Sunday, 28 August 2016

Facebook Star

Well this Swallow photo I took at Houghton Green Flash has turned out to be a bit of star on Facebook this week. It's not even that good from a detail point of view - best viewed small!

But I don't think I've had so many 'likes' and comments in such as short space of time from a single bird ever before. I did post it in a few groups though, with some of them topping 100 'likes' in two days.

Funny really, I wasn't even going there to take photos of Swallows - it was the Greenshank that I wanted as shown in a previous post. Just shows how something can take you by surprise.

Greenshank at Houghton Green Flash

Spurred on by finding the Ruff in Winwick and getting some decent photos, I then headed off to Houghton Green Flash to see the Greenshank that's been reported here fro the last couple of days.

With no obvious places to stop, I've always found parking at Houghton Green Flash difficult and today was no different. I ended up parking on a grass verge in front of a hedge where I thought the public footpath entrance was - I later found out that I should have parked further down the road to where the footpath actually starts and where there space for one or two cars just off the road. I'll know for next time!

After a quick look through my binoculars from the roadside, I spotted the Greenshank on the far bank and set off to get closer to it there. The water was very low today (although not perhaps as low as it has been) and there wasn't really much else about. I did see a Ruff, a few Wagtails, some Mallards and a couple of Gulls, but that was all.

After spending sometime following the bird from a safe distance as it fed, I realised that I wasn't going to get close by doing this. It moved very quickly along the water's edge and was always alert to any danger. So I decided to sit down with my camera on a tripod in amongst some vegetation close to the strip of shoreline that it seemed to like best. And sure enough, after waiting about 20 minutes it came round the pool to the bank right in front of me.  This is probably the closest I've ever been to a Greenshank.

Ruff at Alder Lane

With a small operation beckoning to remove a BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma - a slightly less worrying type of skin cancer) from my nose tomorrow, I decided to get out and do a spot of bird photography today.  This helped take my mind off the impending hospital visit and I thought I might not be unable to get out much next week.

I wanted to stay local and I'd seen that two of the scarcer birds were in the Winwick area - so that's where I headed. The first stop was a long Alder Lane in a flooded horse field facing the Fiddle I'th Bag Inn. What a great name for a pub!  Despite being fairly local, I'd never been down here before but finding the field and locating the bird was very easy. Just the sort of birding I like - get out of the car and there it is!

As soon as I had parked up on Old Alder Lane which runs alongside the field, I noticed two young girls playing in the field and at times splashing through the water. So I immediately thought my luck would be out - wrong!  The Ruff was still present on the far edge of the water as was a single Shelduck.  So I quickly took some distant shots looking into the sun just in case it made a sudden departure.

I knew I wasn't going to be happy with these, so I'd just started to make plans about how I could get on the right side of the bird when the two girls approached the Shelduck and it took off and flew away. They then turned their sights on the Ruff - 'Oh no!' I thought. The Ruff however didn't seem unduly concerned with their presence and, although it  did eventually take off and land a little further away, it didn't fly off.

The girls then walked round the water on to my side of the pool. Funnily enough they didn't ask me what I what I was doing with a camera and a biggish lens on a tripod as they walked straight past me and started playing in some nearby trees. So I continued taking what can only be called 'record shots'. However, as they made their way back I asked them if it was their family's field and they told me it belonged to their Nan who was over with the horses in the stables.

So I decided I'd go and ask her if I might walk through the field to the opposite side. She was a very nice lady and we had a chat about the bird, the field, the floods and even my old Landrover Freelander which she told me she loves, having had a few of the them in the past. She now has a Freelander 2 (to which I aspire) but prefers the Mark 1 version that I have! And after checking that I had boots on she was quite happy to let me walk through the field - a lovely lady!

So I went back to my car to get my camera and just as I was doing so, the two girls chased the Ruff over to my side of the water where it landed on the edge right in front of me! What luck and needless to say I am pretty pleased with the results. I even managed to make this short video of the the bird.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Testing the latest Nikon 300mm f/4 PL VR lens at Moses Gate Country Park

As I mentioned in my previous post, I managed to borrow the latest Nikon f/4 300mm VR  lens off my L.O.S. friend Alan Wilcox, as I wanted to compare it to my big, bulky Nikon f/2.8 300mm. I've always been troubled by the fact that I bought this lens secondhand and I don't seem to get enough good shots from it. By good, I mean pin sharp and well exposed, even when using teleconverters. Other people swear by this lens and seem to do much better than I, and so by trying a completely different lens of the same focal length, I could perhaps see if it was all down to user-error rather than faulty equipmemt. That was the plan, however things are not always that straightforward are they?

So before I returned the lens later today, I managed to pop out to Moses Gate Country Park in Bolton to try out a few flight and other shots on the gulls and other birds there. My shots were rather unscientific and I just used the lens as I would use my f/2.8 300mm to compare the results. Here's what I got:

 Just common and garden birds but a good selection on a nice sunny day there.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Short Break in the Lake District

I recently spent a lovely few days in a little village called Staveley on the edge of the Lake District in Cumbria with Bill and Sue, my brother and sister-in-law. They'd rented a house for a week and invited Sarah and myself to stay - unfortunately due to other commitments we couldn't do the whole week but we did manage three or so days at the end of it.

Although this was never going to be a birding or photography holiday, I had managed to borrow a lens off Alan Wilcox, one of my Leigh Ornithological Society friends - it was the new Nikon 300mm f4 which everyone is raving about due to its superb image quality coupled with small size, low weight and image stabilisation.

It perhaps wasn't the best of ideas as I didn't get to test the lens thoroughly, but I did like its handling a lot and couldn't really see much difference in image quality to my big bulky Nikon f2.8 300mm lens. It also came with the added bonus of having a Sigma 10-20mm zoom in the bag too, with which I also had a quick go. All the weir and landscape shots here are taken on the Sigma lens.

As we drove into the village and up to the house I spotted a weir on the River Kent which passes through Staveley and I immediately thought of Dippers and Grey Wagtails.  This was quite a coincidence, as we'd been away to Giggleswick with Bill and Sue at roughly the same time last year, where there was a weir on the River Ribble on the outskirts of Settle which also had a Dipper a Grey Wagtail  - WEIRD!

I didn't really have many photo opportunities on the trip and for a while the only decent shots I got were of a young Robin on a neighbouring house wall and a Swallow sitting on the house's aerial. The Swallows and House Martins were around in fairly large numbers and seemed to be feeding themselves up ready for the long migration south.

I went down the weir several times during the trip, and saw a Dipper twice but not for very long. The photos of these are only record shots to record seeing them and I also saw the blue blur of a Kingfisher as it sped up the river one morning.

But another bird did turn up at the weir whilst we were there and it was Sue and Bill who first spotted it - they described it to me back at the house and, with it's red head and duck-like body, I told them it was probably a Goosander.  How pleased I was to confirm it when I saw it on the last day of our trip just as we were leaving.

But the best was yet to come. We decided to go into Kendal on the way home and there on the River Kent, which is much wider and more impressive here, were at least ten Redhead Goosanders swimming, fishing, and basking on a gravel bank. Kendal is a really lovely town and the river passing though makes it even more special. The spot in front of the Church seems to be a hotspot for Goosanders and this was probably a family party which had been born this year.

So a great end to a lovely short break in the Lake District and I did eventually manage to put the lens through some of its paces.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Wader-fest at Ainsdale Beach

Another great afternoon with the waders at Ainsdale Beach.

Mixed Wader Flock - Mainly Knot with some Dunlin and Sanderling
What a lot of Knot!
Juvenile Dunlin
Dunlin in Flight
Dunlin Flock

Knot in Flight

Knot in Flight



I like Sandwiches!

Juvenile Sandwich Tern
Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

What Big Eyes You've Got!

And Finally ... Bar-tailed Godwits asleep behind Knot

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Damsels and Dragons again, at Rixton Claypits

I've really go the Damsels and Dragons bug (geddit?) now. After a day in my back garden clearing rubble and preparing the ground for a new natural stone retaining wall, I needed a morning off to take some photos. I'd been thinking of going to Rixton Clay Pits for a few days now and so this was the opportunity to go. It wasn't the best of days weather-wise, too windy and not really warm enough, but I was going anyway.

When I got to the car park near Chapel Lane on the A57 at around 9:30am it was locked, so I parked outside the gates. Then, as I was getting my camera gear together the warden arrived and opened the gates, so I moved my car inside the car parking area.

I concentrated on Area 3 as shown on the map above, as I had an appointment to make at 12pm. I was only going to be photographing damselflies and dragonflies, I just took my 300mm lens on my full frame camera body.

The main dragonfly area is down some steps at the Moat Lane end of Area 3. It was quite disappointing at first as there were nothing but flies here, so I didn't stay long.  I decided to walk around as many of the paths as possible, and it wasn't long before I had some glimpses of a couple of red bodied dragonflies, which were probably Common Darters.

I'll write this report up in full later, but for now here's a few of the photos I took:

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Female Common Darter

Male Common Darter

Well Hello ...

Male Common Darter

Female Common Darter
Male Common Da
Female Common Darter

Female Black Darter

Female Black Darter

Female Common Darter ?