Scarey Monsters

I had a chance to visit somewhere interesting around the York area last week so a quick Google came up with Wheldrake Ings. A nice little spot just South East of York. Unfortunately this reserve is best suited to winter migration and flooding when the Derwent breaches its banks. So in mid summer the main hide is looking over pasture fields full of crows. Oh well. I wandered along the very pleasant paths to another hide which overlooked a pond.

Very Pretty

On the far bank there where two Little Egrets, some lapwings and Canada Geese. But amongst these there was also two very interesting birds. These two....

(I reckon - James)

Water Rail (It was a big one!!)

And having a good swim in the water there was a family of Tufted Ducks

Tufted Duck Family

And finally a very handsome Shoveller in flight. Their beaks add to the effect when in flight.

Shoveller in flight

Then came the scary bit. On a beautiful summers day amongst the reeds I began to hear what I thought was a tractor in the distance. At the head of the path I found this beast. When the breeze blew it turned and made the most disturbing industrial nightmare of a grind. Even on a day like this it gave me the creeps. Imagine being there at midnight on a wet and windy winter.

Scary Monster

An artistic shot

On the way back I managed to get a few shots of one of the cutest birds around. The Long tailed Tit. They are flighty little buggers. Never staying still for a second and always amongst the leaves. Only when a gang of them decides to hop tree do you really get to see them. It was a welcome antidote to the scary monster.

Long Tailed Tit

These Pair of Greenshank where at another pond at the back of the Reserve

And a Sedge Warbler

If you knew these two you would recognise them. So how come I can get a pic like this of a plane hundreds of feet in the air but cant get a decent pic of a Marsh harrier that was flying about only 20 feet away!!!!!


Rail network

It was baking hot on Friday.  I bravely jumped onto my bike.  It was midday by the time I got to Westhay (mad dogs and Englishmen and all that...)

It gets especially oppressive amongst the Westhay reeds.  The dragonflies buzzed about angrily, beady eyes looking for their next fleshy morsel.  The dead remains of petrified trees jutted at awkward angles from the dark swamp water.  A truly prehistoric place.

The raised platform granted some respite, above the reeds the air flows a little more freely.

All around their were strange gurgles and quiet grunts.  Moorhens I assumed, hiding amongst the reeds.

One decided to make a brief appearance, rushing around and doing a very good Jesus impression (walking on water, not parting the Red sea).  It caught my attention enough to have a look through my binoculars.  To my surprise it was not a Moorhen but a Water Rail.

It paused long enough for this quick snap.

I quickly realised that the noise was coming from his bill not from a Moorhens.  In fact there were loads of calls all sounding very similar.  That's because their were loads of Water Rails!  Another one was skulking about nearby and a few minutes later I found these two critters about 20 feet from the first one.

Definitely "Network Rail!"


A flying visit

So Andrew has got his big super dupa camera and can shoot a thousand pictures a second all in super mega, raw HD.  Flying birds can be frozen in flight seemingly at will.

Meanwhile I have had a slightly more modest upgrade.  Still sticking with my bridge camera class.
Nevertheless the Fuji does have a larger sensor and feels very much like a DSLR.

My mission was to get birds in flight (BIF)

So I decided to go over to Chew again as I rather enjoyed myself last time.

There was nothing of any great consequence there but watching the gulls milling around I considered the fact that I know next to nothing about these much maligned “pests”.

The Herring gull is a bit of a brute.  Loud and obnoxious he is probably the easiest to identify.  A prime suspect whenever your fish and chips get attacked.

 An odd picture but I think it works...

Second I notice a large number of Black headed gulls.  These are delicate and actually rather nice to look at, especially in there summer dress.

 What a stunner.  If only he were rare!

In the distance a few Lesser Black Backs are on the prowl.  Just as big bad and mean as the Herring.  

All three are masterful flyers and all impressive in their own right.

Were there any other types? Probably but I would need to break out the bird book for that...

In the afternoon I headed to Westhay.  On the way 20 or so Swallows were sitting on the road.  I whipped out my camera, relised i had forgot to put the memory card in (reducing me to 5 shots, just like the old film days).  Another car came the other way,..

 I fired off a few shots in the wrong focus mode and got this.  Nearly...

At the viewing platform a Kingfisher was toying with me.  Its high pitched call traveling up and down the waterway.  This is the closest I got.

Its a bit like Wheres Wally

A Little grebe and 2 young were having a swim about but were to eleusive for me to capture.

Just before going home a young Marsh harrier (looking rather scruffy) flew low at some distance.  Again too far away really.

Still I had managed some aerial shots during the day.  I will keep paying those flying visits...


Tongues are wagging

Probably the least interesting day I've ever had at Ham Wall. The sun is high, the chicks are fat and every thing is taking it easy for the days when the summer never was. Having said all that this is Ham Wall after all. So what did we have? Well a few nice chats to fellow birders and day trippers. I decided to skip straight past VP2 and head to VP1 with the added pleasures of the Tor Hide. An hour or so resulted in two female Marsh Harriers and three Great White Egrets. But you don't want to see those. You want to see a Coot. Now this might only be a Coot but boy what a Coot he is (I will for the purposes of this article refer to 'it' as 'him' since there is no sexual dimorphism amongst Coots).
I have, since purchasing my 70D, also started to play around with Lightroom. Now Im a bit of a purist where a lot of things are concerned. Avocados for example should only be eaten from the shell with a dab of mayonnaise, splash of lemon juice and a twist of pepper. Anything else is sacrilege. Photography is the same. If its a bad picture its a bad picture. Now There are times when its all intentional which is fine. I dont mind, have a good play around with the effects but when your doing wildlife for wildlifes sake don't muck about with it. With that in mind I've tried not to muck about with what I'm doing at the moment. I've quickly learned its better to under expose which isn't difficult with a relatively dark lens as the EF100-400L. I've then just played with the exposure, contrast and various basic tone settings in Lightroom. This I see as nothing more than what a developer would do in the dark room so my conscience is clear. Unless an even purer purist is prepared to put me right?? So without further adieu I give you a Handsome Coot in full summer regalier.....

And mini me coot......

I like the drops of water in these

Now this was absolutely stunning in the afternoon sun from the Tor Hide

So while the Common Terns were flitting round annoyingly just a bit too far away or in the wrong place I did manage to see one thing I've never seen before. A Little Egret was sitting one one of the rafts abandoned by the Terns as a nesting site and for a very good reason. Its often full of mallards. The egret was determined to sit it out and looked with disdain and scorn down at the rather vulgar and uncouth Mallards. The egret did, of course, conveniently ignore the fact that he himself is becoming a bit 'common as muck' these days. At various stages of the hour he gave these expressions. Ranging from alarm, to dismay through to boredom. The Little Egrets Tongue! Very odd shape it is to!

With little else to excite the day I took to snapping Black Headed Gulls (Juvenile). Theres plenty around and, well if its good enough for James in the last post its good enough for me!

I was lucky with this one.

I like the water reflexion in this

But to cap it all one of the nemesis's flew past. That pesky Hen Harrier. Yet again I just stared at it as it silently flew right in front of me, low and but 20 feet away. I managed to shake myself out of the stupor but it was too late. it had gone.

But then......................

Hen Harrier Sparrow Hawk* with prey (A chick)

Hen Harrier Sparrow Hawk* with prey (A chick)

So Ive finally got one of my nemesis's Not a bad day after all. Egrets tongues and all.

* Of course its a Sparrow Hawk. I knew that! I seem to suffer from a peculiar affliction. I call it Birding  Tourettes or should that be Birding Dyslexia. I am prone to blurting out a random bird name instead of the actual name I intended. The first time this happened I was amongst some learned birders when I spotted far off in the distance a bird perched on a branch. I asked if that was a 'Moorhen' when I meant to say 'Marsh Harrier'. It was actually a Cormorant. I kept quiet after that. Cuckoo's are often Woodpeckers and vica versa. The latest and most worrying blurt occurred a few weeks ago when I pointed to the sky and declared a bird to be a Hedgehog!! Yes this is very sadly true. James did crack up with laughter. This is probably not a very good trait in a birder who publishes his findings on a blog for all the world to see so your patience and sympathy is appreciated. My thanks to Nick P Williams for pointing out this honest mistake. Your very welcome to keep on proof reading Nick :¬D


Something to Chew on

Thunder and lightening rattled through the dreary Somerset sky.  Not an ideal start to a birding day!
Nevertheless I thought that a trip to Chew Valley Lake was in order after hearing about some Black terns that were seen there the other day.

I stepped out of the car and the sun started to shine.  Horaay!

Unfortunately Herriot's pool didn’t seem to have anything unusual on it.  There was lots of “wild” fowl.  I use the term loosely as Canada geese, swans and in - bred Mallards can be found at pretty much any town centre pond you care to mention.

I took the opportunity to take some pictures of Black headed gulls as they are rather nice despite being possibly the most common bird on the planet ;-)


I chucked them my sandwiches which gave them something to chew on and allowed me to get some closer pics (cheating I know!)

I spoke to a nice chap who mentioned Moreton hide and where it was (he could see my slight look of uncertainty and knew I was a bit of a novice round these parts).

Anyway I found myself wandering along a deserted trackway.  After a while a came to a dead end.  Giving up, I wandered back, realising that I had completely missed the hide and what an old skool hide it is! 

Slitty windows and the smell of slightly rotten wood.  You cant beat it!

I didn’t see any terms but a masterful Kingfisher caught two fish but was a bit far away for a photo.

 If you get a magnifying glass you will see him...

On the way back I enjoyed the slightly more country fide side of Chew valley.  No concrete or people.  As I was taking pictures this fellow ran out for just a moment.  A Hare i think...

 Just some extra pictures...


Damsel (Not in distress)

I got out of work early and scampered down to Ham Wall.  Equipped with a fully charged new camera I was ready to take some pro (ahem!) pictures.  Except there wasn't a lot about.  July is a time when most of the bird life takes a bit of a break.  Hiding out quietly in trees or chilling in the reeds.

So I decided to focus (sorry!) on the bugs.  There were loads.  Including a pleasing number of butterflies.

                                                         and a friendly Soldier beetle...

After getting to grips with the manual focus (a most welcome inclusion on the Fuji XS 1 and a big improvement over my last bridge camera) I decided to head to Walton Heath and sat in the hide amongst the reeds.

A tern put in a brief appearance but I was unable to replicate Andrews excellent photo (see last entry).  Partly down to the variable light, a slowish auto focus and dare i say it a slight lack of reaction time.

Nevertheless a young Grebe posed quite nicely.

Time was ticking so i headed back only to be distracted by a Damselfly.  They are rather dainty and look magnificent sat in the reeds.  As I photographed it, he casually rose from his perch, plucked a nearby aphid, shoved it in his mandibles and settled down to eat his prize.  Fantastic!

Scoffing an aphid.

All in all a good macro session.  Now I need to get some more birds!


Mid-summer Murders

Today the EFRS lived up to its name...

My bike was all patched up and we were all geared up and ready to roll.  What a day to choose!
The weather was perfect, filled with optimism we were off.  However the creatures of the moor were in an entirely different mood...

We sallied forth from Glastonbury and down to the enchanted wood where Andrew hoped to finally defeat his Nemesis (see previous entry).  Silence ensued as Andrew drew is camera.  Not much actually happened.  The Nemesis had long gone.  Despite this, it was good to spend some time in the enchanted wood.  There is an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding this place.  The tall trees are bound to hold the odd rare Warbler.  The EFRS will have to check this place out more thoroughly in the future.

Onwards to Ham Wall and we were serenaded by low flying Swallows slicing through the air looking resplendent in the sunshine.

Stopping at VP2 Andrew grabbed a shot of a female Blackcap.  I am a big fan of these birds.  Not really sure why!

Female Black Cap

A Great White Egret was fishing in the distance and a female Marsh Harrier was swooping low over the reeds (I am still waiting to see a Marsh harrier actually catch something).

Then there was some loud screeching from behind (always a disturbing experience).  Looking up we watched a Buzzard getting beaten up by a pair of over zealous Common Terns.  Buzzards are disappointing birds.  They are big and mean looking but they eat worms and get knocked about by Crows (and Terns evidently).  I bet this one had already been bullied half a dozen times and it was only 10.30...

Tern Pair Harrying a Buzzard

After discussing the Buzzard’s misfortune we headed down to VP1 and saw precisely nothing.  So we headed over to the viewing blinds where a number of baby Moorhens were milling around. Cute (but a bit manky looking up close!).

I was in a bit of a pickle with my camera (the seller had packed the wrong charger) meaning that I only had limited opportunity.  So I wasted it with some landscape shots.

Onto the big hide in the reeds.  Here Andrew flexed his photographic muscle with these absolute corkers.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Grey Heron

Mallard Chicks having a race

Mallard Chicks having a race

Great Crested Grebe Chick

After advertising the virtues of an SLR (I might get him a Canon T shirt).  Andrew and myself headed over to Shapwick.  The scrape had one bird on it.  A single Great White Egret (which can be affectionately abbreviated to GWE) and a hot crow who was wandering along the river bank.

He looks like he needs arms :-)

We tried Noah’s as we hadn't been there in ages.  It always looks a bit prehistoric with the old, dead trees sticking out of the water and Cormorants hanging out to dry.  A Kingfisher flashed by and a Reed warbler was skulking about nearby.

Reed Warbler

Reed Warbler

Blue Tit

Then a brutal scene unfurled.  A rather angry swan took great dislike to its younger kin.  A vicious assault ensued with the larger swan repeatedly dunking the young un.  Holding it down in an attempt to drown it.  The youngster weakened quite quickly and things looked grim.  This was going to be a CSI crime scene.  However just when all seemed lost the victim dived into some reeds, hopefully to safety...

Mute Swan attempted drowning

Mute Swan attempted drowning

A little shaken up by these events we went over to Eco Bites to gather our nerves. After a rest and some food.  We tried the Canada lake hide.  Except Andrew couldn't lift his bike over the gate because it was heavy and there was also considerable risk of damage to his (vast) array of equipment...
So we went to Westhay.  Then we saw this fella

Exmoor Pony

Exmoor Pony

You can take a horse to water...
It was a strange place to see a pony.

At the raised platform, Marsh Harriers were flying about albeit rather distantly.  We took the opportunity to try out the variety of optical and camera equipment that we have accrued of late.  All good, honest fun.

Little Egret

Little Egret

Female Marsh Harrier

Cycling back I stopped to see the second crime scene of the day.  A large (Emperor?) dragonfly was feasting on a smaller victim.  There was lots of angry buzzing.  These are serious beasts.  Unfortunately he was able to drag his victim into the sky and away from my equally hungry camera lens!

The day rounded off with a few relaxing pints at The Sheppey.  Except the EFRS is never off duty.  Andrew noted a Buzzard in the field as we were drinking our pints.  He disappeared and re appeared again brandishing his lens!  It did draw some attention from nearby punters.
“Its the paparazzi “ was whispered from a nearby table along with other things which are not suitable for a premium blog such as this.  Anyway here are some shots taken from the pub.


Buzzard / Magpie Face-off
The final murder happened.  The local cat caught and ate an unfortunate victim.  It was summer time but the animals had murder on their minds.

Cat and (dead) Mouse