Northern Shoveler over-winter on the Exe Estuary, here in Devon in large numbers.
As a bird photographer, I am very fond of this species which has a lovely combination of colours even when in their more drab winter plumage.
It's quite difficult to get photographs of these ducks in flight unless the weather is sunny and very bright but equipment is very important. Recently I have purchased a new Pentax 300mm prime lens which is absolutely fabulous and has far exceeded my expectations. Had I known how good it was I would have bought one months ago.
This is a drake Wigeon, another species that must number thousands on the marsh at the moment.
Of course these are not ducks but Canada Geese, a species that is not very popular here in the UK. They are a noisy, aggressive species.
I had an absolutely amazing and lucky encounter today. I had gone back on to Exminster Marsh to carry on photographing the flying ducks. (I was very successfull by the way). I decided to walk across the 5 bridges over the marsh and towards the canal. I was alert and poised with my camera ready because I knew that the ditches and dykes have teal and shoveler in them and I was armed and ready for when they took to the air. As I approached bridge number three I was stopped dead in my tracks because there in front of me, just crossing the tiny bridge was a small water bird. It took me a few seconds before the penny dropped, I saw the white tail and noted red on the beak and I thought, just for a split second that it was a Morrhen but then I realised, just as quickly that it was an elusive Water Rail. What a stroke of luck, a Water Rail no more than 6 feet from me with my camera in my hand.
Now, of course I have seen them before but they are skulking birds and quite hard to get a shot off. The little bird was as surprised as I was and it stopped in it's tracks as well before deciding what it's best course of action was. It thought about moving back to the right but changed it's mind and in the end went the other way. All this indecision meant that I had time to take 42 shots of it. The overall encounter lasted just 15 seconds or less but it seemed like an eternity. Water Rail spend most of their time moving through the vegetation at the edges of ditches and other water, it's path would have been blocked by the little bridge and it was just a coincidence that just as I had arrived to cross itso had the Water Rail. In the 7 years or so that I have been wandering around with my camera I have only on two other ocassions had the chance to "snap" a Water Rail, once in Wales and once before by the Exeter Canal, again on the edge of a ditch. The outcome of this chance encounter was brilliant for me, I finished up with some absolutely stunning photographs that I am so very chuffed with. My new camera and lens is a brilliant combination and like I said to my wife Jenny just a few minutes ago, if only I had bought this lens before I would have saved myself a shed load of money! Check back later for the "ducks in flight"...... back out to the marsh again for more now. PS To this post.... this is the second chance encounter at this spot, previously I stumbled upon a Bittern
This afternoon with just a small window of sunshine I nipped out to Exminster Marsh. I had just had a gadget delivered from China as it happens, via eBay. It is an SLR camera adapter for my spotting scope eye piece. I was hoping that it would be useful to take photos through the scope. When the subject was way in the distance I thought it might come in useful for record shots of very distant birds. As it happens the quality of the images through the scope were so bad…. well I don't see the point and I doubt I will use it. While I was there, I used my new 3 Pentax f4 300prime lens coupled to my new Pentax K3. It certainly is a good combination. I was able to focus very quickly and lock on to the subject instantly which is a great bonus. I didn't have too many opportunities to photograph flying birds close up, but when the opportunity did present itself I was pleased with the results which are very promising.
This is a Drake Teal, I have had to crop the image to get a nice photograph. but I have to confess a degree of excitement at the photographs I am going to be able get with my new improved set up. Just when it was getting dark I took a few photos of this Mallard Drake who is sporting a leg ring.
Exminster Marsh is set up to manage the breeding of Lapwing, I don't know how successful they were as a breeding bird this year. Of course, the management of he marsh for Lapwings also provides a great habitat for lots of other species, particularly wintering wildfowl.
I spent a fabulous 2 hours this morning, accompanying other birders on the Dart Princess out of Paignton to look for and photograph the "divers" that over-winter in the bay. It was a very successful trip and I enjoyed it immensely, I wish it had been longer. I am sorting through the pictures as I speak but wanted to whet your appetite for more to come as the evening progresses. All I can say about the bird above, which is my very first Great Northern Diver, is wow!!!! ........And now, below, my very first Black-Throated Diver. This one was quite a distance away, we couldn't get close to it in the boat and consequently this photo is a massive crop. However it's a geat record shot and shows a good diagnostic feature, the white patch which you can see on the flank at the waterline.
This is a Guillemot, one of several on the sea off Berry Head close to a colony of several hundred already on the rocks nearby. As we drifted in the current with the engine off, for me this was some of the best moments of the trip. I caught a glimpse of Harbour Porpoise nearby, only momentarily but others on the boat saw them better than me. As it happened, this is not a rare occurance here and the others had seen them often but I hadn't of course and I wished we could have gone to try to get photographs of them. Northern Gannets were flying over the boat and I took some photos of one interesting bird that looks to be moulting in to it's adult plumage.
If you are a regular to my blog then you will know that I am currently trying to get photographs of the buzzards around my caravan hide. I am sure you will be as interested as I am but it's getting frustrating for me. This morning, I was quite certain that the Buzzards would come in for the Rabbit carcass but after 2 hours waiting, I drew a blank. I came home for lunch and then watched both football and then Rugby on the TV with both of my favourite teams playing (Derby County and Exeter Chiefs). After the games, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and see if the there had been any action at the hide yet. Well, my luck is well and truly out at the moment! When I came away this lunchtime I literally nailed the carcass on to the tall stump, high off the ground because I thought if the crows came to pick it over they may pull it off and on to the ground. A fox would surely then come and take it and I wouldn't know if the Buzzards had come As soon as I arrived and as I climbed out of my car, almost immediately I saw a Buzzard (just like last Wednesday). I walked up to the hide and then I could hardly believe it. The Rabbit had been almost completely eaten. There were no innards left, no meat on the ribs and backbone and mysteriously, the head had been taken off somewhere. I can only image that more than one bird had been in to feed on it and this in the short period while I had been away. Well, I need to be patient because it will just be a matter of time before I am there, ready and waiting with the camera when the bird (or birds) come in to feed. The only thing is, now I need more rabbits! I need to keep my eyes open for any road kill.
This morning, as I waited for the hoped-for Buzzard, I heard one but I knew immediately that it wasn't in actual fact a Buzzard at all, it was the resident male Jay who imitates a Buzzard call beautifully. This was good to hear because it proved a couple of things to me. Firstly, this is the same male Jay that was at my site last year and obviously it proves that this bird is a resident all year round.
He's a clever bird, he knows that there are peanuts on the log where he has found them before. He came to check and then found them hidden in the cracks of the log. As an individual, he is a good friend and I was pleased to see him.
Today's post is all about variety. I still haven't managed to get the opportunity to photograph small birds in ideal conditions so I am not certain of the performance of the new camera and lens combination but you would assume that it is doing a good job. I spent the morning waiting for the Buzzards to come in to the rabbit carcass but oddly they didn't come today….or yesterday for that matter. However, putting the time in at the caravan means that I am not elsewhere hence my lack of opportunity. While I waited I was glad to see that the small woodland birds are coming in to the feeders again and I couldn't resist trying o photograph them as they flew in even though I knew that at this time of the year it is rarely bright enough to get a good photo. so in itself, this was a real test for the camera.
This is a female Blackbird (Turdus merula), I am aware that I have lots of visitors from other parts of the world. The Blackbird will be an interesting bird to you if you are from the USA or Canada but Europeans will know this bird as one of our most common of birds.
I took delivery of a new Pentax smc DA* 300mm f/4 ED (IF) SDM lens today. I have heard such good reports about it that I have been promising myself to get one for ages and ages so this week, I took the plunge. I went out and about to give it a work out but the weather was very dreary and dull so it wasn't really a good day to test it. My first impressions are positive. It's small and very light in comparison to my Prime 500. It is a very solid and easy to use and focused very quickly and silently. Its light enough to use hand held which will be a real bonus for some situations. The only picture that I took today (literally) ws this robin in a very dim place but even with a high ISO of 1000 I am very pleased with the result.
Before I start can I just direct you to my Bird of The Day which today is a Cassowary. Click on this link to see it.
I had placed a dead rabbit out in front of the hide yesterday. Last year this had attracted Buzzards who had come in to feed on the carcass, this is what I hoped for this year. It had taken several weeks for this to be successful last year so I wasn't expecting immediate success. However, I went back to check it out this morning and well..... I couldn't believe it. As I got out of my car a Buzzard flew off from the area of the hide, this bird would not have been disturbed by me, it was just coincidence. I was thrilled to see this but didn't realise what would happen next. I walked up the edge of the field towards the hide which is just tucked away behind the gate and immediately as soon as I got close enough to see the hide, a Buzzard flew up off the rabbit, then as I kept walking, yet another Buzzard, in the trees just above..... 3 Buzzards around and on the kill. I investigated the rabbit which had been well and truly consumed leaving just the rear legs and head. The front legs, innards and all the meat from the rib-cage and backbone had gone! I got myself in position in the caravan but...... I had forgotten to put the memory cards in the camera. ...... what an idiot. Back to the car and then home for the cards. When I got back 15 minutes later, there was a Buzzard on it again. I went in to the caravan and waited but there had been too much disturbance now and the Buzzards were a bit too warry and probably well fed as well. I will be back in the morning for another chance to get some movie and photographs and I will be very surprised if I am not successful, very surprised.
The Long-tail Tit is a very popular bird in the UK but In actual fact it isn't a tit at all and is not related, to the other familar European Tit species. It is in fact related to the more exotic "bush-tits" and some ornithologists in other countries accurately use the name Long-tail Bushtit. There are 19 sub-species, all spread over the Northern Hemisphere and the one that we have here in the UK is unique to us and is of the sub-species rosaceus. ( There is another sub-species found in western France and the Channel Islands so stricty speaking, this isn't true). There are several behavioural facts about this bird that indicate it's difference to the true tit species, that is, the Blue Tits, Great Tits and Marsh Tits etc. Firstly Long-tail tits are not hole nesters and consequently will not use a nest box under any circumstance. When you see them in the winter, they will always be in small flocks which is a family group…. a breeding pair and their youngsters from the previous breeding season. This group can include adults that may have co-operated in the rearing of the brood. They remain together in this group until the following spring when they splt up in to breeding pairs. This seems odd to my mind as surely a large degree of inbreeding is likely with this strategy? This is a tiny bird with a tail longer than the body, it is thought that they remain together in a group because communal roosting is a way of maintaining body temperature during the long and cold winter nights. This behaviour of communal roosting allows them to exist in northerly lattitudes in cold northern winters. Other birds such as Wrens and Wagtails are also known to communally roost. Having said that they are not hole nesters it is likely that they will use a hole to roost. Today, even though the weather was a typically dull and dreary day I did manage to get some photographs, due in no small part to my really superb Pentax K3 which is capable of good photographs in poor light.
Cirl Buntings have had a good breeding season it seems. Dave Land and I went to look for them today, we live very close to known sites here in Devon where you can almost guarantee to find them in the winter. The obvious place is Broadsands in Torbay where a winter flock is fed daily to ensure that they have a safe winter. If you are visiting from out of the area you will get your best views of them here and that is almost for certain. There are other areas such as Prawle and Powderham Marsh near Exminster. Dave and I were very lucky today and we saw and photographed a flock numbering 50, or perhaps even more. A thoroughly nice bird, they are very attractive and photogenic and always good to photograph because of their relative rarity, (only around 850 pairs in the entire UK and all confined to a small area here in the South West). You can't mistake a male but the females are rather like a female Reed Bunting. I am told that birds will move as much as 2 kilometres to join a flock but one of the problems that this species faces is a reluctance to move large distances. This means that the species does not colonise, or re-colonise a suitable new habitat and area very quickly.
I came down to breakfast this morning and it was dull, very dull. I have put apple in front of the kitchen window to attract Blackcap Warblers, regular winter visitors to my garden. My bleary eyes could just about make out the apple but when I squinted for a better look, one of the apple pieces had a Blackcap feeding on it! Very rewarding and satisfying.In the almost darkness, I took pictures through the glass just for a good record and here she is.
I managed to photograph at least one "tristis" AKA Siberian Chiffchaff today. It's hard to separate tristis from the colybita birds though, colybita is the nominate species and the birds that we are familiar with. On my session today, at first I saw, heard and then photographed a colybita bird, in fact there were several, (having said that this is a bird that takes a bit of looking for and finding in the winter). I was pleased to see them but expected to see at least one Siberian bird as I had seen them here on my previous visit. I decided to play a trisits taped call to see what reaction I got and almost immediately another bird appeared and instantly I could tell that it was subtly different although the photographs that I took are not as dramatic. (See photos above and below, both depicting a tristis Siberian bird based on their reaction to the "tristis" call).
I have never seen so many Goldcrests as I have this winter, I have seen them on almost every photographic trip this last couple of weeks. I went out to try and photograph the Chiffchaffs again in the hope of learning more about Siberian (tristis) birds. I am almost certain that I saw and photographed them today but when I got home it wasn't as easy as I hoped it would be. It's all to do with sunlight and the way that the light strikes the bird. The colour can look so different depending on the strength of the light.
As I waited, a female Goldcrest came through the bushes to feed on the same insects that the Chiffchaffs were feeding on. I say female because the crest on the little bird was yellow and there was no hint of orange which you get in the males. It must have been a really good breeding season for them. I can well imagine that the populations of Goldcrest could rapidly increase because they can have a clutch of more than 10 chicks. At the moment, in very early winter we have yet to have any real cold weather and consequently the tiny Goldcrests are surviving the cold long nights by finding enough prey during the day. I have just read that Goldcrests can lose 20% of their body weight in one night. Obviously that 20% has to be replaced every day if the bird is to survive the next night so you can image that if there is a prolonged cold spell, a tiny Goldcrest is going to find it hard to find enough food, day after day. A Goldcrest weighs around 5.5 grams, which is more than a 10p piece, (which I have just weighed at 6.5 grams). This is just marginally heavier than a Ruby-throated Hummingbird by the way. Never the less, if we realise that a Goldcrest may lose 20% of it's body weight each night, just try and visualise how many tiny midges and green fly the bird will need to find every single day to make up 10 grams. But that's not the whole story of course because during the day, the bird will also lose energy and weight in the very activity of hunting for food. This will explain very simply why Goldcrest seem to be constantly searching for food. I have no way of estimating the weight of one small midge but I would suggest that hundred and hundreds would not add up to much.
I would suggest that the forward looking eyes are very useful when looking for prey and the shape of the beak would indicate that this bird is an insect eater of course.
Can you imagine what a big surprise it was when this lovely bird suddenly hove in to view today. I was standing by one of the pools in Clennon Valley, Paignton after travelling down there to try and photograph a Yellow Browed Warbler. I did see the little bird but I didn't manage a photograph which was a disappointment as you would imagine. But on the pools amongst the usual Mallard were several Tufted Duck which I stopped to photograph. It was getting a but dreary and dim as sunset approached but the Mallards were now joined by 3 Shovelers. Suddenly, there it was. It is hard to imagine a more exotic looking bird than a Drake Mandarin. This species is now established as a breeding bird in the UK havving originally escaped from captivity. I have seen them a few times here in Devon, notably on the River Dart at Buckfastleigh and oddly, also on theTiverton Canal. Oh.... I would have been very happy with the Tufted Duck by the way.
The first two photos are an Adult Drake then the next is a Duck followed finally by a first winter Drake.
You may remember that the other day I posted pictures of a Chiffchaff that we queried as a Siberian Chiffchaff. Feedback from several experienced, informed and talented experts has led me to believe that I did in fact photograph a "Tristis"…… (that's the second part of the scientific name of this sub-species). I went back to the same site today to see if I could photograph it again and did photograph another bird. I was struck today by the colour of the legs and of this bird which had noticeably more colour than the bird photographed before which had solid black legs and a solid black beak. When I looked very carefully at today's photographs there was a noticeable yellowish patch which extended (albeit subtly) up the lower mandible. In addition, the legs of today's bird were brownish rather than the solid black in Saturday's bird. You can clearly see this in the picture of today's bird, pictured below.
You can hardly call the legs and beak black. Another feature of the "Siberian" type bird is a very subtle and feint yellowish colour just where the wings emerge from body. Here's Saturday's bird again, thought to be the Siberian bird with black beak and legs.
The plumage colour could be the product of several factors, that is: age, sex and probably the most important factor of all, sunlight. In addition, colour can be unintentionally altered depending on the "white-balance" setting of the camera. So, I hope you agree, this is a difficult subject. However, one factor that is always reliable is the calls of both birds. Today's bird was definitely attracted in to view by the playing of a Colybita Chiffchaff call, whereas Saturday's bird was attracted to the Tristis call. Looking at the two photos again, to my eyes they do look different. Interesting!
An interesting fact, if you Google the word Tristis you can see that the literal meaning is smelly or foul smelling..... how weird.
I sat on the beac for several hours today waiting for the Bonaparte's Gull to show up which it had done most days this last week but I hadn't been lucky enough to get a photo (until today). I amused myself by watch a Black - headed Gull that was bobbing away in the surf just in front of me. Every now and then it would take to the air and dive beneath the surf. This was a good photo opportunity of course but I hadn't realised what it was actually doing? It was spying very small flatfish on the sea botton and then diving to catch them. This is obviously a technique that it has developed and it was very successful catching several during the time that I watched it.
It eventually took me 5 visits to find this bird, obsesive I know but gulls are a particular favourite of mine, not that I am very expert at identifying them by the way but when there is a rare(ish) North American Gull around then you really ought to try and find it and take some photographs. I have had some fleeting glimpses of it on a couple of my previous trips but never good enough views to get a photograph. When I eventually did see it, perched on Groyne 1 as it happens, I was quite surprised at the similarity with the Black-headed Gulls that were also in the area. Apparently, smaller but not immediately noticeable to me to be honest. When perched, it could easily be told apart by the black beak which in Black-headed Gulls at this time of year is red with a black tip. I decided that my best plan of action this time was to sit on the beach and wait until it put in an appearance. To amuse myself I photographed the Turnstones and an amazingly talented Black-headed Gull that has learned to catch small flatfish in the surf. I took hundreds of shots of the bird doing this and you can view some of these images on this Blog Post here....... But back to the Bonapartes. This is a North American bird that breeds in the far north. It is unique in that it is a tree nesting gull, so obviously not too far north! In the winter they disperse to the Pacific where they spread south feeding out at sea apparently, as well as coastal regions. The bird here in Devon is thought to be the same one that spent the winter here last year. It is not known where it disappeared to in the summer months but it would have flown north and obviously lost, it seems as though it just made it's way back here to Devon for it's second winter. In flight the pattern on the wings is noticeably different.
Some people will say that I am a lucky person, well I certainly am having a great life so I suppose that's lucky in itself but I always think about the quote by Garry Player who said, "The more I try, the luckier I get". No truer words have ever been spoken as far as I am concerned. Yesterday we had gone to Haldon to try and get some photographs of Common Crossbill, and apart from a quick glimpse of a small flock, we weren't successful. I put that down to two factors, an element of luck and when we did have luck, too much noise by other birders. You really do have to be quiet when you are birding in any form be it just general birding or trying to get a photo and the few birds that we did see moved off immediately because of one particularly noisy old man who I won't name here but he really should know better. In the past he had told me, when I wouldn't divulge the whereabouts of a Kingfisher nest, that he had been birding all his life and I had no right to keep information from him……… oh really!
I had been disappointed yesterday when we hadn't managed a photograph and I gave it a great deal of thought. I thought about my ringing training when by 11or 12 in the morning we only caught 10% of the birds that we had caught from first light until then. Birds are feeding in the winter for the first few hours of daylight because they have gone for 16 or so hours without food, it makes absolute sense really. So this morning I rushed down there as soon as I could get going and I got there quite early (for me that is). It was deadly quiet, almost frighteningly eerie apart from a lovely Roe Deer on the path in front of me. I had been literally in the woods for 5 minutes when I saw some movement in trees just a bit further on down the track. Then I saw more and then more, birds were feeding and they were quiet by the way, not calling and they never did. I got myself in the best position that I could and waited for them to come out from the middle of the tree, where they were feeding. They would fluuter out to the outer branches, bite off a cone and then take it back in to the midst of the tree to feed. That's why you can't always see them because they are hidden in the middle, in thick cover. As I stood there watching and waiting, I could see and hear cones falling all around me from the other trees. That was birds dropping them once they had taken the seeds out. I hadn't even been aware of these other birds but they were all around me in the trees. Something spooked them and about 20 left the tree that I was watching but I had only been aware of 3! After a few minutes I noticed that a few individuals remained and that's when I got my best shots.
The Curlew is our largest wading bird, often seen and heard but really hard to get close to. For some reason they are very wary. They breed on the moorlands of the UK, here in Devon, Dartmoor for example. I have also seen them on Saddleworth Moor between Oldham and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. You can often hear them in these moorland areas in the summer and when I do I am always surprised because I associate their call with the estuaries and seaside in the wintertime. In the picture above you can see how far they will probe with their very long down curved beaks. They are probale feeding on earth worms, a food source to many birds. Earthworms are extremely high in protein. They are abe to feed on grass lke this when the ground is very soft and I would imagine that they feed in the same way during the summer when they are breeding on the peat moors. This makes them a very adaptable bird. I have also seen them catching and eating small crabs in the estuary. In the photo below you can get a better idea of the length of the beak and obviously you can also estimate how far they are probing in to the earth. The fact that wading birds have different lengths and shapes of beaks means that they can all feed together in the same habitat without competition.
Today's star turn was a female Long - tailed Duck, this time at Dawlish. Like buses, you wait for one and then two come along together. When I got up it was very bright and sunny with a heavy frost but the forecast was for an overcast day. You could see a very low blanket of cloud hanging over the distant East Devon Moors (I can see them from my house by the way). I thought I should get on my way quickly to make use of the available light. I decided to go to Dawlish for the female Long - tailed Duck because I had read that it was feeding quite close to shore. By the time I had parked my car and started to walk along the seafront the cloud had caught up and then after a few minutes we were blanketed in cloud. The duck was visible and I started, almost immediately, to photograph it. It was feeding constantly, diving and staying under the water for a minute or so at a time. It was quite hard to predict where it would emerge on the surface but each time it did , it was a race to photograph it before it dived again. On one occasion it appeared with a large prawn in its beak and it it was a great photo opportunity. When I looked through my photos later I could see that it was quite successful and had caught quite a few largish prawns. Have a look at my blog entry for photos of the Male Long - tailed Duck that I saw and photographed last Wednesday on the 20th on the main pool at Bowling Green Marsh. It will be good to compare the two birds.
What a lovely treat it was today to get really close views and some good photos of one of the tiniest of European birds, the Goldcrest. Small, feisty and beautifully marked. ..... I absolutely love them with a passion. It's always a special day when I see one. Today there were at least 3 moving in a small group and my friend Dave and I were priviledged to get some nice photos of one of them. Heres a selection of some of the nicest, a lovely "golden day" and a lovely "golden crest". the leg colour of this little bird is not often mentioned but it is a very nice shade of yellow.
I had actually been out to look for a possible Siberian Chiffchaff.... or Putative Tristis Chiffchaff. We did in actual fact encounter 2 likely candidates but they are incredibly difficult to seperate. I played a normal Chiffchaff call when one of them was present but didn't get a reaction, this could indicate a Tristis but hardly conclusive. I am told that bright sunshine is not the best light to photograph them in because it makes the bird look more yellowish, What you are looking for is a bird that is more grey than olive. Look at the pictures below under the Goldcrest pictures to see for yourself.
Chiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita ......... or is it???
I am not certain of the sub-species of this bird, it's more than likely a Phylloscopus collybita Chiffchaff and not Phylloscopus collybita trisitis. Unfortunately it didn't call nor as I said, respond to a call so I can't bee certain either way. All I can say is that the colour represented here is a true reflection of the colour of the bird as witnessed. One certain fact though is this is a Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes.
It's hard to imagine that some consider this a pest species. I speak often of birds being taken for granted and often not given a second glance and this is one of those. When you look at a Starling in full sunlight the full irridescent qualities of the plumage can be appreciated. No other bird can match it.
The Long-tail Duck wasn't performing very well today and kept well away from the hide apart from one period of a few minutes when it came down the channel but decided to turn back again in to the main pool. This was quite a disappointment for the assembled birders who had been waiting, some for 4 hours, for it to come close like it did yesterday. It was a weird day really, the birds were definitely not coming as close to the hide as yesterday. It was quite noisy at times though, perhaps that was why the birds kept their distance. I continued trying to get the very best flight photos possible and I had a bit of success.
Excitement was created by a Peregrine that came in for the Godwits at one point. The air was suddenly thick with waders and ducks, totalling a thousand or more, quite a spectacle. ....................(Having mentioned Peregrine, I decided that Peregrine should be my photo of the day for Friday 22 November, click on the link here to see one of my best ever photographs. It took real stealth and field craft to get the photograph and I am very proud of it.)
The Peregrine was not successful. On top of that, no less than 3 foxes were also present, one stalking along the fence right at the back of the marsh.
A funny coloured Wigeon was amongst the flock of grazing birds, it had green on the head. At first the other birders were talking of American Wigeon but it definitely didn't fit the bill for that species, any comments please? (Fit the bill....... excuse the pun).
I had the pleasure of photographing a new species of bird today, a Long-tail Duck, Clangula hyemalis. Firstly a bit about the scientific name "hyemalis" which means "of the winter". Obviously a reference to their sudden appearance in the winter months which would not have been easy to explain in the days when scientific names were being decided. It seems odd though that this bird, amongst many other species that suddenly appear in the UK in winter, should be named after this phenomenon. It could be something to do with their plumage which is remeniscent of a snowy landscape. In actual fact they are whiter in the summer when they are breeding in the arctic in exotic places like Svalbard, Spitsbergen and Churchill, Mainitoba….. all of these places are home to Polar Bears. It could well be that the bird pictured above has spent part of the year in the company of one of the world's most dangerous carnivores. In fact, that is probably a certainty. They sometimes nest quite a distance from the shoreline, often in the company of Arctic Terns who protect their nests vigorously from predators such as Arctic Fox and the ducks benefit from this association. They are the deepest diving of ducks, capable of submerging for several minutes to a depth of 200 metres, thats a massive depth if you think about it. They feed on crustaceans and shellfish but obviously they are very adaptable as far as diet goes. So, just a funny looking, admittedly rare duck but so many interesting facts.
I have seen Long-tail duck before but not close enough for a photo. As I said in my post yesterday, I had been disappointed to miss the opportunity to photograph this one when it moved in to the channel that flows near to the hide. So today, even though it was wet and windy, I decided to go back to the hide to sit it out until it came in to the channel again. I thought, "well if you can travel all the way to Australia to photograph something new, why not do what it takes to et a new species in my galleries". It took a couple of hours but I was prepared to wait for the entire day if thats what it was going to take. As it happened, it moved in to the channel and gradual swam strongly towards the hide. I was worried because it was a bit noisy in the hide and I hoped that the loud voices wouldn't scare it too much. As it moved nearer and nearer, people focused and thankfully it went quiet and it wasn't too disturbed. It swam down the channel, turned when it had gone as far as it could go and then on it's return, moved to the shore opposite and climbed out, grabbing a mouthful of grass. Quite an exciting session in the end.
The weather wasn't too good and I could have done with a faster shutter speed but I am reasonably pleased with the end result.
Yesterday I had moaned about the dull and dreary weather so when the day dawned today the sunshine seemed brighter and even more bright than normal. Perhaps the contrasting weather here in the UK is what makes it such a nice place to live, you never get fed up with the weather, it's so changeable. I couldn't wait to get out with my new Pentax K3 camera in the bright light, I wanted to get some in-flight shots. This new camera seems to be easier to use for this kind of photography. After a brief visit to the marsh where, apart from 3 birders telling me of a distant Short -eared Owl and a nearby hidden but "squealing" Water Rail, (I've heard this bird several times recently), there wasn't a lot going on. I decided to go to Bowling Green Marsh where a Long-tailed Duck female has been reported for several days. This is a bird I haven't photographed before and it will be good to put a picture on my Devon Bird Gallery ( now up to 184 Devon species). I photographed the ducks and Godwits from the comfort of the hide and other birders told me that the Long-tailed duck was over the far side in the pool but very distant. A small group of Godwits were very close...... here's a picture of one.....
……….. I continued to focus on this bird with my head down and one eye peering through the view finder for several minutes, perhaps even 10. I was waiting for it to take flight. Eventually it did and afterwards I looked up, to be told by the other birders that the Long-tailed Duck had been in the channel just in front of us and they all thought that's what I was photographing….. very disappointing. Never mind though, hopefully I will get another chance tomorrow. It was about this time that I was able to photograph the Widgeon above, one of my best ever flight shots, I just love my new Pentax K3.
The beak of this bird looks as thoughit's been painted, especially the black tip. Hope you agree that they are such lovely birds. Their scientefic name is interesting Anas penelope, well the first part is easy, Anas is a family of ducks which includes Mallard and Shoveler but the second part is the same as the Greekk mythological charachter who was married to Odysseus and I have done a bit of research and see that the name Penelope is associated with marital faithfullness. Well thats interesting because you often see them moving around in true pairs but research seems to indicate that they do not mate for life so who knows how they got such an attractive name.
Awful weather here today in Devon, UK, a typical dull and dreary day that could be depressing if you let it. I went out anyway and I remember, as I stood there, thinking that it was cold and wet but then I wasn't going to see anything sat on the sofa at home. Thats the way it turned out, nothing particularly special for this part of the world but when it's quiet, Black -tailed Godwits do feed in the long grass and close enough for a photograph from time to time. I have a soft spot for Black-tailed Godwits, they are very photogenic even in their non-breeding plumage. They feed by probing in to the soft earth and with an obviously very sensitive beak tip they find earth worms deep in to the sod. They feed in the same way in the estuary mud. You will also see Curlew feeding in this way however Curlew have a curved beak and are rarely as confiding as Godwit for some reason. These Black-tailed Godwit are of the "islandica" race that breed in Iceland.
This is a bird that we take for granted here in Devon, you can locate them on every birding trip if you have a mind to and like all things that you see regularly, you quite quickly take them for granted……………..but not like me, especially when you can achieve good shots like this with relative ease and a bit of patience. In the shot below, one of the best features of this species can be seen, that's the attractive markings on the wing that you can clearly see in flight. This is a good way to seperate them from Bar-tailed Godwit.
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I said yesterday that I really enjoyed photographing Shovelers and other ducks on the marsh at Exminster yesterday. I wen t back today hoping to improve and while I am not sure that I did that, I certainly had an interesting and fruitful session.
When I look at this image (above) it makes me ask the question, is this a male? Could it be a first winter bird. Interesting and I must do some more research to find the answer but I think this is very likely. Like I said yesterday, our ducks are very photogenic and well worth trying to get close enough to photograph. Even the females are very photogenic and easier to photograph than the males.
As a helpful tip if you are a novice photographer, any bird with bold white patches will create difficulties. For example, Magpies are very hard, Shellduck are another species and of course male Shoveler.
It was muddy and cold but I stayed as still and quiet as possible, just watching and waiting and that strategy paid of as it often will. Suddenly I saw that a Teal duck was in the water filled ditch and quite close, they are usually much, much more wary than this and it was good to get the chance to get a close photo. I had the teal in the viewfinder and then just behind it was a Little Grebe, quite a good spot. Unfortunately the grebe dived immediately, they always do that and the next time I caught sight of it 20 minutes later it was much further away and had a large stickleback which it struggled to get down.
Coot are another hard species to photograph, again because of the white beak and head"knob" When they are in the water you need to over expose the camera to get any detail whatsoever but you need to be so careful that this doesn't burn out the white area.
To finish today's post, here's anothe picture of a certain female. As I said, the one (above) is potentially a first winter drake? This is what I love about bird photography and wildlife watching, every day there are things to learn and discover for yourself. By the way, if you know can you please let us know.
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Eventually my new Pentax K3 camera arrived this morning, I was keen to find out if any of the new features were going to make noticeable improvements. I made my way out to Exminster Marsh in the hope that there would be some ducks to photograph. I parked up and immediately I could see Northern Shoveler feeding in the flooded fields and reasonably nearby. I noticed an immediate and unequivocal difference which amounts to a significant improvement from my previous camera, a Pentax K511s. There is apparently a brand new sensor onboard, there are more focus points, 27 as opposed to 11 previously and on "burst" the K3 shoots just under 9 frames a second. Immediately the camera came in to it's own and…. well you decide? It can't be a coincidence that this is one of my best ever flight shots and in dull light as well. The Northern Shoveler breeds in small numbers in the UK but 18000 birds overwinter here. I happen to think that they are one of the most attractive of our birds, particularly in flight with very striking patches of colour icluding poder blue on the wings. Their beak is weird, no other word for it, it's spatular shaped and looks too big for it's body. The "duck", thats the female of course, has strange black blotches on the brown beak, (males "drakes" have black beaks) which I haven't read about before but I could clearly see them today.
Looking at this image again you can clearly see these striking patches of colour which surely make this bird one of the most colourful of our birds.
As you can see, the "duck" is quite a plain looking bird, in the photo above it is feeding in typical fashion sifting through the debris under water with it's "shovel" and below you get a better idea of the beak size and shape. All of these pictures are quite considerably cropped and the quality is quite well preserved.
The yellow eye is a particularly attracive feature.
Please click on the link here "PHOTO OF THE DAY SATURDAY 16th NOVEMBER" to find out what the featured bird is today.
Just a reminder to check my new feature....... "Charlie Fleming's Photo of the Day" .... please click on the link to visit, bookmark and check there daily, I am selecting my best pictures from my Galleries of 6000 species from all 5 continents.
I am between cameras at the moment having "written-off" my Pentax K511s the other day when the tripod fell over. I had used the camera daily for a year so I suppose that I did get some use out of it and in fact, it has cost me less than £15 a week, not too bad I don't suppose, but it was desperately disappointing to smash it like that. However, there is always a silver lining and I have ordered the newly released K3 camera from Pentax which is their new "flagship". The K3 has many new advances, the mega-pixels have been almost doubled, it has an improved sensor as well as shooting at 8.5 frames a second. I have seen comparative images of the K5, Canon 50D and Nikon. In image quality, the Pentax out performs them all so again, I will be able to improve my photography which for me, is what it's all about. One of the fantastic new features of the camera is the use of a wifi enabled SD Flu-card. In short this 16gb card not only stores the images as a normal card but once connected wirelessly to your iPad you can then see the images in real time on your iPad. Even more amazingly, you can view what the camera is seeing but on your iPad and then adjust settings, focus and finally take the shot from the iPad remotely from the camera. This is going to be a fantastic feature and I can't wait to use it.
But now there is a disappointment. I am waiting for Parcel Force to deliver the camera but have just found out that in stead of sending the parcel to the South West for distribution, the good people at Parcel Force has sent it to the North West, surely everyone knows Exeter is in the South West ? So having wasted the best part of the day sat in waiting, it still won't get here until Monday now. Of course, I will have to sit in and wait yet again on Monday. A simple mistake on their part of course but pathetic service really and probably explains why they are struggling to survive as a carrier. So I can't recommend Parcel Force to you at all!!!
I had some magnificent views of a pair of Dartford Warbler today. Dartford Warblers are weird little birds, very small, weighing about the same as a wren at 10grams, they are tiny and vulnerable being at the most northerly edge of their European range here in the UK. They are roughly the same size as a Long tail Tit and with the same kind of long tail of course. However they frequently cock their tails. In common with other closely related members of their family "Sylviidae" such as Sardinian Warblers, they have a bright red fleshy ring around the eye. They always look fierce especially the more strongly marked males who also raise the head feathers in to a kind of flatish crest. In the photo below, that I took in June 2008, you cam see this. Please don't disturb these birds if you know where they are.
Heres a list of their main diagnostic features.
They are schedule 1. bird and therefore afforded very special protection especially at their nest sites. Please don't disturb them. It was interesting today to see them in a pair, I could clearly make out the difference between the sexes. I haven't read before that they stay in pairs throughout the non breeding season but it certainly appeared that way. Another interesting fact is that they are frequently found in the company of Stonechats and so it proved today with the pair definitely moving down the strip of gorse on the edge of a track, with a pair of Stonechats. I was pleased to see them today but only post the photos out of interest and as a record, as you can see from the photo above when I was much closer, todays pictures are not as good as they could be. I hadn't deliberately set out to photograph Dartfords but when I saw them as I waited for Stonechats to pop in to view, it was a nice surprise to see them as they have been decimated in the last few years.
I am going through my recent photographs from my recent trip to South Florida, I am comming across some nice pictures. This is a Pied billed Grebe, I think this one is a in it's first winter. I like to make sweeping statements, is this one of my best ever pictures? Maybe?
This is a juvenile Little Blue Heron, white as you can see until they attain their adult blue plumage. This was a very interesting encounter, it was almost dark as we left the Wakodahatchee Wetlands and the Herons were comming in to roost. This young bird was perched right next to the walkway and I could see instantly that because of the different light, I was going to end up with a special image. This image is not cropped at all and the only work I had to do in photoshop was to remove a little bit of noise.
I almost got a great shot of the Great Grey Shrike on the common today. I went again this morning knowing that I had to be home in the P.M. U My attention was immediately drawn to a bird, larger than a Meadow Pipit perched on a low solitary branch near to the path and I struggled with the camera as I tried to put it on to the tripod before my chance for a photograph had gone. A lady dog walker walked right past and still it remained. I realised that it was a Skylark, a bird that I haven't photographed properly, apart from some awful shots way back in 2009 so I was keen to get this one. I didnt get it together in time and before I could get the shot, it had gone. But I need not have worried because now the one Skylark was joined by 3 or 4 more and they were displaying to each other in low flight and very close. Now I suddenly knew where the expression "it was a bit of a skylark" comes from because they were playing around just in front of me. I noticed that one bird was favouring a low branch on a fallen dead tree and I was now in a position, with the light from exactly the right place, to get my best ever Skylark images. In fact I doubt if I will be able to better them.
It had already been a good session but I still waited for the Skylarks to return which they did from time time. Gradually, as I stood there seemingly with my camera trained on to something special, I was joined by first one and then more and more fellow birders who thought that I was "on to" the Great Grey Shrike which evryone was looking for and I was so pleased that they had joined me because suddenly Kevin Smith and Dave Land discovered the Shrike way in the distance where Dave had seen it yesyerday. With that we were off to get a bit closer. It was feeding on exactly the same patch of land that Dave had seen it yesterday and in fact, using the same trees as hunting perches. We got closer and closer and managed some much better images than I had managed the other day. As with most of these situations, disappointment was to follow. No sooner had we got ourselves in a spot where the bird was not worried about us and had just in fact flown closer, a dog walker arrived on the scene and walked right past it. It was just after that that my tripod fell over and totally wrecked my camera! So in the end good photos at quite a cost!
On Friday I had been out on the East Devon Commons looking for the Great Grey Shrike that has been here since last Tuesday. I went out again this morning after a phone call to tell me that it was there. This was my 3rd visit to try to find it. When there last week I was quite struck with the Stonechats and the photo opportunities that they were presenting. I have to be honest when I say that I wasn't confident of finding the Great Grey Shrike but as it turned out, I did manage a glimpse and a few quick snaps of the bird, right where it had been seen before by local birder Dave Stone. It is a very wary bird and even though I was at least 100 yards away, as soon as I walked carefully nearer and only a few feet, it immediately flew strongly away to trees several hundred yards away. I think this explains why it hasn't been seen by everyone on every visit. At that point, I turned, slipped on the wet ground and tore a muscle in my calf......ouch! Dangerous activity this bird photography. With a bad leg I struggled back to the car park, 400 yards away and came home for dinner and a coffee. I went back later in the afternoon, with my leg heavily strapped. I just knew I could get nice photographs of the Chats and so it turned out. This is a good time of year to photograph birds because the light is so subdued, not strong and hard to deal with like the summertime or, for that matter, in the tropics. I managed to get some nice shots of a male Stonechat today, now in eclipse plumage for the winter, well thats not strictly true. To be exact, what will happen is the tips of the head feathers will wear and by next spring the black feathers will be revealed.
Light is a massive factor in photography, it's interesting to see photos of the same male in different lighting....... the one above and the one below.
I stuck around the area for quite a while waiting in one spot where the track separates in to three, An endless procession of birders came by to search for the Shrike, all unsuccessful this afternoon. I wasn't surprised because the Common is a massive area, I think the last thing that particular bird could tolerate is a crowd! I was surprised when a couple of Reed Buntings put in an appearance and a happily photographed one of them.
I have lost count of the opportunities that I have had to photograph Stonechat, a nice bird to see here in Devon at all times of the year. In the breeding season they are easy to find on Dartmoor and I have had endless hours of entertainment photographing them. This Autumn I photographed a pair in flight when the male was in attractive full colour but at this time of year the males are in eclipse plumage and while still smart, not quite so distinctive. However, the females looks the same year round. In my experience they seem to stay in pairs all year and if you see one, it's mate will usually be nearby. In the winter they can be found in areas nearer the coast such as the East Devon heaths and marshes, still in their pairs. Here they seem to find enough to eat in the bracken, heather and gorse as well as from time to time launching themselves in to the air to "hawk" for flying insects. They conveniently sit on exposed perches making them easy to spot. I was on Woodbury Common today looking for the Great Grey Shrike that has been seen, on and off since last Monday. All in all I counted 9 or 10 different birders there, all searching for the bird but no one could find it.... and my friend Dave and I were there for 4 hours! However we did see Stonechat pairs almost all afternoon and one bird just kept flying nearer and nearer to us as we stood on the track. It presented a great photo opportunity which we gratefully accepted.
So there we are on the common and one or two of the other birders started to tell of the Dartford Warblers that they had seen and photographed both today and recently. I saw a Dartford Warbler, It's not the best photograph that I have taken but its the first time since 2008 that I have seen one close enough to photograph. I really do hope that we have a mildish winter and that they survive to breed next spring.
Golden Plover is not a bird that I get the chance to photograph all that often and It excited me yesterday to see a flock of 50 birds or so. We were on Exmoor and had just got back to the car after photographing Red Deer, the sandwhiches came out and we were enjoying the view when suddenly a flock of waders came over, circled and the settled on the moorland not far from us. I immediately went to see if I could see them and then get a shot. it was quie an impressive sight, they are a pretty bird, especially the adults with their golden heads.
An adult male stag that fails to grow antlers is called a Hummel. It was interesting yesterday as we walked quietly towards the group in the distance, we disturbed a deer to our left that appeared to be a "Hummel". This can be seen by the large neck and mane, features that are not present in hinds.
I really like ducks, they are so pretty and very photogenic. This afternoon I went over to Roadford Reservoir, I haven't had the opportunity to get out as much this last few days and I have missed a few good opportunities so I was keen to make the best of it. First of all, in the forenoon, I went to try and find the Bonaparte Gull that has been seen and photographed at Teignmouth. Once I had parked up I started sorting through the flocks of gulls but inspite of an hour or so of searching I couldnt find it, a "needle in a haystack" springs to mind. So next, I went to Roadford Reservoir where there has been a Grey Phalarope for the last week almost........... I didn't think it was going to be too difficult. But it was! I had reallly good directions to where it had been seen, (even this morning). So when I started the walk along the water's edge, I thought I would find it easily. The weather, unfortunately, had started to deteriorate and it just got worse and worse. But, I had made a big effort, so I carried on, quite confident that I would find it. I wasn't dressed for it, I got very wet and muddy but still I couldnt find it. It got wetter and wetter and with every drop that trickled down my neck, I repeatedly asked myself "was it was worth it". Never the less, it was good to get some excercise and fresh air. It wasn't a complete waste of my time though, not only for the good walk, but as you can see from the picture above, it turned out to be very successful in the end.....oh , and I still didn't find the Phalarope!
On the trip to the Midlands today we travelled up the M5 and at Michael Wood Services, yet again there was a small flock of Gulls. It was just brilliant to see, amongst the very familiar Black-headed Gulls, there were 3 adult and one first winter Common Gull. My grand daughter took great delight in feeding them with crisps and cake from the car window. I was disappointed and angry with myself that I hadn't taken my camera because I would have got some great photos of this bird, called "Common Gull" but to be honest, you will normally not get this close to them this easily, but I have photographed them previously, in 2011 for example..... click here to see photographs
I have just seen an amazing piece on the BBC about trees cutting air pollution. Having recently lost the 25 year old 30 foot high large apple tree from the adjoining garden which was a tragedy and then even more recently, a massive Torbay Palm from the other adjoining garden it makes me wonder even more, why would they do that? Also sadly, I haven't seen a finch in the garden so far this Autumn, whereas in previous years the garden had been full of bird life. It's very, very sad.
I have been trying to photograph the ducks around the Exe Estuary recently. It hasn't been that easy to get close enough to them for the kind of shots that I am trying to get but I feel that with regular visits and lots of patience, I may eventually achieve something worthwhile. The problem is that the hides around the Exe are not positioned with the photographer in mind, but it's fair to say that, for others with a good spotting scope, good views are absolutely guaranteed. The Exe Estuary is one of the UK's best sites for over-wintering birds but It is a big frustration that you just can't get close enough to the birds for a "special: photograph. Yesterday for example, I visited Exminster Marsh, it was high tide and I was hoping that there would be some ducks close enough to the road to get a good photograph. That wasn't the case and the few birds that were there were way in the distance. Moving on, I first tried the hide at Darts Farm, sometimes the ducks there are quite close but unfortunately not today. However I did take an interesting series of photos of a Black Swan, a feral breeding species here in Devon, acting aggressively towards a Mute Swan. Black Swans are known to be dominant over Mute Swans but it is the first time I have seen any sign of it. Black Swans are native to Australia of course but they are the town emblem of nearby Dawlish and over the years several have "done a runner" from their captivity in the town.
I moved over to Bowling Green Marsh where from the hide the spectacle was absolutely awe inspiring. In the distance there were at least 1000 birds, probably more and my frustration was hard to contain. However, some of the Teal, Widgeon and Canada Geese did eventually meander down the flooded watercourse that is nearest to the hide to at least give me an opportunity for a shot and with the aid of a "crop" once I returned home, at least I have got some shots to post here. I met up with the RSPB's visitor attraction officer the other day and we chatted both then and by email. I told him of my frustration. He did say that he agreed with me and they were hoping to try and improve things. I doubt anything will really improve but I suppose it is a measure of at least something if the RSPB have appointed him as a Visitor Satisfaction Officer. As regulars to my blog will know, I visit birding sites all around the world and quite often. It is a sad state of affairs when I say that my local area is probably the worst that I have ever visited in this regard. For example the hide at Bowling Green is literally the furthest away from the action that it could be and boasts parking for just one disabled vehicle, disgusting really. There is always a counter argument of course and no doubt someone will be wanting to argue their point with me over this, well don't bother because what ever you say, I won't agree!
Even though the roosting birds were in the distance, as they left the roost slowly and surely, sometimes taking to the air in hundreds, I snapped away in the hope that I would get something interesting and so it proved. I was very pleased to have these images of Godwits both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed together in flight. You can see how different they look in flight with the Black-tailed having that very bold pattern which shows really well.
I photographed this goose amongst the swans and Greylag (farmyard type) geeese on Exetr Quay last month. I have been trying to identify it and eventually I have discovered that it is a Swan Goose (Anser cygnoides) In the wild this is a rare goose but there are a few feral birds living wild in the UK and this is one of them. It is an extremely attractive goose. You can see that, in common with the White-fronted Goose it has the same facial markings and it's obvious that they are closely related. It is living wild and free. As my gallery of Devon Birds exists to help people to name the birds that they see in Devon, I have included it.
I really hope that you can find the time to watch this 3 minute video. It was filmed at my site where I have a set up to film and photograph the birds. This buzzard came down to feed on a Rabbit carcass that I had put down to entice it infront of the camera. It actually took weeks and weeks to get one of the local Buzzards to come down to feed but once one did at least 2 others came down but at different times. I have been looking at video taken last year and hadn't realised that I had such good footage.
I have a gallery of Devon Birds which so far it contains 181 different species (all photographed in Devon of course). I am always trying to add to it which I did today. Matt Knot, an Exmouth birder, had reported seeing a White Fronted Goose in a very large field of beet close to Orcombe Point between Exmouth and Littleham. Orcombe Point is on the coast and it is a good spot for migrants but Matt tells me that this field is not particularly fruitful normally. Having said that though, he did have a Stone Curlew in this very field a couple of years ago! I visited this site twice before I could add White Fronted Goose to the gallery. It wasn't easy but in the end, with a degree of perseverance, I was successful today. I positioned myself next to a gate which gave me a good look over most of the field but it didn't matter how much I looked through mu binoculars, I just couldn't see it. As it happened, Matt Knot suddenly arrived on the scene and assured me that, although we couldn't see it, he was sure that it was somewhere there amongst the beet. After Matt had left I felt it was worth waiting and watching because I was sure that it was there somewhere amongst the crops. I kept scanning the field and then suddenly..... there it was.
I was very pleased and I watched it for a while, wondering how I was going to get a shot of it. Suddenly and absolutely amazingly, it took to the air and flew towards me and landed nearer to the gate but close to the hedge line further up the field after circling in front of me. . Matt had told me that it was OK to go in to the field as long as I stuck to the edge so in I went and sticking close to the edge, got much closer to the bird that didn't seem in the least bit disturbed by me anyway . It continued to feed and even moved closer to me as I sat in the mud in the hedge looking towards it feeding on the leaves of the beet. I finished up with some tremendous pictures..... and now the gallery has 182 different Devon species!
White Fronted Geese are a small geese. They breed either in Greenland or Russia. Both species can be separated, Greenland Birds are smaller and have a pink beak whereas the Russian sub-species Albifrons has an orange beak and is apparently darker and slightly larger. The bird here is Albifrons, the European species but it is a juvenile bird and is yet to develop the white feathers on the face for which it is named.
Having been back from Florida for more than a week now, I am sorting methodically through the pictures that I didn't have chance to work on when I was there. I didn't see as many birds on this trip as in previous years but with another years experience, I was hoping to improve my images. I have taken good photos of Loggerhead Shrike before but I think I have nailed this one. You can see a lot of detail and most of the bird is in focus. The light is always very bright in South Florida and it is not always that easy to deal with. When its very brigh,t the shadows are strong and the whites get burned out. The early morning, from dawn until around 10 is the best and when I returned to the spot where I had seen it before, at around 9 o'clock, I was very pleased to see it on the fence even as I got out of the car. It's method of hunting is interesting. Without exception, it would perch on the top of the 6 foot high fence and watch for movement on the sand dune beneath. Once prey was spotted it would glide quietly down and grab whatever it was. It seemed to be feeding on quite small flies which it would always eat before returning to the spot it had left from. I know that their prey can include small lizards and even mice and it would have been good to see it catch something like that but I wasn't that lucky unfortunately. However it's a smart bird and a fascinating experience to watch it feed like this. Having the opportunity to see birds like this from around the world is the reason that I love to travel and love to photograph birds. I find Shrikes in the genus Lanius very interesting and I have photographed several species now. One feature that they all have in common is the black facial mask that adults of all the species display.
I am not 100% certain but I would appreciate any comments or help. I think that this is a Western Sandpiper but it could be a Semipalmated Sandpiper as they are very similar. (But surely not identical). Of the 5 North American "peeps", only the Least Sandpiper has yellow legs and the other 4 have black. The western and the Semi-palmated are the smaller of these 4 and are difficult to seperate. My gut feeling is that this is a Western as I think they are more brownish than grey and I am told that the markings on the western continue down the breast but please help if you can.
A bird that is easier to recognise is the Willet but even this species can be sperated in to two sub-species. I am quite confident that this is a bird of the western sub-species because of its slender bill.