Sunday, 4 October 2015

My Annual Pilgrimage to Cavenham Heath for Stone Curlews

19th September 2015

Well here we are in the middle of September and time to go on my annual pilgrimage to Cavenham Heath to see the autumn gathering of Stone Curlews. On most breeding sites with public access such as Weeting Heath there is normally just 1-2 pairs to be seen. However, at the Cavenham Heath pre-migration build-up numbers can be greater than 30 and sometimes 100+.

Unfortunately, although they are easy to see through a telescope or even just binoculars, they stick to a ridge 200 yards away from the track. This makes photography quite difficult as, apart from being very distant, the background is quite dark until the sun comes out and then the heat haze takes over. However, having come all this way to enjoy the spectacle, it is compulsory to try and get some shots better than last year.

Mission accomplished so now on to Lackford Lakes to see what they have to offer. By now there was a brilliant blue sky with a couple of Hobbys planing around after the still fairly plentiful dragonflies.

But the stars of today were a couple of Chiffchaffs that were feeding on the edge of some bushes by the Double-decker Hide. The first photo looks like a fully moulted adult, with the remainder being a young bird still in a rather belated post juvenile moult. The legs are not particularly dark but the distinct lower eye-ring and the relatively short primary projection confirm it as a Chiffy.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

To Fingringhoe Wick in Search of Waders.......and Gannets?

17th September 2015

It is getting to that time of year now when wader numbers should be building up, not just in sheer numbers but also in the diversity of species. So off to Fingringhoe Wick several hours before high tide to hopefully get some shots as the waders were getting pushed closer on the incoming tide. We started off in Robbie's Hide where the tide was still some way off and settled down to wait for the birds to appear. Although numbers were generally low there was some movement as the tide encroached like this Grey Heron, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits.

There were a few Cormorant flying in and out of the estuary but my attention was drawn to half a dozen birds that were circling around quite high up with wing beats much slower than a Cormorant. A quick look through the bins revealed that they were indeed six juvenile Gannets, making their way up the River Colne, where the source of the river at Colchester is just three miles way. We waited for half an hour but they didn't return, so where they went after hitting Colchester is anyone's guess.

We then made our way to Geedon's Hide where there was a problem. It would appear that it had been necessary to carry out some piling work on the bank to avoid erosion, which had involved removing the screening to get the machinery in. Unfortunately, a month since our last visit, the screening has still not been replaced so although there were several waders right in front of the hide as we approached, it was impossible to get up the stairs to the hide without flushing the whole lot. We therefore moved on to the scrape.

The scrape is better in the afternoon as the sun has moved round. As for our last visit there was a large flock of waders in the roost, but as the water was higher and had covered the island towards the back of the pool, they were all congregated in the shallows nearer the middle and therefore closer. There was considerable coming and going, but over that time there were 34 Greenshank, five Spotted Redshank and a handful of Common Redshank.

Click on these images to enlarge and see if you can spot the Greenshanks, Spotted Redshanks and Redshanks.

But the best was yet to come. As we were driving out of the reserve and nearing the Fingringhoe Road I noticed a Little Owl sitting on a closely mown lawn. We quickly reversed up to get out of sight to enable us to get our cameras out of the boot, get back in and wind the window down. Then, using the car as a hide we ventured slowly forward and managed to get this shot. Do you think it saw us?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Day with the Macro Lens at Rainham Marshes

11th September 2015

Click on images to enlarge

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On the 10th September Howard wrote "An early stroll this morning around the reserve on a glorious early autumn morning was quite productive. The playground and woodland was full of warblers and I was lucky enough to find both Pied and Spotted Flycatchers in the Cordite." So here I am, all fired up and ready to go. I went straight to the Cordite Stores........which was absolutely dead. And to be fair to Howard, when I arrived he just shook his head and said enjoy the sunshine, which is exactly what I did.

For although there were no birds, the Ivy and Buddleia in the stores were alive with insects. and therefore time to give the long lens a rest and dust off the macro. There were a number of late-flying butterfies including Comma, Holly Blue, Red Admiral and Small Copper and, quite frankly, all of them were in fairly good condition for the time of year.

Ladybirds were also much in evidence and these two shots show the astonishing variation in the Harlequin Ladybird, with the first photo being the variation conspicua and the second photo the variation succinea. Who would have thought that they are the same species?

The next insect to come into shot was a fly, the Noon Fly which has got to be one of the most attractively marked flies in the UK. I have photographed these before, but never on such an alluring nectar source and in such good light conditions. The Ivy bees were also enjoying nectaring on the Ivy.

So on to the hoverflies, of which there were four species. I am sure there were a lot more but in one day these were within my capabilities. The first was one that I get in my garden, Helophilus pendulus, with its distinctively striped thorax. Also present was Rhingia campestris, a species of Syrphus which could not be identified down to species with seeing the legs and Volucella zonaris, a Hornet mimic.

Also in the cordite stores was a young Common Lizard sunning itself on a tree stump. I have often seen these around the numerous boardwalks but never in the woodland.

But the stars of the show today were the Wasp Spiders which were just hanging on as it was getting close to the end of the season. This one was still in pretty good condition, although some were getting past their best.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A mid-September Visit to Mersea

10th September 2015

The second week in September so, now that the schools are back, time for the first visit of the autumn and winter to Mersea. Not particularly happy to find that a 4-hour visit to the Cudmore Grove car park has gone up from £2-20 a year ago, to £2-50 last year and now a staggering £4. As a result I suspect that I will be making fewer visits to this otherwise superb site.

First stop was the floods where waders were starting to build up, but still nowhere near their winter levels. For once Redshank outnumbered the Black-tailed Godwits and at one point all took to the air, obviously disturbed by a raptor of some sort. At the time I was in the woodland track and could therefore not look skywards to identify the threat. The first 12 Wigeon had also arrived but were still in their eclipse plumage.

Walking along the sea wall I was greeted with the sight of Pioneer, sailing out of Brightlingsea Reach. Originally built in 1864, the 70ft Essex smack fell into decay after a life spent dredging oysters in the North Sea. An audacious restoration project by the Pioneer Sailing Trust recovered the wreck in 1998 and restored her, and she is now a regular sight in and around the Colne estuary. A little further along were the pools on the saltmarsh where a number of Grey Plovers, still resplendent in their summer plumage, were enjoying the high tide roost.

The Point was totally devoid of any waders even an hour or so after high tide and the only sign of life was a flock of 60 or so Linnets. Although not surprisingly made up of mainly young birds, there were a couple of adults to brighten things up. Not very approachable but the last photo shows one individual which sat tight thinking it was hidden.

Next stop was Seaview where, due to the strong wind, the beach and shallows had been taken over by the wind-surfing club. I therefore walked east along the beach towards Coopers Beach where the sea wall has been devastated by the recent surge. I did manage to find a few Mediterranean Gulls although could not get too close due to the treacherous mud.

And finally to the pontoon at West Mersea where the reliable Turnstones were scurrying around the feet of the assembled crowds. Most were still in the latter stages of their transitional plumage but some, possibly young ones, were already in winter plumage.

Heading homewards now but still time for a cup of tea at Abberton where luckily there were still a few Ruff around, although I suspect not for much longer as the water level is beginning to rise. Therefore essential that I grabbed a few shots to tide me over until next year. What great day!!