Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Smew, Smew, Goldeneye too ...

We've had a long-staying drake Smew on the Wigan Flashes for a while now, but unfortunately I decided to go to see my son Robert in Kent whilst it was here.  So you can imagine my desire to see it if was still present when I returned.

I asked if it was still present on our North West Birding WhatsApp group and after a phone call from fellow L.O.S. member George Pike telling me the bird it was, I decided to brave the minor blizzard in Tyldesley and hotfoot it to the Wigan Flashes.  The weather here was totally different, with bright sunshine when I arrived. 

I met George outside one of the entrances to the Flashes just as he was about to leave.  He told me that he'd had good views but the bird has flown out of view behind the small island of trees on Scotman's Flash.  It didn't show again for around two hours and the light slowly deteriorated whilst I waited for it to reappear.

Whilst I was deciding what to do do next, I met up with Wigan Flashes stalwarts David Bretherton and Warren Topping and they convinced me to walk back along the canal with them and have another look.  David left Warren and me to carry on looking and I eventually spotted the bird flying and then landing in the middle of Scotman's Flash.

Although it did slowly make its way to the eastern bank of Scotman's Flash, it never really came that close. Warren and I tried to approach it several times using the few trees and bushes along the bank for cover, but it seemed very sensitive to our movements even from a long way off. So I had to be happy with these distant shots.

Whilst waiting for the Smew to appear I took some video of two mating Goldeneyes.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Kent - Garden of England - Day 3

Yesterday I had a day off birding and so I was keen to get out today.  I decided to go to the Oare Marshes on the North Kent coast, not far from where I was on Saturday at Conyer. The target species were Water Pipit and Long-billed Dowitcher.

This was the closest I got to seeing the elusive Long-billed Dowitcher!

And then is was back to Elmley to try agin for some decent Marsh Harrier shots.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Kent - Garden of England - Day 2

Today I went out on my own starting with a visit to Elmley Nature Reserve on Sheppey in the morning followed by a trip to Conyer on the North Kent coast to see the ten Shorelarks being reported there in the afternoon.  As with many trips, things didn't go exactly as planned.

Elmley Nature Reserve is divided into two parts, a two mile long winding track where you are not allowed to get out of your car, but can pull over and stop almost anywhere to view the birds and the former RSPB nature reserve where you can only walk to the hides surrounding a couple of lakes and overlooking the sea wall which borders the Swale.  The track is free to use, but it's expected that you'll donate £5 in an honesty box (which I duly did) as a contribution to the upkeep of the reserve with the hides.

I was very keen to visit Elmley as it is the place from where all the great photographs of Marsh Harriers were being posted on Facebook, but I only had a few distant views of them today.  There were plenty of Lapwing and Coot along the winding track which ends at a farmhouse and a few other buildings, but very little else.  After chatting to a very helpful local worker on the reserve, I was told that as there was no-one about today I could actually drive to old RSPB hides and save myself a 40 minute walk carrying my camera gear.  I was so glad I did this as when I got to the hides there was nothing much to see.

After a slow drive back along the track with only a couple of glimpses of Marsh Harriers, I decided to cut my losses and head for Conyer.  This meant driving back over the Swale and onto the mainland, but this time I used old lifting bridge rather than the new fixed bridge.

On arriving at Conyer I talked to a couple of people about where the Shorelarks had been seen and found out that they were quite a long walk around the other side of the marina and creek, with no short way of getting there.  Foolishly, I decided to have a look at the Swale shore from this side first and ended walking quite a long way for very little reward and still having the prospect of a long walk around the creek.

Uncertain about exactly where I was going, I got talking to  lady dog walker who guided me round the sailing club and creek an put me on the right track to the fields where she seen lots of birdwatchers in the previous week. It took quite a while to find the Shorelarks, but I eventually did with the help of three lads who knew where they'd been seen, but who had not actually found the birds themselves.  It was very cold with a biting wind and they'd eventually decided to call it a day - I however, was determined not to draw a blank.

Snow Bunting
It was actually the number of birds that got me on to them, with ten little brown jobs flitting around in a field.  They were quite mobile as they fed and soon moved on before eventually coming up to the sea wall.  None of my photographs are any good, but I did manage to capture a single Snow Bunting whilst attempting to shoot the Shorelarks.

Redshank calling in flight
These birds were to give me the runaround for three hours or more whilst I tried to get close enough for a decent photograph.  During this time the tide was coming in along the Swale and soon there were movements of birds which were being displaced by the incoming water.  My high position on the seawall overlooking the Swale gave me a good vantage point for some flight shots as the birds flew upstream, especially with having the sun on my back.




A Flock of 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Kent - Garden of England - Day 1

As mentioned in the previous post about the American Horned Lark, Sarah and I spent a few days in North Kent visiting my son Robert and his new wife and so I also took the opportunity of doing some birding in this great county.  The main area I wanted to visit was the Isle of Sheppey which is fairly close to Chatham where Robert currently lives and which has produced some great Marsh Harrier photos on Facebook in recent days.  But there were lots of other places to have a look at too, far too many as it turned out.

Sarah and I spent the first day on Sheppey (map above), mainly in the south and west of the island.  After crossing the wonderful bridge over the Swale linking the island to mainland Kent, we headed for Shell Ness via a stop at the seaside town of Leysdown-on Sea.  The weather was a bit dull to begin with, but slowly brightened up during the day.

After a spot of lunch in the local cafe in Leysdown, we then headed off for the Harty Ferry Road, with it's Raptor Viewpoint at Capel Fleet.

On the way back from the ferry crossing near the Harty Inn, we called in at Harty Church and found a field full of feeding Feildfare, with some Redwings and Starlings thrown in.  As Sarah was driving I stayed in the car using it as a hide and managed to get fairly close to these great winter thrushes for once, although it was a bit awkward finding a place to shoot through the fences.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

It Would Have Been Rude Not To ...

On the way to visit our son Robert in Kent today it would have been rude for Sarah and I not to call in on our rare American visitor at Staines Reservoir, near Heathrow Airport.

It's a female American Horned Lark, one of the many races of Shorelark around the world. It maybe split into a separate species sometime, but currently can only be ticked as a Shorelark. The light was very harsh and difficult and I had limited processing facilities available at the time.

Some video of the American Horned Lark. The second half of the video is very interesting - at first I thought it was just having a dust bath, but the more I look at it the more it seems to be creating a nest scrape.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Today's Been A Good Day ...

Today's been a good day and I haven't fired a single shot.  It started with a rare visit to Manchester for the Nikon Professional Services Roadshow where I had the sensors on both my two Nikon DLSR bodies as well as my 300mm f/2.8 lens, my 18-105mm lens and my three teleconverters all cleaned by a Nikon technician for nothing.  All it cost me was the petrol for the 10 mile trip to the Lowry Hotel in Manchester and £3 all day parking at a disused pub car park.  Well, I wasn't going to pay the £10 that the Lowry was charging for parking.

Whilst I was there I also got my hands on the brand new Nikon 180-400mm lens of which this is said to be the only one in the country.  Needless to say, we weren't allowed to take any shots with it using a memory card, but it looked very nice and has a built in teleconverter.  I also had an assortment of other goodies to try including the Nikon D5 (want one), the latest 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR zoom (also want one) and the 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR wide-angle zoom (want one of those too).

I chatted to various very helpful people from Nikon about having my camera gear checked and calibrated and finally decided that I'd send it in using the Nikon Professional Services three day turnaround service soon.  This was decided as soon as I found out that the baloney mount ring in my 300mm lens was slightly bent and could be the source of sharpness problems, especially when using the 2x teleconverter.

So I left the Lowry Hotel quite pleased, but even more so when I got outside and discovered on my phone that the Snow Bunting photo which I took last week at Crosby had been awarded 'Photo of the Week' on BirdGuides today, just like L.O.S. Chairman David Shallcross said it would!

This is the second POTW award I've had from BirdGuides in the last two months, as well as one 'notable' award.  Needless to say I'm well pleased!

I then set off for Calumet in Piccadilly to sort out a problem I've had with a broken Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod which I bought from one of their open days last year.  No need for any details here but the manager will contact me shortly to see how I take this issue forward and it may result in me upgrading my tripod to a Gitzo model.

But then I got talking to the salesman about camera rucksacks for 500mm and 600mm lenses and if they had any I could see.  They didn't have any on show, so he went in the back storeroom and returned with a used rucksack which he couldn't be sold and that I could have it for nothing.  Bingo! It was just what I was looking for and has saved me over £130 in buying a new one.

Like I said at the start of this post, today's been a good day!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Only One Turtle Dove ...

OK, the title doesn't quite work, it should be 'Two Turtle Doves' along with the 'Partridge in a Pear Tree'. But hey, Turtle Doves are like the proverbial hen's teeth in Lancashire nowadays, despite having bred there in the not too distant past.  The photos were taken at 5:10pm in the gloom near Knott End-on-Sea, so the colours are a bit variable from one shot to another.

Apparently there was a 77% decline in UK Turtle Doves from 1970 to 1998 and the reasons are not entirely clear.  Suggestions range from migrating birds being shot in the Mediterranean, climatic change causing drought in their wintering grounds in Africa and the changes in agricultural practices which have affected many farmland birds. So they certainly were a lot more common than they are now.

Unfortunately however, there are some doubts about this bird's authenticity in being truly wild.  It's a bit too early for them to have returned from Africa, and they haven't been seen in Lancashire for many years, with most observations being in south-east England.  So some people think that this is an escapee from a collection somewhere.

But I've have just been told about a Turtle Dove currently overwintering in Sweden where it is probably much colder than here, and this bird is not at all tame so who knows?  As I've never seen one before, this is a lifer for me and will stay so until someone disproves its origin.

Whilst waiting for the Turtle Dove to reappear, I took a few other shots including sneaking up behind a hedge to see a very close Pink-footed Goose, a Little Egret feeding on the salt marsh and a Barn Owl caught red-faced on a kill.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Lunt Meadows Finally Produces (Part 2)

Late this afternoon I finally got one of the owl shots that I've been dreaming of ever since I first went to Lunt Meadows about five years ago - a close Short-eared Owl sitting on one of the fence posts.

Steve Jones and Graham Roberts, two fellow members of the Leigh Ornithological Society, were also at Lunt Meadows this afternoon but they were much further away from the bird than I, especially when I crept up a little further to a distance of around 20 metres.

So these are Steve's photos of the bird which just happen to include me in the shot as well.  I'm the one with the camera and big lens!
As these were the only decent shots I got of this bird today, I thought I'd have a go at series of cropped headshots to show off those fabulous eyes.

After waiting for this bird to appear for around two hours, the Barn Owl suddenly decided to come out at the same time and for a moment I didn't know what to shoot.  The Shortie won out, but I did manage to grab a few of the Barnie as well. The light was a little challenging by now.

So it turned out to be not a bad day at all today.