Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Train ticks

I regularly make the train journey from King's Lynn in west Norfolk to Sandy in Bedfordshire a journey that takes me across the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire Fens and then down through Hertfordshire arable country and finally through some more scruffy Bedfordshire countryside.

Last autumn when these journeys were becoming more frequent I started keeping a bird list, the rules being that the birds on it had to be seen or heard from a station platform or train.

The best bits of the journey are the first and last bits. The section across the Fens between King's Lynn and Cambridge is best of all with herds of wild swans in the winter and regular sightings of Little Egrets, Lapwings and occasional Barn Owls. The big Hertfordshire arable fields are sometimes enlivened by Common Buzzards and the last length of line from Hitchin to Sandy goes past Biggleswade Common and some gravel pits.

Having started my list in the autumn I still need to add many summer visitors. Today I managed to add a couple of Cuckoo's just north of Ely and a Hobby over Letchworth Station platform, so a really good day that took the list to over 40 species.

All that and I cleared my email inbox on my Blackberry!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Lessons in Swift photography

"They've made it again, Which means the globe's still working, the Creation's still waking refreshed, our summer's still all to come" from Swifts by Ted Hughes

Every summer I try and take a good shot of a Common Swift and every year so far I've not been satisfied with my efforts.

With an hour to spare this afternoon I popped into a busy Titchwell Marsh and underneath a grey sky I spent some time trying to photograph the low flying Swifts and the shot shown here was my best effort. The technique that I have adopted is to reduce my 100 - 400 lens to 300mm, put it on the closer focusing and panning settings, over expose by 2/3 of a stop and then expect to delete an awful lot of what I take.

Image above is of a Common Sift over the Titchwell Marsh reedbed today.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Roe Deer & Fawn

Friday lunchtime saw me on one of my regular local walks in Ken Hill Woods on the edge of Snettisham village. It was a cool grey day with a threat of rain in the air and I suspect as a consequence of the weather conditions the woods were devoid of people walking dogs.

As usual I entered the woods from the path that leads off the busy A149 and almost immediately picked out a Roe Deer in the bracken perhaps 50 metres away. Normally I'd wouldn't expect to see a Roe here, not because they don't occur in these woods, but because the heavy usage by dog walkers make of them, means that as the day goes on the more sensitive wildlife tends move away from the paths. I'd also expect a Roe Deer to bolt as soon as it saw me. So the fact that this one stared at me from the waist high bracken that carpets the woodland floor here was enough to arouse my curiosity.

As I changed position to try and get a picture of the deer, I noticed a movement in the bracken by its feet and was then delighted to see a small, spotty Roe Deer fawn emerge briefly from the bracken as it staggered after its mother moving deeper into the woods and away from me. I can only guess that when I first spotted the adult female it was feeding its fawn and that was why it didn't bolt.

Apologies for the not quite sharp images, there was next to no light under the canopy and I only had a rather basic DSLR and a slow old zoom lens with me.

Both pictures of Roe Deer in Ken Hill Woods, Norfolk

Friday, 13 May 2011

Snake Eyes

Grass Snake, Ken Hill Wood, Snettisham, Norfolk

As a birder you learn to read the countryside through a birds eyes, where are the good places to feed, cover from a predator, somewhere to sing from and as you develop your bird eyes, you start to see more and more birds until the process can seem uncanny and instinctive to non birders.

If you want to look at other taxa you have to develop your skills and train your senses to find them. Now we've only got three native snake species in the UK one of which the Smooth Snake is very rare and range restricted, another the Adder is in decline and I've not found locally and the third and commonest is the Grass Snake. This relative paucity of species and low population levels, along with the beasts habit of hibernating for half the year means that perhaps unsurprisingly, I rather disappointingly don't have 'snake eyes.' I do though have a chance to try and develop them.

Ken Hill is a lovely wood that covers the slopes of a hill overlooking The Wash on the edge of the West Norfolk village of Snettisham. It is popular with locals as a place to walk their dogs and is an OK birding site where each January I reckon to add Marsh Tit to my year list. It also would appear to have an excellent population of Grass Snakes and I have taken advantage of several days work in the village to spend my lunch breaks looking for these snakes.

At the moment my technique is to walk slowly along the woodland paths listening for the distinctive sound of a snake sliding through the leaf litter. This can be an effective way of finding snakes but has the disadvantage that they have normally already spotted you and are slithering away or are on a mission anyway and moving fast across the forest floor.

So my next challenge is to develop the eyes to see snakes before they move, to see and understand the sorts of places that a snake would find attarctive to sun bathe, rest and wait for prey and then hopefuly I will spot them when they are lying still by the side of the path and be able to creep up on them and look into their snake eyes and take their photo.

Today was a little cloudy and cooler than of late and I found one Grass Snake in the 40 minutes I spent in the woods. This image is the only vaguely acceptable one I got and not quite sharp. So I'll have to try again.