Monday, 4 November 2013

Quiet times and bad photographs

It's the usual refrain - I've been too busy to get out much, and when I have I've managed to make a bit of a Horlicks of most of the (few) photo opportunities that have come my way. Still, I do have a couple of reports, the first from Thursday 24th October. I went to Rainham for a long-overdue meet-up with my friend and former colleague Simon, who lives quite near there. He is an ace birder and also a scope-carrier, so I got a closer look than usual at some of what we saw, which was nice. It was a sunny day at first, and then a cloudy one.

I arrived early, before the drawbridge went down in fact. Howard let us in, first pointing out the three Common Seals hauled up on the far side of the Thames. Then I spent 20 minutes or so in the Purfleet hide, photographing flyover birds - Blue Tit, Greenfinch and Grey Heron here, but there were also drifts of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and of course tons of Starlings.

Action at ground level was more limited. The wildfowl was all on the far side of the scrape. I couldn't extract any Snipes from the shoreline vegetation. I was diverted by the antics of a small posse of Carrion Crows.

When Si arrived we decided to walk anticlockwise, and headed woodward, noting a Jay going over but no winter thrushes, to my disappointment.

A Cetti's Warbler sang from within a tangle of bramble. As we waited to try to catch a glimpse, a Blackcap dived into the brambles from the other side, and this evidently upset the Cetti's, as it came out into full view (though sadly terrible light) and danced about a bit before flying off.

We stopped at the edge of the wood for Si to scope the Barn Owl box, but no-one was home. From here you can see (clearly but distantly) the nest box and below it the roosting box, the latter the one likely to be in use at this time of year.

There wasn't much doing from the Ken Barratt hide. Carrying on, we looked out across Aveley Flash, which was busy with wildfowl including plenty of Pintails. Then something put up the Lapwings, and also a fair-sized Snipe flock.

The 'something' was this burly Sparrowhawk. We also clocked a Marsh Harrier from here, and a Peregrine on a distant pylon which then took off and flew towards us (but changed course before it got into decent-photograph range).

A couple of Gadwalls making their graceful descent. The rest of the walk around was rather uneventful - we went along the sea wall and tried to nail down the few pipits we saw there, hoping to find a Water, but the couple that showed well were all Rocks. After tea and cake and the visitor centre, we drove towards Rainham and visited a stretch of foreshore noted for the concrete barges that are lined up by the shore. Here we looked for waders and found a few Redshanks. The barges themselves were rather interesting but unfortunately my long lens was wholly unsuited to taking photos of them, so instead here's an image I found online.

Then last week I was cat-sitting in Brighton, and I didn't even take birding lens or binoculars as I knew I wouldn't have time for anything much. I did have the company of my sister and her family for some of the time, which was very nice. I borrowed Rob's 50mm lens for family portraits, which I won't bore you with, but here's a photo of one of the cats.

And on to this weekend just gone. I had a short visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve on Sunday morning. It was bright and breezy, and rather cold.

The feeders were more or less devoid of action, though I did hear some Siskins wheezing overhead as I crossed the car park. I walked to the Willow hide via West Lake, on which were several Tufted Ducks including these dusky-flanked fellows.

There was a camera-toting birder looking at something alongside North Lake. It turned out to be four Little Egrets perched in the trees on the far side. Unfortunately they were too spaced out for me to fit more than one in the frame at a time.

I settled down in Willow hide and began Wigeon-hunting. I located only two, a male and a female. Here's the male, with a Gadwall pair. The water level has gone right up - the exposed mud in front of the hide has gone completely and with it the Teal flock.

All in all, bird numbers were disappointingly low. I saw just one Shoveler, plus a few Mallards and Tufties. No geese of any description. The Mute Swans were there, with their two well-grown cygnets, and two Kingfishers came chasing across the water but didn't stop.

Jays were going to and fro, their gullets stuffed with acorns. It seems to be a bumper autumn for not only acorns but also beechmast, sweet chestnuts and conkers, and probably lots of other natural foods as well. Hopefully this will make for good overwinter survival rates for the birds.

I walked on towards Long Lake. Looking out over West Lake I could see that the gull flock in front of Tyler hide had grown to an impressive size. A few gulls were wafting about closer to hand, including this Black-headed and Common.

Near Long Lake I found a lively flock of mostly Long-tailed Tits, but with a few Blue Tits, a Goldcrest and a Treecreeper thrown in. I couldn't get a clear photo of any of them, but it was nice to see some little-bird action. There were more Siskins overhead here too, a flock of about 30.

Long Lake itself held a cluster of Tufties. This Great Spotted Woodpecker paused briefly in a tree on the far side.

When I got to the little meadow patch, I noticed a Green Woodpecker discreetly flying into a tangly low tree, and got a few shots when the leaves blew out of the way.

I didn't notice at the time, but checking my photos at home I was surprised to discover that the woodpecker's eye was very dark, rather than the glacially pale blue-white that's typical of adult Greenies.

And stranger still... when it flew down to the grass and showed me its other side, the right eye is normal-coloured. Heterochromia in a woodpecker? I should probably show these pics to British Birds mag, they seem to like weird things like this.

On the way back, I did manage a few shots of Long-tailed Tits, albeit in shocking light.