Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Visit to Lynford Arboretum

19th March 2014

Time for another visit to Lynford Arboretum, so I set off with my bag of seed. Having parked, had breakfast and a  cup of tea, I set off down the track to the gate by the feeders. There was the usual procession of tits, Chaffinches and Blackbirds picking up the crumbs, but sadly no sign of the Hawfinches that do occasionally pop in to have a drink from the water bath. However, by way of compensation, a Redwing did appear and provided me with a couple of shots.

Next stop was the Silver Firs by the brick-built folly towards the southern end of the arboretum. Here recently have been a pair of Firecrests that have provided good views, so I was hopeful of a couple of decent shots. Unfortunately, it didn't quite turn out like that. First of all just one Firecrest was calling rather intermittently, and when it did show was very active and flitting from extremely dark shady conditions to extremely bright back-lit conditions making having the camera on the right settings almost impossible.However, I did manage a few record shots.

The bird eventually fell quiet and so I took a stroll down to the lake to see what was about. There had been a number of Crossbills about and, as is normal, they would perch on top of the highest tree so that, from a photographic perspective, they were always miles away. However, as I approached the lake, I could hear the characteristic chipping quite close by. I searched all the surrounding tall trees to no avail and then realised that the two birds present were perched at head height just 10 yards in front of me in a lake-side Alder, waiting for an opportunity to get a drink. Although they were close it was not easy as they were hidden by branches but for the female I was able to adjust my position to get this shot. A clear case of being in the right place at the right time.

I then moved on to the final site which is where the bag of seed came in. At the southern end of the arboretum there is a bridge over a stream that leads from the lake. On the bridge there are a number of large concrete pillars that for some reason have a half-inch depression in the top rather like a bird table. This where I deposited the seed. Within ten seconds tits, Dunnocks, Robins and Chaffinches were gathering to see what was on offer.

However, the next bird along was rather special as, although I had photographed Marsh Tits before, this was by far the closest and under reasonably controlled conditions.

But the prize today goes to one of my favourite birds, the Nuthatch, which not only visited the seed, but also spent so much time selecting only the best seed that it provided me with ample opportunities for some really close-up shots.

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


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Spring Day at Lackford Lakes

12th March 2014

The original intention was to go to West Stow Country Park to photograph the Crossbills coming down to drink from a small puddle in the car park. I pulled into the car park and drove round the various islands looking for the row of photographers but the whole place was deserted. Then, following a description of the site and the puddle in question I did indeed find the only small depression in the whole car park which, unfortunately, was completely dry. So that would explain why there were no Crossbills and no photographers. So what to do now?

There were four choices, Lakenheath, Thetford for the Otters, Lynford Arboretum or Lackford Lakes. Lackford Lakes seemed to be the best bet as, not only was it just a couple of miles down the road, but it is 20+ years since I had been there. In those days, the gravel extraction had only just finished so the site was still fairly bare and the only "presence" on site was a couple of volunteers manning the ringing hut. Mark and I had gone there on two occasions, one to see a Caspian Tern and the second time to see a Night Heron, so what was it like now?

The massive site is now run by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and is superbly managed, with miles of well-maintained paths leading to a number of hides. Today was a bit quiet due to the time of the year with most of the wintering birds already departed and the spring migrants not yet arrived. But it was a gloriously warm day with lots of sunshine so just pleasant to be out.

The first sign of spring was a Sallow in full blossom which was attracting a number of honey bees as well as a dozen or so butterflies including Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone. Unfortunately, Brimstones are one of those butterflies that always fold their wings when they alight so the only way to appreciate their full beauty is when they are in flight.

The warmth of the sun had brought many of the residents into full song including this very confiding Dunnock. Many birds are much easier to photograph when they are singing as they are more interested in staking out their territory and listening to the response rather than worrying about you.

Time for lunch in one of the hides and the spring theme continued. Black-headed Gulls were already staking their claims on the small gravel islands and were already into their courtship displays like this female begging for food.

The drake ducks were all looking resplendent in their smart breeding attire particularly this magnificent Shelduck, my favourite duck. Although their new plumage is now complete it is still necessary to devote several hours each day to keeping all the feathers in pristine condition and in place.

But today the real herald of Spring was this singing Chiffchaff, although on the 12th March it is impossible to say whether it is an early arrival or one of the ever-increasing wintering birds. I will definitely be coming back here.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

In Search of a Raven

4th March 2014

Third time lucky. I had previously visited The Lodge on the 17th December 2013 and the 7th February 2014 to see what the Ravens were up to. Not a sign. But it is now much later in the season and they should be on eggs, so another visit was warranted. After a cup of tea in the car park I made my way up to the fort and was still approaching the block of Scots Pines when a large corvid flew up into the trees and started to "cronk". Well, that was easy. I took a photo but the bird was deep in shade with the sun at the wrong angle so I carried on to get round to the other side of the pines where there was a small band of birders waiting to see the newly reported Parrot Crossbills.

Here the light was much better and the bird seemed very content to just sit and watch the world go by. It moved a couple of times giving further opportunities in different light conditions. Just look at that beak!!

But the most exciting moment was when the bird rose up out of the wood to have a go at a Buzzard which was coming a bit too close to his territory. I managed to get just one shot of the dog-fight which ensued and this clearly shows that the Raven has a slight size advantage, bearing in mind that that were just feet apart.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

In Search of an Adder

26th February 2014

I haven't seen many Adders because, despite what you hear from dog walkers saying that their dog has been bitten by an Adder, Adders have NEVER been recorded or photographed in Hertfordshire. Every record that has been followed up has either been unproven or a Grass Snake. I suspect that this is because Adders are known to have a "V" on the back of their neck, but so do Grass Snakes. Anyway, with Adders in mind I set off to Cudmore Grove Country Park at East Mersea.

As I walked down the path to the hide, spring was in the air with the singing of a Dunnock in some adjacent brambles. In my opinion, Dunnocks are grossly under-rated and, although predominantly brown and grey, have some lovely markings.

Now on to the flooded grazing meadows and the usual suspects were present. What was different this time was that the Black-tailed Godwits, instead of being out in the middle of the water, were feeding on land on my side of the water. Never seen this before and an opportunity not to be missed.

On to the sea wall and didn't know where to look next. There was a lot of traffic commuting from the grazing fields and the beach including Curlew, Brent Geese and Wigeon, and the sound of all three was superb.

Once on the beach, the tide was well on its way out with plenty of mud. A bit too late for most of the waders which were now a mile away. One of the few that were close was this Ringed Plover and a couple of Oystercatchers.

Out on the mud was a large flock of Golden Plover. The mud looked a bit dodgy, but if you picked your way choosing the parts mixed with shingle you were able to get quite close.

At that point a bird of prey came through and spooked them all causing absolute mayhem. They all flew high in the sky as they always do, well above the Lapwings, and circled round until the danger had passed. Then they gradually lost height and settled once more.

So how did I do on the Adder hunt. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!!!

Based on insider information I was able to visit their preferred spot to get some photos. Last year I saw them, but I was only armed with my trusty 400mm lens. That was a disaster because they were so close that I couldn't get them in focus, and couldn't get back far enough because of the bushes. This year I was fore-warned and took my 75-300mm lens. It was still quite early in the season so just one adult and a young brown one from last year.

Friday, 14 March 2014

My First Visit to Wallasea Island

22nd February 2014

Today's plan was to kill two birds with one stone. The first was to return to Two Tree Island after the success with the Greenshank and Grey Plover and then pay a visit to the new RSPB reserve being developed at Wallasea Island. When I arrived at Two Tree the weather was fantastic with wall-to-wall blue sky and I quickly made my way to the hide overlooking the saline lagoon. What an amazing difference from the previous visit. Instead of a Greenshank and Grey Plover feeding right in front of the hide, the only waders present were some Redshanks and Oytsercatchers feeding right at the far end. So after giving it half an hour I returned to the car for the next leg of the journey.

The reserve was well signposted from Brays Lane at Ashingdon and I was soon driving up the newly laid track up to the car park. Currently it is not possible to go any further as construction work on the new scrapes is continuing. It is possible view the various waders from the sea wall overlooking the River Crouch, but the main interest at the moment is the harriers and Short-eared Owls that hunt across the farmland.

It was now 1.30pm and I was advised that the activity normally commences at about 2.30pm, so I had an hour to spend looking round. I noticed a small flock of Corn Buntings sitting in a small sallow about 100 yards back along the track, and therefore decided to try for some shots from my mobile hide. With my camera on the front seat and the driver's window wound down in readiness I cruised slowly up the road with, as luck would have it, the birds on my side of the track.

When I reached the sallow the birds were still sitting there and I was able to start taking some shots. Most of the birds were hidden deep inside the bush but one particular individual was sitting in the open on my side of the tree. And if that wasn't enough, the sun came out and I was able to manoeuvre the car backwards and forwards to get the light in the optimum direction. If only all bird photography was this easy!!

I made my way back to the car park and was able to see a few Marsh Harriers and a ringtail Hen Harrier but, unfortunately, none came close which the Hen is reported as doing on occasions. The Short-eared Owls had still not put in an appearance by the time I left at 4.00pm but it was probably still a bit early. I am sure that Wallasea Island is going to be a great reserve to visit when it is completed in 2019.