Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Sanderling in Harbour

After yesterdays blue sky today was wall to wall greyness. A walk around Burnham Norton was enlivened by the packs of Wigeon periodically panicking and taking flight in tight packed whistling flocks. I would normally expect to see a hunting Peregrine when the Wigeon behave like this but all I could find were a couple of distant Marsh Harriers and a single Kestrel.

Moved on to Brancaster Staithe Harbour, which with the tide out and another snapper already in place was quiet, however I did manage this shot of a Sanderling, not a species that I would normally associate with the Harbour.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Beardies & Goldeneye

Spent the last hour or so of daylight at Titchwell Marsh. Crowd gathered by the side of the West Bank path overlooking a patch of reeds alerted me to the presence of a feeding party of Bearded Tits and although the light was fading fast I was still able to get a few shots in the cold calm of late afternoon. This male bird is a cropped image.
A bit further along on the Brackish Marsh a pair of Goldeneye were courting the male throwing his head back so that it touched the middle of his back. All the time staying in close attendance on the female and keeping an eye on another male Goldeneye which looked keen to court the female as well.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Welney Whoopers

This afternoon we spent a cold hour sitting in a hide at Welney WWT reserve from about 2.45 - 3.45 pm. Hadn't been here for a couple of years at least and was surprised at just how busy it was. The Observation gallery was packed with family's and old dears and the hide to the side which we were in was also very nearly full. This hide sits under the ramp leading off the bridge and at times it felt like a Panzer division was on the march as yet another baby buggy rumbled over our heads. Still good that so many folk were choosing to come out and enjoy the swans. But a shame that most of the wild swans stayed out in the fields feeding rather than coming into be fed.

Poor light meant that I had to rack the ISO setting up on EOS 400D to 1600. This is probably the best of a bunch of poor flight shots that I managed to get.

We each enjoyed a welcome hot chocolate back at the visitor centre and a piece of cake which really needed to be a bit bigger to be good value for money. Still a impressive building the cafe is light and airy, the shop a little under stocked and the down stairs classroom is decked as if it is below the surface of a pond and looks great.

The icing on the cake were two remarkably tame Barn Owls by the side of the road just as we drove away from the Visitor Centre.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas Day Rose

Christmas Day was grey and dull on the north Norfolk coast. Highlight of a walk at Titchwell was a hunting Peregrine that twice bombed through the Fresh Marsh putting up the gathering roost of thousands of Lapwings and Golden Plovers. In a garden this rose bloomed and formed the perfect glowing Christmas decoration.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Snatch shot of a Little Owl

Nice example of the little things counting. Today has been a grey day most of which I have spent indoors. I did though need to take a short drive between offices and spotted this Little Owl in the bare branches of a roadside Oak tree. Wee little owl, small and basic travel zoom lens [ 70- 300 mm]. Plus a short amount of time to spend with the owl to grab this record shot, enjoy its company and I must say a revel just a little bit in my own eagle eyes in finding it.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Herring Gulls and Turnstones competing for Mussels

Nice piece of behaviour this, one which I have seen Herring and Common Gulls exhibit on Hunstanton Beach, at Brancaster Staithe and at Burnham Overy Staithe. The gulls collect mussels which they are unable to open with their beaks and drop them from 10 to 50 feet onto a hard surface. They seem to 'know' where to drop the mussels and where not to bother. They may have to do this up to half a dozen times before opening the mussel, this looks pretty energy efficient as the birds natural buoyancy lifts them easily into the air. In Brancaster Staithe Harbour the gulls have the advantage that the Shell fishermen sort their crop in the harbour and there is a plentiful supply of mussels for them to feed on. A nice twist in the story is that the local Turnstones have learnt to anticipate this behaviour and will scurry to the dropped mussels in the hope of getting a mouthful of food before the gulls get to them.
I've still not got a sequence of pictures that I am happy with showing all of this behaviour but here are some I took today. Some years ago of course Roger Tidman won the BB Bird Photographer of the Year competition with a picture of a north Norfolk Herring Gull doing just this.
Whilst taking these shots I had a fly by Kingfisher and a ringtail Hen Harrier pass through the harbour.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Waxwings in the Gloom

I had to get out for some fresh air this afternoon and decided to head east along the coast road aiming for Burnham Norton. Just before I got to Holme I glimpsed three birds in roadside Hawthorns that I thought looked like Waxwings, finding a safe place to pull off the road I managed to approach the birds quite closely. Unfortunately I never managed a clear shot without branches in the way and the light was truly awful. As a consequence this cropped image is the best shot I managed to get. Despite the poor light and speeding traffic it was great to find these beautiful little birds and be able to spend some time with them as they fed and 'twittered' to each other.
I eventually made it to a gloomy Burnham Norton and did the usual circular walk around the marsh where I saw two or three Marsh Harriers, similar numbers of Barn Owls and a single a ringtail Hen Harrier.
Not surprisingly given the cloud cover and with tomorrow the shortest day of the year it got dark frustratingly early with the first coast bound wave of pinkfeet coming over at ten to three.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Brancaster Staithe photo session

Lovely sunny afternoon. Spent first hour sitting in the car at Brancaster Staithe. Much of the bird action here is generated by the Mussel fishery and you can see some of the machinery used by the fishermen in the background of the flight shot of the Black Headed Gull. Worth mentioning that some of the fishermen here are not at all keen on having their pictures taken and I got shouted at today when one thought I was taking his picture [I was after a flight shot of a Oystercatcher].

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Patterns in decay

A grey and gloomy day. To get some fresh air had a walk around Courtyard Farm near Ringstead in the afternoon. Not much in the way of photo opportunities in the poor light but I did like the patterns of decay in this leaf and the way that I could use the milky sky as a backdrop.
After leaving Courtyard Farm I popped down to Brancaster Staithe for the last 30 to 40 minutes of dusk. Too dark to take photos by then, but some nice birds were present. A ringtail Hen Harrier twice came through the harbour putting up flocks of waders and wildfowl in its wake. In between the harriers' patrols a Sparrowhawk shot through low and at speed also spooking the other birds. Then just before I left a Kingfisher flashed by. Not a bad half hours spotting in low light.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Snowy Sunday Morning

Ivy flower and leaves covered in snow at Titchwell.

Juvenile Herring Gull checking out possible food source, Brancaster Staithe.

Water Rail in trailside ditch at Titchwell

Couple of rather stoic and pony's Burnham Norham Norton.

Female Blackbird after berry's, Titchwell car park.

It started snowing in Hunstanton first thing this morning and continued on and off until lunchtime. By this evening the temperature had risen from -1 to 4 degrees and the snow melted away.
For much of the morning I was confined to the car as the snow was being blown hard and horizontally. This was OK at Brancaster Staithe where I was able to use the car as a hide. By the time I got to Titchwell it had stopped snowing and I was able to go for a walk around the Fen Trail and down as far as Island hide. Highlight of this walk was a Bittern flying over the marsh to the west of the west bank path and a couple of Water Rails in the ditch by the side of the path one of which is shown here.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Sunny Sunday Morning Beach Walk

Woke to a clear blue sky and blustery breeze. Decided to walk along the beach from Hunstanton towards Holme. Great light and for most of the walk relatively few people about. Started out taking pictures of the waders and gulls feeding on the exposed mussel beds beneath Hunstanton cliffs. The Common and Herring Gulls here have learnt to drop mussels from a height to break them open and as is the case elsewhere on the coast the Turnstones have learnt to try and get to the broken mussels before the gulls can descend.
A bit further along flushed a Little Egret which dropped down in front of me giving me a chance to fire off a couple of snatch shots including the cropped version here.
On the beach by the top end of the golf course I found the flock of Snow Buntings reported on Birdline East Anglia yesterday, over 50 birds in the flock, quite flighty and by now the beach was getting busy so this is the best image I managed to get.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Timed a Barn Owl

Travelling back towards Docking from Burnham Market yesterday, we saw a barn owl hunting the rank vegetation by the side of the road. The owl pounced on a small mammal and flew off in front of the car, it didn't want to fly over the tall hedgerow that flanked the verge and so flew parallel to the road and our car allowing us to record its flight speed at 22mph with vole.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Greener Scotland is Sold Down the River

I'm angry, because today it looks like those who want to trash the natural world have won a victory in a fight that could have and should have been avoided. And because of a decision that defies logic and common sense in its wholesale caving in to the demands of the developer.

Yet a few months ago months ago some local politicians showed great strength of character in facing up to the full onslaught of one of global capitalisms less pleasant faces and rejected the application to build over a unique sand dune system in Aberdeenshire. In part this act of moral courage was underpined by the realisation that Donald Trump and his acolytes were not prepared to compromise over the development that would see irreparable damage to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, this despite RSPB Scotland employing golf course designers to show that a course could have been constructed without damaging the SSSI.

So what happened next?

Well Scotland's SNP leadership showed a complete lack of backbone or real belief in the importance of Scotland's natural environment and caved wholesale to Donald Trump's demands. In the process undermining any credibility that they may have in their claims to being a mature party of government.

If you'd like to know more you could start by following these two weblinks to the RSPB website

Last word on the decision making process can go to the leader of Scotland's Liberal Democrat's Nicol Stephen.

“These meetings raise serious questions about the First Minister’s judgment and whether he acted appropriately.

“The First Minister has a clear conflict of interest and should have played no role in the planning process.

“His actions have been at best unwise and are potentially seriously prejudicial. The sooner the First Minister makes the position clear with a full statement of the facts the better.

“He needs to come clean about his discussions with the Trump Organisation and senior civil servants.”

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Winter Redshank

Another grey day but without yesterdays blustery wind. With limited time to spend outside I headed for Brancaster Staithe harbour. In the quiet months from the end of Otober half term through to Easter, this is a great spot for using the car as a mobile hide.

The best of the snaps I took today is this cropped image of a redshank.

After 40 minutes in the harbour taking pictures and drinking a takeaway Coffee from Deepdale Cafe, I moved to Titchwell and spent half an hour watching from Fen Hide, not much doing other than a brief view of a Water Rail and a distant female Marsh Harrier.

Had a short dusk walk at Courtyard Farm, where the Hawthorn bushes were full of flocks of Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds and a female Sparrowhawk patrolled the edge of a field presumnably looking to catch a thrush going to roost.

Autumn Glow

I only had time today for a quick early morning boot around Holme Marsh. A grey sky and blustery easterly wind that later in the day brought rain. Plenty of Redwings and Fieldfares around the marsh and scrub and flying over. I hadn't seen a Marsh Harrier down here for a couple of weeks so it was good to see a male and female hunting over the main block of marsh between the hides and the White House. The number and variety of wildfowl loafing on the small pool in front of the hides has also gone up in the last week or two, a sure sign that autumn has now almost finished its transition into winter.

In the short time I had available no birds came close enough to photograph, but I did like the lovely red tones of this fading bramble leaf which seemed to glow in the diffuse November light.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Afternoon on Westleton Heath, a clear blue sky meant that when the sun dipped below the horizon the temperature dropped rapidly and by the time I left the Heath, the temperature reading on my car thermometer read minus two degrees.

Very atmospheric dusk with the local red deer stags bellowing calls travelling across the Heath as they brought their rut towards its climax.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Knackered Starling and Perky Robin, Titchwell

Lovely afternoon light. Still lots of vis mig with flocks of redwings and starlings in particular making their way west along the coast.

This Robin was particularly obliging, so perhaps it is one of the 'tame' local birds rather than a migrant.

The Starling looked absolutely shattered and I suspect won't have survived the night.

Life and Death

Started out trying to get some interesting composition shots of Sundews and then noticed this struggle for life going on.

Amphibious Redwing

Wonderful calm day last autumn on a fishing charter out in The Wash, lots of vis mig. This Redwing landed on the surface of The Wash to the side of the boat and appeared doomed before to my amazement it pulled itself back into the air and landed on the boats safety railing.

Natterjack Toadlet

Three tiny Natterjack toadlets scurried across the sandy path through the dunes. Picture taken using the macro setting on a Ricoh Capillo R4 digital compact.

Camouflaged Spider

Came across this well camouflaged spider at Holme in the summer. I am told that it is a Running crab spider.

But I'll let my spider expert Ian continue the explanation. It's from the family Philodromidae, and more specifically one of the Philodromus aureolus group, which comprises at least four species in the UK: much the most frequent are P. aureolus and P. cespitum, while P. praedatus is reasonably common on oak, and P. longipalpis is rare on trees. Males are straightforward to identify but females like this one are the only fair-sized spiders which need dissecting to be absolutely certain of specific identification. This one probably isn't praedatus which never has such solidly dark bands down the sides of the carapace, and can reasonably discount longipalpis on range and habitat, so it will be either aureolus or cespitum. Both are very variable in colour and occur in a wide range of habitats on vegetation - field layer, shrubs and trees. As the name suggests these are amongst our fastest runners and can certainly move rapidly. They don't spin webs, using silk primarily as a safety line or to spin their eggsac.

Great Grey Shrike

Watched this bird try and chase down a Linnet which when the shrike gave up turned round and mobbed it. The Shrike then got in amongst a flock of Linnets before turning its attention to the juvenile Red Backed Shrike that was also in the area. First I knew of this was the screaming call of the fleeing Red Backed Shrike as the Great Grey unsuccesfully pursued it across the marsh.

A couple of birders present told me that they had seen it catch and eat a Linnet, Blue Tit, Linnet and Frog over the previous couple of days.