Wednesday 30 December 2020

South Wales for Sparrowhawk - 17 December

My third visit of the year to Ian Howells' great Woodland hide in South Wales. Fortunately it was just before the latest Welsh and now English Covid-19 lockdowns. 

The main aim of this visit was to photograph the male Sparrowhawk that I'd seen previously as an immature in July and then moulting in August. For this visit the moult was complete, and the bird was looking very smart indeed!

However it took its time to appear - not until 11:45 - I had been there since shortly after 07:00!

Click on any of the captions below for larger images. 

Also go to this gallery for all my photos of this bird from this session and the two earlier ones. 

Click here to enlarge

Crop of shot above

Suddenly alert, the bird had spotted a movement and was about to dash off in hot pursuit!

The bird was facing away for almost the whole time during its three visits. Just once it arrived and faced the other way very briefly.

A rare frontal view

This female came in once and chased off the male before abruptly departing. Fortunately the male came back shortly afterwards.

Female just after chasing off the male

Wednesday 23 December 2020

Buzzard Hide, near Swindon. 10 December

My earlier session at this hide - a new one for me - was cancelled due to the national lockdown 2, but fortunately I managed to re-book for December 10, after it had ended. 

This hide, bookable through Wildlife Photography Hides, is high on the Downs near Swindon. It is operated by David White a local farmer who is also a keen photographer.  To minimise disturbance you are required to be in the hide well before first light and to remain there until dusk. It is made very clear that under no ordinary circumstances are you allowed to leave the hide, as this would scare off the birds. A 600m walk in the dark up a track is required on arrival, but David was able to take my photo gear in his vehicle which he drives to the hide. This hide, like the WPH hide at Bourne, is well equipped with a heater and a toilet in a side room. It even has unlimited WIFI!

With these bookings, weeks in advance, it is pot luck over the weather and unfortunately it wasn't good at all for me with dismal light all day and some rain for a good proportion of it. The Buzzard and Kite activity started quite early and continued with birds present until 13:30 when the last flew off. Other birds included pesky Crows and Magpies, which frequently got in the way of the Buzzards, as well as the odd Raven that seemed interested but I didn't notice one land. 

After 13:30 there was then nothing until dusk. 

At its peak, there were four Buzzard on the ground at once tucking into the food provided with others nearby on posts.

For a gallery of all my photos from this session, go to this page on my website

For larger versions of those shown below, click on the captions.

Getting stuck into the food

On one of the surrounding posts

Buzzard in the light rain

Head on view

As the food supply began to dwindle, some arguments started. These were challenging to capture in the dull conditions but a few are worth showing here.

The larger and darker bird on the right is the dominant one

Certainly bullying it here - but the subordinate one managed to fly off after a few minutes

Sizing each other up?

Red Kites were also around, and flew past from time to time dipping down to grab some food. Just once, one came in and landed pretty close to the hide, affording a nice view:

Close Red Kite on the ground

This place would be pretty special on a sunny winter's morning but unfortunately it now appears Covid restrictions will prevent my planned revisit in January.

Sunday 6 December 2020

Woodland Birds - 5 December

 Trying to make something of a rare day with some sun! 

As usual, click on the captions for larger images

Marsh Tit
Blue Tit

Saturday 21 November 2020

Farmoor - 19 November

Arriving shortly after the gates opened it was soon clear that the weather wasn't living up to the forecast from earlier in the week. Instead of light cloud with some sun, it was grey with a fresh breeze from the west. Starting with the GND, which is normally to be seen on the eastern side of F2, near to the pontoons with the boats, I caught a couple of glimpses of it after a considerable amount of scanning. But the rough conditions made it difficult to see, and it certainly wasn't close. It then seemed to disappear so I tried my luck with the Scaup over on the western side of F1. Here the water was a lot calmer but for some reason all 3 birds were fast asleep most of time, even though the Tufted Ducks all around them weren't. When the female did eventually wake up, it then proceeded to swim right and into the sun, which was now being to emerge from time to time.

Giving this up as a bad job, I got a call from Bob suggesting that I look behind me! Down below he and another were seemingly concentrating on something perched on a tree just above the path near the Pinkhill Hide, but on the east side facing the mown grassy area. From my position I could just make out what it was they were photographing - the tame male Kestrel that others have come across recently in the same general area.

So I made my way down there as fast as possible, and to my amazement the bird was still there when I arrived and set up my gear. Not only that it tolerated a remarkably close approach by 3 (soon to be 4) photographers. It didn't seem at all bothered by our presence and remained on its perch for a few minutes before having a leisurely stretch and then flying off, not to be seen again.

As usual, click on the upper and lowest captions for larger images

Kestrel calmly watching its admirers

Crop of shot above

Having a stretch before flying off

Monday 16 November 2020

Canon EOS R5 - initial review for bird and wildlife photography

As some of you may be aware, I've been enjoying playing with my new "toy" for the last couple of months - the mirrorless Canon EOS R5. Here is a photo of it mounted on the Canon EF 500mmf4 II lens with the x2 extender: 

This camera has been received to almost universal acclaim judging by the reviews I have read online. 

Game changing is the phrase I am using in my initial review. To see why, go to this page on my website.

Friday 13 November 2020

Farmoor & Buckland - 12 November

Having been snagged by a fisherman's hook a couple of days ago the Great Northern Diver was unsurprisingly keeping its distance today, but this Scaup eventually proved more obliging in the nice sunny conditions early on today. Thanks to Bob for the heads-up on its presence and whereabouts.

Once again, click on the captions for larger images

Female Scaup (c) Stephen Burch

After this relatively brief visit to Farmoor, I wanted to make the most of the sunny conditions and so headed to a new site for me near Buckland to attempt to find (and photo) the Crossbills that had been reported from here recently. I parked in the village and then took a public footpath diagonally across parkland to meet the A420, whereupon the private road and public footpath to a farm, frequented by the Crossbills, was directly opposite. 

A flock of about ten flew in shortly after I arrived and promptly vanished into a tree whilst feeding. They were very difficult to photo being high up in the top of the tree and were generally invisible or highly obscured. This was the only time one appeared out in the open.

Crossbill (c) Stephen Burch

Thursday 12 November 2020

Saturday 7 November 2020

Farmoor - 6 November


At last a worthwhile bird in Oxon to chase! My first visit was the previous afternoon when I saw the bird but only distantly as it was way out in the middle of  F2. Today, on arrival the bird was showing conveniently from the eastern bank, i.e. very close to the car park. This was most unusual as most good birds at Farmoor are as far as it is possible to be from the car park!

Unfortunately this bird was keeping its distance so a severe test even for the 500mm lens with the x2 converter and my new R5. Also the light wasn't great. 

On its closest approach it had this low profile the whole time before turning round and swimming out. 

Click on the captions for larger images

Keeping a low profile when closest to the bank

More of the bird - but further away and without the earlier sun

Wing flapping which it did a few times


Thursday 5 November 2020

Southern Oxon - 30/31 October

It is not easy finding places for bird photography in Oxon currently and now Lockdown 2 is going to make it even harder!

I got lucky for a change with this Kingfisher, which has required some patience. Once again, click on the caption for a larger image. 


This photo is surprisingly sharp considering the distance to the bird which required a substantial crop even when using my 500mm lens with the x2 TC. With the Canon R5, this crop and lens combination gave an effective focal length of just over 3000mm for this photo! 

I was also fortunate to come across a couple of Stonechat by the road at Westcot Down - a stretch where I've sometimes had some success in the past. I was able to use the car as a reasonably effective hide for this shot. Of the two birds, only this first winter (I presume) seemed willing to come reasonably close! 


Saturday 31 October 2020

Dorset October 2020

Spent a relaxing week in Weymouth recently. Birding was unspectacular but the change of scene was nice. 

A few photo highlights below. For more info and images, click here.

Click on the captions for high-res images.

The highlight was probably this obliging Kestrel hunting around the large car park at Ferrybirdge:

Kestrel hovering low down in the strong wind close to the car park

Intent on its prey! Less of a silhouette as Portland is in background

Perched on a convenient rock

Black-tailed Godwit in the weak late afternoon sun at Lodmoor

Grey Heron just after lift-off also at Lodmoor

Thursday 29 October 2020

More Kestrels - 13 October

Another excellent session in Pete Whieldon's Woodland Hide at Otterbourne, near Winchester. The weather was better than for my June visit, and the male was looking much smarter having finished his moult. 

The male and immature appeared alternately at about hourly intervals until a last, mid-afternoon visit when both appeared together. 

For a gallery of all my photos from the visit (and the previous one in June), with links to hi-res photos, go to this page on my website

Here is a preview selection (in each case click on the caption for a larger image): 

The male and immature posed nicely together very briefly

The immature coming into land - the only flight shot of this visit

The male on its own, before being joined by the immature

The male on a photogenic rock
Close-up of the immature - the benefits of the 45Mp sensor on the Canon EOS R5