Saturday, 14 April 2018

Shrike Meadow, Lark Hill etc: 14 March am

With my current mobility issue, it is difficult to find places for bird photography in Oxon. Today I thought I'd first try Shrike Meadow which isn't too far from the nearest unofficial parking at Lower Whitley Farm.

In the glorious weather, it was a pleasant if uncomfortable walk along the Thames with Chiffchaff and Blackcap very much in evidence - but no sound of any Willow Warblers. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Barn Owl I was hoping for, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that the reeds had been radically cut back from the hide.

So it is now possible to see over what looks like a freshly created pool with the meadow beyond. Unfortunately, although there were distant Reed (or Sedge?) and Cetti's Warblers, there wasn't much else of interest apart from a couple of Snipe, one of which was flushed by a Muntjac Deer.

Thereafter, I tried the north east corner of Dix pit, where there is very close parking.  Morning isn't the best time of day here, as most of the pit is directly into the sun. In the distance, what looked like the Snow Geese flock was close into the SE bank of the pit, and a solitary Common Tern was also super distant. The heronry on the island was  in full swing also with Cormorants and another addition which maybe I shouldn't be mentioning?

Finally I tried Lark Hill, where I was delighted to find a lone female Wheatear on the south facing grassy slope of the underground reservoir - their favourite spot at this site. Regrettably the chain link fence here prevents gets anywhere near close enough for good shots, but at least being tall has one advantage - being able to balance the camera lens on the top of the fence!

Distant female Wheatear at Lark Hill

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Top 50 Gallery

On my website, I've recently extended my gallery of selected bird photos from 35 to create a "Top 50" gallery. Each has a caption giving some background/context to the photo.

To have a look go to this page.  For some tasters see below.

Satin Bowerbird, Australia

Whooping Crane, Texas, USA

Hawfinch, Hampshire

Ural Owl, Hokkaido, Japan

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Pit 60 & Harwell Campus

I was keen to get out today with the lens to see if  I could get any "snowy" photos, given that there was so much of it around!

Tramping down the tracks to the LL hide for Pit 60, it was clear from the lack of footprints that I was the first to venture down the last little stretch to the hide, and so I had the place to myself for a bit. With about half the pit frozen, there was a small flock of Teal fairly close on the bank, mostly asleep, before they all flew off. Also a distant Snipe on the island to the left, and a very unhappy looking Lapwing briefly. That was about it apart from plenty of the usual duck in the distance on the open water.

For larger versions of all these images, go to my website at this page.

Wigeon


Teal

Several other birders then appeared but by then all the birds had retreated a fair distance from the hide.

Eager for more snowy photos, I tried the Harwell Campus and found some reasonably approachable thrushes, but by now the thaw had really set in and there wasn't much snow left on the grass. 

Mistle Thrush with a little snow behind. Click here for larger image.

Fieldfare also with a little snow. Click here for larger image

For larger versions of all these images, go to my website at this page.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Puddle revisited!

With a superb forecast of sunny, crisp conditions, and nothing much doing in Oxon, it seemed a good idea to revisit the Hampshire puddle I'd last visited a couple of weeks ago. With it being a nice sunny Saturday, I wasn't sure what the disturbance would be from fellow birders and the dog walker "opposition". In the event neither was too bad - in fact better than the half-term Monday of my previous visit.

Arriving mid morning, I found a few birders wandering around rather aimlessly, but I reckoned the spot I'd ended my last visit at would be worth another go. So that is where I headed for, and this time I came equipped for some judicious pruning before I got set up. Almost immediately a Hawfinch appeared, so close it more than filled the frame! Wow!

Almost my first shot (somewhat cropped...)

Clearly this was the spot to be, and even though I was soon joined by another friendly photographer, birds continued to appear at reasonably regular intervals, at varying distances. Most of my shots were somewhat spoilt by the nuts they seemed to be almost sucking or chewing on for long periods, but just a few were free from these.


More Hawfinches on leaf litter under the trees

At around 12pm a local birder came over and said that the birds were also showing well on the puddle, just round the corner. So, pleased with the photos so far, that is where we headed, to find initially only one other birder and no sign of the 'cammo man', nor his moss!

I suspect that the main reason for the birds appearing this time was that there hadn't been much rain recently, and so other smaller puddles had dried up. Also the lack of a phalanx of standing birders may have helped. Unfortunately the main puddle was also showing the effects of the  'drought' and there wasn't enough in it for good reflections. It would have benefited from being topped up with water from the nearby canal.

Still the Hawfinches then showed quite well from time to time for the next couple of hours or so, in great light. Other birds in the area included one smart male Brambling but unfortunately I didn't notice it come down to drink.


Hawfinch at the (shrunken) puddle

To see larger versions of these images, go to to this page on my website, and then click each one to enlarge further.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Australia Trip Report now ready!

After a good deal of preparation my trip report for Australia in last October is finally available on my website!

This features a detailed account of the various places visited, birds seen and of course there are plenty of photos of the birds and other wildlife of this amazing continent.

The report is split into different pages for ease of navigation, as follows:

1. Introduction
Info about travel, logistics, weather etc

2. Singapore 
Account of our 4 night stay en-route to our main destination.
Crimson Sunbird
3. Darwin & Kakadu
Phase 1 of our Australian adventure featuring, pittas, waders, water birds and many others.

Rainbow Pitta
Rainbow Beeeater 

4. Cairns & the wet tropics
Phase 2. 8 night mini tour of this amazing area. Southern Cassowarys, Victoria's Riflebird, Great and Tooth-billed Bowerbirds etc.

Victoria's Riflebird
5. O'Reillys
Phase 3. Only 3 nights but what superb birds - colourful, exotic and very tame! Shame about the rain...
King Parrot

Phase 4. Close up views of breeding sea birds everywhere on an island at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkeling with Manta Rays. Another extraordinary place for birds and other wildlife.
Red-tailed Tropicbird

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Hampshire puddle: Monday 12 February

After several miserably dank Saturdays, I resolved it was time for a change and arranged to day take a rare day off work! My aim was to chase Hawfinches at an out of county location where they come down to the ground, thereby affording better photo opps than those in Oxon that seem confined to being in trees, usually the tops thereof. Parkend is a destination I've been to before, without great success, but I was considering another attempt until I read both the Black Audi Birding and Old Caley blogs that have negative recent reports. Then  along came Black Audi's very positive report of a puddle in Hampshire!

So with a good weather forecast for Monday, and a leisurely start in prospect that was where I headed, not arriving until around 11:00 - hopefully in good time for their "peak" showing times from about noon onwards. On arrival, I wasn't out of the car a moment before being asked by another birder where to go - it later dawned on me it was half term week - probably my first mistake! 

Now given Black Audi's excellent directions, and the satellite view on Google Maps I reckoned I had worked out the exact spot, and a short cut to it. I soon found out I was spot on - it can't have taken more than 5mins to get there. On arrival I found a quite large group of birders, arranged in a line across the entrance to a track through the woods, all looking at a large puddle with decorative moss on the far bank. It took me sometime to spot the camouflaged originator of this setup - an extraordinarily dedicated photographer kneeling down under netting to the right, and very close to the water! 

I managed to just squeeze myself into the left hand end of this line of photo-birders and found Black Audi there again in person - clearly eager for more! The setup was superb, with the sun behind and glorious light on the moss-banked water. All it needed was some birds... 

So I sat down to wait. And wait, and wait... From time to time Hawfinches would show in the distance, but they were far too distant for worthwhile pics. Just once one dropped down closer for a few seconds but for some reason I couldn't get onto to it before it flew off. That was it. The hours passed and the only bird to drink from the puddle was a Woodpigeon. Something was clearly different from Black Audi's visit last week. Perhaps as it was half-term week there were too many birders. Perhaps it was the weather - too much rain recently so the birds could easily drink elsewhere There was also some disturbance in the form of dogs, their walkers, and even the local cat! For whatever reason, the puddle remained a bird free zone. 

Only right at the end of the afternoon did I try a different spot, around the back of the same trees, where Black Audi had just managed to see some Hawfinches out in the open feeding on the grass. But by the time he'd come back to tell me they were there, they had of course gone not to return. 

The only partial success I had was by creeping to the edge of the trees, and looking into them, where some Hawfinches were dropping down to feed on the ground. One suddenly appeared pretty close, but my view was partially obscured by twigs etc. The resulting photos looked like they had been taken in heavy mist, but it is amazing what can be done in Photoshop and some other software I use! So not a completely fruitless visit after all...

Hawfinch
Click here to see a larger image on my website

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Australia October 2017

I have at last been through most of the 18,500 photos I took in Australia back in October 2017, and prepared a gallery of a selection of about 100 of them on my website.

This was definitely the trip of a lifetime, and we managed to see most of our targets. The most striking thing was how tame so many of the species were - making it is so much easier to get quality photos than in the UK. Many were also very colourful - see below for a good example!

Crimson Rosella at O'Reilly's, Queensland, Australia

To go to the gallery, click here.  A written, illustrated trip report will follow in due course...

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Yelford & Northmoor

With Mick kindly posting on the Oxon Bird Log the previous day about a new location for Hawfinches at Northmoor Church, and Jim having reported flooding at Pit 60, my quickly formulated plan for my usual Sat am birding was to try Yelford for the Kumlien's Gull followed by Northmoor for yet another Hawfinch hunt.

The weather was dank, misty and dull when I arrived at Yelford and there were no gulls whatsoever in what I presumed was the right field, just to the west of the village. So I didn't hang around long before heading the short distance over to Northmoor - to find several birders already in and around the church yard. To my surprise there were even some Hawfinches to be seen, almost immediately after my arrival (at around 10:15am)! They were typically coming into the tall, bare trees around the church, including one right by the road at the front. It quickly became apparent that they were then diving into the adjacent yew tree to feed, whereupon they would disappear from view, appearing only briefly.

Remarkably, and despite the miserable forecast, the sun even came out briefly which gave superb light on the birds, when viewed from the vicinity of the church, and the boundary fence. They were still a bit distant, but the views were much better than I'd had previously at Barnard Gate or Ardington. I counted up to 8 in a single flock, and Nick saw 9. There could well have been more. Sadly as others started arriving, the birds seemed to melt away at around 11:30 and the sunny conditions evaporated.

I returned via Yelford, but there was again no sign of any gulls.





Hawfinches

For some larger images, see my website.

The flight shot was, I have to confess, an unintentional and very lucky one! I took a burst of images, as I often do, and while the shutter was clicking away at 10 frames/sec the bird decided to depart, in a direct approximately perpendicular to my viewing direction. This allowed the focus to be still reasonably OK and the fast shutter time kept the raw image fairly sharp.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Ardington: 29 December

Ever since Leo first started posting records of Hawfinch from Ardington, I have been making sporadic brief visits to try to see them but without any success. Today, with more specific instructions I was resolved to try a bit harder. So I parked opposite the pub and walked back to the lane which runs parallel with the turn to the Lockinge Estate office. About 100m up this lane on the left is a wooden gate that affords reasonable views over a small field/paddock surrounded by tall trees on 3 sides (at about 51.593342,-1.379923).

On arrival, there was nothing to be seen, so I waited around for a bit.  After perhaps 1/2 hr, a Hawfinch flew into the top of a tree on the north edge of the field. It didn't stay there long, and then flew over the field to a v tall tree in the SW corner (which is adjacent to the driveway up to the Lockinge Estate office), where it was joined by a second bird. They stayed there for only a few minutes before flying left and vanishing.

It then started to rain hard, so I decided to try a walk around the village, which produced nothing, neither did a brief foray into the church yard, nor a quick return to the wooden gate.

The photos I got were definitely in the record shot only category:


Distant Hawfinches
For slightly larger images, go to my website.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Harwell etc 16 December

Last week I'd had an unproductive visit to Pit 60, so today I thought I'd just briefly investigate some local sites instead, in between family committments. Following recent BirdGuide reports of Hawfinch at Ardington, I tried there first but a brief visit to the churchyard and a slow drive around the village produced no sign.

I then tried the publicly accessible areas of Harwell Lab which can be good at this time of year for winter thrushes. Sure enough, as last week, there were plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares around. But both were quite wary, even when trying to use the car as a mobile hide. In the limited time available,  I had only one brief encounter with a fairly close Redwing.

Redwing