Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A Day of Two Halves

I was having a really good day in west Yorkshire with Black-necked Grebes in breeding plumage, a booming Bittern and loads of close flying Sand Martins and Swallows.

That was until disaster struck - I was scanning for more Grebes with my bins when I heard a sickening crunch behind me and when I turned around I saw that my tripod had fallen over and with it my D500 camera and my newish 500mm lens. I don't know exactly what happened, I might have touched it with my big camera bag, or the ground might just have been a bit more uneven than it seemed. Whatever the case, it was lying on the gravel path and my heart was pounding.

At first I thought it had survived as this is top of the range professional Nikon gear, but when I picked up the lens I found that it had completely snapped in two and the camera was also dented. And to make matters worse, I still had a mile or so to walk to get back to the car.

I haven't been able to bring myself to look at the lens damage poperly yet, but I know it will be a very, very expensive repair. I'm just hoping that I'll be able to claim it on my house insurance as I specified it for accidental damage. There'll still be a £350 excess but I'll be happy to settle for that under the circumstances.

So at the moment I'm just consoling myself with some of the photos I took like these, before I go out and do some gardening to take my mind off the whole sorry incident.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Modern Technology in Birding

One of the great things about birding today is the speed with which information about rare or interesting birds is made available through the internet.  I for one certainly wouldn't have seen many of the birds I've photographed without the various forums, websites such as BirdGuides or the many Facebook groups. And after working your local patch for a while, you soon realise that if you want to see something different, you usually have to travel a little further afield.

Now of course you can (and I do) go out on your own armed only with your binoculars and camera gear not knowing what you're going to find, but it's always nice to have a target of something new, even if it's only new for this year or this area and with a very good chance of seeing it.  This is where the internet comes in - there's no guarantee that a bird will still be there when you arrive, but through regular reports and updates you can weigh up the odds a lot more easily and you can carry all this information with you on your phone or tablet.

Nowadays high specification digital cameras and lenses are within the means of many people, and although the most powerful equipment does still cost a fair bit, you only have to look on Facebook to see what can be done with just a modest set up. There are some amazing photographs to be seen, even those taken with a camera phone.

Digital photography allows anyone the chance to take an outstanding shot, especially as much of this is down to luck when photographing birds and wildlife. But you don't need to worry about taking too many shots of the same thing as you're not going to run out of film! And better still, you can get a good idea of what a shot looks like just after you've taken it, and so can adjust your settings if necessary.

I know some of the old traditional birders, naturalists and photographers don't like all this new fangled technology, but all I can say to them is that technology has always been a part of birding, it's just got more advanced.  Old school birders usually use binoculars, spotting scopes and sometimes pagers and then often take a photo with 'compact' camera. Modern equipment does the same thing, except much better in my opinion.  Old schoolers often think that this new technology is spoiling birding and even endangering the birds, but let's not forget that many of them started the hobby by collecting eggs and I include some very famous birders and naturalists in that statement.

The last part of the modern technology equation is the increased average that birds and wildlife in general now get on television. Programmes like the BBC's 'Springwatch' and 'The Natural World' and naturalists like David Attenborough and Chris Packham have raised everybody's awareness of the natural world, and many birders I know say that programmes like these were the starting point in them going birding or nature rambling themselves.

So all in all, I believe that modern technology has improved the hobby without any doubt. You only need to go out birding one day to see how many people are now enjoying the hobby with all its accompanying benefits such as getting some fresh air, exercising and making new friends. In addition the number of people now involved in conservation work either as paid employees or just volunteers is also at an all time high. In my opinion, most of this would not have happened with modern technology. Without it I wouldn't have got this photo of a drake Garganey at Elton Reservoir, near Bury on Bank Holiday Monday - I wouldn't have even known it was there.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Garganey and Little Gull at Elton Reservoir

A quick look on our L.O.S. Facebook group today showed me that Martin Loftus had seen a drake Garganey on a flooded field near the canal at Elton Reservoir in Bury yesterday. There was also a Little Gull reported on the main reservoir, so with two good target birds in mind today, I set off at the crack of 11:30am.  Graeme Robertson had also been later and suggested that Withins Lane was the best place to park, and so that's where I aimed the SatNav at.

It took me about 30 minutes to get there, and ten minutes later I'd crossed over Bury Road and the railway track, turned left at the canal and was heading down the towpath towards the floods.  Half way along I met Graeme who had returned today for another look, and he put me straight on to this lovely little duck.

The bird was closer today than when Martin had seen it yesterday and so we had really good views but the light was a bit dull for photographs most of the time, only occasionally brightening up. Much of the time it was feeding with a dabbling motion so it was hard to get a shot with its head out for the water.

Even ducks as beautiful as this can be a little dull to photograph at times, so it's nice when they have a wing flap or do something different.

Graeme left to have another look for the Little Gull and I was soon joined by Dennis Atherton with whom I had a really good chat.  We spent a little time wondering if we could get down to water level for a better shot, but the ethics of getting closer and the steep drop covered in brambles made us decide against it.

The Garganey is a rare summer visitor to the UK from Africa, one of the few migrant ducks that we see here in the summer. There was also a Common Sandpiper bobbing and flitting around the same pool.

After this Den and walked along the canal towpath up the pump house on the side of the main reservoir to look for the Little Gull.  There was no wind and all the gulls were on the water picking flies up of the surface, but Den soon picked out the Little Gull by it's pinkish breast feathers and much darker head.

Back to front comparison shot showing the main diagnostic features:

Back: Light grey wings with rounded tips and white trailing edges and a pure white tail,
Front: Pinkish breast and much darker underwing. No sign of the red feet on this one though.

Look, it does have bright red feet!

This is a Gull which think's it's a Tern with its constantly dipping flight low over the water. Going in for the kill on a small unsuspecting fly.

I popped in to see the Garganey again on the way back to the car but he was asleep.

So another good birding session with great company. And Elton certainly has been delivering the birds again recently.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Sand Martin Roost at Tinker Joe's Flash in Leigh

Well I never, you learn something new every day! I didn't know that Sand Martins flocked together in murmurations like Starlings do before coming in to roost.  Well here's the evidence that they do, even if the video is a little crummy. Keep watching, the birds do eventually appear!

Thanks to Dave Wilson stalwart member of Leigh Ornithological Society for alerting us all to this local wildlife spectacle.  The voices you can hear are of Brain Fawcett, George Pike and Colin Davies as well as my own dulcet tones.

Note to Self

I have the following backlog of reports still to do:
  • World's End (11/4/17)
  • Wooston Eyes (9/4/17)
  • Ainsdale and Marshside (8/4/17)
  • Mull Trip (March 2017)
  • Leighton Moss (5/3/17)
  • Martin Mere (3/3/17)
  • Norfolk Trip (February 2017)
But don't hold your breath!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Exploring parts of the Forest of Dean

After visiting the Hawfinches I went on to look for Goshawks at New Fancy Viewpoint following a tip I got from a chap whilst I was at Parkend.  Having been to Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint in Yorkshire only a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't holding my breath for any close views, but I did get some distant views of a pair so I can say that I saw them here.  I wasn't absolutely sure about these record shots, but the one and only Lee Geoffrey Evans has confirmed them for me on a Facebook Bird ID page.

A chap who had been there for a few hours said there had been ten sightings during the day including one that did come very close - it's the luck of the draw whether or not you are there when this happens. I did have quite good views of a Buzzard and could hear Ravens cronking somewhere close. It's probably a place to which I will return sometime. I wish the Goshawks had been this close, and one day they might be!

From here I went on to Cannop Ponds which is only a couple of miles away from New Fancy. I really enjoyed driving in the Forest of Dean, the trees are amazing and the roads are much better than I expected.

The star birds at Cannop Ponds are the Mandarin Ducks and the Marsh Tit.  I saw the Mandarins from the car as I drove in to the car park. There must have been around ten in total and they looked great in the sunshine.

Although originally descended form escaped birds, these beautiful ducks now have a self-supporting breeding population in the wild and are classes as a UK bird, so they can be 'ticked'.

The Marsh Tit was a surprise however, as I didn't know it was here until I watched some birds around a feeding area. I had to decide between Marsh Tit and Willow Tit and after checking my photos decided that the small fleck on the upper mandible was enough to favour Marsh Tit.  I didn't really hear it calling, but there were definitely no Willow Tit calls in the area.

There was also a pair of Little Grebes feeding in front of the reed bed and a Common Buzzard flew low overhead for a short while.