30 May 2010


Took a trip to the Forest this evening.

First a stop at Nagshead to see Pied Flycatchers. Much to my continued chagrin, however, I failed to see one again. I don't know what the problem is; I did everything right with no reward. Still, the Spotted Flycatchers from the Lower Hide were an unexpected bonus.

Then to Boys Grave. Teeming with insects. As twilight set - from the viewpoint over the clearing - a calling Woodcock flew past left to right providing great views. The Nightjars were calling regularly by 2130, and one flew past (closer than the Woodcock) right to left. It was a male, and through binoculars the fading light allowed muddy views of its plumage.

At one point a bird landed on right of the three trees in the immediate foreground. I got my telescope on it and had a good view. Then I tried to take a photo by shoving my little camera up to the scope on a very high ISO setting. The results were lamentable.

29 May 2010

Red-footed Falcon.

Today I had a choice. Try for the 1st summer Red-footed Falcon at Wiltstone Reservoir in Hertfordshire, or the Little Bittern in Somerset. Despite driving into the rain, I chose the Falcon.

Good choice! The reservoir was teeming with Common Terns, Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins - with three or four Hobbies hawking over the reedbeds. If it hadn't been raining one might've enjoyed the sight!

The Falcon was sat (for all the time I watched it) in a Hawthorn tree. I believe the spot was 'Cemetery Corner'. It had chosen an isolated branch. This made for great views. I got a couple of lousy record shots, but really it was all about enjoying a glorious bird.

On the way back I stopped in Aylesbury to watch a Red Kite appear to hunt over a housing estate!

And as I turned onto my street at home, a Grey Heron landed on a roof. Behold:

I gather the Little Bittern wasn't seen all day. A shame, as that was going to Monday's target.

23 May 2010

Day with a Decent Camera.

On Saturday (22nd May) I had the use of a half-decent Canon SLR (a 40D) and Canon's 500mm f4 telephoto lens. Now, I know how to use the camera and lens, but lack experience... so whilst I had a ball, the photos are those of a learner!

(I make no apologies for this blog entry being more about playing with the camera and lens than the birds themselves.)

Saturday was host to glorious weather - so glorious infact, I had to give up by one o'clock for fear of heat exhaustion (lugging the lens about was hard work). So hot it was. Gave me a chance to watch the Championship play-off final anyway. So not all bad.

Early in the morning I went to the sailing lake in the hope of seeing a Hobby or two. Alas, none. Still, I had fun photographing some birds. Of the few reasonably successful efforts I include those of a House Sparrow and a Greenfinch.

Other birds about were some Linnets, Reed Buntings, Reed Warblers and lots of Black-headed Gulls. Just as I was about to leave, a pair of Common Terns landed on the Sailing Club jetty.

They represented a long overdue year tick, and seemed well bonded. After posing for photographs they flew off to fish on the lake - looking rather splendid with their tail feathers flowing behind them.

I stopped in Frampton itself to try and get a photo of a House Martin in flight. No real success - I'm not getting them sharp. More practice (if I ever get my hands on the equipment again!) and I'm sure I'd succeed. Here's my best effort.

Next I moved onto Green Lane in the hope of photographing a Reed Warbler. I know I could go to Slimbridge and photograph the obliging birds there, but I wanted to get one 'in the wild'. Hard it be. Here are two of my best efforts, along with a poorly exposed shot of a Cygnet (camera facing into the light!). The Swan family was on the water immediately behind the first viewing platform.

Further along Green Lane I ran into a bunch of Long-tailed Tits. Mostly youngsters.

To be honest, the Lane wasn't overflowing with interesting birds. Once out in the open - along the way to the gate and sharp left turn, I tried for a while to photograph an obliging Whitethroat in flight. No luck, alas. Even with a nice tripod and Wimberley head (as supplied), I struggled.

Finally, and best of all (back to a purely birdwatching perspective), on my way back to the car I stopped at the second Green Lane viewing platform - the old one. I don't usually, but boy am I glad I did. All week I'd been hearing about the Spoonbill present at Slimbridge, but expected it to be gone by the weekend. On Saturday morning a report popped up on birdguides advising that the bird had flown south shortly before 9.00am. I harboured no expectation of seeing it after that, but lo-and-behold it flew right past the viewing platform giving great binocular views (mobbed by gulls, oddly?).

Right place. Right time. A lifer.

I really enjoyed using a nice camera and lens, and the experience has prompted me to think about getting my own in due course. Perhaps not a giant 500mm lens, but something decent nonetheless.

The pure joy of birdwatching is best experienced with only a pair of binoculars and a telescope - one can feel under terrible pressure to get a photograph if you've got a camera with you - and this can detract from the observation itself (which is why I'm there). I think there's room for both, though.

13 May 2010

12th and 13th May. One year tick.

Short trips after work to Witcombe on the 12th (Wednesday) and Coombe Hill on the 13th (Thursday).

Nothing particularly interesting at Witcombe. Gulls and gulls and gulls! A sole Grey Wagtail (I'm still yet to see a Yellow Wagtail there). Some great low flying Swifts which I had no chance of photographing! So, I settled on some Swallows in classic perched on telephone wire pose:

This evening at Coombe Hill, however, I did a little better. Starting with a singing Garden Warbler (year tick #150) in the trees next to the car park. I caught a glimpse of it, and heard it singing a lot - a perfect match for the recording on my iPhone. Lovely.

Along the canal were bazillions of Goldfinch, a Whitethroat, two Lesser Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Chaffinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The Woodpecker was clearly returning to a nest hole with food.

From the Grundon hide... pairs of stuff. Oystercatcher, Little Egret, Shelduck, Canada Geese, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, Mute Swan, Mallard, Lapwing. A Grey Heron, a calling Curlew very close to the hide and... well positioned in a distant tree to the left of the flashes... a calling Cuckoo. Lousy record shots of some of the above... below:

04 May 2010

To do list update.

What have I managed to get off my 'not yet seen this year' list, then? Well... Common Sandpiper, Lesser Whitethroat, Little Gull, Reed Warbler, Ringed Plover, Sedge Warbler, Wheatear and Whitethroat.

The still leaves me with a mighty list of misses:

Barn Owl
Common Scoter
Glossy Ibis (must've gone to Ham Wall the only day they weren't there)
Grasshopper Warbler
Grey Partridge
Hen Harrier
House Martin
Jack Snipe
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Little Owl
Redpoll (never seen one. EVER)
Ring Ouzel (less said the better...)
Spotted Redshank (blown that until the winter)
Tern (any)
Woodlark (blew it in Suffolk)
Yellow Wagtail

To it I want to add Pied Flycatcher and Turtle Dove.

03 May 2010

Six Year Ticks.

I spent the morning high tide at the WWT's Middle Point 'Hide'*. Windy, but dry and productive.

*-I say hide, but the old van is next to useless as such... and pointless, as the birds just aren't fussed provided you stand within the area indicated. You can see bugger all from inside, anyway. It only has value if you happen to be caught in a heavy shower, and even then I'd be skeptical.

Firstly though, on the drive upto the reserve a Hobby flew infront of my car. I only saw it in silhouette, but the shape was clear. The first of six year ticks today.

Ran into two singing Lesser Whitethroats (what did I say about seeing them everywhere after breaking my duck!) along the summer walkway. Glimpsed one deep in the hedgerow.

Upon arrival, a couple of hours before high tide, there were lots of Dunlin (most in breeding plumage) and Ringed Plover (year tick #2) scuttling about in the middle distance along with five or six Bar-tailed Godwits and a few more Curlew.

Time passed. A Little Egret flew in, a Meadow Pipit sang in flight and a Reed Bunting disappeared behind some vegetation. Two Whimbrels flew overhead calling; one would later land on the mud infront of the hide. A Sedge Warbler finally revealed itself in the reeds to the right of the hide after frustrating me with it's song for half an hour or so. Another remained elusive along with one or two Reed Warblers in the reeds immediately to the left of the hide. Gulls continued to push up river, but nothing unusual I don't think.

There was also a decent-sized fish stranded on the mud at about 10.30am. A juvenile Herring Gull spotted it and moved in. Fortunately for the fish, the Gull didn't seem to know how to tackle the situation. It pecked at the tail a number of times and recoiled each time the fish reacted. Presently the Gull gave up and perhaps the fish survived long enough to be rescued by the tide.

Once the tide began to advance one of the other birders present identified a Great Crested Grebe on the far side (on the river!), an Oystercatcher flew over it's head and - FINALLY - a sole Wheatear (year tick #3) perched on the fence posts to the left of the hide giving nice views. A couple of Swallows passed through, then three Swifts flying low (year tick #4).

The most interesting sighting of the morning was made by the same person who spotted the Grebe - clearly an experienced birder. In the far distance, flying down river, was an immature Kittiwake (year tick #5)! I can add it to my list because although I failed to see the wing markings myself, I did get my bins on it briefly. So I did see it!

At 12.20ish, showers were closing in and I headed back to the main reserve. I didn't bother with any other hides, except to stop just after passing through the Holden Tower to add Reed Warbler (tick #6) to my year list.

That makes for 149 birds so far this year; two more than last. The Kittiwake was the 148th, and the one to take me past last years total.

I stopped off at the 100-Acre where three more Lesser Whitethroats crossed my path (half decent views of two - one in flight)!!! Not a great deal there, although to be fair I didn't stay long enough to earn any luck... but other birds spotted included a nice male Linnet, a pair of Goldfinches, three Redshank, many Reed and Sedge Warblers, Swifts high up and a lone male Wigeon. There was also a very, very mouthy Chiffchaff:

And on the canal, a cute family of Mallards:

The best bird at the 100-Acre however, was a nice female Whinchat along Green Lane to complement the male I'd seen last Saturday.

Finally, I have started a Balloon List:

1) Blue
2) White

The balloons were drifting down river at some considerable elevation in a tight teardrop formation, and showing well in the sunshine. I was unable to confirm the age or sex of the balloons. I am looking forward to seeing more balloons soon.