Sunday, 26 January 2014

Brief Encounters at Capel Fleet & Stodmarsh

A brief visit to Capel Fleet on the Isle of Sheppey did not reveal much.

 I was hoping to get some game bird photographs, in particular Pheasant and Partridge images.

But, they were noticeable by their absence, maybe I arrived too late in the morning, or maybe the local shoots have taken a heavy toll.

Two Red legged Partridges were all that was seen, on the ditch spoil heap, alongside the road.

A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reed beds distantly, Buzzard numbers seem to have increased around this area recently, good view of one on a telegraph pole, which flew  as soon as I pointed the camera in its direction, another surveying the local fields from  its vantage spot on a raised spoil heap, but to far for the camera, a record shot only.

On to Stodmarsh, a shortish drive away, on arrival the sun was still shining, but conditions along the tracks at Stodmarsh were very heavy going.
A quick look out from the Reedbed hide revealed very little on the lake, a few distant Black headed Gulls,  Three Marsh Harriers made an appearance over the reed beds.

Water levels were very high, in fact, only the upper 12 inches of the kingfisher perches were showing  above the water level.

A walk around the Alder wood revealed a flock of Goldfinches feeding high up in the Alder trees with a small number of Siskins feeding with them, as well as another Treecreeper.
Siskin too high for a decent photograph , so another record shot.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Tree Mouse !

This modest and retiring little bird, is, to speak
neither common nor uncommon.
Even where it is to be seen,it often is not seen,
for not only is its dress of a sober and unpretending character, 
bearing resemblance , likewise, as is the case with many of nature's animate works, to the less highly organised substances  on which it plays its part,
but it is also, more shy than fearful, shuns observation, and,
on coming within the range of your glance, withdraws at once from sight.

Extract taken from "A History of British Birds"
Volume the Second
The Rev. F.O. Morris
Rector of Nunburnholme, Yorkshire
Honorary member of the Philosophical Society

A few years ago I obtained from ebay,  a copy of
 " A History of British Birds" 
The book was obtained at a bargain price, but was in very bad condition, in fact, it was falling to pieces, only good for breaking, but it does contain a full set of hand coloured prints with the accompanying original text, 
my original idea was to frame some of the prints, which,
 I still have not got round  to as yet.

I thought the extract above sums up a Treecreeper sighting quite well,
 never an easy bird to see, let alone photograph.

" Tree Mouse" is the old country name for this bird, when seen, it does remind you of a mouse moving up a tree, it is well camouflaged, most of my sightings have been preceded  by hearing the high pitched call,
 which always pleases me,  as I was told before my retirement that I was losing my ability to hear high pitched sounds,      ....... not quite yet.

Unusually, the bird cannot move down the tree like a Woodpecker or Nuthatch, when it reaches the upper levels, it flies down to the base of the next tree in its constant search for invertebrates and such.

Here's a few images of a Treecreeper seen at New Hythe gravel Pits, alongside the railway embankment.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Bluewater !!

Bluewater, just the thought of those words are enough to send a chill down my spine, quickly followed by a panic attack, as I mentally search  for an excuse not to go there.

But, there's a quiet little corner tucked away at the back of Bluewater,where you can escape from the nightmare of the shopping development.
    I have often looked at it, as I have driven by, making a mental note, to go back and check to see what wildlife may be there.

There are a number of narrow lakes situated around the base of the old chalk quarry cliffs, most of these are fringed with managed reed beds, Willow and Alder trees have grown, producing a wildlife haven, where it's a pleasure to sit and watch the natural world at large ......and forget about the"hell" that exists on the other side of the road !

The lake I visited was in the far northwest corner, near the service centre at Cliff reach, good access paths around the lake with a bench or two, to allow you to enjoy the atmosphere of the place.

         There was a break in the weather and the sun was shining.

I wanted to go somewhere close and practice with my camera,
 the ideal opportunity.

There was a good number of Coots scattered around the lake, usually I tend to ignore these common birds, but

at this time of the year, the Coots are pairing up and becoming very territorial. Coots displaying various body postures as they patrol their territories often lead to confrontation, so there was chance I may be able to photograph one of the territorial fights which can look spectacular.

This posture I believe is called  "swanning" or " wing arching"  sometimes used in paired display, and also to warn off intruders other than Coots, you can see in this photograph how the neck feathers have been raised in a ruff, with the head held low, in a threat posture.

When a Coot notices a rival near its territory it moves into a "patrol" posture, head lowered and it moves towards its rival, this  posture  is usually noticed by other Coots at some distance away and they take avoiding action, if not, then the Coot accelerates into a " charging" posture head lowered and thrust forward, a noticeable wake behind the bird as it accelerates towards its rival,  this then moves to the next posture known as "Splattering" as the Coot runs across the water towards its rival.

All the Coots were taking avoiding action today, a lot of splattering but no contact, quite interesting to watch and recognise the various body postures, allowing you to anticipate a confrontation and understand what's going on.

This Heron usually quite wary, was content to be photographed, safe at its vantage point, high above the lake.

 In the undergrowth , this Wren caught my eye as it made
                           the most of the winter sunshine.

There is a good selection of common waterfowl found here, providing some good photo opportunities with lots of reflections.
Juvenile mute swans

Canada Goose


Fm Tufted duck

This Cormorant drying its wings showed how bright the sun was.

Good selection of Black Headed gulls in there winter plumage on show, with a few first winter juveniles , easily picked out with their pale orange legs and bill.

First winter Black Headed gull
A flight shot in focus !


Nothing too unusual on this occasion, but a pleasant few hours in the sunshine.

Great Crested Grebe

Well done to Bluewater development for maintaining these areas.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Photography Workshop !

I have always had a keen interest in wildlife, in particular bird watching. Since my retirement I have taken up photography, combining both interests has been easy, the only problem at the moment is the amount of equipment I have to carry suspended from my neck !

Like most new photographers I suspect,  it can be quite frustrating trying to get a good image or at least one that you are happy with.

So with this in mind, my daughter Sophie  arranged  for me to attend a photography workshop as a gift, to improve my skills.

The photography workshop was associated with  "Countrywide Falconry" based in the Kent countryside near Sevenoaks,
 titled  "Birds of Prey in Action", sounded good

The course would cover such things as composing a good shot, correct aperture settings, use of ISO settings to change shutter speed, use of autofocus points, how to set  your camera for fast action  photography, focus modes and correct exposure for your shots.

I was now getting slightly worried  !

 How would I be able to do all that and try and get a fast moving bird of prey in the viewfinder, and not embarrass myself.

Not only that, after reading their notes they advised that I should have already attended their Skill level 1 course,

 Now even more worried !!

I expressed my concerns to my daughter, she unsympathetically, I felt, advised me that I did not need to attend that course, which she said was for complete beginners.
 So not totally convinced, I made my way to the Farm in Sevenoaks.

 The heavens opened up and rain poured down, not a good start.

With some trepidation, I made my way to a very impressive barn, full of horse and falconry parafernalia, complete with many Falcons, Hawks and Owls, all it seemed, looking at me very suspiciously.

Over a mug of tea, got to know my colleagues for the day, all very like minded people. The workshop leader got on with his theory presentation, camera settings were set, we made our way out to a paddock where the rain had stopped and the sun was out.

The falconer brought out his first bird, said he would start us off with a slow flying Barn owl and work up to the fast flying hawks and falcons, seemed reasonable.

Not as easy as it sounds, and after many rubbish shots of empty sky, tail feathers and blurry images, slowly got my eye in, the trick was to try and anticipate where you thought the bird was going, 
Continuous auto-focus helps, and press continuous shutter and hope for the best, doesn't sound very professional, I took quite a few images most of which were rubbish this was the best I could manage.

Next out was this beautiful Bengal Eagle owl, very impressive.

The Falconer did his best to fly the birds very close to the assembled photographers, still quite difficult  to get a fully focused shot.These were my best shots.

A different Eagle owl coming in low.

Some portrait shots of the Eagle owl , nice eyes.

Next out were two Harris hawks, things were getting  a bit faster, the hawks were coming in at all directions, 

After a buffet lunch in the barn, there was an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the birds. tried some more portrait shots, much easier, here's a Snowy owl.

Little owl.

Portrait of a Saker

Portraits of a Lanner

Portraits of a Ferruginous Hawk

Portrait of a Buzzard

All in all, a very enjoyable day, lots to think about. I don't think its going to be so easy with wild birds, which always seem so wary or distant.

Saw this Wild Buzzard high in a tree on the drive home, shame it was facing the wrong way.