Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Going Dutch...

Every birder has one particular bird that they want to see above all others, be it an amazingly coloured Bird-of-Paradise or spectacular Andean Condor, but for me, that bird has always been Surnia ulula or the Northern Hawk Owl.  Unfortunately for a British-based birder, most owls have a difficult time crossing water so although Hawk Owls have turned up in Britain on just 4 occasions, the most recent back in 1983 on the Shetland Isles, and so the chance of seeing one is remote and a foreign trip is invariably required.  Hawk Owls are found in northern Scandinavia, though in winter do occasionally venture further south as their food becomes harder to find and a couple of weeks ago one such individual did the honorable thing of making it as far south as the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands, which from Norfolk is but a ferry crossing away.
Other commitments over the past weeks have meant I have had to suffer looking at stunning photographs of the bird on the internet, but eventually I found time, the ferry was booked and we were off, leaving Harwich just before midnight on an overnight crossing.  Being woken this morning at 6.30am to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't worry, be happy" was not expected or particularly welcomed but once docked and we found our way out of Hook of Holland, negotiated Rotterdam rush hour and got completely lost in Zwolle, we eventually located the spot and thankfully the owl was still present, taking shelter from the wind and light rain on a floodlight stanchion on a playing field.
Over the next few hours the weather improved and the owl became more active, even catching a vole within a few feet of the gathered photographers, and although it spent much of the time up in a tree which photographically wasn't ideal, it did eventually drop to a lower tree and posed for the crowd.  All in all, a quite stunning bird and well worth the wait to see one and the trip to the Netherlands.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Who's a pretty boy?

It's not very often since I started going on annual foreign trips that I get the chance to see a completely new species to me in Britain, so a flock of Parrot Crossbills in north Norfolk was a chance too good to miss.  With up to 12 of these irruptive birds having been present at Holt Country Park for a couple of weeks, I finally got round to going and as soon as I got out my car at least 5 birds were visible in the top of a tree in the car park, though soon flew out of sight.  Over the next hour, they did feed out of sight quite a bit but also showed very well, and although they spent the vast majority of their time in the pine tree demolishing the cones, one male virtually posed for the assembled crowd in an oak tree.

Even though they showed very well, at certain angles the large bill which is the main identifier of this species was not that evident and I do wonder how easy one of these birds would be to miss among a flock of Common Crossbills in Thetford Forest.  A flyover Red Kite was an unexpected sight here too.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

I do like to be beside the sea-Sibe

Following a weekend of easterly winds when I was otherwise engaged, I had the day off to go up to the coast in the hope some of the goodies had stayed.  One such bird, a Siberian Stonechat (recently split as a species in its own right) reportedly showing well at Wells-next-the Sea had lingered and as is often the case, what is reported as showing well on the pager doesn't actually mean anything to a photographer.  On this occasion, showing well meant perched out in the open through a 'scope at a range of 50+ yards, which is fine for looking at, next to hopeless for getting any decent shots, only by heavily cropping an image was I able to get anything.

Nearby a Great Grey Shrike was also showing, though even more distantly, and as shrikes do so well, showing on top of a bush one minute, vanishing the next.
Next on to a quick wander round Holkham park to photograph the Fallow Deer, which were taking a rest from their rutting under the trees, and although they are a resident herd and must see people every day are still remarkably wary but by slowly approaching them, good photo opportunities are available.

The afternoon was spent wandering around Holkham Pines hoping to stumble across a Yellow-browed or Pallas's Warbler but only Chiffchaffs and an obvious influx of Robins were to be seen.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hide and seek

Following a couple of uninspiring (from a photography viewpoint anyway) days around Matsalu, we headed east to the Alutaguse Forest where there are some hides to watch and photograph bears from.  Arriving at 4.30pm, we met Ahto, the guide who handed us the keys and directions to the hide and we set off, and after a bit of a walk found our accommodation for the night, a wooden hide with bunk beds.  Before we had even got our camera gear set up we had our first visit from the local Raccoon Dogs, curious but fantastic animals that looks like some sort of cross between a Raccoon and a Badger.

During the evening we had up to four of these at any one time, and after a couple of hours we also had a visit from a young Red Fox, who although unsure about the Raccoon Dogs at first, eventually came down for scraps.

As the light faded just before 8pm, the unmistakable dark shape of a rather large male Brown Bear appeared at the back of the clearing.  Although there is a solar powered light illuminating an area where the main bait had been hidden, from a photography point of view, it was as good as pointless trying to get any photos but I managed one in the gathering gloom.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Rockin Bullwinkle

Having looked for them in British Columbia and in the Adirondacks of North America without any success, Moose (or Elk depending where you hail from) have taken on something of a mythical status. It was surprising then that on our first morning in Estonia, we actually saw some, two to be exact, right next to a main road on the edge of Matsalu National Park.  At first they were unconcerned by me swinging the car round and parking opposite them but they soon ran across the clearing and into the trees before I could get my camera prepared (despite the moose crossing signs, I hadn't actually expected to see one!), but thankfully Toni was a bit quicker on the draw and managed a series of shots.

The rest of the day was spent in Matsalu, visiting the various observation towers, which although fine for viewing birds from a distance, are next to useless if you actually want to photograph anything.  An unidentified Spotted or Lesser Spotted Eagle over the road which drifted off before I could get a proper look and a few distant White-tailed Eagles sat on rocks in the bay were about the day's avian highlights.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Brecks Crex

Early August is never the most exciting month to go birding round the Nunnery Lakes, but a lunchtime wander can be quite a nice break from the office.  One such wander this lunchtime was fairly uneventful, I spent 15 minutes counting Peacock, Large and Small White, Comma, Meadow Brown and Small Copper butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count given the lack of general birdlife around the reserve.  However, just as I headed back to the office and walked along the overgrown footpath by Bob Clarke Lake, up from beneath my feet flushed a small streaky bird with dangling legs.  With my mind elsewhere, it took me a few seconds to put the features together as I watched it drop again a bit further along the path.  Certain it was something interesting, I slowly walked along the path but unable to see the bird on the ground due to the long grass and overhanging nettles and eventually the bird again flew up from just in front of me and confirmed itself as a Corncrake.  Unfortunately on this second occasion it flew across the river and despite a search of the meadow it looked to have dropped into a short while later and again by Nick and others later on, it wasn't seen again.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Unbridled relief

Having left Inner Farne behind, we left Seahouses, heading for Cresswell Pond where the Bridled Tern had been seen.  Now with the bird news coming through Twitter on the mobile, you are reliant on a good mobile internet signal, but the Northumbrian coast (well for Vodafone at least) is not an area where good coverage exists, and so we had no idea if the bird would still be present given the last news we had was that it had flown out to sea.  After what seemed like an eternity driving slowly down the coastal route with day-trippers, we arrived in the car park at Cresswell Ponds at 5pm to be greeted with the news that the bird had returned since the last news we had, but had then flown back out to sea.  Knowing we still had a 5 hour drive ahead of us, I begrudgingly gave myself a deadline of 6pm to see the bird.  The minutes whistled by and still there was no sign of the bird and anxious glances at the watch ticked off the quarter-past, half-past and then quarter-to markers and I again resigned myself to defeat.  Then a shout came up from a couple of birders on the dunes who were watching out to sea, and a short dash later and although I didn't have my 'scope with me (the bird had been showing so well on the Farnes I figured I wouldn't need it!) I soon got onto the tern flying just offshore, easily picked out from the surrounding Sandwich Terns by its dark back.  Unfortunately the bird was too distant to bother taking any photos as I had just grabbed the 70-300mm lens rather than my 500mm, but after watching the bird for ten minutes and relieved that I had at least seen the bird that we had come so far to see, the clock ticked to 6pm and we set off on the long drive home.

Bridled Tern
Note, this isn't the actual bird, but one I saw earlier this year in Australia, but had I taken my big lens up to the dunes, this is about the sort of image I would have got!!

Fantastic Farnes

There's no better place in the UK to photograph seabirds than the Farne Islands.  Each summer, tens of thousands of Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes along with a good number of Sandwich and Common Terns, Shags and other seabirds nest on these islands with the National Trust wardens doing a fine job monitoring the birds and dealing with the thousands of visitors.  With the Bridled Tern that had spent the last few days around the islands having clearly gone, we spent a relaxing few hours photographing on one of Billy Shiels' boat trips around the island with an hour on Inner Farne photographing the birds.


Common Tern





Just as we headed back to the boat, news arrived that the Bridled Tern had been relocated some 20 miles to the south on the mainland, typical, but the twitch was back on.....

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Unbridled agony

Any excuse to visit the Farne Islands is fine with me, so when a Bridled Tern appeared earlier this week, it seemed like a good reason to go. All week the bird has been showing well though it does disappear for hours on end on fishing trips, and although it hadn't been seen so far today we set off from Thetford for the long drive north. Five hours later we pulled into Seahouses and although the tern had been seen briefly at lunchtime, it had since flown back out to sea, we still booked on one of the boats across to Inner Farne. On landing there was a group of disconsolate looking twitchers staring forlornly at the roosting terns by the quay and it was soon obvious there was no point waiting with them so I resigned myself to missing the tern and spent the next half hour photographing the abundant Puffins and Arctic Terns on the island instead.


Arctic Tern

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Just Kos there's no birds

A week on a Greek Island in June seemed ideal for a week of birding, but as it turned out, the birding was surprisingly disappointing.  Thankfully the reason for going to Kos for a week wasn't just to go birding but to attend a wedding, but even so, the lack of birds as we drove around the island was staggering.  I'm sure in April and May when migration is in full swing the island is alive with birds but I was amazed by the lack of many species that having visited Lesbos in June in the past were still common.  After a week of fairly gentle birding, the trip list had limped to just 41 species, though the likes of Eleanora's Falcons, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-sumped Swallow, Pallid Swifts, Black-headed Bunting, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Ortolan and my first ever Chukar, still meant it was a nice relaxing week in the sun. Despite only taking the 70-300mm lens with me, I still managed to get some decent shots of some of the more confiding species.



Black-winged Stilt


Crested Lark

Little Owl


Cory's Shearwater

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Uppa Johnny, Uppa!!

Whenever we go abroad, we almost always find time to go on a whale or dolphin watching boat, and over the years we've been on some odd boats but the one out of Kos was certainly different!  We boarded the "Christina" on a Three Island Cruise out of Kos Town somewhat skeptical about the dolphins they were claiming they regularly see, however, as we approached the town of Vathis on the island of Kalymnos, the boat slowed near an offshore fish farm and then the shout went up as a group of Bottlenose Dolphins were seen.  As the dolphins came closer, the skipper began shouting "Uppa Johnny, Uppa" over and over and it seemed to have the desired effect as the dolphins jumped.  Over and over again he shouted and before long many of the people who seconds earlier had been sunbathing were joining in and the dolphins continued to perform.  Unlike on the Moray Firth where I have photographed dolphins before, here the light was fantastic and a good series of images was possible.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Thrice Bittern

Having woken up early this morning, I decided to have a pre-work visit to Lakenheath.  I have to admit I wasn't in a desperate rush to get there, so as a consequence by the time I ambled up to the spot where the Savi's Warbler has been reeling, it had shut up for the day.  Still, it wasn't all bad, as I walked along the track 3 Bitterns flew into view and for the next few minutes circled overhead croaking at each other, with another couple of males not so much booming as heavy breathing in the reedbed.

The Red-footed Falcon that was showing so well last time I was here has become a lot more elusive following a skirmish with a Sparrowhawk and the Orioles are very quiet this year but a few Marsh Harriers, Barn Owl, distant Hobby, Cuckoo, Common Tern and at least 5 singing Cetti's Warblers around the reserve, it certainly is a fantastic place to spend a few hours before reality sets in and the office calls.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Red-foot return

After the superb show from the Red-footed Falcon at Lakenheath last weekend, with gorgeous weather again I couldn't resist going back for more, and it didn't disappoint.

Accompanying the Red-foot again were up to 5 Hobbies which showed better than last week being much lower down hawking over New Fen.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Happy feet

For the past couple of weeks, a superb male Red-footed Falcon has graced the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath. Despite being on 20 minutes away from home, for one reason or another I hadn't got round to going to see it, even though there are some fantastic shots of it on the web. This morning, the sun was shining and I decided there was only one place to spend a few hours with the camera and I wasn't to be disappointed!
Immediately on arriving at the New Fen watchpoint, the falcon was showing, albeit distantly at first, but over the next hour or two it gave quite stunning views hawking after insects with a few Hobbies, even skimming 10ft above the heads of the admiring crowd.

It wasn't only the Red-foot that was pleasing the photographers, up to a dozen Hobbies were around the reserve and they showed well too.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Leo stayer

Having only had flight views yesterday I didn't really expect the Long-eared Owl to stick around, but fortunately this lunchtime John Marchant relocated it perched in full view along the edge of one of the lakes. A quick dash down there showed it to be duly obliging and it made its way onto a few lakes lists in the process...

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Crest fallen

Although not a migration hotspot by any means, the Nunnery Lakes Reserve is still a nice place to spend a few hours wandering around on a sunny spring morning, and you never know when something out of the ordinary may appear, and today was one of those days.
Whilst trying to photograph a Nightingale which was found last week and was singing well, both Dave Leech (who probably had his head in a bush looking for a nest) and I heard the distinctive song of a male Firecrest, which despite there being a healthy population in Thetford Forest are very scarce visitors to the reserve.  After a short search, we located it high in a pine tree where we had good views. The troops were rallied and once Nick arrived, we relocated the bird where it showed superbly, much lower down, and despite its constant movement, did allow me to get a good series of photos.

Once we had all had our fill of the Firecrest and went our separate ways, I resumed my quest for the Nightingale, and was amazed when a Long-eared Owl flushed from virtually under my feet!  I phoned Nick who was leaving the site, but quickly made a u-turn and after a search, the bird again flew up from the ground and showed well flying across the lake before dropping again, where we left it in peace.  In flight it seemed to dangle its right leg, which may explain why the bird favoured the ground rather than perching up in a tree.
I couldn't find yesterday's Whinchat which had been seen earlier, but with 4 Crossbill flying over, singing Garden, Reed, Sedge and Willow Warblers and lots of hirundines around, it was a memorable morning nevertheless.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Top billing

Even though the cold north wind that has been blowing lately has changed, spring still hasn't got going.  This lunchtime around the Nunnery Lakes had a distinct winter feel to it, not necessarily due to the temperature for once, but the birds, most notably the Fieldfare and Brambling that were singing.  Even more unusual than these Scandinavian songsters was a group of 6 Crossbills which showed well around the edge of D Lake, often dropping down to drink on the edge of the lake.  The group consisted of 4 males and 2 females, with one of the males staying in the top of an oak tree singing whilst the others came much lower and thankfully for once I had my camera with me to get some shots.

There was a touch of summer too with a solitary Chiffchaff singing and showing well, but surely more migrants will be on the way soon, it is April after all!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Get in the ring

Every spring I spend hours driving round the various lanes around the Brecks trying to photograph boxing hares, almost always without success, either the hares haven't cooperated or there hasn't been somewhere safe to stop the car.  So far this year, with the winter lingering through March, the hares when I have seen them haven't been very active and with the brisk, and not to mention, extremely cold wind that has been blowing lately, the hares have usually been sat low down with their ears back. They are still generally wary of a car pulling up near them, but occasionally they will only run a short distance before stopping again, so with persistence photography is possible.
This morning the sun was shining and the wind have dropped so Toni and I were out early having located a likely spot and the hares for once didn't disappoint and 2 hares even divulged in a spot of boxing, though they were just over the brow of a hill (well, a hill in Norfolk terms anyway) so this shot is fairly heavily cropped...

With luck now we've found a good spot where we can park safely and there are plenty of hares we may have more success here over the coming weeks, assuming spring continues to be pleasant that is!!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Sp-Ring surprise

The icy northeasterly wind and remnants of snow in some places over the last few days have certainly given the end of the month a more wintry feel than the beginning of spring, and despite this I have seen my first Chiffchaffs and Stone Curlews this week so the migrants are coming back slowly.  It was still a huge surprise then when I was driving up the Watton road through the village of Breckles this morning when there sat a few feet from the road in a paddock was a stunning male Ring Ouzel.  Quickly spinning the car round, it then showed superbly well, often coming to within 10 metres of the car and often busy road, I can't remember ever having such good views of one.