Blackcap Warblers have visited my garden every winter for the last 5 years at least. I place apple pieces on exposed branches in clear view of my kitchen so that I can observe and photograph the birds through the glass. In my experience the birds that visit my garden always come to feed on apple pieces exclusively and not fat balls. In fact, I have not once seen the Blackcaps in my garden, feeding on anything but apple which they seem to seek it out. This picture was taken "handheld" through the window which is slightly tinted with Pilkington K glass so it's remarkable that I could get a result. One of the interesting features of the female Blackcap is the slight hint of peach on the cheek patches which is hardly noticeable until you look really closely.
I really like to travel and in November I visited Sri Lanka for almost two weeks. Tomorrow my wife and I will be flying to South Africa to stay with her brother in Cape Town. We will be away for two weeks. I will be blogging as often as possible with regular updates of my sightings with as many photos as possible. I have a few things planned already including a Pelagic Trip on the 12 or 13 when I hope to get pictures of Albatross, Petrels and Terns with a good strong chance of Dolphins and even perhaps a Whale. As well as birds I am hoping to photograph Baboons (a certainty I am told) and small antelope species would be good.
The title of today's entry is good, just shows that Exeter is a great city to live in. I was up very early this morning and by 6.30, sat in a bag hide, hoping to see the otters responsible for all the tracks I have been finding these last few days. I drew a blank and after the day had dawned and we had some light I went back to sit in my Kingfisher hide. The Kingfisher is like a drug and I just can't get enough of him. I am beginning to learn more and more about this individual. One of the things I am rapidly discovering is not to assume that you can predict with certainty when he will put in an appearance. This morning for example, it was well after 8 before I saw him. He was around the hide area and fishing and he flew past me in both directions a few times. The light was so perfect and I was really hoping that he would bring his catch to one of the hide perches. I can only assume that he wasn't successful near to the hide because the nearest I got to him was this picture which shows how good the light was and also how frustrating it can be when he is just that tiny bit too far away, about 20 mtrs in this shot.
Eventually he left and at around that time I became aware of a lady, her husband and a small child looking intently at the ground. I guessed they were looking for Otter signs so I emerged from the hide and went to chat to them. It turned out that they were doing some kind of otter survey which is really odd as it is in competition with the survey I am taking part in and yet both surveys seemed to have some Devon Wildlife Trust involvement. This is really odd and I will get to the bottom of it tomorrow. I pointed them in the right direction, showed them tracks and how to identify them and also showed them some spraint.
Here is one of the sites that I found this morning at around 8.30.
My lovely wife and I took a walk around Exeter Quay and Trews Weir on the River Exe this afternoon, apparently that's what normal people do! I took my camera of course and I was interested to see that the Black Headed Gulls are really coming in to breeding condition and are starting to look quite attractive. In a week or so they will look even better as the head becomes more chocolate and the eyes becomes even redder.
Incidentally, the garden is very, very quiet today with no Goldfinch flocks. The Sparrowhawk certainly spooked all the birds on Friday. I did see a pair of Collared Doves in the tree so perhaps the breeding male wasn't the predated bird on Friday and things will carry on as normal. If not, then the female has wasted no time in replacing him! A Blackcap was in the Torbay Palm and we have had a few Sparrows keeping a low profile. The Blackbird pair continue to carry nesting material around, particularly the female.
Incidentally, I have no control over the adverts on my blog and I see that we have an advert for a dating site this evening......... not my choice! Also, welcome to the visitor from Qatar I hope you found something to look at that you found interesting. You are the 113th different country to visit the blog!
England is thought of as a wet rainy country. The last few days have been moderately dry but the air is damp and it has been one of the frostiest starts to winter in our area of the UK for 40 years. Today however, we have got double figure temperatures and we have been lucky to have a tiny bit of sunshine here and there. As far as wildlife and birds are concerned Goldfinches and Siskins are my main area of focus these last few days. Yesterday's Siskin (see below) was a delightful addition to this years garden list and now the Goldfinches have fully discovered the Niger feeder they are in and out of the garden constantly. This garden, the focus of all my attention is in fact a tiny patch of green oasis in the middle of suburbia on the edge of the City of Exeter. As the "bird flies" we are relatively close to fields and English countryside but we are by no means on the edge of open spaces. However, we have a large apple try at the end of the garden about 60 feet from the house and a mature hedge to the left which contains a large cotoneaster bush, a mature Clematis has been allowed to ramble through and this small area provides not only food in the form of cotoneaster berries but cover for bird species as they move around the garden.
Focusing on the Goldfinches this morning I decided after a while in the lower hide to come back up to the house and have a look on the computer at the images already taken. In front of me only feet from the house was the male Blackcap feeding on the apple piece which I have strategically placed on a branch more out in the open than before in the hope that the he might leave the security of the bush and show himself in the open more and perhaps give me a better photo opportunity. I snapped off a few more Blackcap photos but in the less than ideal light this was the best one. Strangely no sign of a female for more than a week now.
This Goldfinch is undoubtedly a young bird in it's first winter. Notice how there is just the faintest hint of grey amongst the red on the head. In a juvenile bird this is grey and then as maturity progresses the head turns the distinctive red colour.
The Blackcap put in an appearance today. I have placed a piece of apple in a more photogenic place and I thought that it was only going to be a matter of time before he discovered it. I have taken an unusual interest in dish washing this last few days because it gives me the chance to look onto the garden and as I was doing my domestic duty .... my wife is pleased ....... I caught sight of him having a good look at the fruit. Quickly in place in my hide I didn't have to wait too long before he flew in and had his fill. Elsewhere in the garden there has been quite a lot of activity with lots of tits, a pair of Dunnocks and oddly 3 Robins. European Robins are very territorial and there was a bit of fighting between these birds as the usual resident Robin tried to protect his patch from the intruders. Outside of the breeding season it is unusual to see more than one Robin.
Coal Tits continue to show regularly, I did think that they had deserted the garden and been replaced by the Blue Tits but this is not the case. We certainly have more Blue Tits now though.
Then later in the afternoon with the sun very low in the sky and absent from this part of the garden he was back on the apple. I have learnt something about Blackcaps after watching this individual for the last few two weeks. They are very skulking birds who prefer to sit under leaves and foliage rather than out in the open. For example look at the way he has crept up to the fruit under the cover of the leaves and is happy to feed as long as he feels under cover.
I spent a couple of hours sat in the top hide this morning in the hope of getting a really good photo of the male Blackcap with the sun full on him. Eventually the weather changed to dreary mode and a little bit of drizzle so I decided to call it quits, come indoors and make myself a hot drink. Standing in the kitchen now and just looking out in to the garden imagine how I felt when I saw the Blackcap leave the apple and perch in the open on the outside of the cotoneaster bush. I had bee focused on the apple for the previous 2 hours without any sign of him. So I rushed upstairs and got a few photos of him actually eating a cotoneaster berry. This is bviously the reason for his interest in this bush.
Back down in to the kitchen again and I caught sight very fleetingly of a tiny olive coloured warbler with a noticeable eye stripe. Excitedly this time I rushed upstairs and watched for a re-appearance of this little bird which could have only been one of three, Yellow Browed Warbler, surely not...... Firecrest........ even more of a wow........ or a Chiffchaff....... all possibilities but we are talking of my tiny little garden here and any one of those species would be a really good "spot" in the garden. I certainly saw an eye stripe so that eliminates Goldcrest.
So now up in the Bathroom again and the tiny warbler was hidden or had flown away but right there in front of my eyes in the strong sunlight was the Blackcap yet again and I took 38 photos of him.
I really like this one. Notice how puffed up his feathers are. This is a reaction to the cold and also indicates how relaxed he is.
I don't think he is a particularly attractive bird, decked out in all those greys as he is. I think it is one of those species where the female is possibly more attractive with her brown cap which contrasts well.
This is where he is struggling to get a berry down, he can just about manage it and if this photo does anything at all it is proof of the importance of fruiting bushes and trees in your garden to attract wild birds.
I was up at dawn today,well not much of a hardship as it was a little before 8! I had worked out that the Blackcaps would probably be wanting to feed as soon as dawn broke and I guessed that the apple may be their first port of call. I was correct. Within minutes of getting in to the hide with sun still far to low for anything to do with potography, the male put in an appearance at the "breakfast bar". I took one quick photo and oddly the shutter sound spooked him and he left immediately. It took 15 minutes for him to make another visit this time the sun had risen a little bit, well lets say that by now it wasn't dark anymore!
Conditions were not at all ideal for photography and I adjusted the camera to the extremes to try and get the highest shutter speed possible because I have learnt that this is probably the single most important factor in bird photography. This is assuming that you have got the camera on a rock steady tripod. So for the photographers amongst you I set the ISO to 3200, and the aperture to f5.6 but now I was still only getting a shutter speed of 1/15 sec. This was ridiculously slow for any kind of photography. I adjusted the aperture compensation down half a click, reasoning that I would be able to compensate for that on the computer later but you can never do anything about a blurred image due to a moving subject.
So I am set there almost holding my breath as he appeared in my viewfinder and got stuck in to the apple. I took a series of photos and they were all pretty blurred and grainy apart from just the one above. When you consider the settings on the camera this is a half decent photo I think you will agree. It's far more than I could have hoped for anyway. So here is a little "filmstrip" sequence of his appearance, scroll down to the bottom for a look.
As you can see he was really having a good feed. I would not have imagined that apple has enough protein to sustain a bird after and during a frosty night. The female did not show today which is odd I think
You know that you have it sorted when you go to bed excited about getting up tomorrow because you cant wait to see what birds and photos you are going to get. So imagine my disappointment when I woke at 9.30 and realised that I had over-slept. Looking out of the window,the sky was as clear as it could be, it was going to be a good one! But I had missed half of it!
I took my coffee and camera down to the bottom hide and took a few photos of the activity on the sunflower feeder and decided quite quickly to come back up to the house to have a look on the screen at the results. Coming back up the garden I disturbed a cock Blackcap eating apple in direct view of the hide, it wasn't going well so far! But undaunted I got myself in to the hide and waited for a chance at the Blackcaps again. Well, I had only been sat in there for a minute when the female Blackcap made her way down on to the apple and this photo is the best of that little encounter.
She stayed for a minute or so stuffing herself with apple. It was quite a sight and I was feeling very pleased with myself. Another one of those plans coming together. I bought the hide, I waited for the birds to come, I adjusted the camera properly and the sun was bright at the right moment. Lots of little elements need to be in place. This morning they were!
You can see here that she is looking at the apple before moving off. Then literally a second later, in came the male and had his turn. Firstly sidling down, he seemed to study the apple before getting stuck in. I snapped away, I couldn't believe my luck!
He stayed in this position for 10 seconds or so before feeding giving me the chance to zoom the lens in to the full 500 mm.
I saw both birds several times during the day, for some odd reason mostly the male bird. The female tends to keep in the cover more than than male.
I have to say that I am very pleased with these photos and can't wait for tomorrow when we are expecting some good bright conditions and I am hoping for even more photo opportunities.
We were promised diabolical weather today and I am glad to say that as usual they were mostly wrong! We had the most glorious day with about 4 hours of lovely winter sun. I have discovered a great place in the garden that is half hidden in the shadows and used by lots of birds as a corridor or safe haven before they dive on to the feeder or move through the garden. I sat in the hide for a couple of hours with the camera pointed in the general area hoping for that "killer" shot. Well I can tell you that this photo lark.... excuse the pun ..... is more difficult than it looks. For example, I know that the Blackcaps are in the garden, I saw one eating a cotoneaster berry, It would have made a great shot but you can't always have the camera with you in the bathroom!
So sat in the hide, the first bird to show was a lovely cock Blackbird, with the sun full on to him you would have thought that a great photo was a foregone conclusion but out of the 10 or so that I took there was something wrong with all of them. Either over exposed under exposed, out of focus or blurry due to the bird moving. Then all of a sudden there was the Blackcap cock perched magnificently, just what I was waiting for. He was again in the full sun and just begging to be photographed, he looked so beautiful and his black cap reflected the sun. I had been waiting for so long that frankly, I panicked, I was all thumbs and completely forgot that the camera was set to manual focusing so I missed him too........... what a dummy!
So now who was left? Well the Coal Tits have just started to get a little bit less noticeable, I wonder why? So they never presented themselves. A Dunnock did, and again with the sun ....... well just have a look and you can see waht a great photogenic little spot this is. Anyway I got a half decent shot of him have a look here, Still not 100%, slightly fuzzy on the breast but at least the eye is in focus.
So now the only bird to really pose was this Robin. He/she has been with us for a few weeks and is quite happy to perch on a feeder but when I placed one horizontal rather than vertical the Robin really liked it because it is easier for him to feed from.
I like this photo with the sunflower heart in his mouth. But the one on my PBase gallery is a smashing image, again in"that place" Please have a look. Robin on my PBase Galleries.