Sunday, 30 June 2013

Don't They Grow Up Fast?

18th June 2013

You will recall my visit to Amwell on the 30th May 2013 when the Lapwing chicks had just hatched. Well, just to remind you, this is what they looked like then.

Well, when I arrived 19 days later I was greeted by one of the adults flying around in a bit of a distressed state. The reason was not my presence but the attention of a couple of nearby Magpies. However, once the Magpies had moved on, peace and tranquility was restored.

A quick scan of the scrape right in front of the viewpoint soon revealed the two chicks but, wow, how they had grown. Instead of just small bundles of fluff, they were now starting to resemble their parents, the only giveaway being their lack of a crest and the orange fringing to the feathers on their back. Although I did not witness it, they are probably old enough to fly now.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Summer Eclipse

15th June 2013

Another visit to Rye Meads demonstrated that we were well into the second half of the breeding season. There were young birds everywhere, including these broods of Canada Geese and Mute Swans.

But what was more noticeable was the large flocks of ducks loafing around, all starting their eclipse. Eclipse plumage is a survival strategy whereby the brightly-coloured males moult into a dull plumage the same as the females, which makes them less conspicuous while they are flightless. This is why during late July and August all the male Mallards seem to disappear.

Many of the male ducks are now showing the first signs of the transition to eclipse like this male Tufted Duck. The normally gleaming white sides are already showing signs of some dull brown feathers and in a few weeks time the bird will be totally dark brown.

 The advent of the autumnal moult means even more bathing and preening.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Flycatchers are Back

14th June 2013

Last year I managed to get some shots of a pair of Spotted Flycatchers and their young, so I went back to see if they had returned this summer. It took a while to find them as they were confined to a rather dark corner, and it soon became evident that they were building a nest.

The nest was more or less complete, so I will be going back in about a month when the young should have fledged and will be hopefully easy to photograph.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Secret Hide

12th June 2013

Based on intelligence gleaned from fellow bird photographer Rick Stead, I headed off to Fishers Green to visit a secret hide or, actually, a suite of four hides. Having parked up, I decoded the instructions and set off, looking over my shoulder to ensure that no-one was following. At a predetermined point up the track I diverted into the undergrowth up a scarcely visible path through the jungle of vegetation. Weaving past brambles and under overhanging trees, I eventually came to my destination, the four small hides.

And when I say small, I was not exaggerating. These were not your usual hides. They were designed for wildlife photographers and, because you ideally want to be at eye-level with your subjects, are just four feet high!! I bent down and crawled into one and knelt down on the ground. This was because there were no seats. I opened one of the flaps and pulled back the curtain, yes they have curtains, and there just 14 feet in front of me was a Jay. So down to business.

There were three pallets stacked along the wall of the hide which I quickly arranged into a makeshift seat. Even then, with my knees either side of my face, I had to keep moving to maintain a flow of blood. By now the Jay had moved off but I didn't have to wait long before a Grey Squirrel came along for a drink. The feeders were empty and the small pond was dry, despite a battery of water butts, sadly empty due to the lack of rain. The squirrel more or less had to push aside the duckweed to get a drink, but then cavorted around on the branches positioned strategically in front of the hide, allowing a couple of shots.

Next on the scene was a Magpie. I have tried to photograph Magpies in the past but they are difficult as, due to the fact that they are often against a sky background, their black and white appearance washes them out. This one, however, was on the ground and although not perfect, is probably the best I have taken so far.

So now on to the real business. A male Great Spotted Woodpecker is obviously used to coming down to the feeders for peanuts but, even though the feeders were empty, still felt a conviction to visit the site. He came within just 12 feet most of the time and posed at different angles for some photographs. The red dot behind the head shows that this is the male.

But now on to the star of the show, the Jay. I have photographed Jays at close quarters from the Bittern Hide, but this bird was something different. Most of the time it was so close that I couldn't get it all in the frame. These hides are something else and remain a closely guarded secret.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Lakenheath Revisited with Stuart

9th June 2013

After a memorable visit last time to photograph the Red-footed Falcon, I thought I would go back with Stuart to try and get some shots of the Marsh Harriers and Hobbys. The weather forecast was overcast in the morning with sunny spells from mid-day onwards so, as you might expect, it was cloudy all day.

As we set off up the track by the railway a Dunnock was giving a rather half-hearted song deep inside a bush, but then shuffled to one edge just 12 feet away from me, seemingly quite unconcerned. On the other side of the track a Reed Bunting was singing his heart out in the reed bed. Well, I suppose it is that time of year.

At the same time a male Marsh Harrier wafted lazily across the marsh on the other side of the railway, obviously heading of across the fields to get some dinner for its chicks.

We eventually arrived at the viewpoint overlooking Joist Fen and were treated to sightings of several Marsh Harriers including a pair performing food passes, and right in front of us by the pool was a pair of Bearded Tits collecting food for their young in the nearby nest. But the most bizarre sighting must be the three Bitterns flying around in circles high in the sky. Goodness knows what that was about. There was also a lot activity on the warbler front with many Reed and Sedge Warblers and even a loud but well-hidden Cetti's Warbler. I did manage to see it once but not enough time for a photo. The only obliging bird was a Sedge Warbler which was collecting food along the edge of the reeds.

But there were also some unexpected sightings. As if to illustrate what a topsy-turvy year it has been, a flock of 30 Common Terns flew up the river. Were they going home early?

There are two pairs of Common Cranes at Lakenheath and I don't know whether they have been successful in breeding this year. However, one pair are often seen flying across Joist Fen, albeit normally fairly distant. However, I did manage to get this shot on what was a fairly murky day.

But the star of the day was a bird that I had never previously managed to photograph - a Cuckoo. This was a female that was working its way along the bank next to the path, presumably searching for nests in which to lay its single much larger egg. This was an unexpected bonus for the day, but that is the joy of bird photography.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Next Generation

30th May 2013

Spring migration had all but finished at Amwell and the remaining birds were settling down to the business of producing the next generation. On the wader front there were breeding hopes for the Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Little Ringed Plovers and Lapwings. The Oystercatchers had been sitting on a nest for several weeks but had obviously failed for whatever reason, and it was still fairly uncertain what the Redshanks and plovers were up to.

However, the Lapwings had obviously been getting on with the task in hand quietly in the background and had managed to produce two chicks, which the parent birds proudly paraded right in front of the viewpoint. One of the adults was always on hand to fend off the attention of crows, although the young chicks did seem incredibly vulnerable to Stoats, Weasels, Mink and Foxes.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Fowlmere in Late Spring

27th May 2013

The main mission today was to try to see and photograph Turtles Doves and the nearest place I know where they can still be seen is Fowlmere. Being a Bank Holiday Monday the car park was full, although birders were far out-numbered by families taking their children for a walk in the countryside. I wish more parents would do that.

I started off in the Drewers Hide where I was tipped off that the Turtles Dove this year seemed to be favouring the western side of the reserve, so I set off for an anti-clockwise circuit. Unfortunately, I neither saw or heard any doves and soon arrived at the Reed Bed Hide where I had photographed them, albeit distantly, last year. Still no sign.

I settled down in the hide for a spot of lunch and was entertained by a pair of Long-tailed Tits that obviously had a nest nearby as they were rummaging around in the tangle of shrubbery below. They were quite hard to photograph as, although frequently visible, they were often obscured. However, eventually I did manage to get a shot.

In a nearby Hawthorn a male Linnet was singing its head off. What was surprising, however, was that its plumage was more typical of a female. Closer inspection of the photographs revealed the slightest hint of red starting to appear above the bill and the suggestion of a greyish head. You would expect male Linnets to be a bit more colourful at this time of year, even last year's birds.

There was an air display in progress at nearby Duxford and we were treated to a constant stream of aircraft on the horizon, from huge World War II American bombers to a yellow Tiger Moth. Not to be outdone a pair of Grey Lag Geese thought they would join in and set off on a couple of laps of the mere before lining up for what appeared to be a crash landing!!