Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Popped to Pitsford 2

I decided to get up early and get an hour at the fringes of Pitsford before work this morning, and below are the results. I'm still trying to learn and understand aperture, light, exposure, film speed, etc so not entirely satisfying but things are (very slowly) improving.

You'll see I decided to focus on drake Scaup in Holcot Bay:

It's interesting how the differing aspects of the post-dawn light affected the photographs, taken at ISO's 200-800 at 840x pushed one stop (+1/3). Some of the above could possibly have done with the push down one stop to take some of the bleaching out?

The Scaup does seem to spend most of its time associating with a small group of Tufted ducks:

Other birds including this pair of Goldeneye, mating on the water. I wonder if she'll migrate whilst pregnant of if they'll stay local?

A mostly-obscured Great Tit wing-stretching before he flew to the top of the bush to start singing:

A female Pochard, having a scratch:

Finally probably the best two pictures, in respect of what I was trying to achieve, working with the ever-changing light, that is to pick out the back markings on the duck and to keep the eye (mostly) in focus:

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Popped to Pitsford

The whole weekend proved to be overcast and grey and on Saturday we had to stay at home waiting for the boiler engineer to come and restore our heating and hot water! I spent the day digging (an inspection pit and a border for this years sunflowers). The only chance to pop out therefore was Sunday morning. So I popped to Pitsford for an hour and specifically to Holcot bay on the nature reserve and the hide there. Even though it was overcast, breezy and cold, a number of the birds were behaving as if Spring is just around the corner. These Goldeneye were pair bonding and did some neck stretching (seen here), some flying, and their speciality, pulling the head right back onto the body with the beak open:

It wont be long before they're off to their breeding grounds. Also in the mood was this Coot, seen here starting to build a nest:

And this Song Thrush, really letting rip:

Another indicator is how much less tolerant birds become of other birds, this Goosander drake was hustling the Coot:

As I'd hoped the drake Scaup was in the bay:

If you enlarge the picture below, you can see the differences between the Tufted Duck (far right) drake and the Scaup drake (as well as a female Pochard):

The lack of a tuft and the grey back are the big differences, also in good light or seen closer, the Scaup has a dark green head. This Scaup spent time swimming with the Tufted Ducks males, I wonder if there will be hybrid ducks (like the one in this post: Garden Birds and other sightings...: Norfolk - the bird club trip that wasn't... day 2) at Pitsford by summer?

Finally the Great-crested Grebes look at their very best right now, in fresh breeding plumage:

Hopefully next week some spare time and some sunshine?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008


We decided earlier in the year we wanted to visit Slimbridge again (, and had agreed to meet up with family there mid-morning on the Saturday. The weather was fantastic; cold, crisp and beautifully clear skies, with no breeze to speak of. We arrived early so I could have a go with my new lens. I've bought a 'super-telephoto' lens specifically for bird and wildlife photography, though it weighs a ton (11kg actually) and so does the tripod, as that needs to be sturdy enough to support the lens. I've also bought a tele-extender so the 600x and the 1.4x give an effective 840x zoom! It's going to take me some time to learn to get best use of the camera and lens combinations but it's something I intend getting to grips with over the coming years.

We arrived at Slimbridge shortly after it opened and decided to head through the main wildfowl enclosure (for the captive/display birds) and out to the wild section of the reserve. En route I couldn't resist taking a few photographs of the genuinely wild birds, including this 2nd winter Herring Gull:

The zoom makes a huge difference, I really like crispness of the bill and eye for example (as always click on the picture for a enlarged view). For this photograph I actually used a monopod as we weren't planning on really stopping in any one location. It is a much more manoeuverable approach and still provides a level of stability. In the same area, this adult Herring Gull, in full summer/breeding plumage:

One thing that did catch our eye was a serious fight between a couple of male (Common) Moorhens. The fight was sustained and aggressive. Here they are posturing:

soon though they started fighting, lots of kicking, jumping, pecking, etc:

In this shot one bird looks to be delivering a 'ninja' style kick to the other:

There were two other Moorhen onlookers, I presume females. It's funny that the drake Shelduck is just not at all interested in the Moorhens' activities. We saw a number of Moorhens with limps, etc, presumably after similar contests.

Also in the display area, we spotted this leucistic Moorhen, showing very pale colouration throughout:

We headed out to the hides on the South Finger, spying some feeding Oystercatchers:

From the last hide a small group of (Greater) White-fronted Geese were feeding:

We first saw these birds in January at the WWT reserve at Caerlaverock and were delighted both to see them again and this time to be close enough to photograph them. The white patch around the bill and the chest markings are very distinctive. Something spooked the geese and they took off, also the time was approaching when we were to meet-up with our family guests (one of Helen's sisters and family), so we headed back to the visitor centre both to meet-up and to swap the lens for my usual 100x-400x.

Back out in the display part of the reserve, I spotted this (Eurasian) Coot, there's nothing uncommon about the bird or the individual, but I've never really noticed their feet before:

Very strange! The WWT encourages visitors to feed the captive birds with grain, which is sold at the visitor centre. The constant supply of food being scattered everywhere attracts lots of other birds. In the excellent light, this (Western) Jackdaw shows greys and purples as well as the black I associated with the bird:

In addition to the Jackdaws there are of course plenty of gulls about. I got excited about this individual, as the orangey legs were unfamiliar. The black head spot though should have given it away, a quick look at the bird guide, it's a first winter Black-headed Gull:

Contrast this with the adult below, moulting into summer/breeding plumage:

We had an excellent time seeing the various exotic species of wildfowl in the collection. As the day drew long we headed out to the other wild section and the tower hide. From the top floor, we spotted the flock of (Greater) White-fronted Geese again, this time in sunlight, you can see some individuals here:

The last stop of our visit to Slimbridge was the Peng Observatory to see some of the remaining Bewick's Swans (the majority have already headed back towards their breeding grounds on the Tundra towards the Artic Circle - hence the alternative name Tundra Swan):

Those individuals remaining engaged in regular calling and displaying, such as here:

The light was fading and the shadows lengthening so it was time to head for home. A fantastic day, really thoroughly enjoyable. Slimbridge WWT has excellent facilities and really does make a full day out. As we headed to our cars, a (European) Robin was singing his beautiful lilting song to finish the day:

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

What a wally!

Got up bright and early on the Sunday to go and try and see the Bittern. Got everything into the car, scraped off the ice and then headed over to Ravensthorpe. Got out of the car, got prepared and then realised I'd left my boots at home. It also become apparent that instead of the long-lens camera I would in fact need the telescope so all in all a bit of a disastrous start. I felt like a right wally!

So plan B, head over to Pitsford as at least there's a concrete path up to the Rotary Club hide overlooking Holcot Bay.

As it was such a bright and crisp morning the joggers were out in their tens, no doubt shortly their hundreds. Some were even jogging around the nature reserve, so in fact more wildfowl was on the public half of the reservoir than the nature reserve, although since the Ruddy Duck cull bird numbers are dramatically down on every water body across the county.

The water around the hide was quiet but punctuated by the occassional soft calls of a pair of Great Crested Grebes, performing their pair-bonding rituals, including diving down and collecting under-water weed to present to each other then rising up in the water, lots of head turning, head-bobbing:

This pair didn't separate the whole time I was there. They persisted with other rituals such as swimming around each other low in the water, calling, rising up, head- turning and bobbing again, etc. I particularly like this shot as the light helps to highlight them as they communicate:

Other birds included some frisky Gadwall, quieter Coots and Mallards, and a few Goosander including this male:

As he approached the larger group heading into the bay one of said joggers put all the Goosander to flight. I snapped this female, but being unprepared the exposure was too slow, hence the blurring, you can make out the 'mohican' effect at the back of her head though:

Finally as I headed back to the car, I spotted this Grey Heron sunning itself on the far bank, as the morning temperature rose above freezing:

I do like Pitsford, it'll be better when it is a nature reserve again.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

last TTV's of Winter 07/08

An early start on a clear and sunny Saturday, with the goal of completing our last winter Timed Tetrad Visits. We started at Pitsford, taking a quick walk along the causeway. This mixed group including Wigeon, a Greylag and two Canada Geese were feeding on the grass towards the fishing lodge end of the causeway:

A Mute Swan was displaying on the water:

And on the way back to the car more Wigeon, here you can clearly see the difference between the two sexes:

So, on with the last four Timed Tetrad Visits of the winter (we have to do all eight again in both April and June). The first sight was a Dunnock atop a hedge singing like it's spring. I checked last year's blog, the first Dunnock we recorded displaying the same behaviours was a month later...

We did count a lot of birds today although nothing exceptional. Crossing one field though we noticed something else had been using the bridleway recently, judging by these badger tracks:

The Tetrads cross farmland and then on to the Grand Union Canal. In one spot we saw three Great Spotted Woodpeckers in quick succession, including this male (red bar on head):

Further along the path two Treecreepers playing chase through the trees. They are very hard to photograph due to their being always seen deep in the woods and their habit of hunting along the underside of branches, etc. This one is partly obscured by a closer branch:

Having completed the nine-mile, six-hour walk around this part of Northamptonshire, we popped down to Ravensthorpe reservoir, to feed the local wildfowl and check what was about. This is an adult Yellow-legged Gull that looks to have started moulting to summer plumage, though it was quite distant:

When we got home we saw reports of a Bittern at Ravensthorpe, but having been blissfully unaware, we hadn't looked in the right part to see it. Humbug!

The last photo of the day is this female Tufted Duck, enjoying the warm sun:

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Trip to London - WWT & Musuems

We've been threatening to visit some Museums in London for absolute ages... and finally decided and booked a weekend down in the smoke, last weekend. We used airmiles to book a 3 star hotel near Baker Street, and got a small dusty room, but hey it didn't cost anything, with earplugs in it wasn't too noisy and it's well located for transport, etc.

We'd decided in advance that first thing Saturday we'd head down to the WWT reserve at Barnes, a nature reserve developed from some exhausted gravel pits. We could tell we were approaching the nature reserve as a Cormorant flew over the bus (the tube line being closed for engineering works). Seeing a Cormorant flying in London just makes you smile :)

In fact we did a lot of smiling. The reserve is an Oasis of life in a concrete desert, so you can't help but keep smiling. As we approached the reserve we heard a most unusual call and we really struggled to place it, that was until a small group of Ring-necked Parakeet flew out of the nearby trees and into the reserve.

On arrival we found out that quite by chance it was World Wetlands Day ( On entry, we checked out the captive birds. You can tell they're captive as most of them have half a wing missing, typically the left wing, so they can't fly away, that and most of them are on the wrong continent! There's a gate in the surrounding electric fence that leads to the 'wildside'. Almost immediately we came across a mixed group of Siskin and Mealy Redpoll, feeding in some trees. I was delighted as the light was excellent and we could get quite close, leading to what I believe are some quite decent pictures, this first a male Siskin:

A female Siskin, feeding upside down:

This next photo illustrates the plumage differences between male and female very clearly:

As always click on any picture for a close-up view. Feeding with the Siskin was a small group of Mealy Redpoll, a bird we've seen much less frequently. This is a female:

And here a male, showing the red 'cap' and breast plumage clearly:

On and around the reserve waters were plenty of wildfowl and other birds including Mallard, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Herons, Great Cormorants, Lapwings, Moorhens and Coots. Also common were Shovelers, including this drake, photographed from one of the hides:

And this duck (I just clipped the tail unfortunately):

A Little Grebe, passed close in front:

As we reached the end of the 'Waterlife' section, having given up hope of seeing the Rose-ringed Parakeets close-up, we stopped at the feeding station, and lo-and-behold three of them, each on a nut feeder, I guess this is how they make it by in our inner cities?

We left the WWT reserve after a very enjoyable and pleasant morning, next time we're in London we'll make a point of heading over there again. The afternoon was spent in the British Museum, which was alright if you like that kind of thing. Sunday morning we went to the Natural History Museum, which was much more 'us', as was getting there at opening time. By the time we left at lunchtime it was absolutely heaving, so we were glad to escape.

The building itself is stunning both outside and in:

The exhibits are fascinating, especially the dinosaur section and the mammals, including the whales, huge animals! We definately preferred the Natural History museum, which I guess confirms us as Philistines :)

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