Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Yesterday lunchtime as he walked home for a coffee, Nick found a small group of Bearded Tits in a small reedbed on a settling pond just yards from the BTO's Nunnery.  Although not technically on the reserve itself, the flock of 2+ males and a female could be seen and heard pinging from within the boundary and so brought a welcome patch tick to a few members of staff, including myself.  Views however were brief and largely obscured and so this morning I went back before work and at least 3 males showed very well feeding on the reed tops, although could be frustrating to photograph as reeds and willow branches often obscured the view.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

High as a Kite

The day started in a dull, misty Piethorne Valley on the edge of the south Pennines in Greater Manchester where a Shag had been present for the past week.  Normally, I wouldn't be too bothered about a species such as that, but before I moved the Norfolk, Piethorne Valley was my local patch for the previous 8 years and still holds a place of affection in my heart.  Thankfully, the Shag was still there, sitting along the water's edge along the dam before being disturbed by some workmen mowing the embankment and moved out onto the reservoir, but a fantastic patch tick nevertheless.

Following a three hour drive, I arrived in mid Wales at Gigrin Farm, just outside Rhayader, where I met up with Toni for an afternoon photographing the masses of Red Kites that are fed every afternoon.  Thankfully, by the time I arrived there the sun was shining and the kites certainly didn't disappoint with 350+ swarming around the area swooping in to pick up the discarded scraps.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Hail to the King

For a long time I've been trying to find a good spot to set up a hide and photograph Kingfishers.  Following an unsuccessful attempt earlier in the year where the birds didn't use the perch I had put out for them, but instead continually flew past, completely independently, Nick had recently seen a Kingfisher using a particular part of the river on the Nunnery Lakes Reserve and put a branch in and the birds took to it immediately.  Yesterday I set up a hide and this morning decided to have a couple of hours, though wasn't sure if they would take to the hide being there straight away.  However, within 15 minutes of settling in, a male bird landed on the perch and over the next 5 hours returned on several occasions, caught a few fish and performed amazingly, even the sound of the camera shutter didn't seem to bother him.

At one point, this Chiffchaff decided it wanted a piece of the action and sat on the perch for a few seconds.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Spec-tacular Return

Having rushed to see the Spectacled Warbler on its first day, it was perhaps typical that nearly three weeks later, it would still be there.  As photography on the first day was difficult, as most people will now have seen the bird and so fewer people would be there, I went back for another look.  Initially it was very mobile, ranging widely but eventually it returned to a small area where it sang and built a cock nest allowing much closer views with a dozen or so other birders and photographers.

Afterwards we spent a couple of hours fruitlessly looking for Montagu's Harriers at a regular spot and finally stopped at Lynford Arboretum where at least one Firecrest was singing and showing well, but typically active and showed best in shady areas making photography difficult.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Glad I went to Specky savers

One of the good things about working for a  bird organisation, and having a boss who is also a birder is that if something good turns up, providing you don't have any pressing deadlines, there's the opportunity to drop what you are doing and head off.  Today was such a day, when just as lunchtime began, news of a Spectacled Warbler on the Norfolk coast broke, and following a quick inter-office discussion, Nick and I headed off.  Arriving at Burnham Overy just over an hour later we headed along the seawall and joined the gathered crowd and after a few minutes, the warbler could be heard singing and over the next hour and a half, showed well, actively moving around the bushes.  On one occasion it did a brief song flight but often sang from exposed perches on top of the bushes.  With the crowd thankfully keeping a sensible distance from the bird, photography wasn't that easy, with heavy cropped record shots the only shots possible.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Plastic Fantastic

Having twice missed a Ring Ouzel down the Nunnery Lakes Reserve yesterday, a before work visit today for another go was in order.  However, just as I was leaving the house, I received a series of text messages about an even better bird down the Lakes, a Red-crested Pochard, which is a first record for the reserve!  I headed down there and sure enough in with the few Tufteds on D Lake was a very gaudy looking drake Red-crested Pochard.  After I had wander down the rest of the reserve, sadly with no sign of yesterday's Ouzel, I got back to D to find the pochard had moved to E lake where it showed even better and I managed a series of phonescoped efforts for posterity.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The rain in Spain

Although it is winter, I'm not sure either of us quite expected Spain to experience the same sort of weather as has been battering the UK in recent weeks.  Having been successful in our quest to see an Iberian Lynx, we left the mountains of the Sierra de Andujar behind and heading for the Andalusian coast at the famous Donana reserve. On arrival at our hotel in El Rocio we were greeted by strong winds and driving rain, though thankfully the rain cleared and the wind dropped overnight leaving a single glorious day before the next weather front moved in bringing more wet and windy weather.
We spent the morning spent wandering round the marsh at El Rocio which unlike our last visit in Spetember 2012, actually had water in it!  The marsh was teeming with birds, wildfowl, in particular, Pintail and Shoveler were the most numerous but more colour was added with the flocks of flamingos, Spoonbills and Glossy Ibis, whilst the surrounding reedbeds held Fan-tailed and Cetti's Warblers and best of all, a pair of Bluethroat.

We then headed down to Donana for the afternoon, though access to this reserve is frustratingly restricted, a few hides overlooking former lakes is as much as you can see without jumping on one of the official guided tours.  Still, the area around the visitor centre is well worth a visit, Azure-winged Magpies by the dozen flock around as you eat your picnic, joined by bold House Sparrows, whilst a White Stork nest on the roof gives superb views of the displaying behaviour of these magnificent birds.

We returned to El Rocio in the evening, and were treated to singing Serin, confiding Black Redstart and a couple of Red-knobbed Coots among the Coot flock busily feeding in front of the hides, easily picked out by the blue tinge to their bills.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Lynx Effect

Waking up to howling gale, low cloud and heavy showers wasn't exactly an ideal start to the day when going to look for a cat given their usual aversion to rain, and so it proved.  The morning was spent in the Sierra de Andujar looking in vain for Iberian Lynx, one of the rarest and most elusive mammals in the world with no success but in the evening, we persevered and went down to the bridge where the Lynx are often seen and as we got out of the car, a group of wildlife watchers waved us over with the news that they had just seen a lynx disappear into some scrub on the opposite side of the river.  Thankfully after an anxious 10 minute wait, the lynx appeared and walked along the side of the river and then sat under a fallen tree for the next half an hour, completely unbothered by the dozen 'scope and camera clad watchers scrambling across the rocks to get a better vantage point just 30m away.  After a good stretch, it carried on its way and vanished silently into the scrub.

Earlier on once the rain had stopped, a few birds did show themselves including many Azure-winged Magpie, a couple of Rock Buntings, Blue Rock Thrush, Hawfinches, Chough, many low-flying Griffon and at least one Black Vulture.

As was the case last time I tried to look for Lynx a couple of years ago, Red Deer were everywhere and also during the morning were a couple of Wild Boar, a Fallow Deer and a herd of Mouflon.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Crouching Jack

Jack Snipe are notoriously difficult to see, unless you happen to see one on a marsh bobbing up and down as it feeds, the only thing you ever see of one is as one flies from right beneath your feet as you walk through some wet ground.  The latter scenario happened to Nick Moran today as he walked by the river on the Nunnery Lakes Reserve with a bird flushing and flying away across the lake, almost certainly never to be seen again.  Fortunately and for no apparent reason, the bird decided to drop down and land out in the open on one of the fishermen's pegs along the edge of the lake.  At this time I was further down the reserve but thankfully the bird stayed put and we watched it through a 'scope  from across the lake as it crouched down.  Once Dave Leech had been down and seen the bird, I walked round and carefully stalked the bird commando-style and manged to take a few photos before backing off, leaving the bird still pretending it was invisible.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

All isn't quiet on New Year's Day

Following an aborted plan for New Year's Day to be spent in the southwest, the day instead was spent around Thetford which dawned dull and grey.  Starting the year list whilst making a cup of tea, a few Lesser Redpoll were first up busily feeding on the nyger feeders in the garden, then a Wood Pigeon flew over and then a pale bird appeared with the redpolls which soon revealed itself as bird number three for the year - a Common (or Mealy) Redpoll.

After a quick breakfast, I headed to a local site in the hope of a Golden Pheasant and was amazed when before I had even turned the ignition off, there in front of me on the edge of the wood stood a stunning male Golden Pheasant.  Two good local birds already and it wasn't even 8.30 in the morning!
Next up before the weather made a turn for the worst and wiped out the afternoon was a walk round the Nunnery Lakes.  After a fairly fruitless hour or so, a bird on top of an Alder drew my attention, at first glance I thought it was a Starling but on raising my bins, the huge bill and white wing patch proved it was in fact a Hawfinch, a very scarce visitor to the reserve and only my second ever record there.  Remarkably, despite the blustery conditions it stayed on the tree top long enough for Nick to twitch it.

A bit further up near the hide a Mealy Redpoll with a single Lesser Redpoll was another unexpected bonus and with Water Rail and a Little Egret made for a great start to the year.