Friday, 16 November 2012

Big Dipper

Having got distracted by the showy Otters last week, I didn't manage to get any photographs of the Black-bellied Dipper and it was only seen briefly a few times after that so I thought my chance had gone.  Yesterday afternoon, it reappeared and was well twitched by several BTO folk during their coffee break, but as I didn't have my big lens with me having walked in to work, I didn't go so instead thought I'd try today instead.
As I pulled up this morning a forlorn looking birder was just leaving so I assumed the bird wasn't around, but as soon as I glanced over the bridge, the Dipper flew up and along under the bridge.  I went back to the car to get the camera and sure enough, it was still present on the other side of the bridge and showed extremely well, and thankfully the river has dropped a bit since last week and so there are some stones for it to feed from in true Dipper style.  Typically though this morning is very gloomy and the bird insists on sitting in the shade of the bridge so even on high ISO setting, the best shutter speeds are 1/40th of a second, but it does sit still long enough to get something fairly sharp and will hopefully stick around until nicer weather so I can get some better shots.

The fact it stays in one place for long periods means I was even able to get some video footage using the D300s....

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

An Otterly amazing morning

Following the discovery of a Black-bellied Dipper along the River Thet near work yesterday, this morning saw several BTO birders searching for this scarce visitor to these parts.  After a few minutes after I arrived the bird was located and showed well, and thankfully for those who keep "Nunnery Lakes Lists", it was within the boundary of the reserve, albeit right at the edge but tickable nonetheless.  I didn't manage to get any photos of the Dipper today but whilst searching for the bird which was very mobile and elusive a short while later I came across an Otter, which after a while gave superb prolonged views as it ate a Perch on the opposite bank of the river.

Amazingly, as I watched this animal, a couple of Mute Swans swam past but the Otter took no notice of them, but as one got out of the water, the swan immediately turned around and raced back into the water, all the while hissing.  With the Otter still enjoying its breakfast, it wasn't immediately obvious what had caused the swan to panic, until a second Otter appeared and joined the first Otter, presumably they are siblings or possibly large cub with its mother.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Thrush fantastic

Following large arrivals of thrushes on the east coast over the last couple of days, Nick, Chas and I headed up to the coast for a spot of ringing and general birding.  On arrival at the site it was obvious that thrushes were still coming in and so it proved with several thousand Redwing seen coming in off the sea during the day along with hundreds of Fieldfare, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds whilst Robins too were everywhere.  Ring Ouzel, normally a scarce passage migrant were also present, with at least 20 birds seen or heard in the scrub during the day and a Black Redstart on a hay bale was also a good bird.
With so many birds around, it was no surprise that ringing was very productive too, with nearly 150 birds caught, including 45 Robins, 40 Blackbirds, 15 Redwings, 10 Song Thrushes and 8 Goldcrest but the highlight was 2 stunning Ring Ouzels.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Black Beauty

Being so far inland, the Nunnery Lakes is hardly the most exciting place for birding, but being just behind the office is very convenient for a lunchtime wander.  October is often the most exciting month of the year for finding good birds blown miles off course and the dull and dingy weather this lunchtime and the obvious passage of Fieldfares and Redwings overhead as I walked down the track did give the feel it may be a good day.  Typically though, it was generally pretty quiet, a check of the thrush flocks moving along the river failed to produce any Ring Ouzels and the bushes failed the produce a rare warbler and with that I was just giving up and heading back to work. As I was walking past Bob Clarke Lake, the most northerly and so last one I was going past, there's not usually more than a couple of Mallards or Canada Geese since it's quite small and lined with fishermen but today there was something odd and not just a female Pochard with a few Tufteds, but a jet black duck asleep.  Immediately I knew it was likely to be a drake Common Scoter but as its bill was firmly hidden I treated it with caution, not wanting to raise an alarm of such a rare find (well for here anyway) only for it to wake up and turn out to be a funny looking Mallard or something.  Thankfully, after a few tense minutes, it woke up and revealed the yellow and black beak that confirmed my initial thoughts and thankfully for several other Lakes listers, it stayed until dusk at least allowing them to connect with this first for the lakes, leaving an agonising overnight wait for those who couldn't make it......

I didn't have my camera to hand at the time so thanks to John Marchant for the above photo.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Brecks bash

Having not actually had much of a chance to play with the new camera and lens since I bought it a couple of weeks ago, the fine weather saw me out and about locally with camera in hand, just to see what it can do.
First stop was to look for Water Voles at a spot near Honington where I had been told they had been showing well, but despite morning and afternoon visits, no voles were seen, just a couple of Little Owls calling and a female Grey Wagtail did at least pose for a few photos.

Next stop was a trip down the BTO's Nunnery Lakes reserve.  If there's one thing you can guarantee here is the local Canada Geese and Mallards on the river by the car park will be there and if nothing else, they are quite good for photographing close up, giving the VR on the lens a good test.

Further down the reserve, it was fairly quiet, a flyover Redpoll and Siskin and the first autumn Skylarks, though a Chiffchaff posed for a photo on a Hawthorn bush and shortly afterwards was singing in the October sunshine, quite why these birds do this yet no other summer migrant (I can think of) sings at this time of year.

On the way home in the evening froma  second look for Water Voles, a Brown Hare near Knettishall Heath probably knew the light wasn't the best for photography and so wasn't in a hurry to avoid having its photograph taken, with the glorious evening light having just vanished behind the trees.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A blessing in disguise??

September in southern Spain is most famous for one thing....raptor migration!  Being the narrowest point across the Straits of Gibraltar, the area around Tarifa is a funnel for thousands of southbound raptors and other migrants, and naturally their watchers.  Wind direction is crucial for viewing the spectacle, and as we headed along the main road towards Tarifa, it was soon obvious that we had picked a good day, with scores of Booted Eagles and other raptors (I would have looked more closely had Toni not kept complaining about something to do with keeping my eyes on the road).  Along the road there are a couple of watchpoints around old deserted buildings which make excellent hilltop vantagepoints from which to view the spectacle.  Scanning around, dozens of Booted and Short-toed Eagles were visible along with fewer Honey Buzzards, Black Kites, Lesser Kestrels and even Sparrowhawks along with Black Storks and a swirling mass of several hundred distant White Storks, though only occasional birds ever came close enough to make photography really worthwhile.

Short-toed Eagles

After a couple of hours, the number of birds had decreased so we moved on, stopping for a few minutes at another viewpoint with a cafe.  Returning to the car, we soon noticed a smashed window and the realisation that one of the cameras (thankfully not the one with my big lens on!!) and Toni's purse had been stolen from the car.  We can only have been away from the car for a matter of minutes and even then not that far away, but the local thieves obviously know birders have expensive optics and are constantly on the lookout.  A few frantic phonecalls later and all her credit cards had been stopped and only a small amount of cash was in her purse at the time so the damage was minimal but a lesson definitely learned!

Even before the theft, I had been toying with the idea of upgrading my camera when we visited Gibraltar and a dash just in time as the shops were closing saw us soon kitted out with a new D300s and 70-300mm VR lens and we spent the rest of the evening up on the rock photographing the Barbary Macaques which live there and harrass the tourists for food, but are endearing nevertheless.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Heading east

Having spent the night in the slightly surreal town of El Rocio, complete with its sandy streets and places to hitch your horse outside every house, we spent the morning back at Donana with much the same assortment of waders on the largely dried out lagoons as yesterday and in the car park, the local Azure-winged Magpies were certainly hungry....

Heading eastwards from Donana towards Algeciras, we stopped off briefly at the Laguna de Medina, which thankfully was still full of water and better still held at least four Purple Gallinules which I had hoped to have seen at Donana.  Unfortunately though, the lagoon is vast and without a 'scope, even the Gallinules would have been next to impossible to pick out despite dwarfing the neighbouring Moorhens and certainly no chance of any photos.  Also a dozen Spoonbills, a handful of Black-winged Stilts, and both Montagu's and Marsh Harriers on show here.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Calling it quits

A final dawn search for Iberian Lynx once again drew a blank and the realisation that we really should have been here in winter rather than the heat of the summer to look for them, oh well, a good reason to come back I suppose!!

In an effort to salvage something from the trip before we head towards the coast, we headed to the famous Coto Donana wetlands and the anticpated hoardes of waterbirds.  Arriving at the quite bizarre town of El Rocio, it soon became apparent that the lack of any rain since May had all but depleted the water of the area and the big areas of marshland were nothing but dry fields.  Much of the Coto Donana is only accessbile by specially organised tours but there are some areas round the visitor centre with hides that can freely be visited.  Here too, the large lake had been reduced to a few pools, which did hold a few Green Sandpipers and Little Ringed Plovers but not a lot else in the afternoon heat.  Despite Azure-winged Magpies being everywhere around Andujar, they weren't that easy to get close to, but around the car park at Donana, it's a very different story, sit down at the picnic tables and you soon get mobbed, and they really are very attractive birds.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Not a cat in hell's chance

Another frustrating day sat staring at hillsides in the hope of an Iberian Lynx wandering into view, but despite dawn and dusk vigils at the two recommended spots, other than a handful of remarkably confiding Red Deer, not a lot was moving.  Birdlife wasn't much more obvious either, 3 Black Vultures circling distantly, a Rock Bunting and the ubiquitous Azure-winged Magpies were about it.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Needle in a haystack

Well, not so much needle as slightly different coloured piece of hay in a haystack, having been out before light, we made our way to one of the watchpoints, and as the light improved, so the enormity of our task became clear.  The terrain is vast, and with more lynx-shaped boulders and bushes than you can shake a stick at and trying to find an elusive cat in this really is going to take a massive dose of luck.

After a couple of hours scanning and nothing but a few bellowing deer and angry Magpies, we conceded defeat and had a drive around the rest of the Sierra de Andujar.  The weather in the morning was very cloudy which at least kept the temperatures down but also made for very flat uninspiring light so other than to photograph a confiding Red-rumped Swallow sat on a roadside wire, the camera remained pretty much unused.

Wildlife was much in evident throughout the day though, with confiding Red Deer abundant throughout and 3 Mouflon briefly.  A drive down a typically rough track did yield a superb adult Spanish Imperial Eagle, ubiquitous Azure-winged Magpies and many Hoopoes but none very photogenic.  In the evening, we drove to another part of the valley to a bridge near a dam where the Lynx apparently cross the river, but despite staying there all evening until dark, a Black Vulture and some ridicuously confiding Long-tailed Tits were about the highlights.  Lynx 1 Wildlife Photographers 0.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Spain calling...

Having made our way to Gatwick late last night, had a very disturbed sleep in a Travelodge complete with its own train track running about 100 yards away all night, we finally boarded the Easyjet flight to Malaga.  With a sense of disbelief, we weren't even delayed getting on the plane, but once everybody was on board and awaiting final checks, one of the passengers suddenly decided they didn't want to fly after all thus meaning we were sat on the runway for an hour whilst the remarkably patient crew sorted the situation out.  Once that was all sorted we were off and a few hours later touched down in Malaga.  The drive north to Andujar was fairly uninteresting and we arrived at the Villa Matilde just after 10pm to be greeted with the news that our quarry, the Iberian Lynx, hadn't been seen much recently, it's been too hot for them.  Hmmm, not the news we were hoping for, but undaunted we go to bed hopeful of success in the morning...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Wash and Go

As I always say whenever I give a talk about the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), The Wash is the Manchester United of the bird world!!  No other site in the UK comes close to replacing it as the best site for waterbirds in the country with a five year average of over 300,000 birds counted in one month.  At high tide, all the birds which feed out on its extensive mudflats get forced to find somewhere dry to rest and on the Norfolk side of the Wash lies the RSPB's Snettisham reserve where vast flocks roost on the pits there.

Today, as the tide is at its highest this month, I joined forces with fellow WeBS organiser Chas Holt and artist Richard Thewlis to go and visit Snettisham to watch the spectacle.  Arriving at 7am, we set off on the long walk south to the hides with the hope of being able to photograph the waders at close range as they get pushed on to the pits.  Unfortunately, as we entered the first hide, two photographers had already claimed the best spots, inconveniently spreading themselves out so nobody else could get near so I abandoned that plan and headed to the furthest south hide which I had all to myself, though the birds were nowhere near as close, but large numbers of Oystercatchers were present on the shingle bank giving a noisy spectacle of their own.

The light through most of the morning was poor and flat so I wasn't able to do as much photography as I had hoped, and despite the height of the tide, the birds weren't as numerous or as close as when Chas and Richard visited last month.  Having split up to do our own thing, I picked out a Wood Sandpiper amongst the masses, but was soon outclassed by Chas who found a White-rumped Sandpiper, though by the time I had ambled up to where he was, the bird had got lost amongst the throngs of Knot and Godwits, though some compensation came in the form of a flyover young Spoonbill.

As the tide receded, birds started to head back out onto the Wash and so I spent a short bit of time trying to photograph waders on the mudflats as they became exposed, but it is amazing how quickly it empties and before I knew it the mud extended as far as the eye could see and birds soon became too distant once again, though a few Turnstones did stay in close enough for a few shots.

As the year progresses, the number of birds will increase, and although photographic attempts were thwarted on this occasion, a return visit or two will be made this coming winter.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


I've recently had my first batch of images submitted to Alamy, an online stock photo site accepted.  With the weather far from seasonal, and a new lead to hook up my laptop up to my TV to use as a large monitor (a laptop screen really isn't up to the job), I've spent the weekend working my way through my recently sorted image library and processing a load more photos to submit.  Going through so many images from some fantastic destinations, this really is starting to make me crave another trip somewhere, and with over 500 bird and just short of 100 mammal species in the library, this could take a while....

I've begun going through the mammals, and here's a few of my favourites...

Grizzly Bear, Bella Coola, British Columbia September 2011

Brown Hare, Scotland, March 2010

 Captive Cheetah, Namibia, September 2010

Grey Fox, Red Rocks, California, March 2010

Orca, Vancouver Island, British Columbia September 2011

African Elephants, Etosha NP, Namibia, September 2010

Otter, Thetford, Norfolk, March 2011

Haviside's Dolphin, Lambert's Bay, South Africa September 2010

Burchell's Zebra, Etosha NP, Namibia, September 2010

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Rock and Roller!

Today found me heading back north up to the Yorkshire coast to look for one of Europe's most stunning birds, a Roller.  This bird was originally found at Spurn last Tuesday but rather unsociably, chose to vanish before I was able to see it whilst up north earlier in the week.  Thankfully the bird was relocated further north at Aldburgh and has remained for several days feeding on a ploughed field. 

Arriving shortly after 3pm, the Roller was immediately visible, quite distantly at first but eventually came closer though still about 75 yards away, and quite simply, WOW, what a stunning bird, the turquoise body and chesnut mantle make this bird quite amazing to watch.  For the next couple of hours, the bird delighted birders and passing locals alike, though as the weather turned colder it must have been wondering what it was doing so far from the Mediterranean!!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Seabird city

Having stopped over in Yorkshire after the successful Orphean Warbler twitch last night, I spent a couple of hours this morning at Bempton Cliffs photographing the abundance of seabirds there.  I'm not sure if it was just a quiet day but the cliffs didn't seem to have the same intensity of action or noise as usual but still a nice way to spend the morning...


You can't go to Bempton without being asked if you have seen a Puffin

Ok, so it's not a seabird, but this Meadow Pipit was just posing!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Racing the Reaper

Computers are meant to make life easier, well that's the theory, but after a few hours of being increasingly frustrated at trying to make a new computer program at work actually work, I had had enough.  News of a Western Orphean Warbler trapped up at Hartlepool in the morning was tempting but for most of the morning, I just put that to one side but once the computer program started to play up and frustrations built, suddenly the Orphean seemed like a good idea and a plan was hatched.  Unfortunately, I had a boiler repair man coming at lunchtime so had to wait in for him which meant a quick get away was not on the cards.  As he dallied and dithered and drank his coffee, updates confirmed the warbler was still present, and eventually, just before 2pm he was finished and I was off....

As I pulled in to the petrol station I got a text message from Nick saying "Sounds like you may have a race against the reaper! It has yet to move (other than breathing)".  The pager had failed to mention the fact that it may not actually still be alive by the time I got there but as I was already committed to going, I carried on.  Thankfully the traffic was flowing and I made good time and news that the bird was indeed mobile was encouraging. Arriving at a very busy bowling green on Hartlepool Headland just after 6pm, within minutes the bird flicked across into a tamarisk and showed well looking quite active for a bird reportedly at death's door for several minutes before dropping out of sight.  Moments later, there was a flurry of activity as the bird once again appeared sat in a patch of sun and there it stayed back on to the crowd, virtually motionless for the next hour, allowing me to get a poor phonescoped shot.

By the time I left at 7.30pm, it had not moved an inch and anyone turning up and seeing that can not possibly have ticked the bird on those views since it wasn't even obvious it was still breathing!!  It was obviously a unwell bird, sitting fluffed up for hours at a time, and I will be amazed if it still alive tomorrow morning...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Getting Ratty in the Fens

Every year I have a list of animals I would like to photograph that year, an every year boxing Brown Hares, Fox Cubs and Water Voles are top of the list (if anyone knows reliable places for any of these, plese get in touch!).  Yesterday afternoon, WWT Welney tweeted about Water Voles showing on their pond so having been woken up early with sun streaming through the curtain (not something that happens often at the moment), I set off full of hope.

An hour later and I arrived at Welney and after a short wait, saw a Water Vole swimming under the bridge over the pond.  The charcteristic crunching noise soon gave away its location and I was on the bridge looking down on it as it munched its way through some stems.  As the clouds built up and the breeze got colder, frustration was beginning to set in as although the vole was only a couple of metres away, getting a clear shot was virtually impossible as it sat amongst reeds which were constantly blowing.  As thoughts turned to giving up and getting a bacon butty and a cup of tea to warm myself up from the reserve cafe, eventually the vole gave itself up and sat out in the open, completely unafraid of me just above it, well until I nearly dropped my mobile phone on its head!

Photography wasn't the easiest, not only because the vole often chose to stay concealed but the viewing was from a wooden bridge so you are always looking down on the animal and for health and safety purposes, the sides of the bridge have handrails and below that metal rungs which although flexible, do get in the way a bit.  That said, having only ever seen Water Voles on four previous occasions in my life, it really was a fantastic way to spend a few hours and I will no doubt be back for more soon.

Friday, 4 May 2012

From America with love...

I had just walked in the house when the phone rang and an excited Nick Moran was telling me about a Dowitcher sp. at Livermere.  Twenty minutes later, having gone the scenic route, I joined the group of birders (including just about every birder from the BTO) watching the bird, by this time confirmed as a Long-billed Dowitcher busily feeding on the far side of the lake alongside a Bar-tailed Godwit.  As the bird was too far away, there was no chance of any photos but it showed well enough through the 'scope and along with a Hobby and 2 Yellow Wagtails overhead, made for quite a successful evening.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Fun in the forest

With light winds and cloudy conditions forecast, it promised to be ideal conditions to try to catch some Tree Pipits in Thetford Forest.  Well the weather may have played ball, but the birds weren't so cooperative, with one bird singing and showing well but staying well away from the mist net.  In the same clearing were a family of Woodlarks which showed well, with one of the adults sporting colour rings, and also a Cuckoo calling nearby.

As I got the 'scope out to try to get a better look at the pipit and other adult Woodlark to see if they too were also colour ringed, I noticed a raptor being mobbed by crows over the back, so first had a quick look at that expecting it just to be a Buzzard, so was quite surprised when I got on to it and realised it was a Honey Buzzard instead.  I always find they are one of those birds that every time you see a Common Buzzard, you double check it's not a Honey Buzzard even though structurally it looks like a buzzard, but the second you see a proper Honey Buzzard, they stand out like a sore thumb being a distinctly different shape and jizz.  It showed well for a few minutes before drifting south, but despite getting the news out immediately, it couldn't be relocated.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Slow start to the day

With spring now upon us and the glorious weather continuing, I headed down the Nunnery Lakes reserve for a morning walk, hopeful of some migrants.  As it turned out, other than the first Willow Warbler of the year and several Chiffchaffs around the reserve, it was pretty quiet birdwise, so I turned my attention elsewhere.  On one of the banks round the lakes, there are three sheets of corrugated metal which have been left out and act as shelters for reptiles, especially first thing before the air has warmed up, and more importantly for photography, before the reptiles have warmed up.  Turning over the first two sheets produced nothing but a few ants and spiders but the third did produce a smart Slow Worm, which although looks like a snake is actually a lizard, albeit one without legs.  It was now I missed my Sigma 70-300 mm macro lens which I managed to break last year, the Nikon 70-300mm lens I replaced it with, although better optically, doesn't have the macro facility that the old Sigma had, and the closest it will focus is 1.5 metres which isn't anywhere near as good for photographing butterflies, dragonflies or as it happens reptiles at close range.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Deer, oh deer

Deer of all species are notoriously wary, usually requiring quite a bit of fieldcraft to get close to.  Thankfully, there are often the exceptions to the rule, and a female Muntjac on the Nunnery Lakes reserve is one such animal.  She is still a bit wary but instead of running the second she gets wind of you, over the last few weeks (usually at lunchtime when I don't have my camera with me) I've seen her quite a few times and possibly she now recognises me and realises I don't pose a threat can be fairly confiding, today even allowing me to approach a bit closer and kneel down to photograph her.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Snowball fight

When not trying to photograph birds, much of my time is spent ringing them.  One local site we visit is a garden which gets phenomenal numbers of birds with daily catches in excess of 300 birds not unusual, usually finches like Brambling and Siskin but this winter seems to be the winter of the Lesser Redpoll.  Even in my garden where redpolls are rare, this winter they are outnumbering the Siskins and this morning out of the 180 birds caught before the heavens opened, well over half were probably Lesser Redpoll.  With so many birds, it's not surprising that occasionally something slightly different appears with them and whilst extracting birds from the net, one redpoll looked particularly grey and immediately alarm bells rang.  Back in the ringing hut, its true identity was confirmed as an Arctic Redpoll.  As ever there was discussion as to who would get to ring this bird which was settled with a toss of the coin and I was fortunate enough to get the honour (sorry Nick!).

In the hand it was aged as a 1st winter male and the finer details of this cracking bird could be seen including the unmarked undertail coverts and white rump but the perhaps most striking feature was the stubby bill, most unlike any of the Lesser Redpoll we were catching.  I hadn't taken my camera with me so had to use the camera on my phone for these shots, but they are still quite good quality.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Bird Spotching

Serious birders calling it birding, the media call it twitching, magazines call it bird watching and ignoramuses (or is it ignorami?) call it bird spotting, but possibly the best name, well that according to my gorgeous 4 year old niece, is bird spotching! 

I spent today at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve near Fakenham in Norfolk with my sister, brother-in-law (who was sacrificing the North London Derby to be there!) and two nieces for a spot of bird spotching.  For those who have not visited, it is a fantastic place for families to visit, lots of captive ducks in the enclosures coming for food, but unlike the similar Wildfowl and Wetland Trust sites, Pensthorpe has much more than just ducks, the enclosures have several species of Cranes, Storks, waders and even free-flying Bearded Tits and Turtle Doves!  With such an abundance of tame birds, it is no surprise to see many photographers visiting, with the photographic opportunities endless and although I wouldn't attempt to pass off any of photographs of these birds as wild (as I know some do), it doesn't stop me taking some photos anyway.


Black Stork


But it's not just the birds that keeps the kids entertained...