Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at Twyford Lock

10th April 2014

Last year a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers bred at Twyford Lock near Bishops Stortford and this year the male is once again excavating a nest in a tall dead tree. It was now being seen fairly regularly, mainly in the mornings, and so I headed over there at about 10.00am and took up my position on the river back waiting for the bird to appear. I could hear the male calling occasionally but in the trees at the back and always out of view. so just a waiting game before he returned to continue his nest-building duties.

While I was waiting a pair of Grey Wagtails flew up the river with one carrying on across the horse paddocks, but the second bird alighting on a fence post just 15 yards way. I instantly started clicking away but the bird was obviously quite settled so I started edging my way forward. I eventually got within 10 yards of the bird allowing some great close-ups. By selecting a narrow depth of field I was able to blur out the background which providing a nice back-drop.

At that point the LSW returned to the tree but then flew off into a neighbouring tree and settled quite upright on one of the branches, looking totally out of character. He then returned to the nest tree and carried on the work of excavating this year's hole before flying off for a well-earned rest.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Little Ringed Plovers at Amwell

9th April 2014

The sun had come out and I needed a break from jobs, so grabbed the camera and went down to Amwell for a bit of exercise and fresh air. Not too much around but what was new was a pair of Little Ringed Plovers that were spending most of their time feeding on the muddy pools below the ramp next to the viewpoint. Note the yellow eye ring which separates them from Ringed Plovers.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

....and now on to Fowlmere

8th April 2014

After a very successful morning at Church Hill despite the near gale-force wind, the next stop was Fowlmere which can be quiet at times, but it is a lovely walk with plenty of photo opportunities. Even more so today as I had both my new macro and my 400mm lenses.

The walk through the wood was fairly uneventful so I took some time out to photograph some bright blue Field Forget-me-not and Pussy Willow. What I love about flowers is that they are well-behaved, don't fly away and will even be there the next day And even better if they are in a sheltered position.

Further on down the path we left the wood and moved on to the boardwalk through the reedbed. Here the colourful flowers of the woodland were replaced by the flowers of Great Pond Sedge which although fairly dull is of a much more intricate structure.

Also along that stretch were a number of hoverflies and bee flies. I did try and get some shots of the hoverflies but they were fairly fast and one minute against a sky background and the next minute settled on a tree so getting the exposure right was tricky. However the bee-flies were far more cooperative and eventually I was able to get a reasonable shot.

We had now turned up the track to the Reed Bed Hide and what we saw next was rather astonishing. For there growing in a trunk of standing dead wood was..........Ground Ivy. Time for change of name methinks!

A rather confiding Chiffchaff was singing its heart out and eventually came to the edge of the tree for some photos

Further up the track a male Linnet was also strutting his stuff and was quite tolerant of a couple of birders with cameras clicking away just 10 yards away.

And so on to our final destination, the Reed Bed Hide. I have never seen anything untoward from this hide, but the wildfowl are usually fairly active and do tend to fly backwards and forwards in front of the hide giving some superb opportunities for some flight shots like this pair of Mallard.

It is even easier when you get to recognise the body language of the Grey Lag Geese which tells you that they are about to take off.

I could do this for hours.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

In Search of the Pasque Flower

8th April 2014

The Pasque Flower is very rare being found at only 19 sites in the UK, and is the county flower of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Its local stronghold is Church Hill on Therfield Heath and I have been meaning to go up there and photograph the flowers for over 30 years now but have never got round to it. However, now I am armed with my new macro lens this year was the year. They flower around Easter time but the exact period is rather weather dependent so we set off in the hope that we had got it about right.

The weather forecast was for sunny spells but with a 15mph westerly blow which is not conducive to flower photography, but when we arrived on the heath the wind was almost gale-force and difficult to walk against. As we arrived at the end of the wood by the golf course we turned onto Church Hill and had hoped to see a carpet of purple flowers. There were none.

The hill has an extremely short sward due to the substantial rabbit population and a few plants were staking their claim on this fairly inhospitable chalkland. It was noticeable that the Cowslips were relatively short compared to their relatives living in more sheltered conditions, and a few bare patches were home to the Common Dog Violet. There was precious little else.

We continued our way up the hill and came across this structure. Could this be the gateway to the Pasque Flowers? We opened the gate and went through, being careful to close the gate behind us.

But instead of taking us to the Pasque Flowers, it led us to this important public announcement. It is refreshing to know the Police are looking after the golf course, but it is a shame the printer cartridge ran out before detailing the punishment if found guilty.

Things were not looking good. We continued to scour the various hills but no sign of any purple flowers or even any buds. But at that point we climbed on to the last hillock and there before us were a number of these beautiful flowers dotted around. This is a very poor season by comparison, as in good years the plants can number several thousands, but two hundred is quite sufficient for a few photographs. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A Spotted Redshank at Amwell

1st April 2014

It was on the 31st March that I received a couple of phone calls to say that a Spotted Redshank had been found at Amwell. This is a real mega and the first at this site for 12 years. Unfortunately I was unable to get down straight away so had to wait to the next day in the hope it would stay around.

As I made my way up to the viewpoint I was told it was still there but sometimes elusive. It was frequenting the far edge of the viewpoint and sometimes would disappear for long periods behind the blocks of Phragmites. However, after a few minutes, it re-appeared and started to move towards the viewpoint. Things were looking good.

Eventually, after a couple of excursions behind the reeds, it ended up feeding in one of the pools just below the viewpoint allowing a number of shots to be taken. If only they were all this easy.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Dungeness Glaucous Gull

28th March 2014

Time once again for Stuart and I to make our spring visit to Dungeness, and with a decent south-easterly blow I was expecting to see flocks of Wheatears being pushed off the lighthouse road in front of us. No such luck, in fact I would venture to say that on the bird front it was the quietest we had ever witnessed in over 10 years. Therefore we decided to turn our attention to the 1st winter Glaucous Gull that had been present for some time.

It would appear from reports that the bird commutes from the fishing boats to The Patch, so we opted to start at the latter. As we hauled our way up the gravel bank a small work party was repairing the roof of the sea-watching hide and so we took the opportunity to enquire about the Glaucous Gull. As luck would have it they knew exactly where it was, not at the fishing boats or The Patch, but exactly half way in between, somewhere where we would not have looked.

At first the bird was a bit timid and looked uneasy even when I was still 50 or more yards away. It then flew past me and landed on the shingle bank below the hide, which was much better as I now had the light behind me. Oddly enough it now seemed far more settled and I was able to get some shots before, for no reason at all, it took off and circled around my head. Absolutely superb, but on occasions it was so close I couldn't get it all into the frame. Still, mustn't grumble.

Monday, 7 April 2014

What Do You Think Of The Shoreline So Far? Rubbish!!

24th March 2014

A lovely sunny day so Andy and I popped down to Rainham Marshes to see if there were any early migrants. As has often been the case recently there was nothing in front of the Pyfleet Scrape hide so we decided to do an anti-clockwise circuit. Considering the warm and sunny weather there were not many birds in song, except that is for Cetti's Warblers. There seem to be more than ever this year and the one close to the cordite stores was particularly vocal. As is normally the case it was deafening just a few yards away but totally hidden until, that is, it broke cover and flew into a tree. Although it was fairly deep inside it was just visible and offered a rare opportunity for a shot. Not my best, but a good start to the day.

Continuing round along the northern edge by the railway a Coot was enjoying the sun on the sheltered edge of his reedmace home, and a Reed Bunting put in a rather stunning appearance posing on a fresh green Hawthorn. A good sign of Spring but not quite what we were looking for, so as we entered the return leg we left the reserve via the one-way turnstile and went up on to the river wall.

The tide was right out so no sign of any pipits, but as we walked west along the foreshore we could see movement amongst the vast quantity of rubbish dumped there by the tidal surge. We walked almost up to Coldharbour Lane before we caught up with the four Wheatears that were always moving ahead of us. Our patience was eventually rewarded when we managed to approach close enough for some shots although it is noticeable that many shots have a rubbish background or, to be more precise, a background full of rubbish. So what do you think of it so far?