Sunday 30 October 2011

Attenborough - Squacco Heron :-)

It’s had been a quiet month on the birding front. Talks here, there everywhere and getting them ready have seriously hampered me getting out. With the local scene in the seasonal doldrums and yesterday’s Pied Wheatear doing a flyer overnight, I was seriously demotivated!

All that changed with a check of the day’s rarities and a browse of bird forum’s thread on the Notts Squacco Heron! I had this on my radar (a lifer if it stayed put). Another magic example of birding folklore too... An aarsy fisherman got his just desserts on Saturday when deliberately flushing the bird and got his tackle trolley thrown in the river for his efforts! (I packed my landscape lens in just in case another opportunity arose!)

I was late off the mark and got there just before 1.00. Just a short walk and fortunately the Heron, was right out in the open, viewed under the railway bridge (it’s favourite fishing spot!) I say fortunately as after another fifteen minutes, it was gone – and I’d used another dollup of ‘just in time’ luck!!

Nevertheless, in those fifteen minutes, I watched it stand still

Pose in a manner that could seriously damage the health of fish (false alarm on this occasion)

Stand still again

Another more seriously threatening posture!

Then SPLASH, diving headlong into the water

Before emerging with a small Perch

Struggle all he might, this Perch was lunch I’m afraid!

Alignment of the fish for a smooth journey downwards!

Down the hatch

A moment of satisfaction or the train rumbling overhead effect? Moments later it flew upstream!

Only one fish was harmed in the making of this blog, no fishermen were seen, let alone sent for an early bath and the only barracking was reserved for two numbskull birders who tried (unsuccessfully) to make their way under the right hand side of the railway bridge to the sandbags – potentially stopping a reappearance! And for once, all the photographers were good guys!

It was 2.45 and I received a summons from Shropshire! It was Andy Latham with an interesting development regarding the Wall Farm 'Great Grey Shrike' – was it something else? I legged it to the car.....

Wall Farm - Steppe Grey Shrike !!

Crikey, could it be?? Pictures would be undoubtedly be needed for the Wall Farm Shrike to be taken seriously as a Steppe contender but..... there I was mid afternoon – 75 miles away!

Taking up the story, Andy Latham had been looking at the Shrike over the usual (long) distance and was convinced this was no ‘ordinary’ Grey Shrike. Access to get a bit nearer had been brokered, it was 2.45pm, the Heron was still not showing so I started a breakneck journey to get back and hopefully see it / photograph it before the light went.

Arriving at 4.10 and parking up, there was still the yomp to the hide and across the field to contend with. Rich Vernon had just arrived too and it must have been gone 4.30 before we got to the edge of the wetland overlooking the ploughed field. The light was dropping FAST but the Shrike was in view about 100m distant in the loose hedgerow. It was still feeding fortunately and after each foray to the ground (usually to the ploughed field) it ended up a little nearer…..

It seemed to always sit ‘head on’, the bill was certainly quite pale and the black mask was a really striking feature – sharply cut off at the eye!

I sensed a flight shot or two might be useful but it was virtually dark now – quite a challenge! Cranking the ISO up to 1600 and panning, I got a couple of half decent distant images showing the extensive white wing patch and tail pattern

After disappearing for 10 mins or so it reappeared and at last sat with a side on / rear showing view – just what I had been waiting for! How I kept these shots sharp, I don't know – 1/6th second exposure!

I’ll quite honestly say at this point, it was virtually impossible to study the bird, given the light I just kept on it, clicking and hooping! The consensus of the gathered locals was that this bird WAS looking good for Steppe Grey Shrike and if the images were useable (what you see above!) then ‘expert opinion’ would be sought to further confirm matters that evening!

Andy had a few contacts to seek opinion from and Rich had details for Martin Garner. Images were posted out by 9.00 pm and by 11.00, Martin at least had got back to confirm this looked good for ‘pallidirostris’. Martin's is jetting off but plans to blog the bird later too! News had also got out to BirdGuides by then too but unbeknown to them, there was going to be one hell of a problem regarding parking and access!

Luckily after some feverish negotiation first thing Monday morning by Andy and with me trying to keep BirdGuides up to speed, with developments a field was ‘setaside’ (an appropriate use for a field eh ) for parking! The twitch was now seriously ON but with my car being serviced today (Monday) and work all week, the Shrike is out of bounds for me – let’s hope some good pictures in decent light come out and the identity is further validated......

Saturday 29 October 2011

Venus Pool - Whooper drops in

At last I'd had the sense to 'wait for news' saving myself an unecessary trip to Gloucs and that most obliging of Pied Wheatears! The Friday night is flight night rule applied!

That meant, when I eventually emerged - a short day in Shropshire and there was only bird to show from it - a Whooper Swan on the fishing pool from VP reserve.

The Mute Swans seemed to tolerate it's presence.....

But it spent most of the time in the company of Canada Geese

Until I managed to single it out from the other residents....

Clocks go back tonight and I need to go forward - out of County! Wonder if the Squacco Heron in Notts will stick?

Sunday 16 October 2011

*** Update ***

Sorry folks, the talk season is firmly upon me and with most of the past week spent in Dublin (not a drop of guinness passed my lips either) and more talks this week/ weekend, I have little time to catch up and blog......

Here's the last bird photographed on the 9th October - a drake Mandarin downstream of Highley (4 males and 2 females were present here)

Those Norfolk pics will get done too (honest) even if it's Christmas. I've added images from Day 2 below.....

Sunday 9 October 2011

Highley colourful Mandarin

A walk downstream of Highley with Yvonne didn't take long to produce a pair of Mandarin. In total 4 males and 2 females were seen.

Setting the scene....

Have rock will pose!

And then once it was clear I posed no threat, time for a preen!

Taking the weight of ones feet (one by one)

And a stretch!

Homing in on another female across the river, they love these tangled branch laden habitats

Closer still!

Friday 7 October 2011

Chelmarsh - Rock Pipit :-)

Martyn Owen and Chelmarsh continue to deliver the goods and news of a late afternoon 'find' saw me dashing straight from work for a really difficult inland bird - Rock Pipit no less and hoping it would stick?

It did but sadly not for long! I got there just before 6.00 and located it on the dam wall with Rob / Ann Stokes the only other birders able to make it before .... at 6.10 the Pied Wagtails with which it was associating, decided to fly off! It tagged along sadly, flying South and didn't appear to be looking back.....

Nevertheless I'd managed a couple of (strictly) record shots and yet another Shropshire lifer!!

Erm, how about a Water Pipit next week please Martyn? I sense a Diver or two this Winter or maybe a long overdue Slav as well the way Chel is performing? We shall see....

Day ONE from Norfolk pics are now uploaded down below too - keep checking back - theres a few days work there :-)

Sunday 2 October 2011

Solitary confinement

I was just getting over a loooooooooonnnnng zzzzzzzzzzzzz and after six days of morn to dusk birding in Norfolk was looking to a 'recovery' day! That is, until Andy Latham called me to say "Solitary Sand in Lancs"!

There's not a lot of point in extending the write up as I've got stacks of things to do except to say...... we went, we saw, we ticked and that was about it! The bird was over 100m distant and clearly the real deal. Fair play to the finder, doing a random duck count and identifying this from such distance! A good grip back after the Devon dip of last November too :-) I even thought I'd got some record shots after watching it perform on 'live view' set at 10x for quite a while - sucker!!

We even encountered that strange moist substance that falls from the sky and unless we get some soon, Venus Pool will be fondly known as Venus Hollow......

Anyway, back to those stacks of things to do! I've got many many Gbs of images from Norfolk and given the number of talks I have to do, I'll have to phase these in over the next couple of weeks - watch this space (below) Oh and I'd better not forget the Covenham American Black Tern!

Here are a few tasters of Norfolk where there was not a rarity in sight (for me anyway). Norfolk however, still turns up plenty of good birds which I'm not likely to see in Shropshire and some amazing moments to capture, like these......

(Keep checking back to see more!)

Cley waders aplenty, including Dunlin (and spot the Little Stint).....

Spot the Little Stints!

A male Ruff that stood out from the crowd....

Marsh Harriers practising their passing skill....

A tantalising view of this outrageous example of bird decadence!

Or this real surprise at a private site (please don't ask)....

It's not all about birds - this Plaice had certainly had it's chips!

Knot much room on this Titchwell Mussel bed.....

A surprise in store under every stone!

Unexpected encounter from the beach!!

As was this Arctic Skua.....

Duelling Barwits!

Contender for Bird of the trip?

A final session with these beauties!

Much much more to come......