Tuesday 30 November 2010

Warndon Waxwings

Sunday was to be taken up by the Christening of some friends' baby, but the forecast was for cloud, so what did it matter, right? Hmm, surprisingly enough I awoke to glorious sunshine and immediately tried to work out how I could fit some birding into the day.

Looking on Worcs Birding, I noted that a flock of waxwings had been seen in a housing estate north of Worcester, which would be easy to reach if time was at a premium, so after making my excuses to miss the drinks after the ceremony (I was on anti-cold pills, so couldn't drink), I was soon changed out of my suit and back into scruffs, ready for the trip down the M5.

Finding the exact location wasn't easy, as it's a maze of cul-de-sacs and I ended up having to use Sat Nav to find the right spot, and then a kind local (cheers Adam) pointed me in the right direction for the flock.

Typically, I had missed the best light of the day and each time the sun did shine on the berry tree, the waxwings refused to come down from their lofty perch at the top of a nearby oak.

Even so, with what little light there was, and by taking off the teleconverter to use the straight 500mm F4, I could get enough light for the odd sharp shot, when the birds descended to feed. And with the brick buildings as a backdrop, the images came out okay in the end. Not quite the birds against the blue sky which I could have obtained earlier on in the day, but they'll do... for the moment.

Given the numbers of them in the country, I would hope to get more chances to photograph them before the end of the winter.

Short-Eared Owls

Since Mum died at the end of October, I've been struggling to find the enthusiasm to do anything much, and on top of that I've been suffering with a nasty virus, leading to a fever and a bad cold. I'm told that grief can lower one's immune system, so that figures. After a few days off work, I pushed myself back into that and as a result of it, decided that I really ought to get back out birding again, despite the weather and how grim I was feeling.

Reports of short-eared owls in Lincolnshire and friends' images of them were making me green with envy, but I just couldn't face the drive all the way up there, so looked for more local ones. Last year I had some joy looking at the owls at Cossington Meadows, but they've not shown up there (yet). However, 3 or 4 have been seen at a site in Leicestershire, not far from Rutland, so on Saturday, after failing to see Little Grump, I headed over to the site and met up with some friends who had also had the same idea.

My goodness was it cold!! Snow on the ground and a temperature below zero, made for numb fingers and toes in no time at all. Thankfully, after about an hour of waiting, 2 shorties appeared from the undergrowth and started hunting.

The area wasn't easy for photos though, as it's a plantation of trees, which meant the focus kept being taken from the owl and on to the trees, resulting in several pin sharp pics of trees. D'oh!

Occasionally though, it locked on to the shortie and despite the gloomy light and high ISO, I managed some reasonable shots. The best of them came when the bird perched up, firstly in a tree where it peered down like a big cat, and then later on a snow-covered post, making for a very wintery shot.

When the light faded too much for my camera to get any sort of shutter speed, it was definitely time to head home and it took about 2 hours for me to get the feeling back into my numb feet! I shiver just thinking about it now.

A good trip out and a useful spot to know about for the future. I expect I'll try to go again before the owls disappear once more.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Great Grey Shrike (Napton)

I've not been out much recently with a lot on my mind given recent events at home, but I decided to force myself to go do some focused birding with a great grey shrike, seen over in Warwickshire at a place called Napton On The Hill, not a million miles from Draycote. The last one I'd seen, stayed so far off I could barely call the photos "record" shots!

Anyway, I parked up at a muddy area near some units by a bridge over the Oxford Canal, and wandered along the towpath, scanning the wires and bushes for the bird. Bingo - spotted it almost immediately, but it was in an old brick quarry, which meant walking all the way down the canal, up on to the road and then back along a track into the right area.

Was worth it though. My word, what a treat we had. I say "we" as there were several local birders / togs there, and we were chuffed to see the shrike perching on the wires overhead, and occasionally bushes, showing the great contrasting colours on it.

Then it did the unimaginable. It swooped down and landed on some posts, only a few yards away from us. Amazing views, especially as we weren't hiding!

It got better too, as it dropped down from the posts, catching grubs, and then flying back up and landing on posts getting closer to us each time.

Eventually, it was just on the other side of the track we were stood by, and I was struggling to get the bird in the shot, made more tricky with its habit of changing pose.

Still, beggars and all that... no-one was complaining. It flew off pretty quickly, but repeated the same trick, albeit not quite as close later on in the day.

With the wind picking up and droplets of rain in the air, the bird seemed to become less confiding, favouring the wires and more distant perches, and by mid-afternoon my stomach was rumbling and I didn't think I'd better the shots I'd already managed.

Definitely worth the effort and was good to remind myself that a bit of effort can yield results and better still, put a smile on my face, something that has been missing lately.