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.