Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Star Attraction at St. Aidan's RSPB

This little male Bearded Tit has become the star attraction at St. Aidan's RSPB near Leeds recently. It's a fearless little bird and will often pass very close to your feet as it picks up seed heads from the margins of the causeway path between two water courses.

But just like so many small birds that are actively feeding in reeds or other vegetation, it's very hard to get a clear photograph most of the time.  My best photo-opportunites today were looking straight into the sun which always provides a challenge in terms of exposure.  The shot below is probably the best I got of the whole bird.

Here's a more tightly cropped version of the same photo, I'm not sure which one I prefer, but probably the original one.

So here are a few more partial shots taken in the four hours I was there:

 Here's a few other shots I took whilst I was there:

My Rarity Photo Pops Ups Again

My photo of the rare Blyth's Reed Warbler which has been found in Leigh is starting to pop up everywhere. First of all it was given a 'notable' award on BirdGuides this morning here:

And then later in Rare Bird Alert's weekly roundup here:

 Fame at last!

Monday, 4 February 2019

Waxwing Photo on BBC North West Tonight

I was very pleased to finally get one of my photos on BBC North West Tonight this evening. It's a Waxwing taken in Banks near Southport in Lancashire last month.

It's not one of my best shots but at least it's up there. Here's the original which looks much better:

Friday, 1 February 2019

This Rarity is a Spirited Little Blyth-ter

I've been waiting to use that title for three weeks now, ever since the rare Blyth's Reed Warbler was first sighted at Hope Carr Nature Reserve in Greater Manchester. Blyth Spirit - geddit?

The day after it was found by Phil Rhodes I was messaged by Simon Warford who was asking me if I could go and take a photograph of the bird.  As the reserve is only fifteen minutes from where I live, it wasn't a problem and so I was soon on my way.

This began a saga of four visits each lasting over three hours trying to find the little blyth-ter.  The weather was generally awful on most of my previous visits, ranging from rain, sleet and then proper snow, but this didn't deter me or the 50 or so birders who turned up on one of the days.

Over the next few days the weather slowly improved and eventually some photos started to appear, some of them very good. It's a very tricky bird to see, never mind photograph as it skulks around the bramble patches looking for food.  I was starting to give up of hope of even seeing it though.

It wasn't until my fifth visit earlier today that I actually connected with the bird and luckily managed some decent photos as well.  I happened to be doing some volunteer work around the corner at a school in Lowton, and as it was bright and sunny, I just called in on the off chance on my way home - so glad I did.

Lifer, Year and Greater Manchester tick all in one, with photos to boot - Things are looking up!

If you'd like to read a short report about how the bird was found and its ID confirmed by sonogram, head over to Simon Warford's report on the Leigh Ornithological Society main website here:

Simon messaged me today to say that BirdWatch, the magazine from BirdGuides would possibly like to use one of my photos in an article he has written for them. Well that would be good, wouldn't it?

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Lunt Lures Me In Again

The weather was great, blue skies, cold and sunny and the Owls had been showing yesterday, so off I went to Lunt Meadows again in search of them.  I am desperate to get some of those stonking close shots that many others have got, but as yet it just has happened for me.  It's largely down to a matter of luck, and fieldcraft of course.  And, as we always say, 'the more you go out the luckier you get.'

I met up with Phil 'Mossman' Boardman for the second time in about a week and we had a really good chat whilst walking slowly up and down the River Alt embankment, but seeing very little of particular interest.  Phil pointed out the locations that the Bitterns and Bearded Tits favour and a Sparrowhawk went for a Snipe over the Pumphouse Pool, but alas there were no Owls.

I took these two Stonechat photos at the wooden bridge over the Alt just to keep warm as it gradually became colder during the day. A Reed Bunting also appeared briefly.

One of the local Kestrels was hunting over its regular patch and so that became my next target for something to do.  Lunt is a great place to take Kestrel photos as you can get at eye level in many places as the quarter the fields near the embankments.

And, as it turned out, I got one of my best Kestrel photos ever, mainly because of the background I think. But still no killer Owl shots.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

A Disappointing Day in Lincolnshire

I been planning this day for a few weeks now and when the weather was predicted to be sunny I decided today was the day to go during last week.  By coincidence one of my Facebook birding friends had messaged me the day before to say that the Bitterns were starting to show well again at Far Ings and, as that was one for the reasons for returning, it gave me even more hope of a grand day out.

I set off at 6am in the dark up the M62 motorway to do the two hour drive to Far Ings, which is just over the Humber bridge in Lincolnshire. I arrived at about 8:30am due to stopping for fuel and missing the turning for the Bridge due to confusing roundabout signs.  I ended up back on the M62 going the wrong way, and you what it's like when this happened to you, there isn't another exit for miles!

Goldeneye here ...

Anyway, I was first at Far Ings, but I was soon joined by Sam Gosnay from Wakefield and we had a nice chat whilst seeing very little.  There were two Mute Swans, some distant Goldeneye, a Grey Heron, some Cormorants and not much else.  A female Marsh Harrier did fly past at one point followed by a male shortly after, but they were on the far side of the reserve so too distant for the sort of photos I wanted.

Mute Swans here ...

The Ness Hide at Far Ings is often said to be the coldest hide in Britain, and after about three hours in the freezing cold wind which blows in off the Humber Estuary, I'd pretty much had enough. No Bitterns or Kingfishers, so two of my targets were dipped.  I left Sam wandering around some other parts of the reserve whilst I headed south into Lincolnshire proper in search of Short-eared Owls.

Marsh Harrier here ...

At the undisclosed location I met up with regular birder Don Davis and his friend and we chatted about all things Owls and other birds. None had been seen so far today and they'd been there since 8:30am - at least I hadn't missed anything.  The day drew on and although the sun was out, it got colder and still no birds were showing. Eventually Don and his friend left as they had things to do

Sam reappeared at around 1pm and later his friend Tony, who I had met the last time I was here. We chatted and chatted and chatted and still no birds appeared. And then one did.

Eventually we counted at least three, possibly four Short-eared Owls in various fields, but none of them came anywhere near close.  We walked up the road and back down, but they always remained just about as far away as they could.  One of the Short-eared Owls had a brief tussle with a Kestrel, which had seen it with some prey on the floor and mobbed it to steal the prey. The Kestrel Didn't get it.

The best bird of the day for us was this Kestrel which briefly landed in tree nearby the three of us.  Unfortunately its wing cast a strong shadow across its face in most of our shots due to the very bright sunlight.

The shot of a distant Short-eared Owl below hasn't actually turned out too badly.  Sometimes a background can make a shot and leaving it uncropped works best.  Looks made for a book cover to me!

Towards the end of the afternoon when the sun started to go down, a Barn Owl came out and then another one appeared and soon we had spotted three.  Just like the Short-eared Owl, the Barn Owls all stayed distant and so only record shots were taken.

Barn Owl here ...

We all decided it was time to go but had one last stop on the way out because Tony had seen a Barn Owl land in a field close the road.  Both he and Sam had missed this Short-eared Owl perched in a tree which I pointed out as I got out of the car.  This was probably the closest we got to one today, but by now the light had dropped completely.

I left Lincolnshire quite disappointed that I hadn't got any good shots of the Owls, Harriers, Bittern or Kingfisher. I can get shots of Kestrels, Cormorants and Mute Swans close to home without travelling over two hours to see them, but that's nature and wildlife for you - totally unpredictable.

When I posted some shots on Facebook today a friend of mine commented that if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.  Funny thing is, I see so many people out there with equipment ranging from cheap and cheerful bridge cameras to expensive DSLRs with big lenses that I thought they were!

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Brambling Ramblings

Lead Mines Clough in Bolton is a place that I first discovered as a geology student and later as a geology teacher, when I used to take my students on an annual excursion there in my pre-birding days.  It's not an easy place to find if you're not familiar with the area and is best done with an O.S. map.

I'd got wind of the fact that some Bramblings had been seen at the entrance of the Clough close to Alance Bridge which is a popular place for people to leave seed for the woodland birds here.  And sure enough after half an hour or so of waiting, the first Brambling appeared.

As an added bonus I got my first Nuthatch of the year and some decent photos to boot.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Scottish Mountain Hare - “Ready to run”

I recently had a request from Lisa Carlson, an artist from Calgary in Canada, who asked if she could use one of my Mountain Hare photos from Scotland as reference material for a painting.  Here's the original photo which she chose to use:

Here's her first sketch:

And here's the finished painting entitled "Ready to Run":

I think you'll agree that Lisa has developed quite a distinctive style of her own, and that she has captured the essence of the hare and its mountain habitat.  Here's a link to her Facebook page where you can see more examples of her excellent work:

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Hide Tide at Parkgate

With the high tide being around 10 metres today, I set off for Parkgate on the Wirral wondering if it would bring the raptors in close for some decent photos.  Unfortunately the signs weren't good because the weather was just too nice for once!  It was sunny, calm and settled with high pressure dominating the UK.  For a 'good' high tide you really need low pressure and strong north-westerly winds to help blow the water further inland, and that just didn't happen today.

Nevertheless many raptor species were present including Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier (male and female), Merlin, Peregrine and Short-eared Owl.  The only regular here that I didn't see today was the Barn Owl but I did have a brief glimpse of a distant Bittern when it sat upright in the reeds across the Marsh.

I thought I'd give the Cottage Lane end of Parkgate a try as the water comes in fastest here along the channels. Almost as soon as I got out of the car there was a Short-eared Owl flying in front of me, but when I went for my camera it soon disappeared over the golf course.

The next bird of note was a distant Merlin on a post. Everything is wrong about this photo - a distant bird, camera looking into the sun with heat haze, but hey, it's the best photo of a Merlin that I've got to date. A female Marsh Harrier also passed by in the distance little later and there were quite a few Reed Buntings in a small patch of Phragmites in front of me.

I walked further down the old sandstone quayside to where the path was a bit wider allowing people to pass me without having to move my tripod. It's amazing to think that in the days of sailing ships the River Dee once lapped against these walls before it eventually silted up and created the salt marsh we have here today.  From here I saw both ringtail and grey male Hen Harriers, but all too distant for decent shots.

At about 1:30pm I decided it was time for lunch, and in this area there is only one place to go as far as I'm concerned - the fish and chip shop in Parkgate. I was a little concerned that I might not get there in time as I had to get back to my car first of all, drive round to Parkgate, find somewhere to park (high tides are always busy days here and parking is very limited) all before 2pm when it shuts.  Luckily I got in and joined the queue of about nine people shortly before the door was closed.  You always know somewhere is good if there is a queues of people willing to wait to be served.

With a small fish and small chips parcel in hand, I drove back to the Old Baths car park at the northern end of the promenade to eat it.  As I arrived I noticed Phil Boardman, a birding friend from Lunt Meadows, standing at the wall with his camera.  I offered him some chips before having a look round to see if anyone else I knew was here.

Phil and I wiled away the afternoon chatting about birding things whilst looking for raptors and bitterns.  An indeed it was here that I got my best photos from today, a Short-eared Owl which appeared in the late afternoon.

It did start to get very cold towards the end of the day, but Phil was determined to see the Bittern fly to its roost, so I left him at around 4:30pm when the light was still OK for viewing but not great for photographs.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Waxwing Lyrical Again

As I've not left the house for a few days due to the recent depressingly leaden skies, I was itching to get out today at the slightest hint of a bit of sun or blue sky.  Well, that's all there was as I left for Banks in Lancashire with Bewick Swans high up on my agenda, followed by Waxwings and Little Owl.

As I was going directly to Banks I took a slightly different route than my normal one through Southport and as I neared Rufford on the A59 I found a field full of Whooper Swans - a great candidate for some Bewick searching. Unfortunately after three passes in front of the field I couldn't find anywhere to stop and so I had park on the verge just off the road which is something I don't normally do.

A quick count revealed that there were at least 350 Whoopers in this field with a mixture of adults and juveniles.  I was soon getting a few strange looks from a couple working in their garden and so I walked over to explain what I was doing.  They were completely OK about it and where I had parked, but I didn't feel comfortable getting out my scope to scan for Bewick's, so I moved on after about 10 minutes.

My next stop was to see the famous Banksy, a Little Owl who lives on Gravel Lane.  A ping on my phone had told me he was out sitting on top of his barn roof in the usual place, and indeed his missus had been there as well.  When I arrived there was only bird present and fortunately no-one else around.  So I took up prime position for once here and managed some shots from inside the car.

And so on to the Waxwings which had been reported in the trees on the central reservation along the A565 Southport New Road.  There was a convenient lay-by to stop in and I soon found the birds as two other birders were already there looking at them.  The first two birders left and I was joined by Les Brown for a while. After a few shots on one side of the carriageway, I decided to move to the other side because the berries they were feeding on were more easily seen there.

Over here I was joined by another birder and we had a nice chat whilst waiting for the birds to drop down from their high perches to the hawthorn berries which were lower down.

There has been a good influx or irruption of Waxwings in the UK this year and people don't half like to moan about people getting to close them, particularly to take photographs. Here there was a natural limit to how close you could get - the A565!  The cars and lorries were nosily whizzing down here a tremendous speed and the Waxwings were not all bothered, as indeed they aren't in every other place I have been to see them.  People just like to moan, it seems.

The light wasn't great and the berries not particularly attractive or plentiful, so I moved on along Marsh Road to Hundred End where the Whoopers often congregate.  Sure enough here they were, and for a very short while some were close to the road.  I stopped the car, rolled down the window and started scanning them with my bins.  The moment I did this the birds at the front turned to walk away and soon they were all walking away before taking flight to the furthermost field they could find - ah well, I'll have to look for Bewick's on another day.  I did come across this rather bedraggled looking Kestrel as I left Banks on the way to Marshside RSPB.

After a quick butty break on Marine Drive where I only really saw Lapwings, Wigeon, Teal and a single Grey Heron, I set off for Sandgrounder's Hide.

At first there was absolutely nothing in front of the hide, but a very nice Pintail pair did approach before turning back.  It's not often that you see them out of the water.

I moved on to Marshside Road and then Hesketh Road where there were a good number of ducks and some waders but nothing unusual that I could see.

So I had a very pleasant afternoon out to blow away the cobwebs after coming back from Scotland.