Thursday, 30 August 2012

Glossy (ish)

Monday was our birding day over the bank holiday weekend when, after spending most of the day at Holme and Titchwell, we called into the Ouse Washes on the way back, late afternoon, after hearing that a Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron and Spotted Crake had been reported there in previous days. Although all three species were listed on the board in the visitors centre, the Heron and Crake were nowhere to be seen; but the Glossy Ibis most certainly was - in plain view outside the Grose hide.


This particular individual didn't look quite as 'glossy' as birds we've seen in Portugal but it was a juvenile, and the light wasn't good at all - I'm sure a little bit of sunshine would've made all the difference. Having said that, there were moments when we did catch a glimpse of that stunning iridescence...


...and anyway, it's always a great bird to see in the UK.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Summer?

I think most people would agree that generally Summer 2012 has been a wash out - and probably pretty disastrous for a lot of our wildlife. However, nature is nothing if not tenacious and on occasional days, and more frequently in the last few weeks, whenever we've had some reasonable weather, there have been birds and other creatures to see and appreciate...

This Swallow was enjoying a sunny afternoon in late May at Cley


In June, as part of a long weekend in Pembrokeshire, we visited Skomer island and these ever-comical characters had plenty of photos taken - who could resist...


Puffin
With so much wet, cool and windy weather I began to think we'd never get any Butterflies, but yet again, they've somehow seen it through and recently we've managed to find a few special ones. A Purple Emperor at Chicksands Wood in Bedfordshire..


Graylings at Snettisham and Minsmere (it's almost impossible to get a photo of these with their wings open)...

and several Wall butterlfies (which are really quite scarce these days), again at Snettisham, and also the Ouse Washes...


While we were at Chicksands Wood looking for butterflies a couple of Beds birders who were there for the same reason, called us over to see a mesmerising piece of wildlife action. A Brown Hawker dragonfly had pounced on a Migrant Hawker and was down in the grass eating it, and not a bit bothered by us taking photos of this rather gruesome scene...


In case you'd like to see what a Migrant Hawker looks like with its head attached to its body, this one was at Slimbridge when we visited in early August...



Our visit to Slimbridge wasn't for Dragonflies though, but for this Long-billed Dowitcher  - a vagrant wader from North America and Eastern Siberia. It was in amongst a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits (like the one to the left of it in the photo below). As it was feeding more or less non-stop, it was difficult to get a photo of it with its bill out of the water, but I eventually managed.  A good bird to close with, I think...

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Greek Odyssey

Carolyn, Malcolm and I chose a new destination for our Spring holiday this year – the Greek island of Lesvos [5-12 May]. Although it’s Greek it lies just 5 miles off the coast of Turkey, and for birders this means that the island holds a number species which are difficult to see anywhere else in Europe. Birds such as…       
Cinereous Bunting..

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Masked Shrike...

and Krϋpers Nuthatch...


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We stayed in the Aegeon hotel, just outside the small town of Skala Kallonis – a good base for birders because it’s fairly central to the island. Many evenings, as we strolled down to the town for a meal with the sound of sheep bells and Marsh Frogs filling the warm air, we saw what I think are Balkan Green Lizards along the side of the road:

Amongst the other ‘non-avian’ species seen were Spur-thighed Tortoise…

and Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly...


Lesvos also gave me the chance to get a first half decent photo of my favourite bird…


European Bee-eater
 With so many fantastic birds to choose from it was difficult to pick out our ‘Bird of the Trip’. Owls were the choice of Carolyn and Malcolm... 

Scops Owl...

and Long-eared Owl...


But for me it was the Crakes. A Spotted Crake turned up at the Tsiknias River – just a few minutes’ drive from our hotel, and this pair of Little Crakes were foraging along the banks of Metochi Lake in early morning sunshine. The top one is a male, with the female below...
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By the end of the holiday we’d seen a total of 117 species, 24 of which were lifers for me. We’ve still several more to get there (for instance, I dipped on a few warblers that I hoped to see).  Fortunately there’s already talk of another trip next Spring, maybe for two weeks.  I hope so. Lesvos is a great place for a birding holiday – or indeed any holiday. Weather was scorching, the locals lovely and friendly, the scenery spectacular, and of course there were the birds…
Ruppell's Warbler


Black-eared Wheatear
Cirl Bunting
Cretzschmar's Bunting



Sunday, 15 April 2012

Snipe shots

These Common Snipe were at Frampton Marsh a couple of weekends ago. At first all I could find were snoozing birds...

Until this one came walking by...

Their type of plumage, often described as ‘cryptic’, provides them with good camouflage when they’re amongst vegetation because it breaks up the bird’s image.  You get an idea of this in the next photo –  where they ‘overlap’ it’s not easy to see where one bird begins and the other ends.

And here’s a little video clip of one using that incredible bill...
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Saturday, 17 March 2012

Butterbumps

Our visit to Minsmere last Saturday was in warm, sunny weather and it really felt like the first day of Spring. The birds seemed to agree. A flock of Bearded Tits in reeds along the North Bank were ‘pinging’ to each other and flying around, and there were dozens of Divers on the sea (mainly Red-throated, but also some Black-throated and at least one Great Northern), all heading north – presumably to breeding grounds.
In the afternoon we divided our time between the Bittern and Island Mere hides. Later in the afternoon when we went back to the Bittern hide for a second visit, it certainly lived up to its name. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one day – or had such good views of them. Each time one appeared  a call went up and a buzz of excitement went round everyone in the hide. It made me think about how highly we value these birds these days - just to see one, whereas for centuries their only value to humans was as a food item [hence the old fashioned name of Butterbump - because the flesh was considered so tasty]. How times change!
Several birds were in flight but there were also occasions when one walked across the channel in front of the hide...

















An unexpected visitor was this Red Deer hind who obviously found the water vegetation very much to her liking...




Friday, 9 March 2012

So much for New Year resolutions

Less than three months into the year and I’m already falling behind with my blog posts – eek! Skipping the excuses, without further ado here are some photos from my birding travels over the last few weekends...
Pagham Harbour – 19 Feb
A trip with the RSPB Bedford local group found us visiting Pagham Harbour and Selsey Bill on a chilly February day. I enjoyed seeing several Mediterranean Gulls in varying stages of summer plumage on the shore at Selsey Bill...



















Mind you, if I were a Mediterranean Gull, in weather like that I’d have made sure I was in the Mediterranean!
Holkham (and Titchwell) - 25 Feb
Following a perfect morning at RSPB Titchwell during which we saw Arctic Redpolls, Velvet Scoters and Lapland Buntings, we spent the afternoon at Holkham. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the Shore Larks which were the reason for our visit, but this Barn Owl out in the afternoon sunshine was a treat...
Red Kites - 03 March
One of the reasons I bought my new camera was to be able to get shots of birds in flight – something I can’t do with my little Sony compact. My favourite large raptor is the Red Kite so it was fitting that my first attempt at capturing a raptor overhead involved one of those – last Saturday on the way back from Rutland Water...


Not a brilliant photo I know [although you can always click to zoom in] – but much better than anything I could have managed before. Anyway, practice makes perfect [I hope].
Watch this space...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

It's winter...

Our long weekend in the Solway this year [3-6 Feb] coincided with a spell of very cold weather, when temperatures struggled to get above freezing. It was cold, often windy, and one day vey wet - but we didn’t get any snow, and fortunately found plenty of good birds to compensate for our frozen fingers and toes.
One thing that took my mind off the weather was trying out my new camera. It’s a ‘bridge’ camera – in between a compact and a DSLR. I decided I needed one because sometimes conditions just aren’t suitable for digi-scoping. It’s going to take me a while to use it properly but my first efforts suggest it’s going to be useful. This shot of Turnstones on the beach just outside Stranraer was taken at a fair distance, and not in particularly good light conditions. To the naked eye the birds were really just tiny brown shapes, but the camera picked them up clearly (try clicking on the photo to zoom in even more)...

It also seems to reproduce colour well – this glowing sunrise, taken from Port Beg Cottage, was spectacular...


The Panasonic was in use again last Sunday [12 Feb] at Pitsford Reservoir. The thaw still hadn't set in and much of the water was frozen...

...but that encouraged birds to congregate around the relatively small areas of open water, this pair of Goldeneye for example...

Happy though I am with my new camera, I still love digi-scoping with my super little Sony Compact – which comes into its own when you want to take video...
Further round on Pitsford we found this Mallard [I think!] with unusual blonde plumage. My first thought was that it's a hybrid, but I later wondered if might be a leucistic bird (i.e. lacks the pigment melanin) – but whatever, an attractive bird.

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Nearby was a pair of Smew, both sleeping on the water when we first spotted them. Eventually the female decided to get out onto the ice...
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After which the devoted little drake took to patrolling up and down in the water in front of her, occasionally displaying, and keeping guard while she rested...

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Water Birds Weekend

Frost and ice dominated the weather this weekend [14-15 Jan] when most of my birding involved water birds of one sort or another.
On Saturday I took part in Beds Bird Club’s ‘Great Duck Hunt’ which is an annual county-wide survey of birds found on or near water - this being the third year that I had volunteered to check sites in the Flitwick area. I have to admit, I never see a great number of water birds to record but it makes a very pleasant walk, especially when it’s a bright, frosty morning – as was the case this year.  Carolyn kindly offered to help me with the survey and we started by walking along the millstream, then into Flitwick Moor, on to Flitton Moor, and finished with a visit to Hollington Basin - a seasonal flooded area north of Flitton.
Along the path from Flitwick Moor to Flitton Moor we passed a field holding the flock of Soay Sheep used by the local Wildlife Trust for habitat management on nature reserves...


Best birds of the walk overall were a singing Goldcrest in conifers in a Flitwick garden, a pair of Bullfinches feeding on frosted seed heads along the path to Flitton Moor, and two Little Egrets flying over Flitton Moor.
On Sunday I went out with the Bedford RSPB Local Group. The morning was spent at the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire where the wildfowl were having to cope with large areas of frozen water. Some were quite comical as they struggled to stay upright on the ice but this pair of Pintails looked as elegant as ever, despite the slippery conditions.

At WWT Welney in the afternoon we were able to catch up with both species of Winter Swan – Whooper and Bewick’s. The more numerous of the two species were the Whoopers...


Generally the Bewick’s Swans kept a reasonable distance from their larger cousins, but I managed one photo showing birds of both species [below] In the foreground are two Whooper Swans, with the yellow patch on their bills ending in a sharp point; while the three Bewick’s behind have blunt, rounded yellow bill patches.

In March the Winter Swans will set off on their long journey back to breeding grounds in Iceland, so it was good to have an opportunity to see them once more before they leave and hear their bugling calls as they flew in to the reserve.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Sun Arise

I don't think I've mentioned that I love clouds, but I do - always have. I was reminded why when I drove into the car park at work this morning and glanced up at the sky. The sun was rising and the sky was a breathtaking palette of rose and gold and violet grey...


The glowing clouds spread across the sky...


and then gradually softened into more pastel shades...



What a lovely start to the day.

Monday, 2 January 2012

New Year Resolutions

Resolution no. 1: Take more photos when I’m out birding.
Because even if they’re not perfect they're still great for recalling a memorable day spent in the field – like the last day of 2011 when we were at Burwell Fen in Cambridgeshire watching Short-eared Owls hunting in late afternoon sunshine..


... while Roe Deer grazed contentedly nearby.

Resolution no. 2: Update the blog more often.
Been a bit lax recently, letting work and other things take priority, but I really must try to do better in 2012. So here’s my first offering.
We spent New Year’s Day ‘locally’ – mainly around Milton Keynes and got our year lists off to a good start with Marsh Tits and Water Rail at Linford Lakes, and at two exceptional birds at Caldecotte. A male Smew on the south lake...
... and a Great Northern Diver on the north lake.

Resolution no. 3: Always carry some bird food with me.
Because you never know who might be calling by to say hello.
This inquisitive young Robin popped in to see us while we were in one of the hides at Linford Lakes. He first appeared through one of the hide windows...

Then made his way along the shelves and benches...

























And even hopped around our feet...

The Smew and Diver were lovely but this bold little character was, without doubt, ‘bird of the day’ for me.
Yep, these are definitely three good resolutions for 2012. So that’s me all sorted and set up for the year ahead... and looking forward to it.
I hope the New Year brings you all that you could wish for.