Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Redstart at Amwell

Having returned home from trying to photograph the flighty Whinchats at Deadman's Hill, I checked my messages and found that a Redstart had been at Amwell all day. After a quick sandwich I was on my way and headed straight for Hollycross Lake where the bird seemed to have taken up residency in an Elder bush.

Luckily, there is only one Elder in that particular location and the bird was soon spotted although, despite showing itself a couple of times fairly briefly, spent most of its time deep in cover or in the shade. However, after an hour and a half I did manage to get a few shots of this super little bird.

There was a clear sky that night so I expected it to have continued its migration overnight. However, luckily, it was still there the next morning and despite being very elusive, I did manage to get a much better shot in good light.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

High Tide at Snettisham

We have all seen the spectacle of large milling flocks of waders on the nature programmes, but why not go and see it for yourself? Snettisham is an RSPB reserve on the east bank of the Wash in Norfolk. The Wash itself is fairly flat and at low tide is 95% mud with just a shipping channel remaining open serving Kings Lynn docks. This 150 square miles of mud attracts tens of thousands of waders during the autumn and winter months which feed busily on the extensive food supply. As the tide comes in the waders are pushed further and further towards the southern end of the Wash, how far depending on the height of the tide. For the highest tides of around 9 metres the whole of the Wash is covered forcing the waders to seek refuge until the tide retreats once again.

As the tide approaches flocks of thousands of waders take to the air and wheel around deciding where to go to roost until the tide goes down once more. As the flocks gyrate they form differents shapes and intensity depending on the orientation of the birds. And yes, these are waders not mosquitoes.

Some of the displaced waders choose to visit the gravel pits behind the sea wall on the Snettisham reserve. When we were there the tide wasn't exceptionally high so many of the waders stayed out on the Wash. However, there were still plenty of birds to look at from the various hides including this small group of Redshank taking the opportunity to have a nap.

However, most of the waders present were Black-tailed Godwits, numbering several hundred.

 They spend most of their roost time having a bath in the fresh water, preening and sleeping.

They are also a mixture of colours. This is a young bird, showing a brown flush on its otherwise grey winter plumage.

But this is an adult, still retaining its resplendent rusty breeding plumage.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Autumn Marches On

I went to Rye Meads again today looking for the elusive Garganey that had been present for the last couple of days. First stop was the Draper Hide where a quick scan found a handful of sleeping Teal but no Garganey. However, my disappointment was rewarded by the unexpected appearance of a Kingfisher which landed on one of the posts in front of the hide. The Kingfishers have done very well this year and are now on their third brood in the Kingfisher Bank situated in front of the Kingfisher Hide on the west side of the reserve. The black bill and the orange feet show that this is the adult male.

Green Sandpipers are now firmly established and there were two on this pool today which gave reasonable views depite being harassed by Lapwing and Wood Pigeons for reasons totally unknown.

Other than that it was fairly quiet, although it noticeable that some birds will go to great lengths to have their photo taken. Take Moorhens for example. Moorhens are largely ignored by photographers as they are easy to approach, easy to photograph and therefore not really a challenge. So how do they get your attention? Well, for a bird that normally swims round aimlessly on ponds, this calls for drastic action to catch the eye. How about walking up a pole and stretching out your wing? That should do it.

But I digress. Autumn really does march on with the appearance of a number of Snipe. Snipe started to appear a week or so ago but are now building up their numbers with at least six present today. Their return does seem a little early and could be result of the topsy-turvy weather patterns recently upsetting their breeding success.

The Garganey did eventually show itself far out in front of the Tern Hide, but far too far for a photo.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Even Titchwell Can Be Quiet

My second visit in two weeks and the water levels are still too high. However, Titchwell never ceases to perform and I had only gone a few yards along the path to the beach when there was a familiar pinging from the reeds. A quick scan revealed a couple of young Bearded Tits feeding amongst the Reedmace. Not quite as close as I would like but a record of the day nevertheless.

Next to the Island Hide there was a large patch of mud which had attracted a lone adult Lapwing. Lapwings are one of those birds that are easy to photograph, but it is impossible to walk past without taking a couple more. This bird was no exception. Further along the path I came across another easy opportunity, a young Shelduck. Adults can sometimes be wary but this youngster was totally oblivious to my presence and just wandered around having its photo taken. Young Avocets were also much in evidence and equally keen to cooperate.

And now onto the beach. As for the last visit the tide was in and there were no waders at all on the beach. However, what caught my eye was five dots bobbing up and down on the sea. A closer inspection revealed that they were Eiders, but quite what they were doing here at this time of year is anybody's guess. They were a little too far out for a shot at first and when they eventually did drift in a little closer they promptly tucked their heads in and went to sleep. However, after about an hour and drifting several yards to the east, they did wake up and I was able to get a few shots. These are two young males.

As I alluded to at the beginning, it is not possible to go to Titchwell without leaving with a lasting memory. In the past I have had Great Reed Warblers, Surf Scoters, Franklin Gulls and Penduline Tits and many, many more. But for this trip the medal must go to a relatively common bird these days, but not just one but 17 of them.....Spoonbills. On one of the islands on the fresh-marsh there were 20 white blobs. A scan through the telescope revealed that most of these were Spoonbills with just three Little Egrets amongst them, a most amazing sight. Spoonbills are now breeding in the UK and so we can expect a similar expansion in numbers that we have witnessed with Little Egrets.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Autumn Has Arrived

A quick visit to Rye Meads soon revealed that the bird autumn has arrived. The first signs are the return of Teal and Shoveler. Shoveler do occasionally breed in the Lea Valley but very infrequently so their appearance is normally a sign of their autumn return and the start of a build-up in numbers for the winter. Of course, at this time of the year, ducks are in their eclipse plumage where, for a couple of months, the males take on the female plumage. However, the green speculum of the Teal and the orange legs and large bill of the Shoveler are both giveaways.

Large groups of ducks were also gathering to start their displaying ritual where they dash around and dive under the water. After a few minutes of frantic action this usually degenerates into bathing and preening like this Gadwall and Mallard.

But, at this time of the year and during the Winter months, Rye Meads is probably best known for its high numbers of Green Sandpipers. These arrived back several weeks ago and are already into double figures.

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Fowlmere Boardwalk

Aren't boardwalks fantastic? Usually built across marshland or reed beds over water they allow access to areas where it would not normally be possible. At Fowlmere the boardwalk starts just 200 yards from the car park and weaves its way through the reed bed proving stunning views of the inhabitants.

Another advantage of boardwalks is that, as they are usually exposed to the sun, they get warm and attract reptiles and insects which like to bask in the sun on the warm boards. Fowlmere was no exception and I soon came across my first subject, a Ruddy Darter.

Ruddy Darters are very similar to Common Darters but are more crimson than orangey-red, have a "waisted" abdomen and jet black legs as opposed to the brown legs of a Common Darter. A little further along the boardwalk where it was grass-lined there were a number of common Lizards all soaking up the sun.

But the stars of the show were the main residents, the Reed Warblers. There were many young birds in the reeds calling for food and therefore the parents were kept busy bringing beakful after beakful of insects to satisfy their appetite.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A Day at Titchwell

I went to Titchwell in July 2011 just three weeks after I had bought my camera. The reserve conditions, weather and light were superb and I took over 800 shots which took three days to sort through. Some of the results, so early in my career, were amazing. So, after several weeks of rain, I jumped at the chance of going back again when they forecast a sunny day.

Unfortunately, although the weather was as predicted, the water levels on the fresh marsh were a little higher than last year so that there was no exposed mud in front of the Island Hide. I therefore decided to make my way to the beach. The attraction of Titchwell is that although it is primarily a wetland habitat, it attracts several other "land" species as exemplified by the Wren that was loudly proclaiming its presence from the top of a fence post on the salt marsh.

Further along the track to the beach a number of Sky Larks were picking up gravel from the dusty path to help them with their digestion. If you approached slowly and quietly they were quite confiding.

I eventually arrived at the beach but, as it was high tide, there were virtually no waders on the beach, just a few rather skittish Sanderling. However, just beyond the old pill-box, which was almost entirely submerged, I could see something amongst the swell. A quick look through the bins revealed that it wasn't a bird at all but a Grey Seal. These are quite common along this coast and this particular individual could have come from one of the colonies in the Wash or at Blakeney Point.

While I was on the beach trying to decide the plan for the rest of the day, a Black-headed Gull landed just a few feet way in the hope that I had some spare food. I don't normally bother too much with gulls but this particular individual was irresistible.

On the return leg back to the car I had a little better luck with some waders. The waders, a Ruff and a Spotted Redshank were best viewed from the Island Hide and, although not as close an you would like, presented a couple of opportunities which on a day like this are not too be missed.