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?