Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Colin revisited: 16 June

As it is pretty quiet in Oxon at present, and the forecast wasn't good enough for dragons, today I decided to head back to Thursley Common for another session with Colin, before he departs on the long and hazardous journey south to Africa and possibly back again next year.

Again I arrived mid-morning but this time I found he had already been seen at least once. I settled in for a longer stay that last time, when it had started to rain early afternoon. In the 7 hours or so I was present, he appeared three times. The supporting cast had dwindled to just one (ringed) male Redstart - that was clearly feeding young. Towards the end, I tried for some landing shots for the first time, assisted by another Colin and a younger helper!

For a larger image, click here

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For a gallery with all my Cuckoo shots, go to here

Sunday, 3 June 2018

3rd June: Goring - Clubtail!

In the lovely fine weather, walked from Goring to the railway bridge and back. Had a brief view of a Clubtail somewhat before the bridge at SU603795. Unfortunately it flew off and vanished before I could get a good photo. Nevertheless, it is clearly a male (the secondary genitalia can be seen) and there is a tinge of green on the abdomen, which is a hint of maturity (not often seen)

Other species included many Banded Demoiselles, 1 Blue-tailed Damselfly and a few Red-eyed Damselflies.
Male Clubtail showing signs of maturity

For all the latest news on dragonflies in Oxon, go to this page on my website

Saturday, 2 June 2018

2nd June: Farmoor & Dry Sandford Pit

I headed to Farmoor this morning without much expectation of finding much about. Perhaps the odd wader lingering still on the causeway would at least be something.  Arriving at about 08:20, I was surprised to find various other birders hanging around - who explained it was Tom's walk today - being of course the first Saturday of the month.

Walking up onto the reservoir basin, a text was received from Dai saying there was a Black-necked Grebe at the SW corner of F II - of course as far from the car park as it is possible to get! But having already seen and photographed the earlier the BN Grebe in much better light than today, I thought I'd give it a miss and instead headed over the causeway, as per my original plan. Meanwhile everyome else on the walk headed off clockwise round FII. Reaching the far side of the causeway without seeing anything, I headed down to the Pinkhill Hide.

Just as I had opened the shutters,  I got a text from Badger (thanks mate!) saying the BN Grebe was actually a Slavonian. This was of much more interest, as it was sure to be in full summer plumage. So I decamped immediately and headed down to the southern end of F II, where the bird was well out from the bank. It then shortly flew off towards the east bank, before returning the pontoons somewhat later. Here it came a bit closer briefly but most of the time it was well out from the bank. After sometime it flew off N towards FI and I decided not to chase it any further. 

Slavonian Grebe

Getting back into the car, the weather, which had been very grey and overcast, started to brighten up, so my thoughts immediately turned to dragonflies. Dry Sandford Pit wasn't far off, and in the same general direction as home, so I thought I'd try there to see if any Southern Damselflies had emerged yet. Arriving there, it was good to find a few showing in the still fairly dull conditions. It then brightened up properly and several more emerged - there must have been at least ten present, possibly considerably more.

Southern Damselfly

For all the latest news on dragonflies in Oxon, go to this page on my website

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Thursley Common 12 May

Having read great accounts by others, I decided it was time to seek Colin's acquaintance first hand. A spot of Googling turned up firstly the name of the field he frequents and then a photo of it, with GPS coords attached. Bingo!

Thursley village appeared to me to be considerably closer than the Moat car park that everyone else seems to use. So that it where I headed, arriving at the recreation ground parking area in just over an hour and a half from home. I arrived mid morning as  I reckoned there was no need for a very early start, since Colin seems to appear from late morning.

From this car park it was only a 10-15min walk to the southern end of the field. Although the network of paths was a bit confusing, with the OS Mapfinder App on my phone, I couldn't get lost!  Arriving at the field, I immediately spotted a small group of photographers at the northern end, which included Early Birder, Mark. When I arrived there were about 8, but this increased to about 12 later.

With the day overcast, viewing direction wasn't too critical, but I chose a spot near the end of the line of photographers, with the sun behind me, to start with at least. I was told that yesterday, he hadn't shown at all, which didn't sound good. Also there had been no sightings already today - so I hadn't missed anything much so far.

Initially there was a plentiful supply of perches and meal worms but only distant Cuckoo calls. Still there were some other attractions to keep us happy while we waited - including both male and female Redstarts. At one point, both came really close - onto a log just in front of where I was waiting.  More usually though they came to the more distant perches.
Really close female Redstart 
More distant male
After a couple of hours or so, at around 11:45, a Cuckoo appeared and called from the top of a not too distant tree. It then flew over the site a couple of times, before coming down on to the perches, including the really close log. Wow! I've never been anything like this close to a Cuckoo and of course blasted away with the camera.
Colin fills the frame - no cropping on this one!

Really close views of Colin the Cuckoo! 
On a slightly more distant "nice" perch

After spending only about 10mins gorging himself on meal worms, Colin was off, and we were left with the supporting cast again, which now included a male Stonechat attracted in to all the free food.

Male Stonechat

A pair of delightful Woodlark also kept making an appearance in the area, although they were not coming into the perches and hence were never that close. But they gave some added interest.
One of the pair of Woodlark

As the time wore on, the weather as forecast starting getting worse and then it started to rain - which wasn't good! But then about 2 hours after his first showing, in came Colin again (c. 13:45). By this time, the keenest photographers had decided to reduce the number of perches to one - an old fence post supported by a small tripod. So this is what Colin spent most his time on for his second visit, when he wasn't feeding on the ground right in front of us (to within a few meters!).

Colin in the rain!

Very close! 

Again this visit was quite short (10-15mins) and when he departed, so did I. This proved to be a wise decision as the rain really started coming down only just as I got back to the car. Some of the others stayed a bit longer (without seeing Colin again), and got very wet, I heard later.

To see a mini gallery of all the above Cuckoo shots, at higher resolution go to this page on my website. 

Larger versions of the photos of the other species can be found here.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Farmoor (again) 14 May evening

With the bird still present and the sunny weather continuing, I couldn't resist another visit to Farmoor, this time after work in the early evening.

With the bird on the western side of FII, as expected, the light was from behind and superb! The only problems were the waves, which caused the bird to bob around all over the place, and its habit of diving repeatedly after only a few seconds above water.

But what a great bird - coming really close at times. Just shows that the odd photographer on the waters edge probably causes less of an issue than those standing on the track above.

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Black-necked Grebe

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Farmoor: 13 May am

Yesterday I went on a superb visit to Thursley Common in search of Colin the Cuckoo and friends which ended in rain, that became torrential on the way back. More of this later when I've sorted out all the pics I took!

Today was much warmer and sunnier and unusually for a Sunday I managed a little birding. A brief late morning visit to the south end of Farmoor II was successful in connecting with the Black-necked Grebe, along with several others.

Black-necked Grebe
For a larger image go to this page on my website

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Farmoor & Lark Hill: 28 April

Goto this page on my website for larger images of all of the photos below

A cold and damp day - what a contrast to only a week ago! With conditions like this, Farmoor seemed to be the place to go. I arrived just after the 08:00 opening time, as I prefer to do, and found a nice empty car park. As expected, the first view over FII produced large numbers of low flying hirundines - all 3 species, and my first Swifts of the year as well.

The grassy bank on the eastern side of FI had a Yellow Wagtail briefly, but it departed before I could get my camera on to it. Walking over the causeway there were up to about 9 very skittish Common Sands on the FII side, and a single summer plumaged Dunlin & LRP on the FI side. But they also departed before I could get a photo. At the end of the causeway, there were two more on Yellow Wags on FI but they too left in a hurry without a shot being taken. Frustrating!

Still there was a disconsolate row of Swallows along the edge of the wall, which allowed a closer approach, so I concentrated on the nearest bird.
Damp Swallow. Click here for a larger image

Thereafter I headed for the Pinkhill Hide to try my luck there. There was at least one Cuckoo about which made its presence known from time to time but only showed once or twice without coming close enough to have its photo taken. There was also a surprising group of 2 male Red-crested Pochards, 1 female and a male Tufted Duck joining in. They were restless, departing and re-appearing a few times, and once flew towards me and over the hide which provided this shot.
Red-crested Pochard fly-over

After spending some time here, without much else happening, I decided it was time to go, whereupon just as I was packing up a Kingfisher appeared and settled on a distant perch briefly. I just managed to get onto it before it departed. Always a bird to brighten up even the dullest day (which this was)!
Distant Kingfisher

I then headed back over the causeway meeting a number of arriving birders as I went. It later turned out that two Great Skuas were seen on Farmoor that day, and I have a nasty feeling I could have walked straight past them without noticing! But if I did, none of the arriving birders had seen them by then, either. Note to self - look more beyond the causeway in future, especially on the return leg!

In blissful ignorance of the skuas, I  headed to Lark Hill where the expected Wheatears were again in residence on the underground reservoir. This week I counted up to at least four, so I spent some time trying to get some photos of them. At one point, a nice male approached the boundary chain link fence quite closely and I managed to get this shot through the fence, without too many ill effects on image quality (after a bit of Photo-shopping that is).
Male Wheatear in the rain!

Even better at one point a female flew up onto the fence post closest to me and even stayed there while I got the camera onto to it. At this distance it completely filled the frame, and the close up is probably more effective than the whole bird.

Wheatear on fence post at Lark Hill
Crop of above
Goto this page on my website for larger images of all of the above.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Farmoor: Thames and west side 21 April am

After some midweek success with the possible Iberian Chiffchaff, it was back to more standard fare today...

Attracted by Cuckoo reports and the lovely weather (but too good for overflying migrants?), I decided to head back to the Thames at Farmoor this morning and started at the same place as last week.

Walking north up the Thames path, it was immediately apparent that more Warblers were now "in" than last week. The Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps had now been joined by Lesser Whitethroat and at least two Grasshopper Warblers (one reeling away in the middle of Buckthorn Meadow and the other from the middle of Shrike Meadow). There was also plenty of Sedge Warbler song.

I spent some time in the SM hide but neither saw nor heard a hint of Cuckoo (apart from a very brief snatch of possible "song" - which might well have been human generated!). In fact apart from distant reeling Grasshopper Warbler and similarly invisible Reed/Sedge Warblers and one burst of Cetti's Warbler there was nothing much about.

After the hide  I walked up the zig-zag path to the reservoir bank (west side of FII). The res itself seemed very quiet - no hirundines or terns that I could see. But there was a small brown bird on the waters edge with a Pied Wagtail. On a closer approach this  turned out to be a nice LRP. As ever this species seems pretty wary, but I managed a brief burst of hand-held shots before it was off.

Little Ringed Plover. For larger image, go to my website.

Thereafter I tried Dry Sandford Pit for early damselflies but without any success and this week the Lark Hill reservoir was devoid of birds in the continuing fine weather.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Shrike Meadow, Lark Hill etc: 14 April am

With my current mobility issue, it is difficult to find places for bird photography in Oxon. Today I thought I'd first try Shrike Meadow which isn't too far from the nearest unofficial parking at Lower Whitley Farm.

In the glorious weather, it was a pleasant if uncomfortable walk along the Thames with Chiffchaff and Blackcap very much in evidence - but no sound of any Willow Warblers. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Barn Owl I was hoping for, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that the reeds had been radically cut back from the hide.

So it is now possible to see over what looks like a freshly created pool with the meadow beyond. Unfortunately, although there were distant Reed (or Sedge?) and Cetti's Warblers, there wasn't much else of interest apart from a couple of Snipe, one of which was flushed by a Muntjac Deer.

Thereafter, I tried the north east corner of Dix pit, where there is very close parking.  Morning isn't the best time of day here, as most of the pit is directly into the sun. In the distance, what looked like the Snow Geese flock was close into the SE bank of the pit, and a solitary Common Tern was also super distant. The heronry on the island was  in full swing also with Cormorants and another addition which maybe I shouldn't be mentioning?

Finally I tried Lark Hill, where I was delighted to find a lone female Wheatear on the south facing grassy slope of the underground reservoir - their favourite spot at this site. Regrettably the chain link fence here prevents gets anywhere near close enough for good shots, but at least being tall has one advantage - being able to balance the camera lens on the top of the fence!

Distant female Wheatear at Lark Hill

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Top 50 Gallery

On my website, I've recently extended my gallery of selected bird photos from 35 to create a "Top 50" gallery. Each has a caption giving some background/context to the photo.

To have a look go to this page.  For some tasters see below.

Satin Bowerbird, Australia

Whooping Crane, Texas, USA

Hawfinch, Hampshire

Ural Owl, Hokkaido, Japan