Monday, 17 November 2014

Abernethy Forest again

I'm just back from another Scotland trip. Did not enjoy the best of weather or the best of luck but here are a selection of pics anyway - some mammals, some birds, some plants and (just because I can) some rather shonky landscapes.

Roe Deer first. These are very common in the area, and quite confiding (for wild deer).

Red Squirrels are plentiful too, though are easier to see in the gardens than the forest itself. This one was a regular visitor to the garden of the wee cottage where I stayed.

The river Nethy is pretty reliable for Dippers and Goosanders, though both are super-shy if they realise you are staring at them (or, worse, pointing a 300mm lens at them). I also saw, on one occasion, a whopping great fish that jumped out of the water at one of the slow, deep bits - I guess it was probably a big Brown Trout (looked too brown to be a Salmon).

A walk north along the Speyside Way on the only properly sunny day produced a range of nice stuff, including this lot - from the top, a very dark Common Buzzard, some genuinely wild Greylags, a Redwing and another Redwing, nicely posing Reed Bunting, and a very close but horribly lit Sparrowhawk. Also on this walk I saw Goosander on the Spey, lots more Roe Deer, a shy Bank Vole, a few distant Whooper Swans with the Greylags, some Yellowhammers, lots of Siskins, and a big, shy feral cat that would've quickened my pulse big-time had it been stripy tabby rather than black.

The garden bird feeder pulled in an endless stream of Great, Blue and Coal Tits, plus at least two different Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and the odd Chaffinch and Greenfinch. Oddly, though there were Siskins around (and I have photographed them on feeders here in summer) they didn't come down to the feeders at all.

Thanks to the feeder, I also had an experience that lots of you (at least, those of you who have gardens) probably have all the time, but it was a first for me - a close-range, perched, eye-level Sparrowhawk. Pity there was a big branch in the way. I did try to move to a better vantage point but the Sprawk was having none of it and shot over the hedge and away. The little birds were back within 10 minutes.

Another visitor to the garden tree was this female-type crossbill, which looks big-billed enough to me to be a Scottish Crossbill. There was also a nice chubby red male higher up in the tree, but unphotographable behind a mesh of twigs.

A last few locals, Robins, a Treecreeper, a lovely wee Goldcrest and a Pheasant up a tree.

Bit of scene-setting - backlit Bracken, a soggy web, and and a very thoroughly lichen-covered tree trunk. The lichen is one of the best things about this area - nearly every surface is strung with fluffy, dangly lichens and thickly crusted with silvery, leafy lichens. Probably best not to stand still too long.

Aaaand, the promised landscapey scenic views. I'm very much a clueless amateur when it comes to landscape photos. From the top, these are: sunrise over Dell of Abernethy, the Duack Burn near Nethy Bridge, main path through Abernethy Forest from the Dell, um... somewhere else in the Forest (I've forgotten), Loch Garten  looking moody (with about six pixels-worth of female Goldeneye in there just left of centre), the river Nethy, and a look along the Speyside Way towards Grantown-on-Spey.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A photo-tick in Hyde Park

Ugh, I'm really tired. That's my excuse if this turns out to be a short post (at least in terms of wordage, it's going to have lots of photos because I've got them all ready). I woke up at 5am in order to go for a run before I headed into London for the day. It was drizzling at that time, but had cleared up by the time I left Lancaster Gate tube station, and the rest of the day was dry and warm, though very breezy with intermittent sunshine.

I'd been checking out this fabuloso blog, the author of which has picked up where Des McKenzie left off in chronicling avian activity in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and saw that the Little Owls had been showing well lately. Great, thought I, as I have never photographed a Little Owl properly. The blog also had some directions to the correct tree, and a link to what was apparently a photo of said tree but I couldn't get that to open up. The directions seemed pretty clear - but when I reached the right spot I could see three different contender trees (all rather wrecked-looking sweet chestnuts), and my scans of their branches revealed no Little Owls. I decided to look at what else the park had to offer and keep checking back in the hope that another birder or birders would arrive to point me the right way.

I walked under the bridge. There were a few Cormorants swimming nearby, and one of them was bathing, so I tried for some 'bobbing to the surface' photos.

Further out, a Great Crested Grebe (one of lots on the Long Water/Serpentine). The low light and reflected autumn colours have given this a distinct hint of sepia-ness.

And further out still - a group of Red-crested Pochards (there was a third drake just out of shot). These were the only RCPs I saw today.

More exotic quackery. At one of the open duck-feeding spots alongside Long Water, there were four or five drake Mandarins and a lone female.

Near the spot where people feed the little birds, there were several confiding Ring-necked Parakeets about. Although I could get very close (and doubtless even closer had I brought some monkey nuts), I found them tricky to photograph at this range, because if you want them big in the frame you end up chopping off half that ridiculous tail. Backing off a bit produced better (IMHO) results.

I walked down to Round Pond, the almost-circular and rather bleak lake near Kensington Palace. It was not as teeming with gulls as I'd hoped, in particular there was a dearth of Common Gulls, which I know are abundant here in winter. I suppose it just isn't wintry enough yet.

I did spot these little critters, who are probably glad it's not wintry. Eight Egyptian Goose babies (a parent was around too, just out of shot). In their native lands, Egyptian Geese aren't really seasonal breeders, and the habit of nesting whenever the hell they feel like it rather than when it makes sense from an English weather point of view has yet to be ironed out by natural selection. These chicks were very young, only a few days old. Human included for scale.

There were lots of adult Egyptian Geese on and around the lake, and on the grass nearby. I reckon at least 40. Also lots of Mute Swans and a few Greylags and Canadas.

Round Pond is also the place to see Starlings that are so unafraid of people that you're in danger of stepping on them. Oddly they don't seem to bother much with other parts of the park.

Back at Long Water (via another fruitless scan of the chestnuts), and a couple more GCGs. The adult was under the bridge, which provided a nice dark backdrop. The juvenile wasn't.

A quintet of young Mute Swans arrived. They then drifted under the bridge, providing an opportunity for some more black-background shots.

The Cormorants were still around as well.

I strolled south towards the Hyde Park end of the water, photographing this passing Greylag on the way.

A bit of a sad sight, just beyond the Lido cafe. This Egyptian Goose has angelwing, a developmental disorder where the wrist joint grows all wonky (stop me if I'm getting too technical), resulting in sticky-out primary feathers and an inability to fly. At least it will be well-fed here, and probably pretty safe from predators as long as it can get to the water. ETA - I forgot to say that angelwing is thought to be associated with a terrible diet in the first few weeks of life - it is pretty much only seen in waterfowl born and raised in town parks - birds that consume lots of nutritionally useless white bread.

A Moorhen, foraging along the shore. There isn't a lot of fringing vegetation at this end of the water (the lake is Long Water north of the bridge and the Serpentine south, though it's still all one lake), so there is less varied birdlife. Tons of Coots and Moorhens though.

The big gulls tend to hang out at this end, including the notorious 'pigeon-drowning seagull' which has been in the news lately. It's an adult Lesser Black-back, and this first-winter LBBG seems to be practising opening its gape wide enough to engulf a pigeon.

I didn't bother going round to the north shore, as the light wouldn't have been any good, so instead walked back to the Little Owl spot, hoping I'd find birders there. On the way this young Grey Heron flew past.

There were, alas, no birders around the chestnuts. Feeling a little tired and defeated, I sat down on a bench, and watched a nearby chap feeding the little birds. Blue and Great Tits were flying down to take peanuts from his hand.

He came a bit nearer, we exchanged hellos and I got a couple of pics of Great Tits 'on the hand'.

Then a Jay flew in and landed almost directly above me, too close to fit in the frame and horribly backlit to boot. I only include its photo to show just how close you can get to these usually shy birds here.

I decided to ask the bird-feeding chap about the owls, and to my joy he was fully clued-up and immediately led me to the right tree (it's the one ringed by brambles, for anyone else having trouble finding it) and the right place to stand in relation to it.

After a bit of scanning, to my delight I found an actual, real live Little Owl. He was sitting high up and was a bit obscured, but it could have been a lot worse. So gorgeous! The little rascal flew to a different spot on the tree after 10 minutes or so and I couldn't relocate him, so I thanked my impromptu birding guide (and thanks again, Roy, if you are reading this!) and went back to the lake shore for a few last pics from one of the bird-feeding bits before heading home.

A lovely female Pochard. Pochards seem be on the lake year round, though I don't know if any breed here.

The other expected Aythya, a Tufted Duck. One of lots. The other ducks present but not shown are Mallards (plenty) and Shovelers (a few, all pretty much hiding in spots where the lake is screened by trees and shrubs).

It was amusing to watch the many Black-headed Gulls squabbling over the available perching spots. Often both would fall off in the struggle and a third would get the perch.

And... finally... what's this medium-sized larid hoving into view? Why, it's a Common Gull, the only one I saw all day, and I guess an advance guard for the winter hordes. I must come back here on a sunny day and bring the D700 (today was a D300 day because I thought I'd need the extra reach for the owls, and I did, but for most of the stuff here 300mm on a full-frame body would be pretty much ideal).