Thursday 25 March 2010

Black Redstart

While the barn owl remains an attraction, I'll be going to photograph it whenever the weather is favourable, though work commitments are getting in the way at the moment. So I'll try to limit comments on that somewhat to avoid being more tedious than usual.

Saturday was spent moving TV sets around as it was rather wet, and didn't suit my fair-weather photography. Sunday was better though, and I aimed firstly for a sighting reported from a business estate at Alcester. Being a quiet Sunday morning, I was able to trundle around the area slowly, peering over the steering wheel in search of the bird, which I eventually spotted sat on a warehouse roof.

A female black redstart, and by the look of the number of flies on the roof, in a perfect feeding spot. Quite a vocal character too, making a rather strange call between darting strikes on the sunbathing flies.

Alas with it favouring the roof of the building, and me lacking the ability to fly or stick to walls like perhaps Spider-Man, I could only make do with relatively distant shots unlike the bird that I saw at Coleshill last year.

It didn't have the flies to itself though, as a pair of pied wagtails were around and perhaps they scared the redstart off, as after turning my back momentarily, to check the images were okay, I looked to find it had gone, and despite me walking all around the immediate area, I couldn't relocate the bird.

Following this, I headed over to the Flashes at Upton Warren, but the avocets remained distant and the little ringed plover did its best to stand in an area partially obscured by the fence. I did get some nice shots of a dunnock singing next to the hide, though I did feel slightly self-conscious using 700mm to photo something that could have been captured with my phone camera!

Leaving here, I found myself with several hours on my hands before the owl would come out to play, so I opted to trundle over to Shropshire, to see if the peregrines were around. They were. For about 1 minute, before belting off and not returning while I was there. Ah well, at least they're around and I'm sure will provide subjects later in the year.

Finally I zipped back to see the barn owl which was already hunting when I parked up, causing me to go into a blind panic, and then had to wrestle with the tripod that didn't want to exit the boot of the car. When it did, I was able to get some decent shots as the owl quartered the area, quickly catching a couple of rodents, and consuming them, before hunting once more. At one point the crimson stain of blood was clearly visible on one of its feet as it flew by.

I'm still playing catch up on all the shots from recent weeks, so will be adding shots to the gallery each free evening I get. Hopefully this weekend the LRPs will show better for me, as I'd like some better shots of these.

Thursday 18 March 2010

A Bittern And 3 Owls

With there being a barn owl at a local site, I've been trying to get over that way as much as possible, though at times the weather has got in the way and the bird not shown. As such, I have not ventured too far away from home though that's no problem when Upton Warren's seasonal visitors put on a show.

Saturday was supposed to be sunny. It was when I woke up, and remained so right up to the moment I opened the door to aim the camera at the little owls at Lea End. At which point it was like someone had pulled a blind of cloud over the sky and matters were made worse when both owls decided they didn't like the look of me, and took flight to the other side of the field. Back into the car and down the motorway to Upton Warren.

The first sight there was of several lenses poking out of the Hobby Hide, over the North Moors. Looked crowded but I thought I'd see what was going on anyway - well, I sort of knew, as one of the bitterns had been posing for shots the day before. Space was at a premium as I opened the door, and a lady quickly ensured I remained silent by shushing at me, then saying the bittern was in the open. It was, and I was lucky in that I could open the side window and set the camera up there.

Partially obscured by the reeds, the bittern was busy poking around under the reeds in search of fish and going by its success rate when striking, there must have been plenty to choose from. Curious birds at the best of times, but another strange behavioural aspect of this one, was when it caught a fish, its legs quivered - maybe from the excitement of another bite to eat?

As time moved on, people moved out and I was able to inch into a better viewing position. Needless to say, I bagged several hundred shots - hell, why not? How often do you see one like this?

Eventually hunger got the better of me, and I left to grab a sarnie and head off to look for the barn owl. But do you know what? I've been that many times lately, I can't recall the details of each visit! Must be getting more senile. I do know that a few friends were there and it's been a good laugh generally, waiting for the bird to appear.
Sunday was supposed to have showers according to the Beeb, but I tend to ignore them in favour of Accuweather and Metcheck, and both of those were more optimistic. And correct, as it turned out. After the disaster with the little owls on Saturday, I thought a new plan was needed to get close to them. So upon reaching the site, I drove a bit further down the road and parked up. Shifted the passenger seat right forward, and then popped open the boot. Back into the car, and reversed it back to the site. Parked, then climbed into the back seats and set the camera up through the boot opening.

The owls were probably somewhat bemused by my antics but crucially not spooked, and stayed put. I've no idea how to determine the gender of a little owl, unless perhaps one is smaller than the other, but when they're 30 feet apart in a tree, that's not easy. Anyway, I did get to photograph both "Little Grump" and his "Missus". Fingers crossed they'll breed and I'll get to see some fluffy little owlets later this year. That'd be ace.

Avocets were the next target and I strapped the suitcase-sized rucksack to my back and trudged down to the far hide at the Flashes, to discover that most of the birds, avocets included, had been flushed to the Moors following a monthly bird count. Typical. Given how busy the hide had been on Saturday, I didn't think I'd get a look in, so was very surprised when I found the hide to only have one occupant; another friend of mine. He'd been sat for over 2 hours but not seen the bittern. But he reckoned it was there earlier and so it was, after a mere 30 mins, it strolled, silently out of the reeds and carried on where it had left off the day before. It had been too close at times before, but with a lack of space, I'd been stuck with the 700mm reach. With more room, I could take off the TC and shoot at a mere 500mm, which seemed to focus more accurately on the bird. Must be something about the markings, as the little owls were picked up perfectly, and from further off.

After the bird had been spooked into the reeds by clunky footsteps entering the hide behind us, we both left and I went looking for Barnie again. The pictures of which are in a queue to be processed... While the bird hangs around, I'll be trying for more shots, though the last couple of times, it's sat and waited for the sun to go down before hunting, making picture-taking somewhat frustrating. I say "somewhat" as it can't ever be a bad thing when a barn owl is involved.

Keep an eye on the gallery for more photos of barn owls and bitterns appearing over the next few days.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Last weekend I found myself plodding through a swamp, water almost reaching my socks over my boots, to reach the hide at Feckenham, to see the Slavonian grebe that (seemingly) everyone else had managed to get superb shots of. Funnily enough I muttered something similar to "Feckenham" when I heard from the hide occupants that it had gone overnight. To make matters worse I then got rained on walking back to the car. Over at Upton Warren there was little about apart from the little egret which may as well have been a plastic pond guard, the amount of action it provided.

Sunday wasn't much better either so that weekend was a write off. However in the week that followed some interesting news appeared locally on two counts.

On to this weekend when on Saturday morning I opened the curtains to yes, rain. Brilliant. After a sunny week at work, the sight of rain on your day off is most pleasing, not. Anyway I decided to try to see the waxwings over at Wilnecote near Tamworth. Didn't have to wait long for the three of them to appear and in terms of seeing them it was great as they perched in the branches of the trees above me, or on the wires nearby. In addition to these migrants, the resident mistle thrushes, who were guarding the rowan berry tree, were also great to see. Sadly the light was awful, so I'll be performing some paint-by-numbers on the shots to add some colour to them.

Over to Ladywalk next where the feeders were busy with the usual flocks of finches, plus a welcome visit of a willow tit. No brambling alas, but as I was about to leave, the bittern appeared from the reeds in the small pool, and crept across the gap to the next patch to disappear completely again. Made a change to see one away from Upton Warren or Brandon Marsh.

By now I had my mind on another subject, one that I normally have to go to Norfolk to see. A barn owl had been seen at a private site I have access to, and with the skies clearing, I headed over full of optimism. My spirits were lifted higher when I met up with several friends who had obviously seen the same info and also wanted to see this bird.

So great end to the day? Well, no. You see, in the excitement of watching the barn owl in full sunshine, I tried to apply the techniques from running around with my 100-400mm lens to this new one. It doesn't work. Too awkward, too slow. End result: zero pictures, yet my friends with their smaller hand-held lenses all managed great shots.

Feeling rather peed off with myself I went home to lick my wounds and plan Sunday. I was going to head to the Wirral, but a late night conversation with Steve Seal put me off (cheers mate!) as the tides were wrong and not high enough for what I wanted to see.

With a clear sunny start, and the Slavonian grebe back on the map, relocated at a farm near Grimley, I was soon setting the tripod and camera up next to two other 'togs by a small lake, with the subject lazily bobbing around on the water in front of us. What followed was quite extraordinary, with the grebe coming so close to us that I could have reached down and picked it up out of the water! And what a striking little chap it was, especially with that pair of ruby-red eyes.

Okay, so the morning sunlight was rather harsh at times, which made for some blown whites on it, but it's rude to complain when a subject is so close!

Tamworth again, this time in glorious sunshine. Shame that the waxwings were nowhere to be seen! Timing eh? And Whitacre Heath failed to amuse either, with a pair of little grebes being the highlight.

Round two with the barn owl then, only this time I opted to engage my brain, and set the camera and tripod up, parked my bum against a nearby tree, and waited. No point running around after a subject if it can come to you, and it did.

I've watched several barn owls hunting in Norfolk, but this hour spent watching this bird was arguably better. Ghostly yet vibrant, and bloody fast when they want to be.

Watched it hunt back and forth until the light faded and we left it sat, in the distance, taking a much deserved breather.

And so ended a weekend of ups and downs, but most definitely one to be remembered for the right reasons.