Monday 27 July 2009

Marsh Harriers? Norfolk Enchance!

I've been trying to get myself over to Norfolk for a few weeks now, but the typical British Summer has washed such plans away, until this weekend. The forecast for Saturday was for some sunshine, though Sunday was back to the usual monsoons again.

Getting to Norfolk isn't that easy. Sure, it's just a drive, but to make the most of just a day, it meant getting up at 5am, and being on the road by 6. Traffic wasn't too bad though, despite being Summer Holidays for the kids, and I was at Cley by 9am. Sun was shining, and I was soon peeking out of the hide at the first new species for me of the day. Spoonbills.

Okay, so they were miles away, but lit up in the morning sun, they were a sight for eyes that had up till then been fixed on the road. While it was great to bag another species, the bird I'd come for was quartering the marshes nearby, so I left the comfort of the hide, and headed for the east bank, where I hoped the marsh harriers would stray.

To cut a long story short, they didn't. Not once in a couple of breezy hours patrolling the footpath, did one come anywhere near me. I think they must be in the same "Stay Away From Pete" club as barn owls.

Fortunately, Cley has other attractions, and the second new birds of the day soon took my attention from the camera-shy harriers. Bearded Tits. No, I hadn't bumped into Bill Oddie again ;) but had firstly heard the pinging call, and then spotted a pair darting across the tops of the reeds. What beautiful little birds they are. A most welcome addition to my gallery, and to be honest, I might go back to Cley solely for some more pics of them.

Eventually the cross-winds got the better of my contact lenses and I went for a stroll along the beach. Terns (yet to ID, bear with me!) cried out over head, as they made their way past, beak holding their catch, flying in that distinctive, slightly awkward manner. Gulls zipped by in the sea breeze, out beyond the waves, and the occasional little egret would make an appearance, commuting between the pools of the marsh.

Near the car park at the beach, a meadow pipit posed for me on a post and let me get pretty close too, as did the swarms of swallows, darting in and out of an old bricked pill box.

Alas the crowds were gathering, so I opted to head along the coast a bit to Salthouse. Maybe I'd see some buntings? I did. Flying away. Every time I went anywhere near them! Another pipit came to see me, this time along the ground, beak filled with its breakfast. And a lone common gull posed on a fence post.

It was lunchtime by now, and one place I had been meaning to try was Sculthorpe's Hawk & Owl centre. It was on the way home too, so perfect. Mr SatNav found it easily, and I was soon being given a warm welcome by the staff in the centre, who explained the sights and areas at the centre.

Unfortunately, I was too late in the season to see the marsh harriers feeding the young, as they'd fledged, though reaching the hide I did see a pair of youngsters flying and calling out. Like Cley, they kept their distance, and I actually spent more time photographing a hovering dragonfly than taking shots of the harriers. Just before leaving though, a pair of buzzards came over, and we watched a male marsh harrier (adult) mob them to chase them away.

I'd have loved to have stayed longer, and looked for the local barn owl, but my eyes were getting tired, and I had a good 2 hours of driving to get home. Next year, I think I'll time it for when the marsh harriers are feeding their young, and also look to stay over somewhere, as nigh on 6 hours of driving in one day is a tad too much, even for a petrol-head like me!

Sunday 26 July 2009

Garden Surprises

I'm lucky in that my garden is populated by a decent number and variety of birds, so offers me the luxury of being able to photo "garden" birds whenever the light is good enough. I have a hide out there for this very purpose, though I'm not sure what the neighbours think!

Occasionally I spot slightly rarer birds passing through, and this week two birds have caught my attention. Firstly a family of jays descended from the trees to make the most of the seed I'd sprinkled around the base of the feeders, and then another first for the garden. A stock dove.

All were initially spotted when I was peering out the window, so one afternoon this week, getting home from work early allowed me to clamber into the hide and wait.

Neither let me down! First a pair of juvenile jays arrived, and unlike their wary parents, ignored the clicking from the camera, wolfing down the food instead.

And moments after they had left, the stock dove put in an appearance. I've never seen one at such close quarters before, and I have to say that the patch on the back of the neck is beautiful - reflective like fish scales.

I really ought to start a garden list... but that might make me into a birder... ;)

Friday 24 July 2009

Better To Stay Local!!

Just a quick recap of what I've been up to as of late. Last weekend wasn't great; had a text of Ian on the Friday to say he was heading to Lake Vrynwy for the Saturday, so I decided to head over there too. I normally go there earlier in the year but Springwatch were filming there this year and that put me off.

Shouldn't have bothered as the Centenary Hide looked out on a deserted lake and there were no sign of the pied flycatchers or warblers I'd seen the previous year there. The only interest was from the feeder hide at the RSPB car park, where the siskins were making the most of the free food.

On the Sunday I thought I would try again for the spotted flycatchers over at Holt, but the recurring rain and presence of children playing tennis in the road nearby put pay to any chances of photographing it. Didn't even see it for that matter! Did get views of a juvenile great spotted woodpecker from some distance, and a bit closer, a swallow resting on one of the lines.

So the lack of new photos have allowed me to catch up on some I have left over from earlier trips. Added some from the garden and a few more from Upton Warren of the popular kingfishers there.

Then on Wednesday, finishing work a little earlier allowed me to pop out to Lea End, to play the game of "Where's Willy?" with the little owl there. Just a shame that the accessible side of the tree where he lives is positioned awkwardly for getting any good light, and with the leaves on it at the moment, getting a clear shot is tricky. Still, managed to find a way and took some more of it, posing, glaring and preening.

If only there were more owls locally to photograph, as they're definitely one of my favourites.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Spotting Flycatchers

After the disappointment of Saturday I was determined to get out on Sunday, and the Elan Valley sprung to mind. Great scenery, lots of wildlife and there's always Gigrin...

Reports of a spotted flycatcher at Holt church meant I could pop in there on the way out, and after working out where the church is, I was soon bouncing along the uneven concrete track to the site. Alongside the track, a kestrel hovered, but unbelievably, I couldn't stop because a car was behind me. Typical.

Around the church, masses of swallows, martins and swifts hurtled by feeding on the wing. Occasionally mingling with them, a hobby hawked by, though never really low enough for a decent shot. And then, as I scanned the roof, I spotted the target. Appropriate, spotting a spotted flycatcher!

It led me on a merry dance, going from roof to chestnut tree to phone lines and back again, keeping a fair distance from me always. Took some record shots though, before it vanished into the trees. At that point Rob rolled up with his beast of an 800mm, and he set about locating the bird. Realising the time, I scurried back to the car and set off west, towards the valleys.

The original plan of seeing the lakes had to fall by the wayside, as I wanted to see the red kites being fed, and as I was so late getting there, I headed straight to Gigrin Farm. I've not been there since October 2006, so it was a welcome sight, the feeding session.

Not so welcome were the clouds which made getting shots of the birds swooping, nigh on impossible in the gloom. Still, it was fabulous to watch, and I took the chance to get some shots of the buzzards too.

However, remarkably the birds of prey weren't the stars of the day at Gigrin. No, after the main event, I went for a walk around the farm and happened upon 2 families of birds. Redstarts and spotted flycatchers. Fantastic.

Okay, the light wasn't great and it rained every so often, but to be stood only a few feet from these birds as they bobbed and darted around for flies and grubs for their young, was amazing.

So the day started with a spotted flycatcher and ended with a surprise sighting, giving me by far my best shots of this summer visitor to date. Roll on the next weekend!

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Staying Local

The forecast for Norfolk on Saturday looked hopeful. While the rest of the country was under a band of cloud and rain, it seemed to be clear for the majority of the day. Going on my estimates based on the weather forecast online, the rain would hit the Midlands by midday, so wouldn't be in the east until I was heading home.

So I went to Norfolk right? Well, I was up at 5am, showered and was about to get dressed when I heard that pitter-patter of rain on the conservatory roof. My heart sank and checking the forecast online again, the band of rain was further ahead than expected, so it would be pretty pointless driving for 3 hours to get maybe a couple of hours of brightness in Norfolk.

I went back to bed.

Instead, I thought I would pop over to a couple of local reserves, Marsh Lane first. I've not been much recently, and the reports of a garganey were tempting. Might have guessed it had left though! No-one had seen it that morning, so I headed towards the Oak Hide. Stopping at the viewing screens by the lakes, I was chuffed to see a juvenile sedge warbler hopping amongst the reeds.

There were reed warblers too, but as ever, they stayed out of sight. A little grebe hurried across the lake towards me, mooched around in the reeds below, before being spooked by something, and scuttling off again. Then I had a very brief glimpse of a water rail, which turned tail and legged it.

Down near the railway track I disturbed what I guess must have been a partridge, as it was too small for a pheasant and the tail was too short. It flew away quickly and vanished under the bridge. Over the lake, a redshank was circling its territory, and provided a bit of a challenge to photograph in the poor light.

By the feeders was a juvenile jackdaw; a crow I've not got many shots of. It was very obliging and I knelt down right next to it, to get some detailed shots.

If Marsh Lane had been quiet, Upton Warren was desolate! Someone had removed the kingfisher perches (again). No idea why. The Water Rail hide is normally empty even on a busy day, so why people feel the need to prevent photographers from enjoying their passion is beyond me. Selfish.

So no sign of the kingfishers, and only a pair of mink fishing and the momentary glimpse of a swimming grass snake lightened the mood. I felt sorry for a few forum friends who'd travelled down from oop norf to hopefully see the kingfishers and had missed out. But that's bird photography for you...

Stopping off on the way home in Lea End, I managed to locate the resident little owl in its oak tree, and got a few shots of it, as it mooched around in the gloom of the tree, glaring down at me and passersby. The eye-markings and shape of its head just remind me of a Star Wars character - like a Storm Trooper perhaps. Anyway, was a good end to a mixed day.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Bempton Cliffs (RSPB), Yorkshire

Saturday started in rather a bizarre manner. I awoke to find myself still wearing my jeans and shirt from work, and thus it rapidly dawned on me that I had a) fallen asleep during that brief lie down mid Friday evening (long week at work) and b) that my contact lenses would still be floating around my eyes somewhere. And it was early...

After a couple more hours restless sleep I opted to roll out of bed earlier than usual. I'd made up my mind that as the forecast was decent, and I was awake early enough that I could feasibly make the trip to East Yorkshire, and finally, hopefully see my first puffin.

Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve was selected on the Sat Nav, and off I went. By 9:15am I was parking up in the somewhat dusty car park next to the centre. The sky cloudless, sun blazing, I donned my daft hat and waddled off to the cliffs.
The first thing that strikes you isn't the sight of the gannets, gulls and kittiwakes soaring by, no, it's the smell. Ewww. Rotten fish. Delightful. The sight and spectacle of the birds though, and the sound of them soon made me forget (read ignore) the odour, and I was soon snapping away at the gannets.

Masses of them, crammed on to every nook and cranny of the cliff face. Circling above them were more gannets, plus fulmars, gulls and the odd brave jackdaw.

Bagging shots of gannets was one thing, but kittiwakes gave me the first new species of the day, shortly followed by guillemots and then razorbills. Walking beyond the end of the viewing area, I found a place right on the edge of the cliff where I could view a fulmar nest, the pair of them looking up at me curiously.

And then I spotted it. The bird, the little clown I'd been after. A puffin! Perched in the shade on a cliff face, not being exactly active, but even so... A PUFFIN!

They're just as amusing looking as I'd hoped for. And it didn't take me long to spot more of the little characters, whizzing on and off the cliffs, albeit way too fast for me to get a shot from my lofty and distant location.

Walking along the cliffs, I spotted reed buntings and pipits, and another new one - corn buntings.

After a brief return to the centre for additional drinks, I headed back to the cliffs to walk the other way and watch the first puffin I'd seen. It didn't move much - just stayed asleep. Lazy so and so!

It was getting on a bit by now, and I'd noticed that my arms and lower face were rather red - both from the sun (eejit had forgotten sun cream!) and midge bites. So reluctantly I strolled back to the car, and set off on the treck back down the M1 home.

Not the easiest place to get to, but most definitely worth the effort.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Clee Hill

For once the peregrines let us down, with only one juvenile showin gup just as I was leaving, which was a shame as Ian and I had hoped for some decent flight shots that day. Such is life though, and there are other targets up on the hill.

First to grab my attention were the juvenile wheatears hopping about. I wanted some low-level shots of these, which meant lying on the grass... shame it was littered with sheep droppings. Another one to add to the growing list of things I've managed to lie in in the pursuit of different shots!

One wheatear amused me as it landed on one of the rusty old signs up there which was a bit hotter than it expected, and performed some sort of dance along it, to find a cooler perch!

From the car park, there were a couple shrinking puddles, one of which was attracting house martins, which collected mud from the edge. Ian's car made for the perfect hide, and we both managed some decent shots of these exceptional flyers. They're like bats in a way, as they flutter around, scouting the area before landing.

Also around were linnets, and again the car covered us enough to get a few pics. The red breasts on the males looked gorgeous in the sunshine.

And on the way down the path, I spotted a juvenile stonechat, hiding on a fence amongst the shrubs. Soon flew off when it realised I'd seen it! Still, made for a good end to what looked at one point to be a poor session.