Thursday, 28 January 2016

Three Target Species at Jaywick and St Osyth

16th January 2016

Time for a reminiscent return to Jaywick and St Osyth where I spent 6 weeks a year as a child and learnt much of my early birding, armed with just an Observers Book of Birds and no binoculars. The day started at St Osyth Beach where Target Species No 1 was a reasonably long-staying juvenile Glaucous Gull. As soon as we pulled into the car park I popped my head over the sea wall and there it was, so breakfast was put on hold.

At first it was sitting on rocks with the sun in an awkward position, but then it kindly flew on to the beach which was far more photographic-friendly. I started snapping away as I edged close and eventually got with 20 yards allowing some nice lose-up shots.

When it did eventually fly its enormous size made it difficult to fit it all into the frame and I had to wait until it was a bit further way before getting some shots.

Now on to Jaywick for Target Species No 2, the Snow Bunting. Up to seven birds had be present for a few weeks but were frequently being reported as "mobile", which didn't sound too good. We soon found the flock and I was amazed to see just how settled they were and totally comfortable with our presence. After time we were able to get within 10 yards of the flock and just 5 yards from one particular individual.

So finally on to Target Species No 3, the Dartford Warbler also at Jaywick, which seemed to be quite skulking when it first arrived but was now showing quite frequently, albeit briefly. This made photography very difficult, but after about an hour I did manage to get a couple of shots of it buried deep in some Sea Buckthorn. What a fantastic day some 60 years on from those earlier informative years. I certainly didn't realise then that I would be photographing Snow Buntings and a Dartford Warbler on that same beach!!!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Another Attempt at the Short-eared Owls at Rainham Marshes

15th January 2016

The forecast was for a bright sunny day so time for another attempt at photographing Short-eared Owls, but where to go, Heartwood Forest or Rainham Marshes? Well the last time I went to Heartwood Forest is was getting very muddy so by now with the recent dowpours it must be an absolute quagmire. Also it is a public access site so walkers, dog walkers and even the rather over-ambitious photographers can disturb the owls and cause them to fly to another area.

On the other hand, although the best viewing area at Rainham Marshes is a public footpath, the owls hunt over the reserve and therefore cannot be disturbed. Rainham is of course further but it takes me 25 minutes to go to Heartwood and only 45 minutes to get to Rainham, so Rainham it was.

I skipped the reserve and headed straight down to the river wall towards the Serin Mound. As I approached the Coldharbour Lane car park a pair of Stonechats were flitting around in the scrub. Whilst the male absconded across the river bank, the female stayed behind and posed quite nicely in a Hawthorn bush and then on an old dock stem.

So now on to the business in hand. The first owl appeared at 1.45pm hunting along the top of the landfill site. It disappeared from view a couple of times and eventually flew down the hill, crossing the road and out on to the marsh via the Serin Mound. By the time I got down to the cycle path it was quartering the marsh on the far side at least 200 yards away. It then started flying towards the river wall and settled on a fence post not far from the footpath that runs parallel to the wall.

It seemed quite settled so I made my way round the path eventually getting with 70 yards of the bird and started taking photographs. The bird was still settled so I edged closer taking more shots as I went. Eventually I got within 40 yards with the owl totally unperturbed, just looking around and enjoying the sunshine. It doesn't get better than this!!!

I did manage a flight shot but unfortunately it was flying away, so that will be the challenge next time.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Hawfinches at Bramfield Churchyard

13th January 2016

Bramfield Churchyard has become one of the best places in Hertfordshire, if not the south-east, to see Hawfinches. They are not residents but winter visitors and one of the birds seen last year was ringed in the Forest of Dean. They always seem to arrive after Christmas and this year were first seen on the 9th January, which more or less coincided with another sighting in a private garden in Broxbourne Woods. I had already visited the site once and saw a single bird but the light was appalling and the bird too distant for a photo. However today was much brighter and so time for another attempt and hopefully some decent photos.

As I drew up a small band of hopefuls were gathered by the churchyard gate who then informed me that the last sighting of a Hawfinch had been at 9.00am. It was now 1.30pm so things didn't look too hopeful. By now ten people were stationed at either end of the churchyard, all looking in vain at the tree tops.

I was positioned half way down the path where five of the mature Limes had been pollarded. A lady photographer was busily snapping the flock of Long-tailed Tits moving overhead when I pointed out a Nuthatch in one of the nearby pollards. She replied that she had seen a Nuthatch earlier, but would really love to see a Hawfinch. In no more than two seconds later a Hawfinch duly flew into one of the Limes in front of us, right at the top with the sun behind us against a blue sky. Moments like this you only dream about. We both clicked away until the Hawfinch flew off high to the west towards Park Wood.

Well, I am sure I will be going back again, although realistically I am unlikely to better today's shots, but who knows!!!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

An End of Year Visit to Sandy

31st December 2015

It has been a very quiet winter due to the unseasonable temperatures but I had heard some good reports from Sandy Heath so time for a visit. Not surprisingly, on such a "summers day" and the schools on holiday The Lodge car park was full and for the first time ever I had to park in the overflow car park. This was quite lucky as it turned out because in the paddocks beyond a pair of Mistle Thrushes were strutting their stuff.

A quick pop into the Meadow Hide produced very little, especially now that all the feeders were squirrel-proof  which of course also preclude Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  Therefore the only bird visiting the feeders worthy of a shot was this Nuthatch.

Anyway, now fed up withe the crowds, I went to Sandy Heath which was after all the original objective. Compared to the main reserve, Sandy Heath was alive with birds especially Reed Buntings which seemed to be concentrated around the clumps of Broom in the middle. There were also good numbers of Yellowhammer, but unlike the Reed Buntings they tended to keep out of sight in the grass.

But the stars today were the flock of 50 Redpolls feeding in the crop especially sown for birds. Unfortunately, much of the time they were close to the path but therefore deep in shade, which made life difficult. However, with a little patience I was able to get some reasonable shots.

What a great end to the year.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Purple Sandpipers at Frinton

29th December 2015

After a superb morning at Mistley it was time to move on to Frinton in search of Purple Sandpipers. The actual site I had in mind is actually mid-way between Frinton and Holland Haven, but parking at Holland Haven costs £5 whereas parking at Frinton is free. So therefore the Purple Sands were at Frinton.

As we walked along the sea wall we were distracted by the long-staying Rough-legged Buzzard sitting on a post next to the golf course, but whilst Andy tried to get a closer view I continued to the slipway by the outfall to search for our little purple friends. As I stuck my head timidly over the wall I could immediately see three birds feeding on the seaweed-covered concrete which then flew on to the slipway and starting feeding at the water's edge.

This was an ideal situation as the sun was behind me and I could get closer if the situation allowed. The only downside was that because it was 2.30pm the sun was getting low in the sky and therefore the slipway was in deep shadow giving me obvious lighting problems. I therefore wound the ISO up to 4000 and took a number of shots eventually getting down to a range of just 8 yards.

Purple Sandpipers are a very scarce wader, only being found at a handful of sites around our southern coastline and therefore it was very satisfying to find them so close to home. Well. that's my Purple Sandpiper fix for another year.