Sunday, 29 September 2013

Red-backed Shrike at West Canvey

13th September 2013

There had been a juvenile Red-backed Shrike at West Canvey for five days now so, as it seems fairly settled, time to investigate. It didn't bode well. Despite the forecast it was pouring with rain when I left and during the whole journey, but miraculously stopped as I drove into the car park.

I could see two birders about 150 yards away, both peering through their camera viewfinders, but from that range impossible to see what they were photographing. As I made my way over, I kept on stopping and followed their line-of-sight, expecting to see the shrike perched somewhere in the middle of the field. Still no sign. I got nearer and nearer and it was only when I reached them that I realised that the bird was sitting on a fence post just 20 feet in front of them. Unbelievable.

I had to move fast as showers were looming on the horizon and, despite the poor light, did manage to shoot off 200 shots before it started to drizzle. Here are the best.

This is my favourite as it is not only a decent close-up of a Red-backed Shrike, but also my first ever shot of a Roesel's Bush-cricket which can easily be identified by the yellow crescent on the pronotum.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Water Levels Still High at Tewinbury

7th September 2013

I popped into Tewinbury to see how the water levels were dropping and much to my surprise they had gone up!! As a result there were very few birds around, just a few Teal, a couple of Moorhens and the usual suspects, a Heron and a Little Egret. It is hard to resist taking just one more shot of these statues. Little Egrets are in fact quite difficult to photograph. They are SOOOOOOO white that they confuse the exposure measurement of the camera, and so for this shot I adjusted the exposure compensation producing the white bird against a dark background.

Then, just as I was about to leave, I heard the call of a Kingfisher. It was obviously over the other side of the reed bed as it didn't appear for two minutes, but then flew into the pond and settled on one of the sticks provided. Sorted!!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Mersea in Late Summer

5th September 2013

Up to now I have only ever visited Mersea during the winter months when most self-respecting people stay indoors and I have the place to myself. However, now that the schools had gone back, I thought I would chance a visit to see if I could connect with any migrants. I headed off to the sea wall and stopped briefly by the floods on the grazing marsh.

Even this early in the birding Autumn, the floods were holding good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Snipe, Lapwing and a good sprinkling of ducks. These are mainly godwits but you can see the orange legs of a couple of Redshank. Black-tailed Godwits are difficult to photograph when they are feeding, as for 90% of the time their heads are under the water. However, this one did stop for a moment to catch its breath.

In and around Hertford Little Egrets have become a regular site with one or two birds being seen frequently along the many rivers and gravel pits. However, here at Mersea they are really swelling in numbers and up to 60 birds are now roosting on the grazing meadow, especially at high tide.

Now on to the beach and The Point to try  my luck with the waders flying around at high tide, but horrors of horrors. For instead of the shoreline being full of waders, it was full of......people!! And where a couple of winters ago I photographed a flock of Snow Buntings, people were even swimming in the sea. Note to self: Wait to October next year for first visit of the winter. However, even with the number of people about, by choosing a particularly muddy part of the beech I was able to get a couple of shots of a young Ringed Plover, an adult Ringed Plover and a young plover taking issue with a Dunlin.

But the disappointment on the beach was more than compensated for by a quick call into the hide on the way back. Nothing obvious at first except for a herd of cattle feeding right in front. But then some movement underneath the cattle revealed a flock of Yellow Wagtails feeding on the insects disturbed by the cattle's hooves. The brown bird in the second photograph is a young bird.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A Wryneck at Stonyhills

2nd September 2013

On Saturday 31st August 2013 Barry Reed found a Wryneck at an old land-fill site between Stonyhills and Stapleford. I called in on my way home from Mark's, without binoculars and camera of course, but even then did manage to see it deep inside a small Hawthorn just 10 yards away.

The site is a very attractive habitat consisting of extensive wild grassland with a number of Hawthorn saplings. Unfortunately it is very difficult to access as all the approach roads are single track with very few passing places, and parking is limited to a maximum of five cars on a bend in the road. I therefore decided to skip the Sunday, which was likely to be busy, and went up on Monday morning.

Once on site I joined the gang of celebrities including Lee Evans, Joan Thompson, Ron Cousins, Jeff Bailey and Ernie Leahy who were scouring the area without success. Then we heard a shout from Ron who had found it lurking in a bush. Over the next 20 minutes we all had good views but, from a photographic perspective, it was mostly distant or deep inside cover.

After a while most of the throng departed leaving only myself, Ernie and the newly arrived Simon West and eventually the bird appeared on the outside of a bush allowing a better shot to be taken.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Don't Overlook the Humble Starling

26th August 2013

Today was a trip to Rainham with Andy Johnson to try our luck with Bearded Tits and Water Voles. We decided to go round the clockwise route as this would bring us quickly to the most likely areas around the Dragonfly Ponds. Indeed the warm weather had brought out many of the late flyers, including this Ruddy Darter and Migrant Hawker.

In the reeds there was the most unusual noise, a sort of laughter, which is the unmistakable call of the Marsh Frog. Marsh Frogs are very common at Rainham and seem to outnumber the Common Frog. They are also much larger, very variable in colour, and will often sit out on suitable platforms to have their photograph taken.

There is a very tame female Kestrel at Rainham called Kes. She is normally seen and photographed around the car park by the visitors centre or on the sea wall, but today was right over on the north side by the railway. I instinctively approached very cautiously until I realised that is was in fact Kes, otherwise I would have never got so close.

But the star birds today were nowhere as charismatic. They used to be regarded as the bully boys of the garden, fighting over the scraps that had been put out. Today, sadly, they are far less common. But as you see the young birds in their dull brown attire moulting through into their adult splendour, especially in light such as this, they are truly under-rated jewels.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Anyone for Subbuteo?

23rd August 2013

Anyone for Subbuteo? No, not the table soccer game, but Falco subbuteo, the Hobby. I was aware that a pair of Hobbys had bred next to Galley Hill at The Lodge at Sandy and that on the 20th August one young bird had left the nest with one remaining in the nest. Therefore, on the next best day from a photographic point of view ie clam, dry and sunny, I headed back to the site in the expectation that the other bird will have by now also left the nest and that both birds would still be nearby waiting for the adults to bring food.

I headed off down the trail by the new heath which takes you west of the Meadow Hide and down to the bottom of the gulley. Along this path is a great deal of bracken and there were a number of Common Darters using it as a perch in the sunshine. This insect with the straw-coloured abdomen is a female, and it was good to know that there was plenty of food around for the Hobbys as dragonflies are their staple diet.

As I rounded the corner and started the last long haul up the hill to the top I could hear the familiar cronking of a Raven. Sure enough a pair flew in over my head and started to spar with one of the adult Hobbys around a stand of Scots Pine. Life is never dull.

So where were the two young Hobbys? At first it was very quiet but soon the silence was to be broken when an adult flew in with food causing the two young birds to reveal themselves by a chorus of "kee-kee-kee, I want food" Basically, rather than flying and learning to hunt, the young birds prefer to sit around and wait for the adults to bring food to them. This is a tactic that it very good for them, but also useful to photographers like myself as you know where the action is going to be.

But with little else to do while waiting for the food to arrive, they might as well do a bit of wing-stretching and, when full of dragonflies, have a quick nap which involves balancing precariously along a branch.

But eventually my patience was paid off, as when the next delivery arrived I was in position with the sun behind me to capture the transfer of a dragonfly from the adult bird on the left to the youngster on the right. Magical!!

And was it the Common Darter I passed along the path?. Well no, definitely not, because if you the enlarge the first photo you can see that the dragonfly has blue segments along its abdomen so a Migrant or Southern Hawker.

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