Just an update from a very short trip to the hide this afternoon where I said Happy Christmas to my favourite pair of Jays. As normal, she came down to help herself to peanuts but not before announcing herself by calling like a Buzzard for a minute or so which then morphed in to a whistle which was a little bit like the call I have been trying to get them to copy. After a short while the call changed to a Crow and there she was on the peanuts. After a few visits the female was joined by her mate and he went over to the fence to have a look at the free mouse* that I had left on the gate post..
Can I just wish you all a very happy Christmas.
*(From a trap in Dick's attic office).
Getting good photographs of birds in flight is a hard thing to achieve successfully, but extremely rewarding and enjoyable when you get some results. At this time of year when the light isn't really bright the camera has to work really hard and you need to be on the ball as you adjust the settings of the camera to strive for the highest shutter speed.
It's interesting to note that the common tit species in the UK and Europe have beaks of slightly different lengths and shapes. This enables them to co-exist in the same habitat and even in the same mixed species flocks. Coal Tits for example, although smaller than Blue Tits, have a longer and proportionally longer beak. The longer beak enables them to probe into deeper cracks and crevices, gleaning the insects that are too deep to be reached by Blue Tits. It was interesting therefore today, to see and photograph a Blue Tit with a deformed beak which was far from hindering the bird, in fact the opposite was the case. I watched it feeding almost like a woodpecker as it was able with it's extended odd looking beak, to probe and "winkle" deep in to cracks in the logs
It's a weird looking bird as you can see. It's not difficult to imagine that this is the way that evolution could occur. Hypothetically, if this bird's beak was a genetical feature and it was gaining an advantage over the other normal beaked birds, the "long-beaked" birds would breed more successfully and eventually after many generations would potentially replace the less successful normal beaked birds. This is exactly the way that evolution occurred in birds. Spending lots of time as I do, observing and photographing birds in a particular location in an almost obsessive way, gives me the opportunity to photograph and observe birds like this. My time is never wasted. When I think of the likes of Darwin, Stanley, Banks, Gould and Gilbert White for example who all studied birds in the 19th century without the aid of not even optics and not even a field guide, then surely someone like me with luxury of 21st century Digital Cameras, fantastic optics and the benefit of the knowledge passed down from all those that went before, can at least try and be observant.
I have been watching the Nuthatches quite closely over the last few weeks. They move around in mixed flocks with the Blue and Coal Tits at this time of the year but will not tolerate another bird on the feed with them, not even one of the same species, the dominant bird always acting aggresively towards all others.
There will be more of these reflected shots to come but probably not today. I am "house-bound" due to the appalling weather and also lack of transport but I have had a nice week and a very successful one as well. I prefer cold bright frosty days, much better for bird watching and photography. Yesterday continued to be just as interesting at the hide, I was hoping to see Bramblings on the feed but as yet thats not hapened. I was hoping to see and photograph the Shrew seen the day before but there was no sign today. The Jays are now almost constantly with me feeding, as well as on peanuts but also on the scattered seed that I have spread on the ground for the Bramblings...... fingers crossed! Interesting and worth noting that they are moving around in a pair which would indicate to me that they a not only monogomous but pair for life. This would appear to be a good strategy. It means that not only do they gain some advantage from moving around together as a pair, two pairs of eyes being better than one both in relation to finding food and watching for predators but it means that energy and time is not wasted in the spring finding a mate and establishing a pair bond. I am yet to establish wheather the female also immitates like the male.
It is possible to seperate the sexes when they are side by side by subtle differences in the head size and beak shape. I think that this individual is a male because I recognise the slight hook on the tip of the beak. It is of note that both birds during the breeding season regularly took day old chicks probably to feed their nestlings but at this time of year they don't seem so keen, prefering nuts and seeds.
Nuthatches are probably the most common birds at the feeding station with at least 5 individuals coming constantly to the food. They do not display too much aggressive behaviour but it has been noticeable in the last few days and as the weather has become colder, aggression has increased particularly by the obvious males.
I mentioned that the Jays were moving around in pairs and as well as that there is a resident "true pair" of Blackbirds but interestingly also a pair of Robins. Robins are known to be extremely teritorial and a male will drive another from it's territory, therefore seeing two birds in close proximity would indicate that a pair bond has already developed. Interestingly one of the Robins joined me in the hide and was just a few inches from me.
I had such a brilliant session at the Pit Hide today, just so enjoyable and interesting with constant comings and goings of all the usual species as well as a few exciting new visitors.
The Buzzard came in for his usual "freebie", I didn't get a usuable photo of him today though, I am calling him "he" but for for no scientific reason, it just seems to me that it is a relatively smallish bird which would indicate a male as females are larger than males.
I have been scattering a wild bird seed mix on the grass in front of the hide in the hope of encouraging Bramblings to come down to feed. Today was very positive because Chaffinches of both sexes were feeding on the grass and I feel that it will be just a matter of time before Bramblings come down. I know that they are in the area with sveral sightings locally and I have seen massive mixed flocks of finches not too far away in the lane near to my hide. Now that the woodland trees are denuded of leaves there is not the natural barrier of vegitation to stop movement. As I scanned the flock of Chaffinch looking for the more "exotic" Brambling suddenly a real surprise! It was last May that I last saw a Greater Spotted Woodpecker and here was one at last. When we designed the hide and surrounds we had burried a 5 foot high tree trunk in to the ground thinking that it would be a good place to put food for the Buzzards but they rarely perch on this trunk, I think it's too near to the caravan. But here was a Greater Spotted Woodpecker at last and I was very pleased with the chance to get some nice pictures and watch it from just 10 feet away. Males have the red patch on the back of the neck by the way. This patch is absent in females.
There are always one or two Blackbirds near the hide but this last few days there has been 4 or 5 and today more than 7, in itself quite unusual. At least two of the birds present today have black beaks. I find these black-beaked Blackbirds very interesting. We are all very familiar with our Blackbirds in the UK and to suddenly see birds with a dark beak rather than a yellow beak is immediately noticeable. It is my understanding that these dark beaked birds are migrants from continental Europe. Males from Europe are said to retain their dark juvenile beaks until the following spring whereas birds that have originated in the UK acquire the typical adult yellow beak in their first Autumn.
All in all it was quite a day and I would suggest that as the winter deapens the birds will be even more numerous. The volume of birds at the feeding station is increasing dramatically day by day. Today there was 15 different species of birds at the feeding station as well as Squirrels, Pygmy or Common Shrew and unfortunately Brown Rat which has decided that the pit hide is a great place to tunnel!
I continue to enjoy using the new Pentax K511s. an expensive piece of equipment that is already proving worth it. I am seriously thinking of going through my galleries and deleting loads of images because having seen what this camera is capable of then I am embarrassed by some of my previous pictures.
In less than ideal conditions today I took some really great photographs, all the detail is there and I can't wait to use it more and more. At the moment my 500 prime lens is back with Sigma being repaired so I am not even using the best lens that I own. This is all very exciting and bodes well for the future.
This bird is one that I have got to know over the last few months. I can recognise it by the tuft of feathers on the back. Whether this is the product of some damage by a bird of prey when it was younger I am not sure, but the tuft on it's back is good because I can recognise it as an individual.
You can clearly see the little tuft in this image, also this one shows the chisel-lke beak that gives the Nuthatch its name. My new Pentax K5iis is extremely sharp and even though these images are taken "hand-held" they are to my eyes, just what I have been trying to achieve for the last 5 years.
When you can see the tiny feathers from around a birds eye, then you know that your camera is doing it's stuff. Also, can you see the bristles which cover the birds nostrils? This is protection against dust particles. When the bird is acting naturally and chiselling away at a nut or dead wood to get at an insect these stiffer feathers prevent the dust entering the nostrils of the bird. If you look closely at the eye (to the right), you can see the reflection of the caravan and also of interest is the difference in the feathers that cover the ears. These are much looser and consequently they will not hinder he bird's hearing which is vital if they are going to hear the alarms of other birds and escape predation.
The Jays were really showing well today, there is a pair . At least one of them is a great imitator. AsI sat in the pit-hide I heard what sounded like Jackdaws in the distance and I immediately guessed that I was going to have a Jay in front of me very soon, I had hardly had that thought when there it was. It proceeded to make distant Buzzard calls which I recognised from yesterday.
I may do some experiments with noise and see if I can teach teach the bird to immitate some sounds, that, this would be a really good experiment. It came in to my pile of peanuts and stuffed as many in to it's throat as possible. I then watched it fly on to the nearby field and start to burry them in the grass. It repeated this behaviour half a dozen times. Previously when I had seen it fly in to the field I had wondered what was going on but today I realised. It was regurgitating the nuts and burying them randomly all over the field. I have read about Jays caching away acorns in massive numbers so it's no surprise that they are taking advantage of the feast of peanuts that I am providing.
I cant wait to get back out there tomorrow and see if I can get photos of the Buzzard. He was noticeable by his absence today. However, for the first time at the hide, Long-tail Tits were nearby and also a Chaffinch. When the weather worsens I am sure we will see more species. Green Woodpecker would be nice?
I just love this Robin photograph, only a hint of snow or frost on the branch would make this perfect.
For anyone who follows my blog you will know that I strive for the very sharpest photos that I can acheive and I have always been a bit disappointed in that direction. I have recently purchased a new camera, the Pentax K5IIs. This camera has the low-pass filter removed and although it is 25% more expensive than the K5II it is said to acheive much sharper images. I have been waiting for an opportunity to check it out properly and today I think I have found out that this camera is at least 25% better than my previous K5. I may have to throw away all my previous shots and start all over.
I went out this morning in the hope that I would be able to see the Balck-necked Grebe seen before. Perhaps I could get a bit nearer but after standing for more than an hour I didn't see it at all. I can only assume that it has moved on because I am quite certain that it wasn't on the pool today. On my way back home and passing through Cockwood towards Starcross there was a large flock of Brent Geese on the golf course and very close to the road. I did a u-turn and went back, pulled up on to the pavement and took a few pictures quickly before they were disturbed by a pedestrian. Never the less this was the best picture of a Brent Goose that I have taken. Brent Geese are winter visitors to the Exe Estuary from their breeding grounds in the far north, Siberia and Northern Europe. They feed quite a lot on grass in the fields close to the Estuary. When I got home to my house in Alphington, from the kitchen I could see a female Blackcap Warbler feeding on the apple pieces. This is the third time this winter that I have seen these over-wintering warblers. Interestingly, I mainly see females in my garden although from time to time I do see a male but not this year yet. Through the window glass and using the pane to support the lens I almost got a decent photo.
I am not a great fan of the Canada Goose so this post is about the photo rather than the bird. As I say consatntly, the more you immerse yourself in to photography, the more you realise the importance of light and the effect it has on your finished images. At this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the sun is low in the sky it can be easier to take pictures. Recently on my visit to Sri Lanka when the sun was strong and high in the sky by 9 in the morning, it was almost impossible to take a picture that you would be satisfied with. This picture shows the golden light that can make for a very nice finished picture. In addition, the golden effect is also the product of the dried reed beds that are reflected in the water. I always strive to get the light coming from over my shoulder. this will always help.
This last few days we have had a couple of interesting birds in the garden. A couple of Goldcrest two days ago and yesterday a nice female Blackcap Warbler.
I decided to go back to Dawlish this morning. With a bit of luck I thought I might get a better look and better photos of yesterday's Black-necked Grebe. So it proved but not without a cold wait. I don't like a so called "twitch" because with different people wanting different outcomes, there is quite often a contradiction. Some people are content with a distant view and a distant record photo. To achieve the kind of success that I want, I need to be patient and hope that other people, if present, are quiet and sympathetic to other people's needs. It wasn't too crowded or noisy thankfully and I managed to tuck myself away quetly where I had seen the bird at dusk yesterday. It was 30 minutes before it came in to view again today. The wait wasn't too bad, I watched the Little Grebe pair fishing and a pair of Canada Geese in the brilliant lighting conditions and I just knew that all I needed was the bird to appear. This is a lovely species. Even in winter plumage it's an attractive bird with the bright red eye standing out against the black and white. I took a few nice photos hoping all the time that it would come to my side of the pool. In the end it did but it was immediately disturbed by another guy who breezed in to my spot totally oblivious of the bird and when it dived he reamained still oblivious to it's presence. I waited until he had again moved away which didn't take too long, patience obviously not his strong point. Having been static for an hour I came home to look at my pictures hoping that I had a keeper or two. Our friend was still wandering about aimlesly, I wonder if he got his photo in the end? I hope so.