Thursday, 22 June 2017


Keep watching for a report on my wonderful trip to the amazing Farne Islands ...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Nocturnal, Placental, Flying Mammal ........... Yo, The Name is Batty!

I've just come inside from having another go at photographing the bats which fly around my back garden and  although there's still a very long way to but at least this time I've actually got something!
My technique was to set the camera to Aperture Priority mode with and aperture of f/6.3 and flash. I tried a number of ISO settings up to ISO 3200 but it didn't really seem to make much different to just using ISO 800.

I sat down and focused on a garden fence post over which the bats were often flying and tracked the bats across a light part of the sky as the came towards me. I didn't bother looking through the viewfinder, I just pointed the camera in the direction of the bat and pressed the shutter.  With a wide enough zoom on my 18-105mm lens, I managed to catch the bat nearly every time, although none of the photos are sharp.

All these shots were taken with my trusty old Nikon D90 camera simply because that's the body the lens was attached to when I went for it.  Although you might think my D500 would be a better choice, there are two reasons why I couldn't use it. Firstly it's still away for repair following Black Tuesday, and secondly, it doesn't have a flash.

After asking around it seems that these bats are most likely to be Pipistrelles. And if you're wondering about the title of this post, it's a line in a rap song that Robin Williams sings as Batty Koda in the animated film Ferngully - we used to love watching this with the kids when they were younger. Here's the song lyrics and a link to the video:

"The Batty Rap" Lyrics

Yo, the name is Batty,
The logic is erratic,
Potato in a jacket,
Toys in the attic,
I rock and I ramble,
My brain is scrambled,
Rap like an animal but I'm a mammal.

I been brain-fried, electrified, infected and injectified,
Vivosectified and fed pesticides,
My face is all cut up 'cos
My radar's all shut up,
Nurse I need a check-up from the neck up,
I'm Batty.

They used and abused me,
Battered and bruised me,
Red wires, green wires, stuck em' right through me,
So hear my Batty word,
And excersise a little prudence,
When dealing with ...... humans!

Friday, 2 June 2017

One Good Tern Deserves Another

I was going to Preston today to have a look at Charlotte Ball's photographic exhibition. Charlotte has been accompanying the L.O.S. on a number of fieldtrips this year as part of her degree project at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. As is usual with type of arts course, the students create an exhibition of their work in the third year and so I went to have a look.

As I was going to be in the area I thought I'd also tie it in with my first visit to see the Terns at Preston Marina this year. Common Terns and sometimes Arctic Terns breed at the Marina in gravel boxes created by local school children, but I wasn't quite sure at what stage they'd be in terms of eggs and chicks. Today I could only see one Arctic Tern which seemed to be nesting on one of the platforms.

As soon as I arrived I realised that the birds were on eggs, but that no chicks had hatched yet and so I'd have be content with flight shots hopefully carrying fish back to their partners.  I love the green water colour here, but mainly when the sun is shining. When it's not sunny the water is quite a dull murky greyish colour and today it was like that most of the time.

However, I did mange a few closeup shots and saw some interesting behaviour when a Lesser Black-backed Gull passed too close - all the Terns started calling and eventually a few of them took off in a coordinated attack on the gull, successfully chasing it away.  A similar thing happened when a Carrion Crow pass by as well.

There were also a pair of Mute Swans with five cygnets swimming around the Marina.  They'd nested in their usual place amongst the Terns on one of the platforms and unfortunately a couple of eggs were lying unhatched still in the nest. It is far too late for these to hatch now as the adult Swans were busy looking after the mobile cygnets.

It was probably a little early for good shots and I might return in two or three weeks time when the eggs will have hatched and the adults will be actively feeding the young so there will be lots of great photo opportunities for fish and feeding shots.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A Quick Visit to Doffcocker Lodge

This afternoon I nipped over to Doffcocker Lodge ion Bolton to see how the Terns were doing. These birds breed here and so it's always been a good place to see them fishing, but sadly they've been decreasing in numbers even since I've been coming. Last year the floating gravel rafts put out for them to use to breed seemed to have lost their anchorages and were drifting around the lodge, but I've read that this has now been fixed for this year.

The Terns here are Common Terns and I could only count eight of them spread out amongst the three rafts today.  However, it was difficult to be sure as there was a lot of vegetation growing on the rafts which obscured the low-sitting birds from sight. Eight birds would probably mean four breeding pairs.

Most of the birds stayed quite distant with only a few flights and none where I saw a fish being caught or carried.  The best moment was when two of the birds starting squabbling in the air, but as I was talking to a very nice bloke from Yorkshire at the time, I didn't manage to get any shots.

Just as I'd decided to leave, one bird came quite close and sat on a 'No Fishing' sign for several minutes. Getting a photo of a bird perched on this sign whilst eating a fish is the 'holy grail' of shots for me at Doffcocker, so I hung around for another half hour waiting to see if this would happen - it didn't.  But here's a shot just to prove that Terns can't read:

And here's a bit of video to finish off with ....

Saturday, 27 May 2017

My Photo Galleries

Just a quick post to let any readers of my blog know that I also have some photo and video galleries on other sites. Here's a link to each of them:
I tend to get behind in posting to all these sites from time to time, and then have a spurt in updating them. If you happen to visit any of them or if you read this blog, it would be great if you would leave a comment so that I don't think I'm the only one that reads my posts or sees my photos.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Grasshopper Warbler at Bickershaw

This morning I went on a short 'Warbler Walk' around the former colliery site in Bickershaw with member of the L.O.S. and led by founder member Dave Wilson.  Dave is very keen to spread the word that so-called 'brownfield sites' such as Bickershaw are not derelict deserts devoid of life. They have their own ecology and are often teeming with animal and plant life and so should be valued by planners and the public alike.

The highlight of the trip for me was finally seeing a Grasshopper Warbler clearly as it sang its distinctve reeling song, so-called because it sounds like a fisherman reeling in his line. I've heard these birds many times in the past, but I've never really seen one clearly until today.

I decided not to take my camera on the trip so that I could focus on enjoying the birding, but as soon as we'd found this bird I knew I'd made a mistake and would have to return!

So after a really nice three hours in which we also saw an Osprey, Sedge Warblers, countless Reed Buntings and many other birds, I went home to have lunch and then returned with my camera gear.

Although it wasn't quite in the same place, it was fairly easy to locate as it was still singing. I also managed to take some video of the bird with the main aim of recording its song.

It was great to see this elusive bird showing so well and I've finally banished it as bogey bird from my life list and got a decent photo to boot. Smiles all round :)

Monday, 22 May 2017

'Dipper' at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands

It was another classic 'you should have been here yesterday' or 'I'll go tomorrow' incident for me today. A Buff-breasted Sandpiper had been showing at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands over the last few days and intended to for it yesterday, but after discussing a day out in our old motorhome with my wife Sarah, we mutually agreed to leave it for a day (well, she told me we agreed).  Bad decision!

As soon as we arrived I was asking about sightings only to be told that it had been chased off by a Peregrine last evening and hadn't been seen again today.  Oh well, it might return during the day I thought, but unfortunately it never did - hence the title of this post.

So we had to be satisfied with a Great White Egret and a few Black-tailed Godwits, which was nice to see but not what I was really looking for.  It's a mistake I've made a few times to my cost and I should have learnt by now that if you have any chance at all of going you should take it, as birds can fly you know!

We did actually have a very nice day out however as we took our bikes in the motorhome and I fulfilled a long term ambition to cycle along part of the Chester Cycleway from Denhall Lane to the Harp Inn at Neston, where we had a pint sitting outside in glorious sunshine whilst overlooking the saltmarsh.

We then finished off the day by cycling back to Burton Point where I picked up a pair of Stonechats (always very reliable for good photos here) before cycling back up the hill to the RSPB car park. So although we dipped on the target bird, we had a good day out.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Trip to RSPB Blacktoft Sands and North Cave

Today was the final field trip for Leigh Ornithological Society (L.O.S.) and we were off to east Yorkshire to visit a couple of nature reserves there.  We started at RSPB Blacktoft Sands where the main attractions are the Marsh Harriers which roost and breed there and they didn't disappoint.

A female Montagu's Harrier was also seen here today, but unfortunately not by me. This bush clearly belonged to the Dunnock as he was singing from the top of it every time we passed by.

This Willow Warbler was unusually quiet however.

There were Tree Sparrows galore around much of the site.

I didn't see as many Little Egrets today aa I have done in the  past, but there were some about.

It was great to see these Spotted Redshanks in breeding plumage, even if they were a little distant.

There were more Swifts than you could shake a stick at, there's been a huge influx in the UK this week.

Large Grey Heron incoming ...

This is probably my best photograph of the day - an Exocet, sorry Avocet, mobbing the Grey Heron. Who says 'Size Matters'?

You're going down!

I'm never sure about whether we count Greylag Geese or not, as most that we see are descended from captive populations, unlike the ones on Mull which are regarded as being truly wild.

We then moved on to North Cave which was just a little further up the M62 motorway. This was a new site for most of us and I think it's fair to say that we were impressed with the variety of birds and habitats here, even if it is still being developed.

This Grey Heron was seen in one of the first pools.

There were even more Avocets here as well as two Little Ringed Plovers and a male Ruff coming into breeding plumage.

It was also nice to see four Common Tern here.

So a good trip with some great birds. Much better than I expected actually.