Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Best Way to Get Muddy Trousers...

Well maybe not trousers but definitely jeans.  During my brief spell of nasopharyngitis  -okay yes it was just the Common Cold- I found it hard to be out in the garden, or anywhere outside, between 10:00-15:00.  It was just too hot, and if you have had a cold recently you may have noticed that heat makes your head go funny, or is that just me?
 Well anyway, we went on three occasions to the patch at around 15:30, so it was a bit cooler, but the park was still jam-packed.  But I wanted to photograph the Cygnets before they got too big.
There are two main lakes in the park, the Boating Lake, and the Fish Lake.  The Fish Lake is the only one you can get down to water level on, so that was where we bee-lined for.  The first time we walked around the lake three times until they showed their cute little heads, but the second and third times they showed quite well.  As I said with the ducklings they aren't easy to photograph, well when you want eye-level shots they're not, and the reason for that, or one reason anyway is that people think it is a good idea to feed young Cygnets white bread...I mean seriously?  I've even seen one-day old ducklings fed bread!  The worse part is they think that they're doing good, when they are blatantly not.
The Cob was a pretty aggressive fellow, chasing everything bigger than a Mallard off, so basically just Canada Geese.  One individual goose got a hard time, constantly being chased onto land, and if I remember correctly last year he stayed by the water's edge for about ten minutes staring at one Goose, I wonder if it's the same one?
 I noticed when I got home after these outings that my jeans were caked in mud.  I suppose lying flat on the ground every time you see something interesting on the water might be a contributing factor?  Well it was worth it, Cygnets are a great cure for your nasopharyngitis.

I can't really be bothered to do another forthcoming trip to Ireland post, and I'm sure you aren't interested in reading a whole post of what I'll hopefully be doing.  SO - just a quick overview.
 Hopefully I'll get to see Grasshopper Warblers, my cousin knows of a possible breeding location, but hasn't heard them for a while.  I will probably be going to Kenmare Bay a few times, but the highlight is a trip to Skellig island.  Well you get up to 4,000 Puffins, 30,000+ Gannets, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Fulamr, Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel, I think a couple of spare memory cards might be helpful....Oh, I didn't say when I was going, 7 days!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Guess Where I've been...

Kensington Gardens, surprise surprise.  For a bright Saturday it was surprisingly not that busy, actually I would say it was less busy than normal.
 Walking to the Little Owl tree to see if our luck would finally change, it did.  When we arrived there were a couple of other birders who located it almost instantaneously.  The lighting wasn't great - side/back lighting - but it was the only clear view we could get, and besides we can't have everything, at least it is my best owl shot.  But that leaf spoils the whole image - one good thing about winter is your images are rarely spoiled by leaves.

After about 200 images of the Little Owl it was off for some hand-feeding. Only Great Tit, Blue Tit and Robin were managed today, no Chaffinch Starling or Parakeet unfortunately.  Couldn't have anything to do with  my hand being <10cm away from the camera could it?  

I had plenty of sightings of Treecreeper, a glimpse of a Nuthatch and some good views of a young Robin, so quite a pleasing day, nice and bright, but too hot, I for one prefer the cool.

A couple of trips to the patch proved quite successful, with this semi-leucistic Blackbird singing from the ground.  This particular bird I've seen since January, a funny looking bird, but he seems to be able to hold a decent territory, so it obviously doesn't affect his position in the pecking order.

 Also I have done a lot of Zebra-jumping Spider photography in the garden. Funnily enough I have a great dislike for all spiders save these little jumping spiders, who I must say are my favourite invertebrate.
 I'm sure if any of you read this blog often, you will see that this is quite a brief post.  I blame that on the cold I have caught, nothing too bad but a nuisance nonetheless.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A Bird in The Hand is Worth Two in the Bush...

...A very old Proverb, and I totally agree. Actually, I think a bird in the hand is worth more than two in a bush, four maybe?  Although the bird must be considered before such a rash idea is made.  For example, a Feral Pigeon on your hand may not be worth as much as say, two Chaffinch in a bush, but a Chaffinch on the hand, in my humble opinion, is worth 100 Feral Pigeons in a bush.  And so on and so forth.
 Well in the last week or so I have visited Kensington Gardens twice, and both times we have brought a small tub-full of bird food.  The first time we bumped into local birder Ralph Hancock-see his blog here- and he took us to try and find the Little Owl in his tree.  As we were walking Great Tits, Robins and Chaffinches would come out of the bushes and wait until he would feed them, some even hovered around his head!  Well we didn't see the Owl, typically as with all owls they are a pain to see.
 After he left, we had a go at hand-feeding, and managed Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin and Feral Pigeon! Not a bad list.
 Yesterday we went again, and this time I managed to add Chaffinch, Ring-necked Parakeet and Starling to my list.  Photographing them was hard as most would fly away at the sound of the shutter, and some were incredibly quick.
 After a while I had an idea -shock horror- I thought what a good idea it would be to photograph birds with a macro lens, so out came my Raynox DCR-250. And with the lens 10cm or so from my hand the birds still came! Most of the time they were too quick, but on the odd occasion one would stay for longer and off the shutter would fire.

It is interesting to feel the grips of different birds on your fingers; a Robin for example spends a lot of time on the ground, so its talons don't need to be that strong, so they feel light as you like, but a Blue Tit who spends a lot of its life hanging from branches has a very firm -and sharp- grip.  Great Tits are somewhere in between.  Another interesting thing is learning to tell individuals.  One Robin had some feathers missing near its beak, one Blue Tit was particularly scruffy, one Great Tit sadly had only one leg and the Parakeet had some form of Mange on its wing.
 So all in all a lot of fun, and some pictures I am pleased with, though they are a little noisy because of high ISO -again-.  My favourite will have to be the Great Tit, but I am also pleased with the flying Robin, apart from the noise of course, as I haven't been able to photograph fling birds before.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

What I've Been up to...

On the 4th of May last year, I visited Rainham Marshes.  And what a good day it turned out to be. There were hundreds of Swifts, thousands maybe.  Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin in their dozens, White Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail, but the crown went to a Black-necked Grebe.  At the time, many of the common migrants I saw there were life-ticks, and so very exciting.
 My cousin Caleb -who I have mentioned before- was over for a week. So last Thursday I thought Rainham would be the best bet....Well...I can't say it wasn't good, but Swift only numbered in their dozens, 1 Swallow and a possible Martin.  However with a bit of patience, I managed to pick up a Godwit, I believe a Black-tailed, but as its head was the only thing showing it was hard to identify.  A Sedge Warbler flashed out of the reeds into a bush, only identifiable by the song, year-tick 130, and then year-tick 131 came in the form of 2 Little-ringed Plovers.  So far away it took me a couple of minutes to locate them through the scope, and even then they were dots.  But still, as well as a year-tick they were a life-tick.
 As we came back through the Visitor center Caleb noticed the Male Pheasant who inhabits the feeder area. So we went down and sneaked up on him.  He was on the other side of a fence, and was obscured by foliage, so that only his head was on show.  He seemed not at all bothered by two people aiming cameras at him. I imagine, as Rainham is quite a popular reserve, he is used to people, so paid us no attention.  This was a great opportunity for me, as I had before managed no decent images of a Pheasant.  Probably as they are quite shy, and always ready to take flight. This is no surprise as they have been -and still are- hunted for many years, and this is no doubt a good survival strategy.

On the patch things are starting to pick up, with 4 Egyptian goslings, 1 Canada Gosling, a couple of broods of Mallard ducklings, a young Moorhen and 4 young Coot.  The pair of Great-crested Grebes are still about, and one pair of Swans is on eggs, and has been for a few weeks, so it shouldn't be long before the cygnets are about.  Last year they raised their whole brood, numbering at eight.  And as far as I could tell they all made it to adulthood.

Feral Pigeons are not to everybody's taste, but I had a go at photographing them, as -shock horror- I haven't really photographed them before.  This bird just sat there, happy for me to change angles and settings.

I'm aware that this post is dragging on a bit, so I will try to keep the rest as short as possible.  A walk through Hyde Park on Wednesday afternoon proved quite successful, with House Martin taking my year-list to 132.  Over the lake Swifts had gathered in numbers, with a few Swallow and House Martin mixed in.  A search for the Little Owl proved fruitless, probably as we were looking in the wrong trees, but - weather providing - we'll look again Friday.

Before I end this post, I would like to ask if you have noticed any difference in image quality?  I have tried to cut down on the little amount of post-editing I do -for more info see here- with many of these images being only cropped, are they better or worse?  It wouldn't surprise me if better were the case, as I am well...not the best when it comes to post-editing.  So I've been trying really hard to make no reason for post editing to be necessary.
 OK, that's not the end.  Up Tower 42 with David Lindo this morning we saw the first ever Marsh and Hen Harrier seen from up there, well I didn't see the Hen but I briefly saw the Marsh. If you were in doubt, this should prove to you that I can write short and sweet.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Patch Improves

When I was in the early stages of birdwatching, I saw a bird at Valentines Park -my Patch- which I had no idea about its identity.  When we got home I looked it up and found it to be a Great-crested Grebe.  Now we are talking a long way back, when I had trouble identifying a Goldfinch, so a Grebe was breathtaking.  And to this day I admire them.  Since Valentines Park has become my patch Great-crested Grebes have become a rarity.  With one showing up for a day over eight months ago.
 On Saturday my brother wanted to go to the Basketball court in the park - as we were walking around the lake I spotted a pair of them out on the water.  I had no camera with me so decided that next morning we would go again with the camera this time.  One was quickly located fishing quite close to the shore - the first time I have seen a fish caught at the park.  The other was further up sleeping in the middle of the lake.  As we watched, it woke up and called, a funny sort of noise it was too.

After that we decided to have a look for the Little Grebes, but we hadn't gone far before my father looked back and saw that both grebes were together, and facing each other.  I immediately recognised what was about to happen so back the way we came and just in time.  Almost as soon as we were in place they both went under and surfaced with weeds, then, heads bent low to the water they swam at each other and went up into the 'Penguin Dance', something I have wanted to see for a long time.  The nesting material is to prove I believe that they are capable at building a nest, as I have heard that they need daily repairs done to ensure its survival.

Hopefully they will nest here and be successful, as I would love to see the young hiding on their parent's back.  And I would also like to get a good picture, as I only have what I would call decent pictures. Eye-level shots however are impossible on this lake as there is a railing going round.
 The Mute Swans at the patch are still on eggs, I don't know how many, and the other pair of Egyptian geese have one Gosling.  I haven't been to check on the first pair since last week.
Oh, and I picked up my first Swift of the year the other day, putting me on 129 for the year.  I picked them up by ear and located them as distant specks above the garden.
 I've just realised that even a brief update now seems to take up more than the whole screen,  I remember when it would be about three paragraphs!

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