Monday 20 April 2009

Of Ospreys and Ouzels...

A few photos from another good weekend's birding, the highlight of which was an Osprey drifting about over Rainham early afternoon on Saturday. Only one of the following images is worth clicking to view larger (clue: it's not a bird!)

Later on I went up to Maldon to see the Lesser Yellowlegs - a very smart bird, showing well with 500+ gorgeous islandica Black-tailed Godwits.

Sunday started well, actually coming away from a game of poker with uni mates in profit, and then, a few hours later, with JL's Ring Ouzel on Wanstead Flats. Excellent. Rainham produced 3 Arctic Terns feeding on the river, a typically elusive drake Garganey and at least 8 Wheatear, but was generally a bit quiet. A tour of east Kent was even more quiet, but featured cracking scenery along the coast between Dover and Folkestone.

GigaPan - very cool photos

I was introduced to GigaPan today, a site for sharing hugely detailed panoramic photos stitched together from multiple images, and a gadget for taking them (though this is still rather expensive!). Some of the results using this technique (with or without the gadget) are stunning. Zoom in, scroll around to see what you can find, and be amazed... I'm sure this is going to catch on.

Explore some of the following, look at some of the snapshots of hidden detail that others have found:
Obama's Inauguration
Munich Airport
London from Westminster
London from St Pauls

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Twitching Aids

After a couple of trips this weekend down to sites I'd never previously visited, it seems appropriate to plug a couple of great bits of technology that kept me moving on the roads...

First off, no-one likes getting stuck in traffic - and on a Bank Holiday, the chances are pretty high. However, my current SatNav (one of these, available for considerably less than RRP, and even less than that as a member of the IAM) has a function to receive traffic news from cameras monitoring main routes, recognises when delays are occurring, and automatically diverts you onto an alternative route if it's going to be quicker. It saved me from a long queue on the M3 on Saturday, and avoided the Dartford Crossing on Monday evening - OK, perhaps the latter isn't rocket science, but it kept me moving pretty effectively, and I'm confident it will continue to do the job over the summer.

Secondly, I'd recommend this speed camera database as an addon to your SatNav of choice. A subscription costs very little - indeed, if you pay a bit of attention and spot a new camera location (mobile or fixed) which isn't in the database, then you should get a free lifetime membership. It takes a bit of doing, since it's already pretty comprehensive, warning you of various different camera types (GATSO, SPECS, mobile, variable speed light, red light) together with the relevant limit. Now obviously, no-one travelling to see a bird ever breaks the speed limit, least of all me, but this offers some additional security for the event when you miss a sign coming into an unfamiliar village. If you do a lot of miles, it's well worth a look.

Finally, how did anyone ever drive anywhere before in-car audio supported MP3 CDs? One disc holds about 10 hours of music with no faffing about changing discs (or tapes - remember those?). This weekend's selection included:
All superb... turn it up!

24/7 birding

Still recovering after a mad weekend's birding - hardly spent any daylight hours in the house! Although the year list racked up quite a few more notches involving a reasonable amount of driving, I also enjoyed a few periods of quiet birding doing my own thing. Three hours were spent on Sunday morning carrying out a Timed Tetrad Visit for the BTO's Bird Atlas project in a woodland near me - I'm suppresing all the megas, but singing Nuthatch, loads of Woodpeckers and lingering Brambling and Siskin were all good to see. Half expected to find Marsh Tit, but they remain very thin on the ground down here. On a similar note, but in very different habitat, I spent a good 90 minutes sat in various places along the edge of Dengemarsh Gully watching a heap of Willow Warblers moving gradually inland, feeding right next to me - real birding, really relaxing in the afternoon sunshine.

Some photos from various places:

Saturday 11 April 2009

White-throated Sparrow

... on my list! Sorry, no pictures, but I'm sure Surfbirds will do the job.

After the early news was negative, I diverted to Pulborough Brooks on the way down to Hants, where the Alpine Swift was showing brilliantly, low overhead, with a group of hirundines driven down by poor weather. As I expected, the swift disappeared as soon as the weather perked up, but by then the Sparrow was showing and I was on my way.

For anyone thinking of going to see the White-throated Sparrow, give yourself plenty of time, and be prepared to put in some effort to find it - it was calling reasonably frequently this afternoon, but generally keeping low to the floor and moving slowly inside dense blackthorn and bramble cover. Not ideal for getting a whole lot of people to see it simultaneously! Might be quite tricky to relocate each morning. Beautiful view and interesting ancient history when you get bored, though...

Anyway, that's my first new British bird of 2009 - not like that low-listing Hawkins bloke!

Ton up...

Another pleasant spring day's birding, this time in Suffolk with Jonathan (thanks for driving!). Early doors we got pretty decent, though distant, views of the Purple Heron on the deck and in flight at Shingle Street. The bird appears to be very wary, so hopefully the bank holiday twitchers won't boot it about too much. Also bumped into Adrian and Matthew again, but none of us could find any other migrants to speak of - just 2 female Wheatear some way south of the allotments.

We decided to press on straight up to Minsmere to avoid the worst of the Bank Holiday crowds, and then proceeded to wander round slowly with cameras... dudetastic! At least we knew what we were looking at (or listening to), namely: 8+ ad Med Gulls (kyow!), Bittern (oooom), Common Tern (chik...chik....krrr), Nightingale (errr... no chance!), Reed Warbler, Sanderling and a whole host of other bits and pieces. Note the subject of the last photo - any vestige of 'proper birder' credibility is sinking fast... ;)

While we were having lunch, it struck us that the day list was probably not too bad, and after a bit of totting up, the score was just over 80. Being terribly sad, list-obsessed people, the lure of 100 in a day was just too much to resist, so we went home via:
  • Westleton for Dartford Warbler
  • somewhere nearby for singing Black Redstart
  • Wolves Wood for just about nothing
  • Old Hall for a Spoonbill and various waders
  • Abberton for two handsome Slav Grebes, some wildfowl and a Whitethroat - when this finally gave itself up late in the day, we'd seen 104 species, and it was my 200th of the year.
We still missed heaps of easy birds (Mistle Thrush, Yellowhammer and Sparrowhawk spring to mind), so a realistic target with some proper effort and less photographic interludes would probably be 120+ on this route.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Rainham - a dangerous place for the unwary birder

I only just made it out alive, you know....

....well, perhaps I exaggerate ever-so slightly. But anyway, a very pleasant amble round Rainham this afternoon became a brisk march towards the end, due to the intervention of one very angry Cygnus olor. I'd been taking some (fairly poor) photos of a very docile pair of Mute Swans preening by the path, when a nearby male from another pair took offence and leaped out of the ditch towards us. First it chased the original male about 30 yards down the path, wings spread, hissing away, and then it turned to consider the puny looking bloke with a camera.... As it started to pace my way, I decided it was time to leave, with discretion being the better part of valour and all that!

A new entry on the reserve's Health and Safety Risk Assessment?!

I moved on to photographing safer subjects - I quite like this one:

Anyway, aside from that, it was a worthwhile wander, featuring a few more spring migrants: a couple of Sedge Warblers were some way off full song, but giving it a go now and then, and a male Yellow Wag was very handsome. Better still, though, a group of 4 Whimbrel flew over me, calling as they headed south over the river - it strikes me as very early for these to be on passage, but there's no doubt about it. I also relocated the latest in the recent sequence of Rainham Iceland Gulls, this one a very bleached 1st winter, I believe. (As with any of the photos, click to enlarge, though this is still not prize-winning stuff...)

I'm an Iceland Gull, honest...

And finally, also on the subject of bad photos, I'll leave you with the first of what could become a regular series... Name the Mystery Rodent!

Saturday 4 April 2009

Spring is sprung...

What a gorgeous day in the sunshine! After a very enjoyable evening with John and Steph in SW London, we headed out into Surrey this morning, starting with a quick stop at Frensham Great Pond. The drake Ring-necked Duck was still present, though distant, sleepy and hazy. A Swallow calling over attracted attention, my first of the year.

We meandered our way through the South Downs to Pulborough Brooks RSPB, and then meandered around the reserve in shirt-sleeves... bit different to that Ptarmigan trip a few days ago! Plenty of signs of spring in evidence, with Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in song, and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers chasing about over the pools.

Final stop was taken from the Good Pub Guide - the Wheatsheaf in Bough Beech broke our journey nicely, and offered superb food. Highly recommended!

Thursday 2 April 2009

Scotland Trip - photo highlights

Just back from a fantastically successful five days birding up in Scotland with my Dad, Martin and Paul. We stayed in Aviemore, and took in a selection of sites in Speyside, the NW coast from Little Loch Broom round to Loch Maree (i.e either side of Gairloch), the Moray Firth and the Black Isle... basically cleaning up all the birds we hoped for. Full trip report to follow in due course (with trip list comfortably over 100), but until I've put e-pen to e-paper, here are some snaps of the birds and beasts we saw.... quality ranges from acceptable to truly atrocious (and there may be worse to come!), but hopefully you'll get the idea that it was pretty good. Just ask Paul, who's the proud owner of four more UK ticks!

Saw loads of these, as you'd expect...

Just one of these, a tagged adult, perched and in flight.

8 of these!!!

Plenty of kites around the west side of the Black Isle

Adult Iceland Gull - resulting in a candidate for loudest bird-finder's shout in the history of the world ;)

Ah, so much opportunity for so many bad jokes - I'll resist (for now)


Proper Pigeon

About 20 Snow Buntings, they always look far more at home up on the Cairngorms than on a Norfolk coastline

If Suzanne had taken this, it would be captioned a Vestie... but she didn't, so it's just a Hoodie

Another very excited find for Paul!

Impressive Red Deer stag...

...and his missus

And finally one of the Chanonry Point Bottle-nosed Dolphins - unfortunately the camera wasn't out of the bag when one leapt out of the water with a salmon in its mouth!