Saturday 31 January 2009

Haughmond - Lesser Pecker ton up!!

The forecast was pretty dire for the weekend and with nothing of real note to tempt a 'travel', it was to be a Shropshire based day. Teamed up with Andy and Yvonne at Venus Pool to decide on where to go? After a brief discussion with Geoff Holmes we hit on the crazy idea of supposing there could be Lesser-spotted Woodpecker on Haughmond Hill??

I haven't been birding here for several years and I hadn't seen a Lesser in the County for three years either. Speaking of which, the County list has crept quietly but surely to 99 - wouldn't it be nice to get a good bird for the 'ton up' eh!

The Haughmond Abbey area was favoured and after crossing the road and walking for 200m or so - we hit very very lucky! A call and fleeting glimpse high above led to the best views of Lesser Pecker I've had to date! A cracking little male bird but sadly against a milky white sky, nothing better than these record shots was possible. It was a neck aching stuggle to get these but they'll do though!!

Whatever happened now would be irrelevant, this was surely the bird of the day (or even month!!) Good numbers of Tits about too and you would expect to find a Treecreeper here, wouldn't you?

Job done and the next target bird was Willow Tit never an easy bird to find in Shropshire! Until now that is. The butty bar at the woodland car park was quite tempting with hot food and drink on offer. Even better, also on offer near here were several Willow Tits!! This was a bird I had yet to get decent images of and bearing in mind the flighty nature of these guys, I was happy with the results!

Treecreeper style playing peekaboo....

Brief appearance when not obscured by countless twigs!

This one is my favourite pose!

Seeing the camera, a Marsh Tit tried to get included in the gallery!!

(Non- photographers might be wise to skip the following comment)

All these images were taken with the 50D and after a brief period with the 'faithful' picture style setting, I've now reverted to 'Standard' mode. Also, thanks to a tip on Bird forum, I've disabled the 'Auto lighting optimiser' which comes enabled as 'standard' out of the box. It does seem to aggravate noise and at 400ASA, most of the images taken today appeared to have much lower noise levels considering the low light. The levels are certainly comparable to that routinely achieved with the 40D. I haven't applied any noise reduction post processing! Early days, but optimising a camera and how it can work for you takes time and getting used to settings as yet unfamiliar - I've got to say I'm well pleased with it.

The rest of the day was as suspected a hard act to follow but a big flock of Corn Buntings, the elusive County Curlew at last and a Barn Owl finale at Venus Pool went some way to making it all worthwhile!

Saturday 24 January 2009

South Shropshire - out and about

I'll probably end up trying to match last year's county list (a hard act to follow) later in the year when enthusiasm returns, plus a few migrants but for now, my interests lie wherever travels and good birds take me. In fact, this was to be my first County based day birding since the first week of the year and also my first proper session getting to grips with my new camera body (Canon 50D). Some reviews and the forums (mostly folk who have formed 'opinions' based on other opinions or views after reading the specifications) have given this body a hard time but I'd spoken with a couple of 'users' who were well impressed with performance. I was overdue a second body upgrade and it will be interesting to see when/if the 40D gets reattached to the big lens?? 300mm duty may be beckoning?

A day down in the South was the theme of the day! The omens looked good with an early start at VP and fleeting views of the Bittern obliging for Yvonne at VP.....

First stop was Longnor bridge and with one of two Dippers showing well downstream on the shingle bank, the card was duly christened with the first few frames!

The first striking 'plus' noted with the 50D is the LCD screen which is simply awesome. The similarly sized 40D display is kicked into touch on sharpness and quality! The only downside is that images look so good - some flattered to decieve when eventually viewed on a PC screen.

Onwards then and a check of Black Hill is always worthwhile and I knew the chances of Red Kite were pretty good on the way there. 'Good' was an understatement, with now one but TWO showing over the car between Aston on Clun and Clunton.

A hasty shot into the light...

Followed by the mandatory roadside stop and whilst this wasn't exactly 'Gigrin' views - it was great to get relatively close to two Shropshire birds! A good ten minutes were spent watching them, always within 400m of the road and with one approach to within 60m or so.

Now then, I need to get a bit more sessions in, to truly prove the point but the second big plus was what I perceived as improved ease of locking onto and then staying focussed on a bird in flight. Local birds don't come much bigger than Red Kites though and I need to see how the camera performs with smaller birds.

This is truly raptor country and whilst Goshawk didn't put in an appearance, check out the crop on this gluttonous female Peregrine - is that one pigeon or two for lunch!!

I did say the omens looked good and a 'comfort break' at the riverside car park in Clun yielded yet another surprise find - four WAXWINGS - feeding on a small Sorbus tree. They were just as harrassed as the Stokesay birds though and soon disappeared from sight.

This was the reason why - aggresive, no nonsense, 'get orf my berries' Mistle Thrushes! A good few birds were also present here in the Alders - Siskins, Lesser Redpoll and various Finches.

Funny how the afternoon never seems to match the morning? It was downhill all the way for the rest of the day with not a Shrike or Crossbill in sight - including Black Hill, Whitcott Keysett, Clunton Coppice or the Longmynd (apart from another Peregrine!)

As for the Canon 50D? Judge for yourself, I reckon quite reasonable images from some obliging birds and I've no doubt got to get to grips with all those extra pixels and RAW processing quirks before I've truly sussed / mastered it and formed a real opinion - watch this space.......

Friday 23 January 2009

Polemere - Barnacles

Grim light again so it was strictly record shots of not one, two but three Barnacle Geese at Polemere lunchtime today.

I've also given up on that White-front which is presumably somewhere else now.....

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Stubbers Green - Commoner Gulls

A drive to Northampton featured stops at Priorslee/Granville tip where I was hoping for a repeat performance of the Glaucous Gull and a picture or two this time - it didn't happen!

Stubbers Green was equally disappointing and the 1st winter Iceland Gull failed to show here! Plenty of large Gulls though including a good range of ages.

Most of the other Gulls were giving the Great black backed bruisers a wide berth - these take four years to mature to adulthood and here are examples of the latter three....

Second winter

Third winter

Adult winter

Common Gulls reach adulthood in their third year. First and Second winter birds seen here with the youngster on the right.

A couple of first winter Herring Gulls, one giving a very obliging view of the upperwing.....

If you've got this far, you're probably not interested but I had my first Shag of the year today! Shags inland are pretty good though - this one was near the sailing club in fading light at Draycote reservoir, a distant Great Northern Diver also seen here.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Whitemoor Haye - Swanning around

On my travels 'talking' again and this time to Wall in Staffs. This is just a few minutes down the road from Chasewater so no prizes for guessing where I stopped on the way! I had the drake Smew bearing down on me too, 60m from the West bank and closing in....

That is, until the water ski fraternity outboarded in and flushed just about every duck from the water. Thanks guys, I'm so glad you fell in!

Time to reappraise the day and the short journey to Whitemoor Haye was brought forward where a good gathering of swans was anticipated,including Bewick's. Now, forgive my enthusiasm but Bewicks Swans are just so utterly adorable and as I didn't see a single one last year, these were to be the highlight of the day!

It all so nearly went wrong too! There they were - five including a juvenile plus two Whoopers and loads of Mutes. I'd just managed a couple of shots when a couple of local farmworkers came along and systematically flushed the lot from the field (another 'thanks guys'!!) I was being ironic but then, thinking about it, I wouldn't have got a flight shot without you, so - maybe it really is, thanks guys!

Lucky Jim managed to pick out a Bewick's amongst the aerial mayhem...

Eventually they returned in dribs and drabs, aren't Bewick's simply gorgeous birds?

Here's another one with a neaby Whooper for comparison.....

The youngster was busy feeding under the watchful gaze of one of the parents. Bit of an 'ugly duckling' at this stage but what a stunner you'll be when grown up!!

More Mute Swans eventually returned to the field - glad I was upwind, ideally placed to watch them come in!

It was all over too soon and a return visit to Chasewater was memorable for the lack of any Gulls of real interest....

Thursday 15 January 2009

Priorslee - Yellow legged Gull

It's winter and for me that means getting around the local Gull sites. Yellow legged Gulls are regularly seen at Priorslee and with nothing else of interest on the water, a chance to capture a few record shots showing typical features....

On the water, no legs are visible of course but the slightly darker grey mantle and distinctive white head, much squarer in shape than Herring Gull point to YLG. I'm sure it's not diagnostic but the shorter, deeper bill and lack of the Herring 'scowl' gape usually point one out to me! More black and less white on the primary tips as seen in the gull washing. The pattern of the outermost primaries is quite distinct from Herring, let's leave the subtleties of P 9 & 10 for now.....

Yellow legs visible on leaving the water....

A couple of bonus flight shots!

Which local Gull will feature next?? Glaucous I hope!!

Sunday 11 January 2009

Lamby - Ring-billed Gull!

Next stop was the Norwegian Church in Cardiff bay where the first winter drake Lesser Scaup had been seen the previous day...

The wind was blowing, the Lesser Scaup and Tufties had all sought shelter elsewhere, never mind - here's the church!!

I am such a convert to Satnav now. It makes journeys through unfamiliar cities so easy. Lamby lake was therefore a doddle to find ten minutes away, hosting a small but quality Gull presence.

First Med Gull of the year, an adult in with the Black heads.....

Two Ring-billed Gulls have been frequenting the site but there was only the 2nd winter bird on show by afternoon. It certainly did show well, posing nicely!!

Sometimes in reflective mood and calling!

Flight shots aplenty....

Out looking for Ring-billed Gulls, confusion with Common Gulls is the 'norm'. When you've got a RBG in front of you - makes you wonder how you could possibly get confused?? Here's an adult winter Common Gull!

The ice on the lake was still fairly thick but with a thaw is setting in - what do you reckon of this crazy youngster's antics??

A local birder arrived on the scene with news that the Lesser Scaup had been seen from the 'boardwalk' in Cardiff bay. All I had to do was find it - cue satnav - find me Dudley Street!!

And there it was!

Apalling light + distant bird = strictly for the record shot! Even had a scoped wingflap to seal the identity but it looked good on size and head shape alone!

More local info led to distant views of a Slav Grebe uder the road bridge to end a great day cruising round Cardiff - not a bad one eh!!