Friday, 29 March 2013

Muntjac at Tewinbury

I had gone to Tewinbury to get some better shots of the Jack Snipe. I found the snipe almost immediately, but it was deep in cover and impossible to photograph. I am not sure why Jack Snipe bob up and down, but if it hadn't been bobbing I would never have been able to pick it out.

While I was waiting for it to hopefully come out into the open, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. There, moving stealthily through the tall vegetation on the west side of the lake was a doe Muntjac. Unfortunately, it was partially obscured for most of the time but did eventually move into a clearing for a couple of shots.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Jack Snipe at Tewinbury

It has been a fairly poor winter for Jack Snipe. The traditional sites have drawn a blank and it is only recently that Jacks have started to appear with one at Lemsford Springs and another two at Tewinbury. The latter site has had the more consistent sightings and there I set off on a rather dull day to try my luck.

I immediately found the bird right in front of me, bobbing up and down but largely obscured by reedmace. I picked up my camera to get set up, but when I looked back it had gone. Apparently, in this short time, it had swam across to the side of the pool and, whilst visible, still heavily obscured by overhanging vegetation. It is a fact that if Jack Snipe didn't bob up and down, they would be virtually impossible to see.

Eventually, the bird moved into a gap and I was able to get some shots. Note the dark crown. A common Snipe would have a golden stripe down the centre.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Fancy a Shag?

Oh how that made us young birders laugh and, to be perfectly honest, it still makes me chuckle today. We are, of course, very familiar with Cormorants as they are not only common around our coasts, but now also breed inland at our reservoirs and gravel pits. The Shag, however, is virtually absent from the whole of eastern and south-eastern England ie from Newcastle right round to the Isle of Wight, so I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear of a couple of sightings on my old stomping ground on Mersea.

Stuart and I had been on the beach by Mersea Quarters a few weeks ago and had noticed a Cormorant diving close to the shore by a moored yacht, but neither of us had taken much notice. When we got home I saw that a Shag had been reported from this area. I did go back and have a look a week later but with no luck, and went back again this week with Bill Marsh for a second attempt.

As we approached the beach I immediately looked over to the moored yacht and there, just three yards from where we had previously seen the "Cormorant", was an adult Shag diving for fish. Absolutely amazing!! The moral of this story is never take anything for granted.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Mediterranean Esplanade

After breakfast and a cup of tea at Abberton it was time to get back to the main mission of the photograph Mediterranean Gulls at West Mersea. I am sure that Meds can be seen on Mersea all the year round although I often have trouble finding them, except for March and April when their numbers build up for breeding on the islands in Pyefleet Channel.

The best place I have found is the western end of the Victoria Esplanade because, although they can be seen all along this stretch, the western end is quieter and therefore better for photography. Unfortunately, when I arrived the tide was still a long way out and the three Meds that I could see were right out on the mud and on the sea. Therefore, there was nothing for it. I would have to find a comfortable seat and wait in the glorious sunshine for a couple of hours. OK, I know what you are saying, but it is a dirty job and someone has got to do it!

As I sat there I couldn't help but notice the "chirp" of the local House Sparrows in the hedge. These are now fairly scarce at home but there were a few present on the edge of the beach. As someone remarked several years ago "I love House Sparrows because they always sound so happy."

There was also something else enjoying the sunshine. Although it was only the 5th March, there were a couple of Small Tortoiseshell butterflies making the most of the sudden warmth and basking on the warm ground.

But now back to the business in hand. The tide was coming in fast and pushing the gulls towards the beach as it went. I was therefore able to manoeuvre round to get the sun behind me and gradually approach the group, taking shots as I went. And then for the secret weapon. A few lumps of bread lobbed into the air caused a couple of the gulls to take to the air and circle the bread, allowing a few flight shots. Surprisingly, whereas last year the birds were all 1st or 2nd winter, these were all adults moulting into their summer plumage.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Breakfast at Abberton

On my way to West Mersea today but, as tradition has it, a pit-stop at Abberton for breakfast and a cup of tea. The water levels are still very high resulting with very few duck, probably no more the 10 between the causeways, although rather more west of the Layer Breton causeway. A number of people stop to feed the menagerie of tame assorted ducks by the road and although this attracts hordes of wildfowl, it does also have the advantage of attracting a number of gulls, providing a chance of some flight shots like this Black-headed Gull and Common Gulls.

As I wandered up the road my attention was caught by some commotion in a nearby field. Close inspection revealed that the noise was coming from a water-filled tractor rut. So what was it?

Well, it turned out to be a now much cleaner Carrion Crow. How do birds get cleaner by bathing in muddy water?

Back to the causeway and there was quite a lot of commuter traffic amongst the Cormorant fraternity with much to-ing and fro-ing gathering nest material. This one was on its way out to look for a twig.

So now time to get the scope out and have a serious look at the ducks. First up was a male Goldeneye. Normally there are scores of Goldeneye at Abberton during the winter but this year, certainly between the causeways there were very few, probably no more than four. Here was a pair that eventually moved close enough for a photograph.

Next to join them was a male Smew. There are currently about seven birds at Abberton, but with the exception of this bird, are all on the west side of the causeway.

And last but not least was my favourite, the Goosander. This winter at Abberton has been very poor for them with only about six birds, compared to the usual 20+. I saw my first ever Goosander at Abberton back in ~1966 and they are still very special.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Smew at Amwell

Amwell has traditionally been a good wintering area for Smew with, in some years, the birds reaching double figures. This year, however, numbers have been relatively low with only three birds present before Christmas which subsequently left the site and just four birds now, a male and three females. I therefore headed off for Tumbling Bay where the birds have been spending most of their time.

As I approached the lock I checked out the lone Alder where Siskins often feed low in the branches. No Siskins today I'm afraid, but there was a single Goldfinch that was so intent on feeding off the seeds in the minute cones, that it allowed me to approach quite closely and even manoeuvre my position to get the sun behind me. Why aren't all birds this cooperative?

I continued on my way to Tumbling Bay and could see all four Smew half way up the lake. What has been a feature this year is that the birds are very flighty, more so than in previous years. So much so that the nearest that I could approach the females was 100 yards when they would take to the air. The male wasn't much better but I did manage to conceal myself behind some elders before he saw me and flew.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Focus on the Great Crested Grebe

I had originally gone to Amwell to try and photograph the Smew but I got waylaid. Great Crested Grebes in summer plumage can sometimes be difficult to photograph because they are often a long way out on a lake or gravel pit and are normally easier to photograph in winter when the young birds are a bit more trusting. However today I couldn't believe my luck because, as I walked up the Lee Navigation towpath towards Tumbling Bay, I came across a summer-plumaged bird on the Lee itself. It was keeping mid-stream and was therefore never more than 15 yards away.

It appeared to totally oblivious to my presence and, as I snapped away, just kept on preening. Wonderful.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Hawfinches Revisited

In December 2012 I went to Bramfield Church to try and photograph the Hawfinches that had re-appeared there this winter. I did manage to get this shot, although photography was difficult as they were high in a tree against a sky background.

As it was a sunny afternoon I thought I would try again as there had been a number of sightings over the last few days. When I arrived there was no-one else there and so I took up a position on the south side of the churchyard with the sun behind me. I almost immediately spotted one bird high in the trees above me and obscured by a number of twigs. That bird eventually flew off west.

By now a few other birders had arrived and after an hour or so, another bird was found in a most unlikely position. I have seen a number of Hawfinches over the years and they have all been either high in a tree or feeding on the ground. This bird, however, was perched just three feet off the ground in a hedge on the north side of the churchyard. The hedge obviously gave it security as it stayed there for at least 10 minutes, despite the row of telescopes and a couple of cameras, before moving into deeper shadow further along the hedge. What an amazing opportunity.

A couple of days later I returned to the site and was immediately lucky with a bird sitting up in the trees in the churchyard. This time, however, the bird was not right at the top and, some of the time, was in the sun allowing a couple of good shots.

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


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Black-bellied Dipper at Thetford

The Dipper Cinclus cinclus gularis, or the White-breasted Dipper to give it it's full name, is found by running water in south-western, western and northern England, Wales and Scotland and has a chestnut band between the black and white on the breast. It is totally absent from much of the Midlands, eastern and south-eastern England. However, the nominate race, the Black-bellied Dipper Cinclus cinclus cinclus breeds in northern Europe and wanders to milder regions in winter. Unlike the UK resident, the White-breasted Dipper, it has no chestnut band on the breast which is totally black and white.

A few individuals make it to the UK each winter and this year one was discovered at Thetford next to the BTO headquarters. It had managed to find an overflow from the River Thet which had produced a fast-flowing stream through to another watercourse, an ideal habitat. I managed to locate the bird after about twenty minutes and found it to be very confiding as it went about its business of finding food under the submerged stones. The light was poor, but with an increase in ISO I was able to get a collection of shots. I must admit that photographing a Dipper without having to go to Devon or Derbyshire was quite unexpected.

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