Saturday, 19 May 2018

Thursley Common 12 May


Having read great accounts by others, I decided it was time to seek Colin's acquaintance first hand. A spot of Googling turned up firstly the name of the field he frequents and then a photo of it, with GPS coords attached. Bingo!

Thursley village appeared to me to be considerably closer than the Moat car park that everyone else seems to use. So that it where I headed, arriving at the recreation ground parking area in just over an hour and a half from home. I arrived mid morning as  I reckoned there was no need for a very early start, since Colin seems to appear from late morning.

From this car park it was only a 10-15min walk to the southern end of the field. Although the network of paths was a bit confusing, with the OS Mapfinder App on my phone, I couldn't get lost!  Arriving at the field, I immediately spotted a small group of photographers at the northern end, which included Early Birder, Mark. When I arrived there were about 8, but this increased to about 12 later.

With the day overcast, viewing direction wasn't too critical, but I chose a spot near the end of the line of photographers, with the sun behind me, to start with at least. I was told that yesterday, he hadn't shown at all, which didn't sound good. Also there had been no sightings already today - so I hadn't missed anything much so far.

Initially there was a plentiful supply of perches and meal worms but only distant Cuckoo calls. Still there were some other attractions to keep us happy while we waited - including both male and female Redstarts. At one point, both came really close - onto a log just in front of where I was waiting.  More usually though they came to the more distant perches.
Really close female Redstart 
More distant male
After a couple of hours or so, at around 11:45, a Cuckoo appeared and called from the top of a not too distant tree. It then flew over the site a couple of times, before coming down on to the perches, including the really close log. Wow! I've never been anything like this close to a Cuckoo and of course blasted away with the camera.
Colin fills the frame - no cropping on this one!

Really close views of Colin the Cuckoo! 
On a slightly more distant "nice" perch

After spending only about 10mins gorging himself on meal worms, Colin was off, and we were left with the supporting cast again, which now included a male Stonechat attracted in to all the free food.

Male Stonechat

A pair of delightful Woodlark also kept making an appearance in the area, although they were not coming into the perches and hence were never that close. But they gave some added interest.
One of the pair of Woodlark

As the time wore on, the weather as forecast starting getting worse and then it started to rain - which wasn't good! But then about 2 hours after his first showing, in came Colin again (c. 13:45). By this time, the keenest photographers had decided to reduce the number of perches to one - an old fence post supported by a small tripod. So this is what Colin spent most his time on for his second visit, when he wasn't feeding on the ground right in front of us (to within a few meters!).


Colin in the rain!

Very close! 

Again this visit was quite short (10-15mins) and when he departed, so did I. This proved to be a wise decision as the rain really started coming down only just as I got back to the car. Some of the others stayed a bit longer (without seeing Colin again), and got very wet, I heard later.

To see a mini gallery of all the above Cuckoo shots, at higher resolution go to this page on my website. 

Larger versions of the photos of the other species can be found here.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Farmoor (again) 14 May evening

With the bird still present and the sunny weather continuing, I couldn't resist another visit to Farmoor, this time after work in the early evening.

With the bird on the western side of FII, as expected, the light was from behind and superb! The only problems were the waves, which caused the bird to bob around all over the place, and its habit of diving repeatedly after only a few seconds above water.

But what a great bird - coming really close at times. Just shows that the odd photographer on the waters edge probably causes less of an issue than those standing on the track above.

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Black-necked Grebe

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Farmoor: 13 May am

Yesterday I went on a superb visit to Thursley Common in search of Colin the Cuckoo and friends which ended in rain, that became torrential on the way back. More of this later when I've sorted out all the pics I took!

Today was much warmer and sunnier and unusually for a Sunday I managed a little birding. A brief late morning visit to the south end of Farmoor II was successful in connecting with the Black-necked Grebe, along with several others.

Black-necked Grebe
For a larger image go to this page on my website

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Farmoor & Lark Hill: 28 April

Goto this page on my website for larger images of all of the photos below


A cold and damp day - what a contrast to only a week ago! With conditions like this, Farmoor seemed to be the place to go. I arrived just after the 08:00 opening time, as I prefer to do, and found a nice empty car park. As expected, the first view over FII produced large numbers of low flying hirundines - all 3 species, and my first Swifts of the year as well.

The grassy bank on the eastern side of FI had a Yellow Wagtail briefly, but it departed before I could get my camera on to it. Walking over the causeway there were up to about 9 very skittish Common Sands on the FII side, and a single summer plumaged Dunlin & LRP on the FI side. But they also departed before I could get a photo. At the end of the causeway, there were two more on Yellow Wags on FI but they too left in a hurry without a shot being taken. Frustrating!

Still there was a disconsolate row of Swallows along the edge of the wall, which allowed a closer approach, so I concentrated on the nearest bird.
Damp Swallow. Click here for a larger image

Thereafter I headed for the Pinkhill Hide to try my luck there. There was at least one Cuckoo about which made its presence known from time to time but only showed once or twice without coming close enough to have its photo taken. There was also a surprising group of 2 male Red-crested Pochards, 1 female and a male Tufted Duck joining in. They were restless, departing and re-appearing a few times, and once flew towards me and over the hide which provided this shot.
Red-crested Pochard fly-over

After spending some time here, without much else happening, I decided it was time to go, whereupon just as I was packing up a Kingfisher appeared and settled on a distant perch briefly. I just managed to get onto it before it departed. Always a bird to brighten up even the dullest day (which this was)!
Distant Kingfisher

I then headed back over the causeway meeting a number of arriving birders as I went. It later turned out that two Great Skuas were seen on Farmoor that day, and I have a nasty feeling I could have walked straight past them without noticing! But if I did, none of the arriving birders had seen them by then, either. Note to self - look more beyond the causeway in future, especially on the return leg!

In blissful ignorance of the skuas, I  headed to Lark Hill where the expected Wheatears were again in residence on the underground reservoir. This week I counted up to at least four, so I spent some time trying to get some photos of them. At one point, a nice male approached the boundary chain link fence quite closely and I managed to get this shot through the fence, without too many ill effects on image quality (after a bit of Photo-shopping that is).
Male Wheatear in the rain!

Even better at one point a female flew up onto the fence post closest to me and even stayed there while I got the camera onto to it. At this distance it completely filled the frame, and the close up is probably more effective than the whole bird.

Wheatear on fence post at Lark Hill
Crop of above
Goto this page on my website for larger images of all of the above.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Farmoor: Thames and west side 21 April am

After some midweek success with the possible Iberian Chiffchaff, it was back to more standard fare today...

Attracted by Cuckoo reports and the lovely weather (but too good for overflying migrants?), I decided to head back to the Thames at Farmoor this morning and started at the same place as last week.

Walking north up the Thames path, it was immediately apparent that more Warblers were now "in" than last week. The Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps had now been joined by Lesser Whitethroat and at least two Grasshopper Warblers (one reeling away in the middle of Buckthorn Meadow and the other from the middle of Shrike Meadow). There was also plenty of Sedge Warbler song.

I spent some time in the SM hide but neither saw nor heard a hint of Cuckoo (apart from a very brief snatch of possible "song" - which might well have been human generated!). In fact apart from distant reeling Grasshopper Warbler and similarly invisible Reed/Sedge Warblers and one burst of Cetti's Warbler there was nothing much about.

After the hide  I walked up the zig-zag path to the reservoir bank (west side of FII). The res itself seemed very quiet - no hirundines or terns that I could see. But there was a small brown bird on the waters edge with a Pied Wagtail. On a closer approach this  turned out to be a nice LRP. As ever this species seems pretty wary, but I managed a brief burst of hand-held shots before it was off.

Little Ringed Plover. For larger image, go to my website.

Thereafter I tried Dry Sandford Pit for early damselflies but without any success and this week the Lark Hill reservoir was devoid of birds in the continuing fine weather.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Shrike Meadow, Lark Hill etc: 14 April 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