Sunday, 18 February 2018

Australia Trip Report now ready!

After a good deal of preparation my trip report for Australia in last October is finally available on my website!

This features a detailed account of the various places visited, birds seen and of course there are plenty of photos of the birds and other wildlife of this amazing continent.

The report is split into different pages for ease of navigation, as follows:

1. Introduction
Info about travel, logistics, weather etc

2. Singapore 
Account of our 4 night stay en-route to our main destination.
Crimson Sunbird
3. Darwin & Kakadu
Phase 1 of our Australian adventure featuring, pittas, waders, water birds and many others.

Rainbow Pitta
Rainbow Beeeater 

4. Cairns & the wet tropics
Phase 2. 8 night mini tour of this amazing area. Southern Cassowarys, Victoria's Riflebird, Great and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds etc.

Victoria's Riflebird
5. O'Reillys
Phase 3. Only 3 nights but what superb birds - colourful, exotic and very tame! Shame about the rain...
King Parrot

Phase 4. Close up views of breeding sea birds everywhere on an island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkeling with Manta Rays. Another extraordinary place for birds and other wildlife.
Red-tailed Tropicbird

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Hampshire puddle: Monday 12 February

After several miserably dank Saturdays, I resolved it was time for a change and arranged to day take a rare day off work! My aim was to chase Hawfinches at an out of county location where they come down to the ground, thereby affording better photo opps than those in Oxon that seem confined to being in trees, usually the tops thereof. Parkend is a destination I've been to before, without great success, but I was considering another attempt until I read both the Black Audi Birding and Old Caley blogs that have negative recent reports. Then  along came Black Audi's very positive report of a puddle in Hampshire!

So with a good weather forecast for Monday, and a leisurely start in prospect that was where I headed, not arriving until around 11:00 - hopefully in good time for their "peak" showing times from about noon onwards. On arrival, I wasn't out of the car a moment before being asked by another birder where to go - it later dawned on me it was half term week - probably my first mistake! 

Now given Black Audi's excellent directions, and the satellite view on Google Maps I reckoned I had worked out the exact spot, and a short cut to it. I soon found out I was spot on - it can't have taken more than 5mins to get there. On arrival I found a quite large group of birders, arranged in a line across the entrance to a track through the woods, all looking at a large puddle with decorative moss on the far bank. It took me sometime to spot the camouflaged originator of this setup - an extraordinarily dedicated photographer kneeling down under netting to the right, and very close to the water! 

I managed to just squeeze myself into the left hand end of this line of photo-birders and found Black Audi there again in person - clearly eager for more! The setup was superb, with the sun behind and glorious light on the moss-banked water. All it needed was some birds... 

So I sat down to wait. And wait, and wait... From time to time Hawfinches would show in the distance, but they were far too distant for worthwhile pics. Just once one dropped down closer for a few seconds but for some reason I couldn't get onto to it before it flew off. That was it. The hours passed and the only bird to drink from the puddle was a Woodpigeon. Something was clearly different from Black Audi's visit last week. Perhaps as it was half-term week there were too many birders. Perhaps it was the weather - too much rain recently so the birds could easily drink elsewhere There was also some disturbance in the form of dogs, their walkers, and even the local cat! For whatever reason, the puddle remained a bird free zone. 

Only right at the end of the afternoon did I try a different spot, around the back of the same trees, where Black Audi had just managed to see some Hawfinches out in the open feeding on the grass. But by the time he'd come back to tell me they were there, they had of course gone not to return. 

The only partial success I had was by creeping to the edge of the trees, and looking into them, where some Hawfinches were dropping down to feed on the ground. One suddenly appeared pretty close, but my view was partially obscured by twigs etc. The resulting photos looked like they had been taken in heavy mist, but it is amazing what can be done in Photoshop and some other software I use! So not a completely fruitless visit after all...

Click here to see a larger image on my website

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Australia October 2017

I have at last been through most of the 18,500 photos I took in Australia back in October 2017, and prepared a gallery of a selection of about 100 of them on my website.

This was definitely the trip of a lifetime, and we managed to see most of our targets. The most striking thing was how tame so many of the species were - making it is so much easier to get quality photos than in the UK. Many were also very colourful - see below for a good example!

Crimson Rosella at O'Reilly's, Queensland, Australia

To go to the gallery, click here.  A written, illustrated trip report will follow in due course...

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Yelford & Northmoor

With Mick kindly posting on the Oxon Bird Log the previous day about a new location for Hawfinches at Northmoor Church, and Jim having reported flooding at Pit 60, my quickly formulated plan for my usual Sat am birding was to try Yelford for the Kumlien's Gull followed by Northmoor for yet another Hawfinch hunt.

The weather was dank, misty and dull when I arrived at Yelford and there were no gulls whatsoever in what I presumed was the right field, just to the west of the village. So I didn't hang around long before heading the short distance over to Northmoor - to find several birders already in and around the church yard. To my surprise there were even some Hawfinches to be seen, almost immediately after my arrival (at around 10:15am)! They were typically coming into the tall, bare trees around the church, including one right by the road at the front. It quickly became apparent that they were then diving into the adjacent yew tree to feed, whereupon they would disappear from view, appearing only briefly.

Remarkably, and despite the miserable forecast, the sun even came out briefly which gave superb light on the birds, when viewed from the vicinity of the church, and the boundary fence. They were still a bit distant, but the views were much better than I'd had previously at Barnard Gate or Ardington. I counted up to 8 in a single flock, and Nick saw 9. There could well have been more. Sadly as others started arriving, the birds seemed to melt away at around 11:30 and the sunny conditions evaporated.

I returned via Yelford, but there was again no sign of any gulls.


For some larger images, see my website.

The flight shot was, I have to confess, an unintentional and very lucky one! I took a burst of images, as I often do, and while the shutter was clicking away at 10 frames/sec the bird decided to depart, in a direct approximately perpendicular to my viewing direction. This allowed the focus to be still reasonably OK and the fast shutter time kept the raw image fairly sharp.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Ardington: 29 December

Ever since Leo first started posting records of Hawfinch from Ardington, I have been making sporadic brief visits to try to see them but without any success. Today, with more specific instructions I was resolved to try a bit harder. So I parked opposite the pub and walked back to the lane which runs parallel with the turn to the Lockinge Estate office. About 100m up this lane on the left is a wooden gate that affords reasonable views over a small field/paddock surrounded by tall trees on 3 sides (at about 51.593342,-1.379923).

On arrival, there was nothing to be seen, so I waited around for a bit.  After perhaps 1/2 hr, a Hawfinch flew into the top of a tree on the north edge of the field. It didn't stay there long, and then flew over the field to a v tall tree in the SW corner (which is adjacent to the driveway up to the Lockinge Estate office), where it was joined by a second bird. They stayed there for only a few minutes before flying left and vanishing.

It then started to rain hard, so I decided to try a walk around the village, which produced nothing, neither did a brief foray into the church yard, nor a quick return to the wooden gate.

The photos I got were definitely in the record shot only category:

Distant Hawfinches
For slightly larger images, go to my website.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Harwell etc 16 December

Last week I'd had an unproductive visit to Pit 60, so today I thought I'd just briefly investigate some local sites instead, in between family committments. Following recent BirdGuide reports of Hawfinch at Ardington, I tried there first but a brief visit to the churchyard and a slow drive around the village produced no sign.

I then tried the publicly accessible areas of Harwell Lab which can be good at this time of year for winter thrushes. Sure enough, as last week, there were plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares around. But both were quite wary, even when trying to use the car as a mobile hide. In the limited time available,  I had only one brief encounter with a fairly close Redwing.


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Hawfinch hunt: Barnard Gate 2 December 2017

Having failed a couple of times to connect with the Hawfinch invasion, I was resolved to try to make this third time lucky. So having got some useful info from Gnome, I headed to the Eynsham Hall Gate House. Naturally come the weekend, the weather had changed so instead of the lovely blue skies and sub-zero temperatures during the week, it was now dank, very grey but still cold.

Arriving at c. 09:30 there was a Fieldfare in the laden berry bush in front of the Gate House, but no sign of anything resembling a large finch in the tree tops. And so it stayed. An hour passed without a lot happening, apart from Great-spotted and Green Woodpecker fly pasts. Another hour passed and I began to think about giving it up, but I resolved to give it until 12:00.

Just before I was going to leave, I made a phone call, whereupon midway through the call I spotted a couple of birds that looked just right for Hawfinch fly into a distant tree, behind the ones behind the Gate House! Cutting the call short, I was able to confirm the ID but they were not easy to photo, being obscured by a tree in front. After just a few minutes they flew down lower and disappeared. A good time to go and warm up in the car!

Hawfinch record shot

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Pit 60, Letcombe Bassett 4 Nov & Australia (all of Oct)!

In case anyone was wondering where the Tall Birder was... Well, I'm now back in Oxon after a great month in Australia! The contrast has been pretty marked, in terms of weather, season, temperature and birds! From a hot early spring, we have fast forwarded to typical dank, cool mid autumnal English conditions, while the birds have gone from being exotic, colourful and above all NEW, to the usual...

Pit 60 in the rain was not the greatest welcome back, being very quiet with only a fly past Kingfisher (showing no sign of stopping at the perches in front of the LL hide) and a distant Little Egret of any note.

The cress beds at Letcombe Bassett were slightly better with a closer Little Egret, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail.

Little Egret (c) Letcombe Bassett

Now we also saw Little Egrets in Australia, but they weren't exactly the highlight of the trip! More later on this superb birding destination in a trip report on my website - once I've waded through all the masses of images I took!

However, here is short taster of things to come:

Crimson Rosella

Satin Bowerbird  at bower

Regent's Bowerbird

Rainbow Pitta

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Farmoor: 21 September

A helpful text from Badger, received while at work, first alerted me to the Red-necked Phalarope that had been found earlier that day. As I still work full time, it is difficult to drop everything and chase after rarities, unlike many others in the county it seems!  But having missed the one at Bicester two years ago, I was keen to add this one to my ailing county list. So managing to escape slightly early from work, I  had to first dash home for all my optics and then head up to Farmoor. Consequently it wasn't until around 17:45 that I arrived in the car park (i.e. only just over an hour before sunset).

Walking up onto the reservoir bank, it wasn't long until I found a departing birder who told me that the bird had fortunately moved away from the NW corner of F1 (which is about the furthest point from car parking there is at the res) to the much closer NE corner. Arriving shortly afterwards, the phalarope was characteristically bobbing around in the "surf" at the water's edge. Only two others were in attendance. They then shortly departed, so I had the bird all to myself briefly. 

Initially the bird was very much silhouetted against a low sun which wasn't conducive to good photography, but when this sank into cloud, the light was much softer which helped with these shots. Unfortunately I only had about 30mins on the bird before it became too dark for pics - even so these were taken at ISO 3200, in an effort to keep the shutter time to a minimum.

This bird was rather more cooperative, and just a bit closer than last weeks Osprey!

 Go to my website for a larger image
Go to my website for a larger image

Red-necked Phalarope (juv)

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Radley Lakes: 16 September

With the Grey Phalaropes having departed, an early-ish morning visit to Radley Lakes seemed the best idea. Arriving at the Osprey's favoured site just before 8am, I found a number of birders had already arrived and were looking at the bird which was sitting in a tree over the far side of the lake:

Osprey in tree

At around 08:45 it took off, caught a fish (out of sight behind an island) and then disappeared, all in a remarkably short space of time (about 20 sec)! Photos were somewhat distant, so heavy cropping was needed. 

Osprey in flight
See also my website for larger images