Sunday, 25 January 2015

Frozen marshes !

It had been a bitterly cold night, the lowest recorded temperature for this winter so far at  -9 deg Celsius.
The weather forecast was looking good for the day though, beautiful clear skies with some winter sunshine, there was a light covering of frost on the vegetation, a good day for some winter bird photography.

As I pulled up at Rainham RSPB, the car park was full, everyone else seemed to have the same idea, many armed with long lenses. My usual instincts at times like this is to walk the other way, but I was in desperate need of some fresh air and to walk the marshes, so I stuck with it.

I begun by walking around the woodland trail, this female Blackbird was busy feasting on the last remaining rose hips, other birds noted were Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Long Tailed Tit.

The Kingfisher had found some open water near the bridge, I felt very guilty disturbing its search for food on this cold icy morning, when most of the waterways were frozen.
 I did not linger and passed by quickly.

The woodland feeding station was manic with birds flitting about in all directions, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Reed Bunting, Blackbird and Collared Doves were all noted.

This Chaffinch and Robin looked like they were suffering from the effects of the cold night, and were still trying to warm up.

Several Dunnock were feeding around the boardwalks.

A couple of Brown Rats under the feeders, were being admired by the gathered photographers, any other time, people are usually take avoiding action.

The walk through the marshes was exhilarating, lots of birds distant on the frozen pools,
but no sign of the Water Rails, although they could be heard hidden in the reedbeds.

Stonechats were stationed all around the reserve, managed to capture one in flight for a change.

Several Blue Tits were dismantling the Reedmace heads, a shame they were not Penduline.

I sat in the Purfleet hide for a while, watching the Wigeon on the frozen pool.

These Wigeon had flown from the marsh after being spooked by some unseen foe, only to find the  relative safety of the pool  frozen, they seemed very unsure of themselves.

And finished the day with this Moorhen, strutting out on to the ice, panicking, and trying to run across the frozen pool.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


I have been watching the finches come to the feeders of late, mainly Goldfinch and Chaffinch. Each seem to have their own strategies for approaching the sunflower heart feeders.

The Goldfinch arrive at the Pear tree in small groups of three or four birds,throughout the day, Niger seed use to be their food of choice, they're now drawn to the sunflower hearts, they sit high in the uppermost branches surveying the scene, alert for any dangers before any approach is contemplated, waiting for some individual to swoop down to the feeder, a few seconds later, the remaining birds fly down to the feeders, sometimes squabbling amongst themselves,but eventually settling down on one of the available perches where they feed on the hearts for several minutes.

I have been trying to photograph them as they arrive at the feeders, not an easy task for amateur,
the winter sun does not quite reach the feeders at the moment so the light always seems poor, I think this is the reason I can't get high shutter speeds, hence the soft images and motion blur on most of the images, the fact that I am photographing from behind the patio doors probably doesn't help either.

The photograph below was taken  during a brief sunny spell, the shutter speed was high for a change, and the light caught the goldfinch perfectly as it flew onto the feeder.
Easily the best photograph I have managed to capture.

Heres some more images taken with a much slower shutter speed.

The Chaffinch have a slightly different approach, they like the Goldfinches sit and wait high up in the Pear Tree, the females are slightly bolder and will fly in direct and land on the feeder and grab a few sunflower hearts, the males seem unsure about the feeder, they swoop down but  hover in front of the feeder before lunging in to take a sunflower heart, and away they fly.

 And there's my next challenge to try and capture one of these as they fly in, I have managed to get a few images but none sharp enough to be pleased with, so I 'll keep on trying. and await that perfect moment, when the sun shines on that feeder,
 and a Chaffinch obliges by hovering next to it.

 A few other birds  are still attracted to this feeder, the parakeets not so subtle in their approach,
 but very colourful.

Still plenty of House Sparrows around the garden,

And one new visitor to the garden, a Wren was seen flitting about in the ivy, not been able to photograph as yet, but nice to see.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Right place , Right time !

I was parked up midway along the lower road at Capel Fleet, the day had been dull, wet and miserable, there was a short respite in the weather, I decided to hang around to see if any Short Eared Owls would show, as it was here I had some reasonable views back in December.

A white bird flying over the reed bed towards me, caught my attention. As it drew closer I realised it was a Barn Owl in hunting mode.

I watched it for nearly half an hour before the light finally faded and it was lost to view,  but during that time the Owl flew up and down the rough pasture alongside my car giving me some excellent views.

I am sure the Owl, which was so intent on its hunting did not even notice my presence, the Owl hunted no more than a metre off the ground, occasionally plunging down into the grass,
 but coming up with nothing while I watched.

I tried to photograph the Owl taking lots of images, most of which were rubbish, but a couple of soft images were obtained.

The Barn Owl is one of those special birds that everyone wants to see, I count myself lucky to have been in the right place at the right time for a change....

This Female  Kestrel was keeping a close eye on the Owl occasionally flying down as if to chase the Owl away,
 but the Barn Owl carried on hunting regardless.

Plenty of 'game birds' on show, especially some very colourful  Pheasants, 

Always lots of Red legged Partridge around, still no sightings of any Grey Partridge yet.

A quick look along the track at Elmley revealed the usual Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew, the small flock of Ruff were a bit of surprise, as was the Merlin that rushed through putting them all to flight.

Little Egret at the end of the day

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Chilham Shrike !

The Great Grey Shrike ( lanius excubitor), one of those scarce birds that you do not see that often, so I really should have made more effort to see this Shrike, this one has been wintering at Chilham in Kent, since the 16th November 2014.

In fact, I have only seen the Great Grey Shrike on three earlier occasions.

The first was an wintering bird that took up residence in South Norwood Country park back in 1991.

The second, another wintering bird which frequented the Stodmarsh Area from November 92 until March 1993.

The last occasion was a bird seen near Sandwich in 2003.

So when I needed to drop my daughter off in Sittingbourne, the perfect excuse to visit Chilham presented itself, and I was off on my first 'twitch' of the year.

As I neared Chilham the weather  took a turn for the worse, I was driving through a fairly thick mist, visibility  was poor and thoughts of wasted journey were creeping in.

But, as I approached Chilham the mist cleared as quickly as it had appeared, I parked up in the sports centre and made my way along the lane to the bridge where the Shrike had been seen, no other birders on site, was this another bad sign, had I left it too late again to visit.

Its always a bit tense when you make the effort to go on a so called  'twitch', inevitable thoughts of not being able to find the bird, 
or has the bird flown and left the site before you arrive begin to creep in.

I checked the trees in the field close to the bridge, Shrikes like to perch high up and scan the ground for their prey, but no sign, twenty minutes passed by, and nothing seen, I was about to give up when a bird flew over my shoulder from behind, I managed a quick look, it was the Shrike, but I had taken my eye off it and missed where it landed, I checked the hawthorns again alongside the stream, but nothing.

I glanced up at the power line running through the field and there it was on the wires, directly above me, success at last.

After this initial sighting the Shrike moved further away, never coming close enough for a decent photograph, I watched it moving through the hawthorn trees, these birds are known for their ability to impale their prey on thorns, 
and store it for later use, known as a 'larder' .

 This bird did appear to retrieve something from deep inside the tree which it proceeded to eat, it certainly did not catch anything while I was watching at this time.

The Shrike flew across the road to the sheep field, where it took up a typical stance high up in the trees, swooping down to the ground after its prey, and then returning to its vantage point.

I watched this bird for nearly two hours, observing its various hunting techniques and behaviour, although it kept its distance,
 a very enjoyable session with a few record shots to remind me of the time spent with this scarce winter visitor.