Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Once Bittern, Never Too Shy

A sunny day took me to Amwell and as I walked down the lane I met Tony. As we chatted about all the birds that weren't there, a Dunnock came and sat just a few yards away, so close that I had to retreat a couple of yards to achieve an uninterrupted view and get it within focusing range. Juveniles have a brown iris whereas in adults the iris is orange. The iris of this bird is starting to change but is not yet orange enough for an adult so it is therefore a 1st winter.

I then paid what was intended to be a short visit to the James Hide, to see if the Bittern was showing in the ride. No such luck, but I didn't have to wait too long before a doe Muntjac appeared at the far end and started to walk down the ride. Unfortunately, like the Foxes the other week, she only got half way before she sensed my presence, possibly by the click of the shutter.

Finally, another visit to the White Hide in search of that close up of the Bittern. I sat there for half an hour before it emerged from the reed bed opposite and flew towards the hide to land in the reeds below.

This was good news as there was now the possibility of it working its way towards the hide and showing in the open patch immediately below the window. After a few minutes it appeared in a gap in the reeds and was indeed walking in the right direction. Eventually, it worked its way to just a few yards below us. This was particularly frustrating as you could see the reeds moving, hear it rustling the reeds and occasionally get a glimpse of eye. At one point it became curious and pushed it head above the reeds to see what was going on.

OK that is certainly a close-up, but it would be nice to get one of the whole bird. Will have to save that one for another day.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Saturday, 23 February 2013

Rainham and William Marshes

Its been a while since I visited Rainham Marsh and so I set off accompanied by it's namesake William Marsh. Bill had been hopeful of seeing 25 species, but I upped the ante to 60 species to give us a challenge.

One of the reasons for wanting to go to Rainham was that there had been a lot of Rock Pipits on the foreshore, so that was the main quarry for the day. Instead of entering the reserve on our arrival, we kept to the Thames wall and scanned the salt marsh. There were about 12 pipits around of which perhaps as many as eight were Rocks, but they were difficult to see, because as soon as they landed they were obscured by the vegetation. However, after a while I managed to get a couple towards the western end where there is more mud and was able to get a couple of shots. Not brilliant but I'll be back.

We then entered the reserve and made our way in an anti-clockwise direction past the cordite stores, through the willow carr on the boardwalk to the first feeding station. A few Reed Buntings and Greenfinches were the order of the day but I could not resist a shot of a loving pair of Collared Doves enjoying the weak winter sun.

The rest of the circuit was fairly quiet and it wasn't until we got back to the new hide overlooking Purfleet Scrape that things perked up. The advantage of this hide is that the water is only a few feet away from the hide and therefore any birds that venture close are eminently photographable. Unfortunately, up to now and presumably because the hide was new, I have never seen any birds remotely close but today was an exception. For there, right in front of the hide was a superb male Wigeon grazing on the grass. What a fantastic subtle colouration these birds have.

But for me the most memorable birds of the day were a pair of fantastic Pintail, probably my favourite duck, both of which came reasonably close with the female even leaving the water to graze on the grass alongside the Wigeon right in front of the hide.

So what was the species tally for the day? Well, due to the high water levels which reduced the number of waders present and the inexplicable lack of Peregrines and harriers we only managed 51, well short of our target, but a great day nevertheless.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Annual Pilgrimage to Lemsford

Lemsford Springs is a Herts and Middx Trust reserve centred on some old cress beds. In the winter all the vegetation is cut back allowing uninterrupted views over the stream with ideal opportunities for photography. Now it was time for my annual pilgrimage.

I had hardly got through the gate when I encountered a noisy flock of Long-tailed Tits feeding in the bushes either side of the path. I managed to catch this one mid-call.

On to the first hide.Unusually, it was very quiet. There was a male Sparrowhawk sitting deep inside one of the bushes but it was quite content preening and at no time ventured into full view. Apart from a couple of Moorhens the only other birds on show were the resident Little Egrets, this one acting as sentry by the gate, monitoring all visitors.

 As for the others, well it's a hard life, standing around yawning and preening.

I then moved on to the second hide which was far more lively. There was a Green Sandpiper feeding in the shallows, but on only one occasion looked in the direction of the camera.

But the star of the show today was the Grey Wagtail which was busy searching for food right in front of the hide, allowing lots of opportunities for shots.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Monday, 18 February 2013

I'll Be Back!!

Went up to Fowlmere to try and photograph the ring-tail Hen Harrier that has been coming into roost every evening since the 23rd January 2013. Very overcast so not an ideal day, but the purpose of the visit was more for a recce eg what time did the bird arrive, what did it do, where did it go and where was the best place to view it from.

It flew in at about 5pm by which time, with a combination of dusk and a dull evening was EXTREMELY poor light and I had to wind the ISO up to 5000 to stand any chance. The bird flew around for a few minutes, a couple of times coming reasonably close, but the poor light made focussing very difficult. Anyway, I did get a couple or record shots, and I will be back on a clearer evening for another attempt.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Ashley Goosanders

Goosanders are regular winter visitors to the Lea Valley, particularly the area around the Nazeing and Cheshunt gravel pits. They are occasionally seen at the north end of the valley around Amwell and Rye Meads, but mostly just flying through. I therefore set off on my annual pilgrimage to see them and hopefully photograph them at Cheshunt.

I parked in the Turnford Brook car park, walked over the railway bridge and turned left to walk north up the western edge of the park. Eventually I came to the Ashley Fishery, previously pre-gravel extraction days known as Turnford Marsh. I followed the footpath around the eastern edge of the lake as this is more wooded and allows a more stealthy approach.

There were seven Goosanders present, four males and three females and, although in fairly loose formation, were mainly towards the northern end of the lake. I edged my way along the footpath and although fairly hidden from the birds, I was unable to get any shots through the branches of the trees. Fortunately there were some clearing with fishing stages which allowed uninterrupted views.

In previous years the birds were fairly settled and, whilst keeping a wary eye on you, were not disturbed by your presence. This year, however, a couple of the males were far more jumpy.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Subtle Jumbo Jet

Some birds we just take for granted, either because they are common or dull. The birds that we lavish our attention on are either rare like the Bittern or stunningly colourful like the Kingfisher. But sadly other birds are largely ignored, unless of course you take time out to examine them in more detail. One such example is that jumbo jet, the Wood Pigeon. These large birds are numerous, are shot in large numbers and cursed in many gardens for eating all the bird food, but if you ever get a chance, have a closer look.

The colouring of the Wood Pigeon is a master class in blending pastel colours from the silver grey on the mantle to the blue-grey head, which sandwich the white, green and pink mauve of the neck. Not to mention the red feet. Notice that when they drink the whole bill is submerged right up to the cere.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Focus on the Grey Squirrel

It soon became apparent that both Robins and Grey Squirrels were regular visitors to the pile of logs in front of the Wren Hide, looking for an easy meal. There were always 3-4 Grey Squirrels around and would frequently leave the ground and hop on to the pile of logs. Here they were so close that it was only possible to get head and shoulder shots. I know that Grey Squirrels are responsible for the disappearance of the Red Squirrel over most of England and prey on young birds during the breeding season, but I still find them rather endearing and very photogenic.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Study of a Robin

I visited the Wren Hide at Fishers Green with the hope of photographing a Muntjac. However, as I arrived and opened the flap the Muntjac was just disappearing round the corner. Anyway I settled down just in case it went on a circuit  and would return later. Right in front of the hide there is a pile of logs on which someone had obviously spread some fat, because before long a Robin appeared and started to extract the fat from the crevices in the bark and pose for some photos.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Preparing for the Breeding Season

All birds are now starting to acquire their breeding plumage and ducks in particular are looking resplendent. Just look at this Tufted Duck at Fishers Green.

But lets not be complacent. Looking your best takes a lot of exercising, particularly neck-stretching.......

                            ..........smoothing the feathers on your back..........

                            ..............and a touch of gel.....................

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Bitterns are like Buses Too!!

Following my success at photographing Bitterns at Amwell I tried my luck at Fishers Green, again hoping for a close-up. However, unlike previous visits, I walked in to the hide and there was a Bittern just 15 yards away. Well, at least you could see its bill, eye and black cap and its amazing camouflage in the reeds.

It sat there motionless for half an hour and then eventually decided to emerge from the reeds and walk up the narrow ride to the waters edge, never to be seen again.