Friday, 31 May 2013

Aren't Stock Doves Brilliant?

18th May 2013

Aren't Stock Doves Brilliant? Although less common than the familiar Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove, they are far more numerous than people think due to them, I suspect, being largely overlooked. Up until last year Stock Doves were regular visitors at Amwell but generally only for fleeting visits. A pair would fly in to the lake, circle once to ensure that all was safe and then land on one of the islands for a quick drink. They would then depart as fast as they arrived.

This year, however, they have changed their behaviour. They still adopt their cautious approach but, once landed, will stay for up to 20 minutes feeding on one of the islands or scrapes. It was during one of these visits that I was able to take this shot in front of the viewpoint.

They are slightly smaller than the Wood Pigeon and have no white on the neck or wings. They are a beautiful pastel shade of grey with an iridescent green patch on the neck, narrow black wing-bars and a red bill and feet. Absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

13th May 2013

Natural succession is a creeping disease, whereby disturbed ground such as gravel pits becomes invaded by tree saplings, which in turn grow into mature trees shading out reed beds, and the accumulation of their leaf litter dries out the reed beds altogether. Eventually, if left unchecked, you are left with woodland. The signs of natural succession are evident at Amwell. Already much of the northern bank and the two large islands are dominated by mature overhanging trees, resulting in less and less marginal vegetation. However, what is important is to preserve the remaining margins, scrapes and reed beds.

Two years ago, a programme of management work was embarked on to improve the views from the viewpoint and to reverse the effect of natural succession in the main reed bed. Work on the viewpoint involved removing a number of trees from the reed bed next to the scrape and lowering the scrape to improve the probability of the scrape being flooded during the winter months. This is important as it ensures that the vegetation that grows on it during the summer and autumn is killed off to provide an expanse of mud the following year.

In the main reed bed a number of willow and alder saplings were beginning to appear and these have now been removed. Also some of the mature willows along the side of the reed bed have been removed to give the reed bed more light and to improve the view up the valley.

During the winter months the water level has been intentionally kept high for the benefit of wildfowl and to kill off the vegetation. However, with the approach of spring the water levels have been reduced slightly to encourage waders. This has been extremely successful with both Redshanks and Little Ringed Plovers feeding on the newly exposed mud just 20 yards in front of the leaning rail.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Bitterns, Falcons......and Rosemary

10th May 2013

Cousin Rosemary had never been to Lakenheath before so we set off with a forecast of a dry day with sunny spells and a moderate breeze. In the event it was dark and cloudy with a wind that increased to Force 5, and we had to endure a number of heavy showers. However, Rosemary and I are made of strong stuff so we continued on to the main viewing watch-point overlooking Joist Fen.

We were treated to a fly-past by two Common Cranes, a number of booming Bitterns and Marsh Harriers exchanging food in mid-air but, surprisingly, not a single Hobby, one of the Lakenheath specialities. It was now 2pm so we decided to have a slow walk back along the river to see if we could hear the first Golden Oriole of the year, as they were expected any day now. We had only walked a few yards when a Bittern arose from the adjacent reed bed and flew high towards Joist Fen. If only the light had been a bit better.

We continued on our way and paused for a quick listen by the poplar plantation between Joist and New Fens, but no orioles calling. However, by now a small gaggle of telescopes and cameras with large lenses were all trained on New Fen. As we approached I enquired what they were looking at, to which came the response "Hobbys". I lifted my bins and after a quick scan found 3-4 Hobbys hunting for insects close to the trees on the far side. Hobbys are slaty-grey on the back, but one was much darker, slightly smaller and had a silvery appearance across the primaries. I tactfully pointed out to them that one of the Hobbys was in fact the male Red-footed Falcon that had been around the area for at least a week.

So despite the weather it turned out to be a good day with a couple of record shots of Red-footed Falcon for me, and Rosemary's first Red-footed Falcon, Bittern, Hobby and Common Cranes.

If the falcon hangs around I suspect I will be back for some better shots.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Time for a Visit to Rye Meads

7th May 2013

The water levels have been rather high at Rye Meads during the winter months so, apart from wildfowl, it has been a bit quiet. However, spring is eventually getting under way so time for a visit to see what is going on. First stop was the Draper Hide and the water levels were looking good with plenty of exposed mud. The usual duck species were present such as these Tufted Ducks and Pochard.

As is happening at other sites, the Common Terns are being ousted by an ever-increasing number of breeding Black-headed Gulls. So, until the gulls have finished, the terns have to spend their time on scrapes such as those in front of the Draper Hide. Although it is not clear from the photo, the tern on the right is ringed on its right leg and is most likely to have been bred at Rye Meads. There was also a Little Ringed Plover on the scrape.

On to the Tern Hide which is a bit misleading because, ever since they moved the tern rafts to No2 lagoon, there are no terns to look at. However today there was a cracking pair of Gadwall right outside the hide. As I have said before, the male Gadwall is grossly under-rated, and when viewed at close range displays an amazing vermiculation on the breast and flanks. The female looks rather like a female Mallard but, unlike the female Mallard, has a totally orange lower mandible and a white speculum rather than a dark blue one.

I hadn't planned to go to the Kingfisher Hide as the female Kingfisher is sitting on eggs and the hide is usually full of ......bird photographers!!!! However, a quick look through the bins suggested that the hide was nowhere near full and so I decided to give it a go. Indeed there were only three people there and only one with a camera so I settled down to wait for the male to appear. This can be a lengthy process so I whiled away some time by photographing the female Kestrel sitting at the entrance to her box. I suspect that she has some eggs but will not start incubation until the clutch is complete.

Eventually, after about two hours, the male Kingfisher appeared and sat on a branch out on the pool. He called several time but the female was having none of it and continued to sit tight on the eggs. Good girl!!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Another Try for the Fingringhoe Nightingales

5th May 2013

As is customary on these occasions I called in at Abberton for breakfast. It was extremely quiet on the wildfowl front but this was more than compensated for by the six or so Greenshank, unfortunately too distant for a photo, and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers at the base of the concrete bank. You can tell they are Little Ringed due to the brownish legs (Ringed are orange), and the conspicuous gold eye ring.


On to Fingringhoe and a little more action this time, with a number of birds in full song. A Chiffchaff was singing loudly from one tree and seemed unaware that I was standing quite close with my camera.

On the way to the picnic area I could hear a Whitethroat with his random jumble of notes. He was initially singing from a beautiful gorse bus, but then unfortunately moved to a rather bare tree, which was great for seeing him but provided a far less attractive setting.

Next stop was the picnic area itself where, in the tall trees on the side, could be heard the start of a Chaffinch song, which is the song of a Lesser Whitethroat. Although it was calling fairly frequently, it was difficult to locate high up in the canopy and far too distant for a photo. However, after about half an hour it moved into some lower trees and eventually appeared in the open for this shot.

So now for the Nightingales. In and around the picnic area there were at least 10 singing males of which I saw four, although they were too deep in cover for any chance of a photo. However if you wait long enough they will sing for a while in full view. I managed to photograph two birds, one singing from the top of a Hawthorn and the other on the edge of a bare tree.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Fowlmere with Mr Marsh

2nd May 2013

Fowlmere is an ideal place for bird photography as much of the habitat is reed beds and short scrub. Therefore, the birds are not too high. Although a little too early for my main quarry, the Turtle Dove, I thought it worth a visit to try and photograph some warblers, so I set off with William Marsh.

In the event the site was extremely quiet with very few warblers singing. In fact we went the entire length of the boardwalk without hearing a Reed Warbler and it wasn't until we got to the bridge at the end that we heard a male singing deep in the reeds. As luck would have it, at precisely that time, he decided to leave the reed bed for a little foraging in a nearby sallow, which afforded a couple of opportunities for some shots.

But it wasn't until we got back to the car park that I managed my first ever photo of that elusive bird, the Lesser Whitethroat. It was easy to pick up on call as it picked its way through the hedgerow, rarely being seen. However, it did eventually show itself, not only in full song but also against a stunning blue sky and Hawthorn background. Very pleased with that.

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


Sunday, 19 May 2013

......and on to Titchwell

30th April 2013

Time was getting on so we didn't bother with the Fen Hide and the Meadow Trail, but headed straight out on the path to the  beach. There were plenty of birds singing including the raucous Cetti's Warbler, Willow Warbler and this rather confiding Chiffchaff.

As usual the path to the beach provided great close-ups of a number of birds, including this male Teal and male Pintail.

However, a bonus was this summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank, which was a little distant but stunning nevertheless.

But the star of the show today was this summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit, which insisted on feeding just 10 yards away from the busy path. Why can't all birds behave like this??

Friday, 17 May 2013

A Trip to the North Norfolk Coast

30th April 2013

After a breakfast pit stop at a very quiet Lynford Arboretum, Stuart and I headed off for Cley Marshes. As is usual at this time of year the Avocet monoculture had taken over with most other waders being seen off, so the variety was fairly poor and is likely to remain so until the autumn. Some of the Avocets were quite close and were fairly active providing some opportunities for some action shots.

By now we had exhausted the birds from the hides and started our way back along the boardwalk to go to the beach. A female Kestrel was hovering overhead and provided an ideal subject against a blue sky. Actually, taking photos of birds overhead is very tricky as you tend to fall over backwards. The best idea, provided you have time, is to lie flat on your back, but I didn't fancy lying on a boardwalk covered in broken chicken wire. I therefore took my chance and survived to tell the tale.

As we got back to the bridge a Sedge Warbler was sunning itself on the side of its bramble bush and allowed a shot before being scared off by some other rather unobservant visitors.

Next stop was the beach but sadly without the chance of a cup of tea in Arkwright's cafe, which had to be demolished after a bad storm made it unsafe. Fortunately, the shelter with seats survived and the Swallows are still nesting each year on the beams that have been installed inside. One of the adults was sitting in the sun on the orange pan-tiled roof.

Well, that is Cley finished, so now back in the car and off to Titchwell.


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