Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Short-eared Owls at Burwell Fen

13th November 2016

Last winter was a bumper year for Short-eared Owls with birds present at many sites and some holding up to 6 birds. However, so far this winter there have only been a smattering of records, most of which seem to be birds just passing through, with no reports of "residents". The only exception in the south appears to be Burwell Fen where up to nine birds are present. I went to Burwell two winters ago so time for another visit.

I arrived at about 1 pm to be in place for 1.30 - 2pm when they would normally start flying. However, yesterday and during the night there had been a fair amount of rain and therefore the birds had been flying before mid-day. This in itself would not be a problem except for the fact that then they were flying in sun and when I arrived, contrary to the forecast, it started to cloud over.

Anyway, that's the excuses out of the way and so I took up my place on one of the many paths that criss-cross the site and waited. Initially there was just one bird that would fly for just 5-10 seconds and then drop down ie just changing position rather than hunting. But then at about 1.30pm it all kicked off and there were six birds in the air at once and with I suspect a further two birds present.

Therefore the next couple of hours were quite busy, with most of the time spent trying to watch four birds at once to see which one was coming closer. A number of times I missed a very close bird because I was concentrating on another, but that's life. I did manage to get some shots, but I will be back another day when the wind and sun are a bit more favourable.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Our Trip to Weymouth and Portland - Third Stop Portland Bill

7th November 2016

Now on to Portland Bill and perhaps not too surprisingly it hadn't changed a bit since my last visit 25+ years ago. We used to holiday at Chesil Beach in those days so I am very familiar with the place and was looking forward to revisiting some old haunts. First stop was The Bill itself and at first it appeared that the only residents were this pair of Oystercatchers that were grabbing a nap on one of the rocky outcrops.

However, It wasn't too long before I connected with my target species, the Rock Pipit. I often photograph Rock Pipits on the Essex coast but there the pipits are the migratory winter visitor Scandinavian Rock Pipit subspecies littoralis, which are sometimes difficult to approach. At Portland the Rock Pipits are the resident nominate species Anthus petrosus and will hopefully be more used to humans and therefore more approachable. Luckily my theory proved to be correct.

What was surprising, however, was that a couple of the birds were spending a lot of time in and around the Golden Samphire growing in the rock crevices. The reason for this was that there were a number of moths roosting in the plants and the birds were absolutely gorging themselves on them. From this photograph it was possible to identify the moths as Angle Shades.

If you just sat down on the rocks near the Golden Samphire the birds would fly in and walk around just a few yards away. So yes, I am now confident that the resident Rock Pipit petrosus is far more confiding than the Scandinavian littoralis.

Now time to go up to the hills and have a look along the cliffs by the western coast. Once we left the small area of civilisation by The Bill, we were joined by one of the resident Buzzards. And in keeping with what I have said before about the birds in this part of Dorset being so tame, this Stock Dove flew in from across the fields and landed on a nearby fence as if to see what we were up to.

As was the case 25 years ago, Stonechats were everywhere and this female posed on the cliffs with the deep blue sea as background.

But this male from another pair posed in more traditional style against the sky.

But the star of the show, not only today but for the whole trip, was this Raven that posed just 10 yards away. We had found a pair on top of the hill which then proceeded to fly down the hill and landed in a ploughed field. We made our way down there and got with some 30 yards of the bird but it had its back to us and the sun was straight into the lens of the camera.

It was clear that I had to get past the bird to get the sun behind me, but that would have entailed walking past the bird within just 6 yards, which was unlikely to be possible without making it fly. To make things worse I was constrained by the ploughed field on one side and a fence on the other, So therefore the strategy was to walk slowly past the bird and hope that it would either hop or fly just a few yards further into the field allowing me to get past.

So off I set. I walked very slowly taking care not to make eye contact with the bird and was soon within 10 yards of the bird, which still seemed to be very settled. I inched forward and unbelievably was soon alongside the Raven. I carried on as I needed room to get past the bird, turn round and lift the camera, all without spooking the bird at the last minute.

I stopped and slowly turned round when I was still just 10 yards from the bird and started taking some shots and unbelievably the Raven didn't bat an eyelid. Well, apart from the second shot when it showed its nictitating membrane, or third eyelid.

I was so close that I couldn't get all the bird in, and only managed it by turning the camera on its side to take a portrait shot. HOW GOOD IS THAT????

What a fantastic end to fantastic 2-day trip to our old stomping ground of Weymouth and Portland.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Our Trip to Weymouth and Portland - Second Stop Chesil Beach

6th November 2016

After a most successful visit to Lodmoor it was time to move on to our next stop at the visitor centre at Ferrybridge on Chesil Beach. The mud flats looked most inviting and were attracting a sprinkling of waders including these Dunlin, which in keeping with all the other birds in Dorset were allowing me to get to within 10 yards. In fact the shots taken when they were asleep were just 6 yards away.

Ringed Plovers were also very common although not quite as approachable. This, however, was more than compensated for because they absolutely shone in the afternoon sun.

Less expected than the Ringed Plovers was a Sky Lark that was feeding amongst the Sea Purslane growing on the shore. The Sky Lark was not too bothered by my presence up to a point, but did stop feeding once or twice to try and assess what I was up to.

But the stars of the show here were the Mediterranean Gulls of which there about 12 amongst the Black-headed Gulls. They were absolutely gleaming in the sun and what was noticeable from the shots that I had taken was that they were all adults. Even more resplendent against a background of dark sea-weed.

Well, what a fantastic first day of our trip, so now off to the hotel for a meal and a few beers before our trip to Portland Bill in the morning.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Our Trip to Weymouth and Portland - First Stop Lodmoor

6th November 2016

Time for another 2-day birding trip with No 2 son Stuart and this time the selected destination was Weymouth and Portland. Having battled the road works on the M3 we arrived at 11.30am and headed straight for Lodmoor. The last time I came to Lodmoor I found a White-winged Black Tern, but that was at least 25 years ago.

The great thing about Lodmoor is that the western path is right next to the various scrapes allowing birds to come very close should they choose to do so. The first bird to appear was this Carrion Crow which sat on the fence just 8 yards away, possibly hoping to share some of our lunch. The crow was joined by a Grey Heron which was lurking in the reeds not far away.

Teal can sometimes be quite confiding, but the birds here came ridiculously close remembering that you are standing in full view on a path. The Shoveler were also quite happy to sift the water just a few yards away. The bird in the last photo is still coming out of eclipse or juvenile plumage.

On the way back the Teal had been joined somewhat surprisingly by this cracking female Pintail which was just 10 yards from the path. Surprisingly because Pintail are not a common bird around here.

Even the Snipe were tame and would strut around in the open rather than sitting tight in the reeds some distance away.

But the star of the show was the Spoonbill which, although a little too distant at times, was still the closest I have ever got to one, so was most enjoyable.

At one point it must have come across a small shoal of fish as it went into a fishing frenzy, jumping around in all directions.

Well what a fantastic start to our trip at this beautifully managed reserve, so now on to Chesil Beach.