Thursday, 29 March 2012

A creep and a weirdo

Thanks to Radiohead for inspirinng the title of today's post. Another sweltering March day was in the offing so I got up early(ish - it's still not very light til gone 7am) and headed for Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. I'd been given a tip-off about a Treecreeper nest so that was my first port of call.

I found the nest without any trouble and after a five-minute wait one of the pair showed up with nesting material, and entered the nest. I got a few photos, but I think I was slightly too close as the bird seemed a bit on edge, so I moved on.

I decided to head for Tyler hide, and noticed straight away that a) there were a number of geese close in on the near slopes of the Serengeti and b) one of said geese was this. The same Red-breasted Goose that was here last year? Though it's (almost certainly) feral it was still a lovely bird to see.

Excitable squeaky sounds from a distant island indicated that the Little Ringed Plovers are back. I counted four, all running about frantically and displaying with puffed-out belly feathers. They were far too far away for anything but record shots - the low water levels mean they are spoiled for choice for muddy island shorelines.

Several of the Lapwings were also in display mode, making their comical tooting and scrunching noises while performing wild aerobatics.

The male pictured above made a sudden dive at the stretch of shore right in front that you can't see from the hide, and drove out a Snipe, chasing the poor thing away. Then it came back and flushed out a second Snipe. By the time it returned a third time I was as ready as I could be and grabbed some shots (this was the only one not disastrously blurred) of Snipe no. 3 as the intolerant Lapwing pursued it.

Further entertainment came in the form of this Pied Wagtail feeding very near my window.

Wildfowl numbers are quite low on the East Lake, though there remained a good few Teals, at least one pair of Gadwalls and a solitary Shoveler drake. Two pairs of Great Crested Grebes were on view, and there are still a lot of gulls around, mostly subadults.

Exiting the hide I disturbed a Green Woodpecker, which was good enough to land again not too far away. My view was very obscured though, hence the rather misty look of the photo.

I walked down towards Slingsby hide, going past the tree where I'd seen Long-tailed Tit nest-building activity recently. This time I spotted the nest itself, very near the path, and just as I saw it one of the pair slipped out and away, making some soft and discreet alarm calls. I carried on quickly, to let it return.

From the Eric Sutton hide (finally committed that name to memory!) I saw... not a lot, a few Teals, gulls, a Lapwing. For completeness I also visited Kingfisher and Slingsby hides, startling a female Pheasant on the way. I was scanning the trees for a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, in vain as usual, but did see several Great Spots including this female.

I'd heard a couple of singing Blackcaps around, but it wasn't until halfway to Willow hide that I managed just about to get a photo of one. This male was hiding among the ivy, as there is no deciduous foliage for him to hide in yet.

Just after the Blackcap I spotted a Stock Dove high in a tree and was photographing it, rather amazed that it hadn't flown off, when a Woodpigeon arrived and landed below it. I thus had the chance to photograph these two sometimes-confused species together. It is surprising how obvious the Stock Dove's dark eyes are, even from a distance.

Then I found another Stock Dove on its own, and this one similarly didn't freak out and fly away at the sight of me but sat quietly in the branches while I took its picture.

From Willow hide all was very quiet. A few Canada Geese and Coots drifted about, a female Teal suddenly pitched down in front of the windows and flew away again almost immediately, and a Cormorant dived for fish in what looked like very shallow water. No sign of the Mute Swan pair, and their regular nest site is being left high and dry by the expanding muddy shores, so maybe they will breed elsewhere this year.

From the reedbed outside Willow hide sang this Wren, the showiest of several that I saw. This reedy clump usually harbours a Reed Warbler from mid-April. No singing Reed Warblers or (more surprisingly) Reed Buntings around today.

I walked all the way past Long Lake, hoping to find a butterfly or two on the meadowy patch at the far end. No joy. It was strange to be out and about on such a warm day and see no butterflies at all. There are plenty out on other sites, but not here. I did see a Bee-fly though.

There was some reward for walking all the way - a trio of Ring-necked Parakeets eating willow catkins opposite the field that marks the furthest bit you're allowed to walk here. They seemed unphased by my close approach and were still munching away when I left.

On the way back I called in at Carter hide, just so I could say I'd visited every hide (not that anyone is likely to ask). The Kingfisher perches were bathed in sunshine, and I did actually see a Kingfisher here but it wasn't hanging around, and certainly wasn't going to pose for me. I couldn't complain, though, it had been a lovely morning.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hastings in the heat

I got back from my regular trip to Hastings today, with about 800 photos to sort through. With wall-to-wall sunshine I spent both mornings visiting my honorary local patches - the Old Town beach and the nearest bits of the East Hill, and while I didn't see anything very unusual I did have fun. Warning, this post contains a lot of gulls, pigeons and Fulmars.

On Tuesday morning I began on the East Hill, and took a walk over to Ecclesbourne Glen. I wished I'd had a short lens to take some landscapes as I'd forgotten how pretty it is here - we used to visit all the time when I was little. It was nice to see that not much had changed. I went about halfway down the steps into the steep stream-cut gorge then under the fence (naughty of me, landslips happen now and then) along a path to the cliff edge. Here I found these Primroses, and had brief but very close views of an excitedly singing Chiffchaff.

Up on the grassy tops, Chaffinches and Greenfinches were legion, nipping from copse to gorsy clump and back again. I thought there had to be other finches around too and eventually pinned down this female Linnet. A number of Meadow Pipits were about, but not the hoped-for Wheatear.

Another Greenfinch in flight. I think this one's a bit better than the last one.

Jackdaws were also very active, many flying in off the cliffs, collecting bill-fulls of cut dry grass for nesting material, and heading back cliff-wards. I include this photo because my head-on flight shots are usually blurry so it was nice to get a sharp one.

I seem to have spammed my blog with Blackbird photos lately. Still, couldn't resist including this one, in full sprint mode with a real prize of an earthworm.

On the walk I heard a Raven or Ravens calling several times and saw at least one of the local ones but never very close. This heavily cropped pic shows a Raven giving a Carrion Crow some hassle - both birds were yelling their heads off so it was clear that the size difference was not an illusion and there was one of each.

I spent a little while at the top of the steps by the East Hill lift, looking out over the town, but didn't see a lot from here. Then I took the steps all the way down to the seafront and went looking for Fulmars on the cliffs.

I did see and photograph Fulmars. Unfortunately I failed to notice that I'd set my exposure compensation at +0.7 at some point, and discovered later that my Fulmar pics were overexposed. I did a bit better with these Feral Pigeons, though the white one has lost some detail.

I spent a last few minutes on the beach by the fishing boats, trying to get shots of gulls flying over the breaking waves. Could have done with bigger waves...

Back at Dad's, I noticed from the kitchen window an interesting-looking bird in the small tree over the fence, and discovered on closer inspection that it was a female Blackcap. She only stuck around for one shot and didn't exactly show herself to her best advantage, but still, a good garden bird. I decided to have breakfast out in the garden, to see whether anything else came along.

After the Blackcap moved on, a trio of Blue Tits landed in the tree. They were a bit more show-offy, especially this one which was displaying threateningly to the other two.

And we still weren't done. Unpacking upstairs, I noticed a Carrion Crow wheeling around the tower of All Saints Church, most of which is visible from the top room where I sleep when I'm here. I took a closer look...

... and saw that the crow was diving at this Raven, which was poised on top of the metal thing at the top of the church tower. It soon tired of the crow's attention and moved on.

A little later I went down to the shop for Dad and saw my first definitively identifiable butterfly of the year - a Peacock which settled and posed, and looked surprisingly good considering its great age (Peacocks seen in March would have emerged from their pupae last summer/autumn). Sadly, the camera was at back at the house so no photos.

And so to Wednesday morning. I didn't do much of a walk today, having gone for a run first thing and knackered myself out. But I did go up to the hilltop for a while, and then down to the beach to try for some correctly exposed Fulmar pics.

From the hilltop, while it was still pretty shady in the valley below, I saw this Magpie with a billful of what I presume is nesting material (though it doesn't look like the sort of thing I'd fancy lying on).

Here in Hastings, the Feral Pigeons nest on the cliffs just like their wild ancestors, as well as on buildings. Three of these six even have Rock Dove-style markings, but they're not fooling anyone.

Here's a photo I've been trying to get for a while - eye-level Herring Gull in flight over pretty but blurry Old Town houses. Not sure this is exactly right though, so I'll probably keep trying.

I went down to the beach after that and took a bushel of Fulmar photos.

I couldn't decide which I liked best so posted several. Fulmars have nested on the cliffs here since I can remember (1980s I guess) and may well have been here longer. There aren't loads of them but I'd say at least 10 pairs. They tended to fly in synchrony, so for a while there'd be half a dozen on view, then suddenly none for 10 minutes. They glide along the cliffs, make very steep banking turns, and eventually head off out to sea to feed. Photographing them is quite addictive. In fact I wasn't the only addict - there was a guy down there doing the same with a lens that made mine look really small.

There's that pesky Raven again. A little closer this time, but still not near enough for my liking.

Another pretty pigeon. Many of the Feral Pigeons were wheeling and parachuting around the cliffs in what I suppose is some kind of territorial display. It made them easier than usual to photograph - when really trying to get from A to B they are much faster.

I'll end this epic post with these two, who were standing nearby on a bin while I was photographing the Fulmars. They started having a conversation together, which caught my attention. Obviously they were talking about me, because a few moments after I turned around to take their photo they flew away.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The foggiest idea

Today I went to Elmley Marshes with the Sevenoaks RSPB group. There were seven of us altogether, all blithely expecting another lovely sunny day as it was yesterday. However, the Thames estuary bucked the national trend and remained shrouded in low grey cloud all day. It was therefore not a good photography day, but we saw some nice birds.

First up, along the access track, was this... escapee Harris Hawk. Having given its owner the slip it has wisely headed for one of the best raptor spots in Britain. There was little else along the track, though the resident Lapwings and Redshanks are showing signs of breeding activity. From a distant gull flock the 'yowks' of Mediterranean Gulls were audible among the 'skreearrs' of Black-headeds.

From the car park a look over the wall revealed a herd of Wigeon grazing on the slope, Avocets on the small flood, and a couple of Stock Doves in the tree with the owl box.

Walking along the top part of the path, before it dips down by the sea wall, one of the group spotted a couple of distant Short-eared Owls over the rough grass. One stayed distant, but the other flew a little closer before pitching into the grass and giving us scope views.

We watched for a while, then it took off again and flew down out of sight towards the foreshore.

We carried on towards the first hide, noting this fine Pheasant, a Little Grebe yickering away in one of the channels, numerous Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, and a couple of Reed Buntings in the reedbeds.

A tight flock of about 33 (OK, I counted them) Golden Plovers flickered over shortly before we reached the first hide. Once inside, we could see plenty of avian action, especialy Avocets and Shelducks, but everything was all a long way off.

We went on to the next hide, flushing three Snipes on the way. From here there was even more to see - still distant though. Overexcited Avocets and Redshanks ran to and fro by the water's edge, while further out were numerous Shovelers, Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and Shelducks. A few Teals and Gadwalls were among the wildfowl, while distantly a Marsh Harrier quartered and a Common Buzzard circled.

After copulating these two Avocets performed a curious display whereby they locked necks and ran very fast several metres through the shallow water, startling a Dunlin.

Lots of Shelducks were coming in from the shore, in ones, twos, and flocks. They were coming in from entirely the wrong angle for photos, sadly (except this one). Avocet numbers were also growing as small flocks kept arriving.

 We were all really feeling the cold by this point, and it was decided to end things early and walk back. On the way was the most approachable of the day's Meadow Pipits.

Despite the chill, both Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were songflighting all over the place. I managed what should have been a good Skylark pic - bird square and large in the frame, but sadly blurry. These more distant but less blurry shots will have to do - and they have had a bit of Photoshop bullying to bring out a little more detail.

The only other passerines around were Reed Buntings, not singing yet but at least hanging around among reeds as they are supposed to.

I paused at the spot where we'd seen the Shorties earlier, hoping for another showing, but they were nowhere to be seen. A Kestrel provided consolation.

The access track back yielded a lovely but far away male Marsh Harrier, and close views of a gang of Rooks, which for me made a good end to the outing as I rather like Rooks and don't see them often enough.