Saturday, 17 June 2017

North East Poland - May Trip Report

I spent 5 nights in the famous birding region of north east Poland in May, with three in the Bialowieza forest area and two in the marshes of Biebrza. I didn't come across any widespread devastation in Bialowieza and managed to see my three target species (Collared Flycatcher, River Warbler and Thrush Nightingale), although views of all were frustratingly brief with limited photo opportunities.

In Biebrza, I found Aquatic Warbler at the renowned Dluga Luka boardwalk without any difficulty. My first visit in the late afternoon was successful - so no real need for my subsequent dusk and dawn returns.

A trip report is now available on my website, with full details of sites visited and illustrated with some of the photos I took.

Here is a brief taster! To see a gallery of my better trip images, click here.
Red-backed Shrike in Bialowieza 
White-winged Black Tern in Biebrza
Aquatic Warbler in Biebrza
Citrine Wagtail in Biebrza

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Upper Thames Valley: 10 June

I went on another walk along the Thames today mainly looking (unsuccessfully again!) for Clubtails - although I did get a glimpse of a dragonfly flying away at bush-top height that might conceivably have been one!

Despite the wind and not particularly overcast conditions there were some damsels and one Emperor to be seen, but nothing unusual.

Birds provided more interest with a pair of Curlew coming quite close to the path briefly.

Curlew - goto my website for larger images

On my return, I tried for a few rather closer pics using the 100-400 mk II lens with an extension tube, which seemed to work OK hand held, demonstrating what a versatile (and portable) lens it can be:

Banded Demoiselle (showing signs of wear)

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Otmoor 3 June 2017

I took a break from the Clubtail survey today after two unsuccessful trips to the upper Thames (Radcot/Tadpole Bridge) and decided it was high time for a visit to Otmoor. Arriving well after 09:00, I was surprised to find some the regulars had only just got there as well, and we all had a wander along the Roman Road in brilliant sunny conditions.

Very quickly someone spotted some elusive butterflies high up in the tops of the bushes on the west side of the track. They were really difficult to follow in flight and almost impossible to see when settled, as they were nearly always facing end-on or horizontal - presumably to make the most the sunlight. Eventually sufficiently clear views were obtained and it was decided these were Black Hairstreaks. These seem to be very early this year, as they are not normally on the wing until late June, according to my book. This was a new butterfly for me! There must have been more then the two that were the most seen at any one - at least 4 I would guess and maybe more. But no pics - they weren't showing any sign of coming lower while we were there.

Further on at the end of the Roman Road, at the corner with bridleway, there was a female Beautiful Demoiselle and then just a few yards along the bridleway, there was a male that posed quite well for photos. That was more like it!

Beautiful Demoiselle

I then switched into bird mode and tried for photos of the Turtle Dove. There was nothing doing at the cattle pens, but it was purring away well in the usual Oak Tree beyond. On my return, it was still there. At one point a Woodpigeon flew into the same tree whereupon the Turtle Dove started vigorously displaying at it! Seemed like a case of mistaken identify and a sign that this was an unpaired bird so far?

Turtle Dove

Out over Greenaways there were several Hobbies zooming around, and a Marsh Harrier. I couldn't however spot the large grey birds with long necks that were reputed to be there.

Along the bridleway, there was an impressive range of Odonata, including numerous Azure Damselflies, Large Red Damsels, 1 Blue-tailed Damsel, Red-eyed Damsels, Four-spotted Chaser and just one Hairy Dragonfly seen briefly in flight only.  On the path to the first screen, there was one teneral Ruddy Darter.

The first screen was quiet but there was a distant male Wigeon which seemed an unusual June find.

I didn't see anything very different on my return, by which time it was cloudier and possible more windy as well. There was however this striking, tiny bug at the eastern end of the bridleway that I reckon is probably a Red-and-black Froghopper. Anyone of a different opinion?!

Red-and-black Froghopper (probable)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Tadpole Bridge to Radcot: 14 May

Following my successful start to the Clubtail count yesterday in their stronghold around Goring, today was an exploration into the Upper Thames where recent records have been much less frequent.

Starting at Tadpole Bridge, our aim was a one way walk to Radcot, which involved a two car manoeuvre. Things started amazingly well with this adult right by the track within c. 200m of the bridge!

Clubtailed Dragonfly just W of Tadpole Bridge

Unfortunately thereafter there was no further sign of emerged insects nor exuviae, despite plenty of scanning of any man made structures.

Notable birds along the way included at least 2 pairs of Curlew, CuckooGrey Wagtail at Rushey Lock, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Goring 13 May

With the Black-winged Stilts having departed, it seemed time to start my participation in the BDS Clubtail count. I parked in the public car park in Goring and then walked down to the river and along to the railway bridge which is a famous Clubtail site.

As I went, I was looking for exuviae, as these are said to be easier to locate early in season than the adults. I was surprised to almost immediately find two - on the top of a low wooden post by the waters edge. Thereafter I found three more at two different locations before I reached the bridge itself. All were on man made structures - either wooden posts or walls that go down into the water.

They seemed to be easier to find than I had feared.

Clubtail exuvia

At Goring Railway bridge itself I found someone else on a similar quest! He had found six exuviae along the wall under the bridge.

So a successful start to the Clubtail count with records of exuviae from three different 1km squares - SU59080, SU5979 & SU6079.

If this inspires you to join in the count, I'm sure it isn't too late - just get in touch with the BDS organisers ASAP.

Even if you are not participating in the survey, if you find any Clubtails or their exuviae in Oxon, please let me know and I will add to my dedicated page on my website.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Farmoor - 6 May

Back in good old Oxon, so where better to go in early May than Farmoor where all sorts of waders and the Bonaparte's Gull had been reported during the week...

I arrived at gate opening time (08:00) and decided to head along the causeway looking for waders and other migrants. There were plenty of screaming Swifts overhead and one solitary Yellow Wagtail that immediately departed.Further on the only waders on show were two summer plumaged Dunlin, one of which was brighter than the other. Fortunately, my encounter with these confiding birds coincided with a very rare brighter spell

Dunlin - click here for a larger image.

Next up was the Pinkhill hide which was also quiet, apart from a Cuckoo calling in the bushes and trees along the river. It then gave a brief flight view as it moved elsewhere. Sedge and Reed Warblers were also singing away but I didn't see either.

With a tentative report of the Bonaparte's Gull, Black Tern and Turnstone along the southern shore of F2, I decided to head off in that direction. Walking by the river, I spotted a couple of Common Sandpipers, and a little further on by Shrike Meadow there was my first Whitethroat of the year.

Arriving in the vicinity of the southern end of F2, I found 2 flighty Turnstones, 1 Common Sand and a few disgruntled birders who reported no sign of the Gull nor the Black Tern. And so it was - no sign of either. It was also distinctly cool and unspring-like! Time to depart...

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Mid Wales 29 April - 1 May

We had a good bank holiday weekend in Wales despite a noisy hotel (Elan Hotel) and mediocre weather. The highlight was the excellent Gilfach Reserve which is run by the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust. We last visited here three years ago but our visit this time was somewhat different with only the Otter Hide providing much in the way of photo opportunities.

I spent some time here over three visits, with the early morning one being most productive for the Pied Flycatcher. The late afternoon produced the Dipper and Nuthatch, while an early afternoon session produced nothing at all!

A delightful Pied Flycatcher. Click here for a larger image
Dipper on the stream
Go to to my website for larger versions of all the above

The courtyard wasn't productive for photos, apart from this Common Pipistrelle bat that surprisingly appeared in the late afternoon, well before dusk and allowed itself to be photographed!

Common Pipistrelle

Friday, 14 April 2017

Lark Hill 14 April

One of at least 3 Wheatear this afternoon on the mown grass around (and on top of) the underground reservoir:

Goto my website for a larger image

Wheatear - taken though the tall chain link fence

Saturday, 8 April 2017

8 April: A quiet Farmoor & Rushy Common

Last week Farmoor seemed to turn some reasonable photo opportunities, judging by the Oxon Bird Log, so I thought it was time for a visit - my first in some time.

Arriving just after the 08:00 opening time, the causeway was shrouded in mist with almost zero visibility. However by the time I'd got half way across it had mostly lifted but didn't reveal much. A Common Tern flew past, and the light was absolutely superb for photography, but all I could find to point the lens at were Great Crested Grebes, none of which were particularly close-in. Disappointingly, there were no waders, wheatears, nor any wagtails (other than Pied) - probably due to the splendid sunny, settled weather!

Great-crested Grebe. 
Visit my website for a larger image.

Reaching the western bank and turning south, there was a Willow Warbler in the bushes at the top of the zig-zag path, and a Blackcap near the concrete path. Walking past Shrike Meadow, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable song of a Lesser Whitethroat. Even more surprising was that it was singing from an exposed, if distant perch, in the still fairly early morning sun. 
Lesser Whitethroat

Pinkhill had little of interest near to the hide but there were distant Cetti's and Sedge Warbler songs. Returning along the causeway there were five Red-crested Pochards (4m & 1f). That was about it! 

From the latest reports on the Oxon Bird Log, it seems I could well have walked past the Bonaparte's Gull!

As it was still only mid/late morning, I decided to head over to Rushy Common to see if the Avocets were still present. They weren't, but Tom Wickens kindly pointed out a lone Mediterranean Gull among the Black headeds. There were also two Egyptian Geese over the far side, and then flying around. Also, from the car park there were several Sand Martins over the new pit on the opposite side of the road when I arrived, but they didn't appear to stay long and were gone when I returned to the car.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

1st April

Looks like I guessed right - the Black-necked Grebe had gone from Farmoor this morning, and I went for these delightful birds instead. It is several years since I've seen one in Oxon - well before my camera days!

Firecrest in Oxon!
To see slightly larger images go to my website

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Texas Trip Report now ready!

It has taken me a considerable amount of time to sift through all the photos I took on a recent successful trip to Texas, but a trip report is now, at last, available on my website!

Highlights of this trip in late January and early February included Whooping Crane, Sandhill Crane, a large Snow Geese flock, Ross' Geese and much more besides. 
Whooping Crane with Blue Crab
Adult and juv Whooping Cranes  
Ross' Goose 
Snow Geese
Osprey with fish

For more pics and a full account of this trip, see my website.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

University Parks and Farmoor 11 March

It was good to be able to get out again today after a couple of family commitments had kept me away from my lens for the last couple of weeks!

On the basis that there didn't appear to be anything else compelling within easy reach, I decided on a return visit to the University Parks in search of the Goosanders, despite the lack of recent news either way on their presence. Arriving a bit later than last time, the place was even fuller of people - especially joggers. However when I got to the pool just above the rollers and weir, I immediately spotted a female lurking near to the island just upstream. The male also made a brief appearance but was unsurprisingly scared by someone walking right along the bank by him.

Still it seemed worth a try, so I settled in to see if they would re-appear. Fortunately, the walkers and joggers kept away and my little corner was relatively undisturbed for a little while. I had remarkably close encounters with one male and two females before they all disappeared at around 12.

Click here for a larger image
 Click here for a larger image
Click here for a larger image
 Click here for a larger image

After this delightful encounter (the closest I have ever been to Goosanders), I made the mistake of heading to Farmoor in the hope of some early summer migrants. It turned out there was a major fishing competition underway and the causeway was completely full of them every 5-10m. On the way out, they were all getting ready for the off, but on the way back it was like running a gauntlet between castings - with everyone having the potential for injury. 

Also, I couldn't see or hear any sign of migrants - no Sand Martins over the water, nor Chiffchaffs singing. Also the Barn Owl wasn't about at Shrike Meadow nor Pinkhill. 

By the way, does anyone know what those enormous new tall poles are for at the bank of Pinkhill - Ospreys?!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

University Parks and Pit 60 - Sat 18th Feb

Apologies for the delayed posting on this one. I have only recently returned from a great trip to Texas, and have been busy wading through the pics I got there - more of which in a later posting!

Back in good old Oxon, on Saturday, the temperature was a tad down on the 30+C we had been enjoying for some of the time in Texas but I felt the need to get out. The University Parks had attracted my attention due to the great recently posted Goosander pics from there, so I tried it first thing.

It wasn't easy to find a way through the "works" by Lady Margaret Hall at the northern end of the Parks, but it does exist and allows the most convenient access from the nearby roads that have (expensive) metered parking. However unfortunately I walked the full length of the riverside path through the park, well beyond the weir and "rollers" and saw no sign of any Goosander nor much else besides - apart from some Wigeon on some floods on the other side of the river.

After this set-back I tried the more familiar Pit 60 Langley Lane Hide. The highlight here was the two Great White Egret already reported by Jim Hutchins. There wasn't much else of note around while I was there, apart from this Goldeneye that came reasonably close - perhaps due to the higher than normal water levels.

Goldeneye (c) Stephen Burch

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Gloucs & Oxon mini tour 14 January 2016

Waxwings are always a good, albeit challenging photographic subject. With the Oxford birds seemingly gone, the most reliable location appeared to be Cheltenham where a flock of about 40 birds had been reported everyday from the same location for at least the last week.

So I set the alarm clock fairly early, and arrived before the shops opened and the roads started to get congested. On arrival, I first drove past a small group of birders apparently staring at an empty tree, before spotting the Waxwing flock nearby in the top of another. This early, parking was no problem and I could start taking photos immediately from behind the open car boot!

These birds appeared to favour 3 locations within about 100m of each other - the tree on the corner, a group of trees and bushes down a quieter side road by Buildbase and the main tree with berries over the main road - that needed to be viewed from the opposite side. As the morning progressed, this became hardly the most peaceful spot with a constant stream of cars (and larger vehicles) going between the lens and the birds! Later on a thin stream of pedestrians began to add to the disturbance. Not surprisingly, the Waxwings only came down to these berries very briefly and I found it difficult to get onto them in the time available before they all flew off for the next half hour or so. This was however probably the best place for photos as a few of the berries were in sun (when it was out) and hung down from the rest of the tree giving a clean background. Only once though did I get a shot of a bird feeding there - but the shot was rather spoilt by the shadow across the birds head:

Waxwing with berry - goto my website for a larger image

This is another photo of a bird in the same tree, but slightly higher up and with a more cluttered background:
Waxwing without berry - goto my website for a larger image

Birds resting in trees are much easier targets, as they spend a lot of time hanging around not doing very much, but often the view is then somewhat distant and from below. Just once, some birds appeared in a tree just behind us, on the same side of the road, and I managed to get this well light shot:
Goto my website for a larger image

I also spent some time down the side street that was a good deal quieter to start with at least. Here the bushes included mistletoe:

Goto my website for a larger image

Dropped it!

After the better part of 3 hours here, the intermittent sun seemed to finally disappear into cloud and with more and more people around, it seemed time to go. 

My next destination was Middleton Stoney where I walked down the muddy track to the pig farm to find a Cattle Egret quite close - but it flew before I could deploy the lens and the chance was missed. Thereafter views were very distant, and I heard with interest that several other birders there had just come from Dix Pit where the male Smew as apparently "showing well". Having dipped on this at Pit 27 last week, this sounded like a good chance to connect with it. 

So I decided to truncate my viewing of pigs and distant white blobs and headed off to Dix while there was still a bit of daylight left. Arriving there, I parked as directed at the recycling centre end and walked the short distance along the gravel path to the viewing area where the Smew had been performing earlier to find... nothing! After some time here without any sign, I decided to walk further on, and passed the restored stone circle (a bit bizarre) to another viewing spot closer to the northern end. From here there was no sign either, so I retraced my steps to give the first viewing area another go. At last I spotted it briefly way over the far side, and close in to the shore, but by the time I had set the lens up it had almost reached the nearer island. It then disappeared behind the island, to eventually appear at the other end. But it showed no sign of coming any closer, and with the light fading it was time to call it a day.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Standlake 7th January

Having failed to see the Bean Geese and Smew on 2 January, and with the weather poor, I decided to have another go today. Arriving around 10am, I parked in Standlake village (unlike most others, it seems!) and walked in along Shifford Lane. Unlike last time, the goose flock was present in their favourite field, and arriving at the viewing spot I was told by Nick Truby et al that the Bean Geese were present. However they were quite distant and it was misty so none of my photos are worth showing here!

After awhile, something (or somebody) spooked the geese and they all flew off in the direction of Pit 27, so I followed them hoping for a view of the elusive Smew. But the lake was shrouded in mist with zero visibility at the first viewing spot, and not much better elsewhere. It seemed at that stage that nobody else had seen the Smew either, so I tried Pit 38 instead. As on 2 January, this had a distant GW Egret but no small white sawbill unfortunately. Returning to Pit 27, there was still no sign so I headed off to the Pit 60, North Shore hide. Here I quickly spotted another GW Egret down the far north eastern corner, feeding in the little bay there. Now this wasn't too far from the Langley Lane hide so I quickly made my way there.

Arriving at the deserted LL hide, I settled in to see what the GW Egret would do - hoping initially for some shots of it, and its smaller companion together - a Little Egret. But most of the time they were almost invisible from the hide, feeding in the corner bay, although from time to time, there would be glimpses of one or other of them. After sometime, however, both appeared briefly in the small bay visible from the hide, albeit rather distantly.

Both egrets together - better viewed on the larger image on my website

After this glimpse, they rapidly thought better of it, and disappeared from view back into their favourite corner, which is pretty well where they stayed for some considerable time. During this longish wait, there was some diversion in the form of Teal that would approach reasonably closely from time to time. This one swam in front of the hide, giving a nice reflection in the still water.

Teal and reflection

As well as the awful light, another problem today was the mist that kept on rolling in and then dispersing. Just as I was thinking it was time to call it a day, the GW Egret again appeared in the small visible bay, which kept me interested for a bit longer. An aggressive Grey Heron then appeared which seemed to intimidate the larger Egret, and remarkably it began to move away from the danger and towards the hide. It rapidly got closer & closer until it more than filled the field of view!

Goto to my website for a larger image

Goto to my website for a larger image

Goto to my website for a larger image

Closest approach!

After this remarkable stroke of luck, there was still a bonus in the form of this charming Stonechat that suddenly popped up reasonably close.


With the end of the afternoon rapidly approaching, it was now definitely time to leave and try for the Bean Geese again that had now apparently relocated to the field off Croft Lane. Walking down this lane, the views were very obscured but eventually a gateway provided an unobstructed but a slightly more distant vantage point to scan the flock. The Bean Geese were not easy to pick out to start with, as they were right in the middle of the Greylags and hangers on of dubious parentage. Eventually though I located them and further waiting provided unobstructed if distant views in the fading light. A good end to a productive day - shame about the light and intermittent fog though!

Bean Geese at last!