Tuesday, 29 October 2013

In Search of a Rock Pipit

12th October 2013

It is getting to that time of year when Rock Pipits and the occasional Water Pipit start appearing on the foreshore at Rainham Marshes. So that was the mission for today coupled with a circuit of the reserve. The best chance of getting close to the pipits is at high tide when they are forced on to the top level next to the path. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to check the tide tables and in accordance with that law written by Sod, the tide was out. The only glimpse I had of a pipit was this one which sat on the edge some distance away. The broad streaking and the smudgy appearance show that this is indeed a Rock Pipit, but better closer photos will have to wait for another day.

I therefore abandoned the river foreshore and went on a circuit of the reserve in a clockwise direction. The prolonged warm Autumn that we have experienced so far has resulted in the arrival of many of the winter visitors being delayed, but has prolonged the dragonfly flight season with many Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters still on the wing. This male Migrant Hawker was quite happy sunning itself.

The target pool hide was very quiet and so on to the return leg alongside the railway and Aveley Pools. A movement caught my eye and a quick scan with the bins revealed a female Stonechat perched on top of a Reedmace stem some distance away. A wider scan found the male perched up much closer in time for a quick photo before it flew off into the reed bed, never to be seen again. Stonechats used to be fairly regular in the winter along this stretch but this is the first I have seen for some time. Still one of my favourite birds.

Having completed the circuit I popped into the hide overlooking the Pyefleet Scrape in case any birds had ventured close to the hide. Just as well that I did as, at the start of my circuit all the birds were distant, but now there were a number of Teal and Wigeon dabbling in the mud and grazing relatively close allowing a few shots to be taken.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Times They Are a'Changin'

11th October 2013

Absolutely right Mr Dylan! Just 20 years ago there were no Buzzards, Red Kites, Ravens or Little Egrets in Hertfordshire, but now are all doing well and, with the exception of Ravens which are a relative newcomer, are commonly seen in and around the county. Red Kites were introduced, Buzzards responded naturally to the increase in the Rabbit population and Little Egrets are a legacy of climate change, but I am not quite sure what caused Ravens to leave their hills and mountains for life in Hertfordshire.

The next coloniser could well be the Great White Egret which is starting to put in an appearance. I saw my first Great White Egret in Hertfordshire at Wilstone on the 25th September 2012 and, most amazingly, my second that same evening at Amwell. Well today I went to Tyttenhanger to see and hopefully photograph my 3rd.

The bird was first discovered on the 5th October and has been seen most days since and appears quite settled. Unfortunately I had a relatively short window of opportunity as rain was forecast by mid-day. As I arrived I met Robin Pearson who was just leaving and said that the bird was still present but elusive. Luckily, by the time I had walked round to the causeway the bird was showing well and feeding right out in the open. The main distinguishing feature of the Great White Egret, apart from its size, is it crocus-coloured bill as opposed to the black bill of the Little Egret.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Frogs and Sparras

27th September 2013

The visit to Rainham today was a bit of a non-event. It was extremely quiet everywhere and the only near-miss was a brief glimpse of a pinging Bearded Tit by the dragonfly pools. However, you can always rely on the Marsh Frogs to provide some entertainment and today was no exception.

The other form of compensation at Rainham is the House Sparrows which gather around the feeders close to the visitor centre. We do have House Sparrows down our road, but they are very few and far between and only rarely venture into our garden, mainly during the winter months. Therefore, when I get opportunities like this, I find it difficult to resist.

What little beauties.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Wot a Loada Bling!!

26th September 2013

This time a return visit to Lemsford to try and get some photos of the Kingfisher in better light. Unfortunately, no sign of the Kingfisher but there were three Green Sandpipers in front of the hide. But now I have a clash of interests.

As an ex-bird ringer I fully appreciate the importance of ringing birds and particularly the value of colour-ringing schemes whereby, using a unique combination of two or three colour rings on each bird, it is possible to identify the bird in the field without the need to re-capture it. On the other hand, now as a bird photographer, I do not like to get home and look through my photos only to find the birds are covered in bling.

Green Sandpipers have been ringed for several years at Lemsford and these days it is hard to find a bird that hasn't been ringed and, as you can see from these photos, all three birds have their unique combination of colour rings. In submitting records of any sightings the bird in the last photo would be described as white over red right, blue left.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A Surprise at Lemsford

22nd September 2013

I thought that today I would try my luck at photographing a Kingfisher at Lemsford and set myself up in the first hide. Lemsford has been incredibly quiet so far, but I am probably a couple of months earlier than usual. However, even today there was no sign of a Grey Wagtail or the normally numerous Green Sandpipers. There was however a perfectly positioned Kingfisher perch right in front of me so I had the camera trained on that just in case. After half an hour there was still no sign of a Kingfisher, but I could see a Grey Wagtail feeding downstream in front of the second In Focus hide.

When I arrived at the hide the wagtail was still there but had moved to the other side of the cress beds. However, after a short wait, it gradually moved closer and I was able to get a few shots. Judging by the amount of yellow around its tail you can see why they are confused with Yellow Wagtails

But then the inevitable happened. Having transferred hides to photograph the Grey Wagtail, I could now see the Kingfisher sitting on its perch in front of the other hide. Not surprisingly by the time I got down there the bird had flown but it did re-appear after half an hour and allowed a few photos.

So what was the surprise? Well, the surprise was a female Kestrel which glided in from the right, hovered briefly low over the cress bed and than landed on top of a bank of dead vegetation on the far side of the cress bed. How odd is that?

Monday, 7 October 2013

Titchwell Beach

20th September 2013

The strategy on Titchwell Beach is not to go where the birds are but to go where the people aren't, because the birds will come to you. The light was perfect and coming from over the sand dunes and therefore the main area of interest was the water's edge. Whilst waiting for the first movement, I was aware of being watched and soon spotted the head bobbing up and down in the swell, an Atlantic Grey Seal. These lovely animals are frequently seen along this coast and seem to enjoy a spot of human-watching.

Not surprisingly there is no shortage of gulls, particularly Herring Gulls. These birds are both adults but have significantly differing amounts of marking on the head.

But one of my all-time favourites at this time of year is the grey Plover. Grey Plovers are very common here, but in September some of the adults are still sporting their stunning summer plumage. Unfortunately, this particular individual wasn't going to let me get too close

Getting a bit more busy now with flocks of waders being pushed along the coast by the receding tide. Oystercatchers and Curlews can both be seen in flight close in to the beech allowing a number of action shots to be taken.

One of the spectacles of the North Norfolk coast is the large flocks of Knot and although Titchwell beach normally only has flocks of up to 50 birds compared to the thousands at Snettisham, they are still a joy to watch as they bustle along the shoreline. With a little stealth and patience they are very approachable allowing some superb shots to be taken,

But the stars of the show today were the numerous Bar-tailed Godwits busily feeding along the water's edge. Unlike the Black-tailed Godwit they usually prefer salt water, have a very slightly up-curved bill, a shorter tibia and a very scaly back, and in flight lack the black tail and wing bar.

Yet another superb day at Titchwell which never fails to produce the goods and must rate as the best place within a 3-hour journey radius of Hertford for bird photography.

Don't forget that for better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at flickr.com/photos/seymourbirdies

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Titchwell Marsh

20th September 2013

Today is my last visit to Titchwell this Autumn, in the hope of photographing waders close in front of the Island Hide. I was really hopeful as I approached the hide because the water level was low, with acres of mud right in front of the hide. Surprisingly, the only waders close by were a couple of Ruff which I hastily photographed to ensure I got something in the camera. Just as well, as seconds later a Hobby flew across low over the water putting everything up including the Ruff.

Duck numbers were building up heralding the advent of winter and a number of Teal were dabbling close to the path. At this time of the year they are all in eclipse plumage and therefore all look like females.

Further along the path on the new saltwater lagoon was a very obliging Black-tailed Godwit, which frequently took a break from feeding to adjust those all-important feathers. Compared to the Bar-tailed Godwit, the Black-tailed Godwit has longer legs particularly the tibia (above the knee joint), a long straight bill and a much more uniform colouration on the back. In flight it has a black band on the tail and a conspicuous wing-bar. For photos of a Bar-tailed Godwit, see the forthcoming post on Titchwell Beach.

But then came the biggest surprise of the day. From over the sea came a large bird being followed by two much smaller birds. I assumed that it was a VIP flight as the large airliner was being escorted by two RAF Tornado jets, but a quick phone call to chum and aircraft expert John Onion revealed that it was in fact an RAF VC10 tanker/transporter which had been retired from service a week ago and was touring RAF sites accompanied by the Tornados. Didn't expect that. Now on to the beach.

For better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at flickr.com/photos/seymourbirdies