Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tales of the River Bank - Pipits and Chats at Rainham Marshes

6th December 2014

Time for another visit to Rainham Marshes and this time with high tide at 12.30pm, just right to start the day by looking for pipits on the tide wrack.  No visit to Rainham is complete without first photographing the lovely House Sparrows which are either in the car park or on the brambles by the river wall. This time we managed a few shots whilst having some breakfast. Even the dull females are a fantastic start to the day.

On our way down to the best spot for pipits on the river wall we passed a bush with a Dunnock taking in the sunshine and was in a particularly photogenic mood. Also on display were a pair of Stonechats although, as is often the case, the male was quite flighty and nowhere near as confiding as the female.

We were now approaching the pipit hotspot and a dozen teal were already taking advantage of the seed washed up in the wrack. Fortunately they were joined by  a number of pipits, both Meadow and Rock, although unfortunately today no Waters. I am not sure quite what it is about this place that makes the pipits so confiding, sometimes approaching to within just 10 yards.

Meadow Pipits

Rock Pipits

Friday, 12 December 2014

Winter Thrushes and Bullfinches at Fowlmere

5th December 2014

It's turning colder now at last so time for a visit to Fowlmere to see what the weather has brought in. From the moment I stepped out of the car it was evident that there were hundreds of winter thrushes feeding on the remaining Hawthorn berries in and around the car park and visitor centre, but first a walk down the boardwalk to see what was around the mere.

Three young Muntjacs were chasing each other around totally oblivious to my presence and sometimes coming to within 10 yards. Unfortunately, such a close approach was not that helpful from a photography point of view as they zoomed past and then came to a halt in the vegetation. However, I did manage to get a couple of reasonable shots.

But now back to the reserve entrance to try my luck with the winter thrushes. A gathering of Blackbirds were working their way through the Ivy berries, but the Redwings and Fieldfares were concentrating on the Hawthorn berries, often perching high in the trees when disturbed.

I then popped into the Drewer's Hide just in case a Kingfisher or Water Rail was on show. Basically, I have never seen anything from this hide and today was no exception until, that is, a cracking male Bullfinch flew in and started feeding on the remains of some brambleberries. What a fantastic way to end the day!!

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Dartford Warbler.......near Dartford!!!

30th November 2014

I had never been to explore the new Thurrock Thameside Nature Park and so when a couple of Dartford Warblers were reported there it seemed like an ideal opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. It is a massive area, but luckily I had received some excellent directions to precisely where the warblers had been seen from chum and fellow Herts birder Laurence Drummond so wasted no time in getting into position.

Some local birders were just leaving the site and said that they had heard just a single call but no sightings and so our vigil started. We did eventually hear a Dartford call with a brief glimpse , but it then flew further away towards the sea wall where a couple of Stonechats were showing well, perched high up on dead stems. At that point one of the Stonechats flew towards us and perched on the fence not too far away.

Suddenly we were surrounded by 4-5 Stonechats , 3-4 females and one male which were perching up, some fairly close at times, allowing a few shots to be taken.

But what soon became apparent was that one of the two Dartford Warblers were following the Stonechats, often feeding low in the bush where they were perched. This made the job of tracking it much easier as they have the habit of flying out low from the back of the bush to fly to another bush often some distance away without being seen. Once this was realised it was just a matter of patience to get a couple of shots. This was the best shot from a composure point of view, but a little too distance for a reasonable quality image.

My biggest regret is that this one wasn't better focused, and therefore sharper, as shots like this don't come along that often.

However, I did eventually manage to get a good shot, albeit a little buried in the vegetation. A think a return visit is on the cards.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Snow Buntings at Jaywick Beach

24th November 2014

The objective today was to explore Colne Point to assess its potential for bird photography. However, as we wanted to get to the Point at high tide, which today was 1.00pm, we had some spare time so went down to the beach at St Osyth.

I was scanning around with my bins when I noticed a small flock of birds circling over the beach at Jaywick. Although very distant and only silhouettes they were clearly not waders, Starlings, Sky Larks or small finches such as Linnets. The pattern of flight was typical of buntings and, being on a beach, were most likely to be - SNOW BUNTINGS!! Enough said so off we set.

It took us 10-15 minutes to walk along to the martello tower by Jaywick beach and eventually found some steps over the formidable sea defences that have been put in place. I spent a lot of time on this beach as a boy and its character has changed from all recognition since those days. Then it was a glorious sandy beach with a series of wooden breakwaters to calm the sea as it crashed onto the beach. Now the sea, presumably during one of the exceptionally high tides or tidal surges we have been experiencing, has dumped tons of sand right up to the sea wall and, as it no longer gets covered by the sea at high tide, is covered in vegetation. The wooden breakwaters have been replaced with long lines of huge boulders.

It is a very large area to cover but the buntings were more likely to be feeding on the tide wrack by the beach so we started at the western end. As luck would have it we had only just reached the water's edge when the flock of eight Snow Buntings flew past and settled out of sight below the shingle ridge. It was therefore necessary to retrace our steps to get the sun behind us and to make sure that we were visible to the buntings before we approached. In my experience Snow Buntings are more than happy to continue feeding provided that they can see you and you don't get closer than 10 yards. We soon got into position and started clicking away.

What an absolutely brilliant start to the day. Out of interest, when I got home I went on to Google Earth to measure the distance from the St Osyth beach car park to the beach where I had seen the Snow Buntings wheeling around - a staggering 900 yards. Just goes to show what a distinctive flight pattern they have.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Time for another Tour of Mersea

10th November 2014

Time for another trip to Mersea, this time with fellow photographer Paul Moss who wanted to get to know his way around this superb island. We started at Cudmore Grove as this would give us three hours before high tide and therefore some chance of bird activity. As we walked down to the sea wall the flooded grazing fields were fairly quiet, presumably because most of the  birds were still out feeding on the mud flats.

We therefore headed along the sea wall to The Point. On the tidal pools on the beach a lone Sky Lark was feeding along the edge and, although slightly too distant, gave the first opportunity of the day for a shot.

Out on The Point there were a number of Pied Wagtails but this male gave the best views. Also feeding along the water's edge were some Turnstone but no sign of any Sanderling. Although some have been seen this winter, it is probably a little too early for them to be a reliable sighting.

Shelduck were starting to move in with the tide and a number of waders were building up on the pools on the saltmarsh. These were mainly Grey Plover with some Turnstone and Dunlin, and a single Teal

Walking back along the sea wall small flocks of Wigeon were being pushed up from the rising tide to the grazing fields, joining the Black-tailled Godwits that were already there.

Having exhausted East Mersea we moved on to Seaview to try our luck with the Med Gulls. By now the tide was right in so no mud for the birds to loaf on and the only Med Gull in sight was one sitting on the sea a hundred yards out. However with a few slices of bread thrown on to the beach, another two or three appeared from nowhere and started flying around in a feeding frenzy with 30-40 Black-headed Gulls. This is very tricky. Not only do you have to pick out the Med Gulls from the melee, but get them in focus as they whizz past at high speed.

The final port of call today was the jetty at the western end of West Mersea. This too was very quiet as the exceptionally high tide was still covering all the beach and was lapping up the wall of the car park. We walked out to the end of the jetty where Stacey was sitting aboard Lady Grace awaiting customers for a trip round the bay. I really must treat myself to one of these boat trips one day, perhaps a slightly longer trip for some bird photography. Perhaps during the winter when there are some grebes out on the sea provided that it is not too choppy!!

However, today the only consolation prize was this juvenile Herring Gull sitting on one of the jetty posts.