Tuesday 26 April 2011

Gauntlet BOP Centre

Bit of an abstract entry here, from some weeks back in March, when I was sent to Manchester for work, to help with a system installation. After a very early start, I was allowed some hours off between the early and very late shift, so decided to take a look around the area.

Without details, I failed to locate one of the Cheshire Wildlife reserves (please, if anyone from the Trust reads this, include a postcode of the site - makes it so much easier), but in driving around spotted a falconry centre, by the name of Gauntlet (http://www.gauntlet.info/).

What a great place - perfect for spending a couple of hours mooching around, and better still - timed by me for one of the flying displays.

I've been to some before, and you see the usual of vultures and eagles, perhaps a falcon or owl, and this place did the same.

However, they also had a pair of stork-like birds (can't find them on their site at the mo), a raven and best of all, a flying display by red and black kites.

That was superb, and the birds skimmed your head as you sat there.

If you're in the Knutsford area, Gauntlet is definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Back To Bempton

After last year's wonderful trip to Skomer, I was missing seeing sea birds, such as puffins, and with this year's trip not happening, I decided to head up to Bempton Cliffs instead. A long drive, but worth it, even if it was the only part of the UK under cloud when I arrived.

Having been before, I opted to head to the right-hand end of the cliffs for the main gannet colony, and as the sun was in, the whites on the birds would be easier to manage (sun and white-coloured birds can mean "blown" highlights). As usual, the birds were circling around, but at this time of year, they were returning to the nest sites with bits of grass, seaweed and anything else that suits their rocky nests.

Also, and lovely to observe was the way the pairs greet one another, rubbing beaks together. I'll have to get up to the Farnes one year to get some closer shots of this, but the views from the cliffs were good enough for a start.

The cliffs were also occupied in great numbers by kittiwakes, which seem to be able to sit looking comfortable on what can only be the narrowest of ledges. I tried to get some shots of them in flight, which wasn't easy, as they tend to stay below the tops of the cliffs, and change direction frequently. They often fly with their legs dangling too, like they're about to land but perhaps are enjoying flying too much to stop just yet!

Fulmars also shared some of the cliff real estate, and bickered between nest sites. They are quite approachable though, so getting images of them on the nest wasn't too much of a problem.

Finally, although not in great numbers yet, there were a few puffins around. They were checking out burrows, flying up and down from the cliffs to the sea, or simply perched on the cliff-face, watching the world go by.

By the afternoon, the sun had returned, and so had the crowds. The problem with Bempton is that the sun moves around behind the cliffs later in the day, so you have to look for sunny parts or accept shaded images. Thing is, with the drive back looming, I opted to head back instead.

Sunday 3 April 2011

North West to World's End?

Friday night. That's usually the time of the week when I finally make up my mind about where to head on the weekend. And so it was this weekend, when the shots seen during the week of a lone Dartford Warbler in Wales, persuaded me to plan a trip that way.

Had it been the only bird that way
, I might not have bothered, but pics from a friend (Carl) of black necked grebes not million miles away, tempted me to get up very early (for a Saturday) and blast up the M6. I hate the motorway with a passion, but at weekends, when I'm not going for a company meeting, it seems almost pleasant. Using Google's Street View, I'd worked out where to go, and before 9am I was stood, lake-side, scanning the water for the grebes.

Didn't look promising at first, but once my sleepy brain had remembered that the grebes were smaller than coots, I managed to spot a couple... and then 3 more.

Ideal conditions for pics, no. Not for the first 2 hours or so, and stood being piddled on, beside a breezy lake when I could have been at home having a lie in, did make me question my sanity.

Once the sun appear, my decision was justified, though the light was still harsh. Almost satanic-looking birds, with the ruby-red eyes and flame-like facial feathers. They did look fabulous against the green reflections on the water. Aside from diving for tiddlers, they seemed pretty content with picking off flies from the surface. All in all, there were 2 pairs, plus a loner, which was still not quite in summer colours. Clouds rolling in once more, I decided to head over to World's End, in a remote spot not far from Wrexham, though the road getting there reminded me of those from the moors near Aviemore. Could be a spot worth exploring more, on a full day.

Using instructions from Carl and Dave (cheers!), I eventually found the right area, and clocked the Dartford warbler, posing right in front of Carl! Deserved, as he'd been waiting for a couple of hours for it, and I had to advise him to delete his pics, when he showed them to me shortly afterwards. What are friends for?

Didn't have to wait long for seeing the bird close up, and what followed was a couple of hours of watching and waiting, and then snapping furiously, as the proud warbler zipped around his territory, singing away from whatever lofty perch he could find.
Back in 2009, I must have spent about 20 hours walking around the moors near Minehead, tracking down the Dartfords, hoping for a shot, and managed a few in the end. This seemed too easy, but hell, I wasn't complaining. In full breeding plumage too.

Eventually though, time was ticking on, and I knew I'd got the shots I was after. Would have been nice to spend a day there, but the breeze was drying my eyes out, and yet again I looked vampiric, so home seemed the sensible option.

That just posed the problem of condensing 900+ photos down to a handful for airing online...