Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wagtails, Whitethroats and Wheatears

As it was still April I thought that a trip to Abberton would be in order for some early migrants. The hotspot at this time of the year is the Layer Breton causeway which attracts good numbers of pipits and wagtails and possibly the odd Wheatear, but today I headed straight for the flooded field opposite Billets Farm where a pair of Garganey had been seen the day before. Unfortunately there were no Garganey to be seen, but there was a Greenshank feeding out on the pools, albeit a bit distant.

Along the road was a singing Whitethroat, the first I have heard this year, and I leaned over the hedge to try and get a glimpse. The bird did eventually appear for a brief moment against the backcloth of a fencepost, hardly natural surroundings, but that was the end of the show.

However, on the other side of the road a Wheatear was feeding along the top of the bank and offered some reasonable photographic opportunities.

Back at the causeway there were signs of activity with both Pied and Yellow Wagtails present and it is always noticeable that Pieds are far more used to people than the Yellows, which are far less approachable.

Eventually, after a lot of walking up and down, stalking and waiting for the sun to come out I did manage to get some shots of what must be one of my favourite birds.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Warblers at Amwell

Amwell is not my first choice for bird photography because the water birds are all distant, and if you try and get closer to the island by going into the White Hide the sun is in your eyes. However, for warblers it is quite good as there is a good mix of trees and shrubs lining the many paths.

This early in the Spring the species that will possibly be seen is restricted to Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. All of these species are likely at some time to sing from the top of a bush but rarely when you have a camera in your hand. So it was a morning of skulking around bushes trying to keep the sun behind you and spotting the little brown job lurking deep down in the middle.

Eventually I did manage to find a Willow Warbler singing it's heart out but it was some 50 feet up a willow and I was therefore pleasantly surprised how well it came out.

In the same area a Blackcap was burbling away in the bushes and my patience was rewarded when it showed itself for a few brief seconds.

I think photographing warblers is going to need a lot of practice.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Nightingale Sang in Fishers Green

The traditional site for Nightingales singing is Berkeley Square, although I doubt whether there are any there nowadays. Our nearest hotspots are Little Paxton and Fringringhoe Wick, which each have more than 20 pairs each year, but are both more than an hour away, . So therefore, in view of the forecast heavy showers, I thought I would try for one of the more local spots where Nightingales have been reported each year for some time now - the Fisher's Green Electricity Sub-station.

From the Bittern Watchpint Hide I followed the course of the old River Lea northwards and came acoss a Great Crested Grebe. Great Cresties are not that uncommon on the Lea and, because it is a relatively narrow river, they can never be that distant and afford great opportunites, especially when they are in such good condition as this one.

I then approached the target site and, on cue, a Nightingale was calling. I say calling because it was a half-hearted mumble of the usual loud song, but unmistakeable nevertheless. So the task now was to not only locate it in the dense thicket but also to get into position to get a photo avoiding all the branches and leaves. As is normal on these occasions it is not possible to stand motionless for too long before the other birds come to you and I was soon visited by the compulsory Robin and a very vocal Chiffchaff.

But then the combination of stealth and patience was rewarded. The Nightingale showed itself and although it didn't seem at all bothered by my presence, approaching to within 10 metres at times, it was a long time before I managed to get an uninterrupted view and a few shots.

Up until this time, I had been unable to get a shot of the famous red tail but then, as if by request, the bird turned round and spread it's tail as if posing.

Mission accomplished.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Redstart at Tyttenhanger

I was at home trying to decide where to go for the afternoon when an email came through from Steve Blake saying that a male Redstart had been found by the fishing lake at Tyttenhanger. So my decision suddenly became much easier. When I arrived Steve and Ricky Flesher were still there and, after a short time, we were able to relocate the bird in the willows by the water's edge, although it remained well hidden at all times.

Steve and Ricky left and I was joined by the recently returned globe-trotting Dave Booth. We did manage to see it a couple of times, but it was either well-fed or tired, as it was staying deep in cover at all times. I therefore turned my attention to the fishing lake which, due to the lack of rain, had large beaches and a number of small islands which were attracting pairs of Green Sandpipers, Redshanks and Oystercatchers.

However, at that point there was a considerable amount of commotion on one of the islands where a pair of Little Ringed Plovers had flown in and were chasing each other round. Unfortunately the bank where I wanted to stand to get the light behind me was lined with Sallows, but I did eventually find the smallest of holes possible through the branches to get a shot.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Killing Time at Norton Green

My wife had an afternoon appointment at Lister Hospital and I therefore had a couple of hours to kill, and what better way to enjoy yourself than to have a walk round a rubbish-strewn landfill site with a travellers' camp at the northern end - Norton Green. I parked by the now famous metal gate at the southern end and made my way northwards looking for movement as I went.

There was quite a lot of activity, particularly Linnets and Sky Larks, and also tantalising glimpses of Blackbirds as they broke cover and headed for the nearest bramble patch, all of which had to be scrutinised for Ring Ouzels. As I approached the no-go northern end I could see a couple of Wheatears on the bank and when trying to position myself for some photos, the Ring Ouzel flew past and landed in the northwest corner of the site. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately flushed by a walker and flew high down to the southern end of the site.

"Any sign of the Ring Ouzel?" the guy said. "Yes, it's just flown over your head" I replied. "Oh", he said, "I wondered what that was. Anything else about?". "Just a few Wheatears" I said. By this time I had hoped that he would have noticed that my camera on the tripod was pointing in a particular direction. But no, he strode off along that exact line, soon to be greeted by an explosion of Wheatears at which point he turned round and excitedly shouted back "look, there go some Wheatears now". Cheers mate.

However, on my way back, I was approaching a puddle left from the overnight rain and, as luck would have it, a Wheatear came down for a drink allowing a couple of reasonably close shots.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Stocks and Squirrels

Another visit to Sherrardspark Wood had once again been fruitless and so, as is customary on these occasions, I turned my attentions to photographing squirrels. Like them or hate them you cannot deny that they are both cute and photogenic, particularly when there are a couple of logs to play hide and seek in.

My attention was then drawn to a call I haven't heard for many years, the "ooooo" of a Stock Dove. I was soon able to locate the bird high in the trees and, as luck would have it, with a twig in it's beak. It wasn't very long before it flew down to a large tree and disappeared down a hole. All I had to do then was to wait for it to emerge and grab a few shots. A grossly under-rated bird.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Fulmar at Wilstone

On Thursday 5th April 2012 there had been a report of a Fulmar Petrel at Wilstone Reservoir. I was at Amwell at the time photographing the pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and, in any case, didn't really expect the Fulmar to hang around. However, at 7.30am the next morning I received a phone call from Joan Thompson to say that the Fulmar was still there. I therefore decided to go over and try my luck. I was only 5 minutes away from Wilstone when another call from Joan sadly informed me that the Fulmar had been picked up and was on it's way to Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital.

Sadly these inland seabirds are usually the result of wrecks at sea which both exhausts and disorientates them and, once inland, few survive. It was of course only a couple of months ago that there was a Storm Petrel at College Lake which was killed by crows. However, I was now at Wilstone Reservoir on a lovely sunny day and decided that a walk round to the jetty was the order of the day.

Great Crested Grebes are now in full breeding plumage and, at Wilstone, they fortunately like diving close to the shelving banks. By walking round to the east bank I was able to get the light in a more favourable position and take a few shots.

As I approached the southeast corner of the reservoir I could see a duck sitting on a ledge under the end of the jetty. A quick look through the bins showed that it was.....a male Mandarin!! A concrete-lined reservoir is hardly the place you would expect to find these when they usually prefer lakes with plenty of overhanging trees. As I approached the end of the jetty and peered over the edge there, just a few feet below me, were a pair of Mandarins, obviously fairly tame. Apparently, they had been there for about a week.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Somewhere in Hertfordshire

This Spring I have made several attempts to find and photograph Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. These are now in serious decline and there are probably fewer the 10 pairs in the whole of Hertfordshire, making them very tricky to find. Up to now I have had no luck at all, not even finding any let alone photograph them, but then I had a stroke of luck......a tip-off.

I headed straight down there, positioned myself against some shrubbery to break my profile, and only had to wait a few minutes before I was in business. The female is much drabber than the male with no crimson cap. This duller appearance is quite common amongst female birds and I had always assumed that it was so they were less conspicuous when sitting on a nest. But when a female Lesser Spot is sitting on a nest she is in the middle of a tree trunk!!

The male is far more resplendent in that superb crimson cap and does his fair share of the work in excavating the nest hole.

Due to the scarcity of the species and the sensitivity of the breeding site I have been asked not to reveal the location.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Mersea Meds

It must have been about a year ago when Stuart and I were exploring West Mersea that we came across seven Mediterranean Gulls amongst a flock of Black-headed Gulls in the car behind the beach huts near Seaview Caravan Park. We had assumed that they were a permanent feature of West Mersea but, despite several searches along this part of the coastline during the winter, we have been unable to find any.

However, with Spring almost upon us, they have started to appear again and we made another concerted effort on Friday 30th March 2012. We parked by Seaview and walked out onto the beach. The tide was out and on the mudflats we could see a single 1st Winter bird. I went to get my camera and came back to find a group of people walking out on the shingle spit close to where the bird was feeding. Luckily, as they approached, rather than flying, it just walked to a safer distance and I was able to get some shots. Note the ring on the right leg above the knee.

The bird eventually flew off and, as there were no other gulls of interest around, we made our way to East Mersea.

By the time we returned to West Mersea the tide was in and we immediately found a Med Gull on the beach by one of the groynes. At first glance you would think it was an adult but closer inspection reveals a couple of narrow black lines on the wing tips making it a 2nd Winter. Unfortunately I only managed one decent shot before the bird was flushed by dogwalkers.

All was quiet again until, totally unexpectedly, a lady appeared from one of the beach huts and proceeded to walk down the beach where she produced a bag of bread and started throwing it up into the air. Naturally, I was expecting a large flock of gulls to appear from nowhere to snatch up this easy meal, but none came. The lady turned and walked back up the beach. It wasn't until a few minutes later that one gull arrived and circled over the feast, followed by another until within seconds the air was a melee of Med and Black-headed Gulls, providing plenty of opportuniteis for flight shots. The only problem was that the action was so fast that at times it was difficult to pick out a particular bird and focus before it went out of range.

The first two shots are of 1st Winter birds with their dark wing, dark grey mantle and their distict aggressive-looking mask

The next two photos are of 2nd Winter gulls with their residual black tips to the primaries. Unfortunately, today there were no full adults so we will have to save that for another day.