Monday, 31 May 2010

Derbyshire Heronry

Regular readers of this blog will know that of all the wildlife I encounter, there is one species that I have a special admiration for...The Grey Heron.

So when I was invited to visit a Herony at a location in the High Peak area of Derbyshire, I didn't have to think twice!
In fact I had made some provisional plans for today, but they were put on hold when this chance arrived.

This particular Heronry is beside a fairly remote reservoir with a backdrop of rolling hills and not too far from a river and canal network...A perfect spot for these birds to rear their young.
Although the reservoir was very low and there was plenty of 'beach' and what looked to be good crossing points over small channels, there was an almost quicksand-like mud, so we decided the best and safest option would be to walk through a wooded area around the waters edge to gain close views of the birds.

There was some early morning sunshine on arrival and at first glance the first nest we approached appeared empty...

After about 10 minutes, we might have been forgiven for leaving and assuming the nest was indeed vacant, that is if we hadn't of heard the loud calls of the youngsters from the other side of the water a little earlier.

We stood quietly and waited and pretty soon a young head popped up out of the nest...

This was quickly followed by a second head...

These two young birds, kept understandably quiet while we were around and when we saw an adult Heron circling the area, we decided to move on and give the birds chance to get a feed.

A little further on from this nest, there was another with a slightly older youngster in it who was keeping his eyes firmly on us...

He wasn't the only one keeping a watchful eye, because a couple of trees further down, an adult was also keeping us and her youngster firmly in sight.

It is very important when photographing birds near nest sites is to do it as quickly as possible and without any disturbance.
I also like to keep as far away as possible and use my longest lens.
Although I could have stayed all day and watched these magnificent birds, the actual time spent in their presence was only a few short minutes and because this particular site was in a rather exposed location with very little cover it was only fair to let them go about their business without the risk of causing them any distress.

Special thanks to Margaret, Brian and Dave for their help and hospitality.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Dee Estuary

First visit for a couple of months to the Dee Estuary and a mini tour of the usual haunts...
I must say, it wasn't the best day on the photography side of things and matters weren't helped by some very strong winds.
It was however a very good day for sightings...all be it many at a distance!

Things started well enough at Burton Marsh with a lovely close encounter with a male Reed Bunting...

If there is a better place in the north west of England for seeing Little Egrets then I'd like to know about it!
I counted 12 Egrets at Burton this morning, which is the most I've ever seen in one place at one time...

Next stop was the short trip to Inner Marsh Farm RSPB, where I was greeted by this Goldfinch as I walked down the path past the meadows...

A couple of distant Avocet on the main spit and 20 or so Black-Tailed Godwit threatened to come closer until all hell broke loose at the sight of a Peregrine Falcon patrolling the reserve...

The Peregrine soon flew off in the direction of Burton and order was restored.
Not long after, the Black-Tailed Godwit, flew in for the closest (but not as close as I'd like) views of the afternoon...

Numbers of Little Egret at Inner Marsh were somewhere approaching double figures, but there was a lot of toing and froing between here and Burton so getting an exact count proved difficult.
It wasn't all about birds today and the mammals were represented by this Rabbit who seemed to have a liking for the grass at the edge of the path...
Last stop was Parkgate and yet more Little Egret sightings...Another 3 to be precise!
Despite the wind, it was a lovely sunny day and quite warm when the gales subsided.
Any birder will tell you, that on a warm sunny day at Parkgate, there is only one thing left to do after the birding is finished...Visit the famous Nicholls Ice Cream shop!
A great day's birding and a Rum & Raisin Cornet made up for any photographic disappointment.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Recent Rabbits

During the spring months of April and May, one of the UK's most abundant mammals, the Rabbit is at it's most active and many times in the last couple of months I've encountered these very timid creatures on my travels...

The best times of day to find Rabbits are early in the morning or late in the evening before sunset.
During the spring months, Rabbits seem to be very active throughout the daytime also and are surprisingly easy to spot at known locations.
The image below was taken at a site close to my home in early April, shot back lit into the early morning sun...

If you remain downwind and use a bit of cover, getting close to Rabbits can be a fairly easy exercise...

However, Rabbits are well equipped and have eyes on the side of their heads, giving nearly 300 degrees of vision which proves a useful tool in spotting any unwanted guests on their manor and of course their hearing is super-sensitive too...So it's best to avoid stepping on any twigs like I did on this occasion!

Another early and dew soaked morning Rabbit, this time from early May...

Finally at my favourite local location, there is a small population of Black Rabbits. I'm not sure, but I don't think that these Rabbits are a naturally occurring melanistic variety...More likely I think to be escaped pets that have joined local colonies fairly recently and have adapted well in the wild.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Love Is Blind

One of the most beautiful things about nature is it never fails to surprise and the adaptability of even some of the smallest of God's creatures quite often leaves me with a sense of wonder...

Tonight was one of those occasions when nature like it so often does, warmed my heart...
I came across a female House Sparrow, who was sadly blind in one eye.

This of course is a huge disadvantage for such a small and vulnerable bird and it got me thinking about how she must struggle going about her daily business, even more so because she had a young offspring close by.

I needn't have worried too much though, because this female had a very loving male companion, who tirelessly took turns feeding both fledgling and mother...

Monday, 24 May 2010

New Life (2)

A trip to the Vale early this evening and following on from the last post, I thought I'd share with you some more images of the springs new arrivals...

It really was a very hot evening and definitely not the sort for roaming about, so I sat on a bench close to one of two broods of Canada Geese and watched the youngsters explore their new world...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

New Life

Yesterday, feeling a lot better after the cold from hell, I decided to visit a couple of locations close to home and take in some sunshine on what was the warmest day of the year so far...

First stop was Brabyns Park in Marple where on the small pond, the Moorhen family seemed to be getting on very well and I'm glad to say that the young have escaped the attention of the Grey Heron that was stalking them a couple of weeks back...

The pond is now almost entirely covered in Lilly pads and I shall return in a couple of weeks when the Lilly's are in bloom.

Next I visited another location close to home and I was very pleased to see a new family of Greylag Geese, including this little cutie...

The young Coots are doing well also and they really are funny looking creatures when they reach this stage in their development, with their tiny heads, tiny wings and huge feet...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Red Grouse Study (5)

Back up the moors this morning for another trip to see how the Grouse were getting on...
Unusually for me, I overslept this morning and didn't leave the house until 7.30.
Actually, I've had a stinking cold for the last couple of days and I really didn't feel like going anywhere, but I had been looking forward to seeing the Grouse for the first time in a couple of weeks and decided to make the effort.
I was really hoping that there might of been some youngsters to be seen today, but sadly I didn't manage to spot any.
In fact it was an unusually quiet day for Red Grouse and I only saw 4 males and just the one female.
I must admit, that feeling so lousy restricted the amount of searching I was prepared to do and although it was a nice bright morning, the usual cold wind wasn't making me feel any better and my energy levels were very low.
You always have to be careful when approaching birds, especially at this time of year when they are tending to their young and I was very conscious this morning of not getting too close to the Grouse in case there were any juveniles around.
I've become very familiar with the Grouse in this area and I knew that if I set my camera on the tripod and waited, then the birds would come to me.
Sure enough after a short time, a curious male bird came within a few feet...
By this time, I was losing the battle with my cold and after foolishly forgetting to bring any water with me, I decided to call it a day and head back to the car.
The long walk back to the car seemed to take forever and I really was beginning to regret getting out of bed.
The only thing keeping me going was the occasional wildlife sighting, which included a very distant Mountain Hare and a few beautiful Golden Plover...
I was the only human being in this lonely part of the Peak District this morning and although I normally revel in the isolation, it became slightly worrying at times as my tiredness started to get the better of me and my thirst became more and more of a problem.
The sights and sounds of the moorland birds lifted my spirits and helped to keep my focus away from self-pitying state of mind.
There are always good numbers of Skylark about at this time of year, but spotting them isn't easy in the thick heather landscape.
Now and again, you do get lucky and one will make it's self known to you...
Finally, the views are always stunning in this part of the world and it's always nice to stop for a while and take them in...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Pennington Flash

I've done a lot of driving in the last week in my quest to photograph wildlife and to be perfectly honest, the long drives and early starts began to take there toll on me, so Thursday and Friday I decided to slow things down a bit and I spent two days in and around the hides at Pennington Flash.

There is something very relaxing about being able to sit in a hide in relative comfort, alone with your thoughts, watching birds go about their business.
In fact sometimes you can get so lost in your thoughts that you forget to fire the shutter of your camera and miss something good!

The main birds of note at Penny over the last couple of days were Terns...Plenty of Common Tern which I had very distant views of and a single Artic Tern which unfortunately I didn't see at all.

Thursday was a rather dull rainy day, but was brightened by close views of a pair of Gadwall and one of my favourite waders the Oystercatcher...

Friday was a glorious day and after an hour or so spent in Horrock's Hide, I was rewarded with some fantastic views of another wader, the Redshank...

There were all the usual suspects at the Bunting Hide, but the highlight for me was seeing the very elusive Stock Dove at relatively close quarters...

The bright sunshine had brought out large numbers of Butterflies all over Penny, including this beautiful Orange Tip that made an all too brief stop on a Dandelion...

A perfect Spring day was capped by the glorious sight of newborn birds following their proud parents all over the Flash.

However some couldn't resist leaving the safety of the family group for a few moments to explore their new world...

Night Fever...

My comedy image of the week was provided by this Black-Headed Gull, who seemed to fancy himself as the next John Travolta...

Mr John Travolta

Black-Headed Gull

How do you like your eggs?

After Sunday's trip to the north east coast of England, Tuesday saw me visiting the north west coast and a lot closer to home with trips to my old favourites Marshside and Martin Mere...
The trouble with Marshside is that you really do have to be lucky with the light on the main spit when visiting in the morning, because otherwise you always find yourself shooting into the sun and unfortunately that was the case on this occasion!
Luckily I still managed to get a few decent shots of my target species and a very welcome annual spring visitor the Avocet.

One of the great things about watching wildlife is you quite often see some wonderful and very funny sights!
Tuesday's entertainment was provided by a distant Black-Backed Gull who decided he'd quite fancied the egg of a Canada Goose!

We watched in amazement as the Gull raided a nest site and somehow managed to stuff the large egg in his beak, before calmly swimming across to a nearby island, head held high and egg staying dry.
His dastardly caper soon came to end when his attempts to crack the egg failed and he captured the attention of a very angry Goose that proceeded to chase him all over the spit.
To make matters worse for the hapless Gull and indeed the Goose...While all the chasing around was going on, a opportunist Coot had quietly slipped onto the island and made short work of both cracking and devouring the contents of the egg!

The short drive to Martin Mere was next and the plan was to photograph Shelduck in flight.
Sunday's trip to Bempton Cliffs had been a very successful visit image wise and I had high hopes of carrying on from where I had left off...I should of known better!
Wildlife photography is without doubt the most frustrating genre of photography, as well as the greatest form when things go right.

Sunday had been one of the truly great days...The sort of day that happens very rarely, when everything seems to go right and the birds are just where you want them to be and doing what you want them to do!
In other words a very lucky day!

Need I tell you that the Shelduck in flight plan didn't quite go so well?
There were a number of factors to this...
One being the birds always seemed to be flying into the sun...Who am I trying to kid?
The truth is I just wasn't on my game.
Being on ones game is so important when it comes to the difficult art of trying to photograph birds in flight and if you're not quite 'on it' then your success rate is likely to be low or even zero like mine on this occasion!

All wasn't lost though and there were plenty of Shelduck around basking in the sun that were more than happy to pose for a portrait...

For anybody not familiar with Martin Mere, it is essentially a wildlife reserve run by the very deserving Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
Away from the Mere which is a huge haven for wildlife, there is a large and very pleasant captive area.
The Captive area contains mainly Wildfowl from all over the world and plays a very important role in the successful breeding of many endangered bird species.

Apart from birds there is a very successful Beaver breeding program and also a similar project concerning Asian Short-Clawed Otters.

This threatened species of Otter really is a beautiful and very playful creature and I really could have stayed and watched them all day as they frolicked in the sun...Truly magical!
Who'd have thought that one of the favourite foods of these captive Otters would have been hard boiled eggs...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Bempton Cliffs

An early start yesterday for the two and a half hour drive to Bempton Cliffs on the north east coast of Yorkshire.
Bempton Cliffs is probably the best place in England to see sea birds and also offers some stunning views.

The light was just about perfect on arrival, but there was a very strong and cold North Sea wind that was good for keeping the birds on the wing, but bad for trying to photograph them...Keeping the camera still even with a tripod proved difficult at times as the wind blew hard towards us.

The other downside of the wind was the white stuff that it was blowing about and covering everybody in...Yes this is a very large sea bird colony and a lot of birds means a lot of bird muck and a lot of sea bird muck also creates a very strong fishy smell that takes a bit of getting used to!

Now to the birds...

Bempton is certainly one of the best places in the world for close up views of the amazing and very beautiful Gannet.
We were treated to some wonderful displays both in the air and on the cliffs as pairs of Gannets went through their courting ritual of banging their bills together in a almost sword fighting fashion.

When they weren't courting of performing dazzling mid-air maneuvers, the Gannets were busy finding nesting material.

Other stars of the show yesterday were Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes.

Oh and least I forget a little bird that perhaps brings more visitors than any other in the hope of even a distant view...The Puffin!