Occasional ramblings about the wildlife that I have been watching - mainly birds and dragonflies, but anything else that I encounter may also feature from time to time.
There is likely to be some cross over with the posts here, but I'll try and include at least some different material on each site, even if posting about the same things!
Please do not copy any photographs, contact me if you wish to use any for any reason.
A recurring theme of posts during 2013 will be a birding 'Photographic Year List". Although I will not be dashing around the country whenever a rare bird is reported, I will be trying to photograph as many species as possible in Britain during the year.
To count, each species must be identifiable from the photo - it doesn't have to be a good photo, or even in focus if the species is distinctive enough. New 'Photographic Year Ticks' will be posted at the end of the post for the day they are photographed on.


Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cold and Bittern! (21st January 2013).

A cold spell, particularly when wetland areas freeze or there is a fall of snow, can make it easier to see some birds and a cold snap at the end of January meant that the Bitterns on Seventy Acres Lake were seen out in the open slightly more often. I decided to use the opportunity to try and get some photos, and I wasn't disappointed.
There was a Bittern on view when I first entered the hide, and although at first it was within the reedbed and largely obscured, it wasn't too long before it crept out into the open, and stayed in the open for a full five minutes.
During this time it performed a curious side to side 'dance' which was difficult to explain - it was obviously aware of the presence of several observers in the hide, and may have been trying to look like reeds swaying in the breeze, or perhaps it was changing its viewpoint to better assess what it could see? Sometimes we just have to accept that we don't know what a bird we watch is doing!

*photos to follow*

A Cetti's Warbler gave brief views, but wouldn't allow any identifiable photos, but a Reed Bunting feeding on last years seed heads did allow some fairly decent shots.

After leaving the hide I spent a while trying to photograph Redwings, Fieldfares, and Blackbirds, feeding in exposed areas of leaf litter underneath trees. They were too concerned with trying to find food to worry too much about my presence, but the dull lighting conditions meant that freezing even the slightest movement was very difficult.

More Mallard hybrids (17th January 2013).

A relatively brief afternoon visit to Seventy Acres Lake was successful in that I managed to locate some  Mallard x Wood Duck hybrids that had I had heard about from another birdwatcher - and these were the main reason for my visit (I was already aware that the Bewick's Swans which had roosted on the lake overnight had departed).

Although the two species are very different, and placed in different genera, this hybrid has been recorded quite frequently in captivity and can produce quite attractive offspring. A male and three females were present on the Old River Lee adjacent to the lake, and had probably not come far - there is an ornamental lake on private property on the east side of the river, and the owner has certainly had captive wildfowl on this lake in the past (including a Red-breasted Goose for a while).

*photos to follow*

One of the females was obviously paler than the other two, showing clear evidence that there was domestic Mallard (rather than a wild type bird) in her ancestry at least. It is possible that all four did not share the same parents!

It is surprising how many different hybrids have been recorded among wildfowl, although at least some of these crosses have been deliberately 'encouraged' by breeders. Among the more unexpected hybrids are crosses like Mallard x Egyptian Goose, Mute Swan x (Greylag x domestic Swan Goose hybrid), and Goosander x Goldeneye.

Nearby, the Bittern failed to show, at the Bittern Information Point hide, but Water Rails did perform well, and I managed a poor shot of a Long-tailed Tit for my photographic year list.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Are photographers less observant birders?

I tend to think that photographers can often be more observant that birdwatchers who don't carry a camera in many respects, but perhaps I am somewhat biased in holding this view because I do usually carry a camera!
On the other hand, many of the details that photographers will notice in the field are not those that will help with a difficult identification - even if the photographs that are obtained may contain details that realistically could not have been seen in the field, but will confirm an identification beyond all doubt (good quality photographs, of the type many amateur photographers now produce, can show details that would previously only have been possible to obtain by trapping a bird and examining it 'in the hand').
While birders may be critically examining a bird, noting in as much detail as possible, the exact extent and pattern of tertial fringing, the number and position of unmoulted juvenile feathers, the comparative length of primaries and tertials, and the variation in colour tones, photographers are perhaps more likely to be concentrating on things like focus, lighting, the position of the bird in the frame, and whether there are any distracting objects in the background. In some cases a photographers attention won't even fully be on the subject bird, I have often found my attention has wandered ahead of the bird, looking for any spots where there is the potential to get a better shot because, if the bird keeps moving in the same direction, it will be in better light, unobscured, or closer (it is generally far easier to get close to a bird without disturbing it by moving ahead and letting it approach you - sometimes though the bird has other ideas and by moving ahead you end up away from the action).

So what brought these thoughts on?
While I was in Hyde Park a few days ago, I noticed three female Tufted Ducks on the bank at the edge of the Serpentine as I was walking towards the reedbed the Bearded Tits were frequenting, and thought that they might make an interesting photographic compostion. Admittedly I didn't stop for long, I just took a couple of quick shots and then continued on my way, the problem is that it wasn't until I looked at the shots the next day that I realised that they quite clearly weren't three Tufted Ducks!
Spot the odd one out!

If I had glanced at these through a pair of binoculars instead of a camera, I am very confident that I would not have assumed that all three were Tufted Ducks - but I was concentrating on the way they were lined up, not on the individual birds!
Of course, photographers can be every bit as observant as any other birdwatcher, but every now and then we may need a reminder not to focus too much on whether the picture looks right and to actually look properly at the birds in the viewfinder! 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A cold afternoon in Hyde Park (14th January 2013).

A London Bird Club committee meeting in the evening meant that I had a reason to travel into central London, and as a couple of female Bearded Reedlings (..or Tits, or Parrotbills - whichever name you prefer) had taken up residence in a small patch of reeds at the edge of the Serpentine in Hyde Park - the first ever record of the species in central London.

Unfortunately the weather was uncooperative, and there was rain and sleet all afternoon. Nether-the-less, I headed into town, and soon found myself photographing these "Beardies", and a variety of other wildlife in the park while fighting to stay warm! The Lido Cafe was convenient for the latter, right next to the Bearded Tits chosen reedbed, and selling hot coffee and soup.

Both Bearded Tits were ringed, and the numbers had already been pieced together from photographs that had been taken. Both had been ringed in the Lee Valley, at Rye Meads, on 10th November 2012. I did manage to get a few good shots, despite extremely dull conditions, and shutter speeds as low as 1/50 second, but may well return on a day when conditions are better!

I had chosen not to bring a large lens with me because of the poor weather forecast, and just had a 70-200mm f2.8 lens + 1.4x and 1.7x teleconverters with me. A longer lens wasn't really required though because the Bearded Tits were not at all worried about the birdwatchers who had come to see them, many of whom had nipped out during their lunch hour, and other birds were used to being fed by park visitors. Grey Squirrels, Grey Herons, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Ring-necked Parakeets, and many species, would approach anyone who stopped in the hope that they were going to be fed.

2013 Photographic year list

60). Great Tit

61). Feral Pigeon

62). Canada Goose

63). Pochard

64). Bearded Reedling

65). Grey Heron

66). Blackbird

67). European Robin

WeBS day - with a buff delay! (13th January 2013).

WeBS weekend had come around again, but we delayed starting our counts because Dave still hadn't seen the Buff-bellied Pipits which had been at Queen Mother Reservoir. Yesterday they had been seen to fly off south-east from the reservoirs and had subsequently been located feeding around pools in Kingsmead Quarry, Horton Gravel Pits (part of the Wraysbury Gravel Pit complex) - which meant that it was now possible to see them without access to the reservoir. In all likelihood, they had been commuting between the two sites for much of their stay, and this is why they hadn't been seen on the reservoir for a while after Christmas, and at the start of the new year.
We were watching both of the Buff-bellied Pipits feeding with Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails, almost immediately after arriving at the site - a lifer for Dave, and a year tick for me.

There were a number of subtle differences between the two, with perhaps the most noticeable being a difference in leg colour, pretty much black on the bird I had seen before Christmas on the Queen Mother Reservoir, but a dark pink / maroon colour on the second bird. This is similar to the variation in colour between the darkest and palest legged Rock and Water Pipits.

Back in the Lee Valley we found that the William Girling Reservoir was relatively devoid of many birds! there was no sign of the Long-tailed Duck, and we only found 11 Black-necked Grebes (although a few may have been overlooked due to the choppy water). Black-necked Grebe numbers have been very low this winter, perhaps because the water level on the reservoir is much higher that it has been in the last couple of winters.

There were also few birds on the Banbury Reservoir, where four Goosander were the highlight (there had been 11 on the William Girling).

2012 Photographic year list

58). Buff-bellied Pipit

59). Black-necked Grebe

An early start in west London... (12th January 2013).

I started the day with a dash over to the west side of London, where members of the Berkshire Ornithological Club were again providing day permit access to the Queen Mother Reservoir (usually permit only, with permits only available to BOC members) following the rediscovery of the Buff-bellied Pipits that had been seen before the new year.
I needed to be back in the Lee Valley by 10am to lead a walk, so had no real expectation of being at the reservoir long enough to see much, but the opportunity to join the BOC, and get an annual permit was available so I thought that I would take advantage of this. While there I did get a couple of (very poor) "photo year list" pictures, taken just for the sake of it, not because I thought that they would turn out well in dull light, and there is a very small possibility that I did see a Buff-bellied Pipit without actually realising it.
I had stopped by the gate on the way out, and as two calling Meadow Pipits flew in to land in the long grass near the gate I jokingly said to the two BOC members present "there's some pipits - they'll do". "But they're just Meadow Pipits was the reply", just before another pipit flew in without calling - leading to my reply: "OK then, I'll count that silent one!". When the first report of Buff-bellied Pipit from the reservoir later in the day stated that 'one was seen with Meadow Pipits in long grass to the left of the gate' it did make me wonder whether it could actually have been the bird I had seen!

In the Lee Valley, I had quite a good walk with the 11 people who joined me, with the highlights including two drake Smew, at least three Common Buzzards, good views of two Common Snipe, Bittern, Water Rail, Treecreepers, Siskins, and a pair of Goosanders - nothing entirely unexpected in the area, but some good birds for people who don't regularly visit the sites!

I did lug my camera round, but didn't really have the opportunity to try too hard for photographs (leading walks and taking the time to try and get decent photos don't really mix). I did get some, mainly very poor, shots that added species to my photo year list:

2013 Photographic year list

51). Pied Wagtail

52). Great Crested Grebe

53-55). Common Buzzard, Carrion Crow, and Magpie (all included in this photo):

56). Fieldfare

57). Redwing

Friday, 11 January 2013

Hunting Owls (8th January 2013).

I was hoping to find a Purple Sandpiper or two on the rocky groynes and outfalls on the north-east Essex coast, but despite carefully searching a few likely areas I was out of luck.
There were plenty of other birds on the marshes though, with good numbers of Wigeon, Teal, and other duck, and also large numbers of various waders, mainly Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Curlews, and Black-tailed Godwits.
A couple of European Stonechats, and a few Little Egrets were also seen, but the highlights were a Barn Owl and a Short-eared Owl hunting over rough grassland.

The Short-eared Owl was fairly distant, and when it finally did start to approach me it was scared off by a number of low passes by a coastguard helicopter - I was not especially happy! Fortunately the Barn Owl did come much closer (although not quite as close as I would have liked - there was no cover anywhere so it was well aware of my presence).
Both owls went down in the grass after prey -
 but neither was close enough for a decent shot when they did

2013 Photographic Year List

49). Short-eared Owl

50). Great Black-backed Gull