Sunday, 31 May 2009

Macro butterflies and polecats!

Not a combination you hear about everyday, but I'd recommend it!

Suzanne and I spent another weekend up in the north-west, this time for a significant birthday for Dave (21 again!) and for Anny and Michael's wedding. Both were lovely events, but I'm afraid all the photos are wildlife, as usual!

On Friday night, we popped down to Ty Mawr country park with our new macro lens - the highly rated Sigma 150mm f2.8. The light was fading a bit, so there weren't many opportunities for great shots, but this little Slow Worm was my first for a few years:

... and we did manage a few macro bits and bobs - some Red Campion, and a rather predictable Dandelion clock!

Above all, though, it was a lovely evening for wandering about aimlessly in the countryside.

Next day, I drove up to Eyarth Rocks Butterfly Conservation reserve, near Ruthin, while Suzanne went shopping for a new dress (don't ask!) My main targets were Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, which proved fairly easy to find, but not to photograph. However, after about a couple of hours messing about, I found a couple of more obliging individuals, resulting in these shots. I'm fairly pleased with them, though the one of the upperwing illustrates how narrow the depth of field is - this was taken at f11, and still the extremities of the wings are out of focus!

I spent a moment or two photographing bluebells - didn't get anything composed particularly well, but when I paused for a moment, this Painted Lady was right in front of me. There were plenty moving steadily west throughout the morning - it seems difficult to avoid seeing them during the current invasion!

Finally, although it's a rather tatty specimen, I reckon this Small Heath is the best illustration of the macro lens' capability - the level of detail is fantastic (click to enlarge). Who'd have thought they're so furry?!

After a late start recovering from the wedding reception, today we broke the journey south around the Beds / Bucks / Herts border. First stop was College Lake BBOWT reserve, where I was keen to see some of the polecat kittens that have been showing well recently. After about 40 minutes waiting, one appeared right next to the hide, no more than 3 feet away - incredible! The hide was absolutely packed, so photo opps were limited, but here's a record shot of the second animal which appeared a minute or two later:

Brilliant to see, and a UK mammal tick for me - not one I expected to get, either! Better photos are >here<, and there's a great bit of video >here<. The last wildlife stop of the weekend was at nearby Totternhoe Knolls, where a brief walk quickly found about 15-20 Small Blues. Although they're not particularly scarce, I don't recall ever seeing these before, so I'll put it down as a two-tick day!
And finally, it seemed far too nice an evening to get straight back on the M1, so we enjoyed a superb meal at the Alford Arms in Frithsden, courtesy of the Good Pub Guide. Every bit as good as the entry in the Guide suggested it might be - very highly recommended!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Lesvos Landscapes

Got a few copies of Dad's photos from Lesvos - here's a few favourites...

Beach at Skala Polichnitos

Looking across to Molivos

Ruin near 'Derbyshire' area, on the road to Achladeri

Ipsilou Monastery

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Bank holiday weekend

Just a quick post with a few photos from a varied weekend away from London... a bit of socialising, a bit of birding, and a bit of rather tasty scenery.

So, we started off on Friday night, travelling up to see John and Lib near Stoke. They've very kindly asked me to be one of their second child's moral guardians, so a trip to meet Iris was long overdue. Saturday saw a trip to the Alton Towers water park - good fun - followed by a brief walk in Dimmingsdale (lovely spot, with singing Pied Fly and Redstart, but no Wood Warbler), and then we headed out for a meal and trip to the cinema. Suzanne took the only photos of the day... here's a baby for everyone to coo over:

Oh, was that not what you expected? Sorry.

Next day after breakfast, we started with a walk at Biddulph Grange - a lovely area of woodland and managed gardens.

Now I believe that developing an enthusiasm for natural history is definitely within my remit as moral guardian. Iris is still a little young for this, but I took the opportunity to get some practice in, trying to convince Albert of the joys of birdwatching. Oddly, I don't think he was convinced...

After saying goodbye to John and Lib, we headed over to Anglesey, giving Tom a lift over to the ferry to Dublin. Weather was glorious by now, and the views across towards Beaumaris and Puffin Island were superb. Having got ferry tickets sorted, we popped in to South Stack for an hour - I found several Chough and a single Puffin pretty quickly, while Tom ticked off a few passing yachts (and the odd auk during boat-less moments). Maybe I should take up this branch of seawatching for those slack days at Porthgwarra or Sheringham, hmmmm..... Anyway, it was all rather scenically pleasing on various scales:

Incidentally, Suzanne and I have resolved to buy a macro lens for the DSLR - there are just too many flowers / butterflies / dragonflies / bugs / other small things that we want to photograph well. Plus Suzanne has said that I could leave her taking photos for hours if she had one... could be useful in Norfolk in the autumn! ;) Watch this space, anyway.

After dropping Tom off, we popped down the road to Holyhead Fish Harbour, and found one of these rather handsome black and white birds bobbing about... What could it be?

Driving back east, the views of Snowdonia were stunning, absolutely crystal clear. This shot was taken from Beaumaris, but I wish we'd taken more - I've never seen the area in such good light. (Click to enlarge this, and indeed any other photos on this site)

We found a decent campsite near Bangor, and then got a great meal at the Black Boy inn in Caernarfon - a proper pub, with proper beer (courtesy of the Purple Moose brewery) and proper food. Great stuff - recommended.

Next day dawned with clear skies again, and this time we headed southwest, towards the Lleyn peninsula - somewhere I'd never visited. Frustratingly, as as approached the headland at Uwchmynydd (try saying that after some Purple Moose... Mooses... Meese... whatever), the cloud rolled in off the sea. No chance of scenic views over Bardsey or any seawatching. Hmmph. The cloud was still patchy back at Aberdaron, but cleared now and again to reveal lovely views:

On the way back to Suzanne's family in Glyn Ceiriog, we spent a moment or two at the Afon Glaslyn Osprey watchpoint, near Porthmadog. Unless you've never seen an Osprey, or are absolutely desperate to see one in Wales, I wouldn't bother with this if I were you - the nest is incredibly distant, so views are poor even with a good scope. Moving quickly on, we drove through some more cracking scenery... though this stiched-together panorama is a bit of a failed experiment. Note to self - fix aperture to be constant for all the shots! I'm quite impressed with the free software that joined the various photos together, though - worth another go sometime.

From Suzanne's place, I then headed back home... via a slight detour to Wicken Fen. Well, it's almost on the way, isn't it? Avoiding traffic on the M1, or so I told myself. Coincidentally, there was a Squacco Heron there, as well... though not close enough for good photos.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Yet another lifer...

.... courtesy of Melodious Warbler at Dungeness on Wednesday evening, rapidly followed by a pretty smart Icterine as well. Many thanks to JL for offering a lift when I was carless. That's now six British ticks in two weeks. Only five more for BOU 400!

I've also stumbled across this brilliant blog post... open this and sing along to this ... Quality!

Monday, 11 May 2009

A tale of 2 twitches...

Sunday morning, about 10:45am (still half asleep after late return home from Norfolk)... glance at pager: probable Black-winged Pratincole, Reculver. ****! Wake up, start thinking about going...

10:48: Call from the Rainham Nerve Centre... "Have you seen the pager? Just thought you might like to know..." "Yeah, OK, cheers, I'm going!"

10:56: Call from Chez Hawkins... "Have you seen the pager? Are you going?" [Slight deja-vu...]
Turns out that Mrs H has headed out leaving Mr H carless... lift duly offered, and a Barking postcode goes into the SatNav.

11:00: On my way, fingers crossed!

12:50: After legging it along the path by the oyster farm, we're told that the bird has just flown into the distance. Grrr... Fortunately, one or two people are still watching, and we pick it up distantly, hawking for insects over the fields. Just before 1pm, it's headed east of the oyster farm, and appears to drop. The waiting game begins.

13:50: Still waiting.

14:10: Hawky's seen the pratincole again, as it gets up from the field where it disappeared earlier. No-one can stay on it through the worsening heat haze though.

14:23: The shout goes up "Behind you!", and it's back! Flying in over the pools, then landed on one of the sandy islands - superb. Pretty good views for about an hour, including a brief view of the underwing as it leapt up to pluck a wasp from the air.

15:25: After a brief flight to an adjacent island, the bird's off again - heading east again, over the rape fields, and into the distance. Exit stage left, and back home. Black-winged Pratincole never seen again. 6 new UK birds in under a month... where will it end?


Monday afternoon: Quick check of the pager reveals White-winged Black Tern at Staines. Very nice - consider an early exit, then encounter not one, but two fairly major problems at work as other people make their escape. Departure on hold.

1845: Finally leave work. Surely too late to get to Staines - never mind, it might stick around in worsening weather, or there might be loads more turning up in the forecast easterlies.

19:20: Get home, no sign of the shopping list I was supposed to be dealing with. Try to work out how long it'll take to get to Staines. M25 in the evening... probably a terrible idea.

19:28: Call from the Leth. "Are you going for the tern? It's showing really well - bring your camera!" Mind made up... what the heck, let's give it a go.

20:19: Arrive Staines, leg it up onto the causeway, quick scan - there it is! Unfortunately, the light's getting worse all the time, so photos are pretty awful, but what a cracking bird...

[Edit: Just for the record - all the above photos were taken at ISO 2000 to get a reasonable shutter speed and freeze the bird's movement in dwindling daylight. Obviously not prize-winning material, but goes to show how you can squeeze out tolerable shots at these ridiculously high ISO settings on modern SLRs!]

Monday, 4 May 2009

Scotland Trip Report

From one trip to another.... here's the full trip report from the Highlands in late March (over 1MB, so might be a little slow to download). Martin takes the credit for getting this written up - Dad and I just took some pictures!

If anyone wants more details on any of the sites or birds described, feel free to drop me a line.

PS - Pallid Swift today... get in there! Slowly closing in on 400 now.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Lesvos - photo highlights

As previously mentioned, Dad and I had a superb week on Lesvos from 23-30 April. We rented a small but very reasonably priced apartment on the edge of Kalloni, owned by the wildlife photographer George McCarthy (see, which was ideal. Why spend more on a hotel when you're out birding for pretty much every daylight hour?! Evening meals in the Dionysos and Ambrosia tavernas in Skala Kalloni were excellent value as well.

A big thankyou to Steve Dudley - his Lesvos Birding website is a great resource before you travel out to the island, and then once you're there, he's organised a sightings logbook in the reception of the Hotel Pasiphae in Skala Kalloni. We kept popping in each evening to see what others had found, and add some notes of our own, hopefully helping other birders.

Anyway, I shall write up a full trip report as soon as I can, but in the mean time, here are the best of my (wildlife) photos. There were a lot of massive lenses being toted around the island through the week, and I'm sure their owners will have some amazing photos.... but given that these were basically just snaps taken while we were birding, I'm pretty pleased with them. Dad's got plenty of great landscape shots as well, which will follow in a few days.

Click any of the images to view fullsize!