Sunday, 26 February 2012

Somewhat springlike

I had a lovely morning at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve this morning. It was sunny and quite still, chilly at first but quickly warming up in the sunshine. No migrants around yet but the resident birds were definitely gearing up for spring.

Walking down the track, I met this Mistle Thrush which was playfully posing on the posts for just as long as it took me to line up my shot before flying down into the horse field. I eventually managed a single photo.

The alders by the wildlife garden held a small flock of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins, busily demolishing the cones. I didn't see either species elsewhere on the reserve today, though the finch count was further boosted with a glimpse of a Bullfinch pair near the visitor centre.

Through the morning I heard at least six different Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming, though they were all pretty camera-shy. Not a sniff of a LSW though. From what I've heard from other local birders, there have been next to no sightings for a year now.

I walked on to Willow hide, disturbing frisky pairs of Robins, Dunnocks and Blackbirds along the way. It was all a bit embarrassing. There was much birdsong to enjoy, and I did hear a Chiffchaff call (not sing) though there's no way to know if it was an overwinterer or a newly arrived migrant.

Things were pretty quiet at Willow hide, that is until a shedload of Canada Geese arrived. This photo is full-frame - it's a minor miracle that I got all three in shot and didn't chop off any bits. I suppose it would have been too much to ask for them all to be in focus.

My quest for interesting in-flight pics continues. This Moorhen was briefly airborne while escaping another, more ferocious Moorhen.

A pair of Gadwalls flew in, landed off to the left, then swam towards the hide. When they were right in front of me, they begun doing a head-bobbing display, and it was clear what was going to happen - at least they couldn't see me watching. Deciding there had been enough bobbing, the female laid her head down on the water. This was the male's cue, and he clambered aboard, the wrong way round at first. As is usual in wildfowl copulation, the female has to put up with being almost totally submerged, but he did let her put her head up for air periodically.

What else was here? A few Teals and Shovelers, a Cormorant. No sign of the Great Crested Grebes that have at least attempted to breed on this lake before. A Jay and a few Stock Doves went over.

I moved on towards Long Lake, stopping to photograph this Wren as it sang from a logpile. I've often gone on about how Wrens like logpiles, but it's nice to be able to back that up with photographic evidence.

At Long Lake I saw a Kingfisher streak across the back of the water then land in a tree, sadly too far away to be anything but a fuzzy blue speck in my photos.

 I waited at Long Lake for a while, hoping that one of the Stock Doves which were cooing from the trees beyond would give me a flypast, but they didn't. I photographed this bulrush instead. It would look so much better if it was being demolished by a Bearded Tit... not much chance of that round here, though I suppose you never know...

Walking back towards Willow hide I noticed baby Stinging Nettles pushing out of the leaf litter. Very green and springlike.

I decided to look in at Willow hide again and ended up staying for ages, being entertained by the Canada Geese. Many had paired up, and were affirming their tender bonds by screaming at each other.

The light by now was very pleasant, showing off a good selection of wildfowl including three Pochards.

A quartet of Teals flitted in and landed in the left-hand corner of the lake, before swimming across in front of the hide to the muddy patches on the far right. Why they didn't just land where they wanted to be, I don't know, but I'm not complaining.

I hadn't really bothered looking for the Bittern (I know, poor show) as I knew it would be too distant for a nice pic, but another person in the hide found it and kindly gave me a look through his scope. It did look splendid at 40x. Here is a record shot, for the record.

I went on to Tyler hide after this, and settled in the top corner. There were gulls aplenty to sort through, but I couldn't find any contenders for the third-winter Caspian reported recently.

A flurry of gull excitement - a young Black-headed had to struggle to keep hold of a mouthful of food with an adult Lesser Black-back and three adult Commons in hot pursuit.

These two Egyptian Geese treated a hide-ful of impressed humans to a very close fly-by.

Also impressing the punters were these Great Crested Grebes, doing their thing quite close to the hide. I watched them for ages hoping for a 'weed dance' but didn't get one - but there was plenty of amorous head-shaking.

Just trying something here:

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Back to basics at Bough Beech

We'd planned a trip to the coast today, but we're both so skint that we couldn't afford the fuel cost. We made do with a couple of hours at Bough Beech in the lovely afternoon sunshine. After much pondering about camera settings I had a play with shutter priority for some BIF shots (that's birds in flight for those who aren't keen on TLAs).

We parked on the causeway, where one of the first birds we saw was this lovely Marsh Tit. It was in a mixed flock which also included a bunch of Long-taileds as well as the usual Greats and Blues.

Water levels, though still low, have increased considerably since our last visit. On the non-reservoir side, where there was lots of exposed ground last time, just a small muddy ridge cut across an expanse of uninterrupted water. There were numerous Grey Herons around the water's edge, at least 20 of them, seen here with a few of the couple of dozen Teals.

We walked on to the visitor centre and took a look at the main feeding station. Here, half a dozen hen Pheasants loitered below the large hanging feeders, waiting for the tits and finches above to drop some seed. Nothing really out of the ordinary to see here, not a Brambling, redpoll or even a woodpecker, but plenty of the common stuff.

We checked out the new hide overlooking the flood. Very nice hide, though not sure how good it will be birdwise, as you have to walk quite near the flood to get to it (though the immediate approach is screened off). On the water today were a couple of pairs of Gadwalls, a lone female Tuftie and a few Coots. A Kestrel flew briskly over without stopping.

We returned to the causeway and hung around for BIF opportunities. The herons were by this time going to roost, and one by one flew up from the water into the treetops, giving some nice views on the way.

A pair of Teals also took flight and did a circuit overhead.

Blue and Great Tits were flitting provocatively along the hedgerow, and I drove myself a bit mad trying to get flight shots. This was the most successful.

This went a bit better. Something (didn't see what) disturbed a flock of Woodpigeons from the trees nearby and this one flew by at close range. I'm pleased with the sharpness, although the light probably wasn't really quite good enough for the 1/3200th shutter speed, I should have gone down one for less noise.

These two flew past repeatedly though not very close to us, trying to shake off a third drake who clearly fancied his chances with Mrs Mallard.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Breezy day in London

On Sunday I went to London for a few hours, thinking I'd do a few hours of photography in the parks before we went on to see Rob's sister (in north London) in the afternoon. I was hoping to see the Tawny Owls in Kensington Gardens but none were on show today, perhaps because (despite sunshine) there was a really cold wind. Still, there were other things to see.

Though it didn't feel much like spring there was an early sign of it in the form of a brood of very new Egyptian Geese. I think this white-headed female is the same one I photographed with goslings last year. Hope it wasn't too cold for the little fluffballs.

In days gone by, people fed House Sparrows by hand in the parks. Not any more, the sparrows have disappeared, but it was good to see lots of Starlings, many accepting handouts from passersby.

This Starling was in full and noisy song, just standing on the ground with lots of other birds milling around him.

What a treat to be able to take close-range photos of an unconcerned Jay. This was one of several species queuing up for peanuts in a quiet corner of the park. Here I saw a Coal Tit feeding from someone's hand - wow.

My previous efforts to photograph Feral Pigeons in flight have been pretty unsuccessful but I got a few sharp ones today. This bird even has 'wild Rock Dove' style markings. All I'd need to do is photoshop in a backdrop of rugged limestone cliffs and I could pretend it was the real deal ;)

A busy bunch of Shovelers. I was on a high bank here so couldn't get a nice angle on them. They were feeding where the water was being churned up by a water overflow. I didn't see many other duck species today - the lake is usually good for free-flying Red-crested Pochard and Mandarin but maybe they have free-flown away.

The wind cared not for the dignity of this poor Tufted Duck.

There were two pairs of Great Crested Grebes in evidence and some courtship (and territorial) behaviour going on. I was very happy to see one bird doing the 'cat display' (top photo) to its mate - a behaviour I hadn't seen before.

As usual, photographing the gulls took up plenty of my time. There were many Black-headed and a good few Common Gulls around, plus smaller numbers of Herring and Lesser Black-backed.

I only saw a couple of Pochards but they did oblige with some super-close views as they went after the old Mother's Pride.

Kneeling on the soggy ground didn't do my trousers any favours but made these corvid pics a bit nicer.

This Grey Heron was joining in the bread fest with the gulls and ducks. It was most amusing to watch him stalk and strike at the floating crusts - the approach would have been much too slow if the other birds hadn't been a bit daunted by him and given him space. After feeding he settled down for a lengthy preen, while numerous tourists filmed him on their cameras.

More kneeling down for some Moorhens.

 There were at least three different Little Grebes around, none of which showed any signs of breeding plumage. What's that all about?

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Before the snow

Rob and I went out yesterday to take some test pics with the Sigmonster, to send to Sigma. Despite being repaired, it is still underexposing by up to a full stop (getting worse the further you zoom). So our short visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve was mostly spent taking simultaneous photos of the same subjects using various different lenses. It was very cold (more ice than last Wednesday) and rather grey and still.

Not many photos taken besides the test shots, but while Rob was setting up in Grebe hide I photographed the tits coming to the feeders.

Heavily cropped male Bullfinch, from the car park. My best photo yet of this species... but there are acres of room for improvement!

On the way to Willow hide we met a woman coming the other way, who advised us (really rather strongly) not to bother going there because the lake was iced over. We went anyway. There was a small patch of clear water around the island, full of Coots, but all the ducks seemed to have moved on, apart from a couple of Mallards. Another couple in the hide found the Bittern sitting out in full view, sadly much too far away for a good photo. It took both Rob and I a while to find it despite clear directions. My terrible photo at least shows its great camouflage!

We didn't see much else as we didn't check the East lake, but there were rumours of a Jack Snipe somewhere, as well as the White-fronted Goose that I may or may not have seen on Wednesday.