Monday, 30 September 2013

ECTON SEWAGE FARM-STOAT 30/09/13

I opted in grey skies and occasional sun to go for the darkest site I could think of , I do like this site but it's hard to get images from. I saw Buzzard and Kestrel up against grey skies, a Greenshank very far away and landing in the fields behind the sewage treatment plant, I could hear a Green Sandpiper calling from the reed bed area, never saw it though and saw and watch a distant Kingfisher and fluffed my chances on a fly through.
Found plenty of common birds lurking in the hedgerow but the amount of foliage was blocking views of good birds, plenty of Chiff-Chaffs and Black Caps but all hiding in amongst the foliage....
BUGGER!
 Low light when I first arrived was playing havoc with the shutter speed, the area I was in was so shady/dark there were plenty of moths flitting around!! Still I got this marmite shot below, no photoshop trickery just low shutter speed...it made me chuckle.
ONE FOR YOU TO GUESS THE SPECIES, NO PHOTOSHOPPING!
I did manage one half decent image of a Blue Tit
I was sat on a concrete bridge near what's known as Clover Lake, it's a good spot to catch Kingfishers nipping through, if you're quick, I wasn't, but my day wasn't a complete waste as I crouched waiting/hoping for the Kingfisher to nip through again I could hear this Wren ticking away like mad, and I could see it was very agitated and could see something moving at the base of the bush, when it suddenly ran out and onto the bridge, feet away from me, I couldn't believe my luck..
 It stopped dead in it's tracks and stared at me, you could sense it was wondering whether to turn tail or carry on...
 The above image shows where it wanted to go.........
 It crouched down, stamped it's feet up and down and "charged" me...so to speak and headed right towards me and my massive 500mm prime lens...cheeky/brave/stupid bugger, and to prove I'm not speaking with forked tongue, a record shot of it coming to close for the lens below..
 They do half move quick as it scampered past within inches of me into the thick vegetation. I was well chuffed with this close encounter, it was quite comical, I perhaps would I've like to have had more then f/4.5 to get more of the body in focus, but I didn't have time to adjust the settings to much, I knocked the exposure down by a third to get me a bit more shutter speed and better tones.
If it hadn't been for the stoat I think the below image could easily have summed up my day.....with the replacement of one vowel of course........

Saturday, 28 September 2013

HARRINGTON AIRFIELD-REDKITE&NORTHERN WHEATEAR

YOU TRY AND FINDING A GOLDEN PLOVER/LARK/LAPWING  IN THAT FIELD...HAVE FUN          
REDKITE
 Harrington airfield is a massive site, once a wartime airfield and then after the war home to nuclear missiles. Although long gone and now being farmed some of the buildings from it's past remain. Probably wouldn't be the obvious choice for a spot of birding, but as it happens quite a bit of migrating bird pass through here.
I thought I'd litter this post with some "scenic" efforts to give you an idea what the place looks like as well as some of the birds I found today.
HAY, WHAT'S THAT OVER THERE?...SORRY

PRETTY GOOD FOR SHORT EARED OWLS IN THE WINTER

REDKITE
 Obviously Redkites are resident birds in Northants and this one hang around circling over head for a while, even though a Marsh Harrier has regularly been reported up here, I had no luck of an encounter today, the site being so big and suitable habitat all around means it could've been anywhere. I had a total of five Buzzards and one Kestrel as well as the Kite, there was two Redkites but one was very heavily in moult still so no images of that bird.
REDKITE
 There are plans to have the site and structures "protected" similar to that which historical monuments are awarded.
I spent most of the day around the grey concrete blocks you see in the image below.
No real reason to move from this spot, a woman ploughing the fields meant a lot of birds were being flushed from the field right into my lap. Plenty of Pied Wagtails (13), a single Grey Wagtail and circa 20 Meadow Pipits, easily more then that but I couldn't keep track of them all.
One advantage of the area around the grey structures is that there are concrete "ditches" around them which allows you to sneak up to birds without being spotted, here's some Meadow Pipits I crept up on.
MEADOW PIPIT ON CONCRETE APRON, ME IN THE DITCH..NOTHING NEW FOR ME


MEADOW PIPIT WITH FOOD
This technique of using the ditches (once huge runners for the hangers) was working very well, especially when I saw a brown'ish job with a white patch on it's tail fly in, some distance away and without those ditches I would never have made it anywhere close enough for an image, the bird...Northern Wheatear....

Nice bonus find/bird for me, and incredibly my first of the year, not sure how that happened just seem to have dipped out on the species in the spring...oh well.
Running up the middle of the fields is this wild area in the three images below, there were still some butterflies floating around. If you decide to walk up this way, becareful there are some hidden manholes and very deep rabbit holes, I know one photographer who twice fell down one manhole up to his waist, smashing his camera, tread with care....and no it wasn't me...YET!


 Well worth the walk along here, for some common birds and birds that were once quite common but not so much now like Yellowhammers.
YELLOWHAMMER, ALWAYS WORTH STOPPING FOR.
I hope you enjoyed the post and you get an idea what Harrington Airfield looks like.

Friday, 27 September 2013

SUMMERLEYS 27/09/13 PEREGRINE FALCON

Couldn't wish for a better start to the day really, well almost. I pulled into the carpark of the nature reserve at 06:45, sorted my kit out and headed for the Pioneer Hide (that's the big one in the carpark) it was still dark'ish and imagine my surprise when I walked into a dark hide to see a female birder note book open, not sure how she was writing in the dark, but it made me jump. I could just make out the shadowy figure of a juvenile Ringed Plover and some Teal on the vastly improved scrape apart from one thing, the sun was fast rising so opted to walk around to the screen hide it was still a little dark as I got back to the carpark, when I heard the Lapwing's alert call, I spun round and saw a Peregrine cruising over head and over to the fields opposite the carpark, 07:25, great start I thought. Apart from two Snipe, more Teal, some Widgeon and two Little Egrets, not much was happening, I then noticed the reed bed in front of the screen hide had been hacked down by the Wildlife trust....WHY?? Seriously I get willow coppicing, not a fan but I get the idea, last year from the screen hide I got a Bittern, WHY is the wildlife trust chopping a valuable habitat down? Any suggestions for a home for the Reed Buntings, possible Bittern or even the humble Blue Tit that feeds of the heads of the reed stems. The best answer I got from anyone on the reserve was "improves the views", views of what? Views of nothing with all that Reed Bed gone, seriously last September the wildlife trust done absolutely bugger all, just flooded the scrape and hoped the water would drown the willows, I guess!? come the spring and late spring the reserve was overgrown with willow. No happy medium with the wildlife trust either nothing done or complete carnage, suffice to say I stomped over to the Paul Britain hide (that's the two tier hide) my mood lifted when I heard a familiar voice calling me, it was John and Marian Peacock, I was glad to see John but more so his wife, from all accounts she had a real hard time with cancer and her treatment, so I was more glad to see her then I would've been if I saw a Montagu Harrier. Off we went to the hide, it was now I could see the real extent of the damage by the Wildlife Trust, the scrape looks MUCH MUCH better, but the reed bed in front of the Pioneer Hide had vanished quicker then a section of the Amazon rain forest, seriously if I had to rate the work done by the Trust I would score the scrape 9.5 out of 10 but the other work done -20 out of 10, someone went crazy with the saw....
Bird wise now the light had improve on the scrape there was still the juvenile Ringed Plover, and one Green Sandpiper flew over and towards Grendon Lakes as did a Ruff thought at first it was a Greenshank but inspection of my record shots, shows it to be 100% Ruff.
John and I were busy gossipping like a pair of old ladies when I saw a large falcon, it was a second visit from the Peregrine (09:45) straight at me.......

 You can't tell from these images but the Peregrine has a feather protruding from it's bill and bulging cheeks...so it caught something.
Not my best efforts of this species, I didn't have much time to push the exposure up to +1, with the "milky" sky (thin white/light cloud behind bird but with good light behind me), I managed 9 shots, 6 including John's favourite were soft these three, not pin sharp but they'll do seeming as I still got my "truckers head" on I was also glad to see it twice in one day, as John reminded me of my luck with this species at Summer Leys, I always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Other birds of note was a Sparrowhawk (male) and a Hobby, still the odd small flock of Swallows were passing through too. Lets hope the reed bed re-grows before next spring otherwise the Reed (clue in it's name) Warbler's won't have a home...GIVE NATURE A HOME how about GIVING NATURE A FIGHTING CHANCE. I'm not a happy person today and the day started off so well too.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A BACKLOG OF ODDS AND SODS

OOP's....I've discovered a serious flaw in my image processing/workflow. I've lost count the number of times I've read really well written and informative articles from very talented photographers stressing the need for a "workflow"....sadly I thought I had a system but my recent need to backup/transfer images onto a bigger hard-drive made me realise HOW bad I was in the early days (never heard of workflow pre 2010 lol). I was trolling through all the images before putting them onto the harddrive searching out for any duplicates any "worse" then record images.
GREENSHANK, WELFORD SEPTEMBER 2009
I quickly went through 2008 images, not many good ones to keep from my first year, saved myself 4 gigabytes of space then. Got into 2009 and finished it off last night in my office/truck it was now I realised my crap workflow was useless, the process then was 1:upload raw images into capture one. 2:delete all rubbish and out of focus images. 3:Pick images that were straight forward crop/tone/sharpening-process. 4:Upload to various blog/websites etc 5:store/backup 6: go back and work on harder images/images that require a bit of thought.....sounds a reasonable workflow but since then 4 has changed places with 5....however there was one small problem, I never got round to working on all of those images at stage 6, ooops....

LITTLE EGRET, SUMMERLEYS, SEPTEMBER 2009
Now some of the images I can see why I never got round to working on them, some however left me wondering why...lazy, however even though they're four years old I kept them to roughly this end of September......so it's what I would expect to see at this time of year.
COMMON REDSHANK (ADULT),SUMMER LEYS, SEPTEMBER 2009

COMMON REDSHANK (JUVENILE) WITH BUG, SUMMERLEYS, SEPTEMBER 2009

COMMON REDSHANK(JUVENILE), SUMMERLEYS, SEPTEMBER 2009
One odd quirk it has been fascinating going from September 2008 to September 2013 and seeing how different locations have changed, small things that have sublimely slipped by un-noticed sometimes good and sometimes bad, but one thing that stood out was compared to 2009 the last two years on the scrape at Summer Leys has been poor. Now I know the Wildlife Trust has re-profiled the scrape, but one thing looking at the images you can see the number of species, for an example 2009 Redshank adults and juveniles, Ringed Plover (adult and juveniles), Lapwing (adult and juveniles), Little Ringed Plovers (adult and juveniles), birds on passage Green Sandpipers, Black Tail Godwits,Ruffs, Greenshanks, Common Sandpiper and the odd Curlew, pretty much the same in 2010, in 2011 there was a noticeable drop in waders that bred on the scrape (going on the images I obtained and my fieldnotes) it was sadly worse in 2012 and well this year I gave up on Summer Leys to be fair so can't comment to much on what did and didn't breed, but from what I've been told it hasn't been a stella year. Now some of that can be put down to the condition of the scrape (not much though), but also 2010 and 2011 we did have a terrible summer weather wise,predation levels from a fox and crows stealing eggs, I got 16 images of Crows in 2011 stealing eggs, 1 image from the same year of a group of Jackdaws hassling a Redshank,1 image of a Redshank with a Little Ringed Plover egg! but also you have to look sadly at the numbers of people like myself visiting the site...still more the better (!?) Let's hope the re-profiled scrape attracts next years passage birds down, looking at it when the work was ongoing it did look good.....so there's hope, let's hope the weather play's it part too.
GREEN SANDPIPER, SUMMERLEYS, SEPTEMBER 2009

"GET OFF MY SCRAPE", LAPWING AND STARLINGS, SUMMERLEYS, SEPTEMBER 2009

YELLOW WAGTAIL, WELFORD RESERVOIR, SEPTEMBER 2009
Also from the images I've seen one difference at Welford, regular place for Yellow wagtails and an improvement in numbers dropping in over the years, same species of waders, though I've not posted on here the image of Pectoral Sandpiper I got in 2009 (one to many record shots already) and sadly didn't get either a Wood Sandpiper nor Pectoral Sandpiper at Welford this year, but I did get an Osprey as means of compensation, swings and roundabouts.
Hopefully with Friday being my first day off of my shift pattern I can get some decent and more recent images....though I'm off work so it'll probably rain cats and dogs :o)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

WHERE'S THE MOST UNUSAL PLACE YOU'VE BIRDWATCHED?

Pretty unusual is a random phrase but I couldn't think of a better title, it's 1am and I've had to watch the Americans butcher another classic Japanese horror film, just to watch Quatermass 2, don't ask I just love them, also it's taken my some 4 hours to transfer and backup all my image from two external hard-drives onto one super "dooper" one, god it was a chore.
During the process I came across these images taken when I started out as a birder armed with the mighty 400d and a 100-400mm taken on the 30th March 2008 and I popped my Barn Owl cherry....and got a harsh dose of what was to come for our wildlife in the years that followed.
 They were taken on what was a great site for both Short Eared Owls and as you can see Barn Owls, but there was so much more down there, it's known locally as Upton Mill. Today it now has a rather large housing estate, built on a flood plain, and was given an award for it's "eco"/"environmentally" sound approach to house building by Prince Charles, shame such "eco housing has trashed a wildlife rich area. But at least they had some lovely solar panels fitted and were well insulated!! It also has the Swan Valley Industrial estate, so called because they had to dig a big valley to hide all the dead wildlife.......that bit could be a small fib.

SEE THE BIG TREE THAT'S GREEN, THAT WAS IT'S NEST, THE TREE IS STILL THERE BUT WITH A ROAD FEET AWAY, THE BARN OWL ISN'T
 As you can see from the images this Barn Owl lost it's home, despite me as a "naive" newbie birder calling the RSPB for help to either re-home or stop the building whilst the pair (there were two) bred, remember it was the 30th March, I won't say what the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds said at the time, but it left an impression on me for sure......
"I'M SURE THIS WAS MINE TO HUNT IN?"
Apart from the already established industrial estate the diggers moved in to put a road, a much needed road for ALL the traffic from the estate to swiftly move without hindrance to either Junction 16 of the M1 (instead of junction 15a which is closer???!!!) and help traffic avoid the Sixfields area, however the "trunk" road is hardly ever busy and at best is a waste of money and at worst it trampled through a great area for little benefit......seriously hardly anyone uses it!
"LIVE WELL FOR LESS"....LESS GREEN SPACES AND LESS WILDLIFE.
The above image is hardly brilliant, in fact most on this post are poor at best, but I feel it conveys what I'm trying to put across better then any of the other images.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

"WHAT'S YOUR TOP TEN BIRDS"?

....wasn't the average pub conversation, most of by mates aren't birders, most couldn't tell a Blue Tit from a Song Thrush so after the usual pub banter, groaning at the Chelsea scoreline, the Northampton clown and ensuing hysteria I was somewhat ambushed by one friend who said "What's your top ten birds that you've seen in the wild or photographed, and why and you can't say great or lovely"?...because apparently I use lovely and great a bit to often...typical Hammer supporter!! In fact so rare is it I'm asked about birds by my mates I had to check they meant the feathered variety....
So I rattled off my list, weirdly my mates were smirking, "that's twenty two you numpty"....so I was allowed to sleep on it and here's my top ten, in no particular order (except alphabetical) along with the reasons why.
GOLDCREST

GOLDCREST
 So firstly, the Goldcrest, many reasons, small, inaudible once you reach a certain age plus the fact they manage to survive our winters is a small miracle in itself, plus their nests are a great piece of engineering
HOBBY

HOBBY
 Then it would have to my favourite bird of prey the Hobby, fast,super-super fast,agile a bird that whilst hunting low and fast for dragonflies will not only knacker you out but you're always amazed that you got one in focus and not vanishing out of the frame....lovely
KESTREL
 Then the Kestrel, it always amazes me their ability to hover for long periods regardless how strong the wind also in recent times I've seen their ability to adapt to new surroundings which might be key to their survival......
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER

LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, TENACIOUS AND NOT TO BE MESSED, AS THIS MALLARD FOUND OUT
 The Little Ringed Plover, small, migrates vast distance to breed here, a genuine,tenacious and clever little wader.
 The Marsh Harrier, it's an odd one, you don't hear of many cases of persecution, in fact on one tiny island they're viewed as a saviour from potatoe eating pheasants, I've had many encounters with this species and each time my heart skips a beat, whether it be a food pass from male to female or as in the photo above hunting a Coot on the scrape at Summer Leys, it's still a winter visitor in this county, sadly.
PEREGRINE FALCON, SIMPLY GREAT AND LOVELY, ENOUGH SAID, DON'T CARE...OK IT'S THE FASTEST BIRD I'VE EVER SEEN HUNTING
SANDERLING, AND IT'S ABILITY TO HOVER MID AIR WHILST WALKING....
 The Sanderling, again small, quite shy but has a unique character when running along a shoreline, I also like the very different plumage between winter plumage (as above) and their spring/summer plumage.
SHORT EARED OWL, CONCENTRATING OR GRUMPY
 The Short-Eared Owl, the only bird which during the winter will have me standing in freezing/wet/snowy/poor light all day long. Seriously not sure how I haven't suffered from frost bite whilst waiting for a Shorite to start hunting, but a couple of summer time sightings recently, just didn't have to same level of satisfaction, photography wise. I also like the fact that if you have decent fieldcraft it's one owl species that carries on about it's business of hunting whilst others flee, in fact I have had more "close encounters" with this species with one exception......
SWALLOW, GREAT BIRD.
 The Swallow, fast agile, lovely colours in bright light, with care can be very approachable. Migrates vast distances and can charm the most "birds are boring" type of person Also I like the fact this bird features on many of my non-birding friends list of favourite birds/animals is impressive, very popular bird.
TURNSTONE

TURNSTONE
The Turnstone, again I like the fact that they're very approachable species, quite numerous so not hard to find, a bird that often when I'm photographing in "bird rich" locations others walk straight past them, but I always find myself chuckling at their antics or remember very fondly the Turnstone that walked right up to my lens looked inside the hood and walked off or the one on Titchwell beach whilst laying on my stomach walked over my back and carried on as if I wasn't there! Oh I prefer them in summer plumage, but don't mind the winter plumage.
Birds that were just outside the top ten were Barn Owls, Little Owls, Yellowhammer,Lapwing,Red Kite, Buzzard and Skylark.
What's your top ten then? Do you agree with my top ten or is there one that shouldn't be on there? One you think I missed off or are all birds lovely and great.
The Yellowhammer is featured as it came to a toss of a coin between the Turnstone and Yellowhammer between them for the top ten.....
YELLOWHAMMER 
AN INCREDIBLE SONG.