Sunday 25 March 2012

A Breckland selection…

Another fantastic day’s weather, and some more excellent birding up in the Brecks. (Norway and Finland’s temperatures are going to come as one hell of a shock in a few days’ time!). I seem to have spent much of the day in places that I either wasn’t strictly supposed to be, or probably shouldn’t name, so this might be a bit of a weird post…

After narrowly avoiding a potentially bad accident involving 8 large and apparently suicidal Red Deer stags with poor road-crossing skills on the A11 near Elveden, I arrived at site A just after dawn, still in very cold and misty conditions. Just 2 above zero! Great-spots were already drumming, and Song Thrush and Blackbird were belting out full song. After a bit of a wander, these typical sounds of the woodland were met with something about as pleasing on the ear as yesterday’s Egyptian Geese were on the eye… “Eh-kaaaAARK… KAARK”. Much like >this<. But hey, that was just what I wanted – a Golden Pheasant. In fact, there were at least three ‘singing’ from favoured thickets, but as usual, very hard to see – after some stealthy creeping about, I only managed a couple of brief views.

Moving on to site B (which I can safely name as Santon Downham), I arrived to find an alarming number of people milling around near the bridge looking unsuccessfully for little woodpeckers. I rather anti-socially cleared off along the river towards Brandon – and promptly picked up a drumming Lesser-spot. It almost immediately flew off towards the expectant throng (likely causing numerous groans of the “No, I STILL can’t see it” variety, I suspect), while I continued to head in the opposite direction! Further down the river, there was plenty of Nuthatch, Great-spot and Marsh Tit action, a Kingfisher zipped past, a Brambling or two gave their wheezy calls, and a couple of Mandarin dropped in on the water. These seem to be colonising the area slowly – I don’t remember seeing them here more than a few years ago?


I heard another Lesser-spot calling and had a quick look at the ultra-distant Great Grey Shrike the other side of the bridge, before the sun started to emerge and I decided that accipiter o’clock was rapidly approaching. On, then, to site C. This is one of East Anglian birding’s worst kept secrets, and consequently a crowd of around 30 people were already lined up scanning over a clearing in the pine forest. Two or three Woodlark were yodelling away from the heavens, and after about half an hour a pleasingly large raptor appeared to our left, and then circled higher and higher over the clearing. Great scope views of Goshawk… and another top quality addition to the well-known ‘hazy raptors in less than 100 pixels’ collection.


Awesome. Consider yourself privileged to have witnessed such a photo (but unfortunate not to have seen the Gos – it was pretty good, honest!)

Just on the point of leaving, I bumped into Harry and Barry, from just down the road from me in the Lee Valley. During the ensuing conversation as we wandered back, they happened to remind me of a very fine culinary establishment nearby – the mighty Walkers snack bar at the Barton Mills roundabout. I was starving, and a mega alert probably could not have got me moving quicker…

One sausage, egg and bacon bap and a coffee later, I moved on to site D, suitably replenished. This spot is another semi-open secret, along a public road, but it would birders are being actively discouraged from visiting now, so I won’t name that either. Suffice to say, there were three Stone Curlews, and yet more Woodlarks in the sunshine. The warmth was drawing out butterflies again, too – here’s my first Peacock of the year:


Site E was a return to the Little Ouse, this time at Brandon. Here the notebook was supplemented with another Kingfisher, two handsome pairs of Grey Wagtails, another pair of Mandarin, several Yellowhammer, Redpoll and Marsh Tit.


Oh, and I nearly forgot: there was yet another Lesser-spot, drumming almost non stop and showing well again. I must be getting a bit blasé about them: that’s six birds in almost as many days…

Saturday 24 March 2012

Deja vu…

Same start to the day as last weekend – a minor spot of Dendrocopos action as the mist cleared and the sun came out. Some better shots this time (IMHO), but still some work to do. They’re simply awesome birds, though, leaving photos aside… I could honestly just stand around and simply watch, and listen.


And since the rest of the day was warm and sunny – what else to do but stroll around a few places and take some more pics. First up, a candidate for the ugliest species on the British List:


… followed by a small sample of today’s four butterfly species – a Comma:


…a spring migrant Little Ringed Plover (rather more distant, at Rainham):


…and finally a couple of commoner species at Rainham… Collared Dove and Reed Buntings.


Apologies for the distinct lack of words this time – but after spending all day out and about, then going out to dinner (mmmm… BBQ Ribs!), the blog is being squeezed into a very small slot before I need to get to bed to facilitate another early start tomorrow. But not for woodpeckers this time!

Sunday 18 March 2012

Sunny Sunday: best of the rest

And, following that glut of woodpecker action, here’s a few more shots. You just can’t beat: a) good light, and b) getting close to the subject! Pretty pleased with the sharpness coming out of the 7D with minimal post-processing – though I suppose a 23MB RAW file has to contain quite a bit of detail to reach that size!


Now with moving pictures! (And lots of Lesser-spots…)

What an absolutely beautiful morning! Blue skies, birds singing, not many people about early – all excellent reasons for getting up and out there. In the last few weeks, I’ve had a few failed attempts at seeing Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in various places, so I decided to make a really early start and try to sort them out once and for all.

And after a bit of wandering around in the still-rather-chilly post-dawn air: well, look who it is, trying unsuccessfully to hide:


Over the course of the next three hours, I had great views of at least two male birds, calling occasionally and drumming almost non stop. I took quite a few photos as you might imagine, though didn’t quite get the killer shot this time… so I might just have to put myself through the hardship of watching these little gems again!


And finally, for the piece de resistance, we have video! Clearly a tripod would have improved matters significantly (I hope the wobbling doesn’t make you feel too seasick!), but for a first stab at 7D movies, it’s not too bad.

There you go… almost as good as the real thing. You can’t tick it, though!

Friday 16 March 2012

Rainham 2nd winter Kumlien’s

In another brief venture out today, managed to time my arrival at the Rainham Stone Barges just right to coincide with the 2nd winter Kumlien’s Gull that Dominic had found a little earlier on, up on the tip. First one of these I’ve ever seen, and (in this case) pretty striking – in addition to the prominent grey/brown wash to the primaries visible in these pics, there was also a really obvious grey/brown tail-band, which you can just make out underneath the wingtips in the first shot. It was also rather robust for an Iceland, with a slightly boxier head shape and perhaps a slightly stronger bill than typical glaucoides? The undertail had a notably brown suffusion, too. Unfortunately, these are all quite heavy crops, and I didn’t manage any flight shots, but with luck Dom will have some better shots to post later.


I also had brief views of a 1st winter Iceland Gull, while others saw an adult and a 2nd winter Iceland, and a probable adult Kumliens. So five white-wingers in the area, by my reckoning. Or even maybe six if you include this guy:


I didn’t get the ring details, but it’s almost certainly the London birders’ old friend, SH1T – a leucistic Herring Gull, if you were still wondering. Proof that ringers definitely have a sense of humour…

Wanstead: what could it be?

After dropping Suzanne off at work, went for a little wander on the flats with the camera, and (eventually) found one of these…


Happy days: it’s officially spring! (And also, most uncharitably, because a well known Wanstead watcher and Wheatear enthusiast hasn’t seen one yet – maybe they’ll all be gone tomorrow?!)

Saturday 10 March 2012

New Toys!

Just a quick post, since I really should be revising for an exam in ten days time… but the presence of a shiny new Canon 7D in the house meant that I really needed to go out and give it a try. Still loads to learn, tinker with, try out and then learn some more – but initial impressions are pretty good. In particular, the speed and accuracy of the auto-focus already strikes me as a notch better than I’m used to. But it’s very early days.

Here’s a few shots from a trip out Southend way.