Friday 30 December 2016

Scary Hill, Oxon 30 December 2016

With the thick fog this morning it didn't seem worth going out birding, so I went for a walk on the Downs instead. Afterwards as the fog had mostly cleared and the light was again superb, I went the long way home looking for suitable photo targets from the car.

Driving along the Lambourn to Kingston Lisle road I came across a flock of small birds on some rain water filled pools, where it was possible to park off the road. Of course all the birds flew off as I pulled in, but they didn't go far and shortly one or two actually came back!

I didn't have long as they soon flew off again, and the flock gradually dispersed up the lane. Nevertheless, with the low winter sun behind me, I was pleased with this brief c. 10min stop. How different from the 4 hours waiting for Bittern shots yesterday!

Yellowhammer - go to my website for a larger image

Yellowhammer bathing - go to my website for a larger image

Linnet drinking - go to my website for a larger image

Thursday 29 December 2016

Calvert Lakes BBOWT 29 December 2016

With our Christmas visitors having departed and the weather unexpectedly good, I was at last able to get out with the new lens again! But where to go? After a short deliberation, I decided on the small BBOWT reserve of Calvert Lakes near Bicester, where the Black Audi had clearly had a profitable visit just before Christmas.

With the good weather I was a bit concerned that the hide would be full, as it was last time I visited. In the event, I had no need to worry as I arrived late morning to an empty lay-by and a deserted hide. The light in certain areas was absolutely brilliant, with golden reeds and bright blue sky & water, especially along the left edge of the small "lagoon" in front of hide. But would any birds appear here?

Very shortly afterwards, a Water Rail rushed over the ice from one area of reeds to the next, in front of the hide. It was mostly in shade, moved quickly and was reasonably distant, so not easy to get a sharp image of.

Water Rail on thin ice! 

Only a short while later, a Bittern appeared briefly  at the end of the right hand side channel, again walking on the ice. Unlike the high velocity rail, the Bittern took its time, but was far too distant for really good results.

Bittern also on ice
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After this promising start, there were unfortunately no further photo opps in the almost 4 hours I spent there. The Bittern, having crossed the side channel, appeared about half an hour later at the far left corner of the right-hand triangular patch of reeds. However it remained almost motionless for at least an hour, well withing the reeds. I was hoping it would then emerge and walk around or across the small "lagoon" in front of the hide. But it didn't and instead just vanished back into the same triangle of reeds and never showed again.

While it was visible, another Bittern rose from the back of the same reed triangle and flew a short distance before pitching into the middle of the left hand reed triangle, where it appeared to remain for the duration of my visit!

During the long wait, attention tends to drift to anything avian. Unfortunately the feeders to the left of the hide were empty, unlike my last visit when Marsh Tit(s) were coming to them. Nevertheless a few tits put in brief hopeful appearances, including this one:

Great Tit - note the setting sun next to a tree in the reflection in the bird's eye!

As well as an elevated hide position, the other draw-back with this site is that the light goes off the area in front of the hide very early in the afternoon at this time of year (2pm or even earlier), and so by shortly after 3pm it was pretty dull and clearly time to leave. Nevertheless, it is one of the few places within reach that I know for close(ish) views of Bittern.

Saturday 10 December 2016

Pit 60: December 10th am

Despite the rotten forecast today, the Langley Lane hide seemed the place to start so that if the forecast rain arrived it wouldn't be too problematic. Arriving around 08:30 I was faced with a particularly bleak, grey and uninspiring scene! The light was poor and although there were plenty of the usual winter birds around there was nothing close enough to the hide to get interested in.

The only mildly notable bird was way off in the distance down the other end - a fine male Goosander.

With nothing much doing after more than an hour, I headed off to the North Shore hide to find much the same scene and the light seemed to getting worse by the minute, especially when the predicted rain duly arrived. About the only bird close enough to be of interest was a humble Gadwall.

Gadwall from the North Shore Hide
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Crop of image above

The Goosander was a bit closer from this hide, and two Red-crested Pochard appeared as well. Returning to the Langley Lane Hide, there was again little nearby action, but the Kingfisher did put in a visit - with a momentary perch on the "branch" before speeding off into the distance. 

Cormorant also from the NS hide
Also quite sharp!

Out in the middle of the pit was a single Yellow Legged Gull with a very striking white head, given the time of year. 

Distant Yellow Legged Gull

Sunday 20 November 2016

Otmoor: 19 November pm

It was good to be back in the field today after a few blank weeks due to a combination of the weather and a notable happy family event. For something a bit different today, I thought I would try the Otmoor Starling roost, for the first time ever!

Mindful of the problems with car parking at the weekend, I arrived around midday to already find the place full! Happily a couple of cars left while I was getting ready to head out, so I could park in a proper space. With quite sometime to wait, I wandered down the bridleway and chatted to the Roby's and Tezzer for a few minutes, who put me on to the distant Whitefront family party out on the eastern side of Greenaways. Arriving at the first screen, there was some seating available and I settled in for a wait. Quite soon a fly past Bittern appeared but it was too distant for good results with my current lens.
Somewhat distant Bittern
Unfortunately that was about it in terms of action from the first screen, apart from a distant Marsh Harrier that was, as usual, too far away to be of much photographic interest. 

After sometime I decided to head off to the second hide which was too full of people and so I didn't say long. With the seats occupied, this place is incredibly uncomfortable for tall people since the viewing cutouts are too low, requiring me to stoop to see anything much! There was however plenty of distant Bittern activity to keep the others happy. 

So after this brief interlude, I headed back to the first screen to wait for the Starlings which duly appeared from about 15:40 onwards (just when Tezzer had forecast!). Viewing was  less than peaceful with several families including small children. One even had a baby while there was another group of people in high vis clothing! Still everyone seemed happy enough with the display (apart from the baby, who made his/her feelings abundantly clear). 

There was a brief murmuration before the first big group dived down into the reeds, right in front of the screen but thereafter later birds just went straight in. Others caught a brief glimpse of a ringtail Hen Harrier at the back, but I missed it unfortunately. Switching lens to the kit standard lens I got with my first DSLR in 2006, I tried several Starling shots, of which the one below probably shows the limited murmuration best. 

Limited Starling murmuration
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Others reckoned there were of order 50,000 birds present. It was almost completely dark by the time I got back to an emptier car park, having passed a couple of birders who had had brief views of an SEO and a Barn Owl emerging from the car park field. 

Saturday 29 October 2016

Pit 60 etc: Saturday 29th October

There seemed no point in an early start on this dark, dank morning! In fact, I wasn't sure of the wisdom of venturing out at all. However Badger's helpful text, and the post on the Oxon Bird Log of a Snow Bunting were sufficient to get me moving. Nevertheless, it wasn't until well after 11am that I reached the Farmoor car park. I then decided to call Dai to check for the latest info, only to be told it had probably gone some time ago!

Badger also confirmed its absence, so I made an abrupt change of plan and headed off to Standlake - once out I could really just turn round and go back home, could I?! Arriving in due course at a deserted Langley Lane hide at Pit 60, a very grey scene presented itself. But almost immediately some colour in the form of a Kingfisher flashed past, so I settled in for a wait, hoping for a return visit.

Nothing else came remotely close enough to be worth photographing, and I tried to pass the time by counting the Mute Swans - there were about 75 of them, plus the Black one still. After some time, the Kingfisher suddenly re-appeared and landed on the top of the "branch", which is a bit closer to the hide than the "post". It then almost immediately immediately dived into the water, caught a fish, and returned to the branch, albeit lower down. It stayed for just long enough for a few shots, before zooming off again, with its fish - which looked a remarkably large one for it to swallow!

Posting this pic on the Oxon Bird Log soon elicited the ID of the fish - a perch.

Kingfisher with Perch
Kingfisher before catching the Perch

Thereafter, it was pretty quiet, apart from some very distant snatches of song that sounded to me like a Cetti's Warbler, but I couldn't be sure as they were very brief and distant.

There were plenty of the usual ducks to be seen, including Wigeon (now coming out of eclipse) and Teal. A Buzzard landed on the north shore, but with the light getting even worse after a couple of hours, it seemed time to head back.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Dorset and Norfolk - 8th - 22nd October

Here is a brief account and some photos from a low key, hastily arranged couple of weeks in Dorset and Norfolk - rather closer to home than where we had hoped to be in October. There was just one real highlight - a lifer in the second week in Norfolk! For more details, read on!

For the first week, we returned to Weymouth, where we had had a pleasant week last October. Bird-wise, this was not terribly productive and the only photos worth showing came from the RSPB Lodmoor Reserve, where the western path was again good for confiding waders that have become used to the almost constant stream of people. Unlike last year, both species of Godwit were showing well.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit. Visit my website for a larger image

Round the back of the reserve, along a road by some residential houses there was reputed to be a Starling flock with one juvenile Rose-coloured Starling in it. When we arrived at the right spot, there were no Starlings of any species on view, but there was a lot of Starling chatter coming from the adjacent hedge! A helpful birder advised waiting awhile as periodically they emerged from the hedge onto the wires above and flew over the road to feed in the local gardens, he said.

After sometime, we managed to spot the Rose-coloured Starling in the hedge itself, where the view was of course partially obscured by twigs etc. During the time we were there it never showed on the wires and when it flew it disappeared from view into the garden opposite. Having seen the one in Oxfordshire a few years ago, this wasn't a terribly exciting bird - I await an adult which of course would be much more spectacular!
Rose-coloured Starling

The nearby RSPB Radipole reserve was pretty quiet, but produced  a reasonable view of the normally elusive Cetti's Warbler and a couple of Bearded Tits briefly in flight. There was no sign of the Hooded Merganser that had provided some entertainment last year, although it was supposed to be still around.

We also tried halfheartedly for Yellow-browed Warblers on Portland but had no success despite several being reported while we were there - mainly from the "Craft Centre" which doesn't exist anymore and is therefore a fairly useless location to report birds at!

Somewhat further afield, the RSPB Arne reserve (due to be hosting BBC Autumn Watch this week) was reasonably interesting with a couple of very wary Dartford Warblers and in the opposite direction from the car park, distant Spoonbills (in large numbers) and 1 Great White Egret. We also had a brief glimpse of rutting Sitka Deers (which will no doubt feature on Autumn Watch).

The dominant Sitka Stag

Our normal route to the north Norfolk coast involves a slight diversion to the WWT Welney reserve and with the Whoopers having returned it seemed worth a short visit. Unusually, one was showing quite close to the path, over a relatively high bank - that I was able to see over!
Whooper Swan

From the next hide along there were distant views of a remarkable flock of 17 Cranes, that are believed to be wild birds from the general area, including perhaps the Lakenheath birds. They never came close but were still an impressive sight.
7 of the flock of 17 Cranes

Back at the main hide, I set about trying to find the White-fronts that had been reported and sure enough quickly located some on the far bank. However a small group of them suddenly decided to head over towards us. They came quite close, before thinking better of it, and heading rapidly away.
White-fronted Goose (presumed wild). Visit my website for a larger image

By the time we arrived in Norfolk the persistent easterlies, that had brought it several rarities including all the megas further north over the last couple of weeks, had abruptly stopped as did the influx of interesting birds. Nevertheless for the first couple of days a few were left for us to look for. First up was a Radde's Warbler that had been "showing well" the day before up a muddy track at Warham Greens. By the time we arrived the following morning, parking was difficult and we ended up with a fair walk in to the spot, where we found a group of up to about 20 birders looking for it. 

"Oh it was showing about 20mins ago", we were told! Of course for the next couple of hours at least there was no further sign and the appeal of this particular hedgerow was steadily waning. However just I was beginning to think we were going to be unlucky it suddenly appeared! It was worth the wait and a nice lifer! It then proceeded over the next hour or so to lead everyone a merry dance working its way up and down both sides of the hedge, showing from time to time, but only very occasionally was it completely out of cover.

The shot below is my favourite as it is nice and contrasty with an action pose. The bird could also be seen at times from the other side of the hedge, looking more into the light, which gave a flatter image, as shown in the third photo below. 
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The frame immediately before the one above
Radde's Warbler after a considerable wait!

Thereafter our stay was not particularly memorable. The following day we tried for a Dusky Warbler near Cromer but gave up after a 2+ hour wait during which time there was only one possible sighting by someone who initially sounded confident.  But he then rapidly became less certain when talking to the local who had found it! It was not however reported again after we departed that day, nor the next.

At Titchwell, the main path again gave some reasonable photo opps in the afternoon and I was fortunate to have a very brief sunny spell to get the Little Egret shot below. There was however no sign of the Shore Lark on the beach, reported the previous day, nor any other particularly notable birds, other than a few distant Avocets.  

Little Egret. Visit my website for a larger image

Almost immediately we returned home the easterlies came back, bringing with them some nice birds including both Isabelline and  Desert Wheatears.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Farmoor: 22nd October

With thick fog first thing, clearly an afternoon visit to Farmoor was called for today. Unfortunately however there was little sign of the forecast sunny intervals and it remained uniformly overcast throughout my stay.

Walking across the causeway, there were plenty of Meadow Pipits and a single Rock Pipit but of course my main objective was the Grey Phalarope that Ewan had found yesterday afternoon in brilliant sunny conditions! This was about as far from the car park as it could be - in the north west corner of F1. It was showing well, as they say, with several attendant admirers.

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Grey Phalarope on a grey day!

Sunday 2 October 2016

Pit 60 - Saturday 1 October am

Where better to spend a wet Saturday morning than the dry Langley Lane hide at Pit 60? Actually, I can think of a few, with the trip down under that wasn't to be foremost in my mind at present. Indeed there was even a faint reminder of what we would be missing in the form of a plastic Black Swan.

Still when I arrived the light was fantastic, and there was brilliant sun on the Kingfisher post, but there was one thing missing - the bird. This did appear but not until later by which time it was overcast and then shortly after very dull and wet.

There was no sign of the star bird of recent months - the Great White Egret and really the only other mildly notable birds were a flock of 50+ hirundines (mostly House Martins with a few Swallows) brought down by the rain, and two pairs of distant Red-Crested Pochard.

A couple of Little Grebes did however provide some interest in front of the hide, as did a Teal that arrived just as I was about to go.

Little Grebe with Bullhead

Kingfisher on the rather distant post

Teal underneath the hide

Sunday 25 September 2016

Otmoor: 24 September

What a difference a week makes! Unlike last Saturday, today was warm, quite sunny and dry. As the Purple Heron doesn't appear to be an early riser these days, there seemed no point in getting there much earlier than 09:45, which was I arrived last week.

As last week,I positioned myself part way along the bridleway and settled in for a wait. Unlike last week, the conditions were quite pleasant but interest was limited to a few Migrant Hawkers, numerous Common Darters and the Hornets that were zapping up and down the path. A Kingfisher flashed past along the ditch below at one point and a couple of Snipe flew in, but that was about it.

Eventually I tired of this, and decided on a change of scene at the first blind. This was marginally better with a too distant Marsh Harrier and a closer Hobby. After a while here, it seemed worth returning to the bridleway to see if there had been any sightings of the Purple Heron.  Back on the bridleway, a couple of Hobbies were providing brief entertainment, especially when one of them came really close briefly:

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This image is a BirdGuides Notable photo

This bird was moving fast, very fast, as can be judged from the image below which was only one frame or 0.1 sec earlier than the one above. All credit to the 7D mkII AF system for this response speed, especially as I had the x1.4TC on.

After this productive interlude, news emerged that somebody had seen the Purple Heron at about 12:30, and it had flown into some reeds to the west of the diagonal path. On hearing this, a few of us moved a bit closer to this location and waited. At around 13:15, Jon Mercer spotted it flying left from the reeds and away from us. It appeared to land in the south west corner of Greenaways but there was no further sign by about 14:00 after I had walked back to there. So this distant record shot was all that I could manage.

Distant Purple Heron

Sunday 18 September 2016

Otmoor: 17 September am - Got it!

After a busy week away on business and a late return home on Friday night, I didn't make it to Otmoor until about 09:45, for my second attempt to see the Purple Heron. I started by the cattle pens, but Tezzer helpfully suggested moving further along the bridleway would be a better spot. After only about 20mins, Paul Greenaway passed by saying he had seen it down the western end of Greenaways, so I moved a bit further along.

Here I settled in for a wait and fortunately some others stopped as well - the more eyes looking the better in my experience. It then began to rain and things didn't look good, but it eventually stopped. At around 11:30 the cry of "there it is" went up, and I just managed to get onto it as it flew over 2 black cows before landing distantly towards the north eastern corner of Greenaways. I could now relax and hope for better views and maybe some pics. However, although I saw it again in flight 2-3 times over the next couple of hours, over on the eastern side of the diagonal track, it was always very brief sightings of a distant bird, flying low over the ground. Still the main thing was to have seen it!

Many thanks to the sharp eyed guy who spotted it first (I never got his name)!

Saturday 10 September 2016

A wet Saturday! 10 September

With the heavy rain this morning, I decided another visit to Pit 60 was called for. The hides would provide sufficient shelter and there was always the possibility of the Great White Egret still being around, although I'd seen no reports of it during the week.

However, following Leo's latest posting it seemed well worth trying a quick visit to Lark Hill en-route. At this site, it is often possible to find some birds almost without leaving the car - just what was needed in these conditions! With minimal effort I found that inside the fenced reservoir compound, there were 2 Whinchats and at least 3 Wheatears, mostly happily feeding on the mown grass despite the rain. 

At the Langley Lane Hide at Pit 60, I was pleased to see the Great White Egret immediately I arrived, but it was right down the far end on the southern bank. So I settled in for a wait, hoping that it, or something else, would come closer. Initially there was no sign of any waders, but eventually a Common Sandpiper and then 2 Green Sands showed, although not close enough for any pics. A Kingfisher also appeared very briefly, and flew onto the straight post in front of the hide, but this is quite distant and the light was awful.

Meanwhile, the GW Egret was walking back along the southern shore, gradually getting closer. It then flew over to the north shore, without ever getting to an 'interesting' distance. Now last time it did this, I had watched as it ended up walking right past a deserted North Shore hide. So when it seemed to be showing some signs of moving in that direction, I decided to risk it, and make a move to that hide. On arrival, although it wasn't very close, opening the shutters seemed to scare it, and it flew a short distance to a prominent rock where it proceeded to spend a long time preening. Eventually, it decided it was feeding time again, and seemed to have forgotten about the small disturbance from the hide, because it started walking in my direction! 

After a few false starts, it progressed along the shore line, going right in front of the hide. From this hide the shore is more distant than from the LL hide, so there was no problem getting the whole bird in the frame. Right at its closest point, it was attacked by a Grey Heron and flew, but I managed to get a few frames of it before it went out of view behind the closed right hand shutters.

The light for these photos was very dull and soft in the rain which probably helped to some extent as normally one is looking right into the light from this hide which isn't good at all for photos.

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Great White Egret
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Sunday 4 September 2016

Standlake Pit 60: 3rd Sept am

It was back to Pit 60 again today for another Great White Egret attempt. This time on arrival I was somewhat surprised to find the Langley Lane hide already occupied by two others and that the Egret was showing, albeit distantly on the south shore. Shortly afterwards it became more active and flew across the lake to the north shore, and then proceeded to fly again along the shore towards our hide and the north east corner. This provided some opportunities for some rather too distant photos, but they were much better than nothing.

Thereafter the star bird moved back along the north shore, past the north shore hide (which was probably unoccupied at the time) and then back to the south shore where it seemed happiest feeding a couple metres off the shore line. It remained there for the rest of the morning at least.

Great White Egret

It was also good to find that at least one Greenshank was present, which came past the hide 2-3 times, this time giving slightly better photo opps than last week. In addition, there was also a glimpse of a high velocity Kingfisher going past in a hurry - showing no sign of stopping!

Thereafter, having spent some 4hrs in the hide, the rain arrived and with the terrible light it didn't seem worth staying any longer. A return via Lark Hill (car only) drew a complete blank for a second or third time this autumn.

For a larger image, go to my website.

Monday 29 August 2016

Baulking & Shellingford: 29 August

With the glorious bank holiday weather this afternoon, it was time to switch back into dragonfly mode especially as the season is coming to a close. I was also keen to try out my new 100-400 zoom lens on dragonflies for the first time, after it had worked rather well for the Little Stints last weekend.

First of all, I headed to Baulking Pit to see what that had to offer - not somewhere I have tried much before for Odonata. This was notable for the the unusual sight of a couple of Spitfires performing a flying display for the White Horse Show in nearby Uffington! Less welcome was a proliferation of notices telling people to keep out and stick to the public footpaths only.

Around the pit, there was quite an impressive collection of late season dragonflies to be seen, with masses of Common Blue Damsels, one late Black-tailed Skimmer and 20+ of both Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be much scope for photos here.

Nearby Shellingford Pit was again desperately in need of more water - I just hope the best pool, which is very shallow, doesn't dry out completely before the autumn rains arrive. Despite the low water levels, there were still a few Small Red-eyed Damsels around, plus several Migrant Hawkers and Common Darter. The great thing about this site is that it can be really good for photography, and today was no exception, so there were several opportunities to try out the new 100-400 lens, as I had hoped. Unusually for this site, unfortunately the Migrant Hawkers were not obliging for flight shots.

Migrant Hawker - the upper image is a crop of the lower one.

Common Darter