Monday, 30 December 2013

Nothing on the Telly

9th December 2013

Not much going on so I thought I would spend an hour or two at Amwell with the camera to see what was about. Before I had even got to the viewpoint the resident female Kestrel was perched in its favorite Ash tree and was gleaming in the sun.

Further along the Lee Navigation towpath by the footbridge was a Hawthorn tree with still a few berries remaining, and which was attracting Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and a few Redwings. By positioning myself on the slope of the footbridge I was able to get on eye-level with the birds and so that all was left to do was wait. Unfortunately most of the birds had other ideas, with the exception of a single Redwing which posed briefly in a nearby tree. That will do nicely.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Amwell Smew

6th December 2013

Due to the relatively mild winter so far Smew have been late to arrive this year and the 1st winter male that arrived on about the 20th November not only is still present, but is still the only one. It was a lovely sunny day but due to the weather was still fairly quiet. Goldeneye have also been slow to arrive and build up in numbers, but today a couple of males were showing well in front of the viewpoint. Despite it only being the first week of December, the mild weather spurred them into displaying.

I eventually located the Smew in its usual position, tucked in tight to the southern bank east of the viewpoint. But then, for no obvious reason it started swimming with some purpose further down the lake. Anticipating the possibility of some close-up shots, I made my way down to the Gladwin Hide and when I opened the flap, there was the Smew right in front in full sunshine. The white flecking on the head seems to be spreading.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Titchwell in the Afternoon Sun

5th December 2013

We arrived at Titchwell at about 2.00pm so the sun was already getting quite low in the sky and giving everything that golden cast. The most impressive sight was the large flock of Golden Plover out on the mud in the freshwater marsh which positively glowed.

Along the path were a group of Shoveler with the males looking resplendent in their new attire, ready for the next breeding season. It always amazes me how they use that enormous bill for those last-minute adjustments.

The grass bank outside the new Parinder Hide provided lush grazing for a small flock of Wigeon, all looking most colourful in the low sun.

But the gem of the day was this male Teal which was taking advantage of the late afternoon sun to accentuate all his colours.

Friday, 20 December 2013

My Mobile Hide

5th December 2013

After a stunning morning on The Wild Goose Chase at Docking, Wells and Lady Anne's Drive, it was now time to move on to Titchwell calling at that little-known site at Brancaster Staithe. The word staithe is an old English word for dock or wharf, and there were plenty of them sprinkled around the North Norfolk coast. These days, of course, the dockland infrastructure has long disappeared and all that remains is a shallow berth for leisure yachts and dinghys.

Brancaster Staithe has always been one of my favourites as it is just off the coast road, is very quiet during the week and you can drive right down to the mud where the waders are feeding. Having said that, you have to be careful to keep on the mud with gravel showing through as this is hard standing, but you must avoid going near the pure mud at all costs.

So now to unpack the mobile hide. The mobile hide is of course my car and, although the car seats five, it is only a two-man hide with one photographing out of the driver's window and the other out of the back window on the same side. Unlike other hides, it has the advantage of being manoeuvrable, so that you can recede, get closer or change the angle of the light. What a superb invention and, if you already have a car, it is ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!

So how well did we do? Well, as we drove on to the hard standing, a Turnstone came running off the mud expecting food to be thrown out of the window. At times it was just 2 feet outside the car window, far to close with a 400mm lens. Eventually I did manage to "discourage" it and was able to get these two shots.

Also standing around close by were a couple of gulls, a Black-headed and a Common Gull, both seemingly expecting food.

There was also the compulsory Little Egret. You come across these everywhere now, although just 25 years ago they were a mega rare bird. It is always a pleasure to photograph these snowy-white birds against a dark background.

One of the benefits of photographing from the car is that the birds come to you. As soon as one moves away another comes into view, and over the next 20 minutes a procession of  Ringed Plover, Redshank and Oystercatcher performed their auditions in front of the two judges.

But the star of the show was the Bar-tailed Godwit which performed and posed just 15 yards away, quite unconcerned about the ton of metal sitting on his mudflat. So, wherever you go, take a mobile hide.

.....and now on to Titchwell for an hour in the afternoon sun.

Don't forget that for better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Monday, 16 December 2013

A Wild Goose Chase

5th December 2013

Without doubt one of the most memorable spectacles in the birding world is the vast flocks of Pink-footed Geese that visit the north Norfolk coast each winter. Whether you watch the tens of thousands of geese leaving The Wash to feed on the inland fields in the morning or the never-ending skeins coming into roost at Lady Anne's Drive, they never fail to leave you with a memory that will last until you return to see them again next year. Ever since I bought my camera in July 2011 I have been promising myself a trip to photograph them, and when a report came in of 10,000 at Docking the bags were packed.

Andy Johnson and I set off at about 8.00am but unfortunately the A14 was at a standstill and therefore we lost about an hour as, with everyone else with the same idea, we picked our way through the narrow side roads trying to find a way through to the A10. In the event it didn't really matter as the sun didn't break through until we were at Heacham, just down the road from our destination.

As we approached Docking we slowed down to inspect all the fields along the road. Many of the fields were still holding Sugar Beet or sown with Rape and were therefore unsuited to the geese which seem to prefer muddy fields where the crop have been recently harvested so they can feed on the leftovers. Then suddenly, as we came across a new field that fitted all the requirements there were about 5000 geese, all feeding quite contentedly close to the road. And as if that wasn't enough, there was a place to park and the sun was behind us. What a result!!

It was difficult to know where to start as there were so many opportunities, coupled with fact that there was a constant turnover of birds as some departed to the north only to be replaced by new flocks arriving from the south. And all this to the accompanying soundtrack of 5000 birds constantly giving their wink-wink-wink call which seems be no more than a comfort blanket.

After about an hour a large tractor came along the road and spooked most of the nearby birds which flew off north, so therefore a good time to continue on our way. We cruised through Stanhoe trying to find another large flock that had been reported there but without success and so continued on to Wells.

The purpose of popping into Wells was to visit the football pitch at the start of the road that runs alongside the miniature railway to the lifeboat station. It was on my very first visit to Wells about 30 years ago that I came across a flock of 1000 Brent Geese on this football pitch, a sight that has remained with me ever since. And sure enough as we turned the corner there they were, not 1000 this time but still a good 200 attacking the goal to the right. Even the most hardened footballer would think about a sliding tackle on this pitch!!

There are always a few birds that stop feeding and act as look-outs to warn the flock of imminent danger. This bird obviously saw a threat approaching, possibly a Peregrine, as without warning the whole flock lifted into the air and flew out over the saltmarsh until the danger had passed, eventually returning to the football pitch.

And so on to the final site of our wild goose chase, that goose mecca of Norfolk, Lady Anne's Drive. As soon as we arrived things were looking good as, despite significantly reduced numbers, all the geese were much closer than those at Docking and were clearly used to people, as this is a busy car park. The next hour was spent snapping away as the nearest birds carried on feeding.

There was also the occasional opportunity for a flight shot as more birds joined in the fun. And no, the last shot is NOT a collage but just as it happened.

Well, that is it for another year until about the same time next year when I will need another fix!!

Now on to Brancaster Staithe to try out the mobile hide.