Thursday 24 December 2009

Season's Greetings!!

A quick post just to wish everyone who reads and comments on this blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks to everyone for their interest in what antics I've been up to and the images I've managed to capture.

Here's to another year of adventuring in the world of bird photography.



Wednesday 23 December 2009

Whitacre & Venus Pools

Playing catch up again. With only a couple of hours of sunshine on the Saturday, I made a beeline for Whitacre Heath to get some "guaranteed" photos of birds, to cheer me up a little. Problem is, it's still a little early in terms of available light for that place yet, so what light there was, was rather harsh. Some of the shots look like I used a flash!

That was Saturday though, and Sunday I fancied a change. Venus Pools is a place I often hear about, and see some terrific photos from. Arriving early, I spotted a buzzard on a telegraph pole, so a quick 180 and I was parking up, just to see it fly off, like usual.

The pools were partially iced over and the fields around, shrouded with a thin veil of mist. Not ideal. Opting for a walk around the fields and lakes, I observed flocks of goldfinch and yellowhammers, plus chaffinches, fieldfares, redwings and the usual stuff. All generally too far off to photo, alas. But a pleasant place to wander around. A buzzard kept me interested as I tried to circle the lakes, only to reach a field full of bulls and thus had to walk back the way I'd come. It does annoy me when places aren't circular for walks, especially when not sign posted so.

Anyway, back at the feeders, there were masses of chaffinches - I think all the ones that used to be in my garden have moved over here. Greenfinches, various tits, tree sparrows, great spotted woodpeckers but alas no redpolls or brambling, though it has potential.

I was quite pleased to see a few rooks mooching about, as they're not a bird I usually photo or get that close to. Remind me of Ozzy for some reason. The light showed off their colours rather well too - not just black you know.

Unfortunately, even with the sunlight, it was, how can I put it, "bloody freezing" being sat there, so I had to abandon ship eventually and head to the warmth of my car's heated seat. Must be getting old!

The road back seemed to have a buzzard in every tree, though typically there was either nowhere to pull over, or if I did, it'd take flight. One day I'll get one... one day. I think Venus Pools might be a spot to try later on in winter, perhaps as an alternative to Whitacre Heath.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Glossy Ibis & Himley Hall

Okay, so you might have thought that I'd vanished off the face of the planet, with the lack of blog entries of late. Things were a bit rough for a few weeks with Mum being seriously ill so I needed to be local and contactable, hence disappearing off to remote birding spots was impossible, and to be honest, not even on my mind.

Fingers crossed though, she seems to be on the mend and we're all hoping she'll make a full recovery now.

I spent a couple of spells over at the North Moors at Upton Warren, but the bittern that has been seen there before, apparently has moved on. We hope. Be very sad if it has been killed by one of the predators around. Hence, I didn't see it. Didn't see much at all to be honest, except distant redwings and fieldfares.

Then the news came of a glossy ibis, seen near the River Severn, near Holt. With the sun peeking out between the clouds, I made my way to the pub car park and then hot-footed it along the riverside. Unfortunately, after about a mile I realised it was nowhere to be seen, though several other birders reckon it had been seen across the water earlier. Just as hope was fading, news came in that it had relocated to a flooded field near Grimley, so my plans for a pint were put on hold for this chance of seeing it.

True enough, the bird was in the field, but by now the light was fading and clouds had rolled in too. And the bird was way too far off for a photo. Damn! And then to make matters worse, some muppet of a farmer fired off a round which put everything up into the air... and we all watched as the ibis flew off. Got some record shots of it though they look like cardboard cut-outs!

On the Sunday I thought I'd try for a bird I've not visited since pretty much this time last year. A tawny owl. And a bit of a local celebrity, as it's virtually always in the top of a broken tree at Himley Hall. With decent light, I hoped for a decent shot or two, but timed it badly - stupid! Should have gone in the morning. Note to self: Go earlier next time!

Anyway, the owl was indeed there, and glared down at me when a passing dog decided I was worth barking at. Such a lovely looking bird though, with amazing feather detail.

Not a great deal else around, as most was scared off by a mountain bike race going on. The light over the lakes made for a golden shot of a coot though.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Cossington Meadows (Leics)

Late last winter I got a taste for photographing a rather magical bird, the short-eared owl. So with winter approaching, I have been keeping a close eye on sightings across the country. One place that kept cropping up was in Leicestershire, at the end of the M69. A place called Cossington Meadows.

With a good day of weather forecast, after a rather horrid Saturday, I hopped in the car and zipped up there for a mid-morning start. The plan was to explore the whole area of the reserve for much of the day, and then be ready for the owls later. A pair apparently, and one had been seen as early as 2:30pm.

After the rain on Saturday, the reserve was muddy to say the least, and I had to maintain my balance around some very slippery puddles and paths. Talking to locals, I soon got my bearings and found myself scanning the various lakes for anything of interest. Wigeons mainly of note, though everything seemed to go up when a sparrowhawk swooped by.

Also present were several pairs of kestrels. I followed one hunting pair to the back of the reserve and along the river. They were fantastic to watch, not only performing their trademark hovering, but also possibly courting as they interacted with each other, mirroring movements in the sky.

I had read that there are stonechats around, but alas none showed for me! The occasional clatter from pheasants bursting from the undergrowth broke what is a rather quiet reserve. The only real downside of the place were the amount of dog-walkers, and how many allowed their mutts to bound around off their leads.

After a pleasant stroll along the river's edge, I mooched around the other side of the meadows briefly, though they were very soggy under foot and much was impossible to access to allow the Exmoor ponies to manage the land.

By mid afternoon, there were increasing numbers of interested parties waiting for the owls. I tried initially over near the Rectory Marsh, but that stunk of that algae, so I retreated to Swan Meadow for a more general view.

Again, kestrels entertained us as we waited patiently and we tried to count the number of grey herons hidden in the tall grass. Six I counted, though the chap next to me reckoned on eight! And the ponies decided to trudge over to us too, which provided at least something other than kestrels to take pictures of. That is until the owls appeared.

Well, that was the idea, but as with anything involving nature, it doesn't always go to plan. Yes, you've guessed it and probably from seeing the lack of owl photos here, that they never put in an appearance, not when I was there anyway. Buggers. Perfect evening for hunting too, calm and no rain.

They came out later, according to reports, and again the next day, but I was in work by then. Then I remembered another symptom of winter. Irritable Owl Syndrome, brought on by bad luck with these elusive birds.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Fireworks And Red Crests

With the fine weather over the weekend you'd expect tales of travel and bundles of photos. Alas the weekend coincided with my annual firework party, so I had almost no time for bird photography at all. On the plus side, the party was a success with friends and family enjoying the display and BBQ and it didn't rain until the last whizzbangs were being set off.

Sunday had a late start; Saturday didn't technically finish until about 3am, so I needed some time to recover. After watching the Moto GP with a friend, I quickly scanned the sightings pages online and spotted the red crested pochards down at Bittell. Just down the road and that was just as well - I wasn't in the right mood for any sort of a drive.

Unfortunately by then I had missed the window of sunshine so the light was woeful upon arrival. The birds were in line with the gate down the path alongside the lake, so I could see them easily enough, and with the sun setting behind me, I didn't have much choice with waiting for better conditions.

So that was it for the weekend. A trio of red crested pochards. Roll on the next weekend so I can chill out!

Thursday 5 November 2009


After Max had seen and captured some lovely shots of a black redstart over at Draycote Water, I hoped on the following day (Saturday) that it would have stayed around for some more shots.

Alas it had decided to fly elsewhere, despite several birders searching, and I was left with the option of looking for the (now) resident scaup. Did I find it? No.

However, all was not lost. Walking around the edge I spotted a brownish bird perched on the rocks near the channels at the Overflow... A kestrel. And a fine looking male at that. Fairly approachable too.

He soon moved when I strayed that bit too close, but only to a nearby concrete wall, where he had a bit of scratch and preen, before zipping off, up and over the road, and off into the fields beyond. It's a good spot for kestrels actually, and I've often found myself photographing them instead of the rareties on the lake!

Further round the lake, along Barn Bank, I spotted a different looking duck come into land, but being ignorant, I didn't realise what it was... until Dave and Rich arrived, and informed me that there was a female pintail around. "Ah. So that's what it is!" I thought.

With decent light and a very accommodating pintail, the day was rounded off with a selection of shots of a new species for my collection. Would have been nicer had it been the male, in terms of a more colourful bird, but nonetheless, a great new addition to my gallery.

Sunday was forecast to be wet, so I had a lie in for once. I do love listening to the pitter-patter of rain when wrapped up warm in bed. Once the rain cleared though and the first shards of sunlight hit my windows, I was up and out as fast as possible. Make hay and all that.

Upton Warren was the target, and I was soon sat in the Bittern Hide with Bob, chatting about what he'd seen that week. I do envy the retired photographers! Apparently, he'd managed to get some cracking shots of the bittern out in the open near the hide and also witnessed a mink attack, drown and drag off a heron! The traps had best be set up now before this vicious sod gets a taste for bitterns.

Bob left when it was getting gloomier and left me to look for the bitterns. Took a while and the light was almost gone when one showed its head. Only for a couple of moments, but was still great to see.

Fireworks party this weekend, so I'm not sure if I'll get any bird photography done at all. Pity, as the forecast isn't too bad, and the short-eared owls are increasing in numbers all the time.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Quiet Times

Well, I have been slacking off with the old blog lately, despite doing quite a bit. After the fine trip to the Wirral, noted below, I tried again and it all went wrong. The forecast promised sunshine, and there was blanket cloud, I managed to mistime the tide, so all the waders had moved and then when I moved to where they were, the high pressure meant the water didn't come up as high as expected, so everything was miles off, and then over at Inner Marsh, the long-billed dowitchers resolutely refused to come anywhere near the hide.

Did see quite a bit, along with the dowitchers, we saw the hen harrier and also a female merlin, plus a curlew sandpiper, but given the light and the distance, nothing came out worth keeping.
So the last weekend was spent locally, mooching around Upton Warren, hoping to see something good. In short I didn't. Quite a few usual suspects, and I was rewarded for a 3 hour wait with a 3 minute view of the bittern over on the North Moors pool.

There was also a pink-footed goose, but that favours an island near the centre of the pool, so massive crops were applied to get shots of that worth airing (record only).

I think it's perhaps too early for the woodland birds to be massing by the Flashes feeding station, so that will have to wait a bit. All the redwings I saw were flying overhead, so no chance of any shots, though I did see a couple in the gloom at the back of the bushes behind the North Moors pool, but was way too dark for a shot. An incoming sparrowhawk provided a very brief moment of excitement, but the light was all wrong and it was a miracle anything could be recovered from the shots taken.

The real stars I guess were the curlews, as they fed in the fields between the lakes and the road, and as they took flight. Managed some half decent shots, showing off the intricate details under their wings.

Oh, and old faithful, Little Grump didn't disappoint either. With the leaves from his oak falling away, finding him is getting easier by the day. He didn't even mind the burble of the Scooby's exhaust, as I parked a bit closer to get more detailed shots.

I wonder when the first fieldfares will start rolling in? Love trying for shots of these birds.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Wirral Seal Tour

A few weeks ago I ignored the hatred of the M6 motorway and headed to the Wirral area for a look around the birding sites recommended to me by a friend. They showed real promise, and I vowed to go again, only this time I would have a personal tour guide!

Steve Seal is one of the best and most dedicated bird photographers I have had the pleasure of meeting. Always enthusiastic, knowledgeable and entertaining, he's about as good as it gets for someone to show you the best spots for bird photography, how to work them and what to look out for.

Arriving at Meols, I parked up, a little earlier than the arranged meeting time, but it's a small price to pay when avoiding the traffic on that hateful road. After a quick look over at the waders on the beach, I was forced to take shelter in the car when a squally shower rolled in from the sea.

Fortunately I didn't have too long to wait, and Steve (and Chris) kindly brought the sunshine with him. Walking around the front we spotted some redshank (well, I say "some" but truthfully there were hundreds!), turnstones, little egrets, curlews, various gulls, knots, grey plovers, sanderlings, dunlins and a fair few carrot-beaks too (oystercatchers).

Just along the coast from here is a spot called Leasowe, and it can be reached simply by walking along the sea defences, but we drove around the back roads and parked near the lighthouse. The sloping concrete defences allow access to the beach, but it was a treacherous walk as in the early morning gloom, the surface hadn't had chance to dry out and was like sheet ice!

Down near the seaweed line, crouched down, I managed to get some shots of redshanks, oystercatchers and curlew, as these had ventured fairly close. Looks like a fine spot to get shots of waders though, and perhaps a fold-out stool might be wise next time, to make it a tad more comfortable when waiting for the birds to approach.

Hopping a bit further down the coast again, we arrived at a beach area, near a golf course. Steve and Chris were somewhat surprised in their car when a buzzard flew alongside it, showing off exactly how large these birds are! From here, Steve and I headed out on to the sands, to the immense flocks of waders, some feeding and others snoozing in the early sunshine.

Approaching them was a crouched, scurry and stop affair, but with a bit more practise, I'm sure I'd have gotten closer than I managed. The size of the flocks was amazing though. Thousands of birds, like a blanket across the sand. Black-tailed godwits, knots, grey plovers, sanderlings, dunlins and closer to the water's edge, a black sea of oystercatchers. Spoilt for choice, though the flip side is that it is rather tricky to get shots of individual birds.

The northern corner of the Wirral is a place called New Brighton, and the beach areas are good spots to photograph flocks of sanderling, especially as they're usually fewer in number so getting individuals is easier. Being a Saturday though, much of the beach was disturbed by families and their pets, enjoying late season sunshine.

However, along the beach Steve located a suitable flock, and we set about getting some pics. It was rather a game of cat and mouse, as the tide pushed the birds towards us, only for them to change location when they were spooked by something. With the sunshine behind, I can see this place being a great spot, and Steve's pics from sunnier days are more proof of this!

Also at New Brighton is a pool that attracts all manner of sea birds during the winter months, so I shall be keeping an eye out for this, to add perhaps some new species to my photo collection.

Ending the day, we headed to Parkgate for the raptors, hoping to get as close a view of the local barn owl as Steve had managed during the week, but alas, the owl decided to keep its distance. Got a record shot as it carried off a vole perhaps, but the light was fading quickly and shots became more and more noisy.

Also around were kestrels, a pair of hen harriers, a short-eared owl and a peregrine, though all were really too far away for my equipment.

With a high tide forecast for this weekend though, I may well be heading back again for another go. Fingers crossed the clouds keep away this time though!

Sunday 11 October 2009

Jack Snipe

Last weekend was another one spent locally, with trips to see Little Grump and a mooch around Upton Warren. The undoubted star of the weekend was on Saturday, when in the company of Stuart, I managed my first half decent shots of a jack snipe, from the Bittern Hide.

A strange little bird that bobs as it feeds. Striking colours on it though, and when I saw a second later on, next to a common snipe, the size difference was rather apparent.

Aside from the snipes, I also spotted the bittern, well, one of a pair resident now. Saw it land in the North Moors, but then waited 4 hours for it to show again. I'm losing my marbles I think.

Didn't get anything particularly good after all that!

Friday 2 October 2009

Local Delights

Quick entry for last weekend's trips. Didn't fancy anything too far afield, as I've spent a lot of time driving lately and preferred a local trip instead. Hence, it was a couple of very short drives to see Little Grump, the local little owl, and an afternoon spent at Upton Warren.

Little Grump keeps changing his (I don't know if it's a he or she, to be honest) perch in the tree, so finding him is tricky, though with winter approaching, and the leaves of the oak falling off, he'll soon be easy to locate.

Was good to watch him preen and stretch, and while the light wasn't great (when is it?!), I still managed a few decent shots. I do like going to see him first thing, as it can be a good start to a day's photography.

Upton Warren is usually fairly quiet at this time of year, but there has been a bittern resident over the summer, which adds an extra incentive to stay that bit longer. After seeing the bittern fly across to Amy's Marsh at about lunchtime, I relocated to the hide on the East side, to try for a better look.

Problem is, the very different angles from the hides makes it very difficult to work out where you were looking at from the other side, and it's not like a bittern is easy to see even when you know where it is!

Apart from the widgeon, a couple of snipes and a few teals, there wasn't much to see. I did get a distant view of a green woodpecker, and a sparrowhawk flew over the hide, but appeared black on the shots I took, on account of the poor light.

However, as I was about to give up, I spotted the bittern making a return flight, and yelled out that it was visible, much to the delight of a family of birders also in the hide. Made their day I think, as they'd not seen it before.

As before, I failed to relocate the bittern after it had landed, so I headed home. I hear now though, that there are 2 bitterns around, so it sounds like the wintering birds are returning. I can see hours being spent staring at reeds again, numb fingers and occasional moments of excitement as I spot these elusive birds.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Dee Estuary

Normally when I use the M6 it's chock-a-block with trucks, reps hogging the outside lane and the odd middle-lane-moron blocking that path, making it a nightmare to use, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it so quiet on Saturday morning. Then again, it was only 7am! I was off on another trip out somewhere new, this time around the Dee Estuary.

After speaking with Steve Seal who is based around there now, I was full of ideas and places to try (cheers Steve!), starting first with a place called Meols. This spot looks promising (note to self: return when the sun is out!), with plenty of sand and mud along the front attracting lots of varieties of waders, gulls plus herons and little egrets. Behind the esplanade, is an area of scrub / dunes / farmland which held stonechats when I was there, and I suspect a great deal more, had there not have been so many mozzies around that morning.

The idea of the day, from another friend Rob Smith, was to witness a high tide, forcing the birds out of the nearby marshes, which would be good for pics of them, plus the additional prospect of the raptors hunting these flushed birds. Problem was, as we later found out from a member of the RSPB staff, that the water wasn't high enough, nor the weather conditions suitable for such an event, so we would never get to see such a spectacle that day. Nevermind.

With Steve's info though, I started at Meols and wandered along the front to Leasowe, watching the waders more than photographing them, as the light was dreadful. I think next time I go, I'll have more idea of where to stand for the birds as the tide comes in, as I walked a bit far back towards Meols, and missed a fair few, but I did get some iffy shots of turnstones and little egrets as they took advantage of the incoming waters.

Once the sands had vanished, I took a couple of pics of the now floating fishing boats in some brief sunshine, before zipping along the coast to Hoylake. Again, I was a bit caught out at the speed of things here, as the tide seemed miles away when I arrived. Opting for a walk around the back of the marshes there, I was rather surprised to find the tide almost in literally minutes later!

The marshes held a few warblers and reed buntings, plus I heard a water rail squealing nearby. But the tide brought in huge flocks of oystercatchers, which took flight, forming dark clouds in front of Hilbre Island.

Down to Parkgate next, where Rob had opted to aim for. By then he had worked out that the tide wouldn't be high enough, both from the lack of water and lack of other birders! Oops. Oh well, we headed south instead to the RSPB reserve of Inner Marsh Farm. The little bit of sun that had been around had now gone again, and from the hide we could see various waders, including godwits and ruff. The highlight of this visit came after about an hour, when Rob clocked a hen harrier quartering the marshes. And as usual with poor light, my camera failed to focus on it, and within moments it had gone. Gutter!

Fortunately, it returned on a surprise attack later, and I managed a few record shots of it, as it few away from us. A great looking bird - I've only seen one before, at dusk in January, when I was in Norfolk.

With the light failing further, I had a quick walk around the marshes down the road, by a rifle range, but by then I was starting to feel the effects of the early start, and whilst Rob headed back to Gayton (where he saw a one-eyed barn owl), I set off home, down a more normal-looking M6.

Definitely an area I want to explore more though...

Sunday 13 September 2009

Pectoral Sandpiper

Having walked all around Worcestershire on Saturday and photographed almost nothing, the news that a pectoral sandpiper had been spotted at Draycote Water was a relief.

I didn't get there particularly early and as I walked up towards the lake, I spotted Dave Hutton loading his kit back into his car. He'd been there early, and judging by his pics, he'd enjoyed some cracking views of the bird.

Dave had to head home to grab some hours kip before work, but he mentioned that Steve Seal was around too. He was, munching on some rolls when I caught up with him. Always a pleasure to chat to Steve - so enthusiastic and entertaining. Another one of the early risers, he'd also managed to get some cracking shots... annoying as the fishermen had scared the bird away by the time I had almost got close to it.

All was not lost though, as whilst I trudged back to the car park, I spotted one of the dunlins that had been with the pectoral sandpiper, and yes, it was still with it. Didn't take long for other photographers to clock on to me and join in, photographing it, as it pottered around on the shoreline.

I managed a few shots with other birds in shot, such as the ringed plover, dunlin and a young mallard.

As the chill from Draycote cut through my fleece, I opted to head off, accompanied by Di Stone, who had also felt the cold! There was one surprise left though, as on the walk back, I spotted a weasel, peeking out from between the rocks on the bank of the lake. Cheeky, inquisitive little character! Rather cute too, and a brilliant subject to photograph. It'll be appearing on my Wildlife Gallery very soon.

After seeing a pectoral sandpiper in Cley this week, albeit at somewhat of a distance, it was lovely to get the chance to photo one closer up - a fine addition to the gallery, and a good day catching up with friends.

Norfolk Again

Normally, this time of year is spent down in Somerset, but due to family circumstances, the planned trip had to be cancelled, so I was at a loose end for a week. Rather than waste it (tidying the house or garden, perhaps!), I opted for a few days in Norfolk, to take my time wandering around places I'm usually rushed for time at.


While the forecast for the week was pretty good, Monday was rather cloudy, so I took the chance to wander around Wells-next-the-Sea. The marshes are a good spot for waders, and I spotted plenty of oystercatchers, curlew and redshanks pottering about. A kestrel led me on a merry dance, never allowing me close enough for a decent shot, and I was chuffed to see a rather splendid marsh harrier float by.

The other end of Wells is more "touristy", but walking along the quay provided decent views of turnstones, curlew and redshank again, plus ringed plovers and dunlin near the edge of the water.


I tried to visit Cley as often as possible, as it's probably my favourite reserve. Strangely, the birds around varied dramatically from day to day. It was great to see the spoonbills again, this time from a closer viewpoint, and when something sparked all the birds into the air, I managed some flight shots too.

Marsh harriers were abundant on the Tuesday, but apparently missing for the rest of the time. I caught them drifting back in one evening, when I stayed around to watch the sunset over the marshes.

Aside from the harriers at sunset, small flocks of starlings provided entertainment, though no real fancy shapes against the setting sun.

Pinging all around, the bearded tits teased from within the reeds, only really appearing on the one evening, in difficult light. Still, they're beautiful birds to watch - though I've not managed a shot of an adult male yet...

At the back of Cley, wheatears, linnets and meadow pipits flitted across the shingle, and the fledgling swallows took advantage of wire fences and old branches to perch, waiting for their frenetic parents to bring them their tea.
Around the various lakes were all manner of waders, with a few new ones for me being seen; spotted redshanks, a pectoral sandpiper, curlew sandpipers and a ruddy shelduck, that I thought was a goose!


Winter months here are great for getting shots of turnstone and snow buntings, but neither were present at this time of year. However, perched / sat resting on the edge of the footpath was a juvenile gannet. It took a bit of crawling around on all fours to get close, but was well worth it when the bird took the occasional look around. Quite ugly looking birds as juveniles!

This was also a good place to soak up some afternoon sunshine with a pint of Wherry, purchased very kindly by Max who was also up in Norfolk for a couple of the days when I was there. Cheers!


I hoped that 3rd time would prove to be lucky here in terms of success, but again it let me down. With work continuing on the sea defences, little was about, and I left disappointed once more. And this was coupled with my poor timing for a very high tide, which meant Thornham and Brancaster harbours were equally barren.

Hickling Broad

I persuaded Max to join me for a walk around here, despite him saying that it was a poor spot from his last visit. Should have listened... as very little was about. Got some distant views of a pair of marsh harriers, and heard the pings from numerous bearded tits, but no sightings.

The highlights though, were when a hobby flew within 10 feet of me and then shot off down the road towards Max (I think he got some decent shots), and a flock of common cranes that drifted by, though very much at a distance.

Winterton Dunes

This was Max's idea, and initially seemed to have drawn a blank too. However, wandering back into the more floral area of the dunes, yielded stonechats and a kestrel, and a female redstart, hiding in the bushes. It also provided a café for a bite to eat and a dodgy cup of tea. Max scoffed a rather large slice of cake!

Burnham Overy

I'm not entirely sure what the proper name is for this location. It's known as "The Layby" to most folks, and provides (sometimes) some fabulous views of barn owls. The path along the river also gifted me views of a chiffchaff (I think) and a female redstart. And there was a pair of marsh harriers around, plus couple of deer and a few noisy herons.

But the barn owls were the star of the show. They'd appear from nowhere, ghosting past you suddenly, quartering the fields, hovering and diving into the grass. I was lucky to catch some shots of one of the birds with the golden evening light on it.

If only moments like this could be bottled and reopened to relive over and over.
Four thoroughly enjoyable days spent in Norfolk, and a trip to be repeated I think, if I get some spare time again.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Gulls and Terns

Aside from bird photography one of my other interests revolves around cars. Mainly sports cars, but I like to read about everyday ones too. The likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Jaguar provide cars with real style and excitement. I'll probably never be able to afford such a model, but they're still wonderful to admire.

In amongst the vast array of cars though are MPVs. People Carriers. I'll probably offend some now, but buying one of these to me, is saying you've given up on life and opted to accept the notion that having a couple of kids means you have to drive one of these.

It doesn't matter what the manufacturers do to them; Vauxhall have a VXR version with a turbo-charged engine and racy wheels for example, that hits 60 in about 7 seconds. Hot hatch performance. But it's still just an MPV and as such holds no interest for me at all.

Which brings us on to gulls. I like most species of bird, especially birds of prey - perhaps the peregrine falcon is the McLaren F1 of the world (I don't really like the look of the Veyron), but gulls just don't seem to do it for me. Sure I have pictures of them in my gallery and if they're around me when I'm photographing something else, I'll take a shot, but making the effort to go to see one in its own right?

I appreciate that it's rare, but going over to the Flashes at dusk, to get a record shot of the Sabine's gull just hasn't been attractive to me at all. I'm not alone with this though, as a friend of mine isn't interested in LBJs at all, concentrating almost all of his bird photography on birds of prey. So apologies for anyone looking for pics of the Sabine's gull on my gallery... there aren't any! Yet.

Bizarrely, given this attitude it's strange that I do like terns. And as such, I've been over to the Moors lately to get shots of the juvenile black tern. What a tricky subject to photograph! They fly pretty quickly normally, but in the blink of an eye, dive and swoop over the surface of the water, rising back up, only to dive again. Makes following them with the camera a real challenge.

Maybe if it relocates to the Flashes, then I could wait around for dusk, and get pics of anything else around at that time?

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Otmoor and the Chilterns

The weekend's birding started straight after work on Friday with a visit to Brandon Marsh. I had hoped to see some greenshanks, after admiring several friends' photos of these waders, especially as it is a bird I've not had any decent close views of, to date.

And... that's still the case! The only one around was on the far side of the River Pool, though it later relocated to the far side of the Teal Pool, where the light is terrible from lunchtime onwards.

Having spent much of the previous weekend camped in the Hen Pool Hide at Upton Warren, I was not that keen to go again, afterall, there's only so many pictures of a reed warbler you can process, without starting to go a little mad! So I browsed the net and opted to head south down the M40, to Oxfordshire first, to the RSPB Otmoor reserve.

If you're planning to go here, a word of warning. There's only one road to it and it really is dreadful. I managed to bottom out the car and clunk worryingly down into a huge pothole. Good job I was only crawling along.

The reserve though is well worth the trip. Reminded me of Exminster Marshes (Devon) to be honest, and the birds within were similar too. I heard Cetti's, reed and sedge warblers, watched several herons squark their way noisily between pools, and towards the centre of the conservation area, at least 4 hobbies hawked along the reedbeds, skillfully catching dragonflies with mid-air acrobatics.

The walk around the reserve ought to be circular - always bug me when they're not (like this one), as you have to trudge back the way you came... However, for the insect-lovers out there, this ought to be heaven. Masses of different butterflies and moths, and dragonflies - I've never seen so many!!

At the end of the walk is a pool with a viewing screen, and that held 2 black-tailed godwits, several lapwings, a flock of Canada geese, a lone common sandpiper and a common snipe. The other pools had the usual moorhens and coots, plus a few shovelers too.

Behind the reserve, 3 or 4 red kites circled the fields, and in the field / building site nearby, a kestrel hovered. In fact there were 3 around, in different parts of the reserve.

Arriving back at the start of the walk, I was just in time to see the marsh harrier, a juvenile, making a brief appearance. Bit of a distance, but great to watch nonetheless. One that had flown off, it was left to the hobbies to entertain, though with the conservation area being so large, they rarely came close.

I was actually about to head back to the car when something else caught my attention, and not a bird for once. Nope, it looked at first like a rabbit but the black tips on the ears gave it away - a brown hare. Just hopped out not far in front of me, to nibble at some small flowers. For the Withnail fans out there, I ought to quote "Here hare here" for the image below, though this one didn't end up in my pot!

Leaving the reserve, and bouncing / crashing up that road again, I thought it would be rude not to drive a bit further down the M40 to a favourite spot of mine, for red kites. Within moments of reaching the footpath, I was delighted to see a pair of red kites soar over head, calling out as they went. The light was good too (unlike Gigrin recently).

Such awesome birds - oh how I wish they would populate the Midlands more. Still, the drive down the M40 to see them isn't that bad, I suppose.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Garden Redstart

Garden birding often ends up as a period of being sat in the hide, listening to birds instead of seeing them, as they frequently refuse to come out of the shadows and foliage to allow me to get any shots. So I try to learn the birds' calls to identify them.

One problem bird for confusing the issue is the starling as it mimics other calls, so when I heard what I thought was a redstart yesterday, I assumed it was just a starling. Afterall, a suburban garden in Birmingham isn't exactly a prime spot for redstarts!

A sudden influx of blue and great tits caught my attention and I watched them acrobatically take the suet and seeds from the feeders for a few moments... until that is, I spotted a flitting red tail nearby. Before I could lock on to it, the bird flew off. Was it really a redstart? Surely not.

I was wrong to doubt myself though. It was a female common redstart and moments later, it appeared amongst the branches of the apple tree, long enough for me to grab 3 shots before it disappeared back into the gloom once more.

Wow is all I can say. I drive to Wales, Staffordshire and all over the place to see these fabulous birds and I get one right in my own back yard!!

I shall be out in the garden again tonight, fingers and toes crossed that it's still around, though I have my doubts once more!!

Warblers, Rails and A Crake

After the last month's worth of travelling around all over the place, it was nice just to drive down to Upton Warren for a day's photography. I'd read online that a Montagu's harrier had been seen over the Flashes and I also knew a bittern was about, so I thought I would give the Hen Pool a go for a change. Apart from the smell of the water, and the rather low seating, it's not a bad place to lurk in the hope of some shots of reed-dwelling subjects.

At the start of the season, regardless of tactics, location and patience, I barely managed a decent shot of a reed warbler, so finding a pair feeding a late nest was a real bonus. The team at UW have cut back the reeds from outside the hide providing a great area to watch and photograph these birds, and I have to admit, I took several hundred shots!! Not that all will be used of course, and going on the speed that these agile birds hop about at, a good number will probably have no bird on at all.

The downside to the reed warblers feeding their young, is that no other warbler is allowed close, and a sedge was chased away almost immediately, and certainly before I could get a shot of it.

Warblers aside, there were also several peeping moorhen chicks mooching about, constantly calling to remind their folks where they were, and overhead, terns and black headed gulls passed over. The trees at the back also provided cover for a great spotted woodpecker, but it was too distant for a shot.

The reed warblers weren't the only star though... no, the pair of juvenile water rails that kept breaking cover were a fine attraction in their own right. One seemed to favour an area to the left of the hide, to preen and even sit down to sunbathe!

After a while though, I thought I ought to go to see if I could get a shot of the wood sandpiper on the Flashes, and upon entering the hide, was greeted by Stuart and Rob walking right at me. I was going the wrong way apparently... A spotted crake had been seen over at the Moors.

Blimey - a new one for me, and worth the speedy walk back to the car, blast down the road and rapid parking, and a semi-jog along the path to the Bittern Hide on the West side. The hide was getting full, but I managed to squeeze into a place by the window, and was soon joined by the rest who set up their tripods behind.

Scanning the reeds by the feeders soon resulted in someone shouting that it was out, and there it was, a tiny bird, so well hidden against its surroundings, but mobile and rather skittish. Similar in behaviour to a moorhen I guess - less shy than a water rail. And a first for me.

Just a shame it was cloudy when it appeared, but setting the lens to wide open boosted shutter speed enough to get some half decent shots, even one of it flying!

Disappearing into the undergrowth, we wondered if it would appear again, and were then informed by someone at the Water Rail hide that it was visible from there, so we all relocated, to see it at more of a distance, wandering around the base of the reedbed to the right of the hide.

By this time I was already late, so when it vanished for a good 10 mins, I opted to head home. What a great day and a reminder to me that I don't need to go miles for a good day's photography.