Sunday 24 October 2010

Port Meadow - Lesser Yellowlegs

Saturday was a case of wrong place at the wrong time. Got up, seemed sunny, so headed up Clee Hill. Got there to find the car park occupied by local hoodies smoking weed - so not somewhere I particularly wanted to leave my car, and then after moving elsewhere, the heavens opened and temperature dropped.

Nothing to see, I headed back to Upton Warren, met up with Bob and we both sat in the spider hide as the heavens opened again. Only highlight being watching the bittern fly across the lake towards the car park, though too dull and too distant for anything other than record shots.

So, on to Sunday and what a change. After seeing Gareth's (Blockley) shots of the lesser yellowlegs down at Port Meadow near Oxford, I decided to try somewhere new. I say "new", as it's not somewhere I've been birding before, though one of my favourite pubs (The Trout Inn) is just up the road.

Parked at the free car park and walked across the meadow, bumping into a local 'tog who informed me that it was showing well, but that he'd not seen it for 20 mins since a sprawk had put everything up. He thought it'd gone to the far end, which is where I considered walking until I spoke to another birder (Pete Styles) who reckoned it'd be better waiting by the favoured feeding area.

So we did and it looked promising when a ruff arrived... followed shortly after by a female ruff. Both gave good photo opps and for a while it looked like they would be the only thing I'd get and distant shots of the huge flocks of golden plovers. But, patience won out again and after about an hour a wader glided into view, fluttered around and settled nearby.

Terrific, and it came closer as we waited. Reminded me of a redshank or greenshank, but with yellow legs (funny that!) and seemed most at home on the flooded grass. Didn't even move when a mad hound galloped past along the shoreline between me and it.

After it had pottered pretty close, then turned back away again, we both decided to call it a day and head off.
I was between minds as to bother heading down originally. Bloody glad I did!

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Feckenham Wylde Moor

I awoke to a slight frost on Sunday morning, though my lie in meant the car was already de-iced thanks to the morning sunshine. A text through to Ian confirmed that there was room in the hide where he was, and about an hour later I was sat with friends, peering out over the pool at Feckenham Wylde Moor (Worcestershire Wildlife Trust).

My first visit to this reserve was some years ago and I managed to get stuck in a bog in my wellies, taking about 10 mins to free one leg! Not great when you have a camera in hand. Since then I have been a few times, but lately more to watch the kingfishers from the hide by the pool.

I'd timed my arrival well as the sun was now on the various perches and the hide had warmed up a little. We didn't have to wait long for one of the stars to turn up. Initially it chose the far perch, but later visits gave better views as the kingfishers landed much closer.

Confusing us with their similar calls, several dunnocks flitted between the island and the fields, though the real distraction to the kingfishers was a wren, which mooched about in the undergrowth.

I know I have plenty of kingfisher shots already, but the occasional trip for some more usually yields results and towards the end of the session I managed a shot of one in an overhanging tree, which I'm particularly pleased with. Might get it printed out for the wall.

The onset of "numb-bum" gained from being sat on a bench for several hours eventually persuaded me to leave, with the aim of heading to Upton Warren in case the jack snipe was still around. A good move as I encountered a gorgeous kestrel perched on some wires, though problems with the camera (flat battery!) and then a party of ramblers put pay to my chances of getting any closer.

Needless to say, the snipe wasn't at the Moors, so I headed back to the pub, to sample some St Austell Tribute that had been kindly ordered in. Very nice!

Monday 18 October 2010

Jack Snipe (Upton Warren)

With a sunny weekend forecast, I should have been eager to be up with the dawn chorus on Saturday, but the overseas trip to Oslo (work) earlier in the week had left me with a chronic case of the yawns. Late nights and early mornings, which I blame on free wifi in the hotel room.

First call on Saturday after I'd dragged myself out of bed was actually the barbers, to trim the unruly mop of hair I'd been sporting lately. Then it was down the road to see if I could locate any of the little owls. I did, albeit just the one. And it was peeking out of a gap in the tree at me, which actually made for some different shots of it.

Eventually it came out into the open, briefly, before flying deeper into the tree to hide from a small flock of jackdaws that had descended on to the branches at the top. My cue to leave. with reports of a jack snipe being seen on the main pool at the Moors, I'd decided to head there for a change to the Flashes.

Peering out of the car window as I arrived, I saw someone in the North Moors hide, so thought I'd be nosey. Entering the hide I was informed of a jack snipe, right in front of the hide! Fantastic. I'd assumed that my views would be distant, given the scoped pics of the one on the other pool but this character was merely a few feet away.

Bobbing away, it mooched around in the shadows, occasionally pausing allowing me to try to get some better shots. The gold stripes down the back of this bird are so vibrant, and when it ventured into areas where the light was getting through, the green stripes were lit up beautifully.

In between feeding, the bird would half doze off, for up to 45 mins at a time, and at about 1pm, it tucked its bill into its back feathers and I had to leave, to indulge in another pleasurable activity... golf. Some great birds around on the course (Lickey Hills), including a fine mistle thrush, perched atop a tree laden with berries. No camera, of course!

Sunday 10 October 2010

Norfolk: Cley Marshes and Salthouse

Saturday 2nd Oct:

The initial plan for the day was to meet up at Salthouse to try to photograph the barred warbler. But when I drove alongside Cley Marshes and saw how calm it was, I opted to park in the East Bank car park, and see whether the beardies were about. They were, in their flocks and in addition to this was the welcome sight of Di Stone, who'd come over for the day from her caravan holiday.

I've never seen so many bearded tits! The flocks at times numbered over 20 birds, all pinging as they flew. A wonderful sight, and when they landed close by, an even better photo opportunity. The males are such pretty birds, so striking in both colours and markings. Certainly made a great start to the day, and it wasn't long before Steve and Ann joined us, to take advantage of the unusually still conditions.

The warmth of the day soon brought about a breeze and the beardies descended the reeds for shelter. By then we had taken hundreds of shots and we changed our attention again to the buntings on the shingle banks behind the beach. After spotting a pair of Laplands, we approached with care and as with the Malvern bird, they didn't mind us taking photos. Unlike some pillock on the East Bank, who shouted (well, screamed) obscenities at us about how people like us kill birds. What a complete moron. Idiots like him disturb far more, and no doubt upset other folk with such foul language.

We left the birds to carry on feeding and moved over to Salthouse for the barred warbler. Finding it was easy as there was a crowd, and the warbler, a rather bland-looking chap, was feeding on the berries of the bushes. To be honest, had I seen it myself, I'd have put it down as a garden warbler, took a couple of shots and headed off! But what do I know?!

As it was, we bagged lots of images, though it never really showed that well, in the open. Steve stayed on, going bananas for that elusive, "out in the sunshine" shot, while Di and I headed along the path to see the red-necked phalarope over at Kelling. Wish we hadn't bothered, as the bird was a fair distance off, and against the sunshine, so I didn't even take a shot. Di managed to get some more bearded tit shots though, when a small family group flew in close by. In fact, all I got was a bad back. I really need to get a better backpack.

Back at the barred warbler, yet another rude birder told me off. "Keep still!!" he barked as I walked over. "Please" I replied. These people really have no manners at all, though I suspect I'd have said a lot more had there been no-one else around. And I fail to see how me approaching from one direction had any more bearing on the bird's behaviour than him walking directly past the bush when he'd had his fill of it.

The warbler hadn't given that shot to Steve and we retired to the car park for a break. Steve and Ann had to reluctantly leave, and Steve even more reluctantly had to hand back my lens. I hope he sorts something while his 500mm is being sorted by the insurers, as he's currently lens-less, which is a horrifying thought for any of us 'togs.

Di and I headed over to the Dun Cow to quench our thirsts, before she headed back to her husband at the caravan. I pottered around Cley a little longer before again trying the layby for the owls, and again failing to photograph any. At least I saw one this time, albeit a fair distance off. And typically, as I had a smaller lens with me, no owls were perched on the wall later!

Sunday 3rd Oct:

My last day and though the forecast was for rain, the morning was quite sunny. Very windy though, and walking along the East Bank was a tad blustery! Beardies were around, as was a pair of whinchats, but neither came close. The phalarope at Kelling was again distant, and the blast from a canister in a nearby field, spooked it away completely.

With the clouds on the horizon and the wind becoming increasingly strong, I headed home. Just the small matter of picking images to process from over 25 gig's worth taken!

Norfolk: Thornham, Brancaster and rain

Friday 1st Oct:

With rain and gales forecast, Friday was a day for making the most of anything that came our way. I met up with Ann and Steve at Thornham Harbour and we scratched around looking for birds to photo. Ann managed to locate a little egret fishing in one of the channels, and again managed to creep up close enough to get some good shots with her 300mm lens, whereas Steve seemed more content to wander around in case any buntings were about.

I spotted a wheatear posing on old, weathered posts which despite the gloom looked lovely, and a bit of patience and luck gave me some decent shots. Love these birds as they're such good posers.

Back to Brancaster after a brief visit to Titchwell which proved that birds are as reluctant to be out in miserable conditions as we are, and with the weather closing in and Steve & Ann needing to pack up ready to leave on Saturday, they left me to watch the waders and wait for the rain to roll in.

As is typical with birds, with the poor light on offer, the waders decided to come in closer, and I got some rather grey shots of godwits, curlew, knots, redshanks and dunlins. A pair of curlew also decided to have a bit of a scrap on the mud which provided some amusement.

Hoping the weather would be better down at Cley, I tried my luck there, but the winds and rain were there too, and I abandoned hope for shots in favour of another cosy evening in the Lifeboat, again with a giggling Ann and a despairing Steve. He has a habit of setting himself up for mickey-taking at times!

On the way back to the B&B, I had a great experience. Along the walls of Holkham Hall were several owls. The three barn owls I saw, all flew off when I slowed down for a look, though I was surprised to even see them given that it was lashing it down with rain, and blowing a gale. One of the owls looked a bit different though, and I was delighted to see it was a tawny. I managed to park up near it, and in the glow from my headlights, I could see it pretty well. Without a small lens though (Steve was borrowing my 100-400mm after his 500mm broke) I had no chance of a photo, and besides, I doubt it would have been any good without a proper flash.

In the end I took a couple of snaps with my phone, but it was too dark and wet for anything worth posting. But what a gorgeous bird. Huge dark eyes and fabulous markings. A real treat to see, though it eventually showed me what it thought, by pooping down the wall and flying off into the woods behind.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Norfolk: Hunstanton, Brancaster, Cley and Titchwell

Thursday 30th Sept:

After waking up to sunshine, I initially aimed for the Burnham marshes where I've seen barn owls in recent trips, but they seemed few and far between this time, and a text from Steve confirming the presence of the wryneck at Hunstanton was all it took to tempt me that way, to join them on the cliffs.

We could see the bird easily enough, but it was sat amongst the undergrowth and not really worth a shot. Steve was doing his usual role of a tour guide and helping people see it, so much so, he ended up missing the shot he wanted. The bird burst from cover and landed on a post momentarily. I managed to grab a handful of shots but he only managed one, and the wryneck disappeared from view again.

It's happened to me before so I understand the feelings. You've put in the hours and someone else (me and several other 'togs) get the reward. To try to cheer him up I said I'd find the bird again for him, and walked off along the path. Standing on a bench, I scanned the edge of the clifftop for it through my bins, and was rather startled when I looked down for a second, and spotted the wryneck sat no more than 10 feet in front of me, in the grass.

Frantically I attracted Steve's attention and he was this time fortunate enough to arrive just in time for the bird to pose on another post for a good half a minute, allowing us all to get some great shots. After seeing the one on Clee Hill in the gloom or stark sunlight, this was a welcome change and the pictures are leagues better than those from before.

After searching around again, we briefly located the bird a lot further down the hedge, but dog walkers spooked it again, and with the time for high tide approaching, we relocated to Brancaster Harbour, to watch the waders there.

What a good spot too. You're able to park up (for free) at the very end of the harbour and as the tide comes in or retreats, the birds make the most of whatever mud is exposed. Or, if folks happen to be chucking bread around they surround the cars, which is what happened for us.

Black-headed and common gulls mixed it with the fleet-of-foot turnstones, to grab the crumbs, and provided many photo opportunities from the comfort of the car. Remaining on the mud were redshanks, godwits, dunlins and knots, and nearby a rather hindered looking grey plover with a broken leg, hopped around pulling at worms.

Waders aside, Norfolk of course attracts some rarities, and Steve was keen to get some shots of Lapland buntings over at Cley, so we headed off that way, and it didn't take us long to find one. After the one on Malvern recently, I wasn't that bothered with it initially, but the bug soon got to me, and I was alongside, snapping away. Plus it looked a bit different on the shingle to the grass of the hilltop.

Also nearby were snow buntings, and when the Lapland flew off, we located a lovely male and took some shots of that. Ann managed to get incredibly close to it, though she did have to suffer sitting on a thistle to get the rewards.

To end the day, we shot over to Titchwell again, this time to see a grey phalarope that was apparently "showing well". Problem with such reports is that they are generally written by birders who class "showing well" as being able to see it, which can be 300 yards away through a scope. Not so this time though, and we were very pleased to find the bird virtually under our feet. Too close for me at times, so I had to back away to fit the bird in the shot. Certainly a tad better than the views of the grey phalarope at the Flashes!

A great day ended at the Lifeboat Inn, where we enjoyed a fine meal and ale (mmm, Wherry!), and had a good laugh about events, and planned the next day's adventure.

Norfolk: Titchwell Marsh

Wednesday 29th Sept:

The rain, accidents and roadworks meant that I arrived at Wells-Next-The-Sea a little later than planned, but checked into the B&B for the stay, dropped off my bags and headed out immmediately. Rather than aiming for Cley, I opted for the free option of Titchwell (being an RSPB Member) and made my way to the hides by the lake. The diggers etc were still working away on the new bank, but the reserve is now open again and had the weather been less unpleasant, I might have headed to the beach.

From the hide I could see a large flock of golden plovers, a few pintails, avocets and ruff in the distance, and closer up, loads of lapwings and various ducks. Of interest for photography though, were a couple of little stints which were pottering around with a few more dunlins. While the light was woeful, they actually came so close to the hide, I couldn't focus on them.

After Titchwell, I met up with Steve Seal and his partner, Ann, down at Brancaster Harbour, and planned what we might get up to over the coming days. With the weather closing in, I retired to the Globe Inn for the evening, for a very nice steak meal and a couple of jars of Adnams.