Monday, 30 June 2014

.....and now on to Cley Marshes Reserve

9th June 2014

Now on to the reserve and the first port of call was the cluster of three hides in the centre. We had only just reached the perimeter path when our attention was drawn to a Sedge Warbler which seemed hell bent on posing on a Hawthorn bush. A number of people were queuing up to take a shot and he seemed to relish all the attention.

Once in the central hide the view was very much as expected with relatively few species on show due to the breeding season, but those that were present performed very well. This group of Avocets were feeding cooperatively, all benefiting from the disturbance in the water, and these Black-tailed Godwits were uncharacteristically close but were frequently disturbed by an over-flying harrier. Quite a large flock of non-breeding birds.

The Shelducks too were closer than normal allowing their superb plumage to be appreciated, although this male Pintail loafing on one of the banks was a bit of a surprise at this time of year, and seemingly unperturbed by the Grey Heron that flew low over its head

Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed a brown duck with ducklings swimming down the ditch just two yards in front of the hide. Expecting it to be a Mallard I was pleasantly surprised that a closer inspection revealed it to be a Shoveler, so close that I could not get the ducklings in with my prime lens.

I think that for me, apart from the storm damage and damage caused by the tidal surge, the main change at Cley over the last few years is the number of Spoonbills present, obviously helped by the breeding colony further down the coast. Continental birds have been appearing at Cley out of the breeding season for the least 25 years, but would then return to mainland Europe with the onset of summer. However today, in the middle of June, there were nine birds present.

But the star of the day was this female Marsh Harrier which flew past the hide, despite the attentions of the local Lapwings, carrying a small chick of some sort back to the nest in the middle of the reserve to feed its young. Never seen  a harrier carry prey in its bill before.Magic!!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Salthouse and Cley Beach

9th June 2014

Today was the start of our weeks holiday at Blakeney and the first port of call was to be the car park behind the sea wall at Salthouse. As we made our way down Beach Road I couldn't understand why all the cars were parking along the road, but as we approached the car park the reason soon became evident. The car park was under two feet of gravel following the tidal surge.

As I got out of the car I could hear a strange tinkling noise and there right in front of me was a Meadow Pipit with a beak full of food. I grabbed a few shots and then backed away to allow it to deliver its food to its young presumably in the nest or hiding in the grass.

Then on to Cley Beach for my annual attempt to photograph the Little and Sandwich Terns that fly along the coast to their feeding grounds from the tern colonies at Blakeney Point. Here too the landscape is quite different from a few years ago. That fantastic landmark, Arkwright's Cafe is long gone and the Everest-like sea wall has now been abandoned by the Environment Agency and is now no more than a very wide and flattened mole-hill. You can even see the sea from the car park.

The main challenge when photographing terns is to keep vigilant as it can go fairly quiet at times, but if you lose concentration you will suddenly have half a dozen terns zipping past without having their photograph taken. It is also uncanny sometimes when you have a sixth sense that you are being watched. At one such moment I turned round and came face-to-face with this Grey Seal which was obviously curious as to why I was standing at the water's edge.

But then down to the main business. It is quite tricky to get the focus and settings all right simultaneously but practice makes perfect and after a couple of hours, yes a couple of hours, I was able to get a few reasonable shots.

As I moved back to the car park I could hear a Sky Lark singing quite nearby. Now what I have found over the years is that it fairly easy to determine the direction of a singing Sky Lark, but much more difficult to work out its height. Therefore I usually point my binoculars in the right direction and pan up and down until the bird is found. This is precisely what I did and I eventually found it......sitting on a fence post not too far away. What a confiding bird, but nothing compared to what happened next.

I could a shrill peeping noise coming from the Eye Field. As  got closer I could see that the source of the alarm call was a Redshank sitting on yet another fence post obviously concerned about the safety of its young hidden nearby. The bird was quite fearless and even flew to a nearer post at one point allowing this photo to be taken. If only all birds were that cooperative. I am going to start a campaign for more fence posts.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Ospreys on Parade at Rutland Water

5th June 2014

My first visit to Rutland Water was some 25 years ago. Mark and I got up at the unearthly hour of 4.00am to get up to Rutland to twitch the very rare......Little Egret!! Although I have been back a couple of times, this is the first time since the Ospreys started breeding.

We arrived at the visitor centre and our first taste of the reserve was these Kestrel chicks peering out of their nest box.

Next came the long walk to the Waderscrape Hide and entered the hide at 10.30am hoping there were some seats left. There were indeed some seats, but we were then told that the Ospreys had flown off at 9.00am and hadn't been seen since. The story of  my life. Anyway, we had all day so settled down to wait for their return which shouldn't be long. The only problem with this logic is that the pair were not breeding and therefore there was nothing to draw them back to the nest in any sort of a hurry.

Luckily there were some birds around to keep us occupied. This male Reed Bunting was feeding young just in front of the hide which allowed several photo opportunities.

Also seemingly happy on the pool was this male Tufted Duck which literally changed colour with just a couple of degrees twist of the head, changing from black to green and back to purple.

An enjoyable sight was this pair of Sand Martins which came and settled on the barbed wire just outside the hide. This was the first time that I have seen Sand Martins settled in front of the camera and allowed a couple of shots.

However, apart from the stars of the day (hopefully), was this Water Vole which kept chugging across the channels cut in the reeds. Unfortunately it never stopped long enough for some feeding photos , but still the first I have seen with a camera to hand for a couple of years.

And then the great moment arrived, just five hours later. The pair of Ospreys arrived back at the nest but unfortunately flew straight to the nest rather than completing a couple of laps of the bay as I had hoped. Well, mustn't complain. At least we saw these magnificent birds.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

...and now Early Summer at Rainham

31st May 2014

Early summer at Rainham Marshes and what an action-packed day it was. Today I went down with Richard from next door, well he used to live next door 35 years ago, and we decided to take the clockwise route. The stream along the southern fringe didn't turn up anything out of the ordinary but was a photographer's dream with plenty of subjects posing for the camera. And at this time of year any birdsong was drowned out by the "song" of the Marsh Frog. Yes I know I have already got 100s of photos of Marsh Frogs, but..........

Further along the ditch were the tell-tale ripples of a Little Grebe which seemed fairly relaxed about my presence but, nevertheless, kept a watchful eye on what I was up to.

And in the same stretch but on the other side of the path was a Reed Warbler taking advantage of the warm summer sun to combine a spot of sunbathing with a spell of preening.

When we eventually arrived at the Target Pools behind the Butts Hide there was a lot more activity. At least two pairs of Redshank had young quite close to the path and every time a threat appeared such as a crow or a gull the adults rose into the air to see them off. It was on one such sortie that I managed to grab this inflight shot.

On the return loop where the path runs parallel with the railway a male Reed Bunting was giving it its all at the top of a Reedmace stem. Some describe their song as monotonous but I love it. My old mate Jeff Ewing, when studying them for his PhD found that the the first notes say that "I am a Reed Bunting" and the second part of the song is a unique signature for that particular bird. How amazing is that?

We were now crossing the bridge over the stream and a Hairy Dragonfly was whizzing around after insects and eventually came to rest on some vegetation at the side of the stream. I clicked off a few photos and it wasn't until I looked at them later that I realised that it had caught a ladybird and had landed to eat it.

We were now approaching the Cordite Stores and there were quite a number birds in the bushes. First up was this female Linnet which posed at the top of a bush followed by a cracking male Greenfinch singing away at the top of a tree.

By now we were on the boardwalk where there was a family of young Cetti's Warblers flitting around in the bushes and undergrowth, so time for a wait to see if any would show themselves. While we were waiting we noticed a number of Common Lizards sunning themselves on the warm boardwalk, and this particular individual seems to have lost part of its tail at some point. There was also a Whitethroat collecting food for its nearby brood.

But eventually our patience was rewarded when a young Cetti's Warbler popped up from the vegetation and showed itself briefly in one of the Sallow trees. Not my best shot of a Cetti's but rewarding nevertheless and a superb end to the day.