Thursday, 31 July 2014

Crossbills at Upper Hollesley Common ....... find a puddle and wait.

Crossbills must be one of our most attractive birds with the brick red plumage of the males and yellowish grey females.

They are specialist feeders generally found in and around coniferous forestry.

As their name suggests the tips of their bills are crossed, an adaption reflecting their major diet of conifer seeds, cones are wrenched off trees and held under their feet whilst the seeds are extracted when exposed by the leverage of the crossed bill.  Other diet consists of buds, insects and invertebrates.

They are very active and acrobatic feeders flitting around the canopy in family groups, with such a dry diet they need to take on water on a regular basis and it is around favoured puddles or streams that some good opportunities for photography present themselves.

Crossbills are quite mobile and will seek out alternative forestry should the supply of cones get into short supply in their current area.

                                                                    Male - heads up 



I never knew .........

...... that Great Grey Shrikes regurgitate pellets, but then I had never given it any thought.

It does however make sense in view of their diet of beetles, small mammals ( reportedly up to the size of a stoat - incredible ! ) reptiles, lizards and even smaller birds.

A visit to Upper Hollesley Common near Woodbridge, Essex to photograph Crossbills ( to be posted tomorrow ) coincided with the arrival that day of a Great Grey Strike, what a stroke of luck.

Over a period of half an hour I slowly edged forwards through the heathland scrub always keeping patches of gorse between me and the bird, the bird was feeding unconcernedly dropping down to the ground and returning to its high perch but still some way away as I did not want to spook it.

I fired off hundreds of shots and then withdrew slowly by the same route.

It was only when I got home and processed the card that I came across the two images of the bird expelling the pellet. 

                                                                       On the way up

                                                                    And out it comes

                                                         Ready for take off

Great behavioural shots and very lucky to capture.

I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes you just plain get lucky.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A busy time of year for Willow Warblers ..............

Willow Warblers are notoriously difficult to tell apart from a Chiffchaff if the song is not heard so I sincerely hope that I have not got any of the following images mis-identified !.

Please let me know if I have as I am certainly a bit uncomfortable with the last image !.

Males are known to be polygamous having more than one mate so who knows, either way the breeding season has been very successful this year. 

The fledglings are out and about seemingly everywhere on the reserve with their fresh, more yellow plumage ..... sorry to say but migration of our summer visitors is under way, the cuckoos left Mid-July.  

The later breeders are still very busy feeding young and indeed it may be that with the good weather of late and the abundance of insects etc., that second broods are the order of the day, each brood consisting of 4-8 eggs.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Birding is a Hobby ........... and so is the subject of this post.

The Hobby Hawk is one of my most favourite summer migrants, the swallows arrive in Spring time and are shortly followed by the Hobby's.

At Titchmarsh LNR we have had at least three of these birds in residence this year and I believe that of these a pair may have bred in the locality.

To see a Hobby hunting over water is breathtaking as they use '' ground effect '' to glide   effortlessly with fixed wings in pursuit of  their prey.

Equally as breathtaking are their aerial antics as they hawk Dragonflies, a regular prey species that they catch in their talons and eat on the wing.

The main identification feature in adult birds is that their thighs and legs are covered in red plumage, their " red  trousers ''. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Permission to stay Indefinitely .......

Permission to stay indefinitely is I believe the jargon used by the immigration authorities
when a person is granted leave to stay and work in the UK.

It certainly seems to apply to this drake Goldeneye which has been at Titchmarsh LNR throughout the year.

And what a handsome bird it is with its striking and yet at the same time rather plain plumage. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

One good Tern ........

I just love to watch Common Terns, they are tremendous with their bouncy aerobatics as they hunt and dive for fish.

In my experience I have found that they are easier to photograph from a bridge over a river rather than a larger expanse of water as they tend to stay within the confines of the river banks and you can also get nearer to their flight level.

The other thing that I have noticed through observation behaviour-wise is that they '' hawk '' Dragonflies '' like birds of prey. In this connection I attach an image that I got as a record shot with sincere apologies for the quality.

I have also seen them hawking over meadows in the late afternoon and early evening rather like Swallows

                                                                Great flyers

                                                                  Just starting a dive

 I am not usually a fan of '' head-on '' images but in this case I rather liked the composition       

    I may be wrong but I think the fish is a Pike

Hawking a Dragonfly -  a record shot taken hurriedly at long range, apologies once again for the image quality.  

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Slovenian Grebe - New tick.

I took this shot in Lancashire in Spring this year, a first for me.

It was a very confiding bird happily diving and feeding on an inland boating lake to as close as approx four metres and it was completely unconcerned with the noise of the shutter release ( Canon score over Nikon here in my opinion ). 

I was surprised how small this bird was, about the same size as a moorhen.

I wonder what it would look like in black & white ?.

Friday, 25 July 2014

This years crop of Long Tailed Tits.

I went for a wander for a couple of hours this afternoon, very hot with thankfully a strong cooling wind.  The hides were like Sauna baths !.

I saw plenty of parties of Long Tailed Tits with their young, juvenile plumage lacks the pinky tinges of the adults and they have smoky grey heads. 

The other feature of the juveniles is that their eye-rings are red rather than yellow as is the case with adult birds.

Short Eared Owl - Blueberry Farm, Northants.

These shots were taken just over two years ago when there was a huge influx of European Short Eared Owls into the UK.

Apparently, following an excellent breeding season in continental Europe on the  the back of a high vole population, European territories became pressurised and large numbers of this bird were reported to be arriving in the country over the East coast.

Here in Northamptonshire a local farm with large fields of set-aside ( the owners are members of the Hawk and Owl Trust and actively manage the farm to provide suitable habitat for raptors ) became a focus for these birds with a maxima in the mid-thirties.

Short Eared Owls will hunt in Daylight making them great subjects for photography.

They were very confiding,  and there were so many of them, that you really didn't know which bird to point your camera at first !.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The '' tree mouse ''.

Before I took up bird photography I thought I was an observant person, nowadays I see so much more during my walks through the countryside than was the case previously.

Sauntering along the fringes of the woodlands at nearby Grafton Underwood I caught a fleeting glimpse of a flash of white in flight in my peripheral vision, a bird landed on the far side of a tree low down near its roots.  

A silhouette came into view  spiralling its way up the trunk of the tree in short jerky movements ..... a Treecreeper.

As it It made its way upwards it was probing the bark constantly with its needle like down-curved beak using its stiff pointed tail feathers as a '' lever '' to press against the tree for support as its claws gripped the rough textured wood  ......  hyper active and rarely still it is a difficult bird to get a clear image of. 

The underparts of the bird are white, its upperparts are mottled and barred brown which make a very effective camouflage.

When it had finished its climb to the top of the tree it flew down to the base of a nearby tree and started the process all over again.

It is not a rare bird but very easily overlooked.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Turtle Dove - Sadly one from the archives

I have not seen a Turtle Dove this year, nor sadly last year.

Woodlands that used to be uplifted by the purring of these most attractive of Doves now rue their loss as does the English countryside at large.

Changes in farming practices have contributed to the decline, our farmlands are not as supportive of this species as was the case in less efficient past times when farms boasted meadows and woodland margins with seed bearing wild flowers, grasses and weeds opened their doors like larders to allow this bird to feed and make it feel welcome and at home during its summer visits.

Persecution in the Mediterranean countries and Islands will to an as yet ill-defined extent have also played its part in the species decline.

To the best of my knowledge the impact of global warming on the Turtle Dove is not yet fully understood.

Progress ..... we have a need to feed an exploding global population with aspirations to improve their lot ...... I am not a political animal ...... I'm just very worried that future generations may look into the sky and see ...... nothing....  if we don't give greater thought to the plight of our declining wildlife.

Thank goodness for the Wildlife Trusts and all the organisations who are doing their best to counter balance the picture that I have just painted of the future for birds ..... please do All that you can to support them in these strained financial times.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Majestic Birds - Buzzards

Inspiration comes in many forms.

I was sitting down in my home office ( a spare bedroom ) here at home today with the windows wide open giving some thought to a subject for todays post when I heard the unmistakable call of a buzzard - very close.

My camera is always to hand and today was no different as I had just finished charging the batteries.

Looking out I could see the bird and in the absence of wind it was becalmed and flying unusually low rather than soaring, as It circled it was drifting closer. Rather than hanging out of the window I knelt down on the floor waiting for it hopefully to come into view, would it ? .... Yea !

I just managed a couple of shots before the window frame sadly also came into view.

Here in East Northamptonshire we are spoiled for choice when it comes to large Raptors, Buzzards are numerous as are the reintroduced Red Kites, they seem to co-exist well together despite having similar diets.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Great White Egret ..... does this bird have some neck !

In my last post I featured the Little Egret which is now fairly widespread throughout our wetlands and waterbodies and has colonised the UK in recent decades.

A much rarer Egret is the Great White Egret whose numbers are increasing in the UK year on year and has successfully bred here in recent years.

Earlier this year there were three at Pitsford Reservoir so I went along to see if I could connect with them, normally all I see is a white speck way out in the distance.

Having parked at the Anglian Water car park just outside Pitsford I was making my way to the reservoir across the wooden bridge over the Moulton Grange Bay inlet, I happened to glance to my right and there, no more than fifteen metres away, a Great White Egret was busily fishing.

I must have watched it for over an hour.

It is the sheer size of it compared to the Lesser that stands out,100cm long compared to 65cm with a yellow rather than black bill.

Tremendous to see up close.

Great fisherman

E gret day out .......

It is amazing to recall that just twenty five years ago birders in the United Kingdom used to travel hundreds of miles to see one of these vagrant Little Egrets, at that time, rare visitors to our shores. 

A member of the Heron taxa. gradually over the years numbers of these visitors have built up and they are thought to have first nested successfully in the UK in 1996, currently the most northerly region of the species range. 

Nowadays it is almost a common resident bird in many of the country's water bodies and wetlands. 

My local patch is currently hosting three of these birds, they are not very confiding but will present well on the wing, in good strong light an in flight shot almost allows you to take an X-ray of the birds wing structure, fantastic !  

                                                           Classic hunting posture 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Kestrels - What a joy to see.

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with David Lindo - '' The Urban Birder '' - who specialises in birding in city's and built up areas, his regular patch is Wormwood Scrubs in London, more famous for its nearby H.M. Prison. 

Davids motto is '' look up ''.

Before going birding this morning I went to my local Tesco store in Kettering which is sited next to the A14, on getting back to the car I did indeed '' look up '' and what a  pleasure it was to see this Kestrel perched between the car park and the embankment of the A14.

Well, David may be the '' Urban Birder '' but this bird is nowadays a very common urban bird and certainly not restricted to rural environments where intensive agricultural practices are depleting their food stocks, the uncultivated margins of motorways and dual carriageways are ideal hunting grounds for this raptor.

I have a Sparrowhawk visiting my back garden most days, habits and habitats are dynamic and birds adapt to change so - look up - you never know what you will see !.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Every now and then everything falls into place - Whitethroat

There are no guarantees when it comes to wildlife photography whether you are an enthusiastic amateur like me or a professional, no certainties of success for all sorts of reasons whether it be circumstances or ability ...... or indeed the lack of it !.

For example, you can go out to photograph Barn Owls, sometimes they appear and start hunting early, sometimes they don't.  When pursuing an objective I have experienced failure, success and all of the shades between the two.

But sometimes circumstances conspire and nature allows you to get it right.

One such time recently was when I was photographing a pair of nesting Whitethroat, without pressurising the birds I was able to get fairly close. The light was good, the birds were coming and going with frequency, the nest was situated below some teasels that they were using to shimmy up and down to the nest and finally the background allowed me to use a wide open aperture.  

All images taken with a remote shutter release on a tripod.

As I have said on many occasions, for me, perfection does not exist, but also for me these shots are close to knocking on the door !.     

Great Photo opportunity !

I was driving to a local reserve yesterday, the end of the journey involves me taking my car down a narrow farm track with fields of oilseed rape on each side.

Suddenly, up popped this superb Yellow Wagtail on top of a bramble shoot. 

Now, in my experience I usually see these guys strutting their stuff on the ground and normally fairly close to livestock, the foot falls of the animals cause insects to take to the air which the Yellow Wagtails can readily feed off.

Its not very often that I have had the opportunity to photograph one perched as this one was.

I gently slowed the car to a stop and very slowly picked up my camera from its habitual residence on the passengers seat and just managed to fire off a few shots through the open window before it flitted away with its usual undulating flight, it was so close that I think the sound of  the shutter release spooked it ( Canon in my opinion are much quieter than Nikon ).

What can I say, what colour this summer migrant brings to our shores for us to marvel at, I hope that you get as much enjoyment viewing these images as I did taking them !.

( the detail would have been better if I had thought to turn the engine of the car off - oh well ).

Swallow Tail Butterfly at Strumpshaw Fen.

One of the most elegant and colourful of British Butterflies only to be found in the Fens of Eastern England. 

They feed on wild carrots, Milk Parsly and Fennel

The British subspecies is called ssp.britannicus  to set it apart from its European cousins which are increasingly being found along the south coast thought to be due to global warming - they are powerful fliers and able to cover long distances.

What a beauty ....... enjoy.

Friday, 18 July 2014

One of my Bogy birds - we all have them !.

The Blackcap is present in some numbers at my local reserve but I have never been happy with the images that I have been able to capture of them. They always seem to perch with twigs and/or foliage in front of them or fly off before I have had time to focus on them.

I am sure that many of you who are into photography can identify with this feeling.

So I have shots that I refer to as '' bankers ''. i.e. they will do until new opportunities and better results are available, they really are gorgeous looking birds.

Maybe I am too critical of my work, there is no such thing as the perfect shot, it doesn't exist.

                                                                             The Female

                                                                             The Male

Update - Barn Owls at Titchmarsh LNR

I went down to the location of the nesting box the other evening, after about thirty minutes heads started appearing at the entrance and one by one SIX owls appeared and flew to perch in the tree behind the box.

What a sight and what a success to fledge four owlets !.

As I stated in the first post about these Owls, voles in the area have themselves bred well this year reflecting the clement weather throughout Spring and to date so the food supply has been very good.

I understand that the Parents will continue to feed the Owlets for between three to five weeks after fledging before the young are actively encouraged to disperse, they are thought to establish their own territories on average within a ten mile radius of their hatching locale.  

What chance of a second brood ?.

These are realy '' record shots '' as the box and tree are beyond the reach of my 300mm F4 lens even with a 1.4 TC fitted.

            All six Owls at rest, the sixth bird is partially hidden in the left hand huddle.