Wednesday 28 January 2009

Whitacre Heath

Saturday promised to be sunny, so with a report of a redpoll from the Whitacre Heath blog, I crossed my fingers and aimed for the woodland hide. After the recent rain, I needed my wellies, though I did have to break the ice to reach the mud in places. Must invest in some warmer versions, one day!

Squidging around the side of the hide, I sprinkled some seed on to some of the branches and logs (it was good to see that the feeders were full again, at least for the sake of the hungry birds), and then set up camp in the hide. Annoyingly, the sunshine forecast would have to fight through the clouds that seemed to have gathered.

Unable to take pics, or unwilling to, should I say, g
iven the light, I just enjoyed the comings and goings of the busy blue and great tits, whilst the chaffinches moved in and were content to sit and munch. The suet at the back soon attracted the local woodies (great spotted), with their striking call to announce their arrival. A bit suicidal perhaps, given the number of sprawks around?

A bit more light brought two good things. Firstly a pair of nuthatches appeared, one favouring the food up close, while the other seemed more interested in the feeders at the back, and then a friend who'd been emailing me lately arrived at the hide; Dickie. We then proceeded to natter away about the birds around, pointing out new arrivals on the scene, moaning about the cold and lack of light and of course firing off countless shots at anything that came close enough.

The sun did make an appearance at one point (unlike the redpoll), so at least some shots had some brightness to them, but the nuthatch stole the show. Saying that, a tiny character hopping about on the edge of the pool did provide some great opportunities too.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Redditch Waxwings

I'd booked the Monday off, to recover from the weekend in Norfolk, and had planned to get my hair cut. I'm starting to look like James May, which is concerning. Anyway, after a lie in, I realised that the sun was out, and it would be a shame to waste a photo opportunity.

A quick glance on the internet at the local birding sites, and I was pleased to see some waxwings had been spotted in Redditch. I hate Redditch though, as it's got to be the most confusing place to drive around, with its infamous roundabouts and countless housing estates. SatNav to the rescue again, and within 10 mins, I was parked up at the location.

No sign of them. Waited for 20 mins, but nothing. B*gger. Setting the course to Upton Warren, I followed the directions, round the next corner to the sight of 3 people stood on the verge, looking upwards at a flock of birds in a tree opposite. Superb.

Parked up, used the car as a hide and fired off some shots. Certainly got some strange looks from drivers going by, but worth it, to get some pics of these vibrantly-coloured birds. The rain soon arrived, and the flock moved elsewhere.

A good end to a short break from work.

Norfolk Trip

Friday 16th January: Cley and Wells

After being given a SatNav for Christmas, I thought it would be good to give it a go on this trip to Norfolk, seeing as I'd be heading for Wells-Next-The-Sea initially, instead of Snettisham like last time. What a great little device - most impressed with its estimated time of arrival, though that changed when I missed a turn. Informing me that I was a dork, it recalculated, and took me down what seemed to be a dirt track, with grass up the centre. I now see why truckers get stuck, but fair play, it brought me back to the main route again, and I arrived in Wells in good time.

Upon arriving at the B&B, I found the room wasn't ready (they were fitting a radiator to the wall), so I took the keys and set the SatNav for Cley Marshes. The coast road was like a marsh itself, with numerous puddles and flooded areas, and the sky didn't fill me with hope of a good day. Gloomy, to say the least.

Paying my £4 (yet another reserve that charges "Non-local" Wildlife Trust Members for access) I wandered off along the boardwalks to the hides. On the stream at the edge of the marshes were coots and moorhens, and on the banks a couple of mute swans. At the end of the walk, were 3 hides, the first of which I chose turned out to be empty. Opening the hatch to look out, I could see why. Just a pair of teals mooching about in the reeds nearby, and not a lot else! The next hide was even worse, with some more teal and a flock of wigeon (miles away). Great. The last hide did give me something to photo albeit somewhat grey and dull - a godwit, though I still haven't worked out how to tell which one yet... I've guessed on my gallery - let me know if I'm wrong!

Back down the walkways, a lone stonechat caught my attention, but he wouldn't stay anywhere near close enough, and wasn't headed in my direction either. I had decided to head to the East Bank, after a friend (Max) suggested it might be a good spot for bearded tits. As it happened, it was a good spot to see a kingfisher disappearing at high speed, a redshank and a few geese, but not much else sadly. It was even gloomier by now, and I couldn't be bothered with distant pics that'd just end up in the recycle bin.

The beach proved to be a bit more interesting, with a diver just off the shore, and a little egret by one of the pools. The fields were also covered with large flocks of golden plover, but as before (at Belvide) they could only provide a distant shot.

Walking back to the carpark, I did see some of the first flocks returning from the fields, and what a sight they are. Amazing sound off them too. Anyway, back to Wells. Where in the carpark I bumped into Keith and Mark, two of my buddies off the internet, and the main reason why I'd come to Norfolk... for a photography meeting over the weekend. Wanting to settle in, Keith and I opted to go our separate ways until early evening when we'd agreed to find a pub for a bite to eat.

Thanks to Kay, I headed to the front of Wells, and then right, towards the Marshes. It was late in the day, but despite this, I took the opportunity of photo-ing a grey plover (I think!) on the mud, and also a redshank and what turned out to be a ringed plover, though it was a bit distant. Picking my way past the mud (and the rest, it's a popular dog-walkers area), I soon found myself at the edge of fields and marshes.

Then something white caught my eye. A barn owl!! Fantastic. Miles away, but still, something I'd hoped to see on the trip. Following it as best I could, I thought I'd spotted another one. Bins out, and oh the joy. A male hen harrier. Going like a bat out of hell, but all the same, a first for me. And what a fine looking bird. Shame it was so far off and so dark - pictures were blurred and could at a stretch be classed as "record" shots.

After a few minutes, the barnie had out-run me, and I opted to head back to the B&B. Not a bad end to what seemed like a dull day.

Saturday 17th January: Salthouse Gathering

An early rise, early enough to have to request a special breakfast time, Keith and I headed over to Salthouse beach, to meet up with the others. It seemed okay as we drove along, though some of the clouds inland didn't look great... and as we arrived, so did they, with rain. I have to say, despite the pouring rain, winds and cold, the jokes and spirit of us all, nattering about plans and possible places to go, kept us going and after about 90 mins, the rain eased and we spotted some blue sky.

Across from the car park was a flat area with some small ponds, and we headed there for some pics, hoping that we'd see some buntings. Flocks of turnstone scurried round, seemingly attracted to Keith, but close enough for us all to photo. There were also teal, black-headed gulls and buntings. Snow buntings, mainly female ones, but attractive little birds nonetheless. So a photography weekend with some photography, at last!

A portion of Wells chips later, we all met up at Holkham, for a look at the lakes and the famous pines. The area was supposed to be good for barn and short-eared owls, but alas all we saw was a kestrel hovering over the reeds. Geese however, made for the main attraction, as we watched (and listened to) huge flocks filling the sky, as they came in to roost. The light eventually faded and we headed back to Wells for some more ale and food (from the Globe), where I'd got a taste for the Wherry. Wherry nice indeed.

At this point I feel I need to describe my B&B room. A single. At best you could call it that. Broom cupboard might be better. Floorspace - enough for 3 single beds, maybe. Certainly not enough room to swing a cat, even a Manx. And for this reason, I managed to cause myself some extreme pain. Climbing out of my bed for a midnight tinkle, the Wherry had caused me to forget about the case in the middle of the vast floorspace, and yes, I managed to crack my toe into the hardest part of it, the wheel. I can feel it twingeing now, as I type. That lead to me limping for most of Sunday... and the drive home wasn't pleasant either. Anyway, on to Sunday's events.

Sunday 18th January: Barn Owls and Back

The early bird catches the worm, or in our case, the early riser catches the barn owl. Those of us left (a few could only come for the Saturday), met up at a layby near Burnham Overy. A lovely spot, with a bridge over a small river, a mill and a windmill at the top of a small hill. More interestly though, the fields were hunting grounds for barn owls, and we didn't have to wait long to see any. While they never gifted us any real close shots (unlike the one we accidentally scared off a wall in Holkham on the way there, much to our annoyance...) we watched them hunting and flying around at some speed at times. Tracking them to another field, their fine colours were lit up by the early morning sunshine. Wonderful birds, and what will I'm sure, encourage me to return to Nolfolk again and again.

Moving on, we headed to Brancaster harbour, where quite a few drivers had also aimed for, parking as near the muddy edge as they dared, to photo waders and gulls alike. Great light, but the locals said there wasn't much about, even less when a bird of prey spooked them all into panicked flight. Thornham harbour was even more devoid of bird life, so we decided to try RSPB Titchwell Marsh for a look.
According to one chap leaving the carpark, a woodcock was "showing well" from one of the boardwalks behind the visitor centre. Could we see it? Could we heck. Masters of camo, and too good for us. Oh well, we'd try the beach for waders. A long walk, when your toe feels like it wants to explode.

Sanderlings. A small flock on the water's edge and they soon buzzed off. That was it. Titchwell had disappointed me again. More so when Keith informed me that he'd just seen a bearded tit (male), which is one of the birds I'd really hoped to see. He did try to call me, but the buzz of the phone failed to be felt through the 10 layers of clothes I was wearing. Damn. The lure of Salthouse again called, though not enough for Paul who opted to head back home.

Back to Salthouse for the buntings and possible glaucous gull. A not too healthy one, according to reports, and a not too visible one either, as we managed to dip on it! Oh well, more photos of turnstones, buntings, black-headed and a common gull. Nothing to sniff at. Gulls - I'm concerned that my lifelong lack of interest is starting to change. I found the common gull to be something really worth photo-ing.

Buntings came and went, mainly over to Nigel Blake, whose food on offer must have been better than our seed, and eventually Keith and I had had our fill of such photos, and wanted something else. Saying farewell to Pete & Mark, we left Salthouse behind. Maybe we'd get lucky with the barnies again. Worth a punt.

What we should have done, is stopped on the way back to Burnham, and photographed the immense sky-blackening flocks of geese. Incredible sight and sound as they swarmed overhead. Certainly would have made for a better shot than the empty fields we arrived at.

With the sun disappearing, and the prospect of a 3 hour drive back home, I dropped Keith back at the B&B, dug out the SatNav, and set the target for home.

Despite the gloomy start and at times the lack of birds, it had turned out to be a good weekend, and it was great to get to know some of the names off of the internet, face-to-face. And, it has given me a good deal of knowledge about places to go, the next time I head east.

Thursday 15 January 2009


The "Walkden" name spelling curse strikes again. I have no idea why folks find it so tricky to spell, but the number of times I've been called "Walker", "Walken", "Walden" and even "Wogdon" is somewhat unbelievable. Well this time I have a new one to add to the list.

I am now called "Walkenden", according to Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. My grin of joy upon seeing one of my bittern photos published in their Wildlife News magazine soon turned into a look of mild annoyance as I see the name "Peter Walkenden" next to it. Typical.

Don't get me wrong - I'm chuffed as a train to have a picture in the magazine, and it follows on from a photo (of a reed warbler) that featured as April in the 2008 WWT Calendar. I just wish I didn't have such a complicated name to spell...

Here's the pic for anyone that didn't see it, from a fantastic few minutes in the West Hide at Upton Warren.


Pete Walkenden.

Sunday 11 January 2009

Ice Skating Bitterns

Looks like the cold snap is ending, but not before some luck for 2009. With dreary weather and a head cold, I opted to stay local, and popped down to Upton Warren on Saturday, in the hope of seeing a water rail pottering about on the ice. However the sight from the concrete spider hide was desolate. Nothing in range of the camera, with all the main birds centred in the lake where some of the ice had melted. I was about to leave when something on the other side of the lake caught my attention. A bittern. Okay, so it was miles away, but worth a couple of record shots. With nowt much else around, and after hearing from someone in the West Hide that I'd missed a water rail on the ice, I trundled home. There's always Sunday...

So today, mid morning I arrived at the Moors, and opted to try my luck at the North Pool. It wasn't long before I spotted the gulls on the main lake, disturbed, but not in the blind panic like when a peregrine or sprawk attacks... no, this was more like they were after something. Then I spotted it; a bittern flying over the road and into the reed bed opposite. What luck!
After clambering about in the reeds, it decided to partake in some ice skating, periodically disappearing into the edge of the reeds. Must have been thirsty work, as it stopped every so often for a drink from melted areas at the foot of reeds. Needless to say, I didn't hold back on the photos, and filled a card very quickly. Problem is, as the bird plods along so slowly, you find that 3 out of every 4 pics look exactly the same.
Eventually though, it decided to abandon its Robin Cousins impression, and head into the thick of the reeds, not to be seen (by me) again. A fellow birder managed to spook a different bittern as he took a ciggie break, but that one dropped into the middle of the reeds, and didn't appear at all.

I failed to get the target shot, but I think I've managed a slightly better substitute!

Monday 5 January 2009

Rubbish start to 2009

What a rubbish start to 2009. Perhaps more a case of bad timing? It might be down to the time of year, that I had to work most of the Festive Period, having only the basic days off, and hence my body clock is all over the place, from late nights, early mornings etc. But there have been some annoyances too.

This weekend had been planned for a while that we (as a family & friends group) would be going to see Worcester Rugby Union side (Warriors) play on Saturday, so it was mildly vexing to see the forecast for Saturday being sunny. That said, Sunday was also supposed to be good, so not so bad... or so it seemed.

Saturday would have to be a local trip. I would postpone the trips to Draycote (for the smew and red necked diver) and Cannock Chase (hawfinch) until Sunday, as it would be sunny then too. Went to Upton Warren, but there was very little about in the icy conditions. Then at midday the news comes through; Match abandoned due to a frozen pitch. Great. Saturday wasted. :-(

Sunday, I awoke early with the plan to head to Cannock and then to Draycote. Plans were abruptly torn up, after peering through the window and seeing completely overcast and grey skies. How can the BBC weather team be so wrong?? I mean, it's not like they've not had practice? Absolute cretins. I'll be looking elsewhere for forecasts from now on. Useless.

Inspite of the dull conditions, I went to Draycote, and after much wandering about, spotted the smew. It didn't come very close in, and the conditions weren't favourable for decent photos, but I took some anyway. And it was even colder there than usual. My fingers, legs and lower half of my face went numb - was concerned whilst scoffing a burger that I might bite one of my fingers off, and not know...

No sign of the red necked diver though - or any of the other divers. Quite a few goosanders around, and mergansers. Also spotted a goldcrest amongst a flock of long-tailed tits, but a group of noisy ramblers and families teleported in near me (I swear there had been no-one close by when I first saw the bird, yet seconds later, crowds were milling by), and scared them all off.

So a rubbish weekend, and to top it off, problems with Fotopic have meant my site has been offline all weekend, along with no word from them as to the cause of the problems, with rumours of their demise floating around the net, to add worry to anyone with a decent photo collection with them (I have 4!).

Back at work and it's snowed. Would have been great to be out today, with some scenic shots and birds in the snow. Sunny too. How unusual. I could scream at times.

But I won't, and as I type, Fotopic has appeared again, so perhaps things might improve. Pics of the smew will appear later tonight, if I have time after booting the Christmas Tree outside and tidying up, to process any.

I have something to look forward to though - have booked a couple of days off work soon, to spend a long weekend in Norfolk with some of my photographer friends off the internet. I am hoping that I'll become familiar with some of the better locations for photos over there, so in the future I'll know where to go. Fingers crossed!