Tuesday, 29 March 2011

West Country Hirundines - a tale from left-field

Just back from a four-day photographic break in Rock, Cornwall with friends Philip and Anthony. Whilst there we set up the 'Wonky Horizons Group' - the sort of thing you do after a few beers.

The trip was not a birding one but just general photography and relaxation. We were blessed with fantastic weather and our cottage looked out over the Camel estuary to Padstow and the shore could be accessed down a small flight of steps from our garden - bliss!

Heron on Camel Estuary whilst waiting for 'ferry' back to Rock
I was very excited to see a group of eight house martins fly over on Saturday afternoon - my first hirundines of the year.

Mute swans in early morning mist (Sunday 27th)

I have just blown half my annual bonus on one of the new 70-200 f/2.8 Canon lenses so it was an opportunity to put it through its paces. It's a little heavier than I had anticipated but image quality is excellent and the IS appears to be very good.

One very interesting thing we observed in Padstein was that the local turnstones have adapted to feeding on scraps of food on the concrete of the harbour front and associated walkways. Like the gulls, they don't seem to be too bothered about people as long as there is a chance of a quick snack. I think it will be a long time however until we are knee-deep in curlew on the quay.

Grab-shot with my 24-105 lens
Now I'm back in Kent I'm looking forward to getting out with my camera and snapping some birds again but my wife's car is in for MOT today and she has taken mine to work. I'll just have to put on a long playlist and sort through some more images!

I have to go into work on Weds. as my boss is coming over from Zurich. It will probably be the last chance I get to see him before I leave on 22nd April - PANIC!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Different support

Grove Ferry / Stodmarsh

I left home this morning at 7.30 for Grove, arriving in heavy mist just after 8 (despite it being perfectly clear at Chartham). I walked down to the Feast hide in anticipation of the sun breaking through quickly. Cettis were signing and a pair of reed bunting went about their daily business in reed bed. There was not much other activity but I decided to stay there until visibility and light levels improved, which was a full two hours later. In the meantime I took a few shots of a greylag that was on the raft. The light was very 'white' and I was compensating a full +2 1/3 stops to get good exposure - now that's shooting to the right!!

In the past I've used a Wimberley tripod head for support and although it works really well it's quite a lot to lug around in addition to the tripod. I used a monopod today as I was planning to do a fair bit of walking. This turned out OK and I will probably do it again when I want to be more mobile - particularly as image quality was not adversely affected.

Once the light improved, I cut over to the Stour and walked down towards Stodmarsh. The same rain that had drenched me on Canterbury golf course yesterday had left the walkways very treacherous. I slipped over once but somehow managed to keep my equipment from landing in the mud - more by luck that judgement.

There were plenty of teal and lapwing on the meadows and robin, chaffinch and various tits in the bushes lining the river but no sign of bullfinch or yellowhammer, which was disappointing. By now there were marsh harrier over the reeds and a sparrowhawk circled over too.

It was fairly quiet in the wood so I continued to walk up towards the Marsh hide, taking a shot of some nicely coloured catkins on the way. There was a black-tailed godwit in with the lapwing from the marsh hide - not something I've seen at the reserve too often.

Just as I got to the end of the cleared out area I spotted a willow warbler *** in one of the willows that has fallen over. I hung around photographing it for about half an hour and managed a few good shots despite it  being highly active and often in dense parts of the tree.

*** On closer inspection probably a chiffchaff - could someone confirm? I usually rely on song to differentiate...

I dropped into the Feast hide again on the way back but it was just as quiet as earlier. One bonus was a merlin that flashed across the top of the reedbed, heading towards the orchard.

Waxwing at Fort Belvedere (Berks)

Despite all the waxwings that have been about I've not seen one this winter (I know, I need to get out more!). However, Martin Washford had a flock of over 50 individuals where he was working at Fort Belvedere and managed to get a shot of them drinking from the edge of the frozen lake early one morning last week.

One of the smallest spring flowers, that of the hazel.

Hazel flower

Friday, 11 March 2011

Broken promises and dipping on dipper

The Lakes

Just back from an excellent few days in Ambleside, walking in the fells, eating and drinking too much - the ususal stuff. I vowed not to do any bird photography whilst away but there was just enough room in the boot for my long lens and all the other luggage would have just jangled around wouldn't it!

My best photo opportunity came when I least expected it. The river Rothsay runs through the churchyard at Grassmere and was host to not only the ubiquitous mallard, but three pairs of goosander were working their way downstream. I only had my 24-105mm lens on so just a record shot but nice to see them anyway.

Later that afternoon we crossed Stock Ghyll and I heard a dipper that subsequently landed on a rock near the foot bridge. Making a mental note I slipped out the next afternoon and my hopes were raised as two bird photographers were installed by the bridge. I parked the car and walked up asking "any sign of the dipper"? "Oh yes, been in and out for the last two hours" came the reply. I hunkered down excitedly beside the bridge for an hour and half but when my shutter speed hit 1/125th at f/4 ISO1600 I decided to call it a day.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Redheads galore

I arrived at the car park by the Arc pit at Dungeness just as Mick two-converters Sinden was getting out of his car vehicle. We ambled up to the hide together, chatting, arriving around 13.45h. The wind was head-on into the hide but at least the light was promising (in fact it improved as time went on).

Two female and one male goldeneye were in the area all afternoon giving plenty of photo opportunities..

[Click any of the images to view at 1024px]

There were 8 readhead smew that came and went during the couple of hours I was there. A lone drake was over the far side, roosting in with the raft of pochard. It drifted over towards the hide but flew off towards the screen and shortly after that disappeared completely. The drake goldeneye was obliging enough that maybe the smew was too much to ask for!

The light continued to improve and the wind abated, making focusing easier as the ducks were not bobbing up and down so much.

The drake goldeneye was still strutting his stuff.

Oh, you beauty!
Tufted duck are often overlooked but, if their head is at just the right angle, one can pick up superb green hues in their plumage.

As I walked back to the car I heard a cetti's warbler singing in the scrub. A reminder that Spring is just around the corner. The diving ducks will soon be gone and a fresh set of migrants will be hitting our shores once again - BRING IT ON!!

I'm off to the Lake District next week for a last taste of Winter. Probably little nature photography but my camera will be at my side all week.