Monday, 29 February 2016

Little Owl

My blogs seems to have been mostly about Owls of late but then who could resist the opportunity to photograph this pair of Little Owls? Dave certainly couldn't and you will see an almost identical set of pictures on his blog. All except for the Firecrest that is and I will get on to that later.

This now looks like a possible nesting pair so forgive me but I am not going to publish any details of their whereabouts.

Later we went to Chichester Gravel Pits to look for the Red-crested Pochard. They were there, on Ivy Lake, but staying well hidden under overhanging willows on the far side of the lake. My thanks to Sarah for putting us onto them, I don't think that we would have found them without her assistance.

With a White-fronted Goose on East Lake, the area became a bit like a birding reunion, with a lot of old faces and a newly shorn Bart Ives (not looking quite so Organic now) turning up to view the birds.

White-fronted Goose

The Great Crested Grebes seem to have suddenly developed their breeding plumage. This is a bird that we tend to ignore for most of the year and then, with a chance of seeing a Weed Dance, they become the centre of attention for a short period. These two looked as though they would kick off but then seemed to loose interest and drifted away.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes

We then decided to head over to Arundel and visit the Wetland Centre. I still haven't managed to get a decent picture of a Firecrest and this is one of the most reliable places for seeing them. There was a great looking bird feeding around some of the brambles with probably half a dozen or more photographers trying to get a picture of it. 

Checking later, Trevor Guy, who we met there, and Dave seemed to have nailed it as probably did everyone else apart from me. Checking the back of the camera showed a lot of empty perches and blurred shots. The best I could manage was this head shot below. Better than nothing but not really the picture I was after.


I suppose I shouldn't be too despondent, at least it's the head, I usually just get the rear end as it flies out of the picture.

One last shot. This is the Ashdown Forest Great Grey Shrike that I saw a couple of days ago. It was about a hundred metres west of the Long car park but very mobile. There were a lot of people and dogs walking in the area and it was avoiding these. You could probably get it down to about forty metres but any closer and it would fly.

If you want to see pictures of a much more obliging bird have a look at my November 2013 blog.

Ashdown Forest Great Grey Shrike

Another great day for bird photography but there was a definite heat haze building this afternoon despite the chill in the air. That window of optimum lighting and clear air is all to brief.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Short-eared Owl Revisited

Whilst we were taking pictures of the Short-eared Owl yesterday Dave thought he caught a glimpse of a Great Grey Shrike. We were unable to confirm the sighting but a couple of birders we spoke to later had also seen it. Today I was passing through Arundel and with a bit of time to spare I thought I would go and have another look.

Despite a good search there was no sign of the Shrike but I did come across a Short-eared Owl perched up on a post by the railway. A second great opportunity in two days. I did feel a bit guilty as there was a sizeable group of people down by the wooden bridges waiting for an owl to appear, but I soon got over it.

An unexpected find - searching for food from a post

Food is the first priority

Checking me out to make sure that I was not a threat

Note that in the shot above, with half the face in shadow, the pupils are a different size. The problem is that when you manoeuvre around to get the whole of the face into sunlight, the light is too bright for the owl and it keeps its eyes half closed. Not only do you need the perfect opportunity but you also need a day with high thin cloud to give a nice soft diffuse lighting. Then of course your speed will be too low and you will get a blurred shot. The joys of bird photography in the UK.

This bird had very contrasting plumage with pale buff white and heavy dark streaking. It is probably the first bird seen yesterday, the second one being a less contrasty rufous colour.

Stay outside the birds threat zone and when you go make sure that it is left peaceful and undisturbed.

It looks happy enough but I guess it was still listening out for any noise that I made just in case I become a threat. I tiptoed away with out disturbing it, only for a train to come thundering through less than ten foot away from it. Even then it seemed reluctant to take to the air.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Short-eared Owl

Another lovely day for bird photography but initially very little to photograph. Fortunately it all came good at the end of the day.

We had started off at Warnham LNR hoping to see Redpolls and the Brambling that had been reported there over the weekend. Neither showed and we were left with a couple of Siskin and the usual range of birds on the feeders. The highlight was probably this Bank Vole putting in an occasional and very fleeting appearance.

Bank Vole

And a quick visit from a Jay.


With Reed Buntings making up the numbers.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

We moved on to Pulborough Brooks which proved to be a slight improvement. We saw Bullfinches and Ruff but the former were feeding deep within a hedge and the later were too far away for a picture. A pity really, as one of the Ruff looked to be showing a white collar, perhaps the start of its display plumage.

There were also Fieldfare and Redwing feeding in the fields but I only had this one picture opportunity.


We decided to finish the day at Waltham Brooks looking for Owls. As it turned out, it was a good decision. There was no Barn Owl but we did have two Short-eared Owl quartering the brooks. The pictures never really do justice to the magic of seeing the owls but it is still nice to get them.

Short-eared Owl

The second Short-eared Owl

The lighting is different in these two pictures but the wing markings suggest that these are two different birds. The first bird showing much more contrast in its plumage whilst the second is the more usual rufous colouration.

Eventually one of the birds settled in a tree about one hundred and fifty metres away and seemed content to stay there a while.

Too good a chance to miss

Having made sure that none of the other birders present objected I decided to try to get a little closer. Yet another photographer trying to spook the bird I hear you say. Well I did get a lot closer and I did get some good pictures but when I backed off the bird was still sitting in its tree looking quite relaxed. The birders were probably more upset as they would have liked to see it flying again.

The sad thing is that I have delete around a hundred pictures that are arguably just as good as the ones above.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Long-billed Dowitcher

Today it really felt as though Spring had arrived. We were off down to Pennington to look for the Long-billed Dowitcher. It wasn't exactly warm but the sun was shinning, the sky was blue, and there was no wind, and for the first time this year the birds seemed to be out singing and marking out their territories.

On the walk down to the lagoons from the car park we had Linnets, that I didn't manage to photograph, a Reed Bunting and even a Wren happy too be sitting out in the open singing.

Reed Bunting


Waders were in short supply, as they have been for most of this Winter, but the comparison of this Spotted Redshank and Redshank made an interesting picture.

Spotted Redshank and Redshank

Spotted Redshank

A search for the Long-billed Dowitcher found it sleeping in the reeds along side three Snipe. It looked promising when we first spotted it but it wasn't until it raised its head and revealed the bill that we could be sure.

Long-billed Dowitcher and three Snipe

We watched it for a while and it was beginning to look as though it would not leave the cover of the reeds. Luckily a low flying Lapwing spooked the Snipe and the Dowitcher took to the air with them. I would normally have expect it to head deeper into cover.

The flight shot gives a good view of the white cigar shape on its back.

Long-billed Dowitcher - showing cigar shaped white mark on its back

The bird did not travel far and was soon heading back to its favoured resting place in the reeds

Long-billed Dowitcher

With the shot below showing the greenish/yellow legs and truncated bill with slightly down turned end.

and heading back to the reeds

Next stop was at Mark Ash wood in the New Forest but our usually reliable Tawny Owl seems to have moved on and our quick search for a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker revealed no sighting and no sound of drumming. Perhaps still a little too early in the year and certainly a little late in the day.

Next stop was Eyeworth Pond at Fritham. The small birds are always easy to photograph here  as they are very tame and use to visitors providing them with food. The only difficulty is getting a decent shot of the bird without piles of seeds getting in the way.

There are usually Mandarins on display although they tend to stay on the far side and shelter under the trees but the bonus on this visit were four Goosanders, three male and one female.


Goosander and Mandarin Duck

Goosander and Mandarin Duck

Mandarins escorting the female.

We had great fun watching and photographing these and there were a number of flight shots that nearly made the grade but in the end were all consigned to the bin. It is amazing how different the male Mandarin looks in flight.

Then it was back to the feeding station and a few shots of the more common birds.

Great Tit

Great Tit

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit


A great days birding with, for a change, some decent lighting for the photography.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Water Pipit

Monday morning and it was a choice of go back to Titchfield Haven and risk dipping the Penduline Tits for the fifth time or find a new target. Fortunately there had been a few reports of a Water Pipit on the Cuckmere and having missed out on seeing one last year I decided to give it a go.

The directions were really good. Two hundred metres north of the Charleston reedbeds on the east bank of the Cuckmere (just by the metal gate). I found the spot but there was no Water Pipit or for that matter no small birds at all. A two hour wait in really cold weather and I was ready to call it a day. As often happens I was about twenty metres down the track when a bird flew in over my head from the west side of the river. A quick dash back to the gate confirmed that it was the Pipit.

The pictures are not great, it was a long way off and did not stay on view for long but I was happy to have got the record shots. It did stay in the area, feeding on the flooded part of the field, just south of the gate, but once on the ground it was even harder to photograph.

Water Pipit

Next stop, once I had my circulation back, was Tide Mills. The tide was out so there was no chance of Purple Sandpipers on the pier but the Black Redstart did put in an appearance. It looked to be a fabulous bird but I just could not get it framed the way I wanted. If it sticks around I will be going back for another try.

Black Redstart

A Meadow Rock Pipit feeding in the puddles makes a nice comparison with the Water Pipit above. The Water Pipit being a much smarter looking bird with a richer brown above and extensive white below.

Meadow Pipit - whoops made a mistake its a Rock Pipit
I was so pleased to have got the Water Pipit that I didn't really give it any thought. Thanks to Ian Ballam for pointing out the error.

Other pictures taken recently on my abortive trips looking for Pendulines - the ubiquitous Stonechat, always good for a picture.


A Goldcrest in the Wetland Centre at Arundel


and a Nuthatch in the New Forest

But that still leaves me with the problem of getting to see the Penduline Tits.