Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Titchmarsh Barn Owls, a review .........

I guess I am a traditionalist and what can be more traditional than a Barn Owl quartering over a British meadow.

I make no apologies for returning to these birds, there are few finer sights and depending on their timetable most evenings you maybe have a half hour window to make the shots if you are lucky before the light disappears.

They are also not stupid, once they know where you are its rarely you get a second chance, a rapid burst of shutter releases to an Owl probably sounds like a machine gun being fired.

It has been an honour for me to share their season with you this year especially after the last two years where the unseasonal bad weather has had such a negative impact on the Barn Owl population.

What  a feat to raise four Owlets, the well established vole population this year has contributed to this success for the birds, sometime nature gets it wrong but what a joy when nature gets it right.

The young have now dispersed and I guess the parents are now having a well earned rest, lets hope they continue to occupy  their territory next year ! 

Rutland Water surprises ...............

Early(ish) start this morning, a friend of mine Graham Barker and I had arranged to visit Rutland Water to see if we could connect with the recently showing Spotted Crake despite the fact that it had not been seen since Friday .... no surprises that we were unlucky !

Graham is a keen amateur based in Kettering who specialises in wildlife videos and a regular visitor to my local patch Titchmarsh LNR in East Northamptonshire. He has a very sympathetic presentation style and his youtube website ( ) is certainly worth a visit, he has also posted a short video of our visit that can be accessed through the link below.

My favourite hide at Rutland Water is the Wader scrape hide on the Lyndon side and many of the usual suspects were showing well with the added benefit of a Ruff.

However, the stars of the show for me was a small party of Spotted Flycatchers feeding very actively in the shrubs on the left hand side of the hide.

A nice surprise that certainly made my day !.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ears then Eyes

At Titchmarsh LNR we are blessed to have a good population of Bullfinches, these are best seen in the colder months when  the leaves have fallen.

On walking around the reserve I heard a family of Bullfinch contact calling ( link to Xeno Canto below - ref XC167992 ) so I shrank back into a nearby overhanging hedge and waited, the calls came nearer and eventually I was rewarded with some good sightings and was able to get images of both males and females.

Because they both have fairly glossy black heads and black eyes I find it is difficult to get good eye definition.

I will digress at this point.

If you ever visit the reserve and see a guy wandering around with a camera wearing green gloves, no matter what the season is, its likely to be me.

I firmly believe that many opportunities are either lost or reduced by the sudden movement of your hands when raising the camera for the shot, two white flashes being a visual warning of your presence. 

Also, whilst I don't walk around trying to look like a tree I do try and wear clothes that blend in with the surroundings.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Wagtails - Tubney Fen, Near Reach, Cambridgeshire.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the above NT Reed beds and indicated that the hide was photographer friendly with good closeness and views of the scrapes and a barbed wire fence widely used by birds to perch on before dropping down to feed.

This Pied Wagtail  posed really nicely, it is also a good site for Yellow Wagtails.

                                                                  Pied Wagtail

                                                                   Yellow Wagtail

Red Kite - more than a close up

I was standing on a bridge over the River Nene watching this Red Kite being mobbed by Crows in the middle distance.

The action was getting closer and closer.

Next thing I knew the Kite peeled away and was heading straight for and over me.

I threw up my camera ( errrrr ..... not literally ) and started trying to track the bird, when I looked at the images after the encounter they were all over the place as it was so very close.

This image was more than full frame and surprisingly in focus so I am posting it largely untouched with a bit of sharpening, if you look closely you can actually see a small lesion in the birds eye. 

Seasonal Fayre .......

The weather yesterday was quite accommodating so I had a late afternoon wander around the reserve, its that time of year when many of our summer visitors have departed or are on their way and few of the winter visitors have yet arrived, many birds are also moulting.

Berry bearing trees and shrubs are much in evidence and seem to be heavily laden, Elder and Blackberry in particular as well as hips.

There is I believe an old wives tale that suggests that a heavy berry crop points to a cold winter, I'll come back on this point in April 2015 !. 

 I think that this is one of this years '' fresh '' Reed Warblers taking advantage of the bounty

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Tubney Fen, Near Reach - Cambridgeshire.

This little watched reed bed is associated with nearby Wicken Fen ( National Trust ) and on its day can hold quite a variety of birds.

It has an '' open plan '' hide that can be a bit like a wind tunnel when the wind is from the east. The scrape comes within ten feet of the hide and a nearby barbed wire fence provides good perching opportunities, a very photographer friendly site.

This linnet  is one of many that visit from  the surrounding peat based agricultural land, this male is a classic representation of the species.

I have spent many a happy hours here watching Hobby's hawking and  visiting Marsh Harriers floating over the reeds..

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Gadwall in warm light.

The Drake Gadwall has the  most elegant finely barred or freckled plumage that appears to be grey at a distance, subtle stuff, the rear of the male bird and its tail are black.  

To my eye they always seem to be very buoyant riding very high in the water compared to other ducks.

We get good numbers at Titchmarsh LNR in Winter.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Collared Dove flyover ...........

I am not too great a fan of this species due to their numbers and the intrusive  noise that they  make.

Having said that however when you look at them unemotionally you have to admit that they have undeniable visual qualities.

In photography '' red eye '' can be a problem, the Collared Dove really does have ruby red eyes.
So, I just like this shot and in particular the glint in the eye from a rather unusual angle.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ringed Plover - the watched watching the watcher

What a pleasure to spend some quality time in the presence of this most confiding of birds.

I was sitting on the rocks with the tide line some ten feet away and this character was busy feeding away, on occasions so close that I could not get focus with my 300mm F4 lens.

Then the moment, it stopped and gave me intense scrutiny for what seemed like minutes and was totally unphased, I almost felt that if I had put some meal worms on the palm of my hand it would have eaten from my hand.

A precious experience.

Have you ever been asked a question that you can't answer ? ......... plenty of times.

I was chatting to a non birding friend of mine whilst walking around Titchmarsh LNR where we had seen a Little Grebe.

They asked an interesting Question, what sort of bird is a Glebe, well it certainly sounds as if it should be a bird but its not.

I was stumped for an answer so I needed to do a bit of research.

In my time I have seen plenty of farms and houses called, appropriately Glebe Farm and Glebe House.

A Glebe is actually a variety of religious stipend, i.e. funding for the local clergy in bygone days.

So, the profits or part thereof from a Glebe Farm at some time in history were made available to the local parish to support their activities.

                                       Little Grebe, known also as a Dabchick. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Snipe at Pitsford

Nice to see these guys out in the open.

The positioning of their eye sockets is quite unusual,  even when they are standing directly away from you they can still see you, eyes in the back of their heads ?. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hard to Swallow ...............

There was a section of fencing at the reserve where young swallows perched and were being fed by their parents so I decided that I would go back today with my tripod and use a remote shutter release in order to be able to watch for the arrival of the parents which is difficult when using the viewfinder.

I approached to about fifteen feet and the young were tolerant to the point of being disinterested, so I set up and watched the comings and goings for a while.

I don't know how the young can pick out their parents from all the other birds but they certainly do and start tweeting and opening their gapes with quivering wings when a parent approaches, a very useful alert.

The light was not great so I had to go up to IS0 800 to get a reasonable shutter speed.
                                                                    Very relaxed
                                                             A bit of a stretch
                                                                  And a bit of a scratch
                                                                  Fast food ....................

The parents were working really hard ......

                                                               ...............  all a gape
                                                                  Hard to Swallow

p.s. I went back the next day with the objective of taking some '' in flight '' shots as they were showing so well ...... they had all gone ...... its that time of year !

A less than rough Ruff

Waders and Gulls are not my forte from an identification perspective, it was only after I took this image that I was able to identify the subject ..... with more than a little help from my friends.

What a stonking bird though, the light quality was excellent and the subject very confiding on the coast with hardly a ripple on the foreshore.

Technically I recognise that I should have included the complete reflection in the frame, thats why I am an amateur and need to give more thought to the composition of images, we all strive to improve.

We live and learn !

Friday, 22 August 2014

A truly Great Tit

The largest member of the Tit family, the Great Tit, the male has a more pronounced  black chest  stripe that gets wider towards the base. 

Perhaps not as widespread as you might think with just in excess of two million pairs in the Uk
and currently increasing slightly.

Like the Goldfinch, the Great Tit has benefitted from the popularity and growth in garden feeders that has occurred in recent years.

All of these images were taken in the fringes of woodland at Grafton Underwood, Northants. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Tufted Duck at Titchmarsh LNR

We, or should I more correctly say I, tend to take this commonplace duck for granted during my wanderings around the gravel pits locally.

It is however an attractive duck with its blue bill, black and white plumage and yellow eyes.

I don't think I have ever seen one with a dry tuft, now that would be a challenge to get a photograph of !.

Getting there, better light ..... still plenty of room for improvement.

I went down to my reserve early evening yesterday for about half an hour to see if I could make contact with the Sparrowhawk family, parents and three chicks that fledged about ten days ago.

Two fledglings were contact calling high up in the canopy and I was able to get this shot of the male parent, but quite distant.

It would make by day if I could get some shots of a food pass, maybe ......... but probably maybe not !

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Welcome ........

For the last few evenings this little chap has been pitching up in my garden at about the same time, quarter to eight.

So yesterday I thought I would show my appreciation for its visits and bought in some commercial Hedgehog food.

It looks healthy and washes down its food with a drink of rain water.

What a shame that they are under pressure and in such decline.

Light as a feather .............

Just blowin' in the wind ...............

Maybe a bit arty, I watched this pigeon feather drifting down from above and really liked the visual effect, a bit different  ....... I'm not quite sure why ? maybe its symmetry  ....... answers on a post card to ....

Lackford Lakes - Suffolk WT

Lackford Lakes in between Barton Mills and BSE ( Bury St Edmunds ) is one of my favourite reserves, very well run and worthy of comment, the staff are incredibly friendly and welcoming.

It offers very diverse habitats with scrapes, reedbeds and gravel pits.

To tempt providence it is also one of the few venues where Kingfishers can be ( virtually ) guaranteed from a hide overlooking a small reedbed and well supplied with perches, very camera friendly.

There is something about the first digipic that almost makes it look as if I have superimposed the bird and perch over the background, some sort of optical illusion, very strange.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The trials and tribulations of bird photography .......

As you know I have three fledgeling Sparrow Hawks on my patch, for the first seven days they stayed in the main wood where their parents nested, but now they are beginning to spread their wings and are perching in a variety of trees in the vicinity.

Today one of them came around the corner of the '' home wood '' and nearly flew into me flaring its wings, changing direction and altitude, I would say it passed no further than ten feet away, good for the memory but not a photo opportunity.

I started this blog to feature my amateur work and the diversity of my local patch, some times you can nearly get  it right and sometimes circumstances conspire to thwart your plans, the images today come into that category.

The relationship of the sun to the access that I have to the wood is not good,  there is nowhere that I can  place myself with the sun behind me, as all photographers know the end result of shooting into the region of the light source is '' blacked out '' images which I have in spades !

I could actually get closer but it would be too close and potentially stress the birds, respect is important and the images would be no better.  

The focus of the images is good, shutter speed superb .... but the results are hardly worth publishing.

Maybe now that the birds are beginning to disperse opportunities will improve, I would love to get  a '' food pass '' shot.

Such is life !

Wash and brush up.......

I came across this Lapwing at Pitsford Reservoir at quite close quarters and managed to get these shots through the car window. The warm evening sunshine gave the light a really good quality.

Lapwings always make me laugh, the markings around their eyes always look to me as if mascara has been applied with a rather shaky hand.

The '' Oil on water '' effect on its upper parts was really shimmering as the sun was by now quite low to the horizon. 

So, down to the water where this guy made quite a splash for a good ten minutes before returning to dry land to finish preening.

A lovely encounter.

                                                                    Bad hair day !

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Bird Fair 2014 - a meeting of like minded people ......

A great day out, along with Peter, a birding friend with a similar liking for my local patch Titchmarsh LNR in Eastern Northamptonshire we pitched up early and had to wait half an hour before the Fair opened, good banter was had with fellow birders in the queue including visitors from both  Australia and South Africa.

The organisation was extremely good as usual and the weather was kind with sunshine, warm temperatures and more importantly no rain !.

Attending this show really brings home the popularity of birdwatching, the friendliness and politeness of the visitors was truly worthy of comment in relation to this society that we live in, there are a lot of very good, well balanced nice people pursuing this hobby of ours.

The optics stands were well attended and interesting, I spent a short time on the Nikon stand drooling over a 500mm F4 lens,  at only £ 5895, sadly my  '' plastic '' stayed firmly in my wallet but I did get, in my opinion, a good deal on a new monopod later on the Manfrotto stand.

 A couple of paper cups of black coffee at £4.50 a shot was a bit rich, but hey, what the hell,  the lunchtime burger went down very well.

The number of stands occupied by travel companies offering birding holidays to the four corners of the world always amazes me ..... they wouldn't exhibit if it wasn't worth their while.

On leaving the Fair we drove to  the other side of the reservoir, parked the car and walked to the Osprey viewing watchpoint hide and saw one of the six pairs of Ospreys at the reserve this year.

Sadly this couple, newly paired this season, were not successful breeders but there is always next year !.

A bonus was my first sight of a migrant Wood Sandpiper, Pied and Yellow Wagtail's were much in evidence.

So folks, its still not too late to visit the Fair, Sunday is just around the corner !.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Bird Fair 2014

I'm off to the Bird Fair at Rutland tomorrow, Saturday, an early start is the order of the day.

The weather forecast looks reasonable so it should be a great day, well it would be a good day whatever the Weather.

As usual I will take some cash with me but will be leaving the chip and pin cards at home to avoid temptation on the Nikon Stand !.

Best wishes to all birders attending the Fair over the three days !.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sparrowhawk fledglings at Titchmarsh LNR.

As you will have gathered Titchmarsh LNR in East Northamptonshire is my local patch and one that I visit on a regular basis.

Last Monday I was walking down to the reserve when I heard a call that I did not recognise, very strange, a sort of mid-range single note call ( hope that makes sense ) that I had never heard before.

I got to the entrance gate turned left and flushed three birds from the trees on the left hand side of the track, they were clearly just fledged raptors and I suspected Sparrow hawks, they  flew over the path into the trees on the right hand side, not good flyers yet or perchers with plenty of wing flapping to balance and settle down but sadly too quick and distant for any shots.

They were contact calling each other on a regular basis.

I also saw a parent bird circling high overhead.

So, I visited Xeno-Canto and located the call I was hearing.  ( block in, right click and look for reference XC95574 ).

Indeed just fledged Sparrow Hawks !. Birding is as much about your ears as your eyes if not more so.

Today I observed from a distance and just manage to get a record shot of, I am sure, one of the juveniles. Not great and at distance but you have to start somewhere.

I understand the adults will continue to feed the juveniles for another 20-25 days as they hone their flying and hunting skills, toward the end of this period food made available to the fledglings is gradually reduced encouraging independence.

A great process to witness and become involved in, from a distance..

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Property of the Queen .........

 A few of my favourite images of Mute Swans ........

                                          Cock of the walk ...........  Displaying.

This chap had had a really good preen, wash and brush up.  If you look at the leading edge of the birds wings it almost look to me as if they are covered in lather having enjoyed a Vosene shampoo experience ( or any other commercially available hair care product ).  

                                        Very graceful in flight for such a large bird.