Thursday, 22 September 2016

Red-backed Shrike

I was in two minds over going to see the juvenile Red-backed Shrike found at Tidemills yesterday. It sounded like a good bird and was showing well but there was the risk of a large scale twitch which I tend to avoid. In the end I did nothing, sitting at home until a tweet came through saying that it was still there.

Still some doubts, I already had good pictures of a juvenile plus some good shots of an adult male (see here). Finally I made a decision and set off, annoyed that I had not gone first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

When I got there it wasn't too bad. Only three people watching the bird and it really was showing well.

It came into a perch only 15 -20 feet from where we were standing and at at times was on the ground picking up bees only a few feet in front of me. Fabulous views and also good lighting, a rare combination.

I am usually happy with one or two good shots out of say two hundred taken. Today the success rate was more like 50% with half the pictures still to process

A great session but nothing is perfect. When I left an hour later the numbers watching had increased to around fourteen and it was getting uncomfortable. I am a bird photographer and I want to get close and get the best possible pictures but it takes time and effort.

Wait for the bird to come to you, rather than chasing it around the site. If it approaches you and feeds around your feet, it feels safe and you will get good shots. If its moving away from you and you chase it, your chances of getting a good picture are reduced.

I have to admit, this bird was difficult to flush but the pattern of its feeding changed during the time I was there. When I arrived it was using one perch. It stayed there for about fifteen minutes and was feeding close to the people observing it. Pictures were easy to get. By the time I left it was covering a much wider area moving from perch to perch every couple of minutes with a small group always in pursuit.

Don't stress the bird. You can get good pictures without trying to stick your camera three feet from its face. Make sure it stays there for other people to see.

Moan over. What a great bird.

A few more shots taken on a subsequent visit. I have never used so many pictures of a single bird before.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Red-necked Phalarope

Monday, we spent nearly five hours sitting in a hide at Titchfield Haven, waiting for a Semipalmated Sandpiper to turn up - it didn't. Which is probably just as well, as I am not sure that I would be able to tell it from Little Stint even at close range.

The drive home after missing a bird is always a bit depressing but we didn't let it get us down. This morning we were up early and over to Pagham North Wall hoping to find something unusual - we didn't and to make matters worse there were no reports of any good birds in the area. Running out of ideas we decided to go over to Thorney Island to have a look for the Red-necked Phalarope and I am pleased to say this time we were in luck.

The Phalarope has been there for  a few days now but has been distant for a lot of that time. Today it was just out of photographic range for most of the time but did make a couple of short forays into closer waters. It was then a case of trying to get a clear shot through or over the reeds and hoping that the light was reasonable.

We got a few record shots but it could have been better. If you are going to have a look at it, the late afternoon sun will give you the best lighting. For us, today, it was just too hot to stand around for a few hours waiting for things to improve.

To find the bird, park up at the triangle at (SU757049), cross the road and follow the footpath west to the beach. Turn left (south) and follow the seawall footpath for about 200 metres to the Little Deep (SU752048)

On Sunday we walked from Reculver out past Cold Harbour Lagoon. A short stop for pictures gave me the birds below.



Bar-tailed Godwit

Spotted Redshank


and this looks like another Little Stint - white braces on its back clearer in other shots

A couple of shots from Titchfield, taken whilst we were waiting for the Semipalmated Sandpiper that didn't show.


Common Snipe

And two from last week at Pagham North Wall

Curlew Sandpiper and six Dunlin

Low flying Buzzard

The hot weather seems to have caused the autumn migration to stall. Am I alone in looking forward to the cooler and more productive days to come.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Wryneck 2

Following on from the last blog, on the Church Norton Wryneck, Dave an I made another visit to the Severals hoping for better picture opportunities. We spent a few more hours standing around waiting but the best we had were brief glimpses of it feeding on the ground.

I had really given up on Wrynecks for this year but then on Wednesday I took Sue and her friend Maggie over to the Seven Sisters Country Park for lunch and a gentle afternoon stroll. We walked into the cafe just before twelve o'clock and I knew it was going to be a good day when I just managed to get my order in for the full english breakfast with two minutes to spare.

After lunch (or in my case breakfast) they decided to go over to Beachy Head for their walk and so to avoid the worse of the crowds I parked up near Shooters Bottom. I confess that I had completely forgotten that there was a really obliging Wryneck at that location! That was until Sue spotted a group of people with long lenses, lurking in the undergrowth and suggested I go over to see what they were up to. Never one to argue I did as I was told. Suspicious looking characters they were but it was great to meet up with Paul Snellgrove and David Gardiner again.

Initially it didn't look too promising. Paul put me onto the Wryneck but it just stuck its tongue out at me and then flew off.

It then reappeared a short distance away feeding on the ground.

It obviously did not see us as a threat and was happy to come within about twenty feet of us.

Above feeding and below showing the long tongue as it searches for its main food source ants and for other small insects in the undergrowth.

It turned out to be a very productive hours birding and I came away with some great pictures. To cap a good day I found a couple of Small Copper butterflies, a rather rare species this year.

Thursday, 1 September 2016


A day of highs and lows, with hours spent standing around waiting for birds to show, a few memorable minutes when they did, some classic missed opportunities and a few good pictures.

The day started on the Arun River, at the marina, just south of the Littlehampton bridge. We had gone there to look for the Osprey. We didn't have to wait long. Just as we got out of the car it passed over our heads probably no more then forty feet away. Great views but the cameras were still packed away in the car boot. 

We chased it down river, only to find that it had circled round over the golf course, to head back to where we started from.

Back to the bridge and we set up to wait for its return and for some picture opportunities. Two hours later and we were still waiting. With nothing happening, boredom was setting in so we decided to head over to Pagham Harbour to look for the Wryneck. Cameras packed away, we started down the bank, only for the Osprey to reappear and make another low pass over us. Another great view but by the time we had a camera locked on it was disappearing into the distance.

The Wryneck was a lot easier. We arrived at the Severals to find it sitting out on the top of some brambles. It had its back to us most of the time but these were far better views than you usually get of a Wryneck. We were also told that it had been showing well for most of the morning.

After a few minutes it flew into cover but this looked really promising. We settled down expecting the bird to put in regular appearances and to give us some great picture opportunities. Two possibly three hours later we were still waiting. We had occasional glimpses of the Wryneck feeding in the long grass or flying between bushes but nothing out in the open.

Eventually we tired of this and decided to head back to Littlehampton for another try for the Osprey.  As a result, yet another hour was wasted with nothing to look at.

If we were just birders we could have moved on, happy that we had seen the birds and got our year tick, but as a bird photographer there is always a better picture waiting to be taken. Eight hours standing around waiting for those better picture with just a three or four minute slot actually taking them. It sounds a bit extreme and it's not for everyone, but hey, I look at the pictures now and for me it was all worthwhile.

All I have to do now is catch up with that Osprey.