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Monday, February 25, 2013

Odds n Sods - picture postcard robins, tits in boxes and Melbourne floods

Popping down to the South coast for a few days with my mate Mark .... any chance of an early Sand Martin seems to have been banished with this cold snap but hey you never know and we're sure to see something down there. One probable destination will be Pagham Harbour but we'll only have 1 full days birding so we'll need to focus our minds as well as our binocs and lenses!!

Post to come in the next few days of course but meanwhile, still in catch up mode here's a few odds n sods I've been had hanging around that haven't quite 'fitted' into recent articles.

Here's a rather nice Kestrel along the Pocklington Canal cocking its head and looking for prey down on the ground below

I have a growing collection of Robin photographs from Askham Bog and not looked through them all yet these two seemed worthy of keeping ......

Same location and one day I accidentally left the top off my box of bird feed  ..... the result was a bit like wasps around your pub garden lunch on a late Summer day! Great, Blue, Marsh, Coal and Long Tailed Tit plus Robin and Blackbird all proceeded to tuck in until eventually capsizing the whole box. This was the Coal Tit's turn ....

When the floods were in full swing a month or so ago I thought I'd record the water levels down at Thornton Ings, nr Melbourne. Both of these views are looking West from Church Rd with the second taken later in the day and catching the late afternoon sunshine in the sedges.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Spring-like then Winter gets a grip again in the Lower Derwent Valley

I've been getting a tad bogged down with masses of photographs to process now that I've decided to start shooting in RAW format ... this means using software to deal with the resulting unprocessed images (I'm using Lightroom 4.2) and as yet I'm still feeling like a novice with it. It's taking me ages and beginning to affect my social life!

So, very much in 'catch up' mode and starting with a couple of recent visits to the Lower Derwent Valley, here's the first of a few quick posts with mainly pics and less narrative.

Day 1 (Feb 15th)

As I'm sure you've noticed there's been 2 or 3 days recently when the sun has shone, the needle has crept up the mercury and Spring feels like a returning friend. On such a day last week it was a pleasure to be out and about and I was rewarded with some good birds including my first singing Chaffinches of the year at Aughton Church and in another churchyard (Bubwith) I saw these lovely Crocuses along with the many Snowdrops that have been popping up everywhere for some weeks now.

A little less Springlike and never the most photogenic of birds this White Fronted Goose did in fact make a reasonable portrait and was one of 5 feeding alongside Greylags on the grass at Ellerton. There was also a single Pink Footed Goose in there too but too far off to photograph.
As I was watching the geese and hoping to catch a glimpse of the Bean Geese that have been around I clocked a Common Buzzard flying low over the flood water .... it scared and scattered all the geese and ducks but that solitary Lapwing (on 2nd pic) was no scaredy cat and saw it off down the valley!

A bit further along the valley at Bubwith the flood waters were still high but there is now enough dry land for waders to peck around on and along with the usual mass flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover there were smaller groups of Dunlin and Ruff being put up constantly by these microlights that seem to be more common these days .. easier to photograph (if I was into them) than roaming Peregrine Falcons .... also getting more numerous and also responsible for putting up the waders on a regular basis, but I don't mind that, I could watch Peregrines all day!

I did manage to take some reasonable shots of a couple of Black Tailed Godwits that went up amongst all the rest of the waders .... a good record for here and and another symbol of the approaching Spring because I'd like to think this was a pair looking for a prospective nesting site. The first pic is best, the second is cropped and over sharpened too much but evocative all the same and the 3rd, whilst not a great pic for all sorts of reasons I had to include because of the setting with Drax power station in the background!

Day 2 (Feb20th)
The fickle trickery of the British climate and how it can change so quickly should not really be a surprise to us anymore of course, but after that brief promise of Spring, we're once again thrust back into chilliness and as a bitterly cold wind blows in from Scandinavia we're reminded in no uncertain terms that Winter still has a firm grasp. I can only wonder in a hopeful way that those beautiful Crocuses (or is it Crocii?) I snapped last week are bearing up!

Northern Swans meanwhile are still grazing the fields and yesterday, wrapped up warm, I was determined to get a closer look at a herd of Whooper Swans I spotted from a distance last week. Driving around where I thought they should be I finally located them in a field nr the hamlet of Menthorpe. There were exactly 70 in total and here's 4 that were in range of my lens ...

..... a couple of bonus Berwick's Swans in amongst this lot too. They're slightly smaller and have a rounded rather than pointed yellow markings on their bills (extreme right on the pic below)

To save you enlarging and getting freaked out by the 2 blurry Whoopers in the foreground, here's one I cropped earlier of the 2 Berwicks ..... not pin sharp by any means but hey they were still 150 metres away and that's a damn good manual focus that that range!

The flooded area nr Bubwith was once again bursting with ducks and waders and here's a pretty decent shot of some Golden Plover that were swirling around over my head at one point.


.....  bit dour this next pic but it's the only time I've ever managed to capture Ruff in flight. Never appreciated that wing shape before -almost beeater like ... minus the colour, light and lovely hot weather  you usually see 'em in of course!

Other notable sightings from last week and what was a very cold day's birding yesterday included a flock of about 50 Dunlin, Curlew (heard), 2 Snipe, a couple of Sparrowhawks, 4 Common Buzzards,  a Peregrine Falcon, Tawny Owl (heard), a flock of about 60 Tree Sparrows and plenty of wildfowl with maybe 60 Shelduck and some lovely Pintail that I so must get some pics of before they depart.

I leave you for now with one for the mammal lovers, a cheeky Brown Hare that ran along the bank and posed for me as I was watching a wader flock

Roll on Spring!!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Loch Torridon and back in 72 hours!

A lovely & memorable recent event for me was accompanying Ruth, one of my twin daughters', up to the highlands of Scotland as she pursued a job at the Torridon Hotel. York to Torridon came out at 435 miles on the satnav ... no minor road trip, but hey it was good fun and always good to natter to my daughter so the time flew and before we knew it we'd made Inverness before nightfall and after turning down £85 for a single room each at Premier Inn (that's outrageous isn't it??) we found a decent guesthouse next door for half the price with sky tv and a full Scottish breakfast thrown in!

The drive from Inverness across to Loch Torridon was truly spectacular. Ruth was amazed at how empty the roads are up here and how little of the land is given over to human habitation. This was the first time I'd been up this far North in the Wintertime and although bleak the sight of so much snow o the mountains made the place look otherworldly to me.

Ok, first off this was not a time to be indulging in my binocs and camera but from the car I did have a few flocks of White Fronted Geese in fields and in the air, a couple of Red Kites, many many Buzzards and several Hooded Crows (always good for the year list!). The weather and light was good during the drive to Torridon and we stopped off by the side of Loch a Chroisg to take a few pics - the air was very still and as you can see the surface of the loch like a mirror ...

and here's my daughter and one of her car at the same location

A bit further on, rounding a bend and we were looking down the valley towards Loch Torridon itself ......

This is the hotel where Ruth had been offered a job and where I left her a few hours later to catch the train back to York and where the very next day she decided it wasn't the place for her. Can't say I blame her, although I was wowed by the scenery its very remote, the hotel and job was not all it was cracked up to be and who wants travel all that way only to find out that you have to share a room! Good call I say and anyway she's already secured a better job.

Just the one bird pic from this adventure ... a lovely, if slightly out of focus Bullfinch feeding right outside the hotel accommodation block. I had a couple of these in my garden the other day ... straight after I'd put some different seed in the feeders (RSPB premium ..... choosy these Bullfinches!)

My train journey back from Inverness to York was truly awesome .... bang on 6 hrs but straight through and the route was spectacular, especially going through the Drumochter Pass where the train flushed many Red Grouse. I had 4 Red Kites somewhere nr Allen Water, Whooper Swans and Slavonian Grebe on a yet to be identified loch nr Aviemore, several hundred White Fronted Geese nr Gleneagles and I stopped counting Buzzards when I got past 30!

Friday, February 8, 2013

My new office on Askham Bog!

I started my new job as a Wildlife Support Officer with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust a few weeks ago and thought I post a few pics from my base at Askham Bog.

Askham Bog is a small (45ha) but unique reserve being one of the very few remaining wooded fen bogs in England. Popular with naturalists  for decades, the reserve which is located just outside of York nr the village of Copmanthorpe, boasts an impressive collection of plants include fen sedge (characteristic of East Anglian Fens), bog myrtle, water violet, royal fern and rare sedges including the gingerbread sedge. In summer spotted orchids and Ragged Robin proliferate. The insect life is even more impressive with many nationally rare beetles and moths including marsh carpet and dentated pug moths.

The bird life is pretty impressive too with breeding Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Willow and Marsh Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Treecreeper, both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker with Lesser Spotted always a possibility, all the common warblers and in Winter Redpolls, Siskins and other finches abound.

In short its a jewel of a place, a haven of natural beauty and a wonderful place to work! I spend most of my weekends there and my job is to encourage visitors to take up a membership with the Trust so that we can continue to preserve this and other habitats in Yorkshire. Its enjoyable work, I meet many interesting people and get to hang around with fellow wildlife enthusiasts .... oh and I also get to bird watch and take pictures all day long ... and they pay me for this??

Let me show you around the place. Here's the office .......

My table stand and pitch place!

And here's the rest of the building .......

Looking good in black & white
Winter colour though is even better
I'm meeting and chatting to people all day long of course but I guess my real colleagues are the birds that flit around and stick around when people are thin on the ground .... so, here's a few of my work buddies!

I'm constantly surrounded by tits! (oo err missus .... no comments please!) and along with Blue Tits these Great Tits are perhaps the most common

'Common as muck' as they say but as a photographed bird much passed over as 'garden feeder fodder' so there you go Mr Great Tit ... your very own moment of fame!

Here's a couple of  birds you may have had at your feeders too ... Great Spotted Woodpecker (they love those peanuts in red sacks!) .. and of course beautiful Long Tailed Tits
Great Spotted Woodpecker .. investigating
and then digging in!!
Long Tailed Tit ... investigating
and buoyed up with a friend ... digging in!

Stacks of Treecreepers around the reserve but really tricky to photograph because, as their name suggests, they tend to 'creep' up and down tree bark and backlight is always an issue ... these guys had to be 'manipulated' out of the can somewhat!

Here's the office bully ....... always on the lookout for one that dwells a bit too long on the seeds we put out (life in the office is rarely fair!)
Sparrowhawk (female)
We get both Marsh and Willow Tits here, the latter being the rarer and probably much in decline across much of the UK. The thing is they're so bloody difficult to tell apart that in truth I doubt anybody really knows the status of either. Well I'd better gen up on my id skills because there's a local survey in the offing and being in favourable position to contribute I've put myself forward as a recorder. Hope I don't embarrass myself from the outset but pretty sure this is the commoner of the 2 .. a Marsh Tit (if you look closely you might be able to spot near the base of his bill.. a fairly reliable id for a Marsh)

And last but certainly not least the photographer's and gardener's favourite, our trusty and bold Robin. Many more around in Winter of course as our garden and woodland populations are swelled by visitors from Northern Europe but hey they're welcome! I've had some of these feeding out of my hand already and they're on me as soon as I break out my sandwiches!

All in all, after a few weeks induction I can safely say I'm getting along just fine with my work colleagues and as far as any on the job appraisal is concerned I think I'm doing ok ... ahead of the game with 'sign ups' (the real purpose of my job) and very happy with my work surroundings!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Wild birds on a university campus near you!!

Heslington East has loomed large in many a recent bird report from the York area and something I've been meaning to do for a while is find out precisely where this place is and explore! In truth, it didn't take much exploring and as good a spot as it undoubtedly is, unless I'm missing a trick somewhere, I have to conclude that recent reports of this place ranking alongside the Lower Derwent Valley as one of the York areas 'premier' birding sites are in my opinion somewhat exaggerated.

Yes I had a few good birds and yes it's quite unique to get such birds within a stone's throw of the city but when all is said and done it's a university campus site still under development with students milling about and construction vehicles in just about every field of view .... for me it's just not nearly wild enough!

Ok, it serves no good purpose to rant on ( it's really just the comparison with the the wonderful LDV that gets me going!) ..... on to the birds.

There's been at least one and maybe 2 overwintering Green Sandpipers seen here recently and after a short walk into the campus I came upon one casually feeding away in a lagoon as students thundered past on bikes .... God knows what they must have thought of a dun clad clown with binocs and camera gear crouching and stalking something as academically alien to them as their 'plugged in' existence appeared to me .... ah, as an academic in a previous life I much prefer this life!

Here's the Green Sand ......

And one in flight .... they're normally so quick to fly off a decent 'in flight' shot is a first for me and I was very pleasantly surprised when this came out as something more than the usual blur!

Another unusual bird to occur in such a suburban setting is this Knot, which has been around for a good couple of weeks now and seems to have taken a liking to university life .... easy pickings!!

Have to say I never imagined such a bird within a couple of miles of where I live on the outskirts of suburban York ... rock on tommy!

Elsewhere on the site I had a Buzzard over, 2 Goldeneye, 1 Pochard, a few Lapwings, many Greylags and Mute Swans of which many are feral to the site, a small flock of Yellowhammers and Goldfinches and a more than decent Sparrowhawk being mobbed by a Crow as I was photographing the Knot, so......quick age defying change of position and hey presto ......

Here's a quick Yellowhammer on a fence whilst I was having a sandwich .....

After my university education I graduated on to the somewhat rougher and wilder environs of Tilmire.... further out from the city and a place where few students wander.

Light was problematical so not much in the way of photographs but this Redwing, one of about 40, was passable ..............

.......... and this capture of a flock that numbered maybe 60 or so Redpolls feeding in nearby fields was ok too.

Not able to photograph but worthy of a mention was at least 14 Common Snipes flushed from this location, I also had another Sparrowhawk, 2 Fieldfares, 3 Mistle Thruhes and a Great Spotted Woodpecker here today