that day were at ISO 1000, so if any look okay, it's more to do with the abilities of the camera and subsequent post-processing, than the photographer. And after nearly 3 hours sat in the hide, in freezing conditions, it took till about 10pm to finally start to feel warm again. Brrrr!!

Friday 26 December 2008

Boxing Day Waxwings

Despite the alcohol intake of Christmas Day, the sun shining through my bedroom window in the morning was enough encouragement to get me out and about. Heading firstly to Droitwich in search of waxwings, I initially thought I was in luck, when 2 birds landed in a tree outside the Land Rover dealership. Dammit, redwings. After giving it all of 5 mins, I decided to try my luck down at Upton Warren, as some had been seen near the Sailing Club too.

Enroute, I spotted a kestrel perched on a wire fence, and a couple of slightly dodgy car-turns later, I was parked up, taking shots. It spotted something, and launched down into the long grass... to scoff a worm. A light breakfast, perhaps?

On to Upton Warren, and I was greeted with the sight of a good number of folk, with cameras and scopes aimed at the garden centre. Spotting Stuart, I wandered over for a chat, to catch up on what was going on. 20+ waxwings. Excellent.

After a few minutes, the flock returned, and being as impatient as usual, I went for a closer view. I wasn't alone; Mark Hancox was sat in his car - wise move, it was bl**dy freezing. Stuart joined us, though he managed to get an invite into Mark's car! Then, as before with the lone bird I watched in Derby (Feb), the waxwings did a circular route, disappearing occasionally, only to return and perch in the taller trees. Was worth getting frozen for though, as they descended into the trees right next to me, on several occasions, providing great views and allowing for some good shots, against a blue sky too. A rarity these days!

Tempted to go again tomorrow, though the garden centre will be open, so it might be more difficult to get a decent shot...

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Tis the season to be hungover...

Friday saw the first of the Christmas work parties, which meant Saturday's birding would always be an effort. Coupled with the deluge, it turned into a day to make a fence, buy a Crimbo tree, stock up on bird seed, and nurse a hangover!

Sunday promised to be a brighter day, and I had planned to try to see SEOs again, but as usual, the clouds gathered, and the plan was ditched in favour of a more local trip to Upton Warren. Maybe I'd get lucky with one of the bitterns again.
Hmm... perhaps not. No sign of them, though there had been earlier on the Moors, with 2 flying around. In fact, it was one of those days when it seemed nothing would turn up. Moving to the West Hide, at least I was able to see some birds, if not get any decent pics. In the surrounding trees were masses of siskins, and although the feeders were somewhat flooded, there were the usual tits and finches buzzing around, and I managed a shot of a song thrush, a bird which seems to know how to avoid me mostly.

Highlight of the day was an attack by a peregrine (resulting in some woeful shots from me), zipping back and forth, but alas to no avail, and it left empty-talonned. A bit like me, apart from the talons, though I probably ought to cut my nails...

Christmas party number 2 arrives on this Friday, up in Manchester. Haven't decided if I'll take my camera with me, as it's not a million miles away from some interesting spots. Be a late decision me thinks. There's always Sunday...

And there's always the garden, though the resident robins are now coming so close to me, I can't get a shot. Might have to dig out the kit lens, or even macro at this rate.

Monday 8 December 2008

Operation Owl

I was supposed to be constructing a fence to prevent a neighbour’s dog from getting into my back garden at the weekend, but the weather forecast was simply too good, at this limited time of year, to waste on something that can be done in the rain. So, it was time to kick off Operation Owl.

Owls are one of my favourite types of bird – most birds of prey are, but finding them isn’t that easy. That said, by the power of the internet, and a few very helpful friends (tips hat to Kay and Ian), I had managed to draw up a plan of operation to see some.

Saturday morning, I set off to Staffordshire, to a place near Dudley called Himley Hall. Some fantastic scenery there and one to note for the autumn to get some seasonal shots, but also, more importantly the home to a Tawny Owl. Thanks to Kay’s information I eventually tracked down the location, and spotted the fluffy thing peering out. Fantastic.

Whilst stood there, one of the locals out walking his dog, mentioned a peregrine over on the tower nearby, so one very muddy walk later, I was trying to get shots of this other wonderful bird… only to see it take flight, disturbed by exiting workers below. Bah!

The woods at the Hall are certainly worth another visit. Aside from the owl, there were masses of nuthatches, coal, long-tailed, blue and great tits, robins, chaff, gold, and bullfinches, woodpeckers and I even spotted a siskin amongst the hedgerows.

After a couple of very pleasant hours, the alarm sounded, and part 2 of Operation Owl, had to commence. Over to Northants. Not the easiest place to find, but thanks to Ian’s directions, I arrived early, to find he was already there! What a cracking place too.

Amongst the hedgerows were fieldfares, redwings and yellowhammers, plus occasionally a kestrel would wing by. Unfortunately, the day took a bit of downturn when some game shooters turned up, and started to beat the field. This did however, mean we got an early view of a Short Eared Owl, disturbed by these muppets, it flew across the fields and up over our heads. What amazing looking birds these are. Such distinctive markings on their face, and bigger than I had imagined.

The next hour or so was spent trying to see the owls, yes more than one appeared, as they hunted around the countryside, though mainly and rather annoyingly, against the sun. As the light faded, a screech behind me alerted me to a new arrival, and the 3rd Owl of the day. A Barn Owl. Too far for pics, alas, but a welcome sight anyway.

Day One of Operation Owl was a definite success. On to Day Two.

Sunday morning was again bright and sunny, and after much consideration, I opted to put the operation on hold for a while, and hunt for the Hen Harrier down in South Worcestershire instead. A very pleasant drive through the Vale Of Evesham, reminded me that there are some cracking areas of countryside to explore there, which I have taken for granted, usually as I flew past in the Scooby.

Unfortunately, the Hen Harrier proved elusive, and to be honest, I was wanting more owl action, so after 30 mins or so, and going on the advice of a local, I headed further south still, to continue Operation Owl, down near the River Severn, just shy of Bristol.

Along the stretch of riverside scrubland, were skylarks, stonechats and a few pipits, and not a lot else. Through my bins I could see various ducks on the river, and I was treated to some flybys from buzzards, oystercatchers and a little egret. The main show, however kicked off late afternoon, when a fisherman disturbed a Short Eared Owl, and it took flight. Ghosting along the edge of the river, it soon dropped down out of sight, but not for long, and was joined by several more. At one point, we counted 5 of them, flying around, sometimes chasing one another, before rapidly changing direction, and dropping to the ground after prey. What a superb area, and with the backdrop of the river, albeit somewhat misty, it made for some good pictures.

As the light began to fade, and the air temperature dropped, I spotted a kestrel sat in a nearby tree, so took advantage of that, in the reddish evening light. A last look back at 2 of the owls, both perched on branches of driftwood, gave a perfect end to a cracking weekend of owl hunting. Operation Owl was a success. Now I can’t wait to see some more.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Fieldfares and Redwings

After getting up early, I was informed that the flight my brother was coming back to the UK on from Canada, had been delayed, so suddenly I found myself over at the Flashes on a sunny morning. The sun shines on the hedges around the feeder hide in the morning, so I headed that way. On the sailing pool was a kingfisher, which zipped off when it saw me, and over the field at the back, a kestrel hovered.

From the hide, I could see the usual blue and great tits, but I could also hear the calls of fieldfare. It took about an hour for them to arrive, but when they did, it was in force! Seemed to be hundreds of them, along with redwings, scoffing down the berries in the trees. Needless to say, I took my opportunity and a bag full of shots. Lovely to see their colours in the sunshine.

In addition to these winter visitors, there was the local gs woodie, and a few bullfinches, though only the female came close enough for a shot.

Over at the Moors, I couldn’t locate either of the bitterns, but whilst driving down to the car park, I spotted something scuttling along the ground. A red legged partridge.

Not seen one of those since one legged it along the road in front of my car down at the Chilterns. Amusing looking birds, and they can certainly shift! Let’s hope it stays local... maybe I can get a shot of it in a pear tree, for Christmas!

Saturday 15 November 2008


An embarrassing gap in my collection, considering the fact that these birds often winter near me, was divers. So hearing that some had arrived at Draycote was good news, though Kay reminded me that one has been at Chasewater for weeks. Oops.

Anyway, blasting over to Draycote is always a hoot, with the good roads that way, and even better when I spotted a buzzard sat in a roadside tree. For once, when I turned back, parked and started taking pics, it didn’t fly away! Well, not immediately...

At the reservoir, it didn’t take long to spot one of the divers, a great northern diver, right in by the sailing club, and I was soon filling the memory card up. Walking along the bank, I also managed to locate the red necked grebe, and got some pics of that too, though they weren’t as good as my previous efforts on another bird back in January.

Back to the diver, I discovered that another one had joined it, and I managed to get some shots of them having a squabble, and then meeting up with a shag.
So the gallery has been updated, and there’s one less embarrassing gap in it! And I also managed to get pics of a little grebe and a carrion crow.

Friday 7 November 2008

Day off

Having booked a day off work to prepare the house and garden for Saturday’s firework night party, I was hoping for a rainy day, but the weather tempted me away from my chores, and over to Upton Warren instead.

At the feeder hide at the Flashes, I bumped into Stuart again, who was still grinning ear-to-ear with his new 100-400mm lens, and we set about photographing whatever came into view, the highlights being a female sparrowhawk, a wren, a great spotted woodpecker and a few lesser redpoll. We also saw a bittern fly by, and drop down into the Hen Pool.

Over at the Moors, the car park was almost full, though most were in the East Hide viewing. I aimed for the West Hide, and from there saw another gs woodie, and more surprisingly, a tree sparrow. Alas it took off before I could swap my bins for my camera.

A quick view of the North Moors before leaving, provided some entertainment as a cormorant spooked a heron by fishing beneath its legs under the water, causing a few feathers to fly!

Saturday 1 November 2008

2 Bitterns

Despite it being technically warmer today than earlier this week (snow, in October!) it didn’t feel it, and the walk to the hide at Upton Warren was a chilly affair. Still, I got a warm reception as my ‘tog friends Ian and Ken were sat inside, hoping for luck with the bittern.

Within moments, Ian spotted it flying from right to left, towards the car park end, and we watched it crash down into the reeds. Then, rather surprisingly, a second one headed that way too. So there are 2 bitterns on the reserve! Splendid.

The kingfisher made the odd appearance, but not much else was around, unfortunately. Until, that is, I spotted the pair of bitterns chasing each other. Up and over the road, and down into the North Moors pool. Chancing it, I decided to jog (yes, me jogging – a daft sight!) down to the other pool, to try my luck down there.

Moments after getting there, one of the bitterns headed across the water, and into the reeds opposite the hide, and vanished in the blink of an eye. Try as I might, I couldn’t see it, and was about to give up when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something against the reeds in the other corner. Yep, the other one had come out to play, and sat on some reeds, stretching its neck, and looking around.

Joined by another birder, we both observed the bittern, glancing occasionally across to see if the other had come out, and I took a few shots. Alas, I made the mistake of looking at the camera, to check the images, and when I returned my attention to the bird, it had vanished.

Let’s hope I can get to see one of them when the sun is out – would be nice to see the colours in a good light. Fingers crossed...

Sunday 26 October 2008

Too early for Ladywalk & Whitacre

After the excitement of seeing the bittern yesterday, I thought I’d try somewhere a bit different today. I headed for Ladywalk, which also has bitterns over winter (though none yet, as far as I know), but has got a decent feeder hide set up, which I aimed for upon arrival.

Walking down the main path, I saw a few redwings and fieldfares (I think, as I was looking into the sun, somewhat), but they were gone before I could raise the lens.

From the hide, alas there wasn’t much around, well, nothing special anyway. Marsh (or Willow; I ought to work these out soon) tits, blue, great, long-tailed tits, gold and greenfinches, a few wrens, chaffinches, a robin, some reed buntings and the occasional visit from a great spotted woodpecker.

However, with a shriek of alarm from the birds, the star of the show arrived, and for once, perched for a moment for me to get some shots. A male sparrowhawk, with gorgeous bright yellow eyes. I managed a couple of shots before he took flight, swooping low over the ground, and then off across to the lake behind, to scare the wildfowl.

I waited for about an hour in the hope that he’d return, and he did... but this time only for a second, whizzing through the area, causing a disturbance, and off again into the woods. Time to leave, I thought.

Being up that way, I drove over to Whitacre Heath, but after donning the wellies and plodding out to the woodland hide, I discovered that it was a) too dark for photography (still too many leaves on the trees) and b) the feeders weren’t stocked up.

After chatting to the only other person on the reserve, I shall try to remember to bring some seed next time, as it’s down to the deep pockets of the members to keep the feeders filled, because the Trust doesn’t assist. Bit of a poor show from them, if you ask me!

I'll leave it a while before heading back to either - they're definitely places to head to in the winter... no mozzies either!

Saturday 25 October 2008

Once Bittern...

With the forecast for Saturday being half sunny (morning) and then rain later, I dragged myself out of bed, and opted to head to Upton Warren, as Kay & Max said they’d likely be there, searching for the Shore Lark.

Walking along the path to the hide, a green woodpecker zipped along the tops of the reeds, and off into the distance (like they always do!). As expected, Kay & Max were indeed in the hide, though after spending an hour searching, they’d decided that the lark was either having a lie in, or had gone.

I squeezed in on to the bench, and had a quick look, but to no avail, but we did manage to see the lesser spotted Fritz, who was out for the day, after having battled with public transport down to the reserve.

With Kay shivering, and no sign of the lark, we all decided it to head over to the Moors instead – perhaps the bittern would make an appearance! We weren’t disappointed – within minutes of getting into the West Hide, I managed to make out the bird amongst the reeds near the sluice gate, and apart from Kay, we all had a good view of it, as it crept along the channel.

Staring at the reeds for a while, Kay, Max and Fritz decided that they’d rather go over to the other side to see if they could spot the jack snipe reported recently, leaving me in the hide, hoping for a better, clearer view of the bittern.

If only they’d stayed for 10 more minutes. Out it came, and posed on some cut down reeds, for almost 5 minutes! I’ve never seen one out in the open before, and filled the card with shots of it! Super stuff! It mooched around, seemed to peck at something small and consume it, before flying back into the reeds.

Moments later, it launched out, and flew over to the other side, so everyone got a good view of it.

After wandering over to the East Hide to join the others, we all saw it again take flight, this time pursued by black-headed gulls, across to the car-park corner, where it dived into the reeds, and disappeared from view.

All the bittern images (including a couple with a water rail in the reeds behind it) are now on my gallery.

Monday 20 October 2008

Belvide and a pair at Upton

I've typed this in once, so alas it's going to be short this time. Maybe that's for the best!

Saturday was never going to be an early start, after sampling the delights of the Black Country Ale Festival, at the Coach & Horses, the night before. Keen to get my money's worth from my WMBC membership, I aimed for Belvide, which unlike Blithfield and Ladywalk, offers something decent for photographers.

It was a bit too cloudy for shots at the woodland feeders, so I headed to the feeder hide by the water, and was pleased to see nuthatches, marsh?, long-tailed, blue and great tits, chaffinches, a wren, a robin, pheasants, tree sparrows and a sparrowhawk making occasional sorties.

Down at the new hide, I could see the flock of golden plovers, but they were too far for anything other than a record shot. New bird for me though.

Heading back, I opted to drop into UW, and was pleased to be told that there was a Shore Lark over at the Flashes. I hot-footed it over, and found the hide as busy as when the Wilson's Phalarope was there - like a scrum!

Soon located the bird, and it was accompanied by a rock pipit - another rarity for the area. Unfortunately, the lark was too far for a decent shot, though Rob Smith with his 1600mm set up managed some good shots.

So in terms of new birds, I'd got 2 for the day, though in terms of images, the shots of the nuthatch had made my day. The gallery will be updated over this week, work permitting. I'll probably add some images in here too...

Bl**dy Blogs

After typing in a long blog entry for the weekend, it somehow lost it, and now I have wasted 40 mins I can't afford to lose. Auto draft saving doesn't seem to allow you to select the last draft after it's gone either. Not impressed.

Monday 13 October 2008

Sunny October Weekend

What a lovely weekend that was. Despite the forecast of rain for Saturday, I thought I'd try for the drake common scoter that had been seen daily at Draycote Water for the past week or so. Being popular with joggers and cyclists, I dragged myself out of bed early, and was at the lake just after sunrise. Stunning sunrise it was too, shame I was driving!
The carpark was almost empty, so I got a good spot near the top, and set about walking towards the Valve Tower, in search of the scoter. The morning sunshine was golden, and the lake and everything on it was lit up beautifully.

Most of the birds were close to, or on the shore line, though I couldn't see my target bird. Nevertheless, the sight of a pair of cormorants perched on a rocky jetty, bathed in the golden light casting reflections was too good to refuse. First pics of the day!

Around by the Valve Tower, there were masses of tufted ducks, coots, lapwings and a few gulls, but no sign of the scoter. In the fields nearby I heard the distinctive call of a green woodpecker, and there were meadow pipits and pied wagtails galore. Down by the water board buildings, I spotted a kingfisher zipping along the reedbed, and a quick wander down yielded more sightings of it, plus a pied and grey wagtail and a passing great spotted woodpecker.

A quick call to Steve Seal (cheers) led me to realise I'd gone too far, and that the bird had been seen towards Rainbow Corner, so I wandered back...

Alas it wasn't to be my day. Several other birders I met had also failed to see the bird, and I eventually opted for some pics of the immature shag instead. Oh well, maybe next time. Though I did manage a couple of nice wren shots. So not a total loss.

After Draycote, I headed to Brandon Marsh, for the obligatory kingfisher viewing. The Carlton Hide was inhabited by the usual suspects, and we didn't have to wait too long to see the star - this time a female. Got a couple of shots before she headed off.

Also took the opportunity to get some pics of a grey heron fishing - though trying to anticipate it striking, was rather hit and miss, much like its fishing success.

Before leaving I popped over to the Teal Pool, but the black tailed godwit was too far off, and the light was all wrong anyway.

Sunday - I was considering trying for the scoter again, as it was apparently still there (hiding!), but a sighting of a bittern at Upton Warren changed the plans at the last second. Heading down the M5, I was greeted to the sight of a flying caravan. Not what you expect to see, and it wasn't nice to see it tumble along, spinning the car with it. Looked like the driver got out okay, though he was obviously in shock. Didn't see the cause, and there were a few "stoppers" already, so I headed on down to the reserve.

After getting to the West Hide, one of the spotters told me where he'd seen the bittern, and that there was a second (he thought) in the reeds to the right of the hide. Despite searching, we couldn't locate it. Then all of a sudden, it took flight from the reeds, across and down to the far side of the lake, near the car park. Typically, the focus wouldn't lock on, and I got some very blurred shots.

Deciding to spend the day there, I set up camp in the West Hide, and got to see the usual feeding tits, pesky squirrels and hear the occasional Cetti's calling. Not until I'd moved to the "Spider" hide, did I get to see the other bittern. Spotted by a lady also in the hide, it was sat on the edge of the reeds on the other side, plain as day! Didn't stay out long, and soon disappeared.

Moving back to the West Hide again, news had obviously got out, and I was soon joined by lots of keen folk. For once, the bittern performed, coming out of the reeds, and then flying across to the corner to where the other had gone. And at the second time of trying, I managed to get a half decent shot or two.

Superb. See my gallery for all the shots from the weekend.