Friday, 30 November 2012

Rainham at the start of winter

... or the end of autumn,  if you prefer. Anyway, it's the last day of November and it was fiercely cold at 8.30am when I set off to meet Shane at the station for our trip to RSPB Rainham Marshes. With blue skies and little breeze, we were in optimistic mood. We arrived before the reserve opened, and so went for a short jaunt along the riverside. Birds seemed to be everywhere - Greenfinches and Linnets carpeting the tops of the trees and bushes, Blackbirds moving furtively around in the thicker vegetation.

The clucking notes of Fieldfares overhead drew our attention to a small party of these lovely winter thrushes. They settled in the top of a hawthorn, but with typical jitteriness were soon off again.

One flew right over our heads, and I completely failed to get any sharp photos of it.

There was a fair bit of river foreshore exposed, and a few Skylarks lifted off from it and whirled around us. Down in the shallows, many Teals and a couple of Wigeons were feeding.

We turned back for the centre, and crossed the drawbridge to the visitor centre, where Howard Vaughan was present and greeted us with his usual big grin. So nice to see someone who really loves their job :) Then out onto the reserve. We had seen three different Reed Buntings before even reaching the Purfleet scrape hide, including this lovely female.

Entering the hide, it was pretty obvious that we were the first to go in that day as the windows were all shut (and pretty steamed up) and there were numerous Wigeons feeding very close to the windows. As anyone who knows this hide will recall, the windows are HUGE and there's no way we could avoid being seen by the ducks. They began to edge away as we sat down, but happily didn't go very far back.

This gorgeous female had more cojones than the rest and stood her ground as we settled in and wound down the windows.

As you can see, parts of the scrape were iced up, and the ice was thick enough to bear the weight of four well-nourished Wigeons. There were also a few Black-tailed Godwits here, feeding among the Wigeons, and a pair of Gadwalls.

On we went. As we got further from the visitor centre the number of flyover small birds dwindled, and in fact this stretch of the walk, up to the shooting butt, was very quiet.

Up by the shooting butts we found this showy male Reed Bunting, sharing his isolated little tree with a female Chaffinch and a Robin. As we watched him, we noticed a large flock of geese coming our way and turned to take a look. They were mostly Greylags with a few Canadas.

Among them was a barnyard refugee, attracting attention thanks to its white bits, but keeping up with the others quite comfortably.

As the flock swung about, I noticed another oddity, but this is (I think) a pukka leucistic wild Greylag (well, as wild as any south-eastern Greylag).

We carried on towards the Shooting Butts hide. Here we met a couple walking the other way, who said they'd seen a Peregrine by the railway line. They pointed it out, saying it was perched on a very distant post, but I couldn't get onto it - all I could see on any of the posts was a Kestrel. It turned out that they were talking about the Kestrel. Oh well.

As if to prove a point, the Kestrel took flight, crossed half the reserve to come fairly close to us and then began to do its Kestrel thing.

More flight-shot fun - a Meadow Pipit. There were plenty of these around, plus a couple of Rock Pipits.

There was little to see from the Shooting Butts hide. A Little Grebe among Teals on the water. Waves of Lapwings flying overhead. Our first Grey Heron of the day. We didn't stick around too long but moved on to the next hide.

A different selection of ducks were on the deeper water this side of the reserve, including Pochards, Tufties and Shovelers, plus more Gadwalls including this one.

We continued along the frost-covered boardwalk, scanning the stands of reedmace in hope of a Penduline Tit, but that was not to be. As we neared the wooded corner of the reserve, we found a pair of Stonechats. They were confiding enough, especially the female, but not so helpful in terms of where they chose to perch relative to the sun's position.

On to the 'carr' area where the reedbed starts to dry out. True to form, there was a singing Cetti's Warbler here, which adeptly dodged the cameras. The feeding station area at the edge of the reedbed where it meets the woodland has been revamped, and was busy with tits and finches, plus this not-very-busy-looking Collared Dove.

The main feeder was this sort of mesh pouch, full of black sunflower seeds and being enthusiastically utilised by several different species, including Great and Blue Tit and Dunnock.

There are several photogenic perches that serve as 'waiting rooms' for birds like this Goldfinch, coming in to look for a space on the feeder.

The woodland area was quiet, we'd hoped for a Redwing/Fieldfare fest here and did see a couple of shy and flighty Redwings but little else. Then it was back out into the open for the final stretch alongside the grazing marsh.

A large flock of Starlings went by over the fields and I took some photos, not realising til later that the flock actually included a few Dunlins.

As we neared the visitor centre, we started to see more flyover passerines. I was pleased to get a not-too-blurry flight shot of a Redwing, to go with my not-too-blurry Fieldfare flight shot from earlier. On the grazing marsh, a couple of Curlews kept company with good numbers of Wigeons.

We went back into the visitor centre and refreshed ourselves with tea, coffee and cake. As we sat there, facing the big windows, a fine show of waders was underway, the Lapwings to-ing and fro-ing and a tight ball of Dunlins flashing dark and white as they circled around, looking for a suitable place to land. We made short work of our drinks and went back out to walk another short loop on the river side of the reserve.

A nice shiny Carrion Crow flew past at close range. A few Snipes flew past at not-close range. We decided to give the Purfleet scrape hide another look.

From in here, still lots of Wigeons, and some better views of the Black-tailed Godwits.

We walked on along the path as far as the one-way gate through to the public footpath by the river, and took this gate to make the return trip along the riverside path with a great view across the sunlit reserve. Down on the river, there were still a few ducks in the water but the tide was right in so no exposed mud.

As we neared the visitor centre we noticed a small knot of people on the path ahead, aiming their scopes at something. They told us very happily that there was a Waxwing in one of the hawthorns near the centre, and kindly gave us a look through their scopes.

The lone Waxwing was sitting quietly in the bush, as placid as it was beautiful. Every minute or so it would reach for a berry, swallow it, then resume its peaceful sitting. Shane and I got a little closer, on a parallel path, and took a few (hundred) photos. In the same bush were Greenfinches, a Reed Bunting and a Redwing.

I'll end with this Greenfinch, loitering near the feeders, nicely lit on its thorny perch. A top morning at Rainham, and a treat to be out in the sun after such a miserable, rainy week.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Four days late...

I visited Sevenoaks WR on Sunday for a couple of hours mid-morning. Not sure why it's taken me so long to blog about it this time... maybe because it was one of those days when all the birds were too distant, or too quick for me, or too badly lit, and my photos just aren't that inspiring. But the birding was pretty good.

Grebe hide was busy so I didn't hang around for a go at the feeders, but headed straight for Willow hide. The trees are really starting to look pretty bare now. Little flurries of Siskins made sneezy calls as they whizzed overhead, and somewhere a Green Woodpecker chortled sardonically as it saw me coming and made sure I didn't see it. I reached Willow hide and settled in, noting straight away that the water was very high and apart from the usual swarms of Coots and a few Gadwalls there wasn't too much to see.

All was peaceful, until one Coot came clattering across from the far side of the lake to start a fight with another Coot, and soon a few others joined in. The ensuing ruck lasted about a minute and provided some welcome photo opportunities.

I was keeping an eye on the skies, and noted several Jays and Magpies plus a Stock Dove and more Siskins going over. Then a Sparrowhawk whirred low over the water, and plunged into the trees on the lefthand shore, where it had a mostly hidden altercation with a Magpie, sending the latter flapping away in alarm.

In the far corner of the lake there were a few extra ducks, including six Shovelers, five drakes and a duck, and a solitary Wigeon. No Teals - I imagine they have decamped to the East lake where there is some shallower water for them. A Kingfisher shot past at very close range and unphotographable speed.

Greylags and Canadas were feeding in the sheepfield beyond the lake. Five Egyptian Geese (probably the same five I photographed last time) pitched in among them, and had a noisy displaying session before settling down to feed.

I went on to Carter hide. Two people were already in situ, and moments later a Kingfisher flew in and landed among trees on the waterside, not particularly close but very nicely lit in full sunshine. As we watched, it moved in little darting flights along the shore, made one failed dive halfway along, and then flew across the lake and away. Nearby three Tufted Ducks were lolling and preening in the shallows.

I decided to head for the viewing mound at the corner of East Lake - I didn't feel like doing a full walk, as there were clouds building rapidly in some parts of the sky, and after getting thoroughly caught in the rain the day before I didn't fancy doing it again. On the way there I photographed this oak leaf, in its last flush of life.

From the mound I could see straight away that all the Lapwings were up, and so were the gulls. There's a couple of Commons among these Black-headeds.

This activity indicated a bird of prey was around, but I didn't spot it until it was almost too late. Pity. This is only my third Common Buzzard here, and a few moments earlier would probably have made a nice photo. Oh well. It disappeared among the trees, and gradually the birds over the lake settled down again.

I stayed on the mound for a while, photographing gulls and playing with camera settings. I noted a Jay feeding on the wooded island directly below, and two Kingfishers rushing low across the water some way off. Little groups of Teals were dabbling around the various islands' shores. Then this Carrion Crow came out of the trees, looking agitated.

All the other birds went up too. Among the Lapwings and gulls was a solitary Snipe which absolutely belted away high over the trees. I managed to get on to the raptor that had disturbed them a little quicker this time - it was a Sparrowhawk, second of the day.

I returned to the visitor centre after that, and found Grebe hide was empty. A Nuthatch was on the feeder, giving me lovely point-blank views as it scrambled about over the squirrel-proof cage, then squeezed inside to feast on sunflower hearts.

I held out for the Marsh Tit, which did finally show up and behaved beautifully, taking a single seed from the feeder then carrying it off to a branch and eating it before returning for another. Just a pity its chosen branch wasn't very well lit, but you can't have everything.

I'll finish with this Blue Tit. Someone remarked the other day that Blue Tits always look grumpy. Can't say I see it myself... :)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

SWR sunshine

What a contrast to yesterday. I set off at about 7.30am, under pure blue skies, the rising sun beginning to catch the treetops, and walked down to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. I got settled in Grebe hide, as this was where I'd arranged to meet Lisa and Adam for a morning of photo-taking.

The feeders were fully stocked, and within the first couple of minutes two Nuthatches and a Marsh Tit had visited, in addition to many Blue and Great Tits and a couple of Chaffinches.

I'm not sure if my presence kept it from visiting the feeders, but this Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in and surveyed the scene from a nearby, very shadowed tree trunk. Much Photoshopping was needed to stop it being a silhouette.

Lisa and Adam arrived soon after this and joined in with the feeder photography. I found a place to stand where I had a good view of a particular branch that some of the birds were using as a 'pre-feeder' perch, and got a few photos.

I was delighted when the Marshie came and sat on 'my' stick. The light was bad and shutter speeds not great, but a few were sharp enough.

The Nuthatches wouldn't use this stick though, so to catch them I had to look elsewhere. Luckily they sometimes hung around for a few seconds, just long enough to get a lock on.

This Robin showed up and began to hover ineptly before the feeder. I couldn't catch it in action but managed a few while it was getting its breath back. Meanwhile, another Robin had come into the hide and was hopping around our feet, searching for crumbs.

I'm not sure what the bright blue thing is behind this male Chaffinch. I suspect it's something that looks much better when completely out of focus.

We wandered up to Willow hide after this, not seeing very much on the way. East Lake was positively steaming as the sunshine started to work on it, resulting in a low, picturesque mist which I couldn't photograph as I didn't have a wide-angle lens with me. Sorry about that.

The view from Willow hide was disappointing - the water was high and most of the birds on it were Coots. A few Gadwalls, Mallards and Tufties joined them, plus the resident Mute Swans.

This Jay flew into one of the trees on the island. Knowing it probably wouldn't stay there long, I was prefocused and ready for when it flew, though I didn't really expect it to fly directly towards me. Of the resultant burst of shots, only this one is anything like in focus.

Although we saw no 'proper' winter thrushes today, it was nice to see several Song Thrushes, including this one on the way to Long Lake.

Long Lake was fairly quiet too. The Mutes that live there came over to see if we were going to feed them, and when we didn't the male started eating the bulrushes at the water's edge. Meanwhile, this young Cormorant flew over. At the far end, a Kingfisher flashed by and landed - too briefly for photos - in a lakeside tree.

We went down to the big field beyond Long Lake and looked out at a load of grass and not much else. Three Ring-necked Parakeets flew past, going into the same group of trees by East Lake where we'd found a nesthole back in May.

We returned to the start and walked along the south shore of East Lake, calling in at the Tyler hide where we found, in addition to stuff already seen elsewhere, Teals, Shovelers, Common and Herring Gulls with many Black-headed, a lone Snipe and a lot of Lapwings.

Then it was on to Sutton and Slingsby hides. Nice group of Tufties plus a male Pochard outside Sutton. Nothing from Slingsby except this male Sparrowhawk flying over distantly with a Carrion Crow in hot pursuit.

We returned to the visitor centre for much-needed tea after that. Lisa and Adam only had a little time left and opted to spend it in Willow hide, as we'd been told there had been Kingfishers seen earlier.

On the way we stopped to photograph this particularly dazzling Beech tree's foliage. I struggled to find a good angle for a nice composition. This was the best I managed.

All was even quieter at Willow hide, though a Wigeon had appeared at the far side of the water. Then a large flock of mainly Canada Geese flew in, with this fivesome of Egyptian Geese bringing up the rear.

Among the geese was this white one. I've seen it before, paired up with a Canada. Not had such close views of it before though, it's normally out on East Lake. This bird puzzles me, as the few very dark feathers on its back don't seem to tally with a barnyard Greylag (which is what most white geese turn out to be). I might post this pic for identification somewhere.

The Egyptians had landed on the far side but came swimming towards the island, giving us nice views as they went.

The Canadas, meanwhile, more or less simultaneously decided it was time for a vigorous bathing session. I happened to be looking at this one through my camera when it performed a forward roll, and I got my best pics of this amusing manouevre.

Other birds seen but not photographed included a few Siskins, and a Green Woodpecker that followed us around laughing heartily but refusing to be seen.

So, a good day all round, and photographing anything is a joy in weather like this. I was really happy to get some better Marsh Tit and Nuthatch pics in particular. But my bird of the day, by a country mile, is the gorgeous crocheted owl that Lisa presented me with at the end of our walk, a lovely surprise. Thanks so much, Lisa, I love him. Here he is :)