Friday, 30 January 2009

Short-eared Owl fest

I had to go up to my Mum's to take her in to hospital for a knee operation this last week. While I was up there I took the opportunity to drive to the nearby village of Hawling to look for wintering Short-eared Owls. Up to four have been seen at this farm this winter. I tried a couple of weeks ago, but it was too windy. Yesterday afternoon it wasn't windy but it was quite dull weather. Not ideal for sharp photography, but here are some shots I managed to take. My brother Adrian and I really enjoyed watching this particular individual for about an hour as it hunted over a grassy field.

I think this has got to be my favourite of the five British Owls.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A day of birding in Norfolk - part 2

After our visit to Cley Nature Reserve, we made our way along the coast to Warham Greens. This is a well known roosting site for Harriers and Owls in the winter. We weren't to be disappointed. The hedge behind us in this photo helped to shelter us from the wind which was most welcome!
As we looked out over the salt marsh with several other birders, we saw several Marsh Harriers and two Hen Harriers (Northern Harriers to my American friends). There was a dark breasted Barn Owl (ours are generally pale birds, so this one probably came over from Northern or Eastern Europe) and two Short-eared Owls. These were particularly lovely to watch with their peculiarly mechanical flight.
I loved this area and wished we could have stayed longer until dusk, but with only one evening available to us we decided to head further along the coast to enjoy the Pink-footed Geese coming in to roost at Holkham. Here is a panoramic view of this beautiful area of Salt Marsh at Warham Greens, first from the left........and the right...........and the centre! You can't see it in these photos, but the sea is there just beyond the marsh.And so on to our final birding spot of the day. There is nothing like the spectacle of watching and hearing thousands upon thousands of Pink feet coming in to roost at the end of the day. I would recommend it to anyone! A few thousand would come along and gradually settle to the ground and then you'd see what looks like smoke in the distance and another few thousand would gradually come closer and descend.I particularly like the two tone effect in this photos and the randomness of the geese as they wiffled their way down to earth.A not so random formation flying over our heads. The colour of the sky was amazing. I haven't touched up these photos at all by the way.
As the sun sank below the horizon I was able to get some beautiful shots across the standing water in the fields.These last two, I couldn't decide whether I preferred the landscape or portrait shot. I think the landscape wins it for me by a whisker!
A perfect end to a wonderful days birding with great friends!

Monday, 26 January 2009

A day of birding in Norfolk - Part 1

Five of us crammed into my car on Friday afternoon and drove for 4-5 hours to the north coast of the county of Norfolk which is on the east coast of Britain. This is one of the best birding areas in England with extensive salt marshes and bird reserves dotted along the coast.
We knew the best day weather wise was going to be Saturday, so we got up while it was still dark and drove 1.5 hours to our first birding spot at Cantley Marshes. It was bitterly cold and icy and the photo below shows us watching a mixed flock of Taiga Bean, Pink-footed and Greater White-fronted Geese.One of our main reasons for birding in this area of Norfolk (The Norfolk Broads) was to look for the small population of Common Cranes. This is the only place in Britain where they breed. As you can see, we were quite some distance away from the birds, but had fantastic scope views of them feeding.Here is a heavily cropped photo of them where you can just about make out what they are! (-:In the same general area we came across a flock of Pink-footed Geese feeding in a ploughed field with some Lapwing and Golden Plover and a few Black-headed Gulls. Unfortunately (for the Geese) I managed to flush them getting out of the car. This did give me the opportunity to take some flight shots!If you click on the photo below to enlarge, then you can just see the Lapwing on the ground and some Golden Plover in flight below the geese against the dunes.As they started to settled down again, they did that lovely wiffling action of dangling their legs and bowing their wings to zig zag down out of the sky.Our next stop was in North Walsham at a supermarket car park to look at 3 Waxwings that had been feeding on berries there. The light was awful and with no way to get in a position with the best light behind me, this is the best shot I could get. They occasionally come to Britain from the taiga forests of northern Europe to winter with us. They have a lovely distinctive trilling call.Around lunchtime, we made our way back to the north coast to bird along the coast for the rest of the day. Our stop at Cley gave me some opportunities to photograph some geese closer to. This Brent goose was one of two or three that were feeding near to the East Bank at Cley Nature Reserve.This Lapwing just didn't seem to want to turn around for me and this was the best shot I could get before he wandered further away.The Greylag was more of a poser! (-:
We walked along the East Bank at Cley to get to the sea where this unfortunate 1st winter Glaucous Gull was resting on the beach.It definitely had something wrong with its wing, but seemed to be feeding OK and apparently could still fly, though we didn't see it do so while we were there.We get Ruddy Turnstones on our shores during the winter and this one was living up to its name on this stony beach.I'll tell more about the latter half of this great day of birding in my next post.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Portland - final post.

There are many places on Portland to go to look for Divers (Loons) and Grebes in winter. Two such places are Portland Castle and Sandsfoot Castle both of which overlook Portland harbour. In a southwesterly wind this harbour is pretty sheltered. With the help of scopes we were able to pick out Great Northern (Common Loon), Black throated Diver (similar to Pacific Loon), Slavonian Grebe (Horned Grebe), Black-necked Grebe (Eared Grebe) and Great Crested Grebe. We also had many Red breasted Mergansers and a Short-eared Owl flying low over the water which was mobbed by Gulls.At Portland Castle we saw this handsome male Black Redstart. This is not a common breeding bird in Britain and is mainly a winter visitor to our coastal areas from Europe.At Sandsfoot Castle, we were treated to this Kestrel concentrating on trying to get a meal. I got quite close, but the gloomy light was not good for photography by that time in the day.
Our last stop of the day was at Radipole Lake in the centre of Weymouth town. This is an RSPB reserve with a large lake and extensive reed beds. This stunning male Hooded Merganser has taken up residence there over several months. There is still debate as to whether this is a wild bird that has been blown over from America or an escape. Either way, it is a very handsome bird.
This Little Grebe was tantalisingly just out of reach for getting a good shot! This one is in drab winter plumage. In summer they have a striking chestnut side to the head.For some reason, I never seem to get a nice sharp photo of Moorhens, perhaps I need to try some spot metering as discussed by Roy and Steve . Here is an adult and below a young bird.
As I was photographing the Moorhens, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and spotted Ratty running along the lake shore.The weather forecast for this day hadn't been good, but we took the risk of driving down and in the end had a fabulous day full of great birds.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Portland - Part 2

After our sea watch, we strolled along the cliffs looking for Black Redstart or Rock Pipit. Well, we found one of those. This Rock Pipit decided to take a bath in a little puddle of what was probably salty sea water! Identification of Pipits can be tricky, but Rock Pipits are generally quite 'cold' brownish grey looking and the breast streaks are generally more blurry than with other Pipits (have a look in the book Evie). (-: The legs are meant to be dark but that isn't easy to see in the following photos.

We managed to find a Black Redstart later on in the day which will feature in the next Portland post.