Sunday, 29 July 2012

One Good Tern Deserves Another

I had gone to Titchwell in the hope of photographing some waders but the water levels in front of the hide were still a little too high. However, on the flip side, a Common Tern was fishing quite close to the path. As I have said before, photographing terns in flight is as exciting as fishing and therefore I spent quite some time rattling off shots before the tern gave up and flew back to one of the islands. They are so graceful and I never tire of photographing them.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Spotted Flycatchers at Wallington

Based on information supplied by Mike Ilett and Dave McCarthy I headed off to Wallington to try my luck with the Spotted Flycatchers in the churchyard there. Like a number of other species, Spotted Flycatchers are now incredibly scarce towards the south of the country but seem to be faring better in the north.

I entered the churchyard and walked down the side and there in front of me were a couple of flycatchers flitting between the mature trees by the fence and the gravestones behind the church. I decided to position myself leaning against a black barn to break my outline and wait for the birds to forget that I was there. This was only partially successful, as one of the young birds was so curious that it came and sat on a branch just 6 feet away from my head. No good for photography as 6 feet is well below the minimum focus of my lens.

However, an hour and 200 shots later I did manage to get a collection in different positions and lighting.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

What a Purr-fect day

After missing out on the Bygrave Turtle Doves and receiving some information from Denise Anderson, I decided to go to Fowlmere for another attempt.

I have only been to Fowlmere once before with No1 son Mark about 23 years ago, when the only things we saw were a Mallard and a Brown Trout. The reason I know is that Mark keeps reminding me. However, I must say that first impressions were good as I had only gone a few yards when, in a dead tree the other side of the reed bed, I saw a male Linnet and a male Bullfinch. These were too far away to photograph but just illustrated the potential of the site.

I eventually made my way round to the Reed Bed Hide which is a magnificent two-story structure which was there when we went all those years ago, and gives commanding views over the mere and reed beds. However, what caught my ear was a Linnet singing to the left of the hide. It didn't take long to realise that the pair were building a nest in the bramble below (yes, even in the latter half of July) and the male was insisting in singing above the nest as they normally do. This always seems to me to be less than sensible, but was a godsend when I was finding nest during my ringing days. Anyway, the temptation was too great and I rattled off a few shots.

After about 150 shots I was preparing to leave when I heard music to my ears......the purring of a Turtle Dove coming from the other side of the hide. I peered out of the window and although the dove was obviously very close, it was out of view. The singing then stopped. I left the hide and was about to rejoin the main path when the dove starting singing again and I was able to spot it high up on the edge of a tall tree. This was certainly on the edge of my camera's capability.

I put on the converter and took a series of shots although the bird, apart from being very distant, was always sillouetted and therefore lighting and contrast was always going to be an problem. However, I did manage to get a few record shots.

So, what was the outcome of the day. Well, I enjoyed taking the Linnet photos but the Turtle Dove is a species that will have to wait for another day.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Common Sandpiper at King's Meads

Andy Brown had reported a Whinchat on the fenceline close to the horse paddock and therefore I went down the following day to see if I could locate it for some photographs. Unfortunately there was no sign but at White House Sluice there were a couple of Grey Wagtails which flew off before I could get any shots, but also a Common Sandpiper. This seems to be a little early in the year for returning waders, although there have been a couple of Common Sands at Tyttenhanger recently.

The bird was quite flighty but, most conveniently kept to the New River, settling on the piling and the bridges. The amount of cover made photography difficult but I did eventually  manage to get a couple of shots.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

To The Wilds of the Baldock Area

Hertfordshire is a strange place from a birding perspective as there is a significant north-south divide. Many of the birds that have long deserted the south such as Yellow Wagtails, Grey Partridges, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and Turtle Doves are still to be found in the north of the county. Today my quarry was Turtle Dove which I haven't seen in the county for three years.

In fact the last time I saw them was at Bygrave near Baldock which is where I was heading today. I stopped at the Manor House which is a mix of private dwellings, small industrial units and a horse paddock. Three years ago they were flying around the horse chestnuts in the horse paddock. I leaned on the rail listening for the characteristic purring call but to no avail. A walk up the lane still didn't produce anything so, after an hour, I moved on the Deadman's Hill.

Not the best time of year for this area but there is always the chance of some close-up views and photo opportunities for Linnets, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings. As I stood by the famous green gate my ears were alerted to the the chipping call of a Quail coming from the Barley field behind me. I walked up the road in the general direction of the calls, but however fast I walked the calls were always in front of me. Either the wind was carrying the call or the bird was moving fast through the crop.

The calls eventually led me up the western side of the field at which point the calls stopped. The air was now filled with the song of a Corn Bunting which, following a quick scan with the bins, was located on the top of a stem of Hogweed growing in a ditch. I have photographed Corn Buntings here before and have found that by edging towards them very slowly they are reasonably approachable as the following shots will testify.

So, as happens quite frequently, not what I came for but a result nevertheless.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Kingfishers at Rye Meads

Rye Meads is a great place to see Kingfishers. There is a hide which, through a stroke of originality, is called the Kingfisher Hide which overlooks a pool with an artificial Kingfisher bank built into the side. The adult pair are currently feeding young in the nest and are therefore very easy to see as they fly to and fro with fish.

As I made my way to the hide I called in to the Tern and Gadwall Hides which overlook a couple of large lagoons. Here there is usually plenty of opportunity to photograph large water birds at fairly close range and today was no exception. The first candidate was a Common Tern which perched on a pole not far from the hide.

Next on the list was a smart Black-headed Gull which chose to sit on an overhanging willow tree rather than a dreary old post or raft, which provided a much better composition all round.

Then along the track to the Kingfisher Hide I came across a most unusual sight, a Green Woodpecker sitting in a tree. They normally spend most of their time feeding on the ground and its presence was only given away by a rather half-hearted yaffle.

Finally I arrived at the Kingfisher Hide and, along with a couple of other photographers, settled down to wait for the next delivery of fish. When the adults arrive back at the pool they normally settle on a post sticking out of the middle of the pool to have a look round before proceeding to the nest hole. This few seconds allows the perfect opportunity to rattle off a few shots, as they fly straight off when they emerge from the hole.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Dive! Dive! Dive!

I had gone to Rye Meads in the hope of photographing some waders in front of the Draper Hide. Unfortunately, the water levels were still high with no exposed mud. I therefore moved on to the Gadwall Hide.

Here were all the usual suspects with lots of Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns and Cormorants, but what caught my eye was a fresh brood of Tufted Ducks right in front of the hide. Young ducklings are extremely buoyant and lack the ballast tanks that the adults seem to have to help them dive so effortlessly. For ducklings, however, diving is a matter of considerable effort, and if they stop paddling as fast as they can they bob back to the surface like a cork.

The following sequence shows how this youngster was mastering the technique.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Killing Time at Stodmarsh

James had an interview at Canterbury University which was scheduled to last from 9.00am to 5.00pm, so I had 8 hours to kill. What could I do? Go round the shops? Have tea with the Archbishop?........or pop into Stodmarsh Nature Reserve? OK, it is a dirty job but somebody's got to do it.

As I made my way into the first hide I was met with a familiar call, not a bird but an amphibian. This was the Hyaena-like laugh of the Marsh Frog, a green frog much larger than our native Common Frog. They are fairly common in Kent particularly Dungeness, but also Rainham Marshes in Essex and even Hampstead Heath in London.

The next visitor to the pond was a Stock Dove which came in for a drink. It is fairly common behaviour for doves to quench their thirst after eating seeds all day, but they never stay long. This one was no exception and departed after about 30 seconds.

At this point another dove flew across the front of the hide with a tell-tale flicky flight. This could only be the Stock Dove's rarer cousin, the Turtle Dove, and the first one I have seen for three years. Unfortunately, it looks as though they could become extinct in Hertfordshire in the next five years or so. It was nice to see that they are still present here.

Then the moment I had been waiting for. A couple of Marsh Harriers appeared and started quartering the ground in front of the hide. Unfortunately they were fairly distant for much of the time but eventually the male came a little closer for some better shots.

Time to go and I started my way back along the trail through the reed beds. Bearded Tits were pinging in the reeds alongside singing Reed and Sedge Warblers, but nothing decided to show itself. However, as if by way of compensation, a Hobby hovered overhead, proudly showing off the dragonfly that it had caught.