Monday 27 September 2010

Lapland Bunting & Pec Sand

Despite Max's comments about the speed at which I walk along, those who know me, know how unfit I am, so the thought of climbing to the top of one of the hills in the Malverns didn't appeal at all, especially given I'd nearly keeled over climbing one of the smaller hills a week before only to see no birds at all.

This time however, the target was Lapland buntings and I was keen to bag some shots of a little bird I'd never seen before, but most photographers across the country had already snapped, annoyingly. Early start and after spotting Dave Jackson's car in the carpark, I knew I might have some help in finding the bird. But first came the hike up there. Camera and tripod over one shoulder, I took it slowly and even then, had to "take in the view" a couple of times from benches on the way up.

Also, after texting Dave, the news came through that he'd not seen the birds yet, the original small flock reduced down to just one individual now. Not another blank on the Malverns...?

Well, no. Just as I stumbled to the top of North Hill, Dave sent a message through - he'd found it. Now I just needed to find them, and luckily, they were just over the brow of the hill. And I arrived in time to have just missed it! A hiker had spooked it.

A quick search around and the bird flew back into view, higher up the hillside. I took some record shots in case, and then set about crawling as slowly as I dared, closer.

After a few mins, Dave had had his fill of the bird, and headed back down the hill leaving me alone with it. With no-one to upset if I ventured too close, I crept closer still and was amazed to find the bunting so accommodating. It was more distracted by passing birds, such as crows and mipits.

By keeping low, I managed to get the sort of shot I was after, with grass and sky in the frame, and a good depth of field too.

Eventually, despite the warmth of the sunshine, the northerly breeze encouraged me back down the hillside, and over to Upton Warren, to see the American tourist there - a juvenile pectoral sandpiper.

Unlike the bunting, the "pec" refused to come close and we (the hide was as jam-packed as I've seen it) had to make do with record shots of the bird. Nothing like so close as the one at Draycote last year. Still, a good one for the reserve and obviously popular with the locals!

Monday 13 September 2010

Belvide Bonus

Waking up to sunshine streaming through the curtains is a rare thing lately, but Sunday promised to be fine, and gave me a dilemma. After seeing some fabulous shots by Carl Day (Malvern Birder) lately, I was really tempted to head to his neck of the woods (or should that be "hills"?) in search of the wheatears, redstarts and maybe whinchats he'd bagged lately. Thing is, the area is pretty big and being a Sunday, I'd expect it to be a dog walkers' paradise.

Hence I looked at the alternative, Belvide. With greenshanks, little stints and whinchats reported here, plus the usual suspects, it looked good. At least until I arrived, and saw the lake. Or should I say "puddle". I've never seen it so empty and suddenly the reports of the little stints being "right in front of the hides, on the shore" took on a new meaning. Walking to the farthest hide, I did see a hobby, though it vanished over the trees before I could react, and from the hide all I could see were birds on the other side of the lake. To make matters worse, it started to rain!

Once the shower died down, I decided to take a stroll towards the very western edge of the reserve, and thankfully my luck changed. Within a few yards I had spotted a couple of birds posing in the sunshine on the top of the hedgerow, and viewing through my bins showed them to be juvenile whinchats.

Creeping up on anything when carrying the lens and tripod isn't easy, so I took a few shots as I approached, though they soon took flight, maybe alarmed by the fool with the camera, or perhaps because they could sense the weather changing again. Yes, it poured down and with no shelter, I just stood and tutted at the situation. Alas the whinchats had made good their escape, and didn't return.

Walking back towards the eastern end of the reserve, I spotted a lone greenshank near the water's edge, and set up ready for some shots. Now I know there were some at Brandon Marsh this year, but for some reason I never managed to get over to photo them, and they've remained a bogey bird since. So this wasn't an opportunity I'd let slip.

Didn't have to wait long for the bird to head back towards me and I managed a few shots before it heard the camera, and moved over to a stretch of the shore further away.

I popped into most of the hides on the way back, seeing various tits and the tree sparrows from one, plus more views of a hobby being harrassed by a crow, and a peregrine which landed amongst the geese on the far shore. Must have been waving a white flag as almost nothing took note of it being there.

I didn't actually see the little stints in the end, though I did get distant views of a knot that had dropped in. Speaking of dropping in, I headed to the Flashes to end the day, hoping to see the ruff, but it had left. I did get to see a lone avocet visitor and took some shots of a green and common sandpiper that strayed close to the hide.

A Good Tern At Earlswood

Friday night ended up being a late one, with the highlight being seeing a local barn owl hopping into a puddle on a country road, lit up in my headlights. Good to know they're around the area, even if I can't seem to find them when it's light. So Saturday morning started with a lie in, and the miserable weather outside meant I didn't feel guilty about not being out and about.

As the clouds lifted, I opted to take the short drive over to Earlswood Lakes, to see if I could spot the black terns that had been there for a couple of days. I ought to go here more often as there is always plenty to see, though folks used to give me strange looks when I wandered around with the 100-400mm lens, so gawd knows what they'd think of this bazooka I carry around these days!

Climbing to the top of the steps, I soon located the terns, and after walking to one side, I opted to walk back to the other side where despite the sun being sort of in the wrong place, the birds were generally much closer. A red buoy also seemed to make a good perch for one of the birds, while the others fished.

Within moments of me getting set up though, the local boating club came out in force, and started sailing around everywhere, which must have infuriated the fishermen (I think there was a contest on too) as well as me, as they kept making all the birds take flight. I had to laugh though, as one couple tried to change direction in their dinghy, and got it very wrong, resulting in the chap taking an early bath...

After taking a few more shots of the terns, I had decided to head elsewhere, as getting flight shots wasn't easy with the big lens, but as I trudged back along the causeway to the car, I spotted the unmistakable "march" of Max, heading towards me. He'd also come to see the terns, after the midday footie had failed to grasp his interest, so I walked back to show him the best place to get shots from. And as I was there, I bagged a few more, only this time I made the effort to get the 100-400mm out and try for some flight shots.

The effort of tracking these agile flyers soon took its toll on Max, who said he'd got enough rubbish shots and we both walked back along the path, only to find it blocked by a juvenile heron, who didn't bat an eyelid as we approached. With the dark background, I took some portrait shots of the bird, which eventually strolled off along the path, squirting out what it thought of us as it left!

I ended the day by dropping into the North Moors, though the only bird of note was a hobby, and that was rather distant.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Curlew Sandpiper

Having seen a small flock of curlew sandpipers at the Flashes, I was rather envious to see Max and Dave had managed to capture some terrific close up shots of a few over at Draycote, and I crossed everything that they'd stay around for the weekend.

Another early start and I was soon pulling up at the carpark at Draycote, and having the good fortune to bump into Max, on site for another go at the birds. Walking along the path, Max was concerned for his well-being, with cyclists whizzing by at speed, silently approaching. He has a point - the place can be dangerous, especially when windy as you can't hear anything.

However, the wind from the previous weekend had eased, the lake was calm and photographing the one remaining juvenile curlew sandpiper, were George and Dick. George is infamous for being the (motorbiker) dweller of the Carlton Hide at Brandon Marsh, for dropping his camera out of the window there, and being able to go collect it, with one of the kingfishers remaining on its perch, unconcerned at his daft antics!

I quickly set up and began taking shots, though getting any with a catchlight in the eye proved tricky, and I had to find a spot on the rocks to do so, which was rather uncomfortable, and prickly, as Max discovered when he sat on a bramble.

The bird seemed oblivious to us and carried on feeding, occasionally being chased by aggressive ringed plovers, also juveniles. After bagging a fair few shots, I heard a familiar voice behind me, and casting a glance up to the path, I spotted Steve Seal. He'd driven 85 miles to get some shots of a bird he'd never photographed here before.

It was quite a difference to the previous, lonely and horrid visit to Draycote, being surrounded by friends (old and new), all trying to get a shot of this rather rare bird. Eventually we managed some shots with that glint in the eye, and retreated to the path when the skies clouded over.

I eventually headed back to the Flashes for the juvenile ruff, but not before we had a good natter by the refreshments van. The ruff failed to deliver, as it stayed at a distance, but was good to see anyway. As I type this now, the skies are blackening again, so I think my birding for the weekend might be done. I'm not that disappointed, as Saturday has left a smile on my face.

Bank Holiday Bonus

September already - the summer (don't laugh) has flown by and autumn is approaching rapidly, though some would argue that the autumnal weather is well ahead of schedule. As such, the recent Bank Holiday weekend failed to offer any really promising weather, and ideas of going to bearded tit sites were blown away with the strong winds. Instead I'd have to make do locally, and after seeing a wryneck sighting at Clee Hill, that was my first target.

Arriving early on Saturday morning, I spotted Bob's car, but couldn't spot the man himself, and ended up climbing to the summit of the hill in search of both him and the bird. No sign, and with the lung capacity of a shrew following this cough (still hasn't gone) it was hard work. So you can imagine my annoyance to realise the bird and watchers were about 100 yards down the hill from my parked car. D'oh!

Still, I got to watch a dozen ravens swooping in the gales, a pair of sparrowhawks, buzzards and several kestrels, though none would allow me a shot where the light was any good.

Following instructions from a birder, I stumbled around a narrow path to discover I had accidentally wandered right on top of the bird, and I doubt upset some of the birders, though none had words later, other than asking if I'd seen it close up. I hadn't. In fact it took a good hour of looking before I did, and then commenced a few hours of creeping around in a very wet field, to try to get any sort of a shot.

I was in good company as it turned out, with several photographers there who I knew or read the blogs of, so despite the wind being so unseasonably cold, we amused each other waiting for the bird to show.

First one I've seen and rather reminiscent of a nuthatch, both in appearance and behaviour, though this favoured eating ants. Unlike the nuthatch, this was remarkably well camouflaged, like a leaf with legs and a beak.

With nowhere else to go, we spent hours stalking the wryneck, taking shots when possible. The light wasn't great and eventually, the biting cold got the better of me, and the shelter of my car won out. A great bird to see though and a good start to the Bank Holiday.

Sunday started with a walk around Whitacre Heath, where I saw nothing. Seriously, nothing. Just one gull flying overhead. Then I headed to Draycote Water, which was rather a stupid idea. The place is windy even on the calmest of days, so in gales it was obviously going to be unpleasant, though the shots Max had managed of the waders tempted me anyway.

I got some shots of the dunlins and ringed plovers, but crikey was it hard work. The gusts of wind blew me off my feet at times, and I had to catch the camera when one particularly strong gust knocked over the tripod.

Wisely I opted to head for somewhere with a hide and arrived at Upton Warren's Flashes to be asked by the sole birder in the hide, to bag some record shots of a flock of curlew sandpipers that had just landed. Didn't take long for the news to get out and soon the hide filled up with local birders, eager for a view.

One of which then provided me with a snippet of information about the whereabouts of a family of hobbies, which takes us to Monday...

An early start again, and soon Stuart and I were wandering across some fields in Worcestershire, to meet with the birder who informed us. Without realising, the hobbies were sat near us on the ground, and took off when we got too close.

I'd expected them to perch on posts or in trees, not just sit around on the ground, but as it turned out, the field was sheltered and they could sit in the warmth of the sunshine there. That said, they did also perch in trees, and we spotted 3 juveniles, all on one branch. A stealthy approach was needed, and with next to no cover, we crept alongside a hedge, taking shots as we got closer. It almost worked, though when one took flight, the others almost immediately copied and that was the end of that idea.

Even so, we'd got some pics of hobbies perched, which is what I'd wanted, and Stuart had also got some flight shots, which he was after.