Sunday, 30 October 2011

Grey skies at Bough Beech

Yesterday was the last day before the clocks went back. We got out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, to Bough Beech where the forecasted 'sunny intervals' had become more like 'sunny glimpses'. So brace yourself for some noisy grey photographs... but at least the birding was a bit better than last time.

The water was even lower than ever. These sheep were on the reservoir side, grazing among some long-drowned tree stumps that are normally covered in water.

On the other side, there were a few dozen Teals in the various pools and channels. Not long after we arrived, a microlight flew over quite low and spooked them.

The flock took off and made several circuits over the water. In typical Teal style they flew packed closely together, with fast twists and turns, generally giving the impression of waders rather than ducks.

At one point the whole flock whooshed directly overhead. I nearly fell over backwards trying to get photos of them, was amazed to find one or two were sharp and included a whole bird rather than just a slice of one.

As the Teals finally settled back down, there was another commotion over the trees - an unfortunate Common Buzzard had attracted the attention of the local corvid gang.

There wasn't all that much else going on. A few flights of Mallards, the odd Black-headed Gull, Cormorants, a pinch of Meadow Pipits and a couple of juvenile Grey Herons. I cropped this photo quite tightly, because I had to brighten it so much to recover any detail on the backlit bird that all the nice cloud detail was completely burnt out.

Here's some of the aforementioned cloud detail, with bonus Woodpigeon flock.

We moved on to the visitor centre, in the hope that the feeding station was up and running for winter. It was, and was attracting a healthy clientele.

Besides Goldfinches and Greenfinches, there were also Chaffinches, House Sparrows, Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits and Collared Doves around, but I didn't see any Bramblings. I'm sure there were a couple there, though - there were birds feeding on the ground but the grass is still too high to see them easily.

The fallen apples (the feeding station is in an orchard) must have been the draw for the many Fieldfares around, but none of them wanted to pose. This Great Spotted Woodpecker landed on a very close tree, but refused to edge around the trunk for a full view.

By now it was about 5.20pm and getting pretty dark - though by 5.20 today it will be completely dark. It's always a bit depressing when the clocks go back - but I suppose the lighter mornings are some compensation.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Fallow Deer rut

I got to Knole Park about 8am this morning, and walked up towards the house. I met several dozing bucks on the way - almost trod on one of them which gave us both a start, and I spontaneously apologised to him. At the top of the hill as you reach the house is a small circular copse of trees, and as I got close to this I saw that there were four or five bucks lying down around it. I carried on past and then looked back.

You can see how close together they were. Even though nothing was going on, I thought things looked promising and decided to stick around and see what happened.

 After maybe 10 minutes, a couple of the bucks stood up and started walking about, and one of them began to roar. Or bark. The call is a deep, abrupt, thumping grumphing 'humph' sound, and as they call their huge Adam's apples bob madly about.

These two up on the hilltop started looking as though they meant business.

With very little in the way of preamble, they got down to some antler-jousting, while the other bucks all watched with great interest.

Soon there was activity everywhere. All the bucks were roaring, and several had broken off into pairs, sizing each other up before deciding whether or not a fight would be necessary.

These two did the 'parallel walk' down from the hill, coming towards me rather fast. I backed off, not wanting to get in the way (and not wanting them to get too close for my long lens).

Finally they turned and went head to head.

A full-on scrap was soon underway, the top buck forcing his rival downhill (and towards the access road, but I don't think that was deliberate).

Finally the weaker buck accepted he was beaten, and ran away towards the house. The victor turned and headed back up to the hilltop.

Enter a doe, from the south. The only one I saw in the vicinity of the rut, she ran right in among the bucks around the hill...

... and positioned herself at the side of the most successful of the bucks. He continued to pace around and roar, periodically returning to the doe to make sure she was still there, while one by one the other bucks lay down. After 20 minutes of furious activity everything was pretty much back to how it had been at the start.

A distressingly high proportion of my photos were blurry. I'd taken so many though that I did get a few that I was happy with, but I'm seriously thinking about going back tomorrow.

The rut is on! Sneak preview...

About time too. I visited Knole Park this morning and am pleased to report that the Fallow Deer rut is underway at last. I took about 700 photos in the space of 20 minutes. Here's one of them. Proper post to follow...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Rye Harbour (again), October 2

Now for the Sunday post. I was off to my dad's for a couple of days, so we drove down via Rye Harbour, which is not exactly on the way but nearby. The original plan had been to go to Pett Pools, but because it was another absolute scorcher of a day, I figured the place would be full of beach-goers, who wouldn't necessarily appreciate having an 800mm lens pointed in their general direction. So Rye it was. We went to the Bittern viewpoint first, noted that the light was all wrong, and moved on to the beach reserve. We only got as far as the Steve Denny hide, and were there til pretty much dusk.

The sun was shining beguilingly onto the Little Grebe family, three of which were snuggled up together asleep when we arrived. They woke up after a while and swam about in a fairly relaxed manner.

One of the three Brents has departed since Friday. The two that remained were doing much the same thing as they had been on Friday, swimming lazily about and getting their frontages very wet as they dipped and upended, gradually drifting closer to the hide.

I heard the squeaky-gate call of this Sandwich Tern coming from behind us. It flew over, the wrong way for pictures, but then decided to come back again.

Gulls on the move. Most of these are subadult Great Black-backs.

This Carrion Crow, like yesterday's Common Buzzard, was panting in the heat, poor thing.

Gradually, the growing shadow of the hide took away the sunlight on the water in front of us. One of the Little Grebes chose this time to come and fish right in front of us. It looked at us askance when it heard a shutter click, but was otherwise quite relaxed.

When light levels had reduced us to shutter speeds of 1/200th or less, it was time to go back. I took a photo of the sunset on the way - this gives a clearer picture of how dark it was than the next two photos do.

A few gulls were floating overhead, then Rob picked up a couple of bigger birds. As they came closer, it became clear that they were Common Cranes. I did my best to get some steady shots at woefully slow shutter speeds as the stately pair beat their way through the evening gloom, heading due south.

A great way to end the day, and as far as I know these were not previously 'noted' individuals.

Actually, even that wasn't quite the end. As we walked through the caravan park, a raptor flapped by. I took some photos, just for a laugh, of what looks like a very well-fed Sparrowhawk.

Oare Marshes, October 1

Ok, here's what we did on Saturday afternoon. Rob had a coaching course in the morning in Rotherhithe, so I went on an exciting train journey to Surrey Quays, where we met up in a Tesco car park. Then onto the A2 and Oare-wards. Oare seemed like the perfect place to give the new lens (300-800mm f5.6 - yes, we found another used Sigmonster!) a try. You may recall that we had a Sigmonster on loan last summer, but Rob couldn't get it to take sharp photos unless stopped WAY down, even though Sigma checked it over and said it was fine? He has not stopped hankering after one of these lenses, so when we saw this one for sale we decided to give it another try. So we now have no money, and a 6kg lens (with camo lenscoat) in an imposing giant carry case.

Oare was very busy, with boaters as well as birders. We parked on the road as the car park was full, and lugged the gear down to the viewpoints. It was a similar story to the other week, with Avocets, Blackwits and Golden Plovers all over the shop and a scattering of other waders here and there. The nearest island was busy, hosting Ringed Plovers, Dunlins and a lone Curlew Sandpiper.

Most of the Ringed Plovers on the island were juveniles. Here's one that wasn't.

Part of the dirty great flock of Golden Plovers, cooling off in the shallow water.

A sleepy Lapwing, blissfully unaware of how very photogenic it and its reflection looked in the mid-afternoon sun.

A House Sparrow that arrived to enjoy the blackberries by the roadside gave Rob the chance to try out the Sigmonster on something small and close. He was happy with its sharpness, but things weren't all hunky dory - the lens was underexposing everything. He had to put in a full stop of exposure compensation to make it OK. Photoshop has done a good job of fixing the images, but the lens will probably be going off to see Sigma sometime soon.

There were lots of Starlings around, wheeling about, settling on an island, moving on to another island - they seemed about the only birds around that weren't stupified by heat. Here's a Sigmonstered Starling...

... and a whizzy one, from my (relatively) tiny 300mm lens.

Winter wildfowl are still not really in evidence here. There were a few Teals here and there on the flood. This flyover Wigeon was by itself.

When the Curlew Sandpiper went and stood beside a Dunlin, I asked Rob to take a few comparison shots. This pic nicely shows the differences, which I appreciate, having made an embarrassing ID cockup on a Curlew Sand photo a few days ago (d'oh).

Two of the Avocets left the loafing flock and went for a forage, wandering in our direction. However, they veered off before getting very close, and after maybe 10 minutes flew back to rejoin the flock.

This lovely Black-tailed Godwit, one of about six that were feeding nearby, downed tools to have a wash and brush-up. It was amusing to see its efforts to preen itself with that great unwieldy bill.

One last Sigmonster photo. It may be only a Moorhen, but it looked great against that carpet of scarlet algae/vegetation. Then Rob decided he wanted to walk the loop around the flood. I thought he was mad. It's not a long walk, but any walk is too long when you're carrying a huge lens in a very un-carry-friendly case, but he figured there might be things to see from the sea wall, so off we went.

We'd got halfway to the East flood hide when all the birds went up in a panic. Scanning around, we found this Common Buzzard. It posed no threat whatsoever to the birds - it was motoring along and clearly had no intention of stopping. All my rubbish photos show that its bill was open, panting with the heat.

By the hide was an impressive sight - a huge cloud of midges, and eight or nine Migrant Hawker dragonflies plunging into and out of the cloud, having a feast.

We got to the sea wall. The water in the Swale was high and there was little to see besides Black-headed Gulls. We did stop and set up the monster briefly but didn't really find anything to photograph. A Stonechat paused on a reed stem, but not long enough for a sharp pic.

Looking back over the flood, all the waders were silhouettes. I looked the other way and saw this Little Egret gliding down the Swale, looking for a spot from which to hunt as the tide slowly receded.

As we walked on, waders were beginning to leave the flood. They were mostly Redshanks, and they flew past in singles and flocks, heading out over the Swale.

One or two of the Blackwits flew out with the Redshanks, but seemed to change their minds when they saw the wide channel of salty water, and headed back inland.

The sun seemed to drop rather abruptly as we covered the last stretch to the car. From the roadside we looked again at the flood, but both light and nearby birds had pretty much gone, so we went home.