Friday 30 April 2010

Long Mynd and Lake Vyrnwy

Almost up to date on this blog now. Saturday was supposed to be the better of the days at the weekend, so I made the effort to get up very early and was strolling down the valleys of the Long Mynd in Shropshire by 7:30am. The sun was up by then and only the very bottom of the valleys was still shaded. It was a lovely refreshing morning, and there was plenty around to see.

In the skies above soared ravens, buzzards and a pair of red kites. The valleys were filled with the songs of chaffinches, tree and meadow pipits, willow warblers and the occasional robin (they seem to get everywhere don't they?). I even caught a glimpse of perhaps a merlin as it belted along close to the gorse and heather, too far off and into the sunshine for even an attempt at a photo.

With the sunlight reaching the tree-lined streams, I scrambled up and along one of the sheep trails on the side of the valley, and waited for the birds to come to me. First arrival was a willow warbler. It didn't come too close, so I had to edge along the narrow path to get a closer shot, but it stayed put for me, which made a change!

Further up the valley I saw the tree pipits again, rising high into the sky, calling out with their song as they spiralled back down to the odd tree scattered along the slopes. Typically, I chose a tree to stand next to, as it provided me with a bit of cover, and yes, the bird decided to land on the other side of it, completely obscured! Relocating though, I managed to (after a good 30 min wait) get some shots of it on the same tree, both posing and singing away.

The walk down into the valleys is lovely. The hike back up the hill to the car is knackering, especially balancing the camera and tripod on your shoulder, whilst dicing with disaster along narrow paths. Still, I need the exercise, as someone keeps reminding me.

Back in the car, I set the SatNav for Lake Vyrnwy and parked at the end away from the main RSPB centre and dam, and went for a walk in the woods. Didn't take long to hear the familiar and very welcome call of a common redstart, though it only appeared very briefly and at a fair distance.

For some reason though (touch wood) I get decent success with seeing and photographing pied flycatchers, and it wasn't long before a female caught my eye. Hiding myself as well as possible, I just waited and was treated to some fairly close views of mainly the female, but then later a very short visit from the male.

Such attractive birds with their huge eyes and simple markings. Hoping to see some more of these during the summer. Problem with woods by lakes though, is midges, and after a while their biting had tempted me to head back home.

A good day out, albeit rather long.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Rutland Again

Second visit of the year to Rutland yielded a bit more in terms of subjects to photograph. I aimed for the Lyndon side of the reserve to meet up with Ian, who is kindly helping with the Osprey Watch programme this year, which meant we were sat in the furthest hide from the centre, but quite close to the nesting site.

The hide was already very busy when I arrived, so I squeezed in next to Ian until a window became free, which it did eventually, and was right at the far end of the hide, by the side window. This turned out to be a good thing, as the ospreys didn't really do very much. Male was far more interested in hopping on the back of the female than it was catching fish for her, so spent little time flying around.

Still, on a brief flight it circled reasonably close to the hide and we bailed out the back to the path for a easier view of it.

Aside from the ospreys, there wasn't a great deal to watch bird-wise. A lone heron mooched about in the shallows, several martins fluttered aross the surface and occasionally perched on the wire fence, a pair of oystercatchers put in a brief appearance and coots made for moments of entertainment as they chased each other over the water.

The main interesting moments from the day came after a lady taking in some rays out of the back of the hide, spotted a grass snake slithering along. It had gone under the hide by the time we scrambled outside, but I hoped it would appear from the shade beside the window I was peering out of. It did, and proceeded to attack toads that were creeping about in the undergrowth!

The first one it attacked proved to be a bloody affair, and ended with some or maybe all (couldn't see past the leaves) of the toad being swallowed. Alas the sun was facing me so shots were difficult to get right.

Later though, I spotted the snake right beneath the window, battling with an even larger toad, amongst the leaves of some stinging nettles. This time Mr Toad was way too big to be swallowed and despite all its biting, jaw-dislocating and wrestling, its efforts were in vain and it had to give up, allowing a fed-up looking toad to trudge off, and the snake to go on in search of a smaller meal.

It also reminded me why I love my 100-400mm lens so much. The quality isn't the same as the 500mm, but the ease of use for such moments makes it the perfect carry-about lens.

Monday 19 April 2010

Norfolk & Suffolk

Playing catch up again with this blog. Weekend before last, was an extended one over in Norfolk and Suffolk. Rob was keen to see a stone curlew, so Ian and I tagged along, though we were more interested in seeing any raptors over that way. Given the target bird, we opted to stay in the Swaffham area, as it is close to Weeting Heath, the reserve for seeing these elusive birds, and the weekend started well on the first night, when we spotted a barn owl quartering the fields near the B&B. Didn't stray close enough for pics, but a promising start.

Weeting Heath:

Well, we saw them. That's about as much as I can say on this. The reserve features two hides which look down a field, which slopes away from sight at the bottom, and of course, this is where the stone curlews seem to favour. With the distance involved and heat haze, we could just about make a pair out, but the photos could have been of anything. And as there was little else to see there, aside from the rabbits, Ian and I soon got restless and wanted to go elsewhere.

RSPB Lakenheath Fen:

Quite a spread-out reserve this one, with extensive reedbeds, lakes, wooded areas and marshes. The walk from the car park to the best spot at the far end of the reserve proved to be an arduous one, as both Rob (knee) and Ian (back) were unable to walk far, so we took it slowly, stopping when anything interesting appeared, and it didn't take long for a male marsh harrier to catch our attention.

Quite evil-looking birds with their hooked beak and dishevelled feathers, but fabulous to watch as they hunted over the tops of the reeds. Displaying with the females occasionally, though usually miles from where we had chosen to stand, or against the sun! Also on the reserve were bearded tits, though I only heard their pinging, failing to see them this time. And common cranes. Huge birds, gliding between grassy areas between the reeds.

And bitterns of course, not that we saw any, but for the first time in my life I heard them booming. A strange sound, like a distant sub-woofer thumping a slow, deep bass sound.

It looks like a reserve that could be good given time and patience and the birds in there, eventually they'd have strayed closer, but not for us that day. Nevermind, we can go again.

Sculthorpe Moor NR:

I visited this site last year, though too late in the season to see the breeding marsh harriers. This time though, we were at the start of such things, and after hiking around to the main hide, we were looking out across the reeds to see a pair of harriers bringing nesting material back. The light though was awful, so I went the extra few hundred yards to the farthest hide, which was empty and I could set up looking away from the sun.

Not a great deal around aside from the harriers, though the calm waters gave some good reflections of the geese around, and an oystercatcher dropped in for a few moments.

When the harriers did come by though, they looked stunning against the blue sky, and circled above the hide, seemingly enjoying the fine weather at last. As did the local buzzards, which drifted by on occasions, mewing as they went.

The final highlight of this visit came as I wandered back to the others, and encountered a pair of water voles feeding and swimming along the stream next to the boardwalk. I was amazed they didn't run off when I was so close (reading up later that they can't see more than 30cm in front of them, explains it somewhat!!), so I could get some great shots, albeit somewhat cramped in the frame.

Morston Quay:

Having had some inside info on the location of spotted redshank, I dragged the others over to Morston Quay, and walked along the muddy banks of the estuary, in search of the bird. Nowhere to be seen, though normal redshank and oystercatchers were in abundance, along with very vocal skylarks and brent geese on the vegetation nearby.

Cley Marshes:

I love going to Cley. Love the set up, love walking along the East Bank and love seeing the sea as you climb over the shingle at the back of the beach. Also love what birds can be seen there, and how close. This time we got great views of several avocets, redshanks and of course marsh harriers, though the latter decided to come in close after I'd opted to leave the hide and go for my walk along the East Bank.

I spent a good couple of hours searching for the bearded tits and only had one chance for some shots, getting what can only just be described as record shots! Ah well, if it was easy, everyone would have shots of them!


The "Layby" as I call it, often yields results and our two visits gave very different ones. The first night we saw three barn owls and at least a pair of marsh harriers, yet the second night, only one very distant barn owl, and the harriers stayed well clear too. Always a good spot though, even just to watch the sun go down.

RSPB Minsmere:

What a trek this place is! But well worth it. The Bittern hide has elevated views over the reedbeds and offers fabulous opportunities to photograph the birds and anything else around. We camped in the hide for a couple of hours from early on, and saw numerous marsh harriers, at last coming close to us for decent shots. There were at least two bitterns booming, and one actually flew over the reeds, albeit somewhat distant. A rough-looking muntjac also provided a subject for some shots, as did a Cetti's warbler, though that was beneath the hide and typically nigh on impossible to see.

With the walking wounded wanting to stay put, I decided to see as much of the reserve as I could, and soon found myself wandering towards the Scrape area. Enroute I was reminded why I miss carrying my 100-400mm lens, when a stoat or weasel (couldn't tell with the speed of it) appeared from the edge of a pool, and stared at me. I was too close with the 700mm I was using, to get a shot, and the little sod kept popping up closer whenever I moved back for a shot. Had the trusty old lens been hanging around my neck, I'd have bagged some great shots. Curse those delivery companies for delaying it a day too late for the trip.

The hides at the scrape were very windy, so my eyes dried out rapidly, and I quickly moved on. The pools were a noisy frenzy of gulls mainly, though avocets, redshanks and the odd godwit pottered around between them.

The final hide of the day would be the Island Mere one, which was at the other end of the site. A good hide with a great view out over the marsh and reedbed, but very busy and badly timed by me, as the sun was in my face. One for the morning, me thinks. Still, I got fleeting glimpses of bearded tits, and marsh harriers soared over head. This was the site for the bittern, but it didn't appear for me, not that I'm short of such shots!

The only downside to Minsmere is the drive home from it. A-roads in Suffolk seem to be a bit of an after-thought, and it seemed to take an age to reach the A14. Still, took me past some very pretty little villages and ancient-looking windmills. An area to explore more, one year I reckon.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Ring Ouzels

Another weekend is upon me and I've not detailed the events from the last one yet. Not that there are many to list, given that my target birds didn't play ball. On the Saturday I thought that I ought to try again for the local avocets at the Flashes and again, they resolutely stayed on the far side of the lake, though a little ringed plover did show very well, wandering along the channel nearest the hide.

And on Sunday, I made my first trip east to Rutland, with the promise of Lagoon 4 being a hotspot for ospreys. Hmm, hot it wasn't and only one osprey showed up in about four hours, landing and then washing itself on the other side of the lake. Oh well, plenty of time to see more of those.

So here we are at this weekend and Good Friday was a complete wash out, so I stayed at home and fixed the guttering. Very rock n roll. Today though was a bit better and I met up with a friend at Titterstone on Clee Hill, in search of ring ouzels, a bird I'd never seen before.

Their call is like a cross between a thrush and a fieldfare, and was about the best way of locating them as they blended in against the rocky outcrops very well indeed. But, once located, they were fairly easy to follow, though the numerous walkers and dog-emptiers meant they often took flight. "They" as in two of them, and a bit of effort yielded some half decent results.

Aside from the ring ouzels, there were at least three wheatears around, several ravens, a kestrel and various wagtails and pipits. Might have to try my luck there again, especially if the sun is likely to come out.