Saturday, 13 December 2014

Wildlife Watching Supplies Neoprene Lens Cover Set

If you've invested in a lens it's important to protect it. The last thing you want to do is knock it and end up with a chip or a scratch.  Neoprene covers are a great way to prevent this, they provide a soft padded covering for your lens. Wildlife Watching Supplies' cover is made from sections of shock-absorbing 4mm thick water-proof neoprene. Your lens is effectively safe from knocks and scratches. It also offers fairly effective weatherproofing, but not complete -  there are small gaps between the neoprene sections. For full weather proofing I suggest their bag cover.
 You can choose from a range of different patterns/colours for your cover, mine is in Advantage Timber camouflage, and is reversible to be Olive Green.

 In the field, I find it makes it far more comfortable when holding your lens, the soft neoprene is certainly nicer than the metal! And it'll help prevent it overheating or even getting too cold if you're shooting in extreme environments.  My only qualm is that it can make operating switches on your lens slightly awkward.  By pulling back the section covering them it will make it a lot easier to use.
With lenses that zoom, or have retractable lens hoods, the set will contain a neoprene section with Velcro, so it can be strapped on when the lens is zoomed in or the hood extended, it can then be quickly and easily removed when you are finished.

 Whether or not you will definitely benefit from one of these can depend on what sort of photographer you are, if you're going to be out in all terrains and in all weather, then make sure you have one. Even if you aren't though, I would personally advise owning a cover for your lens, just for the peace of mind, and to keep it in top condition!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Let it Snow..

After my borderline disastrous pre-birthday birding, I subsequently turned fifteen.  To break in my new age, early the morning after my birthday I headed to Newhaven Harbour with Caleb for a spot of birding.  It wasn't an encouraging start after I missed the train I was intending to get.  Still, it was dark... So early enough.  With the sun coming up over the sea to start a clear day, I headed to the pier to look for Purple Sandpipers. They seem pretty much guaranteed here from December-March, so finding them usually isn't too hard, getting a shot on the other hand... not so easy.  They seem to favour feeding in the shade below the pier, bad angle, bad lighting, I'll leave it at that.  Always a joy to watch though!
 There was a single Shag fishing just off the pier, and that was about it for the next hour or two, save countless flocks of finches.
 While watching one of the groups of finches (in this case Greenfinch) feeding on a beach, we caught a glimpse of something larger with big wing-bars come down on the beach. Snow Bunting flashed to mind.  And after cautiously - and slightly excitedly I will admit - approaching where it had landed, yes!  There it was, Snow Bunting. A burst of shots, then we moved around and waited for it to come a bit closer.  Thankfully, it complied.  Need I tell you how the next four hours were spent?  Perhaps not, but I will. I feel I must, for it was rather incredible. Somehow this was my first Snow Bunt, funnily enough I dipped one here a couple of weeks ago.
I dread to think the amount of times I filled my memory cards - perhaps a reminder to clear them before I go out?  Employing the crawling-on-shingle approach, we managed at times to be within 10 foot of him (it was a male). The light was perhaps too harsh, and sure he seemed to have a love for distracting debris, but with views like that I'm not complaining...

We watched him (with just a small break) until the sun was too low to photograph any more.  Such a great bird, the third to turn up on this stretch of coast in the last few weeks, but by far the the showiest!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Double Dip Doldrums

My yearly tradition of a birding trip in the days before my birthday came around again. A pre-sunrise start had us heading to Cambridge.  Why not try to join the Rough-Legged Buzzard bonanza of the last few months? Am I the only person to have not seen one?  It's the Yellow-browed Warblers all over again, well... not quite.  In a naive way, I thought finding the Buzzard would be easy, I mean a big bird like that, how hard could it be?  It was a cold, grey, uninspiring morning, even the Common Buzzards just sat there in the trees. Still, the fens were scanned, and produced a lot of Kestrels. Not a large pale raptor in sight.  A few Red Kites and Buzzards were all.  The hours of the morning passed and it began to rain, with hopes for the RLB extinguished, it was perhaps time to move on.
 Thankfully the Buzzard wasn't the whole day plan, we had a back up.  Just down the road was a 1w male Ring-necked Duck, again we approached with naivety.  How hard would it be to separate from the Tufty's?  Distinguishing it wasn't the problem, there was a distinct lack of Aythya ducks altogether.  And the lake it was on? Very large.  The sun was starting to set, at an angle which could only be described as awkward.   Again, we had to leave with no success.
 Ah, at least there was some light relief, a few Corn Bunting in with a Yellowhammer flock was a nice surprise - and year-tick - on the walk to the car.
 It was just one of those days.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wildlife Watching Supplies Bean Bag Review.

For me the Wildlife Watching Supplies  Double Bean Bag is a vital piece of kit for any photographer.  I rarely go out photographing without it.  I find I use it much more than my tripod - not only is it lighter and more easily transported but it can be used in a greater array of situations. The Bean Bag provides a solid support for telephoto lenses, but is also useful for macro and wide-angle work. It's adaptable, and that's the reason I love this product so much. You can rest it on the ground, on car windows, fence-posts, the branches of trees (the list goes on) and it will provide you with a stable base from which to shoot, allowing you to get sharper images even in low light conditions. I've found myself shooting at as low as 1/80 of a second shutter speed and still retaining sharp images.

                                                       Male Blackbird taken at 1/80th

The Double Bean Bag comes in Advantage Timber camouflage and is made of a durable material. It has two liner bags which you fill with grain or seed (personally I use rice), it also comes with a padded shoulder strap, so it's comfortable to carry when you're out for a day of photography. Although if it does start to drag down on your shoulder (it weighs about 2-3kg) you can always take out one of the two liner bags, halving the weight, and it will still provide you with a great support.

                                             Resting on a wall to provide a solid support

Ground level work is where it really comes into its own, it allows you to shoot at eye-level with ground feeding birds and water birds and even mammals, in a much more comfortable fashion than if you were hand-holding your camera. The lack of shake from your hands will also help you compose images better as well as keeping them sharper.
 Over the past year I've been working on a project photographing Grey Wagtails at my local park.  The Bean Bag has helped me a lot in this project, enabling me to get eye-level images as they feed along the edge of a small canal.

                                                              Grey Wagtail feeding

I hope now you agree with me, this is a must-buy for any wildlife photographer. It's versatile, sturdy and easily transportable, you'll find yourself getting shots that may otherwise not have been possible.
 Downsides?  There aren't really any, if the weight is a problem for you, removing one of the liner bags is an easy solution.
 If you don't already own the Wildlife Watching Supplies Double Bean Bag, what are you waiting for?  You won't regret it.
You can find it here

Sunday, 9 November 2014

What Winter Brings...

I feel it's safe to say the summer's definitely over.  My suspicions that this may be so were confirmed with a visit to the patch for sunrise earlier in the week... it was freezing.  Fool that I am, I didn't wear gloves and my hands were in agony using the camera - the light was worth it though.
 Having returned from Antwerp, Valentino the Med Gull is back for his fifteenth winter and still going strong!   He's been in the park for about three weeks now, and although to begin with, apparently he'd been sneaking off to Wanstead - oh the treachery - it appears he's settled back in his usual haunt of the park.  A regular Med Gull always brightens up a winter morning.  Yesterday, with the thought in mind to get some better shots of Valentino, I had a bit more than I bargained for with him showing down to four foot... surely there is no better gull?  It was a shame the light was quite as bad as it was, I'll put this down as a work in progress.

As if a showy med Gull wasn't good enough, the kingfisher's been showing regularly as well.  It seems as though she may have found a favoured spot, and is showing on practically every visit. A nice improvement on the rare and sporadic sightings earlier in the year.  Of course though, this favoured spot is in the darkest shadiest area on the canal.  It's understandable why she chose it though, it's the only area which is fenced off, and looking in isn't exactly easy.  Ah, Kingfishers are a tricky species! This shot is from my best (not closest) view so far... a lot of room for improvement.
 Easy to guess what I'll be up to for the next few months...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

More Sibes...

It ended up being quite a trek on Monday.  After two trains, we missed the first bus, and succeeded to get lost on the next one.  This was before the long uphill walk... it was unseasonably warm.  After reaching the top of the hill a Black Redstart was a great distraction, but I could wait no longer.  Continuing along the road we looked out for the unmissable signs of a twitch, the usual giveaway being thousands of pounds of equipment pointing to a hedge.  This was no exception, a long line of birders and too many prime lenses to count.  After joining the throng, it wasn't long before I had a glimpse of my goal, a Red-breasted Flycatcher.  Is it pointless to tell you where I was?  Probably, this is likely the most talked about bird at the moment.  No surprise, this Sibe is a real stunner.  It's rare for a Red-breasted Flycatcher to turn up in England (or the UK for that matter) with quite as red a breast. It's almost as extensive as a Robin! If, despite all the posts and pictures you have missed news of this beauty, it's been at Beachy Head. 
It showed well on and off for the thirty or so of us there, favouring a perch at the front of the bush.  Every time it appeared it would be greeted to a symphony of camera shutters - The music of twitching. 

Although the number's ever growing, I still haven't been to that many twitches, but of the 'few' I have attended this was nearly the biggest, topped only by the Short-Toed Eagle.  Surprising really, considering RBF's aren't even classed as a BOU rarity. Again though, it looks amazing.
I could have spent all day watching it, but alas, it could not happen.  It wasn't showing as well and time pressed on, although there was time for a quick stop to look for the Black Redstart.  She showed quite well on the roofs of the Countryside Centre with a Pied Wagtail.

A much less eventful trip home ended a great day, two Sibes in four days isn't that bad...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Elementary, dear Warbler

This Autumn has been filled with Yellow-browed Warblers, none of which had been seen by me. In my defence there had been few locally, well, none. They are somewhat of a London rarity, with the majority on the East coast. At the weekend, with one in Regent's Park for a couple of days, I thought it a good opportunity to join in with the Autumn fun. The warbler thought otherwise and... I dipped.  Must I concede and wait until next year?  I'd hoped not. Fast-forward to Friday, and it was still there after eight days.  What to do?  You guessed it.  After a 'joyous' hour on public transport it was into the bustling crowds of Baker Street, past the house of the great detective, before the relative calm of the park. A group of birders were already there, the little warbler wasn't... yet.  Although it had been seen, it was being elusive and not very vocal. With a bird of its miniature proportions it was going to be tricky to get.  But that's the fun of birding, isn't it? The wait was actually not too long, before we were called over to catch the silhouette of a YBW.  It vanished for a few minutes, before I managed to relocate it in a dense thicket.  This time it showed off (however briefly) its strongly marked wingbar and eyebrow. A stunning little Siberian migrant.  It even called a couple of times.. what a gem!   Autumn birding's now complete.
It didn't really pose for its shot, can you tell?

Oh, in other news I've upgraded my lens (so this shot really isn't a good start), but more on that later.  I'll just leave you with this Heron...

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Bring out the Bunting

I was just packed and ready to hit the patch this morning, when a well timed check of twitter brought some surprising news - Lapland Bunting at Wanstead Flats! Showing in grass near Alexandra Pond.  Well... I didn't go to the patch.  With our direction turned to Wanstead we made haste. A twenty minute walk later and I realised this wasn't going to be all that easy.  There was really rather a large amount of grass. Long, long grass.  After rather pointlessly staring into the grass, a bird started circling, expecting a mipit I pointed the camera its way.  I'm not sure I've ever been more delighted to be wrong - I was watching a Lapland Bunting!  It circled a few more times then dropped down into the middle of the field.  Buzzing with excitement we joined another birder and again, began hopelessly searching for it in the grass. And so progressed the afternoon, with a couple more brief flight views of this delightful little bird.  There ended up being seven of us looking for it, yet still we could not pin its location on the ground. With little happening it ended up just being four of us left searching for it. Again we had brief views as it flew in the direction of the ditch it was originally reported from but alas, despite scrutiny of every patch of grass it could not be found. A master of disguise.
 I'd seen it, and got a few poor shots of it in flight, that was good enough for me! So we started to leave, that's when it showed up darting down into the grass. Backtracking, we began again scanning the grass, but this time it paid dividends, I spotted it a few metres away. What a beautiful bird!  I managed to grab a couple of record shots before it flew off and began circling again calling as it went. It showed on the ground a couple more times before heading for the other side of the field.
 Fantastic views of a fantastic bird, and my second lifer in less than twenty-four hours. Happy?  That sounds about right...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Ring Ouzels

You may have noticed that recently, I haven't got much birding done.  I won't bore you with details about the reasons, of which there are many, simply, very little has been close enough.  And those that have been, well they don't tend to stick around.  This - you could say- unproductive time was broken today with a not so unproductive visit to Wanstead Flats.  I was on the search of Ring Ouzels, another rather common species which I somehow had previously missed, a 'tarts tick' if you will.  Just twenty minutes after arriving we had success.  There at the top of a bush was a male Ring Ouzel.  Distant, but the white crescent and black body showed nicely. It was joined by a second, and the two flew to a (thankfully) nearer bush. Not quite near enough to get anything more than a  record shot, but nonetheless they were pleasing views.  The Ouzels showed on and off in the same bush for the next hour or so for which we were there, among many false starts from Blackbirds who were sharing the same bush.
 A lifer always makes a day productive, and although no, there was not a great deal else about, it was undeniably a success...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

At Long Last...

While some patch birders may have wild dreams and fantasies of rare birds gracing their patch, I don't set the bar that high.  No, my most sought after patch tick isn't the kind anyone else (at all) would be interested in, it's not even a local scarcity!  Even after two years of searching with great scrutiny I have been unable to find one.  Mock if you will, but this seemingly impossible tick, is Gadwall. Why would they not come to park?  Surely it's not that bad... I was surprised to say the least, when yesterday evening, at long last the search came to an end.  I gratefully came across three Gadwall on the main lake, sleeping on the far side from me, even from that distance the grey of the two males was distinctive. Patch lifer.
 As I walked round to approach closer to the Gadwall, the distinctive call of a Kingfisher started, and there it  was, flying over the lake. By the time I had circled the lake I'd achieved some much better views of the Gadwall and the Kingfisher decided to show twice more. A treat for all the hours on the patch recently?   Such a satisfying find.

Heading to the patch this morning, the Gadwalls sadly were gone, and I was back to scanning the ducks for them without success.  Oh well. The next few hours were spent trying to accumulate a day list record for the patch, something I've been unable to beat for probably more than a year now, the current being thirty seven. And it certainly did seem on track for the first two hours, but then it got rather tricky.  the list was (typically) stuck at thirty seven. Would I have to leave on such tantalising a number?  It was just too much.  On the cusp of caving, and giving up, I was saved with the call of a Chiffchaff.  Which conveniently was followed by a view of the little bird.  Thirty eight!  As day-lists go, sure it's terrible.  But for the patch, it's pretty much fantastic.
 Worth almost missing lunch...

Monday, 29 September 2014

Irish Moths

Although so far you may not have realised, but my trip to Ireland was not completely dedicated to twitching the Long-Billed Dowitcher.  No, I did do other things, although little other birding.  So -surprise surprise- moths again.
 Moths and butterflies (more the former) were a big focus of my trip, and I mean a very big focus. It's pretty much all I did. By day I'd look for butterflies and by night, moths. Setting a bright light to point at a sheet at night makes a beacon which moths seem unable to resist. I spent many a night in this way, looking for something to be drawn in other than July High-flyers, sometimes this went quite late into the morning...  On occasion it did work, some nights it would be teeming with moths, others,  not so, with just a few the whole night.  It really did vary a lot.  I'm not quite sure the total, but I estimate around fifty species of moth came, though you can easily be sure that was never in one night.  It really wasn't the best time of year to moth, the numbers of Summer moths were dwindling, and Autumn moths had properly started to arrive yet, still, I coped with Early Thorns, Pink-Barred Sallows, Lesser-Swallow Prominent, Barred Chestnut...  Such hardship.

The makeshift 'trap' did a better job than I had expected, it didn't get me my longed-for Elephant Hawkmoth, but enough Carpets for a mansion.
Worth the disrupted sleep pattern..

Bring on the Autumn Moths!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Return

It's been nearly a month since I was last patch birding, my how much the park's changed... well not really.  I suppose yes, there's a little difference. Rats are now a lot more abundant, and I do really mean a lot. They nearly outnumber Squirrel, which in London is saying something. On occasion they can be quite nice though...

Do you remember me writing with some excitement about a Cormorant that was regularly gracing the park with it's presence?  As it turns out Cormorants are definitely going to become more regular on the park, with five - yes, five - being present at once yesterday, and four again today.  I'm not sure what the sudden popularity of the park is for them, it's a great mystery. Maybe we'll get a Little Egret next... I still have hope.
 Take into consideration first that this is my patch, now you should most likely be surprised to hear that this is not the biggest news.  No, bigger news is the return of the Kingfisher!!! I had the clich├ęd flash of iridescent blue and the piping call along the canal, it then proceeded to land along the water's edge. It was a female, so most likely the same individual as last year.  I'm frankly amazed though at how early it's turned up, most winter visitors don't turn up until October.  This gives me longer to try and get a shot of it this time, I think I'm going to need all that time....

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Autumn Begins...

The Autumn migration,  ah, that fantastic time of year.  In retrospect, I've never really been able to observe Autumn migration at its full capacity. The sheer number of birds passing can be incredible.  So it was, on Monday I found myself in an awe at the numbers, at the magnitude with which some species were present.
 Arriving at Seaford Head before the sun was fully risen, I was greeted by House Martins.  Thousands and thousands of House Martins.  The sky was full of them, the Sea, the cliffs... everywhere you looked there were House Martins.  It seemed rather an unreal sight to behold.  Three, to four thousand seemed about right.  I imagine I had watched them for at least thirty minutes before I could drag myself away to look at Yellow Wagtails, which were in decent numbers also, although nothing like the House Martins.  Over the day I had a respectable thirty-forty of these stunning yellow(ish) migrants.

Similar numbers of Wheatear were also present, with one field containing over ten.  It was a good field to say the least and, after two hours, some did come rather close.  I recall one surprising moment when a Wheatear ran directly at me and stopped no more than twelve foot away.  There was however, in rather typical fashion, a single blade of grass going across its face.  Here's one from twenty foot instead.

Among all the migrants - Whinchats, Redstart, Willow Warbler, Whitethroats and Swallows - I did make time for some non-avian wildlife. I must be mad.  I suppose it's excusable to be distracted by an Adder though isn't it? Yes, I was lucky enough to find my first ever Adder, basking in a gorse bush by the edge of a path.  Just amazing.  Seeing a wild snake was one of my hopes this summer, I'm sure I can make do with getting it in Autumn though...

Rather a nice way to break into the new season don't you think?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

An Offaly Long Way to go....

Having only recently returned from what could easily be classed as a very long trip to Ireland - nigh off a month- what better way of starting the long and arduous task of describing it all in (not so)  minute detail, than with a twitch.  A remarkably large one at that.  To be perfectly precise 141.70 miles. And what, you ask was this epic journey for?  Would a Long-Billed Dowitcher sound about right?  No, I'm sure it wouldn't but that it is.  With reports coming in almost daily from Lough Boora in County Offaly, we decided to undergo the momentous distance, surely it couldn't go wrong.  But then again knowing my luck....  After three hours - and a wrong turn which graciously provided my first Red Squirrel - we were on site. The initial scan of the likely haunts for this American wader drew a blank. It was a little worrying.  However, close inspection of a group of Snipe revealed that one was slightly larger and redder. It also lacked the pale stripe on its crown.  In brief, it wasn't a Snipe. As I'm sure you've guessed, yes this was the Dowitcher. Despite the rain and distance, it showed decently, for the half an hour I watched it. Mostly it fed among the group of Snipe.

An exploration of the surrounding area to look for Grey Partridge sported none. It did though hold several Irish Hares and some Lapwing. Thoughts of finding Partridge though, were soon forgotten after a stunning, but all too brief view of a female Hen Harrier.  It being nearly two years since my last Hen Harrier, and with their tragic drop in population, this was a more than welcome sighting.  Fantastic birds.

 Well worth three hours in a car wouldn't you say?  Although there's no way I can now say I'm not a twitcher...

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


The title says it all, moths, moths and more moths.  After a week camping in Suffolk I'm hooked, it's like the seawatching of the insect world.  Certainly as addictive.
 I must have seen between 30-40 species, but with the way many moths are, I've only identified a mere handful, sixteen to be exact.  But quality over quantity as they say. On a single night there I managed to see two species of Hawkmoth, Poplar which I had seen before, and then the real gem, a Pine Hawkmoth, one of the largest insects I've ever seen.  Oddly I don't remember seeing any Pines nearby....
 Two bright lights can attract so much, these Hawkmoth's had a large entourage: Underwings, Prominents, Waves, Footman, Brimstones,  Satins...  Surely some of the best names going.  It does make you wonder how, and even why some of them got their names.  My favourite and yes, most likely the most ridiculous, is the Sallow Kitten.  Sallow meaning unhealthy in appearance, how very flattering.  Some were more understandable though, Lesser Yellow-Underwing's obvious enough.

                                                                Sallow Kitten

The thing which amazed me most was the extreme variation between species, even in such a small area.  The Poplar Hawkmoth, large and admittedly odd shaped, the bark like Pale Prominent, the T shaped Plume Moths, the glaringly bright White Satins, simply incredible.

Pale Prominent

I like moths.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Mostly Weather

It's truly amazing the weather difference between England and Ireland.  I returned from a week of grey skies, rain and the oh so rare glimpse of sun, to what can only be described as a heatwave.  I got back yesterday afternoon and have already had more sun that in the whole week in Ireland.  I'm not sure which I prefer...
 Nonetheless Ireland was enjoyable, despite only being able to make it out birding on two days.  On both days we had Arctic Tern, which had been a lifer. With how many I've now seen I'm surprised it took so long.  Other than the Arctic Terns it was a quiet trip for birding, save for a group of Manx Shearwaters.  My first from dry land, but still hectic to keep up with.
 Though most privileging, and likely most exciting, was coming across dozens of Natterjack Toadlets.  When I first found them I will admit I was ignorant of their identity, and for the sake of the species I will keep the location secret.  It was good to see such an incredibly rare species doing so well.  Strange to think that I've now seen every species of Amphibian naturally found in Ireland, something I'm far from achieving over here.
 With the addition of just a little more rain that pretty much sums the trip up.  How long until I'm fed up with the sun though?  Until I want to photograph something I would imagine.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Cormorant Conundrum

During the last couple of visits to the patch I've been greeted with the sight of a Cormorant on the main lake.  Yes I know what you're thinking, what's so interesting about a Cormorant?  Well generally speaking, over a year I'll only have a handful records on the patch.  And none of these have really stuck around long!  Usually only for a day, some for just a few days and even ones for a matter of hours.  These visits are interspersed with the slightly more frequent  - yet still unusual - fly overs.  Last week I had both in one day... shocking.
 As I'm sure you've gathered, where the park's concerned Cormorants are pretty exciting.  So three records over two visits is borderline mega.  Of course, it is possible, and highly probable that two were the same bird returning.  Are they now going to be a regular sight on the patch?  Who knows.

On a side note I'm off for a week in green old Ireland tomorrow, before returning there again in August for a further month.  So a busy summer ahead!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

What Happens in July...

As is to be expected at this time of year, it's been pretty quiet on the birding front of late. We'll ignore the Black-Browed Albatross, oh, and the Bridled Tern.  But save those two it's been quiet as you like, even our old friend the Short-toed Eagle's been absent for a few days.  So yes, it's that time again, the time to turn to butterflies.  Nature's way of filling this often blank period.  For me it's easy - yesterday I got excited at finding a Small Skipper.. it was a lifer.  As you can see the easy isn't meaning I'm (at all) good with butterflies... Even so I've joined up with gusto.  It also gives me another load of subjects to photograph in the unflattering light generously given to us by summer afternoons.  Yes, I should get out earlier.
 I've only managed sixteen species so far this year, the most noteworthy likely being Green Hairstreak. So yes there's a lot of work to do yet, but at least I haven't turned to Moths...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Back in the Game

After over a month, last Wednesday my lens was back from the repairs.  What a relief. And what a dilemma.  As you may well know, I had originally believed it to be the displacement of a lens element. A fairly costly repair yes, but ah, if only that's what it had been.  No, what had broken was the Optical Stabiliser.  Which belongs to quite a different spectrum of price - in short over twice as much.  Eegh, painful just about comes close to it.
 So after weeks of macro photography, it was nice to be back in the field with a telephoto again.  I dread to think of the shots I may have missed in that time.
 On Sunday I headed over to Kensington Gardens to fill my memory card up with picture of birds, to make a change from insects.  Indeed I was also keen to see the Tawny Owlets as I hadn't had a chance to get over there for them this year. After a bit of searching two did show pretty well, even flying in broad daylight!  Although only to a new tree.  By now they've been out of the nest for quite a while, and already look more like adult birds.  Not many downy feathers left!

So that's the last matter of the slump resolved, I'm back in the game.  Now with the weather we've been having await many images with blown highlights....

Friday, 20 June 2014

Eagley Awaiting

Am I now a twitcher?  Thinking back to my birding this year I'm becoming inclined to say so.  Perhaps I should be put under the bracket of 'occasional twitcher'.  Much more justifiable.  Although 'frequent dipper' may be more appropriate.
 With a Short-Toed Eagle being regularly seen from Ashdown Forest for the last few days, and showing pretty well, how could I not go and see this mega?  So a trip down yesterday, in short - failed. Miserably.  No sign of the eagle and pretty much void of anything else of interest.
It's a mega, of course we tried again.  An earlier start this morning and immediately things seemed more promising.  Arriving in Long Car park shortly after eight, we picked up on two Woodlark, a male Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and a Stonechat.  Already a deal better than before.  News then came in that the Eagle was in a dead tree ten minutes away at Gill's Lap.  Fifteen minutes later (thanks to a thoughtlessly slow truck) we pulled up.   I left the car in some hurry, and... yep, it was there.  Wow, what a bird!  After a few minutes it left the tree showing off it's hugely impressive wingspan, before proceeding to disappear behind the trees. Mega, not just for its rarity level. Well worth the hours.
 In the surrounding area we had more Stonechats, Redstarts and a couple of Buzzards.  It took a bit of searching, but this was followed up by some good views of singing and 'parachuting' Tree Pipits.
 Tree Pipit being my 200th British species!  I'm calling the slump well and truly over.

                                                     You have my word this an Eagle...

Friday, 13 June 2014

Pitch and Patch

I must say that today I was, for the first time in quite a while impressed by the patch. An aim to beat the patch day record of thirty seven didn't succeed, only off by three.  That's with some extremely obvious ones missing, Greylag Goose being one...that's the way it goes I suppose.  Today was a little bit more about quality than quantity.  Well, quality for the patch.  There's a big difference.
 A singing Coal Tit sparked things off, it being my first ever record away from winter.  Juvenile Goldcrest, Great-spotted Woodpecker and then a patch year-tick in the form of a Jay.  The old Pitch and Putt course held the real gem though, a Willow Warbler.  Surprisingly a patch first for me. Well, perhaps not so surprising if you consider that this was my first for the year.  Why it took so long I don't know.

So that, coupled with three year-ticks at Rainham yesterday, I think we can safely call the slump off.... for now.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

And it Continues...

 The appearance of a Marsh Warbler just a short train ride away at Seaford Head was much too tempting to resist.  A nice close by rarity and the possibility to end my slump?  Of course I went.  It was perhaps too spontaneous a trip though.  Within forty minutes of hearing about it I was on my way.  Not the wisest of ideas as I then realised it hadn't been seen for a few hours.  Ah well you never know, it may pop up again.  Apparently not.  And despite the best efforts of several people, it remained unseen and unheard.  I gave it an hour or two before conceding  that yet again I had succeeded in dipping.  Of course, it was relocated in the evening, much later than I was there though.
 Oh well, at least I managed to life-tick a Green Hairstreak Butterfly.  A rather tatty individual, not the usual stunning green, but still a fantastic looking butterfly to see, it even posed for a couple of quick shots.  
My 500mm is in repairs at the moment, so maybe in a couple of weeks it'll be back to birds....

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Slump

As would be easily deduced from the title, of late I have somewhat hit a slump.  Although May started off well with Garden Warblers, Hobby's and the return of Swifts, things have gone slightly down hill since then.  A good place to start I suppose would be with my lens currently being out of action.  I, as I'm sure many of you know, use the Sigma 150-500mm, and have done for the last sixteen months.  It's seen an awful lot of use in that time, but enough to cause a problem?  I wouldn't have said so, but apparently it has.  Last week a glass element inside of the lens became dislodged, causing horrendous distortion to the image.  It looks like there may be a few weeks with no bird photography, and a £130 repair bill.  Eugh, I suppose I'll be stuck with macro....

 My year-list, has remained firmly fixed on 157 for longer than I'm comfortable with, I mean I haven't even seen a Willow Warbler this year... is that even possible?
 A Tree Pipit at Wanstead looked to be a nice local lifer, but it was not to be.  A twitch to see a Red-footed Falcon at Lee Valley went wrong when the report was declared erroneous. Fantastic. At least there'll be Nightingale and Cuckoo about... oh if only. Neither showed. One day, three dips.
  Just to ice the cake, there's been nothing on the patch more eye-catching than four Swifts. What I'd give for a Swallow....
 Maybe one of the rare birds that are dotted around just out of reach will come that little bit closer and this slump will be over.  Although more likely than not I'd dip it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

It's a fun Hobby

More warblers at Wanstead Flats, with a Garden Warbler around for the last week it didn't seem in a hurry to go anywhere.  So a quick trip on Sunday was... well surprisingly more successful than I had expected.  My first House Martin and Swift of the year wasn't too poor a start as we headed into the 'brooms' to look for Whinchat. That drew a blank, but a Hobby flying past was rather a surprise.  It showed again and much better this time as we headed to look for the Garden Warbler.  Not the usual setting to see one!
 The Garden Warbler was easy enough to find, its constant singing gave it away just a bit.  It didn't show too badly either.  Admittedly yes, it showed terribly for a photo, but it gave nice, reasonably close views....

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

'Sea' What You Get

What, seawatching again?  Ah, yes I know - more tales of distant birds...
 Monday morning was productive but also rather quiet.  A steady passage would be a good way to put it. Several Arctic Skuas, one or two Bonxies, a few Red-throated Divers and a dozen or so Whimbrel.
 Well, there was also a bit of a Splash Point rarity too.  At about 7:50 (how had I already been here over an hour?) a female duck flew by at pretty close range.  I managed to get it just as it was heading away.  It was slightly confusing at first, but another seconds view, this time with its head in, and...  Mandarin?  Not really the kind of bird you'd expect on a seawatch! A lifer, and if that wasn't enough, it was quite possibly the first record of one past here.
 Things went quiet after that, but then picked up again when Black Tern was called.  For me, they were little more than two small darting black dots on the horizon.  Even with those kind of views they were great to see, another lifer and another fantastic bird.  How could you not love seawatching?

Friday, 25 April 2014

Wanstead Warblers

Another 'tricky to see' Warbler... how many are there?  With miserable weather predicted for the weekend, Thursday afternoon was spent at Wanstead Flats watching Lesser Whitethroats. Well... more like trying to watch. There were several of them singing so how hard could it be? Not as easy as would be hoped.  I got to grips with their song pretty quickly, then it was just a case of locating one.  When, after thirty minutes or so I did get a proper view of one, it well, did a very convincing job of looking like a Common Whitethroat.  Even sitting out in the open, how it did such a convincing job I don't know... it was just a little confusing.

After that they behaved much more like Lesser Whitethroats, even doing a bit of skulking! Cracking little birds though, and a nice local lifer.

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Little Ob-Skua

It would appear I've become slightly hooked with seawatching.  This morning I was back down at Splash Point for, by far my best session yet.  Fantastic would indeed be a good way to describe it.
 By 7am we'd already had Whimbrel, Razorbill, Guillemot, Common Scoter and a few Swallows, already a decent start, but not really what you would class as fantastic. An Arctic Skua changed that. Although to call it distant would be an understatement.  It wasn't more than ten minutes before we then had a Black-throated Diver pass by.  Two lifers by 8am, not bad.
 A few Red-throated Divers, Med Gull, more Whimbrel, Scoter and Swallows came next.  Then came a Bonxie.  Or as I suppose I should say, a Great Skua.  What an impressive black dot.
 These were all well and -very- good, but nothing really stunned me quite as much as the Short-Eared Owl coming in off the sea.  Really a beautiful bird, and it certainly caught me by surprise.  
 Another Bonxie and Arctic Skua went by, but after that it did start to quiet down.  A close in Common Tern, more Med Gull, Red-Breasted Merganser and then we had reached the point when the sea went quiet.  Just as I was leaving though there came another surprise.  Rather an immense surprise.  I only caught a few second view... but Shorelark!  I was slightly bemused when it was called.  Thankfully, it was pointed out to me just before it was out of sight of my eyes -which isn't that far away.  There was no time to sort out optics.
 There, I think that lives up to Fantastic... don't you?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Back in Numbers

Ah, at last.  I've located the Grey Wagtails on the patch again, and it's not just the adults anymore... they now have fledglings with them!  A rather early brood of four, who, it seems have taken after their parents, they're pretty showy.  After finding them on Friday how could I not spend Saturday morning photographing them?  Lying in stinging nettles wasn't the nicest experience, but well worth putting up with.  My, it was a fantastic morning.  And I will admit to being slightly trigger happy, I ended the morning with over a thousand shots of them, with how well they showed though...  surely it was excusable.  I'l let you judge.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Bright Starts

I tried my hand at another spot of 'Seawatching' down at Splash Point on Monday, I won't bore you with details of the early start (again), but.. it certainly was that - early.
 The weather was fantastic, and visibility couldn't have been better.  So I'm not too sure why, but it was again relatively quiet.  That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable.  There were several Red-throated Divers going by, and considerably closer this time.  A few Sandwich Tern and about a dozen Common Scoter.  By 8am there was nothing passing on the sea, but we went to Seaford Head to have a look for migrants... it turned out pretty good.  Brief views of a singing Whitehroat, multiple numbers of Swallows overhead, Chiffchaffs, and three stunning male Wheatears was a nice start... but it got better. Two cracking male Redstarts! Such colourful birds. I was pointed in the direction of one, and after locating this incredible little bird I found another.  They didn't show fantastically, but what stunners!
 A decent start to the migrating season I would say.

Oh and there was even a Spoonbill.....

Friday, 11 April 2014

Up With the Larks

What a day!  Another horrendously early start, out the door before 6am.  What drove us to do that... well I do know.  There was a big days birding planned.
 The first stop of the morning was at Cavenham Heath.  It was a bit slow to begin with, but after an hour or so things picked up with a pair of Woodlark in one of the fields.  They really do have remarkable camouflage and the dull early morning light made spotting them no easier, a nice species to get the morning started though.  What really got the day started however were three Stone Curlews, like the Woodlark sitting cryptically camouflaged and at some distance.  Through the scope though they looked fantastic, a truly remarkable looking species.

Time pressed, so it was then on to Lynford Arboretum to look for the Two-Barred Crossbills, and hopefully not the strange, presumed hybrid bird I had here last year.  The car park here was surprisingly good, with a pair of Firecrest and a Marsh Tit.
  There were a few Crossbills around to start with, and over the next hour we saw up to about eight birds, but despite the best efforts of several birders no wing bars could be found on any of them.  The hours ticked by and still no barred Crossbills...  After nearly three hours it was time to go.  We stopped at a puddle the Crossbills drink from on the way back, then things began to get interesting.  There was a Crossbill... with wingbars.  The excitement built, but as soon as I saw it I realised that this was almost certainly the dubious hybrid... for the second time!  It could be a 1st year bird with poorly developed feathers, but impossible to tell.  After all the time put in this was ever so slightly dispiriting.
 It's a good thing we waited longer as five minutes later the female Two bar turned up, shortly followed by the male. Wow. Amazing birds, worth every hour.  How happy it made me to see such large wing bars...

Still buzzing about the Two bars we then headed to Lakenheath Fen, where we saw remarkably little.  Well we did see a Crane.... so I certainly won't complain, despite there only being brief flight views.  Another amazing bird to top off an amazing day.

Friday, 4 April 2014

I Spot a Scoter

After seeing Common Scoter for the first time on Sunday, it could be considered slightly ironic that I would see them again the following week. Indeed, more so when you take into account where I saw them -Walthamstow.  Lockwood Reservoir to be precise. Why a pair of Common Scoter are on a London reservoir I don't know, but it was quite a contrast on the flocks flying by the south coast at the weekend.
 There was no sign of the Garganey, which was the original reason for my visit to the reservoirs, but urban Scoters  made up for their absence.
There were ten Scoter reported in London today, including a a group of six, they seem to be taking a rather unconventional route to their northern nesting grounds. Imagine if a Velvet Scoter got the same idea...

Sunday, 30 March 2014


This morning started at 6:15, earlier than my comfortable rising time, but I had my reasons.  Packed and out the door by 7:15, what a daunting thought, I was on my way to Splash Point for my first taste of Seawatching.  I met up with local birder Liam Curson at Seaford before heading down to Splash Point. Despite the conditions being seemingly perfect for migrating birds, it was -so I was told- rather a quiet day.  There were however at least a hundred Common Scoter, about 10 Red-throated Divers, 200-300 Brent Geese, 8 Sandwich Tern, Gannet and 2 Med Gulls.  With Red-throated Diver and Common Scoter constituting as lifers, Not really what I'd call a quiet day.  Most of the birds stayed distant, but it was a nice introduction to this type of birding...

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