Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Stonechat in the Car Park

15th November 2013

We had popped into the new Abberton visitor centre to road test their facilities when I noticed a bird perched high on a Reedmace seed head. Between the car park and the reservoir fence there is a small pond with plenty of marginal vegetation including several stands of Reedmace and this was clearly an ideal habitat for a pair of Stonechats. Both birds were quite flighty, but on just one occasion the female let me approach close enough for a shot.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Bimble Around the Bramfield Area

13th November 2013

It was about that time of year that Hawfinches start appearing at Bramfield Church and so I set off to have a look and take in some of the surrounding areas. First stop was Holly Grove Road where I could hear Golden Plover calling from the Rape crop but none were visible. Simon Knott had said that last week a large flock had landed in the Rape and totally disappeared. There was however a flock of 40 Meadow Pipits in the Rape which were quite flighty and often landed on the wires. After a short wait I did manage to shuffle close to one but, although pipits do frequently sit on wires, I am much happier to photograph them in more natural surroundings, like this one sitting in the Rape.

Then on to the church but didn't stop as a gang of gardeners were at work with leaf blowers.

Bramfield Woods was looking good in its autumnal finery and the air was totally still. Unfortunately you could hear a pin drop because there were no birds calling at all and no evidence of any Crossbills. However, on the way back to the car there was a small tit flock (with only tits) and a few Redwings feeding on a large Rowan in the wood.

Finally, I called in at Tewinbury where there were the usual compulsory two Little Egrets. The light was superb so I couldn't resist a shot of this one with its reflection in the mill-pond calm water.

I then settled in for the long wait for a Kingfisher to appear. Actually, the wait wasn't too long and I managed to get a few shots but it never came really close or stayed for long.

Friday, 22 November 2013

There's No Place Like Holme

12th November 2013

No, not Holme-Next-Sea in Norfolk but Holme in Cambridgeshire. This was my destination today to try and photograph the Great Grey Shrike that has been in the area for several days, and on a couple of occasions had come fairly close. When I arrived the law according to Sod reared its ugly head as the bird had disappeared and hadn't been seen for an hour.

So I joined a couple of other hopefuls on the grass verge of the amazingly straight and busy B660 Long Drove, waiting for the shrike to re-appear. Luckily, there were some other distractions to pass the time like this flock of 20 Fieldfare that chucked their way past, close enough for a shot of this individual.

At that point, all the birds in the area got up and flew around in a panic and the cause was soon apparent. A male Sparrowhawk was circling around looking for a lunch opportunity and as luck would have it, it carried out a couple of loops around our heads. Why can't all birds of prey be that cooperative?

But then, the moment we had all been waiting for. The shrike had emerged from hiding and was back on some nearby power lines. At first it was a couple of hundred yards away, but eventually moved closer, glinting in the sun. Not as close as I would have liked and possibly not as close as reported yesterday, but a couple of nice shots nevertheless. Another one for the "another day" list.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Where Eagles Dare

19th November 2013

It was forecast to be a bright and sunny day so Andy Johnson and I set off for Lakenheath with no particular targets in mind. Like everywhere else at the moment it was very quiet, but we did manage to see a Bittern in flight, 5 Marsh Harriers and a couple of Kingfishers. We also saw some eagles. No, not the feathered variety but some some metal ones flying out of RAF Lakenheath.

Despite the name RAF Lakenheath, it is in fact a United States Air Force base, hence the use of American F15 Eagle fighter jets. As the airfield is based on UK soil, it must be registered as a Royal Air Force base.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Fungi Foray

7th November 2013

I was going to Sandy today to see what was happening in front of the hide. I knew that due to the mild weather that we have been experiencing up to now it was likely to be quiet, so for the first time ever I took with me my 100-300mm zoom to try my luck at some fungi. This lens is fully compatible with my camera but is 15 years old so I wasn't sure what the quality would be like.

As expected, the hide was very quiet and although the ponds had been cleared of algae and the feeders were up, there only a few tits around and no birds coming down for a drink. However, the reliable Grey Squirrel was around and posed for a couple of shots, followed by the male Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The only moment of excitement was the appearance of a Coal Tit, as I still haven't managed to get a good shot of one of these yet. Unfortunately, unlike other tits which approach the feeders carefully often perching on a nearby branch before going to the feeders, the Coal Tit strategy is to get in and out quickly so most of the opportunities are when the birds are on the feeders which I dislike. I did eventually manage to get two, but a good shot will have to wait for another day.

So after an hour it was time to move on and I thought I would explore the Old Heath for the first time. Now that we are into November, although the trees were a picture, most of the colour on the ground had gone. The only two exceptions were a few Ragwort plants and some Gorse, which tends to flower on and off all year round.

But then I stumbled on some fungus. This one is a bracket fungus called Birch Polypore and, as the name suggests, is host-specific. The second photo is also Birch Polypore but looks different, probably because it started life on a vertical tree which then got blown over and the fungus had to re-orientate

This one is the more traditional mushroom shape and is either a Parasol or possibly a Shaggy parasol, the main differentiator be the markings on the stems which unfortunately are out of focus. So are you all impressed with my vast knowledge of fungi? Well, no need to be as I know absolutely nothing about fungi but they were all kindly identified by the Herts and Beds Fungi Group to whom I am extremely grateful.

However, I didn't need any help with this one as it is the famous Fly Agaric which is normally associated with elves and goblins. However, you won't see any of these fairytale characters around these days, something to do with Elf and Safety Regulations!!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Birds n Berries

4th November 2013

One of the things that I look forward to in the autumn is the appearance of Hawthorn berries. Not only do they provide food for birds during the winter, but also provide a super accompaniment for bird photos and in some of my shots they enjoy equal star rating. This year, due to the wet spring and the hot summer, there is a bumper crop and today at Rainham the bushes were no exception.

The first opportunity came when I was passing the cordite stores and a Robin was ticking loudly at the top of its Hawthorn. With a clear blue sky background this produced some shots with a distinct Christmassy feel.

The next subject to come along was this Magpie which was keeping an eye on me as I was waiting for the pipits to appear on the foreshore. I always find Magpies difficult to photograph due to their stark black and white appearance but here the foliage and berries soften the image which is set off by the blue sky.

But what was unexpected was this Meadow Pipit which suddenly decided to leave the safety of the foreshore and perch on top of one of the Hawthorns near the river wall. I am use to seeing pipits sitting on tops of bushes at inland sites, but in my experience they tend to stay on the ground and at worst on a barbed wire fence on the coast. Still a rewarding shot nevertheless.

Don't forget that for better reproduction of my photos, see my photo gallery at


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Another Pipit Project

4th November 2013

Time for another go at those pipits on the foreshore at Rainham. Today the high tide, and a very high tide was forecast, was at 1.15pm and would hopefully push all the pipits from the lower areas that are out of reach up to the high level by the path. However, it was still only 10.30am and therefore time for a preamble around the reserve.

First stop was the Purfleet Hide where, unfortunately, there were still no birds close-by but duck numbers were increasing and the Wigeon in particular were getting more colourful. There were also a couple of Shoveler getting in on the action.

This heron had stayed motionless for nearly an hour but eventually decided that when you have an itch there is really no alternative.

Time to move on  and as I was approaching the cordite stores the Lapwings were obviously being spooked by a bird of prey. I couldn't see anything but that is often the case as by the time the birds lift, the bird of prey is in the next field. I love photographing Lapwings in flight, but they are so much better against a stormy sky.

On the way to the Ken Barrett hide a pair of Stonechats were flitting among the bushes out on the grassland. Unfortunately, the fence prevented me getting any closer and the sun was at an awkward angle but I did manage to get this shot of the female after a while.

But now back to the job in hand - to photograph a Rock Pipit. The tide should now be up, so all down to the foreshore. Well, when I got there I was met with a rather astonishing sight. The whole of the foreshore with its usual accompaniment of flotsom and jetsom was under water, with even the aforementioned flotsom and jetsom bobbing around. I was not sure whether this was good for pipits or not. Anyway, not to be daunted I crept along the path waiting for a giveaway call.....and then it came.

I did eventually manage to spot the pipit, although a streaky brown bird against a streaky brown background is not easy, and loosed off a number of shots. Unfortunately, the clean appearance of the bird with pencil-thin striations showed that this was in fact a Meadow Pipit. A lovely bird all the same.

However, a little further along the river wall I came across another pipit which, unfortunately, was not as approachable as the last bird but was the one I was after, a Rock Pipit. Note the dirtier greyer appearance and the smudgy striations.

Well, mission accomplished but not as good as I had hoped.........but we must all save some for another day.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Magic of East Mersea

23rd October 2013

This is my first real visit to East Mersea this winter after my rather disastrous attempt in September when the park and beach was full of holiday makers. Now it is a very different proposition with hardly a person in sight and bird numbers growing at an alarming rate.

The Little Egret roost is still attracting up to 70 birds, but today there were just a few stragglers loafing around at the back of the pond, and further down on the flooded grazing fields there were several hundred Black-tailed Godwits having a snooze after feeding all night

Duck numbers are also building up with several Teal and Wigeon.

Why go all the way to Snettisham when you can see the spectacle of large flocks of waders from The Point. OK, we are not talking about thousands, but certainly several hundred. These are Dunlin although the more eagle-eyed of you will be able to pick out a single Ringed Plover.

But the bonus today was this trio of Wigeon which gave a fly-past in formation reminiscent of the ducks hanging on the wall in Hilda Ogden's lounge.

Don't you just love East Mersea?