Tuesday 31 December 2019

Short-eared Owls - 30 December

Full days of sunshine are at a premium at this time of year, and it was good to be able to go out of the county again, this time in search of one of my favourite birds - Short-eared Owls. Unlike last year, when I drew a blank, this afternoon I was more fortunate with at least 3 birds seen from about 14:00 onwards. Although most sightings were distant, once or twice they came closer.

This photo is one of the last I got, shortly before sunset, very much in the "golden-hour". I was surprised afterwards to see this bird was carrying a prey item  - perhaps a Field Mouse?

Any other suggestions on the prey item?

Short-eared Owl with prey.
To see a higher-res image, go to this page on my website.

The photo below was taken earlier on, and was of a hunting lower down:

Short-eared Owl hunting.
To see a higher-res image, go to this page on my website.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Farmoor: 21 December

Fortunately I was already at Farmoor when Stuart found the Slavonian Grebe, having had fruitless but relatively short sessions in both hides (apart from a single Siskin briefly in the top of the feeders tree from the SM hide).

I spent some time waiting for the grebe to come close, which it didn't, before realising nearer views could be had from a bit further up on the W side of F2. By then the cloud had started to roll in, but fortunately the sun came out again briefly.

With the sun out, the huge contrast between the white parts on the bird and the rest of it caused some issues, but it is amazing what can be done with the computer afterwards!

For a larger image, go to this page on my website.

Slavonian Grebe
For a larger image, go to this page on my website.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Norfolk Early December 2019

See photos below from a remarkably sunny week on the north Norfolk coast in early December. En-route there we had a profitable stop at the Welney WWT which was completely flooded, with only the main hide accessible.

To see higher res images, go to this gallery on my website. For some further details on the trip, go here.

Rough-legged Buzzard at Wells

Tree Sparrow at Welney WWT

Cattle Egret at Welney WWT

Whooper Swan at Welney WWT

Barwit on Titchwell beach

Knot on Titchwell mud

Pink-footed Goose at Lady Anne Drive

Twite at Thornham

Happy Christmas everyone!

Sunday 15 December 2019

Bittern and Water Rail in Bucks - 14 December

For some reason other birders seem coy over naming this site in Bucks, so perhaps I had better follow suit!

Keen for a change from my usual rather unproductive Oxon haunts, the draughty hide with no door overlooking a small reedbed came to mind, especially as I'd seen accounts from at least one other Oxon birder, who had had some success there recently.

With the hide being on the western side of the lake, it made sense to me to aim for an afternoon visit, and so after the morning rain had abruptly given way to much sunnier conditions, I set off for the hour long drive via Bicester, arriving around 12:15. I was initially dismayed to find two cars already parked in the tiny area available but relieved when one of the occupants shortly appeared and departed.

I found the hide occupied only by Rob, who it seems spends a great deal of time there. He reported I'd just missed a brief Bittern sighting, but the only previous one had been 3hrs earlier, and that there was now probably only one bird present. He also said that the high current water level was reducing the number of Bittern sightings considerably.

However after a mere hour of waiting, I spotted a familiar shape at the right hand edge of the right hand channel through the reeds. The Bittern then proceeded to wade/swim across the few meters of open water, taking about 20 sec to do so. Only when it had almost disappeared again did it emerge into sunlight (for about 1 second). Prior to that it had been in shade which gave a dark silhouette against the bright water. 

For a larger image, go to this page on my website

Thereafter, the sun soon left the whole reed bed area but I spent a further couple of hours there without any repeat Bittern sightings, leaving around 15:15. Thanks to Rob for entertaining me with a succession of his phone-scoped videos, which included a remarkable one of a Water Rail attempting to drown a Kingfisher (that eventually escaped and managed to fly off, albeit weakly).

Talking of Water Rails, one was visible here for long periods and once it came to the near shore and  very briefly posed for a photo.

Water Rail

Friday 27 September 2019

Otterbourne - Kingfisher hide - 20 September

Last autumn I had a less than stunning visit to the Nature Photography Hides near Droitwich for perched Kingfisher photos. On that visit there had been only one bird coming into the perches and it appeared infrequently during the morning and not at all during the afternoon. Light was also a problem, with the perches in shade for most of the day. However in the long periods of waiting for the bird to show, I learned from a fellow photographer about a hide that was reputedly much better with plenty of visits from multiple birds through the day. The place he was referring to was Pete Whieldon's setup at Otterbourne near Winchester.

For one reason or another, it took me some time to get round to trying this one. I was also keen to try something different with Kingfishers - diving shots which sounded to be considerably more challenging and required a special setup. To take full advantage of this opportunity, given its considerable cost, I was determined to visit on a bright, sunny day. So with a consistent forecast for  sun virtually all day, every day, this week, I enquired about availability and was told there was no problem for either the Friday or Saturday.

For this hide, you need to arrive at 07:30 which required a pretty early start, but at least I avoided the worst of the rush hour traffic and arrived dead on time.

Pete met me on arrival, unlocked the gate to let me in, and showed me to the hide which was only about a 1min walk from the car. I had the place to myself, and I was able to setup two cameras and lenses, with one  (100-400 f5.6 II) trained on the spot below the perch where the birds dive, and the other (500f4 II) mounted on a gimbal head and plate provided by Pete.

Having shown me the setup, Pete then departed and I sat down to wait for some action. It didn't take long for the first visit, which was followed by many repeats by up to 3 different birds. I counted a total of about 20 dives between about 08:15 and 15:40 when I departed. Even during the quietest part of the day (unsurprisingly between about 12:00 and 14:00) there were visits about every hour, some with multiple dives.

However the snag about this hide was the shade cast by the surrounding trees, which were of course in full leaf. The perches and dive spot were only in full sun for a brief period mid morning and then again between about 12:15 and 15:30. It was during these periods that all my shots below came from. The others with the bird in shade and the background fully sunlit weren't up to much. Pete stated that once the leaves have fallen the lighting is considerably better here.

Nevertheless, overall this session a good start to the art of Kingfisher dive photography:

For a gallery of all the hi res photos from this trip, see this page on my website.

For a high res version of this photo, click here

For a high res version of this photo, click here

For a high res version of this photo, click here

There was also plenty of opportunity for perched shots on natural looking props:

For a high res version of this photo, click here

For a high res version of this photo, click here

For a high res version of this photo, click here

For a gallery of all the hi res photos from this trip, see this page on my website.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Farmoor: 19th September AM

This morning I was planning to try again at Wytham Woods for the recently reported Willow Emerald Damselfly (a first for the county reported by Steve Brooks last week), but on checking the Oxon Birding Log it mentioned a Little Stint at Farmoor. As these diminutive waders are one of my favourites, I quickly changed my plans.

As with most of its species, this one was very confiding and happily roosting, preening and feeding on the causeway in the company of a Dunlin. There was also the Ruff a little further on.

Little Stint
For a larger version, go to this page on my website

Little Stint with Dunlin behind
For a larger version, go to this page on my website

Sunday 11 August 2019

At last! Shrike Meadow 9 August AM

Round about this time last year, I suggested to Dai that a post in front of the Shrike Meadow hide would be a good idea, with the aim of bringing in a Kingfisher that had been frequenting the more distant tree. Dai then had a word with Thames Water and, to their great credit, in time a post duly appeared!

However it has taken many visits on my part since then, though last autumn, the winter and then the spring & summer this year to finally connect with this bird. Others may have seen it from time to time, but despite many hours of waiting it never showed for me, until today that is!

Remarkably it was a good session with some sunny intervals and the bird showing three times between about 09:00 and 13:00. The first two of these visits were extended to as much as 30-45mins, with plenty of dives. These gave me a chance to try for flight shots as well as the much easier post shots.

Go to this galley to see more higher res photos from this session.

What this bird really needs now is a better, more natural looking perch. Anyone else agree?

Sunday 21 July 2019

Shrike Meadow 20 July

I spent quite some time hoping for the Kingfisher to appear, but it didn't. Despite the strong wind and only occasional sunny intervals, there were fortunately some dragonflies to provide very welcome entertainment. Found another use for the 500f4 with the x2 converter - distant settled dragonflies! I used the 100-400 for the flight shots.

Brown Hawker

Emperor ovipositing
Four-spotted Chaser

Friday 7 June 2019

Scotland trip report

For further info on the photos I posted earlier from Scotland, a trip report is now available on my website.

Unringed Osprey

Monday 3 June 2019

Colin revisited 1 June 2019

Having made two trips last year, a visit to see Colin this year was well overdue. So with a good forecast, today seemed a good opportunity.

Arriving on-site at about 10 am I was told I had just missed him, as he had visited at around 09:30. It was then a fair wait until about 12:00 when he reappeared for about 30 mins. His next visitation wasn't until around 15:30 which didn't last as long, but was photographically more productive. After that it was time to depart.

Being a fine Saturday, there were up to about a dozen other photographers present throughout, but there seemed plenty of room for everyone.

Although the Redstart was singing almost non-stop during the morning, it never came in. In fact the only only bird of interest was this delightful Stonechat that arrived mid afternoon. 

To see a gallery of larger versions of all the above photos and more, go to this page on my website. 

Sunday 2 June 2019

Scotland May 2019

See below for a selection of photos from my recent 4 day trip to the Aviemore area of Scotland, via Aberdeen. For more and larger photos go to this gallery on my website.

Ospreys at Rothiemurchus Fishery headed the bill:

But there were some other nice birds in the area as well:

Black-throated Diver
Slavonian Grebe
Wood Warbler

Sunday 12 May 2019

South coast weekend 4/5 May

We spent a couple of nights on the south coast, staying in Chichester for the bank holiday weekend 4/5 May.

On the 4 May, Titchfield Haven proved quiet with only Avocets coming moderately close to the hide from time to time. The only waders at high tide along the shore were Turnstones,  a few of which were in summer plumage.

By the time we got to nearby Farlington Marshes, the tide was well out and there was little to see, apart from a distant Little Tern, and several Whimbrel, one of which appeared to tolerate our presence more than most, but still too distant for worthwhile photos.

The following day, we strolled down to the coast at the new RSPB reserve of Medmerry which was also quiet apart from some breeding Avocets on the Stilt pool, a fly over Whimbrel and close in Sandwich Terns on the shoreline.

Later we tried Pagham Harbour and found the Ferry Pool  quiet even at high tide. The harbour itself at Church Norton was however better...

While sitting on the bench that overlooks the harbour down the track from Church Norton, and trying to ID distant terns over their island, I suddenly became aware that the nearby marshy area contained some Whimbrel. Not only that, they seemed fairly confiding and by sitting still this one eventually came pretty close. It even then tolerated me getting up to follow its movement along the shore!

Surprising, as I've always previously found Whimbrel to be very wary. 

For a larger image, go here

For a larger image, go here

The following day we went home via Pulborough Brooks RSPB which was a new reserve for us. The main aim was the hear and see Nightingale. However we arrived late morning to find the immense car park packed (not a good start) and then wandered around the reserve to hear nothing and see very little, until we got almost back to the visitor centre. Here by a strange yurt was a volunteer listening hard. At first there was nothing, but shortly a Nightingale did start to sing, despite it being midday. But it was some way off in dense cover, on the opposite of the public footpath, so we never got a glimpse of it, let alone a photo. 

Thursday 9 May 2019

Grimsbury Reservoir 9 May

Today was the first real chance I had to go for the Red-rumped Swallow, so it was great to hear from JFT that the bird was still present at around 07:30. So off I went, battling the rush hour traffic northwards. Having to almost traverse the full length of the county, and with a brief stop at the services, it wasn't until about 09:00 that I arrived to a distinctly dank Grimsbury Reservoir.

I started along the W side path, and initially had the place to myself. Fortunately, I managed to pick the bird up low over the reservoir quite quickly and then set about trying to get some photos. At this stage the bird was coming in low down, close into the W bank of the reservoir. To get any photos, this involved shooting through the chain link fence. With this and the poor light it was surprising I managed to get anything at all worthwhile.

Red-rumped Swallow

It then perched up on the fence not far from me, but was regrettably flushed by an approaching dog walker seconds before I could get the big lens into action (why do they always come along at just the wrong moment!). I then lost it for a considerable length of time. A photographer from Nottingham recommended the northern end for shots of it perched, so that is where I headed. The rain then really started coming down. There were plenty of hirundines perched, mostly House Martins, but there was no sign of the Swallow.  Also a nice group of 3 summer plumaged Dunlin in the heavy  rain and at least one Common Sand.

A passing dog walker then said he had seen it (or something that sounded quite like it) over on the east side, so that it where I tried next, to no avail. Finally, I decided it was time to go, and headed back down the W side, only to find the RR Swallow nicely settled on the fence, just about where it had been around 2hrs ago! This time it stayed put just long enough for me to get a series of photos.

Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin
For larger versions of these images, click here