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
The Oriental Magpie Robin, what a name, very common here and a beautiful singer. As we walked down the road early this morning this bird was on the floor, a great photo opportunity. Before we left I photographed the Parakeet here, this is a Rose Ringed Parakeet and the same as the species that is breeding the home counties at home in the UK. They are nesting in the coconut grove next to our house and feeding here on a berry bush next to the house.
Then down at the beach Terry photographed the Bee-eaters and I tried to capture the swallows in flight with a tiny bit of success. I think the one here is a juvenile Barn Swallow, if you know different can you please let me know. Oh….. and a female type Brown Shrike. A good morning, off to look at some water birds this afternoon.
Today, after a small lie-in I left my accommodation after 7.30 to go out to the beach area where I had so successfully photographed Bee-eaters flying from and landing on, their perches doing what bee-eaters do best, catch bees in flight!! The light was better today, bright sun and not over-cast so if the birds were there then i would be able to improve my shots from the other day and so it proved with many, many action shots, some absolutely glorious. On my walk dow the road to the beach I have to walk past the gardens of a nearby guest house which is always full of intriguing bird sounds and this morning in one tree, I saw and photographed a Sri-Lankan Paradise Flycatcher….what a bird and also my best ever shots of a Brown Barbet so even before I had managed to get my eyes working properly I had seen two cracking species and thats not to mention the Indian magpie Robin pair that have a nest in the garden somewhere I think as I have seen them every time that I have walked past. Photos of all today's action to follow shortly.
(I have had difficulties connecting to the internet this last few days, sorry for he lack of posts). Thursday saw us going up the coast to Kalpitya, to look for Dolphins which are close to the Continental shelf at this point and the sea is rich in life and supports vast pods of Dolphins. We were told that a sighting is absolutely 100% guaranteed, well it isn't because we had to stay an extra night in the beach side camp ….. they called it a hotel but its basically 7 little sheds on the sand with facilities. It was fun but basic, some would say exotic and romantic but a sheds a shed. I suppose location is everything but you can't call a wooden hut anything else than shed can you. Having failed on the Thursday we negotiated another trip with the manager to go out next day at a reduced price where we were assured that "it's 100% guaranteed my friend", funny didn't you say that yesterday. 4 hours on the Thursday was followed by 2 on the Friday and eventually there they were. The magnificent sight of perhaps 500 Dolphins. They were in the vicinity of a few small boats, way out at sea. They were fishing for Tuna and other ocean going pelagics with hand lines. I assumed that the fisherman and the dolphins were there because of the abundance of bait fish and the dolphins were certainly following the small boats...... and us once wehad joined the mini-fleet.
What a sight, the water was boiling with them in all directions and it was certainly a great spectacle that I will remember for the rest of my life. Photography was nigh on impossible so to finish up with a dozen or so shots was nothing short of divine intervention! A picture paints a thousand words? No it doesn't because it doesn't show the extreme amount of effort that we endured to get to see this pod. It doesn't show how rough the sea was and it doesn't show how wet we got, nor how shaken, rattled and rolled we were! But, unequivocally it was worth every bone crunching bounce of the boat, every thorough salty spumed soaking, and every pound extracted from our wallets by the local Sri Lankans who are masters in the art of stripping the rupees from every travellers wallet, by subterfuge, argument, bribe or simple begging!!!! The money for this expensive outing was my Christmas present from my lovelly wife Jenny, so thanks Jen my best Christmas present ever! What kind of wife allows you to go away to Sri Lanka to photograph wildlife and gives you money towards it?
Spinner Dolphins are smaller than Bottle Nose, they seemed to be the size of the Common Dolphins that I have seen before in the Bay of Biscay. It was really good to see that there were lots of young calves that left the water to jump along side their parents. A wonderful treasured sighting.
We arrived back on the shore after a great 3 hours, I tried to persuade the boat to stay longer ever hopeful of better shots……I always am. It seemed odd to spend 6 hours looking for them and when we had found them, leave after 20 minutes, why couldn't we stay for 3 hours? But others wanted to return including the boatman so thats what we did. At the point I ought to mention the young lad acting as a guide, (the owners son), he was a gobby little (privileged) boy who almost spoiled the trip. He would have made good shark bait! Our trip back to Waikkal was great. We travelled all the way by Tuktuk stopping regularly to photograph birds of interest. There simply isn't time to post today but we saw, and all very close. Stork Billed Kingfisher, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Open-billed Stork, Ibis, Purple Heron, and two lifers for me (with photographs), Green Bee-eater and White-rumped Munia. All in all a fabulous and rich 2 days. Here's a record of he Green Bee-eater.
Terry and I went to Nogombo this afternoon. I decided not to take my camera and it was good fun to negotiate the local means of transport which varied from Tuk-tuk to Bus and back to Tuck-tuck (a small 3 weel vehicle that can take 2 passengers, basically a powered rickshaw). They are cheap and seemingly dangerous but they don't seem to crash which says a lot more about the belief in various gods than the skill of the drivers. They weave in and out of the traffic. There is always hassle negotiating the price which usually finishes up at a few quid,if that. It's a constant feud between Western travellers who arrive with wallets laden with cash and it seems the national passtime of every Sri Lankan is to extract as much of it as you can. This is done by always being "my-friend" or having a brother, uncle or some other distant relative who has a boat here or a taxi there or is a tour guide and will give you the best price etc.!The beggars are real, and very sad but some people just randomly ask you for money even though they look perfectly respectable. We shopped in a gift shop which could have been any gift shop anywhere in the world with that slightly musty smell from the usual carvings, probably mass produced in China or the Philippines but all supposedly hand made here. Having been in hundred of gift shops in dozens of third world countries previously then I am sorry to say, I wasn't fooled but did buy two tiny resin elephants (designed to look like iron wood) and a spoon made from a shell which will join all the other things from countries like Fiji and Tonga and the Pitcairn Islands, in a box somewhere in the attic.Oh well, when in Rome as they say….. Our journey home was weird! We caught a bus which was crammed with people, we used our wits and even managed to get off the bus and then change on to the next one which was even more crowded and smelly. We careered along to our destination and jumped off to then flag down a passing agricultural vehicle who took us to a spot further on where we could get a Tuk-tuk to the last stage of our journey. All very interesting and exciting. I think the locals enjoyed it more than us as they were intrigued to see two English men of a certain age, on their crowded bus and laughed at us as well on the motor driven cart. Back home at Ravi's there is a disaster of sorts. Its a new moon and believe it or not every new moon is a public holiday and the bars and hotels are not allowed to sell alcohol! (Thats just for today). So an early night tonight which is probably a good thing as we are leaving very early in the morning for another go at the Dolphin trip.
I had a great couple of hours early this morning with the Bee-eaters, a really common bird here. The species that I am seeing is the Blue-tailed Bee-eater. You can see them on just about every outing and hear them passing over head very regularly. Being in a situation to photograph a species like this is the reason that I came all the way to Sri Lanka. It took a lot of patience and persistence to get the shots. It's not always easy to be in just the right spot for a good shot, in fact it rarely is to be honest. Part of my success ( if I have acheived any of course) is to be in the right position which is a big skill. There were several Bea-eaters on the beach which seems to be a good place to see them particularly when they are feeding. I had noticed that one particular bird had a favoured perch quite low down and I managed to manoeuvre myself in to a position just in front of it and then gradually I moved myself nearer and nearer. Then I set the camera up for the in-flight shots by trying to get the very fastest shutter speed possible. This meant that I had to choose a high ISO which can make images look a bit grainy if you are not careful. I was very excited when I realised that I had achieved some success. It's always rewarding to set out to do something and then get a result. In the end I finished up with about 50 shots of the bird alighting on this perch. Very quickly when I came back to my room I had a look and selected these.
It's been such a magical day so far, even though its lunch time and "siesta" we have had such great start. It was dull and overcast and remained so until well after 8.30. Terry my travel companion had said that I ought to go with hime to an area that I hadn't been before so before we strolled down there before 7, and as we stood there drinking coffee we took photos of this Asian Koel that was eyeing up the fruit on our feeding station that have so far attracted lots of birds which have included mainly Bulbuls and Mynahs and the Yellow Billed Babblers. But there has been more, so much more. In the bush with the Bee-eaters was a bird that Terry hadn't realised was important too me, he is not a birder so how would he know but there was a lovely Brown Shrike female. I managed a shot or two but like I have said……. yet again…..the light was bad, out came the better beamer and flash gun and I then managed a keeper. I saw Brown Shrike last year and the other day I had seen a male.
The light was awful but when we got there, there were some birds of the usual species. The White-throated Kingfisher (below) was vying for attention with a few lovely Bee-eaters bit the light was just so bad. never the less I crept towards the Kingfisher who was on nearby bushes but off it went and I thought I had disturbed it…. but no, suddenly there it was in front of me with a prey item…….and now i know what they eat. It had a little ghost crab in it's beak. What a treat to see it feeding on the little crab. As I have already said twice, the light was dull so I could only achieve around 1/100 of a second which is normally a recipe for disaster but out of the 20 or so shots of the action, this one seemed almost OK.
We have an Indian Roller nesting high in a dead Coconut Tree in the plantation next door to Ravi's Dream House! Absolutely brilliant, Terry discovered it the day before yesterday. There has been some interesting interactions between the pair and also between the Ring-necked Parakeets that are nesting in the hole beneath (in the same tree). I have managed a few shots of them but its hard to be in two places at once and when you are sitting there taking pictures of them you are not elsewhere getting other shots and the possibilities are endless..... just not enough time to do it all (and get some sleep as well). But, its really going to be my focus in the next day or so I think because look what's happening..... it's brilliant.
This is the male flying down to the hole, we think that the female is incubating and we have seen them on the top of the stump together. This morning the male attacked the parakeets but I didn't manage to get a shot of the.
This is the same bird on another occasion, flying down from the stump of the tree which is about 50 foot high, a really safe place for a nest. Here he is on the nest rim before he looks inside to interact with his mate.
….and if that were not enough to keep you entertained there is always the fruit feeder which is a great source of entertainment. We had Mynah birds feeding babies with our free banana offerings this morning…… photos later. This is a Red vented Bulbul, they seem to love the Banana.
..........…and a close up, foloowed by an Indian Pond Heron that was in the plantation as I waited fo action from the Rollers.
Before the complete post then here's the Stork-billed Kingfisher that I promised you yeaterday.
We went to a little place up the coast called Chillow today. Its off the beaten track and not in the least bit a tourist haunt. No English spoken and the train, very basic as it is, did the job for the princely sum of 35p each. It was good to see the rural scene as we passed along the line, every rice field full of egrets and every cow having at least one Cattle Egret for company. Then now again a stork of unknown species appeared in to view. A wonderful experience to say the least, (in spite of my earache). I have travelled all my life and you can't explain to non-travellers what the 3rd world is like unless you have been. The sights, the smells the one legged beggars, the poor (and I mean POOR) with no shoes and the lovely smiles that everyone is ready to give, in spite of having nothing. Most people seem so much happier than the average European. I am constantly reminded of the inequality there is in the world and the good fortune of people in England who don't know the meaning have having nothing and then feel hard dome by if they haven't got satellite TV (for example). In Chillow there are some sand spits that form an estuary and this was why had returned today. In about an hour I photographed 4 species of tern include my first new species of the trip, a Gull-billed. I also had some wonderful views of a lovely Caspian Tern which I have now been lucky enough to see on three continents, europe, USA and here in Asia but I haven't photographed them very well before. If you look below there is a Whiskered Tern first followed then by a Crested Tern (also called Swift Tern) and then the Caspian as mentioned. Then a Gull-billed Tern, a first for me as I already said.
Yesterday, that was Sunday, Terry and I went on a river boat trip which I wasnt expecting to be too successful, just a happy jaunt but I have to confess that it was very rewarding and this in spite of the boat boy who let us down badly. We were supposed to meet him at 6.30am but he sent a substitute and then he arrived much later to take over. I was hopping mad because this meant that we had to return to pick him up and exchange boatmen. I told him that it would be fair enough if he was doing us a favour but of course they are not, it costs handsomely!In the end though we saw 4 species of kingfisher and several other interesting species include a Stone Curlew pair and I even spotted the nest of one of the Sunbird Species. I took a magnificent picture of a Purple Heron in flight, possibly one of my best ever photographs, I am very pleased with it.
I have very interesting pictures of the Stork Billed Kingfisher that we saw, a truly awesome big Kingfisher, almost as large as a Kookaburra. Last time I had photographed it but not well, but this year I have nailed it as they say. Check back and I will try and post the picture. Bad news now, we were supposed to be out Dolphin watching this morning but unfortunately I have had to go to the doctors. I have a nasty ear infection that came up over night, it was really painful and a bit scary. I didn't know if I would be able to find the right treatment but a trip to the local doctor cost me £2.50 which included 4 different tablets, antibiotics and anti-biotic ear drops. I waited 14 minutes, not 14 days that I have to wait at the surgery in Exeter and it was as cheap as chips. Job done, perhaps our health service should send people here to have a look at how its done in the 3rd world?
Its been the usual round of early mornings and days filled with photographing. Its hard to keep up with looking at pictures and posting but I am trying hard!
I had a great day on Friday. I sat in a hide which I had made over-looking the river where I had placed a stick to hopefully entice Kingfisher to land which wasn't all that difficult to achieve success apart from having to sit for a couple of hours quietly in the 30 degree heat. It was a few minutes before the first bird flew in and I hadn't realised until I got back to my accommodation that it was going to give me some great shots. I saw it fly in towards me then settle on the fence where I couldn't see it, then within seconds it landed on a young palm tree growing out of the water. It was looking for food and I think it would have been successful but for a boat which disturbed it.
This bird had a noticeably muddy beak and mud on the plumage and also the feet a sure sign that it had been tussling with something in the mud rather than diving in the water to feed.
You can clearly see the mud in the beak on this photo. Then once this one had departed I sat for an age, full of expectation having already proved that my camo was working. Then a Kingfisher flew in to land on the perch very close to me and as I shuffled myself in to a good position to fire the camera's shutter, the cover fell off me and the bird was disturbed, a disappointment. After another wait a Water Monitor Lizard swam towards me and climbed out on the the shore. I could n't see it but after no more than a minute it appeared only 6 feet from me. I wasn't sure if I was safe but it was tasting the air with its massive tongue which whipped in and out and then it sensed my presence and slid quietly back in to the water to swim away agin, quite a good encounter.
So then Saturday arrived and we went to the fish market at Nogombo which in the past had been good for diving terns that "work" of the beach for the white bait that everyone, both bird and fisherman is so keen to get hold of. Their was a huge flock of the pretty Whiskered Tern which is the commonest Tern species here in Sri Lanka. I had some good success and ooh lots of photos, most I have yet to look at properly but I have picked a couple out to post .
The Indian House Crow is not what you would call a nice bird really but I do like to photograph birds in flight and here was a great opportunity as there were literally hundreds feeding on anything that they could get their grubby beaks on.
This is all for now but I have so great pictures from a fruit feeding station that we have set up…….. heres a taste, a Red-vented Bulbul.
It was overcast this morning when I got up and by the time I had started my early morning walk, it was still a little misty and comparatively cool…. (in the low 70s). I had benefited from a full nights sleep which had not absolutely got rid of the jet lag which I am rubbish at dealing with anyway but I was feeling better. However I am suffering with the effects of the nastiest bug that I have ever experienced and it has taken its toll. All my family are suffering including my little granddaughters who have been particularly badly affected. I hope they are feeling better now. I wandered in the direction of a park area that I know contains lots of birds with the target being the White Breasted Water Hens that I have been seeing there. They are common but on my last trip I hadn't even bothered with them, its always the same, you ignore the common birds…..common here but unknown at home…..and then when you get back you regret it. This year I vowed not to overlook these birds.
I sat for ages on a stump right where I knew they were emerging from the undergrowth expecting to be successful without much difficulty. Well I was wrong… they never emerged while I was there. By now I had wasted 40 minutes!!! I gave up, thats not like me but I can't afford to waste too much time especially if I have judged that its not going to happen. Walking on, I suddenly noticed this absolutely gorgeous White-throated Kingfisher, what an opportunity. It was perched on a stump in the river. I edged closer, sat down and then shuffled forward on my backside to a spot that gave me a clear unobstructed view. I had done it, a good spot without disturbing it. You imagine that countries like this with all these exotics give real opportunities, well of course they do but the birds are just as easily disturbed as back home. Fieldcraft and stealth is still needed. Its a bit more scary because you are invariably on the ground and you don't know for sure what biting bugs are down there with you. Calculated risks are taken, well they are by me!! The bird was there for ages, preening and on the look out for prey in the water.
I could see that it had been in the water recently because it was wet but I hadn't imagined that this species would dive for fish, there are different sorts of Kingfishers and not all are actually fish eaters, some taking lizards and large insects. I really need to do some research about the feeding habits of this species because it certainly was scanning the water for prey. Unfortunately after a while it was disturbed by a local preparing his boat for the day….. all in all, a great encounter for me and the reason I am here. On my walk this morning I also saw Stone Curlew and a particularly nice male Purple Sunbird but I didn't manage a photo of either.
I am having real problems with internet connection unfortunately. I am making efforts to address the problems and hopefully normal service will be resumed as soon as possible as they say. I have already taken several stuning photographs and I am really grappling with the problems of posting the images, its amazing how much we take the internet for granted. You only miss it when you havent got it. Here is the blog post that I wrote about our journey over which I have managed to retrieve from my iPad.
"So here I am on the plane to Sri Lanka, we are 3 hours in to the flight and so far......fabulous. As is usually the case in these situations I have turned to music for comfort and solace, Beethoven if you want to know.......not that I need it because its been a lovely trip so far. We left Exeter at 11 this morning for our journey up to Heathrow, I can't remember how long it took because it went by in a flash with my personable, interesting and frankly, charming travel companion Terry. We swapped life stories and tales, all enhanced by Terry's sense of humour and twinkly eyes. We have a great deal in common, a love of life, a quest for experiences and a need to tell each other our tales.Even our unreasonably long wait at the airport turned in to a social event.We laughed like drains......do they laugh?......when as soon as we arrived at Exeter Coach station a blind lady insisted on helping Terry carry his luggage as though he couldn't cope. Then when we got to our seats on the plane I was greeted by a slightly weird lady who wished me a good evening, a good flight and a good life. . When I asked her what? She answered, "Well you seem like a very spiritual person", after my experiences on the beach in September with my angel, well that was a curved ball to say the least. So now, with a glass of red in my hand, Beethoven's Emperor Piano Concerto in full flow and the promise of two weeks in the sun, photographing birds, well does life get any better? I wish Jenny was here, but that apart, it's pretty good so far. As this is mainly a bird Blog then I ought to tell you that the highlight of the coach trip was the Red Kite sighting on the edge of Reading. It hung in the air right next to the Motorway giving glorious views and as this is nota bird that I see that often, I really enjoyed it. Later on in the 10 plus direct flight, a nearby child vomited which lowered the tone somewhat so with the stench of sweet sick in the nostrils, the almost constant stream of food wasn't always as welcome as it might be, and now the slightly weird religious lady keeps smiling at me.......time to sleep I think"
So we got here and I now talk aboy my problems with the internet.
Now I have managed to post a picture by various round about methods, success at last. This bird was one of a pair that I saw this morning , hope you like it.
So now further to the entry from this morning, I have now resorted to buying a dongle and Sri Lankan Sim card and , hallelujah…… I am on line thanks to the intelligence and initiative of an amazingly clever young man who was able to connect me with very little fuss after all other efforts had failed miserably. This now gives me the chance to tell you a bit about my journey and first day here. I had written reams about all that before and it sits idly on my iPad which I can't connect to the net, so here's a précis.
Food is good at Ravi's, tonight we had butterfly prawns in batter with rice. I have seen loads of birds, mostly the same as on my previous visit but my experience of that trip has meant that I have been able to get some better images already. I will post more tomorrow now that I am able.
This is a Purple Rumped Sunbird a common bird here but not easy to photograph but with the better beamer flash…..thanks Dave Land…… I managed a shot this morning……sure there will be better to come. There are lots of butterflies this year, heres a nice photo of a Swallow tail, hopefully I will be able to name it soon.
There will be another post tomorrow, please check back. All the best Charlie….
This will be my last Blog post until Wednesday. I leave for Sri Lanka tomorrow, Coach to Heathrow and then a flight direct to stay at Ravis Dream House, Waikkal Near Nogombo, Sri Lanka. It was fun when I went in November 2012 and its going to be great to return.
This is Rav's house where we will be staying although Ravi tells me that he has built some new rooms in the garden opposite, perhaps we will be in these new rooms? I am travelling with my friend Terry who has been to Sri Lanka before so he knows what is awaiting him. A few pictures from my last trip.
I didn't know how to start this post, I mean, what should I talk about first…. it was such an incredible two hours on the Dart Princess this morning. We pulled out of the harbour at 9 prompt on a full tide, the weather was not the best, it was overcast and a little choppy but with reports of so many birds around the bay it was also exciting and anticipation was high. The skipper steamed at a good rate of knots straight across the bay towards Berry Head in the hope that we may see something a bit different than our previous trips when we had mostly "chugged" along hugging the shore-line. We picked up good numbers of feeding Northern Gannets as we crossed the bay, these are very impressive birds when you are close to them. Some were sitting on the water and presented good photo opportunities but to be frank, you really have to know how to get the best out of your equipment when it is dull and overcast. (I am not saying I do, but I'm getting there).
Out there at the head there was lots of feeding activity with numerous Shag, Guillemots and flying Fulmars.... and the Gannets of course. The Fulmars seemed to be already looking for nesting sights on the cliffs and from time to time they would sweep past us in classic style. Fulmars are in the same family as Albatross and you could certainly see that in their flight even though comparatively they are much, much smaller of course.
Suddenly some of the other passengers had the expected sightings of Porpoise and it was just a matter of seconds before I luckily caught sight of them as well. Apparently there were between 5 and 7 which is the usual small pod size. It was incredibly difficult to get a photograph, Porpoise rarely leap from the water and trying to predict where they were going to break the surface was a lottery. However, success ws achieved just a couple of times and I managed my first photographs of wild cetaceans in my home waters. A big thrill!
We lingered, but not for long enough for my taste but when you are on a boat with other people, everyone's wishes and interests need to be taken in to account, so we turned and headed back in towards Brixham Breakwater and then the most incredible thing happened. A Bottle Nosed Dolphin breached right next to us. This is only the second time that I have seen Bottle Nose in Devon an the first chance to get a photo but it was hard. In the end it stayed with us for around 30 minutes following us right in to the harbour slowly past the breakwater and even o the mouth of the inner harbour. In the end I did manage a few shots and in the one at the top you can see it's beak under the water. My impression was one of awe, you could clearly hear it as it emptied it's blow hole, I wouldn't have expected that. I rushed down to the lower deck of the boat and I am sure that he saw me and came close to see me. I was on the stern above the prop, he swam towards me and hen I could see his entire length and shape just under the surface. Nigel, the guide, told me that this was a well know individual, a loner nicknamed "Nick" due to it's damaged dorsal fin. He was in a bit of a mess and had lots of scratches and scrapes including the damage that you can see on the fin.
The Grey Seals seen on the trip today were very impressive, they were hauled out on the floating pontoons, 5 in all (later on we saw 2 more), a good total of course. Amongst the seals was a pretty white spotted one, I hadn't realised that they are so variable in coloration but I discovered that the light ones are the females. They are also very distinctib=ve and they can be identified by their patterns. As I photographed the seals I could clearly hear the "blowing" Dolphin close by, a massive distraction to say the least. I hope you are as impressed with these seals as I am. These are big animals and is testimony to the the environment here, It's so reassuring to know that we have all this wildlife in Devon.
Once inside the inner harbour we were lucky and I was very excited to see a Red-necked Grebe very close and giving me the opportunity to take a few photographs that have improved my photos of this species.
Finally, as we steamed back towards Paignton we came upon another grebe which I immediately though was a Black-necked Grebe, however, Chris Proctor had seen it in flight and identified it as a Slavonian Grebe, only the second one that I have photographed.
This is a Guillemot from earlier, followed by yet another Black Guillemot, probably the one that I photographed earlier in the week.
Prior to my trip next week back to Sri Lanka, I have been looking through a few pictures from my previous trip in 2012. I arrive on Wednesday and am very much looking forwrd to meeting up with some old friends, both avian and Sri Lankan. To whet your appetite here's a couple that I haven't posted before. The first is an Indian Roller an ndividual that was a resident in the garden next to my accommodation. When I got up on the very first morning I was very excited to know that I shared the garden with a real beauty. I saw this bird constantly and really enjoyed photographing him.(or was it her)?
The next bird is a White bellied Drongo, another interestesting but totally different species.
I haven't had the opportunity to go out with the camera today, unfortunately my wife Jenny is still suffering with a nasty chest infection..... I am recovering now but still nothing near 100% but I am devoid of any energy which is a big worry. Early next week I am off to Sri Lanka (for the second time) and I really hope to be fit and well so that I can get the best out of it. I have finally sorted through the pictures from the fabulous boat trip I had the other afternoon in Brixham. During this trip I experimented with the "Better Beamer Flash Extender". The use of flash can greatly add to the detail captured in an image and also give an image some real "pazzaz". The trick is to not overdo the flash and the general rule of thumb is, if you can tell it's been 'flashed"then you have't done it properly. I took some nice pictures of the resident harbour Shag using this technique and I am very happy with the reults.
The one above is a first year bird in non breeding plumage but there were several adult birds already sporting attractive plumes. When you are close up to this species you can appreciate that the plumage is far from black, but a subtle combination of irridescent greens which refelct the light beautifully............ and what about that eye?
I have photographed 12 different species of Cormorant from all over the world and I have founnd our own Common Shag to be the most attractive and photogenic. Here is a link to my gallery of Cormorant species featuring 11 others in my gallery Cormorants of the World
What a pretty Gull an Iceland Gull is. As an absolute bonus yesterday and after our afternoon on the water, we went of to the opposite side of the harbour where we had been told that an Iceland Gull was showing well...... and it was. It was a nice "lifer" for me and brings my tally for photographed species in Devon up to 199.
The Iceland Gull is in the same family as Herring Gull "larus" but was noticeably smaller than the Herring Gulls that it was associating with. It is a peaceful, graceful looking bird, in adult plumage, snowy white but this one was a second year bird and had some vestiges of brown markings as you can see. I took these images just at dusk and the better beamer flash extender really worked well in this instance, picking out the detail magnificently. I have many more pictures of this bird and I will add some later.
This entry follows on from the earlier post (read below). We were out in a boat photographing the interesting birds that are feeding in Brixham Harbour at the moment. The Black Guillemot is a rare bird in Devon, not an annual visitor to our coasts here in Devon. I had been fortunate on Sunday to photograph and record my first ever but today in the smaller boat I was hopeful of being able to get some better photos and so it proved. Firstly we went out to look on the seaward side of the breakwater, but there was no sign unfortunately. We returned back in to the harbour and suddenly..... there it was...... quite a result. The boat drifted clsoer and closer to it and in the end with the bird just a few feet from us, we had not only brilliant views of it but the best photo opportunities imaginable.
++++Update and note of interest, this is not the same bird that I photographed on Sunday++++
Here are a few of the best.
To continue the story of yesterday's encounter with the "Beast of Brixham". We drifted around in the boat, spotting Divers every few minutes or so and it was only a few minutes before we were close to the celebrity. The weather was windy but in the harbour where it was sheltered, it wasn't too bad at all. Andy, the skipper did a brilliant job trying to put us in the right place with the sun behind us but the "beast" wasn't interested in co-operation, constantly diving to feed and then coming up in the wrong place. At one point it splashed around, bathing and preening with a big wing flap. This was a great photo opportunity. (See below). We followed it in to the inner harbour where the shore-based Birders were excitedly running along the harbour-sde to get as near as they could. We held our position and I swapped seats in the boat with Dave who hadn't managed a special shot yet. I was now in the stern of the boat…. suddenly there was the beast, just off the stern, it had popped up with a massive amount of commotion. Great photo opportunities of course. I felt sorry for Dave, now the bird was at the stern whereas before the brow had been the best place to be but I needn't have worried because Dave finished up with brilliant photos as well. It dived down again and we followed it (at a respectable distance of course), out of the harbour and in to the main fairway where it seemed to have a favourite spot. Other Divers were in this spot and we saw the beast surface with a large flatfish which it swallowed quickly before I managed a good shot. Other divers were successfuly surfacing with crabs, obviously a good source of food. The afternoon continued successfuly and we went further out towards the Breakwater to look for the Black Guillemot that I had seen from the Dart Princess on Sunday's cruise. We easily found, it after a bit of searching, if it hadn't have been for the brilliant encounters with the "beast" then this would have been a special encounter.... more about that in my next post with photographs.