Sunday, 25 May 2014

Week 6 25-05-2014 Birds Spotted 0

Well it was inevitably going to happen. I only really get weekends to go out and take photos and this week family duties called. As a result I won't have any new species to share with you. Instead I thought I talk a bit about some of my favourite stomping grounds that I like to visit.

Arne Nature Reserve is based up on the peninsula overlooking Poole harbour. It's a fantastic place to look for birds, and while I've been there several times now, there are plenty of species that continue to elude me there. The great thing about Arne is its sheer variety. While it's predominantly heathland, there are also stretches of forest, pastures, bog land and even a small private beach - in short it's a lovely secluded paradise which is home to a lot of rare and uncommon species, most notable the Dartford Warbler.

It's manned by a group of friendly rangers, and while they're obviously there to sign up new members and care for the reserve, they're always a pleasure to speak to. The same can be said for those that visit the area. The average age of a bird watcher is around 42. As a result they tend to be a lot more mature and friendlier, only too happy to fill you in on the birds they've seen or point out the ones you've missed. This last point is quite interesting, as though bird watchers are a friendly bunch - at least the ones I've met - they're also competitive taking great glee in knowing they've seen birds you haven't. It's swings and roundabouts though, as it's impossible for everyone to see everything. It's usually harmless fun and I've already been told about plenty of great places to visit going forward.

I've been to Arne three times now and every time I've discovered surprises. From having a Sika Deer run out mere feet in front of me, to coming across a group of breeding dragonfly, there's always something of interest to see there. The following images will hopefully highlight both the diversity of the nature and flora found at Arne. Of course the real beauty of this blog (at least for myself) is even if I don't see any new birds, I always have a satisfying time.

This beautiful Sika Deer run out in front of me at one of Arne's hides.

Shelduck are plentiful at Arne, which is great as they're one of my favourite ducks.

If I hadn't been with the girls I may have stuck around to see what lived in this hole.

There's a nice secluded beach which offers a great view of the nearby islands.

An ant nest. They were big blighters as well.

Saw this white deer running with a herd of Sika.

Deer are quick and fleeting, so get shots while you can.

Feeders are a great way to get closer to birds.

So that's it for another week. Quite disappointing but that's the nature of wildlife photography, you never know when you're going to see something. So here's exhibit A, a sneaky Red Fox that walked past my house as I was saying good by to some friends. See you next week.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Birds In Flight

There's something amazingly graceful about birds in flight (or Bif as bird photographers call them). I've been practising taking photos of birds for the last couple of weeks and am finally getting to a stage where I feel comfortable with the end results. I'm not into the photoshop side of things yet (which I'm aware you really need to use to make your images pop) but I'm more concerned at the moment with just having a eye for what makes a interesting shot.

Birds can be gracefully, powerful and elegant, but they always look astonishing when you really look at them in flight and realise just how impressive they are. Whether it's a heron beating across a pond with measured deliberate strokes, or a skittish warbler flitting from tree to tree, I can watch them for hours.

Here's some of my more recent attempts at capturing birds in flight. Hopefully, once I'm able to get my hands on the Canon 400mm lens I'll be able to take even more impressive images.

An early shot I took of a Carrion Crow. This was taken at Hengistbury Head.

I thought this was a Mediterrranean Gull, but it's the more common Black-Headed Gull. Oh well.

I snapped this pair of Mute Swans flying over the river at Throop.

I think this really shows off the majesty of the Grey Heron, but it's very overexposed. Still learning I'm afraid.

Sometimes you get the best shots when you least expect it. This Mallard was coming in to land right in front of me and made for a very comical image.

Swallows are difficult birds to capture as they're so fast and graceful. I'm pleased with this one though.

I quite liked this image as it's a surprisingly clumsy look for an otherwise graceful bird.

You'll often get blur on a bird's wings but in the case of this Willow Warbler it gives a great sense of movement.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Week 5 18-05-2014 Birds Spotted 3

I was working on a photography project this week so it was a good opportunity to head to Arne again and take a gander around. Unfortunately, as I was specifically looking to capture certain animals I ended up seeing hardly anything new.

It's not too much of an issue though as Arne is a fantastic place to visit and I met up with plenty of fellow bird watchers who gave me great tips on where to head out in the following few weeks. Let's just say that I should be able to add quite a few more birds to my list very soon.

Anyhow, let's take a look at what I did spot this week.

There's a pair of Kestrels breeding in the barn at Arne, but the wardens there are concerned that the eggs aren't going to hatch, which is always hard to hear. Anyway I was walking in the complete opposite direction of the barn and was alerted to a cry overhead. While the sun made it difficult to see clearly, its unmistakable tail markings and ability to hover in one place meant that the Kestrel was easily identifiable.
It's a cracking looking falcon, and one of our most prolific, with over 46,000 breeding pairs. It's found all over the UK, and is a regular site over motorways, where the busy traffic disturbs the numerous small creatures that the Kestrel loves to feed on.

Kestrel is flight.
A slightly blurrier image showing its distinctive tail feathers.

Mistle Thrush
I've already seen a Song Thrush, so it was lovely to add its bigger cousin to my list. I caught this one as I was heading back to the car park. It was singing its heart out in a tree over my head and was more than happy to show off its impressive voice.
It's a larger thrush compared to the Song Thrush and a lot more stockier. It holds itself more upright when walking on the ground as well, making it that little bit easier to identify. Like the Song Thrush its numbers have been on the decline, but it's still widespread across the British Isles with over 170,000 breeding territories recorded.

Meadow Pipit
Just one more bird for me this week, but it's a good one and one that I've not seen before. I've been actually training myself to seek out birds by listening to their calls (as you can imagine it's incredibly useful) and this helped me track down this little fellow. Knowing bird calls is also handy when you have birds that are very similar to each other (gulls and warblers being the best examples) so I'm going to carry on practising.
Anyway this Meadow Pipit was singing from a nearby gorse, and hung around long enough for me to confirm its voice on an app I've got (modern birdwatchers have it easy). It's quite similar to the Tree Pipit and is a similar size to the House Sparrow. It's an extremely common heathland bird, with over 2 million breeding pairs.

So that's it for this week. Not the most exciting of weeks in terms of new species, but I did manage to spy quite a few familiar birds as I went on my four hour walk. I discovered a whole new side of Arne, with another lake that's apparently a great spot for Spoonbills, and while I heard a Cuckoo, I'm not sure I actually spotted one. I did in fact get one more bird, but as I'm currently unable to identify it, I'm not going to include it. Anyway, here's some of the other things I spotted on my Saturday trip.

This Blue Tit was using one of the many nest boxes that had been set up by park wardens.

This tiny little Blue Tit flew down to the ground and couldn't work out how to get out of his predicament. I watched him for a good 10 minutes with his parents giving him support. He eventually made it to a nearby hedgerow where his parents fussed over him.

And here's one of the parents in question. I stayed back as far as I could as I didn't want to agitate them. People were passing by oblivious, which just goes to show what you can miss if you don't look around you.

There's something rather dashing about male Blackbirds, so I was pleased to see this little fellow.

You have to be patient with animals. I waited for about 15 minutes for this deer to look up from its feeding. It's obscured by the grass, but still makes for an interesting shot.

While I prefer birds, I'm not adverse to snapping the odd insect. This dragonfly was a nightmare to catch on the wing, so I waited a good few minutes for him to land.

I'm not happy if I don't get to shoot a Robin, so thank goodness that this one strayed into my viewfinder.

The amount of noise this Shelduck was making was incredible. A really loud slurping as it sifted through the water for food. Noisy little duck.

I spied this Jackdaw looking for grubs. 

This Grey Squirrel was at the feeding station scaring off the birds. Grrrrrr. He looks lovely though so I won't hold it against him too much.

Most people think Magpies are black and white. Those people are wrong.

Just as I was getting into my car a Greater Spotted Woodpeaker headed to the feeder. I couldn't get a great shot, but luckily I've already seen one.

So that's another update over and done with. I've now spotted 51 birds and have another 221 to find.

Week 4 11-05-2014 Birds Spotted: 16


Quite a big update this week, mainly because I was fortunate enough to visit two RSPB reserves last bank holiday Monday.

The reserves in question were Radipole Lake and Lodmoor, and both a fantastic locations for visiting birds, particularly water birds like ducks and waders. I was lucky enough to spot 3 rare birds on my travels, but you can read about them elsewhere on this blog.

So without further ado let's get on with this week's spots.

Tufted Duck (Male and Female)

As soon as we arrived at Radipole Lake we were greeted with some gorgeous tufted ducks. They get their name thanks to the small tufts on the back of their heads, which make them look like they need a good haircut. The males are smashing looking birds, slightly smaller than a Mallard, with lovely black and white colouring. The females are a little drabber, but I managed to get a nice shot of one having a little flap.


Here's the male, having just been for a dive.


And here's the female.

Carrion Crow

The Carrion Crow is extremely common and you'll often see them in town centres as well as the countryside. They're often confused with Ravens, but that bird is far larger and stocker with a much thicker, murderous looking beak. While the Carrion Crow is fairly mundane to look at compared to some of our more colourful crows, it's highly watchable thanks to its inquisitive nature. It gets its name from its non-fussy food habits, and will happily eat anything it can stick its beak into. I spotted the first crow on my walk to Radipole's hide and caught the second flying onto the roof of the reserve.


Ravens are stockier than this with much bigger beaks.


Despite their size, Carrion Crows can be surprisingly acrobatic in flight.


There's no mistaking a Coot and there were a large number of them at Radipole Lake. They're related to the more diminutive and colourful Moorhen and are very distinctive due to the white shields above its beak. The saying 'Bald as a Coot' comes from this bird and it's found throughout the UK. It's worth watching them landing and taking off from a pond as they make a lot of comical commotion as they run across the water's surface ready for take-off.


This one was taken at Radipole Lake.


And this one was seen at Lodmoor.


Sadly, we only have one Cormorant native to the UK. It's a fantastic fisherman, which often puts it at odds with anglers. In some countries, it's even used to catch fish, with a string put around its neck to stop it swallowing what it's caught. This one had spent most of his time diving, so was happily sunning himself. The Cormorant is sometimes mistaken for the very similar Shag, but its white cheeks do give it away. While they are coastal birds by nature, it's not unusual to see them at lakes and reservoirs.


Pochard (Male and female)

Pochards are beautiful looking ducks with striking reddish brown heads that make them easy to identify. They're found throughout the UK and are a regular sight at many ponds and lakes. Interestingly, while over 48,000 Pochards winter here each year, less than 700 pairs actually breed here. They're slightly smaller than Mallards and quite timid, easily getting chased off by other ducks as they hunted around for food.


Here's a male. Look at how red his eyes are.


And this is a female. The males look quite similar after moulting.


Okay so this isn't the greatest shot, but there's no mistaking the sycthe-like wings. It's most at home on the wing (it can even sleep in the air) and will happily hawk around barns and open fields for insects. The Swift is a voracious eater and can eat over 10,000 flies in a single day when it's brooding. While similar in size to the Swallow, it lacks the Swallow's red throat and its tail isn't as pronounced. We saw this one up by Radipole Lake's hide and it proved to be a real bugger to photo as it was so fast.


Iceland Gull

When we were walking back to the main centre there was a lot of commotion inside, with bird watchers rammed wall to wall. It turned out that in amongst all the Herring Gulls was a rather beautiful looking Iceland Gull. After some direction I was able to spot it, and got a slightly better shot when it flew over to one of the islands closer to the visiting centre. It's quite dainty for a gull and is noticeable for its snowy white plumage. Only around 240 birds regularly winter here, making this quite a spot for me.


Feral Pigeon

This is the more common version of the Rock Dove. You see pigeons absolutely everywhere, so it's somewhat amazing that it's taken me a month to take a photo of some. Known as flying rats, and seen as pests by many, they're easily one of the UK's most common birds and, as you can see here, come in a surprising range of colours and patterns.


The following birds were all spotted at Lodmoor. It's basically a large nature trail with a few handy view points that runs parallel to the beach at Weymouth. This is where I saw the Black-Winged Stilt.

Bar Tailed Godwit

As the tide was out we didn't see too many waders. I did get a good look at this Godwit however. It was quite resplendent with its chestnut colouring (it's a far drabber bird in the winter) and this one also had some rather fetching rings on its legs. The Bar-Tailed Godwit doesn't breed here, using our country as a wintering ground. Up to 41,000 birds can be found here, although this one was all on its own.


Canada Goose

This is quite a common goose that was introduced from North America many years ago. It's now found all over the UK with over 62,000 birds breeding here. I was lucky enough to come across this delightful family, who watched us warily as we walked along one of the nature trails. It's one of our bigger geese and has some striking colouration. I particularly like the second shot which shows a protective father bringing up the rear as his chicks raced off.


Five gorgeous little chicks.


Don't worry kids, I'll protect you!

Linnet (female)

As I was walking down one of the trails I spied this tiny little finch, gathering nesting materials. It's been confirmed by RSPB members as a female Linnet and it's a fairly common bird (although rarer than it used to be). Once kept as a song bird, the males are extremely striking thanks to their crimson breast and forehead.



Another bird identified for my by kind members of the RSPB forum. This one's a male Gadwell and as you can see it's quite a non-descript bird with few notable markings. This one was quite a way off in the distance, which is why the shot doesn't look fantastic.


Grey Heron

Herons are amazing looking birds and I always enjoy taking photos of them. There were quite a few on Lodmoor lake and it was great to see them suddenly take off and fly around looking for better hunting spots. Keen fishermen they can stay still for ages, waiting for the right moment to strike. I'll take a photo of one with a fish in its mouth one day, but that day was not today.


A solitary fisherman, waiting for his prey.


A nice shot of a Heron in flight.


And here's one looking for fish.

Little Egret

Similar to the Heron, this is a fair daintier, more beautiful looking bird. Often mistaken for a Cattle Egret, this is a stunning looking that has become more and more common in recent years. It first began breeding in Dorset in 1996 and there are now over 700 breeding pairs found here. We often spot them at Throop when we visit the lake there, but somehow they seemed more natural here.



Although I saw some Oystercatchers at Lodmoor, I spied this fellow at Arne. It's not the greatest of shoots as I was shooting with a hefty 500mm lens, but you can still see that it's a striking looking bird. It's easily identifiable thanks to its bright orange bill, while it's black and white plumage also makes it stand out.


Oystercatchers really are beautiful birds.


I also saw this one, but it looked quite scruffy.

Moor Hen

I've already mentioned the more diminutive relative of the Coot, but here it is in the flesh. Like the Coot it has a shield above its beak, but the Moorhen's is far more striking. It's a lot more timid than the Coot and far smaller, often scared awway by noisier birds. It's a common UK bird with over 250,000 pairs regularly breeding here.


So that's it for another week. I'm going to hopefully get out to Arne nature reserve this coming Saturday with the aim of spotting some more waders. Quite a good showing though meaning I've now seen 48 birds leaving another 224 left to find.