Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Great-Grey Shrike in Birdwatch!

I'm pleased to say that I managed to get my image of the Great-Grey Shrike at Chanctonbury Ring in the February issue of Birdwatch!   What a great bird the Shrike was too.  I still can't believe how well it showed, down to two foot at times!
 My image is on page 19 among other December scarcities...

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Having a Lark

Yesterday morning we took a trip over to Wanstead Flats for a spot of birding, although mostly for Skylarks.  When we arrived the weather was far from agreeable, certainly if you take a photographers point of view.  After about half-an-hour though we were treated to glorious sunshine which stayed for the rest of the day.
 The Skylarks were no challenge to find, one bird was even in its song flight.  With the mild weather we've been having it's no surprise.  For the hour or two I was there I stayed in a relatively small area -in comparison the size of the flats - and I would say I had about 6-10 individual Skylarks.  So I imagine there must be well over 50 birds there for Spring.  Considering they're only 7 miles from the centre of London that's not bad.  Unless I'm mistaken this is the closest population of breeding Skylarks to London.
  I haven't really had much luck with Skylarks before, well not when it comes to photographing them.  I've seen plenty but photographic opportunities have been scarce.  So I thought it would be a good idea to try and get a few shots as the sun was shining and there were a few about.  I just wished the sun had been out long enough to dry the ground.  Crawling through wet grass is not the most enjoyable thing to do. But I managed to get within about fifteen foot of a pair of Skylarks which was close enough for some shots.
Good light with a subject which you haven't photographed before at a reasonable distance.  What more could you ask of a morning's photography?

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Big Garden Birdwatch

This morning I took part in the RSPB's 'Big Garden Birdwatch'. I started at 8:00am when it was still pretty dark.  The first bird of the day was a Wren five minutes through. It was over twenty minutes before anything else turned up so a pretty quiet morning.  Once the hour was up I'd had: 1 Wren, 1 Robin, 1 Blackbird, 2 Great Tit and 3 Blue Tit.
 Quite a few species missing, the most surprising being Wood Pigeons - for the last two years I've always got about two during the BGBW, not this time though.  The Goldfinch and Chaffinch where also missing for the count, but rather inconveniently turned up later in the morning. Along with a Starling.  So I think another go tomorrow morning is in order.  A little later in the morning as well...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Patch Prospects...

I've been working out my lists recently, Life, Year, Patch, and entering them into Bubo Listing so I can keep an accurate count, as I have found myself uncertain on many occasions.  My life-list was as I had expected at 178, the same was to be said for my year-list at 79.  Then I came to my patch list, 57.  What?  I knew it was low but not that low, I was expecting at least 60.  Now I know it's not all about lists, but there are quite a few birds I would love to see at the patch which so far I haven't.  Quite a few common ones, for example I've somehow gone the last two summers without seeing a Swallow here, I mean is that even possible?  Clearly it is.  This year however I plan to change that, I will see a Swallow.
 Swallow will of course be a fly over tick, but for them small passerines which I will find near impossible to ID on their way over I've been scoping out some locations.  I think I now have a good chance Wheatear,  Mipit -which I can pick up by ear- and Willow Warblers.  I think Whitethroat and Redstart would be a little too much to ask.
 If I can keep up my regular patch visits through the spring I'm sure some of that should be manageable, especially the Swallows.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Summer Visitor Winters Here

After all the rain we had last night the patch was quite water-logged this morning.  The playing fields had become like marshes and the water level of the lakes and waterways had swelled rather a lot.  The canal was a good 5 inches deeper than usual.  I was certainly glad for a spell of sunshine while I was there, even if it didn't last for long.
As we were walking back around the Fish Lake before heading back I heard a call which sounded to me like a Chiffchaff.  And there it was flitting around in a conifer tree above me.  Quite an unexpected bird for the patch in January.  I watched it for about fifteen minutes or so and it seemed content to stay in a pair of conifers along with a Goldcrest, I wonder if it will stay for the winter or if it was just passing through when the heavy rain started?  I'm sure I'll find out soon enough though.

 Valentino the Med Gull was on the lake today as well, it's the first sighting I've had of him since New Year's Day so it was good to see he's still around.  Despite the high water there is still a Grey Wagtail around, but no sign of the Kingfisher recently.  Still not a bad day, it's always nice to find something unusual at the patch, maybe there'll be a Snipe in one of those flooded fields....

Sunday, 12 January 2014

'Ear' Tick

Yesterday proved that your ears can be just as important as your eyes to a birdwatcher. Although I can ID far less species by ear rather than sight there are times when sight alone aren't enough. Knowing bird calls is in some circumstances a necessity for separating similar species like Willow Warblers from Chiffchaffs and Willow Tit from Marsh.  Without hearing their call, separating these species can be nearly impossible.
  I am rather poor of hearing to be quite honest, but using my ears as well as my eyes proved extremely rewarding yesterday afternoon at Lee Valley Fishers Green.  I was just about to head home when I heard a call from a patch of extremely dingy looking reeds.  I wasn't too certain on the call but I had my suspicions, so I hung about a bit longer and the bird called again. I believed from the call it was a Cetti's Warbler, a bird rather embarrassingly I hadn't yet seen.  A few more calls and some tantalising views strengthened my suspicion. The bird then started to give slightly clearer views which showed the rather rounded tail frequently held upright, dark brown on the back and a prominent supercilium. What else but a Cetti's?
 My third life-tick of 2014, three by the eleventh day of the month is pretty good in my books.  And my year-list is now up to 76, a number I didn't get until mid-February last year.  So far so good.

The Cetti's was in a rather un-photogenic location so here's a Water Rail instead, which again didn't show too amazingly but that's reed dwellers for you.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Grey Phalarope

I've now gone to see the Grey Phalarope at Hove Lagoon twice, and both times it's showed stupendously.  Strangely the bird has taken up a temporary residence in a children's outside paddling pool, it makes more sense when you realise it's filled with rain water.  But how long will it stick around?  It's hard to tell, the Phalarope has been there since at least the weekend and although I'm certain it's finding plenty of food I imagine before long it will decide to continue on its migration.  It was probably on its way to the coast of Africa before it was blown off course by one of the many storms that hit our coasts. And so this tiny bird who was born in the Arctic, is now sitting in a paddling pool in Hove... Funny how things work out.

So it was I spent over three hours with the bird yesterday, and by the time I went home I was soaked to the skin from lying on a slightly damp floor, which caused me to catch just a small chill.  Worth it?  Oh yes.  Even after three hours I was still astounded by how well the bird was showing and how little notice it was taking of anyone.  As I mentioned in my last post I believe that it's apparent obliviousness to humans is due to it having seen very few, if any, during the course of its life so far.  Well that's certainly changed with the amount of people who've come to see it.
 The second time around there was actually some decent lighting which always helps, so I will admit myself to being perhaps a little trigger happy, but wouldn't you?

 The bird was showing so well it would have been rude not to get out the 18-55mm lens for a couple of wide-angles. I didn't think rare birds were allowed to show quite so well....

 I would say by now that you've seen enough to agree that this is one incredible little bird, it's come all the way from the Arctic to sit in a paddling pool and give superb views to everyone who takes the time to look.
 What an incredible start to the year so far, and it's only January.  Can it get much better?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Twitch Twitch

The statements I have previously made about myself not being a twitcher... Well I worry now that I will have to take them back.  You see this year alone I have already twitched - Twice.  And as I'm sure that you're aware there have only been seven days this year.  I mean what's got into me?  Thinking about it I had strong reasons for each twitch, let me go over them.
 On the 3rd I had no plans to go birding, but after a quick check of some bird reports I saw that there was a Spoonbill down in Leigh-on-Sea.  If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember Spoonbills aren't a bird I've been lucky with.  It's humiliating to say, but I have already dipped Spoonbill twice.  So I felt pretty determined to see one.  And I did, at a distance of around 300 metres.  Still decent scope views were had, and the knot of anxiety that I would dip again loosened.
  There were also some not so anxious looking Knots sleeping among the Dunlins.

 My second twitch took place yesterday, a Grey Phalarope was showing stupidly well apparently, and only a four mile walk away.  Could I resist?  Well I can tell you I couldn't.  I got there at about 14:40 so the light was bad, but what a bird!  It was oblivious to the dozens of birders crowding around, coming within 3 foot of me at times!  I imagine where this bird came from humans are probably as rare as Grey Phalaropes are down here.
 I only got 20 minutes with the bird, but can you think of a better way to spend 20 minutes?
 I will do a full post on this bird soon, so just one shot for now, I do have a fair few....

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Year in Review 2013

2013 was a great year, and I was to say the least very lucky! I went to Scotland, Ireland and many places around England, and at these sites I saw some incredible wildlife from Whales, Otters, Bitterns, Owls... oh the list goes on.  You could take it as far as to say that the wildlife spoiled me in 2013.  So as you can imagine to write up all these experiences in one post would take the better part of your day to read and the best part of several days for me to write. So I'll just stick to the highlights....


One of my best moments from January was seeing the Bearded Tits in Hyde Park.  As they were in a small reed bed they couldn't help but show well, so I made a few visits to them.  Waxwings were also on the agenda and I got some fantastic views, this was however whilst I still used a bridge-camera.  That brings me nicely to the last topic of January.  This was when I took the plunge and invested in a lens.  The move to DSLR advanced my photography greatly without the restrictions of a bridge camera in the way.  So a lot of January was spent getting used to the new kit.


 The 2 biggest trips I took in February were to Dungeness and to Ireland. Although I won't forget to mention the trip to Bushy Park where we saw a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker.
  Dungeness was a huge success with 9 lifers, including Black Redstart, Drake Smew, Bean Geese and Great-white Egret!

Ireland was also great with 5 life-ticks managed including Kumliens Gull and Scaup.  The Kumliens Gull was quite a surprise and it more than made up for the fact that I dipped a Spoonbill.
 Not a lifer, but a White-tailed Eagle also showed well soaring overhead for a couple of minutes at a local beach.


I started off March on a high with Goosander and Slavonian Grebe at a Walthamstow Reservoir.  And if that wasn't enough an exhibition of my photography was hosted by the City of London at a couple of sites around Epping Forest which was fantastic!  I also got into a local newspaper as a result.
 To top it all off I went to Scotland in March too, which was, unbelievable.  The highlight for me was seeing a Sperm Whale in Oban Harbour.  It was breathtaking to see, the shear size of the thing!  It was estimated to be about 40 foot long and weighed around 20 tonnes. It was just incredible, something I'm sure I won't be forgetting any day soon.

Oban Harbour is also home to Black Guillemots and Otters, both of which showed ridiculously well, the Guillemots down to 5 foot at times.  So I tried for some portrait shots which is all well and good but looking back now I wish I'd spent a little more time trying some other stuff.

When we were driving back to Glasgow -before heading back to England- we stopped off to look at the ruins of a castle.  It just so happened that I looked up to see an Osprey going over, quite a surprise.  Unfortunately the big lens was left in the car, I've learnt that lesson now.
 I managed 5 life-ticks in Scotland, a trunk load of pictures and left with some incredible memories.


April was a bit of a quiet month, that is to say there weren't really any big trips out.  That's not to say that it passed without interest though, after all it is when most migrants start arriving.  In my garden I had a Pied Flycatcher and a Whitethroat, at Rainham Marshes I had a Little-ringed Plover and a visit to Wanstead Flats showed up 5 Wheatear.


 May again was a little bit quiet, I spent a lot of time at Kensington Gardens though, especially after I found out you could hand feed most of the birds there.  I didn't just hand feed the birds though, no I also managed to see nesting Treecreepers and the Little Owl.
 I was also at the patch fairly regularly -as every patch birder should.  There were of course the young birds, Cygnets, Gosling's Ducklings... but also I managed to find a pair of Great-crested Grebe.  Somewhat of a patch rarity.  I had high hopes that they would breed here, especially after I was lucky enough to see their courtship.  It wasn't to be though and after a week or two they were gone.


In June I was in Ireland again and I was treated to a visit to Skellig islands, it was an unbelievable day.  Over 60,000 Gannets as well as Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Manx Shearwater... but I must say in my eyes that wasn't the best part,  in my opinion that was when a Pilot Whale came up about 40 foot from the boat.  I do like whales....

 Back from Ireland I went on one of my rare twitches.  I went to see the Long-tailed Duck that was residing on a small lake in the heart of London. As they are usually to be found out at sea photographing them isn't always easy, so an inland one was definitely worth a visit, and it didn't disappoint.


In July I bought myself a 7D, quite expensive but so far it's proved worth it.  I'll look at it as a long-term investment, that way it puts my mind more at ease.
 The first big trip out with the camera was to Elmley Marshes, We had Avocets, Lapwings, Marsh Harriers, Reed and Sedge Warbler, just a quite nice if a little hot day out.  I would post a picture from the day but, errr I might have lost them.  All of them, not too sure how but... Oh well.
 Another big trip out was to Minsmere where I saw Green, Wood and Curlew Sandpiper, Knot, Little Gull and the star, a showy Bittern!  Again I managed to lose all of my shots from that day, I managed to restore some of the ones of the Bittern but not my best.  I must be more careful.
 Last but not least I had a Med Gull in full summer plumage go by my garden, it totally shocked me!


I was back in Ireland again in August, the biggest trip was again to an island, this time Cape Clear island in the hope of seeing some of the thousands of Shearwater that go by there each hour.  Oh we saw them all right but they were a little bit further away than we had hoped.  So there was no chance of picking up Sooty or Great Shearwater.  Instead we focussed on the Fulmars who live on the island, by the end of the day I had managed some decent in flight images of them, though it wasn't easy.  Unlike the Shearwaters you see the Fulmars kept coming too close, but one or two successes were had.
 I also had a Minke Whale out at sea! My third species of whale in one year!

 Most of the rest of my time in Ireland was spent photographing some of the butterfly species that lived here, concentrating mainly on Silver-Washed Fritillary and Small Copper.  While I was there I saw 18 species of butterfly, I'm hoping by next year I will be able to afford a macro lens, that way I might have some slightly better shots of them.


I mostly did local birding in September. I visited Wanstead Flats a fair few times, and I managed to catch up with a few Whinchat and a very showy female Kestrel who didn't mind me taking a few shots.
 Other than that and a quick trip to Rainham Marshes where I had Kestrels, Hobby and Marsh Harriers that was about it for September.


 The patch started to pick up in October with the return of Valentino the Med Gull and the discovery of some rather confiding Grey Wagtails.
 The highlight of this month, however, has to be the Red Deer rut, I had an amazing couple of mornings at Richmond Park photographing the Deer, something I definitely hope to do again next October.


Due to Storm damage early on my patch was closed for the best part of November, so naturally very little patch birding done.
  I was surprised to hear - in October I believe - that I had been placed highly commended in the Suffolk Wildlife Trusts YoungWildlife Photographer competition.  And on the 29th of November I went to an awards ceremony down in Suffolk for the competition.
 While I was in Suffolk I did some birding and saw Crossbills and Hawfinches, two members of the finch family I've wanted to see for a long time!
 I also managed to catch up with the Tawny Owls at Kensington gardens again.  They showed superbly if not just a little but too high.  But it was nice to finally get a proper picture of one, fingers crossed for the owlets this year!


In December I turned fourteen and the day before my birthday I went birding. I had some crazy views of a Great-Grey Shrike in the morning.  It came within two foot of me at one point!  I spent so long photographing it that there was only time for one more stop so we decided to go for Purple Sandpipers.  They showed well but there was basically no light left for any pictures, the shrike was a different story.

Through December my patch started to get better with a few Redwings, about a dozen Shoveler, the continued fantastic views of Grey Wagtail, and then on the 28th it really got good.  I saw my first patch Kingfisher! It showed pretty well the second time around too.

So there we have it, my year in review, and what a year!  I'm sure you'll agree.  So let's see what 2014 will bring!
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