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.