Monday 10 February 2014

A Sprawk, Kestrel and Hawfinch Hunting

Since finally bagging the glossy ibis, I have been scratching around for places to go. The unusual weather patterns seem to have prevented a number of usual suspects from spending their winter in the UK, so I have been unable to get my fix of waxwings and short-eared owls, for example. I think suffering from the latter is called Withdraw-owl Symptoms. Ok, I'll get my coat.

I have been tempted to head back to the Wyre Forest for the crossbills, but along with the rain has been almost constant strong winds, and that makes seeing and photographing such birds nigh on impossible.

And the shrike is still very much a hit and miss affair. My good friend Max has tried several times to photograph it, resorting to a super-zoom bridge camera in a vain attempt to get a better shot at such distance, which isn't a bad option when the bird is perched. I used to have a Canon S2IS, which had incredible zoom capabilities for stationary objects, though the end result never got close to that from a proper D-SLR, which isn't surprising given the price difference.

But while the shrike stayed distant, I did catch sight of a sparrowhawk on a hunting mission, and despite being gloomy (a storm was rolling in), the camera (my 7D) managed to lock on as it hurtled by, and I ended up with a couple of pleasing shots, much to Max's disgust, as he'd missed it approaching!

Up in Coleshill, well, at Hams Hall, there is a Hume's leaf warbler, a rarity found by Dave Hutton, but despite 2 visits, I have failed to get a single shot of it. It seems to poke about in amongst brambles and only breaks cover to fly to the next set of bushes. Dave's spent over 20 hours there and only managed a couple of record shots. Hopefully his luck will change, though I definitely haven't the patience for that!

After hearing of Max's gymnastics at Marsh Lane (he attempted a backward roll whilst holding his camera, trying to photo the resident male kestrel) I thought I'd try there, and sure enough, spotted the kestrel hovering over the meadow near the car park. I soon worked out that he was returning to the same perch on a nearby tree after each hunting attempt, so I crept closer and waited.

Needless to say, he then caught a vole and headed over to the fence posts near the car park to eat it. I managed to get back to a reasonable distance, grabbing some shots, before the local corvids mobbed him, forcing him away down the concrete road to eat in peace.

Whilst waiting for him to return, I called into the Oak Hide and watched the lapwings and gulls scaring each other into the air every few moments; maybe just to keep warm. Was rather chilly when the sun went in.

When the kestrel returned, I again set up hoping he'd land on his favourite perch. He didn't, of course, choosing a new favourite just out of sight. However, with the light occasionally being decent, I grabbed a few shots as he hovered.

Then this last weekend, the forecast changed from the usual rain to offering a few hours brightness on Saturday morning. With the red-flanked bluetail on offer in Gloucestershire, I opted to avoid the crowds and hope my luck would change chasing hawfinches in the Forest of Dean. Thankfully despite the woodland being soaked, most of it is high up, so is clear of the terrible floods affecting many parts of the county currently. That said, many of the streams seem to be on the verge of spilling over and the lakes all looked very muddy and churned up.

So, did my luck change this year? Yes. I managed to connect with 4 hawfinches in the end, and come away with some half decent shots, even though they tended to hide amongst the branches mainly, and were always the last to feed from the ground, and of course, first to fly off.

They were hanging around with a flock of chaffinches and greenfinches, the latter showing acrobatic skills to feed on the fruits of the yew tree. The hawfinches simply broke off small branches and then helped themselves to what they wanted.

As they were so tricky to focus on, I had to use the spot focus point on the camera, and was glad of the rear-focusing button set-up I use, as I could focus, and release, and then take shots with the shutter-release, not worrying that the camera would refocus on one of the branches moving around in front of the bird.

Eventually it started to rain, and after predicting it would stop after a few mins, I gave up when it became torrential 30 mins later! Worth the drive out though - such fabulous birds.

1 comment:

Trees Planet said...

Your blog is so nice. You also took some wonderful pictures.
Trees Planet