Treecreapers are a species that I do not get the chance to photograph very often so when I heard one singing in a wood today, I lingered for a while in the hope that I would be able to grab a picture or two. This proved to be the case and after a lot of patience, I managed my best ever photographs of this species. Treecreapers have a very interesting beak, long, curved and finely pointed which means that they can extract food from deep crevices and cracks beneath bark and moss on tree trunks. Their plumage is interesting as well, it's cryptic, that means it's camouflaged and blends in perfectly with tree bark. They also have an interesting tail which is heavily forked. But if you look at the tails of woodpeckers, you can see that there are similarities. The tail is used to support the bird by stiffly pressing up against the bark as it ascends the tree. They also have a habit of working up a tree from the bottom to the top and never climb down the trunk, unlike Nuthatches for example that will do that. Just look at their sharp long claws that will help it to hang on while it creeps up the tree. The claws are also interesting because the species of Treecreeper here in the UK is different than continental birds. The species there is the Short Toed Treecreaper. You might be interested to know that the Treecreapers on the Chanel Island of Jersey are the Short toed Treecreaper, where there are thought to be around 500 pairs there.
The astute readers of my blog will know that I use Typepad as my Blog server. It seems that they have been coming under attack since last Thursday and they only been able to offer a limited access to users like myself. This last few days have been very frustrating because I have not been able to post as normal, but thankfully I am on line at the moment, as normal, but for how long, nobody knows.. My Blog has been active since 2008 and has thousands of pages and thousands of photographs and it would be a travesty if all this information was lost.... I certainly hope that doesnt happen.
Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler….? The perennial question but it's not hard to tell the difference with a bit of experience. The more you see them the easier they are to separate. They just look different and usually they will be singing and then there is absolutely no likelihood of confusion. In my opinion, Willow Warblers are a more delicate little bird and usually they have flesh coloured legs whereas the Chiffchaff as you can see, has dark legs. But beware because this is not always the case and it is not a certain way of making sure. The stripe above the eye is called the supercillium, a word often used by ornithologists and serious birders. Both Chiffchaffs and Willows have a supercillium.
Heres' a Willow Warbler that I phoographed in Gambia earlier in the month. It was a nice surprise to see this bird in Africa, (where they over winter), when I know the species so well in the UK. You can see how easy it would be to confuse them but look carefully, the suppercillium is more pronounced and the legs are fleshy coloured and the bird as a feel of being longer whereas the Chiffchaff is a little bit stockier. Beware though, light conditions play a massive part in the colour of a bird when they are photographed.
I went back quite early to Exminster Marsh this morning, in the hope of getting a better photograph of the Lesser Whitethroat that I had seen yesterday. I did see and hear this little bird again but unfortunately, today I couldn't get close enough for a photograph. It spent most of the time in the trees and bushes opposite and over the railway line. I listened to a Linnet singing from the brambles just opposite as well and in the really gorgeous early morning light, I photographed It as it sang. I used my Pentax Prime 300 lens with a new 1.4 convertor. This gives me an equivalent of 420 bout the quality is very good and there is the added bonus of being able to focus down to just a few feet, unlike my 500 prime lens which is a good lens but only focuses down to 15 feet. I just loved the early morning golden light which was about as perfect as it could be I think.
As I walked back down the track there was a pair of Long tail Tits that had a territory somewhere near the path. They kept returning to the same area and I took some lovely photographs of them when they were very close to me.
I was chatting on the telephone to my friend Dave Stone yesterday evening after I had just returned from Yorkshire…..I had photographed Twite there by the way….. Dave asked me if I had seen his photograph of lesser Whitethroat? This is not a bird I have seen very often and I certainly haven't photographed one before so I suggested that I meet him in the early morning today and we would go and see if we could find it again to get a photograph. I am glad to say that we were successful and I am grateful to Dave, in my opinion a brilliant birder. We traced it by call and and when it perched on an elder tree in the open for just a few seconds, I managed to get a photograph. I can now add yet another species to my Devon Bird Gallery which now numbers 205 different species. I have some notable absentees from the gallery such as Wryneck, Puffin, Yellow Browed Warbler and most of the Skua species so I am confident to get to 250 eventually. You can look at the gallery of Devon Birds Here
While the rest of Devon was out at Beer Head either "twitching" or photographing the Great Spotted Cuckoo seen there today, I had already left, as soon as the sun came out, to see if I could find Dartford Warbler at my Schedule 1 License site. I was pleased to see Datfords but when I got home, disappointed that I had missed such as special bird. The last time one had been in Devon was 20 years ago. Lets hope that its still there tomorrow.
I returned, just after dawn, to the site of yesterday's Short-eared Owl, however it was raining and quite hard at times, I wasnt hopeful and so it proved becaue after 2 hours sat in the rain, it didnt put in an appearance today. I have added more pictures from yesterday now that I have had time to sort through them.
I know that this picture is going to be a little controversial but I simply can't divulge the site where it was taken because it is private land and the owner would be most unhappy if I did. Having returned home from my West Africa trip I was just settling down to relax for the late afternoon after doing a bit of gardening and other domestics. I had an email from my friend telling me that there was a Short-eared Owl feeding in the paddock very close to their farm house and asking me if I was interested. "Of course" was my reply and I quickly got myself organised and left in a hurry, full of anticipation. When I got there I was told that the bird had been seen throughout the day and only half an hour before it had been on it's favourite perching post, close to the hedgerow. he field hard been prepared over the years to provide a perfect habitat for Barn Owls and is left at the optimum length to make it an ideal habitat for voles. It seems that this was perfect for Short Eared Owls as well. I got myself settled in a Gilly Suit and covered with cam netting to wait it out, I had already been there for an hour and had decided that I was going to sit it out till dusk if that's what it was going to take. Then suddenly, there it was, a brilliant sight and I tingled with excitement. I couldn't believe how glorious it was. It left the post and was quartering the field in front of me, I could see everything really well. I had a grandstand seat!
This is a male Senegal Batis (Batis senegalensis), a most exotic and interesting little bird and getting photos of both male and female of this species was one of the highlights of my trip.
I am in the car at the moment travelling back from the Gambia via Manchester Airport. All in all, a great birding trip with numerous and constant photographic opportunities.
Having travelled the world, not only in my career but now as a bird watcher, photographer and holidaymaker, I wasn't expecting such a cultural shock. Gambia is a crazy place! The dirty rubbish strewn roads are dusty and busy, and that's not to mention the sandy tracks that you find yourself negotiating on every birding outing. It's a poor country with a fractured infrastructure, even the airport is like an imitation of the real thing. For example the main terrace cafe is serviced from what can only be described as a lean to shack!
This is a male Giant Kingfisher, (I took this photo early this morning).
I am now in to day 5 of my trip to the West African country of Gambia. I am staying in a nice Hotel very close to the famous birding site of Koto Creek. So whats it been like so far? Well the birding and photographic opportunities ar just immense. Its not all good. I have to say that my experiences with the local birdguides is a tortuous affair. They are obviously very knowledgeable about the local birds, the best sites and are able to find you all the common species in a fraction of the time that it would take you to find them. It's also good to have birds instantly identified both on call and sight but they are no more slillfull in that than any other birder would be on his local patch. They charge a massively ridiculous amount of money, comparatively a crazy price. The more I think about it the more angry it is making me. Just chatting to the staff in the bar, they are telling me that they get paid less than £40's a month, knowing that, when you are being asked to pay £25, £30 for a couple of hours and as I did yesterday £40 pounds for a morning and evening session, well something is wrong somewhere? So here is the real dichotomy, yesterday was probably the best days birding I have had in my life and to me it felt like real value for money. I photographed, Lizard Buzzard, Long tailed Nightjar, beautiful little waxbills and swallows all birds that I wouldn't have even seen, let alone photograph. I walked with the guides in the bush along sandy paths, birds were on my left, then on my right, in the sky then flying in to beautiful flowering shrubs to feed. Not a real paradise but very near to it!
I guess you would like to see some more images from the trip. This is an Orange cheeked Waxbill, a common bird in aviculture but a real gem here in the wild where they belong.
When I have seen them here they have been in small groups in the company of Lavender Waxbills, feeding in the sandy ground by scratching for fallen grass and weed seeds.
One of the nicest birds that I have seen here and on numerous occasions, is the Little Bee-eater, I have taken hundreds and hundreds of photos of them and it s been hard to decide which ones I like the best.
I have been watching this pair of birds early in the morning. I know they are breeding somewhere because the male of the pair was flying constantly to catch insects and then passing the prey on to the female. A great experience. Its not all about birds and I was really taken by the this particular Red Colobus Monkey.
Well here I am in Gambia on the west coast of Africa. The birds are just amazing, easy to see and easy to photograph and in great light. This is a Little Bee-eater and I was pleased, excited and keen to get down to photographing them in flight as soon as I found a small group in paddy fields near to my hotel. In actual fact I am staying at the Kombo Beach Hotel which is literally next to the famous Kotu Creak, well known to British birders and photographers. Not surprising because the bird opportunities are immense. Yesterday when I got up at dawn, (ish) by 10 past 7 I had photographed Caspian Tern, Black Kite and Hooded Vulture, all within a few yards of my room. I went on to see and photograph around 41species that day, many being 'lifers' for me. I have seen some beautiful birds and have the pictures to show for it.
However there is quite a problem with the so called professional bird guides here, and I have already had problems with them. They will just not leave you in peace. I was told that the best course of action was to employ a guide and in that way, you will be able to have some kind of control and stop the pestering by the others….. all well and good if you make the right choice in the first instant. These guides are charging European prices but we are in a developing country economy and they are asking you to pay for a day what working men in the Gambia get paid for a week! To me, that does not seem fair? Yesterday I had a guide, a good man who just didn't get that I am a photographer and not a list ticker and he did show me some nice birds and it was fascinating to hear and see his skill at calling out small birds from the undergrowth and of course it is good when birds are named for you in an instant. But he wasn't for me, we didn't gell! Once they have you though, that's it, you are their property and this morning, when, as I sat taking pictures close to the bridge he arrived…. disturbing me of course…..! I told him that I wasn't happy to continue with him as my guide and it was as though world war 3 had broken out. But now I am a free man again and I can continue with my freedom, but unfortunatley the others know I am "unattached" and they have started to pester me again…..quite a problem really.
I love Bee-eaters and this is a species that I havent photographed before. It's a Little Bee-eater and they are quite approachable here. I watched and photographed them involved in mating activity, passing food etc. I love to photograph Bee-eathers in flight and this looks like its the place to do it.
Lots of other birds.
I hold a Schedule 1. licence from Natural England which allows me to photograph this bird. You would be breaking the law if you deliberately disturbed a Dartford Warbler at it's nest territory and this includes for the purpose of photography. This afternoon I went to check on the territory that is covered by my licence and I was pleased to see the male singing as he patrolled his large territory. I have observed that males patrol their patch and sing from exposed perches. I have worked out where these favourites are, for example there is a dead tree which I have seen Dartfords singing from on almost every visit. I parked myself, covered in a cam net and waited until, after a lengthy wait, the male arrived nearby and started to sing. It was exciting as I knew he was on his way. So far, I haven't seen them carrying any nesting material but I have seen both the male and female together. If I continue my observations, I am sure I will be able to observe and hopefully photograph some interesting behaviour. Well, that's the plan anyway.
The blog will be a little quiet for a day or so as I am on my way to West Africa for a weeks photography starting this Saturday.
As anyone who reads my blog regularly will know, I am quite obsessive if I want to get a good photo. Take this image for example, I have been back 4 times now since I found a nest site. As usual with Dippers, they are not that easy to photograph because the light is usually difficult and the black and white plumage pattern isn't always easy to deal with. I am pleased with today's photos, almost there. I am also very excited that I have found this nest. I can now almost certainly say that eggs have been laid because nest building has been completed and when I got there this morning the male arrived, flew up to the nest to the female and fed her, then they both flew off and down the river. After a while they both returned opposite the nest and after a while flew off up stream confirming that incubation hasn't commenced.
Wherever you find Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) you are very likely to find Grey Wagtails because they share the same kind of habitat requirements even if they don't feed in the same way. And so it proved this morning. I went to try and get some good photos of Dippers which wasn't 100% successful, but even if I didn't get the best shots of Dippers today, I did get a few nice shots of a male Grey Wagtail. The pair of Dippers are doing well. I got quite acquainted with them this morning. At first I hadn't been too sure which was the male and which was the female but when I saw them together this morning it was obvious. This male is a spanking well coloured and bold bird. The female is doing almost all of the nest building but I did see the male up in the nest. I tried very hard to get some good flight shots but. even though I improved on the shots from the other day, I am sure I can do better. I photographed the male displaying to his female, they almost copulated but not quite.
My experience with Dippers has shown me that the female carries beach leaves to line the nest and this is a sure sign that the nest is almost finished. When I first arrived in mid morning there was a lot of activity but when we got to lunchtime they were visiting the nest far less. This follows the pattern of previous years when I have hardly seen any activity around the nest in the afternoon.
I wonder, can anyone let me know for certain tthat this is a Black Kite. Its a bird that I photographed in Menorca last year and it looks quite different to the other Black Kites that I have photographed before. I would be really appreciative if you can comment with your opinions.
I haven't had chance to go out with the camera this weekend, I have been doing what every family man has to do some time or other. However when I have been indoors I have been looking back at the blog over the last couple of years and a couple of pictures really caught my eye. I was really taken with this picture of a Stonechat that I took on Dartmoor last Autumn, it just so lovely and I can't wait to get back out to that spot again once the breeding season kicks off properly.
……..another one that really excited me was this shot of the pair of Kingfishers at the nest that I am licensed to photograph at. Like the Stonechat , it has really whetted my appetite for the Kingfisher breeding season which is close now.
My life had a little lift this morning......I found an active Dipper nest! Two years ago I had watched a pair of nesting Dipper, daily for 7 weeks and really learnt about this species. I wouldnt call myself an expert on Dippers but based on my own studies of the species I am quite ofay with their breeding behaviour.
Dave Stone came to see me this morning, as we chatted, he was telling me that, in spite of having 149 species on his 2014 Devon list, Dipper had eluded him so far. I was quite sure that I could find him one with very little trouble. I rose to the challenge and took him out to a spot on the River Teign where, if I hadn't seen one, I would have been shocked, such was my confidence. We parked the car and made our way to the water and within 30 seconds I saw one. It was flying with a mouthful of beach leaves so, as well as seeing one, I also knew it had a nest very nearby. They use the leaves to finally line their nest by the way. We sat down qietly and then saw it disappear in to its obvious nest. That was great to see. Two years ago when the Dipper nest that I had been watching was washed out and the chicks drowned, I had been upset and very disappointed. So to find a nest again this year was very satisfying. This nest has been chosen in a spot that is at least 15 feet above the water line so it's not going to be washed out this year and thats for sure. The photo opportunities are going to be endless and I am already planning a strategy.
I have taken perhaps a thousand photos of Dipper and the photos today do not rank even in the best 500 that I have taken but its the first few of what will be many in the coming weeks and I look forward to keeping you updated as nature takes it's course. Above, one of the pair, the female I think, arrives at the nest with some leaves to line the nest.
...... and then here, the male is opposite the nest with material before he flies up to the nest where construction is underway. Its very hard to get good images of Dipper because the pattern of white breat and other dark plumage is difficult to deal with.
In the next shot, the male flies over the river towards the nest site. Keep checking back on the blog over the next few weeks and I am sure there will be many many more photos and most a lot better than these hopefully.
A beautiful Robin, one of the UK's favourite birds, seen in every garden, often taken for granted but loved by those that take the time to notice them. In the winter they are a friendly welcome sight but when we get in to the breeding season they are more secretive. In addition, even though both sexes are identical they are also very territorial and aggressive to each other. They have different songs in the winter and summer and their evocative song is a feature of the English winter. This bird was part of a pair that i have seen in the same place this last few days, paired up now and about to start breeding. Their nests are often in unusual places, for example, amongst plant pots in a potting shed and I have even seen photographs of a nest in the large pocket of an old discarded coat. They regularly build under the bonnet of old vehicles. Robins eggs are a beautiful bright blue colour and very attractive. I have also read of some research that indicates that male robins are more attentive to chicks from bright blue eggs. To me that would seem to be nonsensical. How is it possible for a male robin to choose a female who lays brighter eggs, He would have no way of knowing? Young Robins leave the nest with a speckled breast, not red and sometimes casual observers think that these young birds are females, not realising that both sexes are identical. These young Robins start to attain their red brests later in the summer and by autumn and early winter they will look like their parents. As youngsters they have yellow inside their mouths and when I trained a s a bird ringer I was shown that young birds can be aged as first winter birds because they retain some of this yellow around the mouth.
A nice male Dartford Warbler photographed somewhere in Devon yesterday. They are an odd little bird with a long almost shaggy tail. They seem deformed at times with their large heads and thin bodies and a bright eye with a demeanour that looks severe and angry. They keep low in the undergrowth but can fly strongly when they feel the need. Usually they move through the tangles of vegetation but will then, from time to time pop up on to the top of low shrubs, gorse and heather and brambles. This one was literally in brambles next to a bridle path. As I walked along I could hear the distinctive very low call, unmistakeable once you have heard it a few times. I stepped back and hoped that it would pop up out of the vegetation as they do and there it was, just for a spilt second but I was waiting and had anticipated where it would perch. Lucky, but very satisfying and achieved because I have been learning about their behaviour which is key to getting good photos of any species. In addition, good field craft is essential. Keeping a low profile, not standing out in the open against the skyline, wearing subdued and cryptic clothing rather than a bright jacket etc. If you are with a friend, talk in a low voice, stick to paths and don't go crashing through the undergrowth. Sit down where possible. All common sense but the advent of good optics has made people less reliant on good fieldcraft. I rarely take binoculars out with me which I know you may think odd but I rely on being very quiet, secretive and having a knowledge of my target. I have been a birder all my life and almost all of the time as a loner, just recently I have been birding with a few friends and its good to see that we share the same ethos, quite often 4 eyes are better than two. Dartford Warbler are a schedule one bird and you should never disturb them intentionally at or around their nest, its against the law but if you are a bird lover then you wouldnt want to anyway. Keep to tracks and dont divulge their whereabouts or betray their presence to anyone. There are devious people out there and we should all be on our guard. If you are in a known Dartford Warbler area and see peole acting unusually then think about notifying the Devon Wildlife Crimes Officer PC Josh Marshall.
Its been a terrible day again today, yesterday was almost spring but today it was winter again. It was not a day to do anything outdoors and after the success of yesterday when I had watched a male Dartford Warbler singing in the sunshine I was quite deflated to be honest. I have been looking again at some of yesterday's pictures and selected this one to post. Sometimes when you take bird photos the resultant image can display colours which are different than the subject in reality. If you have not seen Dartford Warblers before than I can confirm that this is a quite an accurate representation.
Dartford Warblers are members of the Sylvia family of warblers, they are related to Blackcaps and Whitethroats but they seem much more closely related to the Mediterranean species such as Sardinian Warbler, Ruppels Warbler and the visually very similar Subalpine Warbler. I have done just a little bit of research and seen that there are 27 or so members of the family and many are exotic and very desirable as a photographic subject. It is a real priviledge to have Dartford Warblers in the UK, my county. Even though Devon is one of the strongholds of the species and I doubt if there that many here, it is still a bird that you really have to look hard for and then get very lucky to get close enough to photograph them. I have been doing quite a lot of searching and studying of this species during the last few months, really trying to get a hold on them by learning as much about them as I can by personal observation. Its not been easy, it isn't easy, but it's the way I like to do things. Dartford Warblers are described as very secretive and I usually see them when they fly low from one heather or gorse to another.
The Sardinian Warbler, another very attractive Sylvia warbler is a bird that I have seen regularly when I have been in Spain, Portugal and the Balearic Islands. Their behaviour is simualar and you struggle to get a view even though you can hear them in the bushes and low shrubs. Suddenly they will show themselves, momentarily, just like Dartfords showing themselves to sing from an exposed perch. In Gibralter many years ago I came upon one that had been hit by a car on the road leading up to the top of the rock. I held it in my hand as it came back to life. I was stunned by the beautiful red orbital eye ring, a feature that it shares with the Dartford Warbler. Heres a photo of one that I photoographed in Menorca in 2012. You can clearly see they red orbital eye ring in bothe pictures.
The Dartford Warbler is an elusive, attractive, interesting and rare breeding bird in the UK. It is non-migratory and it's success as a breeding bird depends on a mild winter because it is right on the Northern edge of it's breeding range here in England. This is a common bird however in parts of Spain and the Mediterranean where frosts and cold winters are unknown. I am not going to even hint at where this photograph was taken, I am not that irresponsible except to say that it was photographed from a very popular public footpath.
Out at the site where I have been photographing Little Grebe things were not going too well, I had already put in 2 hours and apart from rather out of focus attempts, I hadn't even got a photo to show for it. Grebe were singing their whinnying songs from 4 different directions. Each time one sang another would sing back to confirm his presence. I was positioned on the edge of one bird's territory and every now and then the bird pictured here would cruise to the edge of his patch to patrol and stake his claim, not often but just regularly enough to make it worthwhile for me to wait. The dead reeds in front of me provide cover and he seemed to make a bee-line from open water after passing in front of me in a gap between the alder trees growing up from shallow water on the edge of the pool. There was a pair to my right and I have seen them together constantly but as far as I know this young male hasn't got a partner.
I spent more than 3 hours this morning (Monday) trying to get close to Little Grebe. In the end it was quite successful but the light seemed to let me down when it mattered. However, usual it was also quite exciting. When you target a species then hatch a plan and then start to get some photographs its always very satisfying. I got closer than I have before which was good. On the way home in the car I drove past a large, very impressive flock of Brent Geese and snapped off a few shots from the car window. Beautiful birds and I love them. It won't be long before the depart for their breeding grounds in Northern Europe and Northern Asia.
It seems that it's quite easy to photograph Long-tail Tits at this time of the year because as I got out of the car this morning another pair were nearby in the bushes and I snapped off a few photos again of this attractive little species. When I checked out my blog from this month last year I see that I also photographed Long-tail Tits in March last year.
I came upon a pair of Long-tail Tits early this morning and it was really nice to see that one was carrying a small piece of lichen. Long-tail Tits decorate their domed nest with small pieces of lichen, and similar. When I have discovered their nests previously I have always been really impressed by their beauty. The nests is a domed ball of feathers and other material, held together with spider web. There is a small entrance hole, usually hidden at the back of the nest. The nest is lined with feathers and it's a very cosy and warm construction. They lay a large clutch of eggs even as many as 10. At this time of the year they will be seen in pairs but at the rest of the year you will see them in small groups, usually the young ones from a successful breeding season and the parents.
I watched this pair for a while and I am quite sure I know where their nest is. In the past I have discovered nests in gorse bushes and this pair seemed to be making a bee-line and disappearing in to an isolated bush. I will keep my eye on this bush over the next few weeks.
Sometimes I take a picture which really pleases me and this is one, not just because its nice and sharp but I also like the pose of the bird which shows a lot of character. I had watched a pair engaged in breeding and mating activity, chasing each other around and singing their very unusual song which you can hear by clicking on the link here.
This is not a rare bird in the UK and it is in fact found in the most unlikely of countries as far east as Japan and as far south as South Africa and across Europe and Asia. I went to quite a lot of effort to get this photo, I have been watching them at this site for the last week or so and discovered where they prefer to be. I carefully made my way to there and positioned myself by a tree and wrapped came netting around the tree, myself and camera on the tripod, then it was just a case of waiting for one of them to come close, this took quite a degree of patience but in the end one was right there in front of me and very close, (at last).
At this time of the year….it's spring don't forget….they have a very distinctive song, you can listen to it here.
I had a quiet bird day today. I went to look for Treecreeper at a site where I had seen them last Saturday. For some odd reason today there was no sign which suggests that the one I had seen then was just passing through and not resident in that woodland.. I sat under a cam cover and consequently this male Wren perched in front of me for a moment or two giving me the chance to take his photo….. I say male because I saw it sing. They have a beautiful song by the way. Have a listen here Wren Song
On the marsh this morning at around 1100, I was really deflated when I arrived to discover an almost total absence of birds and particularly the Little Gulls that I had seen and photographed yesterday. That had been such a great experience. It was almost unbelievable, no ducks either, where are they I wonder? There was the odd swan and a distant small group of Canada Geese. Dave Stone joined me and we chatted and waited for a few minutes before I decided to return home to pick up some equipment with the intention of going to look for Little Grebe again. The phone rang and it was Dave, from the marsh still, telling me that he had an adult now in pool by the middle car park. I quickly returned and started to watch the bird in really good light. Eventually I took some nice pictures. This bird was never joined by the other adult, nor juvenile as yesterday but apparently later in the afternoon there were three again. I watched this adult feeding on flies both on the surface of the flooded pool and also in the air. When I looked at the pictures back on the computer at home I could definitely see just the faintest suffusion of pink on the breast which was a nice surprise. Apparently when adults are in high breeding condition this is a nice feature of the species. You can only see these pink hues in the right light. It was also really nice to see some friends that I have got to know through birding in the area over the last few years, this is a nice bonus to a good day when you can spend it with nice friendly knowledgeable people.
I am quite a lot happier with this image than any other that I have taken before of Little Grebe, but I know that I can do better! Little Grebe, colloquially known as Dabchicks, are a resident breeding species in the UK. They are non- migratory and consequently come in to breeding condition quite early in the year. They have an exotic breeding song at this time of the year and my attention seems to get drawn to them at this time every year. Getting a photo is never a problem but getting close to get a good photo needed a bit of thought, planning and preparation…..and of course patience. These birds will show themselves but as soon as they are aware of your presence, they will disappear underwater and then surface again undercover in the reeds. All very frustrating.
So today, after a bit of thought over the weekend, I hid myself amongst some trees on the bank and then put up a screen made from scrim-netting. It was just a case then, of waiting for one to show itself and after a while there was right in front of me. I missed that shot because it slipped beneath the surface quite quickly (as they do), then after a few more minutes it was there again and this time I did manage some photographs and I am quite sure the bird wasn't aware of me. Being quite close to an unsuspecting bird is always very satisfying and it's doubly so when you have made a plan and its worked out. I did have a flush and thrill of satisfaction when there it was just sat calmly in the water and I pressed the shutter a few times and knew I had been successful. It looks to me as though this bird is a first year bird as there is just the slightest hint of juvenile markings that are not visible in the above picture. A short while later, another bird, this one aalso a male, but in much brighter plumage was sat out in the open t a little further away. The fluffy rump is a nice feature of this species. and it showed very well in the bright sunshine.
I rarely go out of Devon specifically to look for birds (apart from my foreign trips) but today was an exception. I went with the 3 Daves to Marshfield in Gloucestershire to photograph a Re-flanked Bluetail that has been there since the beginning of the month. It was well worth the trip all the way in to the Cotswolds to see and then get some nice photos of this extremely rare bird that is only s seen in the UK very infrequently. This particular one in fact is described as the UK's first to over-winter. It isn't the most pleasant of situations to be in though, one little bird in a nearby tree and 50 or so like-minded people with their cameras and spotting scopes all trained on it. Everyone is keen to adhere to the unwritten rules and protocol which centres around not disturbing the bird in anyway but in addition, everyone wants to get as close as they are allowed by the common consensus of the crowd. There is always a bit of tension and bickering as people of my age don't like being told what to do and we all think we are in charge, well you can imagine! I spent the day sat next to a photographer whose pictures I had seen before….and always enjoyed…. Our plan was just to sit on the bank overlooking the bird's favourite tree and then snap away as soon as it exposed itself, hardly skilful but there is nothing else you can do in situations like this. I was reasonably happy with my photographs but very excited and pleased to see a "lifer", this is the first time I have seen this species. Red-flanked Bluetail is a bird of Northern Asia spreading as far East as Japan. There is a breeding population in Finland where they are said to be increasing so we may see even more of this species in the future. This bird is though to be a first year male.
It was another bright and sunny day today, such a rarity this winter. I went up to the East Devon pebblebed heath to look for Skylark which I have seen there often but not often close enough for a photograph. I also expected to see Stonechat and so it proved with several pairs seen and photographed. The bird above is a male and the one below a female. As for Skylark, I heard and watched several singing birds, always a glorious sound but as I expected, it was almost impossible to get a photograph.
The Mistle Thrush is a reasonably common bird in Devon but I have to say, it's not easy to photograph nor for that matter seen as often as you would think, by me at least and I can only speak of my own experiences. It's particularly alert in my opinion and will fly to a respectable distance as soon as you get within camera range, in fact I have rarely had the chance to get a good photo of one. We did have one in our garden a few winters ago when in fact, we had all the UK thrush species in the garden (apart from Ring Ouzel) in the space of a few hours, it was frosty and cold and the birds must have been really suffering. Heres a link to that day on Jan 8, 2010.
Today, at last the rain and wind stopped, the sky was bereft of cloud and it was about as gloriously bright and blue as it could possibly be. I had to get out there and any self respecting wildlife enthusiast would too, and no doubt already were! We have some beautiful coniferous woodland nearby and I thought this would be a good place to go today, it would be quieter for sure. Quieter than some of the more "trendy" spots and after my unpleasant last visit to the noisy hide at Bowling Green the last time we had a sunny day, well lets just say I have learnt my lesson. When I got to the edge of the woods, the air was full of bird song as though all the birds were just as pleased as me to have some sunshine and I guess spring is on the way and birds are already starting to think about pairing up. I sat back on a bank overlooking the woodland opposite which was fringed with laurel and holly. I could hear a Mistle Thrush and then I watched a pair that were defending the few berries remaining on one holly bush. I have read that Mistle Thrush defend a food source but I have never seen it before. Blackbirds and Squirrels were trying to feed on the berries but the Mistles were having none of it. I took a few photos but couldn't get close enough to get really good photos. I plan to go back with some cover so I can photograph some interesting behaviour.
As I walked back to the car there was quite a commotion coming from the top os a pine tree and when I fixed my Sigma 500 lens on the protagonists I could see clearly that it was a nice flock of Siskins feeding by extracting the seeds from the cones. It was good to see but I have to confess that I had hoped it was going to be a flock of Crossbills which it could quite easy have been.
A nice pair of Siskins, male on the right.
At Exmouth beach today I couldn't locate any of the Little Gulls that have been reported this last couple of days. It seems that this is beginning to become a bogey bird for me but I suppose eventually I will get lucky. However, there were the usual birds that you would expect to see. The Shags are looking very special at this time of the year. As I have said recently, they are very smart with their green iridescent plumage and crest. I have seen and photographed 14 different species of Cormorant and I think that apart from the King Shag that I photographed in the Falkland Islands, our common old Shag here in the UK is the most attractive. Here's a link to my Cormorants of the World Gallery It was upsetting to see a quite badly 'oiled" Guillemot which was standing on the surf line amongst the Kite Surfers. I had two tries to try and catch it but unfortunately I wasn't able to. It really needed to go in to care to have the oil removed before it was too late, It had lost the use of it's wings completely and had quite a large patch of oil on the breast.
The word Podiceps is the scientific name for members of the grebe family of birds. I photographed a Black-necked Grebe yesterday and at one point I had a clear view of the unusual feet of this species. It is obvious that when grebes were first assigned scientific names, the unusual feet were noted and reflected in the name which is "Podiceps". Black-necked Grebe are known to breed in the UK in tiny numbers but these breeding sites are very secret as, apparently they are very very easily disturbed. This is an odd fact because yesterday as I photographed this bird, I am certain that it was aware of me sitting quietly nearby but it wasnt disturbed enough to either stop fishing or move away. I refer to "fishing" but it is more likely to have been feeding on shrimps or prawns. I say this because I had some excellent views of a female Kingfisher feeding and this bird had a large shrimp in it's beak.
We are due really stormy weather yet again tomorrow, its the wettest January in over 200 years here in the UK. Many people are suffering terrible flooding and the infrastructure has been damaged with railway lines washed away and harbour walls damaged. So when we had a little bit of sun this morning, in between the showers I thought I should go out just for some fresh air as much as anything. I went to some nearby conifer woodland and just sat there listening to the small birds. I could hear Goldcrests, Long tail Tits and interestingly, Crossbills, not a bird that I see regularly so I was pleased about this. I even managed a poor photograph of a male. There was a small group right at the top of a Scots Pine.
They didn't stay around unfortunately so I went and sat very quietly in a clearing with a clear view in front of me surveying the hill in fron of me. Suddenly a Roe Deer came out of the woodland and made its way slowly across the clearing. I took photographs and it heard the shutter, stopped in it's tracks and stared in my direction. I saw it lick it's jaw as it made it's way out of the clearing. I believe that this is an additional way of scenting the air, a sure sign that it could hear me but because I sat so still and didn't display a human profile and was wearing a camouflaged jacket, it couldn't see me.
A classic dear photograph. It's winter and the coat colour is dark greyish-brown at this time of the year. Also, I am sure that this is a "buck" and not a "doe" in-spite of not having any antlers. These are grown in the winter and obviously they haven't emerged yet.
I managed some nice photographs of the Goldcrests as well, always hard to achieve because they are so active and not still for even a fraction of a second.
I took this photograph yesterday at Hopes Nose, it appears that this Shag has a Lumpfish but it's hard to tell for sure. Click on the link here and you can read about this species on Wikipedia.
I went to Hopes Nose, Torbay yesterday, it was a nice bright day and the weather forecast for the rest of the week wasn't good, I needed to make the best of it. I had heard about, and seen photos of, Little Gull that had been seen there and I wanted to add this species to my galery of Devon Birds, I made a massive effort to make the trip. Getting there wasn't too bad but still feeling a bit under the weather, it was a hard trudge walking down the track and even worse climbing back up, not without reason is this place nick-named Cardiac Hill, it certainly makes your heart pump!
Once I got down to the shore, which is a granite headland jutting out into the bay, I was amongst a large flock of gulls which included Black-headed, Common and some really attractive Kittiwake. They were feeding in the surf which was close to an outflow, suspiciously smelling of perfume, a sure sign of sewage! I am told by locals that this historic seagage outflow is not used as such anymore but frankly I don't believe that. Birds feeding in the way they were and the smell, well there's the conclusive evidence right there. Sounds nasty but it really isn't and the birds certainly like it!!
Anyway, what a fantastic photo opportunity it is. I took hundreds and hundreds of photos of flying Kittiwake which is a lovely, lovely bird with a bright yellow beak and attractive black tips to the wings. I didn't photograph, or even for that matter see any Little Gull and that was a shame. I caught sight of Great Northern Diver and also lots of glorious adult Shag, in breeding condition and displaying their pretty iridescent greeny plumage and crest. With a yellow gular patch, this is a really stunning bird when you are close to it.
After 3 hours I decided to call it a day, I was cold and stiff, I hadnt realised how cold I actually had become because I was so engrossed. I also hadnt realised that Chris and Janet Procter were nearby and Chris had discovered, or re-found a female Eider Duck? I haven't photographed this species before so I quickly joined him and added species 200 to my Devon Galleries!
I am pleased with this image, an attractive bird feeding on crabs and molluscs that it was diving to collect from the sea bed.
A great opportunity to photograph this gull which is normally off-shore and only comes to land to breed, they are rarely if ever seen in land.
The Redshank is a nice little wading bird that does breed in the UK but we also have birds from the continent wintering here on the Exe Estuary. They are an aptly named bird with bright red legs as well as a black ended red beak which is used to probe in to the mud and turf for worms. Their most attractive feature is the white striped tail.
Here's a few more photographs of birds that I photographed yesterday.
I spent more time yesterday in the public hide at Bowling Green Marsh. It was a bright sunny day, which was a great opportunity for everyone to, at last get out and do something. I was limited to a trip to B G Marsh because I had to use public transport and it was immediately obvious when I got there that I should have stayed at home. Unlike the dull rainy weather on Thursday, when I pretty much had the hide to myself, today it was full to capacity. I have to say that this had a massive impact on the bird behaviour, every self respecting bird keeping as far away from the hide as possible. There was even one"joker" stood outside, within the fence and fully exposed to the birds in front of him. For me it was almost a disaster and I was very disappointed to be honest. It was noisy, very noisy and once when a redshank flew in quite close, the chatter was so loud that the bird immediately flew off again to a safe distance. It's hard to understand, why you would go there to see the birds and then scare them away? I just don't get it. Still each to there own and if you go to a public hide you have to respect that other people are there for all sorts of reasons and not necessarily for the same reason as yourself. I think I take some quite good photos and there is no secret, you need patience and perseverance and also good fieldcraft and a quiet approach. You need to be as close to your subject as possible and you can't get close to a wild creature by making noise and causing disturbance. Eventually people got bored and in the end, after more than two hours, only 3 other people were in the hide and guess what? The birds came in close and were eventually feeding on the grass and in the flood just in front of the hide. Again, patience and perseverance had paid off. The Redshank are starting to come in to breeding condition and from time to time they would display some aggressive behaviour. I could see a situation starting to develop in front of me and I waited whilst one bird postured aggressively to another and then the fight kicked off. A great photo opportunity at last. If you look at the series you can see that one bird gets the upper hand and literally holds the other's head under the water at one point. This all took a matter of seconds and it was interesting to see what was actually happening because the eye could hardly follow the action.
I am currently in the process of compiling the trip report from my recent trip. Please check it out here and read a day by day account of my trip with many, many pictures. Here's a link