Sunday 30 January 2011

More from Essex…

Another excellent day out with Paul and Jono took in a great range of scarce birds. After a bit of a false start at Goldhanger, where we failed to locate any divers or grebes of note, we returned to Braxted Park to find some Hawfinches. The birds were fairly mobile, moving between tall tree tops just inside the park, but we got good views and counted at least 10 individuals including some very smart males. Just up the road towards Inworth, the regular Red Kite showed very well, first perched and then in flight. It’s clearly an immature bird, with pale tips to the coverts showing as a thin wing bar (see bad photo below), and the breast is a pale creamy colour, rather than the richer russet of an adult. red_kite

Moving on, we headed onto Mersea Island, initially to look through the massed waders on the falling tide. Nothing of note, but lots of challenging flight shot opportunities:


But the real reason we were here was a little further along. News through the week had described a good flock of Lapland Buntings, in a weedy field to the west of the southern end of the causeway. After a bit of legwork, we found the right area and got some decent flight views, counting a minimum of 28 birds – the spectacle of these looping round overhead, giving the characteristic rattle and ‘pew’ calls was superb. Unlike this photo.


By this time, the tide had gone too far out for us to find anything good from West Mersea prom (despite some impressive attempts at stringing Cormorants), so we moved back inland to Abberton. The dozen wild geese were still present from the Layer Breton causeway, and showed well along with up to 8 Smew (3 white nuns and 5 redheads). We also got distant views of a juv Hen Harrier from the Layer de la Haye, looking towards the pumping station, and a Bacon Roll showed well (though briefly).

pinkfeet tundra_beans

Near Abberton Church, we picked up a couple of Corn Bunting in with c20 Yellowhammers (thanks Daryl!), before a final look off East Mersea produced 12 Eider.

Monday 24 January 2011

Not birds… but an amazing photo!

Taking good photos of a solar eclipse strikes me as a pretty tricky thing to get right – after all, it’s not like you get that many opportunities to practise. However, someone at work today drew my attention to a recent image that’s several cuts above. Take a look:

And note that the window of opportunity to get the shot was less than 1 second… M. Legault has got something rather special!

edit: and now, having done a bit more research, it turns out this isn’t the first time! shows the International Space Station in line with the Sun, just as the Space Shuttle Atlantis is about to dock… more like 0.5 seconds opportunity this time. Incredible.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Lee Valley Bittern

Another rather grey day made photography hard work, but the Bittern was sufficiently large and close to make a reasonable shot possible! I’d like a sunnier day to enable higher shutter speed and lower ISO, but this is a start…


Other birds today included a Swedish ringed Greylag Goose with a Pink-footed friend, some Lesser Redpolls, and a handful of Yellowhammers.

Saturday 22 January 2011

A few hours in Mid Essex

After a lazy start to the day, I headed out up the A12 toward Tollesbury and the Blackwater Estuary. The weather was occasionally attempting to break out into sunshine, but by the time I reached Rolls Farm it was still rather more gloomy than I’d hoped for, with some drizzle in the air. As the tide came in, it brought with it 5 smart Slavonian Grebes, 4 Eider, and at least 15 Red-breasted Mergansers. Normally, this site is quite reliable for Great Northern Diver in the winter – but not this time, so after a chilly hour’s vigil, I headed back to the car.

Next stop was Abberton Reservoir, where I bumped into Steve G and Andrew T – they’d found a pair of Peregrines perched up near the Layer de la Haye causeway. The female was an absolute monster, really impressive bird. Andrew was telling me that they’ve been seen hunting collaboratively: the male sails off very high, while the female makes a much more obvious move to flush flocks of birds. Having done this, the male then plummets down from its lofty position to make the kill.

After a bit of a chat, we moved round to the Layer Breton causeway, to have a look at the geese. On arrival, a drake Smew was reasonably close, and allowed a few photos:


The geese were an impressive site, numbering 6 Pink-feet, 6 Tundra Beans, and 80+ White-fronts. Not to mention the array of feral Canadas, Greylags and an Egyptian Goose taking scattered seed along the causeway! This Pink-footed Goose came in relatively close, but not for long…

pinkfoot1 pinkfoot2

And here’s a distant shot of some of the White-fronts, with the Tundras just visible at the back.


Finally, I popped in at Braxted Park on the way home. I thought this was a long shot, rather late in the day, but was delighted to find a single Hawfinch perched up high in a tree to the left of the track – superb!