Wednesday 30 October 2013


The story behind Ilford's most famous gull.  It starts on an October day way back in the year 2000, when I was still but a baby.  Local birder Peter Hopkins was having what I'm sure was a nice walk around the lakes when he spotted a Mediterranean Gull.  The Gull we now know as Valentino.  Already in adult plumage, so at least two years old.  This fantastic little bird was then ringed in 2002.  And would you like to guess where?  Belgium, in the city of Antwerp.  He was ringed as part of the European Mediterranean Gull Ringing Scheme, and when they were told of his presence in the UK  they said -and here I quote: 'Really Astonished!'  I don't blame them.  A 200 mile journey at least.  I suppose migration of most birds is longer, but still to my eyes it's quite a trek.

After a bit of simple  (extremely simple) calculations, I estimated that this gull is at least fifteen years of age.  Older than me.  But the most interesting thing, in my opinion, is that according to the BTO's study the oldest recorded Med Gull so far lived until it was fifteen years three months and seven days old.  This means Valentino is in for a chance of snatching that title.  The funny thing is -well not exactly amusing - as far as gulls go, and they do go a long way, fifteen years is quite a short period.  Even Black-headed Gulls have reached twenty nine years.  Although this could be due to there being many more of this more common species, so more chance of a re-catch.  It would be incredible though if Valentino did set the age record.
 Considering his age he seems in good shape still, though I have yet to work out out if he is more or less dominant than the Black-headed Gulls?  Well he'll be here for a fair while longer, so I should have time to find out.

I'm not sure how it is in Belgium, but over here as I'm sure you know, some people seem to take feeding birds to the extreme - I have myself witnessed people come with shopping bags filled with bread, Usually very off bread- and the antics of birds like the Black-headed Gulls who are very partial to it seems to have rubbed off onto Valentino.  He's now got a taste for it himself.

Although, he usually is the last bird to take up from the lake to come to the bread he still shoulders his way in when he's decided he's hungry.  Although trying to keep track of him is no walk in the park. OK yes it does involve walking in a park but you know what I mean, don't you?
  And finally to top off this fantastic bird's story, Valentino seems to me to be a bird of habit. You see, the lake on which he resides is a bit bigger in scale to a football pitch.  However you would usually be wasting your time to scan the whole lake for him.  You see, save one occasion, every time I've seen Valentino on the lake he is on the east side.  And the last time he was within a twenty foot radius of where he was the time before. Even once taking bread he would return to the same spot.  Must be an age thing, I really hope I'm not like that when I'm fifteen.

 So now you know (hopefully) much more about Valentino, almost all there is to know. I would like to thank Peter Hopkins for the information he's provided.  It's been invaluable. I sincerely hope that you did not find this all that boring a read.  I rather enjoyed writing it.  It gave me a fantastic insight into Valentino's life.
 Now I just need some good images.

Friday 25 October 2013

The Joys of Patch Birding.

As I have often mentioned on this blog my patch is not the kind of place birders would usually choose to go.  There have been many days when I have seen nothing more attention grabbing than a Little Grebe.  But on the days it comes together it is all worth it.  I have had few of those days, but I will let on now that today was one of them.
 The joys of a local patch is that you know what to expect in certain areas, you know generally what you can hope to see.  If you were - like me, a wildlife photographer and visited Valentines Park for the first time, you might not choose to come back.  That however is your loss.  Not mine, because I do choose to come back.  And if you know the right areas some great opportunities can be had.  Valentines, being an urban park, sees a lot of people.  The wildlife also sees a lot of people.  Thus it becomes somewhat accustomed to their presence.  Not enough to tolerate people walking directly at it (save in the case of Squirrels) or too close but still, more tolerable than their cousins in the true wilds.
 I've been particularly lucky on my patch with Green Woodpeckers.  They still are shy and flighty, but not as bad as elsewhere I must admit.  I've managed a couple of pleasing images, nothing too spectacular, but I'm working on it.

Anyway, back to today.  We thought we would pop around to see if we could spot Valentino.  The all famous Med Gull back for his/her 14th Winter.  First look at the lake and we didn't spot it.  So we moved on and at the fish pond we had our first stroke of luck - the first two Shoveler's of the season!  This came as a surprise as I don't usually see them until winter usually.  The lighting was quite nice on the lake so I fired off a few shots.

We then moved on to see if we could find the Green Woodpeckers (that shot was from a couple of weeks back) but they were not to be seen, so it was that we moved to the canal.  Where I had just a little bit of luck with a Grey Wagger....

 To top it all off we finished the day with fantastic views of Valentino, the best I've yet had!  A day total of 32 was reached, which is pretty good for the patch.  Also some fairly pleasing images.  So a very good day at the patch.
 It proves that you really don't need to travel far to find amazing wildlife.  Valentines Park is just a couple of hundred meters from my house!

Sunday 13 October 2013

Red Alert

Calling all units, there has been a wildlife overload. That, to say the least was what happened on Wednesday whilst plans were being made for the next day.  A wildlife overload.  Now I knew we were going to Richmond Park for the Deer Rut, but little did I know of the other plan, and I'm sure little do you know of that plan also.  So it is that I must keep you in suspense until it will be revealed.  Which will naturally be after I have written a, small bit on the Deer. They did after all come first.

We left out at  6 O'clock -nearly on the dot, but not quite.  For the time of morning there was a rather surprising amount of traffic. Considerably more than I would have expected. Am I being naive to think that it was too early for your average worker to be on their way?
 By the time we arrived the sun was coming up, but was concealed behind cloud.  So the red mist of dawn was a no go.  However the early morning light is a treat.  I haven't really been out photographing that early before, well at least not with a subject to stand in it.  And I would say I had a fairly willing subject....

Unless my (somewhat small) skills of observation have failed, I will tell you with all sincerity that the above and below Deer at one point while we were there, rutted.  I will also allow you the knowledge that neither won the fight.  It was as far as a human could tell a draw. Both stood their ground. The same could not be said for the spectators of this fight -I among them.  The stags were pacing full of testosterone at fairly close range. We beat a hasty retreat.  I say spectators, for that we were, but that doesn't mean that there was a large group surrounding them. No. Just five photographers.

To make up for he lack of mist I tried some back-lit shots to show up the breath, better than nothing, and kind of mist.  This stag didn't seem to do anything but roar, so he wasn't bothered by me taking a couple of pictures of him.

The title of this blog was not just in relation to me having a wildlife overload.  There's more to it than that.  Another hours drive and now it is time to reveal what else I was up to.

Oh yes.  Just look at that.  A real sight to take the edge off the cold of an open hillside.  It was still freezing though.  Rather than more words how would you like more pictures?

OK that's only one more, but that's about all I got which I still kept.  The weather you see was not preferable. For the most part the sun was hidden away, so colours were quite muted.  Oh well.

 So now do you see the connection with the title?  If not I will give one more reason.  Just one.  Today I saw my first Redwing of the season, and there were lots.  So you see? Red alert?  Red Deer, Red Kite, Redwing.  Simple.

 Hah, looking at how much I have so far written this looks to be on track for the longest post in a good few months.  So I hope you have actually read it all, or you may not have seen the connection, Code Red.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Ruttin' Weather...

...My Deer Fallow.

 I'm sure that here an apology is needed for that somewhat desperate title. But all in good humour, and more than slightly true.  You see the weather was not the kind which one would hope for, especially when you're not wearing a coat.  I was not. Neither did I have the cover for my lens (see here) and this was far from preferable. But in the name of photography I was out there.
  Ah,  seem to have forgotten to mention where I was, thus you would be excused for being unaware of the location meant when saying 'there'.  To resolve this I will simply answer, Richmond Park.  My reason for being there like so many at this time of year was for the rut.
 I imagine earlier in the morning would certainly be better, but it was a slightly spontaneous trip, decided half-an-hour before we left out. So half an hour had passed since the clocks chimed ten before we arrived.

The clouds were already covering the sky by now, and were even then looking ominous.  Twenty minutes later the rain started. The rutting didn't start though.  Well not for the Red Deer, the Fallow's however were at it. By no means do I want to be considered an anti-Fallowist, but they just don't seem as wild as Red Deer to me, sorry my Fallows.
 Red Deer, they just seem to have something wild about them....

As far as the Red Deer went the closest thing to rutting was some youngsters practicing for the years to come.

The lighting was far from pleasing, but still I managed my best deer shots, so that at least was pleasing.  Plans for another visit this year are in the making, so hopefully before too long I may have some better images to post.
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