WildImaging: Blog https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog en-us (C) WildImaging - All Rights Reserved (WildImaging) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:36:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 06:36:00 GMT https://wildimaging.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u103524673-o423042457-50.jpg WildImaging: Blog https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog 90 120 Mr Badger Works for his Dinner https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/mr-badger-works-for-his-dinner Having watched the badgers hoovering up loose peanuts from the garden path, I wanted to see some more active foraging.  I placed an upturned flower pot on the path with some nuts on top and a flat rock with nuts on top and underneath in the same place that I had filmed them before.  3 nights of appalling wind and rain followed with no visits to the site.  Last night I got lucky and the little video clips have been assembled below.  You can see how he had no trouble moving the props around.

On a technical note, the infra-red light on the trailcam has taken to cutting out after a few seconds probably as the batteries are getting a bit flat.  Also, the brightness of the light is insufficient to give a very nice image.  I took some technical advice from Mike Leigh-Mallory and Yusuf Akhtar and I have ordered an infra-red floodlight from eBay.  I hope to drastically improve the lighting and we'll see if the video quality improves much.  Watch this space!

Mr Badger Works for his DinnerMr Badger Works for his Dinner

(WildImaging) Badger Bushnell Trailcam Peanuts Somerset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/mr-badger-works-for-his-dinner Sun, 22 Dec 2013 20:37:02 GMT
How Many Badgers use my Garden Path? https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/how-many-badgers-use-my-garden-path In early December 2013 I had my first success filming a badger walking along my garden path using a battery operated Bushnell trailcam.  The second time I tried it, the pile of peanuts I put out as badger bait was ignored the first night but on the second there were badger visits at approximately 8pm, 9pm, midnight and 5am (precise times on time stamp).  Close and repeated scrutiny has led me to believe these are not all videos of the same badger.  I'd be interested to hear what you think - I have my own theories... :)

Badgers in my garden.Badgers in my garden.

(WildImaging) Bushnell Somerset badger trailcam https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/how-many-badgers-use-my-garden-path Mon, 16 Dec 2013 21:20:59 GMT
A Badger in my Semi-Urban Garden https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/a-badger-in-my-semi-urban-garden I have been aware for some years that badgers occasionally wander down the path by my garden.  Last year an attempt to capture them using a trailcam yielded lots of cats, squirrels and a fox.  I had used as bait some peanut butter spread on a rock.  This year having had an encounter with the badger I decided to have another go, this time using peanuts scattered near the badger's door onto the path.  The first day yielded cats, the second squirrels and then this morning I noticed all the peanuts had gone.  I was delighted to find a huge looking badger on the webcam and surprised to see it was captured at only 8pm last night.  The plan now is to try to get to know its movements a little better and then figure out if I have a chance of getting some more attractive pictures.

How lovely to have this wild creature sharing my garden.  :-)

A Badger in my Bridgwater Garden

(WildImaging) Badger Bridgwater Bushnell trailcam https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/12/a-badger-in-my-semi-urban-garden Fri, 06 Dec 2013 21:17:39 GMT
China Trip 2013 - Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/5/china-trip-2013-Xian-and-the-terracotta-warriors Before the memory of our China holiday fades any further, I think I'd better get up the rest of our photographs and memories.  The last blog post dealt with Beijing and the Great Wall of China and it was with regret as well as excitement that we moved on to the next phase of our fortnight holiday.  Our tour guide left us at one of the giant railway stations in Beijing, installing us in the correct train in a sleeper compartment for an overnight trip to Xi'an.  The scale of the the station was everything you'd expect of such a huge and populous city and we could readily believe that this was the main mass transport system for the country.  We had a 'soft' sleeper compartment with 4 comfy bunks.  The 'hard' sleeper compartments had 6 bunks each and less padding but many people travelled vast distances on hard seats.

Sleeper compartment on the train to Xian The train arrived early enough for us to be able to go to our new rather characterless hotel in time for breakfast and a shower before setting off to see the terracotta warriors.  These were discovered quite by chance in 1974 when some local farmers found 'body parts' while digging a well on their farmland.  The story is summarised well on Wikipedia.  When the importance of the find was realised, the might of the Chinese bureaucracy swung into action, further sites were uncovered and all the important areas were covered with large well-lit barn-like structures and a museum.  Another very Chinese feature is that before tourists like ourselves were allowed to visit the site, we had to be taken to a factory where reproductions for export are made together with a multitude of other artefacts of interests for collectors of trinkets.  Below is the local equivalent of the seaside 'hole in the picture' photo opportunity where we were all encouraged to pose...

Warrior with a new head. The actual site was of course also well provided with shops and restaurants and this area clearly boasted a thriving fur trade.  Whilst avoiding these shops, I was pretty sure that the largest pelts on sale were from long haired German Shepherd dogs and many had been dyed different colours and with odd patterns.  Here is a small selection of pictures of the archaeological site.

Terracotta Warriors 1 Terracotta Warriors 3 Terracotta Warriors 4 Terracotta Warriors fragments Terracotta Warriors in the repair shop Here's a view of the repair shop where the fragments of warriors are reassembled into a whole.

Terracotta Horse Let's not forget the horses - the army had to be able to travel and to mount its cavalry.Terracotta Warriors 7 Within the museum, the atmosphere was enhanced with gloomy lighting and they showcased some of the different types of statue.  This standing archer is tall slim and fit.  The more senior figures by contrast had fancy clothes, hats and pot bellies.  Some stereotypes seem to persist to this day.  :)Terracotta Warriors standing archer Quite nearby, as if to upstage the incredibly detailed work of the potters, half size bronze chariots were found.  These, like the terracotta figures had been damaged by landfalls and possibly by human hand but these had also been painstakingly reconstructed.  The level of detail in the metalwork was extraordinary and the bridles, manes etc were all made of individual metal pieces.

Bronze Chariot and Horses 1 Bronze Chariot and Horses 2 Bronze Chariot and Horses 3 Bronze Chariot and Horses 4 The city of Xi'an itself was at one time well preserved but has now been largely redeveloped with the compulsory tower blocks everywhere you look.  There are a few exceptions.  There is an intact city wall about 9 miles long in a rectangular configuration.  You take your life in your hands crossing busy roads to get to the entrance and to be honest there's nothing to see from it except the sides of tower blocks through smog.  There are various temples, one of which we visited but the highlight beyond doubt is the Muslim quarter famous for its street food (yum) and trinkets (didn't look).  We ate for virtually nothing and loved it and loved the people.

(WildImaging) Xian terracotta army warriors https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/5/china-trip-2013-Xian-and-the-terracotta-warriors Fri, 24 May 2013 19:27:52 GMT
Woodchat Shrike at Chew Valley Lake 2013 https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/woodchat-shrike-at-chew-valley-lake-2013 This gorgeous female woodchat shrike has been around for a week now and I've been fortunate enough to have a couple of sessions photographing it.  This is a lifer for me and is a complete delight to watch as it flits about catching mainly bees.  Apparently they can take larger prey items including small birds even though it isn't much bigger than a sparrow itself.  One person I've spoken to has seen it impale insects on thorns, saving them for later, but I haven't been that lucky.Woodchat shrike 1Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 2Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 3Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 4Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 5Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 6Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 7Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 8Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 9Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 10Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 11Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator Woodchat shrike 12Woodchat Shrike - Lanius senator

(WildImaging) Chew Valley Lake female woodchat shrike woodchat shrike https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/woodchat-shrike-at-chew-valley-lake-2013 Fri, 26 Apr 2013 18:41:14 GMT
Arctic Terns at Apex Lake, Burnham-on-Sea https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/arctic-terns-at-apex-lake-burnham-on-sea These gorgeous birds have been passing through Somerset over the last week or two and half a dozen or more have been feeding at Apex Lake, Burnham-on-Sea.  At this site, families with kids, dog walkers, model boat enthusiasts, fishermen, birders and bird photographers mingle most days of the week.  If you don't mind the activity, it's a site that produces good photo opportunities and the terns are the latest in a long line of photogenic arrivals.Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaeaArctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 1Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 2Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 3Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 4Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea Arctic tern 5Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea

(WildImaging) Apex lake Arctic tern Burnham-on-Sea Sterna paradisaea https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/arctic-terns-at-apex-lake-burnham-on-sea Mon, 22 Apr 2013 07:53:01 GMT
Beijing and the Great Wall of China https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/beijing-and-the-great-wall-of-china Growing up in Hong Kong as I did must have helped me feel at home faster than the 'average' European tourist visiting a bustling Chinese city.  The impact of the very busy roads, pollution, colour, sights and sounds is quite extraordinary.  There is change in evidence wherever you look.  In Beijing, as well as skyscrapers all around, there is another element to the skyline of giant cranes building taller towers and at ground level, old buildings being torn down as the base for still more high rises.

We stayed at the Bamboo Garden Hotel, an island of tranquility at the edge of the ancient Hutong area of Beijing.  Here's a picture of part of this very pretty hotel after dark.

Bamboo Garden Hotel Bamboo Garden Hotel after dark

Whilst we had guides arranged for part of our China trip, often the highlights were the islands of unstructured time wandering around the streets, sampling food from small shops and stalls and watching the bustle of local life.  All of the areas we wanted to see were within a 3 mile walk of the hotel and we spent many happy hours tramping the streets.

Fast food Beijing style Shop selling toffee coated lotus fruit and possibly sparrow kebabs!

Sampling the street food Miscellaneous sweet pastry, squid kebab and potatoes coated in garlic...

The risks of eating street food did not escape us and neither did we escape the bugs.  Two out of the four of us had stomach upsets at some part of the two week trip and three had colds.

One of the greatest pleasures for us was seeing how many adults went either on their own or in company to the many parks around the city to take exercise or sing and dance together.  What might have seemed childish or embarrassing to us was just part of normal life and adults of all ages seemed to take part.  Some of the activities were very unfamiliar - eg walking and suddenly shouting out at intervals exercised lungs and legs, one man walked briskly round a lake with his arms held out aeroplane style and clearly hurting, others put their legs through gaps in bars and massaged their muscles against the steel tubes.  Many areas that looked at first like children's play areas in fact turned out to be adult outdoor gyms.  Here a picture of three of us on a leg exercising with William, the most athletic of the four of us, looking down.

Playing in the park Exercising is a serious and communal activity in Beijing

We saw surprisingly few people doing Tai Chi but we encountered a diminutive little chap who must have been in his 70s doing a Kung Fu type routine.  He was delighted to be watched and was even more delighted when William did a little routine that he has been learning as part of his Chinese University language course.  Katy then managed a cartwheel/flip and Margot and I contributed encouragement and applause.

Getting back to the serious business of sightseeing, we had a day hiking along the Great Wall of China.  What an amazing structure and history to go with it.  At its longest period it spanned 10,000km.  Currently much of it is absent or derelict but we had a great time walking along a well restored 10km stretch little used by tourists and had it almost to ourselves.  Paul, our young guide was very knowledgeable and very fit and walked the same stretch five times in the week we were there!  We were lucky with the weather but the haze meant the photos won't win any competitions.  Here's a selection of the better ones.

Great Wall of China 1 Great Wall of China 2 Great Wall of China 3 Great Wall of China 4 Great Wall of China 5 Great Wall of China 6 Great Wall of China 7 Great Wall of China 8 Great Wall of China

You'll see that this final picture has wall missing and a badly paved surface.  Most of my family and friends know I'm not much good with heights and there was a particularly steep uphill section with a poor surface and no walls 100m on from here (visible) which I had a real problem getting up.  Eyes fixed on the ground, hands and feet gripping on and not talking to anyone.  Phew, I still feel sweaty thinking about it.  I hasten to add there was no danger!

A little more about food in Beijing before some more sightseeing stuff.  It's said of the Cantonese in particular that anything with four legs that isn't a chair or a table, anything underwater that isn't a submarine and anything that flies but isn't a plane is fit for the table.  We didn't go to Canton but there was plenty of evidence of unusual foodstuffs nonetheless.
Donkey burgers anyone? It appears this is one of a chain of donkey burger outlets.  There's no misunderstanding, we checked the Chinese characters as well.  Other places reminded us of home but rather more honest than our own outlets about the nature of their food...Fried stuff and drink... Fried stuff and drink...

Sightseeing in Beijing itself can never be complete without a trip to the Forbidden City.  Surrounded by a large moat and massive walls, the interior is a mix of huge courtyards and temple-like structures and an area of courtyard-style houses and narrow lanes.  It is all in pretty good condition and there is evidence of continual renovation.  You could easily spend a day looking around with a guide but that's not really our thing and we walked through fairly briskly avoiding the main crush of tourists and taking a few pictures.

Forbidden City Wall and Moat Forbidden City Entrance Entrance to the Forbidden CityChairman Mao ZeDong Chairman Mao Zedong

While Mao looks calmly over the hordes of visitors to the Forbidden City, he seemed fairly irrelevant once inside the ancient structure.Forbidden City 1 Forbidden City 2 Forbidden City 3 Forbidden City 4 Outside the southern entrance to the city is Tiananmen Square which is a truly massive area.  A photograph would need to be wall covering size to do it justice.  This is three wide angle shots stitched together in photoshop.Tiananmen Square Looking down on the Forbidden City from the Buddhist temple in the park to the north shows the smog that the inhabitants of Beijing have to put up with on a daily basis.Forbidden City in the Smog One thing that many people will recognise is the love of the Chinese people for posed photographs.  My family and friends will already have noticed far more pictures of our family included here than normal which is a sort of tongue-in-cheek nod to the practice in China.  A new twist to the theme which I hadn't encountered before is the practice of taking pictures in costume often depicting scenes from history or Chinese Opera.  We managed to persuade Margot and Katy to join in the fun at the temple overlooking the city.Margot and Katy in Costume Usain Bolt Fan The Usain Bolt pose seemed lost on the people running the stall.  Good job we didn't get Katy to do the Mobot!Interesting House near the Forbidden City Last but not least, here's a rather unusual example of a house in a Hutong area near the Forbidden City.  Roof terraces seem to be an up and coming thing and are used by some of the tourist restaurants.  Motorbike/trikes like this are a very common mode of transport and are often covered in against the weather.  Bicycles while common, are nothing like as common as they used to be.  Many people use electric scooters and of course there are cars everywhere now.

From Beijing we moved on to Xian, a historic city from the days of the old Silk Road.  More in my next post.

(WildImaging) Beijing Beijing smog China 2013 Forbidden City Great Wall of China Posing in Chinese Costumes Tiananmen Square https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/beijing-and-the-great-wall-of-china Fri, 19 Apr 2013 08:29:43 GMT
Birds Photographed on China Holiday 2013 With Canon SX50 HS https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/birds-photographed-on-china-holiday-2013-with-canon-sx50-hs  

China Map and ItineraryChina Map (small)


My family and I are just back from an exciting 2 week holiday in China during which we visited Beijing, Xian and the Guilin area.  The map gives a feel for the distances covered and modes of travel.

This was very much a family holiday and not aimed at birding and I left behind my proper bird photography kit and opted instead for a Canon SX50 HS compact superzoom camera to cover the photographic needs of the whole holiday, 24mm to 1200mm in one small package.  It has a sluggish LED viewfinder or you can use it like a compact and view the scene on the LCD on the back of the camera.  It is slow to respond in comparison to an SLR and focus is reluctant in some settings.  I'm sure I got more pics overall than I would have done had I taken my big kit as it was so easy to keep it with me all the time.

I hope you enjoy the following pictures, a mixture of reasonable quality and simply record shots covering the entire tour.

Initially we thought that Beijing was home to only our own variety of magpie but when settled into the hotel, we found the garden to be full of the very beautiful and vocal Azure-winged magpie. Azure-winged magpieAzure-winged magpie - Cyanopica cyanus The local dove which looked very like our own collared dove in fact turned out to be the spotted dove.  A common sight in parks and on rooftops. Spotted doveSpotted Dove - Spilopelia chinensis Spotted dove 2Spotted Dove - Spilopelia chinensis Another very common bird in Beijing is the tree sparrow which takes on the role of the house sparrow in this busy urban settling. Tree sparrowTree sparrow - Passer montanus Tree sparrow 2Tree sparrow - Passer montanus The area we stayed in close to the oldest part of the city was full of parks.  The sparrow above was clinging to the eaves of a small temple-like roof over a notice board.  While watching this I became aware of fieldfares calling and flying about in their usual manic fashion.  However, on hunting one down in the camera lens, I found they were red-throated thrushes instead.  Very active and hard to photograph but I got lucky with this one. Red-throated thrushRed-throated thrush - Turdus ruficollis Next on the list of surprises in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven were some Chinese grosbeak foraging under the conifers.  I was very disappointed not to get better shots than these.  Great birds! Chinese grosbeak 1Chinese grosbeak - Eophona migratoria Chinese grosbeak 2Chinese grosbeak - Eophona migratoria Chinese grosbeak 3Chinese grosbeak - Eophona migratoria The reason I had been particularly keen to visit the garden of the Temple of Heaven is that there is usually a winter roost of long-eared owls.  Unfortunately these were not to be found.  One thing we found in China was a distinct lack on ornithologists/birdwatchers.  We couldn't just ask someone with a Swarovski scope where we should be looking!

I had high hopes that the Great Wall of China would be a birding hotspot.  The slopes seemed to have some small flocks of tits but with the SX50, I just couldn't lock onto any birds before they flew off.  On the wall itself we had a wonderful encounter with some remarkably tame alpine accentors.  What gorgeous little birds they are. Alpine accentorAlpine accentor - Prunella collaris Alpine accentor 2Alpine accentor - Prunella collaris

Xian unfortunately yielded no new bird photos although we had a brief glimpse of a large raptor which we weren't able to identify.  The best area by a long way was down in the Guilin region.  The monsoon had started but we were lucky and most rain fell at night.  There was a very noisy dawn chorus with one of the main contributors being the Chinese bulbul. Chinese bulbulChinese bulbul - Pycnonotus sinensis On a bridge over the river Li in Yangshuo I encountered the plumbeous redstart.  This specimen seemed in good spirits but appears on the picture to have a problem with its right foot. Plumbeous redstartPlumbeous Redstart - Rhyacornis fuliginosa Other little birds flitted at high speed through the lush foliage including the Oriental white-eye.  Here's a record shot of one that ventured onto a roof momentarily. Oriental white-eyeOriental white-eye - Zosterops palpebrosus My daughter drew my attention to a tiny finch rather similar morphologically to a zebra finch.  No camera in my hands and gone when I returned.  :-(

A cycle ride through the paddy fields yielded flocks of what looked at a brief glance like big goldfinches.  When they slowed enough for a picture, they showed themselves to be Oriental greenfinch.  Lots of bright yellow flashes when they move. Oriental greenfinchOriental Greenfinch - Chloris sinica For me the bird of the trip was a long-talied shrike.  Disappointing pictures mainly because the camera seemed to find it hard to focus.  What a great bird though. Long-tailed shrikeLong-tailed shrike - Lanius schach Long-tailed shrike 2Long-tailed shrike - Lanius schach The Oriental magpie-robin was present in the same area.  Never seemed to stop moving! Oriental magpie-robinOriental Magpie-Robin - Copsychus saularis Our last 24hrs was spent in the hills of Longji in a small village in rice terraces at about 850m elevation.  Red-rumped swallows nested in our hotel. Red-rumped swallowRed-rumped swallow - Cecropis daurica Very white looking great tits (?Eastern) roamed the fields with white wagtails.  A bird on a cable seems to be a male grey bushchat. Brown accentorBrown accentor - Prunella fulvescens One day I'd love to return on a proper birding tour with a guide. Such wonderful scenery and people and I'm sure that if you knew where to look, the full richness of the birdlife of China would be a real eye-opener.

(WildImaging) Azure-winged magpie Birds of China Brown accentor Canon SX50 HS Chinese grosbeak Long-tailed shrike Oriental magpie-robin https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/4/birds-photographed-on-china-holiday-2013-with-canon-sx50-hs Mon, 08 Apr 2013 08:21:53 GMT
White Fronted Goose at Sharpham on the Somerset Levels https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/3/white-fronted-goose-at-sharpham-on-the-somerset-levels I was lucky enough to find this unusual visitor close to the road near the Durston Peat Works on only my second attempt.  It was hanging out with two greylags and was about 10m the other side of a gate into a field.  Never having seen one before I was very cautious and parked opposite the gate, slid out of my car, extracted the camera from the boot and rested the camera on the roof of the car.  The geese were well aware of me but quickly settled.  They had clearly grown used to all the comings and goings at the peat works and I soon realised that they were more alarmed by the various vehicles on the road than by me and in the end, I walked right up to the gate and continued taking pics at pretty close range.

White Fronted Goose 1White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons White Fronted Goose 2White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons White Fronted Goose 3White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons White Fronted Goose 4White-fronted goose - Anser albifrons

(WildImaging) Anser albifrons white-fronted goose https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/3/white-fronted-goose-at-sharpham-on-the-somerset-levels Sun, 03 Mar 2013 19:35:05 GMT
Twite at Aust Warth https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/twite-at-aust-warth There have been two or possibly three twite seen at the Severn Bridge end of the Aust Warth salt marsh for the last few days.  They seem to flit between the marsh, the grassland and the bare trees near the house at the bottom of the hill where they sit and chatter in the top branches.  None of this makes for good photography but it was nice to add another species to my catalogue and they are sweet little birds.

Twite at Aust Warth 1Twite - Carduelis flavirostris Twite at Aust Warth 2Twite - Carduelis flavirostris Twite at Aust Warth 3Twite - Carduelis flavirostris Twite at Aust Warth 4Twite - Carduelis flavirostris

(WildImaging) Aust warth Twite Carduelis flavirostris Twite photos https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/twite-at-aust-warth Thu, 21 Feb 2013 18:02:00 GMT
Pied-Billed Grebe at RSPB Ham Wall https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/pied-billed-grebe-at-rspb-ham-wall Yesterday a report came in on the SOS Bird News messageboard that a pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) had been spotted at RSPB Ham Wall and was performing well in front of the second viewing platform.  This reserve is best known for it's winter spectacular - huge starling murmurations - but it also gets it's share of rare visitors including at one time little bitterns.

The forecast for today was good in that there was no rain but poor in that thick fog was forecast for the first half of the day.  I pitched up at about 09.30 when I saw from Twitter that James Packer had spotted it in the gloom.  I tried some shots in the fog and, never having tried this before, was intrigued to know what they might turn out like.  Below is a taster - a heavily cropped shot of the bird swallowing a fish.  Interestingly monochrome and very flat with all the wavelengths compressed into a small band as shown in the histogram next to the photo.

Pied-billed Grebe in FogPied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Fortunately the light improved a little and I had a second session later in the day with better light although the grebe didn't come particularly close and I had no sunshine.  Probably the highlight of the day was a real battle between the grebe and a large roach which appeared to end in the roach getting away.  Definitely a case of the eyes being bigger than the belly.

Pied-billed grebe 3Pied billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps

Pied-billed grebe 1Pied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed grebe 2Pied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed grebe callingPied-billed grebe 4Pied-billed grebe - Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed grebe preening

(WildImaging) Ham Wall photographs of pied-billed grebe pied-billed grebe https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/pied-billed-grebe-at-rspb-ham-wall Sat, 16 Feb 2013 20:03:16 GMT
Smew Pair at Decoy Hide https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/smew-pair-at-decoy-hide For the last few weeks there has been a pair of smew visible from Decoy Hide at Shapwick Heath NNR on the Somerset Levels.  More recently, a second redhead smew has been on the same lake but rather more mobile.  I was lucky enough to catch up with the pair this morning on a pretty grim dark winter's morning.  They confined themselves to the stretch of water in front of the hide but usually well off to the left hand side.  At one point after a long dive, the drake came up wearing a broad sash of brown weed which he continued to wear for the next 15 minutes.  They are obviously very much in love at the moment (suitably close to Valentine's Day), indulging in much chest puffing and courtship behaviour and I observed them to mate on one occasion.  Unfortunately they are not so wrapped up in each other that they have become unaware of their surroundings and they were very nervous when they heard voices from the path and flew off when more people arrived at the hide (fortunately not for long). Well worth a visit and I may try again when the light is more favourable.

Technical Note:  Here are some pictures taken this morning at high ISO (up to 1600) and lowish shutter speeds.  They are all cropped at least 50% before being resized for web presentation and all required noise reduction.

Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 1 Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 3Smew - Mergus albellus Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 5Smew - Mergus albellus Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 4Smew - Mergus albellus Smew at Shapwick Heath NNR 6Smew - Mergus albellus

(WildImaging) Decoy Hide Shapwick Heath NNR Smew photographs https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/smew-pair-at-decoy-hide Tue, 12 Feb 2013 21:08:46 GMT
Trailcam Investigations in the Garden https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/trailcam-investigations-in-the-garden A week or so ago, Margot, my better half, alerted me to the presence of an unseen digger of holes in the garden.  These were about 4 inches across and 2 inches deep and in little groups along one edge of the garden.  Earth was scattered in a very untidy and inconsiderate way across the path.  At last a proper job for a trailcam investigation!

The crime scene

Mystery garden diggings Mystery Diggings 2 As I suggested on Twitter, possibilities I considered were a fox (see first trailcam exploits), badger and covert metaldetector users, or at least those are the possibilities that I considered that I'm telling you about!

Investigation Setup

Bushnell Trailcam on Bracket Fox Results of the first night of surveillance yielded several cats, a very fetching video clip of me and then this!

Clearly this handsome fox was not owning up to being responsible for the diggings.  However, some more appeared on the lawn and we knew he'd been seen in that area and was easily able to hop the low fence whereas a badger couldn't.

Fresh Diggings

Fresh Diggings in the Lawn This is actually a series of 3 linked holes, all at much the same depth as the initial ones.  At around this point Rob Chace helpfully suggested it might be the work of elves.  As everyone knows, elves don't show up on trailcams so I'd never be able to prove that theory so my only hope was to find something else doing the digging.  To increase my chances a little for the second night, I sprinkled a few raisins over the first set of holes and then reset the camera to record day and night.  Here's what transpired.

Night Two

Well I expect most of you guessed that this would be the outcome.  We have a large walnut tree in the garden and every autumn squirrels spend time burying nuts all over the place.  Now we know they remember where they put them and saplings will mark the spots of all the ones they've forgotten. 

(WildImaging) Bushnell trailcam Fox and Squirrel on Trailcam Trailcam investigation https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/trailcam-investigations-in-the-garden Mon, 04 Feb 2013 10:40:57 GMT
Male Hen Harrier at Catcott Lows https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/male-hen-harrier-at-catcott-lows There has been a male hen harrier seen from the hide at Catcott Lows aver the last fortnight and I was lucky enough to see it today on my second attempt.  What a great bird!  Only managed a pretty distant shot or two.

Hen HarrierHen harrier - Circus cyaneus

A word of caution.  If you intend to visit, the track that leads to the reserve is very slippy with mud at present and full of potholes.  I managed to slide my car off the edge and needed the help of 5 burly birders to get back on again! 

(WildImaging) Catcott Lows Nature Reserve Male hen harrier https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/2/male-hen-harrier-at-catcott-lows Fri, 01 Feb 2013 20:29:47 GMT
Big Otters, Little Otters and Birds https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/big-otters-little-otters-and-birds Getting up at 4.30 am is not my usual start to the day but I hadn't slept much anyway with the anticipation of a trip to Dorset to look for otters.  Jane, an enthusiastic local otter watcher had kindly agreed to meet up with me but despite my early start I was still late.  :(

There was a fantastic sunrise that morning but no pictures from me as the 600mm + 1.4x combination I had chosen wouldn't have done it justice.  I hoped for some otters in the sunlit river but it wasn't to be.  In fact it was only when we saw some other photographers that we realised we had missed the start of the fun.  It was rumoured that there might be up to seven otters in the area and I am amazed that we managed to see and photograph and film five or possibly six different animals.  A mother and single cub provided the initial entertainment and then a mother with two cubs appeared upstream.  There was possibly a cub from last year but keeping track of them all became a bit tricky.  The mum and single cub kept close together most of the time although the mother would dive and hunt while the cub waited on the side periodically.  The other family group seemed to have smaller younger cubs and they saw less of their mother and spent more time on the bank resting.  Light was gloomy for most of the time but we had periods of beautiful sunshine which showed their fur coats to advantage.  It was also freezing cold which meant that unbelievably, we had to say goodbye to the otters while they were still very active.

Here are a few of the very many pictures taken that day.

Mother otter visiting cubs

Otter 1Otter - Lutra lutra Mother about to enter water with cub

Otter 2Otter - Lutra lutra Mother pushing feisty cub away

Otther 3Otter - Lutra lutra Mother with cub on tree trunk

Otter 4Otter - Lutra lutra Cub on bank entering water.  Bubbles are from hunting mother.

Otter 5Otter - Lutra lutra

Cub on tree

Otter 6Otter - Lutra lutra Cub on bank

Otter 7Otter - Lutra lutra Other things of interest that morning included watching a kingfisher following the otters, presumably waiting for any damaged or dropped fish to appear.

KingfisherKingfisher - Alcedo atthis A goldcrest also flitted close enough for a shot.

GoldcrestGoldcrest - Regulus regulus All in all a great day, lots learned and too much to put in a single blog post so more may follow when I get a moment.


(WildImaging) Otter lutra lutra otter and cubs in Dorset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/big-otters-little-otters-and-birds Sun, 20 Jan 2013 20:25:45 GMT
Fun With Raptors at the Hawk Conservancy https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/fun-with-raptors-at-the-hawk-conservancy I had a very enjoyable session photographing various raptors in flight at the Hawk Conservancy in Hampshire this afternoon.  A beautiful blue sky, well behaved birds (and humans) and an opportunity to enjoy using my lighter lens handheld - the Sigma 120-300mm combined with the Canon 1.4x III.  See what you think of the results. 

White-headed vulture

White-headed Vulture 1White-headed vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis (Captive) White-headed Vulture 2White-headed vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis (Captive) White-headed Vulture 3White-headed vulture - Trigonoceps occipitalis (Captive) Black Kite

Black Kite 1Black Kite - Milvus migrans (Captive) Black Kite 2Black Kite - Milvus migrans (Captive) Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl 1Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus (Captive) Snowy Owl 2Snowy Owl - Bubo scandiacus (Captive) Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine FalconPeregrine falcon - Falco peregrinus (Captive) African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle 1African Fish Eagle - Haliaeetus vocifer (Captive) African Fish Eagle 2African Fish Eagle - Haliaeetus vocifer (Captive)

(WildImaging) African Fish Eagle Black Kite Hawk conservancy Hampshire Snowy Owl White-headed vulture https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/fun-with-raptors-at-the-hawk-conservancy Fri, 11 Jan 2013 21:56:59 GMT
Glaucous Gull and Other Rarities https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/glaucous-gull-and-other-rarities In the last couple of weeks I've had some lovely times with a local barn owl but also connected with some rarer birds which has been interesting.  Firstly there were reports coming in of hawfinches in Bruton churchyard.  This seems to be a regular winter phenomenon and they feed in the mature yews for the most part.  Interestingly, a local I met in Bruton said they'd been coming for years and occasionally fed on feeders in his garden which is close to the church.  This is a well described phenomenon in Europe but doesn't seem to be common here.  I found these very tricky to photograph but for what it's worth here is a record shot of one hiding deep within a tree.

Hawfinch Bruton Churchyard 2012Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes It is possible to get substantially better shots of hawfinches in England.  Look here for some pictures I took in 2009 in the Forest of Dean.

In Exminster, a village near Exeter, there has been a rose-coloured starling visiting over the last few weeks.  As these normally live in Asia and overwinter in India, this was a bit of a surprise and I thought it would be rude not to pay it a visit.  Unfortunately, it wasn't very keen on coming close so I got some pretty poor record shots as below.

Rose-coloured Starling, Exminster 1Rose-coloured starling - Pastor roseus Rose-coloured Starling, Exminster 2Rose-coloured starling - Pastor roseus The third rarity has already been well documented by others.  This is a glaucous gull which is ridiculously tame and is hanging out at a nearby park, Apex Lake in Burnham-on-Sea.  It allows views to 10 feet or closer and is tamer than many of the commoner gulls that frequent the park.  I managed to get a picture of it eating a worm but like many birds habituated to urban areas, it's very keen on bread!

Technical note: For some reason whenever I take pictures at Apex Lake the white balance gets messed up.  I've tried to correct this but I fear the colours may still look odd.  Some shots were taken in fairly thick fog which made things look even stranger.

Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 1Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 2Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 3Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 4Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus Glaucous Gull, Apex Lake, Burnhamn-on-Sea 5Glaucous gull - Larus hyperboreus

(WildImaging) Glaucous gull Apex Lake Hawfinch Bruton Rose-coloured starling Exminster https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/glaucous-gull-and-other-rarities Tue, 08 Jan 2013 13:49:15 GMT
Barn Owl Hunting in Winter Sunshine https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/barn-owl-hunting-in-winter-sunshine After the wettest year on record, New Year's Day 2013 turned out dry and largely sunny with a blustery breeze.  The barn owl that has been regularly seen off the Steart Road by what have been dubbed the 'newt ponds', was quick off the mark and was seen hunting as early as 8am this morning.  I visited on three occasions and watched it hunting on all three from 10am through to 3.30pm.  This morning it was clearly hampered by the wind and all through the day it has had a pattern of short flights and then periods of sitting either in or just out of sight.  While sitting on various perches it has continued to scan for prey.  This pattern is in marked contrast to when I last photographed it during a brief gap in the rain when it hunted on the wing more or less continually.  On that occasion there was little wind.

There is at least one kestrel that hunts in overlapping territory and one one occasion today the kestrel knocked the owl to the ground even though the owl was hunting rather than flying with prey.  When the kestrel had moved off, I was relieved to see the barn owl fly up and start hunting again.

Technical note:  With low angle warm sunshine, ISO could be kept fairly low and much of the time it was under 800 - much better for noise control than when I last photographed the owl.  Contrast was naturally higher with the pale areas of the owl being tricky to expose correctly.  I tend to use manual settings and fire some test shots of the actual subject to check for 'blinkies' - areas of overexposure that flash when the picture is examined on the back of the camera.  I've found that a shutter speed of 1000 and over is generally adequate to freeze the action of the barn owl and have used the widest open f-stop of f5.6 for the 600mm f4 combined with 1.4x teleconverter that I've been using.

Barn Owl in Sunshine 1Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 2Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 3Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 4Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl in Sunshine 5Barn owl - Tyto alba

(WildImaging) Barn Owl Hunting owl https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2013/1/barn-owl-hunting-in-winter-sunshine Tue, 01 Jan 2013 20:12:41 GMT
Barn Owl Hunting During the Day at Steart https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/barn-owl-hunting-during-the-day-at-steart There has been a barn owl seen regularly over the last few weeks hunting along the fields by the road to Steart.  The near perpetual rainfall may well have made some of its hunting grounds vole-free and it now frequents a landscaped area of earth banks and shallow ponds which has been planted with grasses and wild flowers.  This must be a paradise for voles compared with the grazed and often partially flooded fields nearby.  The other change for this owl is that it is having to watch for weather windows between downpours so it is out during the day if that's when it's dry.  Today it was hunting from 11.50am when the rain started to ease.  I took the photographs below in poor light at about 1pm.

Technical note: Poor light essentially means low light in this instance.  This means I have to shoot at high ISO - 1600-2000 in this instance - in order to get a high enough shutter speed to freeze the action.  Even with the Canon 1D Mark IV noise becomes noticeable in cropped images at this sort of level of ISO. The colour is inherently less pleasing as well when it is dark grey clouds overhead.

Barn Owl at Steart 1Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl at Steart 2Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl at Steart 3Barn owl - Tyto alba Barn Owl at Steart 4Barn owl - Tyto alba

(WildImaging) Barn owl photos Steart 2012 https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/barn-owl-hunting-during-the-day-at-steart Sat, 29 Dec 2012 21:39:56 GMT
First Trailcam Trials 2012 https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/first-trailcam-trials-2012 I've been aware for probably 20 years or so that badgers and foxes trundle down the length of our garden path at night.  Although we are only minutes from the town centre, we live opposite a field which blends gradually into the Somerset countryside and the Quantock Hills.  At one time in the past the badgers were so noisy, we were woken by them clambering around a gate we'd erected to keep a puppy in the garden.  We've seldom actually seen them as they seem to visit us in the small hours of the night.  Recently my father-in-law encountered a fox in the middle of our lawn and with my increased awareness of 'trailcam technology', I decided to have a go at capturing our nocturnal visitors.

I spoke to my friend and advisor on all things wildlife Rob Chace and found that he'd recently updated his trailcam with a Bushnell model that films in infra-red and can take HD quality video.  With typical generosity he suggested that I borrow it and have a go before splashing out on one of my own so I did - thanks Rob!  I have a custom made gap in the fence specially for wildlife and I set up the camera opposite it.  Then stealing a tip from badgercam veteran Mike Leigh-Mallory, I loaded a rock with peanut butter and placed it in what I hoped was the regular path of my night time friends.  Two nights later, I captured some clips of the neighbour's cat and then this...

This is not great video but it illustrates the potential to find where wildlife is, when it's there and something about their habits.  It's great that anyone can do this and find out something about their garden or favourite area at night while at the same time getting a good night's sleep!  The technology is not vastly expensive and it runs on AA batteries.  What a fantastic head start the next generation of budding naturalists has!

(WildImaging) Bushnell trailcam Fox visiting garden at night https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/first-trailcam-trials-2012 Tue, 18 Dec 2012 21:07:12 GMT
Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones at Battery Point https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/purple-sandpipers-and-turnstones-at-battery-point There was a record count this morning on the high tide of 9 purple sandpipers at Battery Point.  Park at the Lido on Esplanade road, walk up the steps onto the headland and go down towards the lighthouse but look down to your right before you get there.  They congregate on the northern side of the rocky promontory on which the light house sits and tend to be pretty amenable to viewing and photography as long as you remain fairly still.  If you try to find them at low tide, you will have a much larger area to search so good luck to you!

Purple Sandpiper at Batter Point 1 Purple Sandpiper at Batter Point 2Purple sandpiper - Calidris maritima Purple Sandpiper at Batter Point 3Purple sandpiper - Calidris maritima Purple Sandpiper at Batter Point 4Purple sandpiper - Calidris maritima The beach by the esplanade has lots of rock pipts and turnstones so there are plenty of good photo opportunities.

Rock Pipit at Battery PointRock pipit - Anthus petrosus Turnstone at Battery Point 1Turnstone - Arenaria interpres Turnstone at Battery Point 2Turnstone - Arenaria interpres Turnstone at Battery Point 3Turnstone - Arenaria interpres Turnstone at Battery Point 4Turnstone - Arenaria interpres

(WildImaging) Battery point Photos Purple sandpiper Rock pipit Turnstone https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/purple-sandpipers-and-turnstones-at-battery-point Sun, 16 Dec 2012 20:30:07 GMT
Temminck's Stint at Stockland Reach nr Steart, Somerset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/temminks-stint-at-stockland-reach-nr-steart-somerset This rare visitor to Somerset has been giving good views in a flooded field near Steart for the last few days.  Unusually for a rare bird, it has also been fairly tolerant of visitors and has been on the path side of the field.  There was strong but warm light this morning during my visit so the pictures are fairly contrasty but colourful.

TemminkTemmink's stint - Calidris temminckii TemminkTemmink's stint - Calidris temminckii TemminkTemmink's stint - Calidris temminckii

(WildImaging) Stockland Reach Somerset 2012 Temminck's stint photos https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/temminks-stint-at-stockland-reach-nr-steart-somerset Sat, 08 Dec 2012 17:05:44 GMT
Waxwings at Ashcott Corner, Somerset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/waxwings-at-ashcott-corner-somerset As the 2012 'waxwing invasion' rolls on, we have been lucky enough to get a group at Shapwick Heath NNR and specifically next to Ashcott Corner car park.  Yesterday morning there were two birds, this morning seven and by this afternoon it was up to seventeen!  Unfortunately, just as some other photographers arrived and I left, they were scared first by a sparrowhawk, then a crow put them up from their tree overlooking the best berries and then as they came in to settle again, they spotted a kestrel crossing the track about 50 yards further on and they set off again.  I checked back at about 3.30pm but they hadn't reappeared.  With luck they will tomorrow as they were feeding on at least three sorts of berries.  I was reasonably lucky with my pictures given the conditions and even saw them drinking from a puddle which was a first for me.

Tech comment:

The light which had been great all morning was pretty dark by the afternoon and a lot of my shots were taken at ISO 1600.  Had there not been a strong breeze I could have dropped the shutter speed and ISO together but there was a fair amount of bird and branch movement so the shutter speed had to stay up.

Waxwings at Ashcott CornerWaxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwings at Ashcott Corner 2Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwings at Ashcott Corner 3Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwings at Ashcott Corner 4Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus

(WildImaging) Waxwing drinking Waxwing eating berry Waxwing photo https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/waxwings-at-ashcott-corner-somerset Fri, 07 Dec 2012 17:56:19 GMT
Whooper Swan at Catcott Lows https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/whooper-swan-at-catcott-lows We've had a party of ten mixed adult and juvenile whoopers and  singleton adult round and about recently.  The group of ten unfortunately for me had moved on today but I was lucky enough to catch this solitary adult in front of the hide at Catcott Lows Nature Reserve.  Unfortunately the light was appalling by this stage but I got a few record shots below. 

A word of warning to anyone visiting the main hide by car, the approach road is deeply rutted and unless you have good suspension and ground clearance, you may be scraping your undercarriage at times!  It is possible to park by the entrance to the reserve and walk up the road.  Directions on Streetmap.

Whooper Swan at Catcott Lows 1Whooper swan - Cygnus cygnus Whooper Swan at Catcott Lows 2Whooper swan - Cygnus cygnus Whooper Swan at Catcott Lows 3Whooper swan - Cygnus cygnus

(WildImaging) Catcott Lows Somerset 2012 whooper swan https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/12/whooper-swan-at-catcott-lows Sun, 02 Dec 2012 18:35:54 GMT
Waxwing Safari to Cheltenham https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/waxwing-safari-to-cheltenham 2012 is proving another good year for waxwings. They are making their way down in impressive numbers from Scotland where there have been flocks of several hundred at a time and a few days ago reasonable numbers were also being reported along the Devon and Dorset coasts.  There have been a few reported in the last few days in the Avonmouth area of Bristol and that's where I headed first.  Unfortunately I only saw a couple of flighty birds in surroundings less than picturesque so I decided to head for Cheltenham where a flock of 125 had been reported at the junction of Princess Elizabeth Way and Bramley St.

The hotspot was immediately obvious in the form, of two impressively large hawthorn trees in front of Edward Wilson House, a low block of Council flats.  There were no other birders or photographers there when I arrived and I felt somewhat out of place and self conscious with my large lens pointing at the berry-laden trees with windows of flats behind them.  I was soon joined by another photographer and then some birders and then as is the way of things, some locals came along for a chat and to look at the growing collection of pics.  We were assured that we were in a really rough area and might have our gear stolen from us and this seemed to be borne out when a youth with his scarf over his face came cycling towards us.  However, he just pulled his scarf down, grinned and said 'That's a real kick-ass camera!' and cycled off.  A little later one of the residents of the flats invited us up to continue our photographic session from his balcony.  That was amazing, being eye to eye with these lovely birds as they chattered away and fed on berries.  This kind gent continued to tell us what a dodgy neighbourhood we were in but we only experienced a great deal of curiosity and interest from one and all. 

A big thank you to all the local folk for making us welcome and here are a few of the pictures from today.

Waxwings in Cheltenham 1Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwings in Cheltenham 2Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwings in Cheltenham 3Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwings in Cheltenham 4Waxwing - Bombycilla garrulus Waxwing close-upWaxwing - Bombycilla garrulus

(WildImaging) Cheltenham 2012 waxwing invasion 2012 waxwing photos https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/waxwing-safari-to-cheltenham Fri, 30 Nov 2012 23:18:52 GMT
Great Northern Diver at Weston-super-Mare https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/great-northern-diver-at-weston-super-mare I nipped up for a quick look before work on Monday to find this gorgeous juvenile GND swimming about in the Marine Lake at Weston.  For those unfamiliar with the spot here it is on Google maps. 

View Larger Map

There is parking along the waterfront for about 20 cars and plenty more parking fairly close if you can't get in there. 

So far the bird has been present 4 or 5 days and it seems to strongly favour this location where it's been feeding on small fish and lots of crabs!  My pictures aren't great but here are a couple anyway.  Plenty more on the web including some great shots of it eating crabs!

Great northern diver Wewston-super-MareGreat northern diver - Gavia immer Great northern diver Wewston-super-MareGreat northern diver - Gavia immer Great northern diver Wewston-super-MareGreat northern diver - Gavia immer

(WildImaging) great northern diver weston-super-mare https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/great-northern-diver-at-weston-super-mare Wed, 28 Nov 2012 07:50:50 GMT
Jays and Magpies Prepare for Winter https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/jay-and-magpies-prepare-for-winter I've been meaning to track down a population of relatively tame jays in Bath for some time but haven't had a go until today.  Perhaps it was a bit of a gamble going up in the drizzle and without any clear idea of where to look but I needed to pop into Ace Cameras, an excellent high end camera and optics shop, so I thought I'd combine the two.

After a false start in diametrically the wrong direction, I eventually found my way to the Royal Victoria Park.  It has large mature trees, big open spaces, playgrounds, squirrels, more squirrels, an ice-cream van and lots of dogs.  Anyway, I got the idea that the main park was not the place to look and then stumbled on the Botanical Gardens which is in the upper part of the park and which is accessed through a dog-proof gate.  As well as exotic trees in splendid autumn dress, squirrels and more squirrels, I eventually found some magpies and then finally its apparently resident population of 3 jays.  These were all being fed by a gent who is obviously the local wildlife whisperer and my collection of acorns that I had painstakingly collected in woods on the Quantocks could not compete with his selection of hazelnuts and brazils!  He very obligingly tempted the birds close and I got one or two snaps.  This is clearly an area which will repay a more planned campaign as it would be lovely to get some more natural seeming shots in better light.

Magpie in Botanical Gardens, BathMagpie - Pica pica Jay in Botanical Gardens, BathJay - Garrulus glandarius Squirrel in Botanical Gardens, BathGrey squirrel - Sciurus carolinensis

(WildImaging) Jay photo Jay with brazil nut Magpie with a nut Squirrel eating an acorn Squirrel photo https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/jay-and-magpies-prepare-for-winter Sat, 17 Nov 2012 19:00:00 GMT
Kingfisher at Shapwick Heath NNR https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/kingfisher-at-shapwick-heath-nnr A truly beautiful day today in Somerset with sunshine and only a light breeze and perfect lighting for the two kingfishers frequenting the reed bed and trees in front of Noah's hide today.  I couldn't decide whether these two were friends or foes - there was a lot of chasing around going on.  I still can't believe just how fast they are.  The shot of the bird diving was at a shutter speed of 1/3200th sec and it is still not perfectly sharp.

Look at my kingfisher gallery for some more pictures.

Kingfisher Shapwick Heath NNR 1Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis Kingfisher Shapwick Heath NNR 2Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis Kingfisher Shapwick Heath NNR 3Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis

(WildImaging) Kingfisher Noah's hide Shapwick Heath NNR https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/kingfisher-at-shapwick-heath-nnr Sun, 11 Nov 2012 17:11:59 GMT
Snow Buntings on Severn Beach https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/snow-buntings-on-severn-beach There have been up to 6 snow bunting on Severn Beach over the last few days.  The approximate location is shown here on Streetmap.  They flit up and down the high tide line feeding on small seeds in amongst the detritus and are occasionally chased up and down the beach by dog walkers.  I had half an hour with them this afternoon and managed a few shots before they were flushed again by which time it was too overcast to be worth trying again.  Perhaps tomorrow?!

Snow Bunting Severn Beach 1Snow bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis Snow Bunting Severn Beach 2Snow bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis Snow Bunting Severn Beach 3Snow bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis Snow Bunting Severn Beach 4Snow bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis We often get a few in Somerset on the shingle bank near Stolford so this area may be worth a look in the next few days.  The other bird I keep hoping for is a Lapland bunting but no luck so far.

(WildImaging) Severn Beach Snow bunting https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/snow-buntings-on-severn-beach Sat, 10 Nov 2012 18:17:44 GMT
Two Hours on the River Dart https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/two-hours-on-the-river-dart Every year at this time we have to get our boat out of the river so we can relax during the winter storms.  Although it's a time of regret as we won't be sailing for another 6 months, we always love the slow motor up the river for the 7 mile trip to Totnes.  I always take a camera in case anything shows up and I particularly hoped that there would be some seals showing as they've seemed more abundant on the river this year.  We struck lucky almost straight away with a large bull on the visitor's pontoon and then found a rather scarred looking cow and what I took to be a large pup on the naval college pontoons a little further up.  The light was dire but I was pleased to have managed some pictures other than a blurry photo of a head just poking above the water which is all I usually manage.

Grey Seal Bull on River DartGrey seal - Halichoerus grypus Grey Seal Cow on River DartGrey seal - Halichoerus grypus Grey Seal Pup on River DartGrey seal - Halichoerus grypus

There were a few birds around too but the only one that was at all obliging was this oystercatcher landing on a pontoon near the seals.

Oystercatcher on the River DartOystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus

(WildImaging) Atlantic Grey Seal River Dart dart seal seal river dart https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/two-hours-on-the-river-dart Fri, 09 Nov 2012 17:19:41 GMT
Wot no Rarities?? https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/wot-no-rarities I've been rather spoiled recently with all manner of unusual birds to photograph and have been brought back to basics this weekend with some very enjoyable hours spent snapping our more common residents.  It was overcast and drizzly, conditions which are great for bringing out the best of the colours as you will see in the pictures below.

Having missed the hoopoe today, I thought I'd have a look for the unusual black redstart spotted by James Packer at Brean Down Farm.  I blanked on that too but was pleased to photograph a chiffchaff which posed better than they usually do for me.  Stonechats seem to be a dead cert along the lane to the farm and magpies were much in evidence.  I'm not sure what the hairy caterpillar is - surely it's a bit late in the year for them??  Funnily enough I think the picture I like best is the blackbird on the post with it's perky pose and bright eye.

ChiffchaffChiffchaff - Phylloscopus collybita BlackbirdBlackbird - Turdus merula MagpieMagpie - Pica pica Magpie with hairy caterpillarMagpie - Pica pica

Magpie with caterpillarMagpie - Pica pica Stonechat 1Stonechat - Saxicola torquata Stonechat 2Stonechat - Saxicola torquata RobinRobin - Erithacus rubecula

(WildImaging) Magpie with caterpillar chiffchaff at Brean Down https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/11/wot-no-rarities Sun, 04 Nov 2012 19:57:42 GMT
Kestrels and a Kingfisher https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/kestrels-and-a-kingfisher Here are a few more shots from yesterday of the fairly 'tame' kestrel at Sand Bay, another kestrel from Chilton Moor and a Kingfisher taken at Noah's hide at Shapwick Heath.  Not sure what I think about the backlit kestrel - I swing between loving and hating it but the kestrel taking off from the stump I'm very pleased with. 

Kestrel backlitKestrel - Falco tinnunculus Kestrel taking offKestrel - Falco tinnunculus Kestrel hoveringKestrel - Falco tinnunculus The Kingfishers are regular visitors to the area in front of Noah's hide.  Wait long enough and you'd be very unlucky not to see them fishing.  Photographically it was a challenge yesterday as the light was a bit harsh and the difference between the light and shade and light and dark colours was hard to balance.  There's also a lot of  background and at times foreground clutter distracting from the bird.

Kingfisher at NoahKingfisher - Alcedo atthis Kingfisher at NoahKingfisher - Alcedo atthis Kingfisher at NoahKingfisher - Alcedo atthis

(WildImaging) Kestrel Sand Bay Kingfisher Shapwick Heath https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/kestrels-and-a-kingfisher Sun, 28 Oct 2012 08:50:35 GMT
Hoopoe at Sand Bay, Weston-super-Mare https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/hoopoe-at-sand-bay-weston-super-mare Amazingly there has been a hoopoe at Sand Bay near Weston-super-Mare for the last 3 days.  Many thanks to Paul Bowyer for tweeting about it this morning as I'd probably have missed it otherwise.  This showy visitor was on the grassy area behind the beach near Swallow Point Caravan Park and was helpfully signposted by a number of birders when I arrived this morning.  It was relatively mobile although not nearly as spooked by the many dog walkers as I'd have thought it would be.  It fed more or less continually, throwing morcels of food in the air and swallowing them rather like a bloke in a pub with a packet of peanuts. 

The light was beautiful although this actually caused a few problems with correctly exposing this contrasty bird.  Still I'm very pleased to have added a UK lifer to my list and to have managed the photos below.   Most of the shots were taken with the 600mm f4 with the Canon 2x TC added.  I think I could have done with stopping down a little more to get a bit more sharpness.

Hoopoe at Sand Bay 1Hoopoe - Upupa epops Hoopoe at Sand Bay 2Hoopoe - Upupa epops Hoopoe at Sand Bay 3Hoopoe - Upupa epops Hoopoe at Sand Bay 4Hoopoe - Upupa epops Hoopoe at Sand Bay 5Hoopoe - Upupa epops

Hoopoe flying awayHoopoe - Upupa epops

There was a bonus bird in the form of a kestrel that perched very nearby and seemed almost less concerned by the walkers than the hoopoe.

Kestrel at Sand BayKestrel - Falco tinnunculus Kestrel at Sand Bay flightKestrel - Falco tinnunculus

(WildImaging) Hoopoe at Sand Bay Upupa epops https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/hoopoe-at-sand-bay-weston-super-mare Sat, 27 Oct 2012 20:17:12 GMT
Wryneck and more at Brean Down https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/wryneck-and-more-at-brean-down The wryneck is a bird I have wanted to see (and of course photograph) for years but which has always eluded me.  Today I got lucky with one that has stayed in a small patch of ground near Brean Down in Somerset for nearly a week.  The colouration of the wryneck is very elaborate browns, creams and greys in a marbled pattern giving it excellent camouflage.  The long stripe down its back serves to accentuate it's almost snake-like bendiness when seen from behind.  As for the 'wryneck' name, it ably demonstrated a wide range of uncomfortable looking neck postures.  There were lots of anthills at the site and when on the ground, the bird spent a lot of time poking about and feeding in them rather like a green woodpecker might.  Perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising as they are after all in the same bird family.

When the wryneck wasn't visible, lots of other small birds were happy to pose but the peregrine carrying prey overhead was a bit too quick for me as was the adult med gull spotted by James Packer.

Technical stuff:

I had perfect light this morning which is just as well as I'm having to use my 2x TC until a new 1.4x comes along to replace the one that has died.  That means a minimum of F8 using it with my Canon 600mm f4 lens and I like to stop it down further to f11 if possible to increase the sharpness of the shots.  Doing this in bad light means using very high ISOs to keep shutter speed up which inevitably has an impact on picture quality.  As it was, I used a range of ISO from 800 to 2000 over the morning and evening sessions and was pleased with the performance of the setup and the quality of the shots bearing in mind that the bird was never less than about 50 feet away.

Wryneck Brean DownWryneck - Jynx torquilla Wryneck Brean Down 2Wryneck - Jynx torquilla Wryneck Brean Down 3Wryneck - Jynx torquilla Wryneck Brean Down 4Wryneck - Jynx torquilla Wryneck Brean Down on ant hillWryneck - Jynx torquilla Wryneck Brean Down feedingWryneck - Jynx torquilla And now for some of the accompanying cast:

Robin on Brean DownRobin - Erithacus rubecula Song Thrush on Brean DownSong thrush - Turdus philomelos Blue Tit on Brean DownBlue tit - Parus caerulus Wren on Brean DownWren - Troglodytes troglodytes

(WildImaging) Somerset Wryneck Wryneck at Brean Down Wryneck feeding on ants https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/wryneck-and-more-at-brean-down Sat, 20 Oct 2012 19:27:57 GMT
Ring Ouzels by Chetsford Water https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/ring-ouzels-by-chetsford-water Most years see reports of ring ouzels in various Exmoor hotspots as they congregate by favoured berry-laden trees prior to their autumn migration.  This year they are a little early and were reported on this thread on the SOS website.  Dave Dawe very kindly emailed me detailed instructions and Rob Chace and I set out this morning to find them.  The sharing of this sort of information is much appreciated and to add that I might need wellies an added kindness.

The particular hotspot on this occasion was at the confluence of Chetsford and Embercombe waters where there is good shelter and some heavily laden rowan trees together with good hiding in scrub and gorse.  There we met John Rivoire, a birder from the Minehead area with experience of seeing these birds at this spot in previous years.  Interestingly it is his experience that they normally arrive a little later in November.  After about 30 minutes 2 ring ouzels arrived, the male feeding briefly before flying off down the combe with its companion.  Unfortunately my canon 1.4x TC chose that moment to fail for good so I missed any possible shots.  I switched to the 2x TC which has fortunately performed above expectations.

At one point I was chatting to John when Rob to my right started pointing frantically behind us,  I turned looking for ring ouzels and seeing none turned back.  He then mouthed 'stag', I turned and was just in time to see a pair of antlers disappear over the brow of the hill!  A young deer was then seen on the opposite side of the valley which gave us something to occupy us for a few minutes.  After another 30 minutes or so with no sightings, Rob and I set off down Chetsford combe while John went up Ember combe.

Young red deerRed deer - Cervus elaphus Just a quick word about the terrain at this point.  It was really very wet and boggy following the recent rain.  Wellies were absolutely essential and you have to be prepared to ford streams at several points through fast flowing water.  If you are at all lacking confidence on foot, go in company and take a good walking stick.

Having blanked down on our route, we went back to the confluence of the streams and saw John again.  He had seen I believe 5 birds up Ember combe and some had flown back towards us.  Shortly after that news we had a visit from a beautifully marked male and a young or female bird (I'm sure someone will tell me!) and we got a few quick shots.

Apart from that, opportunities were limited although Rob had one more crack at the male.

Male ring ouzelRing ouzel - Turdus torquatus Ring ouzelRing ouzel - Turdus torquatus

The day would not have been complete without some sort of mishap so I duly obliged by placing my right foot in up to the knee filling my welly boot.  Thanks to Rob for rescuing my camera while I rescued the boot! I can't really complain.  A great day out in beautiful sunshine with only a wet boot to dampen my spirits.

(WildImaging) Chetsford combe Chetsford water Ember combe Ring ouzel https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/ring-ouzels-by-chetsford-water Tue, 16 Oct 2012 18:34:33 GMT
Cirl Buntings at Prawle Point https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/cirl-buntings-at-prawle-point Although I've often looked out for them on coastal walks in Devon, I've never been lucky enough to stumble across cirl buntings.  Having a weekend planned in Dartmouth, I thought I should abandon the random approach and actually take the trouble to find out where they are most prevalent.  It appears from the excellent information page on the RSPB website, that they are doing quite well now in various hotspots in South Devon and are getting established with help in Cornwall.  Let's hope they make it back to Somerset at some stage!

I chose to have a look for them at Prawle Point.  This can be accessed down a very narrow single track road from the village of East Prawle.  There is a car park on the left near the bottom of the lane and this is the spot to park.

View Larger Map

Following the spot of very wet weather we've had, wellies would have been ideal for the walking ahead so be warned if you go after rain.  The best stretch for the cirl buntings is straight over the little stile on the downhill side of the car park and walk down to the coast path and turn left.  You'll soon find yourself walking along a footpath with cliffs to your left.  The vegetation in the undercliff zone seems to be the best area to see them and there are chances to be had all the way to Horsley Cove.  My wife and I encountered a small flock of them within 1/4 of a mile of the car park and I took a few record shots with my new 120-300mm Sigma lens combined with a Canon 1.4x teleconverter.  The pictures below are I think surprisingly good for 'record shots' considering that they are at almost a 100% crop.

Cirl bunting at Prawle PointCirl bunting - Emberiza cirlus Cirl Bunting at Prawle PointCirl bunting - Emberiza cirlus

As we had only had a very short and gentle walk, we decided to overshoot the path up to the car park on the way back and climb up to the coastguard station from where we had some spectacular views.  The picture below is looking east and you can see the eroded cliffs with vegetation at their base where the cirl buntings live.

Looking East from Prawle Point

(WildImaging) Cirl bunting Prawle Point https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/cirl-buntings-at-prawle-point Mon, 15 Oct 2012 18:32:00 GMT
Update on the Hawkridge and Ashford Reservoir Osprey and More Pictures https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/update-on-the-hawkridge-and-ashford-reservoir-osprey-and-more-pictures Many thanks to Brian Gibbs for finding out the following data from Roy Dennis and posting it on the Somerset Ornithological Society messageboard.  His news reproduced below:

"I have received the details of the colour ringed juvenile Osprey ‘ND’ which was until recently at Hawkridge and Ashford Reservoirs. It was ringed by Roger Broad in Scotland (BTO:1421529), one of a brood of three on 10/07/12 near Loch Awe, Argyll. One of its two other siblings has also been found on its first journey south, but sadly got no further than Yorkshire where it was reported as a "rail casualty" on 02/09/12."

Here are a few more pictures from my last photographic session:

Osprey landingOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey watching for fishOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey lightening the load!Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey launchingOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey divingOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey with pike

(WildImaging) osprey talons osprey action photo osprey diving somerset osprey origin https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/10/update-on-the-hawkridge-and-ashford-reservoir-osprey-and-more-pictures Wed, 10 Oct 2012 20:33:44 GMT
Osprey vs Pike at Ashford Reservoir https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/osprey-vs-pike-at-ashford-reservoir Today has been a day to remember.  I went to Ashford reservoir hoping that I'd get a chance at the juvenile osprey fishing.  After an hour I was getting restless and thinking about switching to the green sandpiper or the very active kingfisher.  Fortunately at that moment, a more observant birder, Chris Gladman, pitched up and pointed out that the bird was perched high in one of the conifers at the back of the lake.  Although it was then chased off by some noisy dogs, it returned shortly afterwards and put on an impressive display of  swooping, diving and on the fourth attempt, catching a young pike.  It then flew off with two corvids in hot pursuit.

It was all so unfamiliar and a joy to watch - being able to see it over again when processing the pictures was a great privilege.

Osprey perchedOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey dive 1Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey dive 2Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey getting out of waterOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey wetOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey flight over waterOsprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey catching pike 1Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey catching pike 2Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey leaving with pike 1Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey leaving with pike 2Osprey - Pandion haliaetus

The ring detail is visible on the tight crop below:

Rings on osprey

(WildImaging) Ashford reservoir, Somerset Osprey Osprey catches pike https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/osprey-vs-pike-at-ashford-reservoir Sun, 30 Sep 2012 20:51:32 GMT
Osprey at Hawkridge Reservoir 2012 https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/osprey-at-hawkridge-reservoir-2012 A juvenile osprey has now been at Hawkridge reservoir in the Quantock Hills in Somerset for 3 weeks.  It is unusual for one to stayed as long as this in any one place.  It seems to be pretty successful at fishing and has been seen to catch large trout.  When it's not at Hawkridge, it is sometimes seen at the nearby but much smaller Ashford reservoir.  I managed to catch up with it for the first time this morning but only managed some rather distant shots.  Better than my previous best osprey shots though so I shouldn't complain.

It is ringed on its left leg and Brian Gibbs has managed to read the lettering as NO in white lettering on a blue ring.  Hopefully we'll be able to get a firm ID from this information.

Osprey 1Osprey - Pandion haliaetus Osprey 2Osprey - Pandion haliaetus

(WildImaging) Hawkridge Reservoir Juvenile Osprey https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/osprey-at-hawkridge-reservoir-2012 Fri, 28 Sep 2012 21:22:50 GMT
Short-Billed Dowitcher at RSPB Lodmoor https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/short-billed-dowitcher-at-rspb-lodmoor As my 'photographed list' nears 200 UK birds, the arrival of new species within a reasonable traveling distance becomes less common and more desirable.  There has been a short-billed dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus), apparently the second ever recorded in the UK, at RSPB Lodmoor in Weymouth for a couple of weeks.  I went down this afternoon with Rob Chace who was keen for an addition to his life list and eventually found it on the western boundary of the reserve feeding around the margin of a fairly shallow pool.  I initially mistook it for a snipe which may seem daft to experienced birders but to me it still looks pretty snipe-like!  While it was near enough to photograph, the light was fairly poor but at least we saw and photographed the bird and the torrential rain of the previous day seemed to be over.  Apparently the water level at Lodmoor was considerably lower before yesterday's rain and the bird had been feeding on mud just a few feet from the footpath!

Short-billed dowitcher 1Short-billed dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus Short-billed dowitcher 2Short-billed dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus Short-billed dowitcher 3Short-billed dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus Short-billed dowitcher 4Short-billed dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus Lodmoor is a great place to photograph water birds and there were a few black-tailed godwits standing very close to the footpath precariously balanced in the strong wind.

Black-tailed godwit 1Black-tailed godwit - Limosa limosa Black-tailed godwit 2Black-tailed godwit - Limosa limosa Black-tailed godwit 3Black-tailed godwit - Limosa limosa

(WildImaging) Black-tailed godwit RSPB Lodmoor Short-billed dowitcher https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/short-billed-dowitcher-at-rspb-lodmoor Mon, 24 Sep 2012 21:03:04 GMT
Spotted Crake at Greylake 2012 https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/spotted-crake-at-greylake-2012 I must be one of the last local people to visit this charming little bird.  After an abortive attempt yesterday, I struck lucky and had 10 minutes happily snapping away at it between rain showers this morning.  Judging by the posts on the subject on the SOS messageboard, early mornings may be the most productive time to visit.  Certainly other people seem to think so too and by 8am there were already 5-10 people gathered by what has been dubbed the 'crake pond' at RSPB Greylake.  It has been seen on all parts of the pond and has even been seen crossing the path and exploring the other waterways.  At present the pond is largely drained and it seems to like plucking small food items out of the layer of drying duckweed on the surface of the mud.

I photographed a spotted crake here a couple of years ago.  Whether it is the same bird or not I have no idea.  Pictures of the other bird can be seen together with repeats of these on my crake page.

UPDATE: Thanks to Andy Swash for pointing out that this is a juvenile and therefore can't be the same bird as I photographed 2 yrs ago!

Spotted crake 1Spotted crake - Porzana porzana Spotted crake 2Spotted crake - Porzana porzana Spotted crake 3Spotted crake - Porzana porzana

(WildImaging) 2012 RSPB Greylake spotted crake photos https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/spotted-crake-at-greylake-2012 Tue, 18 Sep 2012 08:58:59 GMT
White-rumped sandpiper in Somerset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/white-rumped-sandpiper-in-somerset I've hardly been out with the camera over the last few months but had a couple of chances over the last two days.  This coincided with an obliging white-rumped sandpiper, a bird I'd never heard of until yesterday.  This chose to settle on a flooded field by the river Parrett near Steart and it has been keeping company with curlew sandpiper (another bird new to me), a spotted redshank and some dunlin and wagtails.  A lot of these have been disappearing as the tide in the estuary drops and then returning as the level rises but the white-rumped sandpiper stays put.  I understand that this may be the second ever record in the county. (Correction thanks to Ash Warne, at least the 6th WRS in the county.)

At a glance, it resembles a dunlin but it can be distinguished by longer wings that protrude well beyond its rump, a white rump most visible during flight and by buff colouration near the base of the bill.  I was pleased to get some reasonable although distant pics over the last couple of overcast days and some lousy pics that serve to show the rump in flight.

White-rumped sandpiper and Curlew sandpiperCurlew sandpiper and White-rumped sandpiper White-rumped sandpiperWhite-rumped sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis White-rumped sandpiper in flightWhite-rumped sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis White-rumped sandpiper flight shot 2White-rumped sandpiper - Calidris fuscicollis

A very pleasant addition to the day today were half a dozen wheatear feeding near one of the piles of soil that has been dug out to make a channel in preparation to making new salt marsh at this site.

WheatearWheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe

(WildImaging) curlew sandpiper somerset wheatear white-rumped sandpiper https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/9/white-rumped-sandpiper-in-somerset Sun, 16 Sep 2012 20:04:55 GMT
Great White Egrets in Somerset - July Update https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/7/great-white-egrets-in-somerset---july-update Having followed the evolving drama of the new settlers at Shapwick Heath NNR in Somerset, it was great to watch a second couple of egrets nest building some 400m away from the site of the first nest.  I had plenty of time to do this because it seemed that I was  about the only egret-watcher on the patch never to have photographed the first set of chicks.  Fortunately my luck changed and I got a few distant snapshots that I was happy enough with given the conditions.

Great white egret - Ardea alba Great white egret - Ardea alba I had had the impression that the bill length of these juveniles was shorter relative to their size than the bills of the adults.  Looking closely at the above pictures, you can see that the tip of the upper part of the bill is black and at this distance, it gives the impression of being shorter because of this.

So, what of the newer nest?  This is more visible than the first nest which was obscured by a small tree.  This has allowed some observation at a much earlier stage.  As followers of 'The One Show' will know, at least one chick has emerged and the debate now is how many chicks will there will be in this nest.  I took some video footage a few days ago while the adult was preening.  If you look closely around the feet of the adult, you will see movement.  In my opinion these pictures show two chicks but see what you think.  Some stills taken later give a hint of a possible third chick.  Let's hope that they do as well as the first brood.

(WildImaging) great white egret second nest great white egret video https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/7/great-white-egrets-in-somerset---july-update Wed, 18 Jul 2012 06:41:20 GMT
Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) at Shapwick Heath https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/7/slow-worms-angulis-fragilis-at-shapwick-heath Just for a change from the Great White Egrets, I had a morning looking for insects and spiders yesterday.  Unfortunately the pouring rain meant that the white admirals that I'd been hoping to photograph were very sensibly in shelter somewhere and I didn't find anything else in the arthropod world posing nicely.  That didn't stop the arthropods showing an interest in me of course and I have a maddening mozzie bite on my thumb as a reward for my efforts.  Tim's tip of the day - remember to use the insect repellant before entering the woods!

All was not lost though as I checked for reptiles before leaving the reserve and got a couple of pictures of slow worms.  These large adults both seemed to be working up to a moult.  You can see the build up of milky fluid under the skin on the head in particular.  An advantage of catching them in this state is that they just lie still and pose for the camera rather than wriggling away.  An interesting thing that I hadn't noted before happened with a younger slow worm which pretended that its tail was its head, using it to apparently seek for an escape route while keeping its head still before making a rapid dash for a hole head first.  This is a useful survival tactic as a predator would naturally make a grab for the wiggling tail which would then come off while the business end of the critter escaped.

Slow worm - Anguis fragilis Slow worm - Anguis fragilis

(WildImaging) Slow worm anguis fragilis https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/7/slow-worms-angulis-fragilis-at-shapwick-heath Tue, 17 Jul 2012 06:17:42 GMT
Video of Cranes on Aller Moor from 2011 https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/6/video-of-cranes-on-aller-moor-from-2011 If you don't know about the amazing Great Crane Project, if not please check out their website with up to date news and photographs.  They also have a Flickr site where people are able to contribute their own pictures. I've just strung together a few short video clips taken last year of the introduced cranes in their favourite spot on Aller Moor. For me the absolute highlight was when a fox appeared as I watched and the cranes seemed almost to be taking it for a walk.

(WildImaging) Common Crane Video Common Cranes on the Somerset Levels Cranes Cranes walking with fox https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/6/video-of-cranes-on-aller-moor-from-2011 Fri, 08 Jun 2012 19:04:24 GMT
Which Great White Egret is Which at Shapwick Heath?? https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/6/which-great-white-egret-is-which-at-shapwick-heath OK, I confess I'm confused.  Despite spending many hours watching the egrets on Noah's Lake, I confess that I don't know how many there are and I'm now developing uncertainty about the only one that I was sure about, the ringed female.  Have a look at the poor quality pictures below.  The first is a shot taken on 2/6/2012 showing the ringed female with her yellowish beak with a black tip and rings on both legs, orange over green on the left and orange over metal on the right.  This doesn't all show in this one pic but I have lots of others that fill in the gaps and there is prior knowledge of the rings from earlier communications.

GWE 2/6/2012Great white egret - Ardea alba

Now look at this shot taken on 5/6/2012, just 3 days later.  The legs are red, the lores bright green and the bill completely black.  The strange thing is that the legs are also ringed and to me they look like the same rings as the bird of 2/6/2012. 

GWE 5/6/2012

Possible explanations seem to be:

1.  It's just another ringed bird with the same ring configuration that I hadn't noticed before.

2.  The bird of 2/6/2012 has changed colour in 3 days.

3.  The bird of 5/6/2012 has nicked the rings from the first ringed bird...!

4.  None of the above.

Please let me know below if you have any ideas!


Here's an odd view of an unringed bird - it seems that the body is just a 5 way junction.

Great white egret - Ardea alba As a bit of light relief, there has been a very busy great-spotted woodie flitting around the area, often passing between the observation point and the GWE site.  Martin Sage pointed out that it was possibly feeding on prey items associated with the reeds in which it was perching on these forays.  I thought I had taken some pictures of it capturing a grub and then flying towards me at high speed but it turns out the the 'grub' that I had seen on the camera back image was simply an odd view of the pecker's 'moustache'.  A case of wishful thinking it seems.

Great-spotted woodpecker on reedsGreat spotted woodpecker - Dendrocopos major

On a more positive note, I did get my first couple of pictures of a GWE chick but they were eve worse than the images of the adults and will remain on my computer... ;-)

(WildImaging) Colour ringed GWE Great White Egrets Shapwick Heath https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/6/which-great-white-egret-is-which-at-shapwick-heath Wed, 06 Jun 2012 18:05:24 GMT
Great White Egrets at Shapwick Heath https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/6/great-white-egrets-at-shapwick-heath It's now official that there has been breeding success at Shapwick Heath NNR and Mike Hannon captured the first pictures of a chick later shown on the BBC Wildlife site and on his Flickr site.  Congratulations to the team at Natural England who helped to create the environment that made this possible and to the team of professional and volunteer watchers who have helped to keep them safe and who have since provided a great service to visitors to the reserve.

Unsurprisingly I've spent a few hours down there myself, hoping in vain for a sighting of a chick.  I'm sure it will happen but they appear not yet to be airworthy even though they seem to be almost as big as the adults.  Note in Mike's pictures that the chicks lack the feathery breeding plumage of the adults and that they have a shorter entirely orange bill.

There at least two other great white egrets around the area as well. The pictures below show the physical differences in these birds - the  one photographed in flight shows red legs instead of black, an entirely black bill instead of the half orange half black of the 'breeding pair'.  Currently the two that haven't bred are showing green lores - ie a patch of brilliant green at the base of the bill. 

As well as the fun of watching these gorgeous birds doing their thing, there was plenty of other bird life around.  Sedge warblers were very showy as was one particular reed warbler.  A Cetti's warbler kept doing regular flights in front of me but these really are 'bogey birds' for me and I have yet to get a really good photo.  Bitterns came and went and a great-spotted woodpecker came and did some pecking behind me.  I hope to put up some video footage of it below but am not sure if it will work.  Apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos, most were taken very early on a misty morning and others on a late evening stint.

(WildImaging) bittern flight great white egret great white egrets breed in Somerset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/6/great-white-egrets-at-shapwick-heath Sun, 03 Jun 2012 07:54:11 GMT
Skylark Meadows - Plant and Insect Photography https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/skylark-meadows---plant-and-insect-photography When Rob Chace invited me to help out with an 'Open Day' at a nature reserve with a brief to help budding photographers photograph plants and insects I hesitated.  I tried to remember whether I'd ever photographed a plant deliberately in the past myself and decided I hadn't.  However, I've done a fair amount of insect photography and I decided I could probably manage and so signed up.

Skylark Meadows is a small nature reserve owned by Plantlife on the outskirts of Bawdrip village in Somerset.  I hadn't heard of this charity before - you can read about them here.  The day was well organised by local volunteers together with a contingent from Plantlife head office.  The village worthies had the hall stocked with home made cake and the regulation tea urn was in place so even if it had tipped down with rain, the day would have been worthwhile!  Rob and I were joined on the photographic front by Nick Edge who takes amazing butterfly (and other) pictures with his compact camera.  Have a look at his Flickr photostream here.

65 people turned up for the event.  About 1/3 were from the village and the rest were made up of people from as far away as Exeter and Bristol.  All age groups were represented and all levels of knowledge.  I learned a lot and have found out about plants such as yellow rattle which is partially parastitic on grasses and so can help to establish wildflower meadows by controlling grass.  The iridescent green dock beetle was another fascinating find.  This beetle is a godsend to farmers trying to avoid the use of herbicides and can control dock plants by simply eating their leaves away to a mesh.  The highlight for me was the common blue butterfly which was present mainly in the second of the three fields.

Thanks to all for a great day out!

(WildImaging) Plant and Insect Photography Plantlife International Skylark Meadows https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/skylark-meadows---plant-and-insect-photography Tue, 29 May 2012 15:11:47 GMT
Great White Egrets nesting in Somerset https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/great-white-egrets-nesting-in-somerset 'Great White Egrets nesting in Somerset' - so ran the headline in the press earlier this month when Natural England and then the BBC and the Somerset Ornithological Society broke the news that many of us had been expecting for some time.  Numbers of these beautiful egrets have been steadily increasing over the last 3 years or so, concentrated in the Avalon Marshes area of the Somerset Levels and peaking at 8 birds as far as we know.  I have seen up to 5 at a time. 

Last year I was aware of courtship behaviour between two birds but as far as I know they never nested and certainly no young were observed.  This year a 'mysterious caravan' arrived at Shapwick Heath and it was clear that a 24hr watch was being kept on something rather special.  Around the same time I observed more courtship behaviour between two GWEs on Meare Heath scrape and I thought at one point the birds were going to mate.  The bird that I assume to be the male was walking about very close to his companion and doing lots of strange neck stretching moves up at a 45 degree angle - see the poor photo which captures this.  It was only a few days later that the news was broken. Flirting Great White EgretGreat white egret - Ardea alba

Progress since then? Well the birds continue to make regular visits to the presumed reed bed nest area but they can both be absent from the site for hours at a time.  In an area full of potential predators - mink, otters, bitterns, grey herons etc - this seems odd.  However, the fact that they feed, return to the site for a short time and then shoot off again does suggest that there may be hungry young present.  Time will tell.  I took a couple of shots yesterday evening showing an approach flight and then a rather inelegant descent through the reeds.  Great White Egret Approach Flight Great White Egret Nest Approach

Oh, and then there was a bittern doing much the same.  Funny how we now almost take this for granted now in Somerset!

Bittern Approach ShotBittern - Botaurus stellaris

(WildImaging) Bittern Bitterns nesting in Somerset Great white egret Great white egret photos https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/great-white-egrets-nesting-in-somerset Mon, 28 May 2012 07:30:06 GMT
Black-Winged Stilt (and More) at Lodmoor in Weymouth https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/black-winged-stilt-and-more-at-lodmoor-in-weymouth I've been showing decidedly 'twitchy' behaviour recently having chased after and photographed the squacco heron at Blagdon, the great reed warbler at Weston-super-Mare and the white stork at Curry Moor.  I got even more extreme today and discovered a free trial of the Rare Bird Alert iPhone software and identified a black-winged stilt in Weymouth that I felt I couldn't live without.  All these birds have been lifers for me and have been swelling my total number of birds photographed towards 190 which of course is pretty darn close to 200...  (Before anyone else chooses to point it out, my bird photograph list is a slightly dodgy one with things like eiders and flamingos from Slimbridge on it - LOL.)

Anyway, I shot off down to RSPB Lodmoor after lunch and immediately failed to connect with the stilt which was hidden on the far side of the reserve.  After a bit of fun photographing terns and adding another lifer to my list in the form of a very poor shot of an arctic tern, I walked around the Weymouth side of the pools.  There it was on the far side of the pool adjacent to the path so I squeezed off a couple of record shots before joining the photographer who was standing rather closer to the bird.  Unfortunately, at this point, the excitement was too much for the stilt which flew off to a pool in the middle of the reserve!

Not one to dwell on adversity, I spent some time photographing a confiding whimbrel before spending more time with the terns and finishing off with a fruitless visit to RSPB Radipole.  Well, not entirely fruitless as the new visitor centre serves great Dorset Apple Cake... :)

Black-winged stiltBlack-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus

(WildImaging) Black-Winged stilt RSPB Lodmoor Weymouth https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/black-winged-stilt-and-more-at-lodmoor-in-weymouth Fri, 25 May 2012 20:39:52 GMT
Best Software for a Photography Gallery and Blog? My Website Woes. https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/website-woes---a-geek-history-of-the-wildimaging-website As the occasional visitors to my website over the years will have noted, the format has changed radically on a number of occasions.  Initially it was an entirely DIY affair using Dreamweaver to simplify the coding.  This proved way too time consuming as constructing the numerous pages required one by one was using time which would have been better spent out and about with the camera. 

The next attempt was similar but used a javascript gallery (see jAlbum) to simplify the handling of photos.  That was fine but all the other pages still had to be 'handmade' and I had to keep updating the java gallery software and trying to make it do what I wanted.

Joomla followed.  This is a database driven framework provided free of charge and loaded onto webspace that I was already renting.  I was then able to acquire add-ons either free or commercial which gave the functionality for galleries, articles and a blog.  This really did seem to be the answer to my requirements and I think still made the website that most closely fitted my needs and was most attractive to me.  However, Joomla is so widely used now that it attracts the attention of hackers and so is continually updated.  This means that you have to keep up with updating the underlying software that forms the framework for the site and also that you have to keep updating the add-ons.  The result - you guessed it - time taken away from things that matter like getting out playing with the camera.

Flickr is a very popular image hosting solution around which communities have evolved offering advice and support to members with similar interests.  As a quick and simple solution for putting pictures up online this is brilliant.  If you want a website/blog etc, you need to look elsewhere.  However, it is possible to make a sort of hybrid solution with Flickr albums 'called' from within your website.  This seems too much like hard work to me.  However, I do have a Flickr account and I do occasionally put some pictures on it.

The latest solution is Zenfolio.  This site simply uses pre-made gallery software with blog and article functionality.  The underlying framework is managed by someone else and there is added functionality that I may never use such as links to sites that will allow people to order and pay for prints.  You pay for different levels of functionality and service.  There are downsides in that I can't see how I can make it look exactly as I want.  However, it's reasonably easy to use and I am intending to gradually move all my blog entries and articles from the old site to this one.  For the meantime, you will see that some of the pages are blank, some are missing photos and so on.  The good old 'unfinished look' so popular with people who are a bit bored with making websites and who can think of better ways of spending their time! 

Time for another beer...

(WildImaging) Dreamweaver Joomla WildImaging website Zenfolio jAlbum https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/website-woes---a-geek-history-of-the-wildimaging-website Fri, 25 May 2012 19:28:54 GMT
Great Reed Warbler at Weston-super-Mare https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/great-reed-warbler-at-weston-super-mare For a few days now local birders have been aware of a great reed warbler at the Weston Super Mare sewage works.   This site has been developed to offer a variety of habitats for wildlife but mainly reed beds and pools.  I couldn't really see how I could hope to visit a site like this and see one warbler, particularly when the area in question was restricted access and behind a high fence.  However, several people had got lucky and James Packer had managed an excellent photograph or two so I thought it would be cowardly not to try.  I stood in a huddle with about 6 others freezing in the strong wind for 45 minutes before the bird even started singing.  It then stayed largely invisible apart from brief flits from one low perch to the next but fortunately quite close to the boundary fence.  Its singing gradually became more confident and I finally got a couple of recognisable pictures when it climbed half way up some reeds.  Unfortunately though it had a lot of reeds in front of it so I can't match the quality of James' pictures.  A great bird and an amazingly loud song.  I suspect that if there had been less wind, it would have been much more visible.

Great reed warbler - Acrocephalus arundinaceusGreat reed warbler - Acrocephalus arundinaceus

(WildImaging) Acrocephalus arundinaceus Great reed warbler https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/great-reed-warbler-at-weston-super-mare Mon, 21 May 2012 20:10:59 GMT
White Stork on Curry Moor https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/white-stork-on-curry-moor Three days ago on the Somerset Ornithological Bird News website news broke of a most unusual visitor to Somerset in the form of a white stork (Ciconia ciconia).  I was lucky  enough to have some time off today and set off at 07.30 not really expecting to connect with this bird which had clearly lost its way and which would no doubt be off as soon as the winds were favourable for a return journey.  On arrival I was lucky enough to run into Jeff Hazel who pointed me in the right direction and I was amazed at my luck in seeing this giant creature standing a mere 200 feet away from the public footpath by the river Tone at the edge of receding flood water.  I managed a few shots but on trying to find another vantage point the bird apparently vanished into thin air.  I gather that it has been seen several more times since then so it's still worth a try.

White Stork on Curry MoorWhite Stork - Ciconia ciconia

(WildImaging) Curry Moor White Stork https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2012/5/white-stork-on-curry-moor Tue, 15 May 2012 19:16:38 GMT
Bempton Cliffs Gannet Photography https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2008/8/bempton-cliffs-gannet-photography As anyone with an interest in wild bird photography will know, gannets present one of the most stunning subjects available. I have admired other people's photographs for years and yet not come close to getting any reasonable images myself. They can be seen all around the coast flying low over the waves or doing one of their amazing high speed dives after fish. I was stunned to see on a wildlife documentary just how deep they go. This article indicates that the mean dive depth of Northern Gannets in the waters around Orkney was just under 20m!

Anyway, fortunately my aim was to photograph them above the water so no extreme measures were called for and I simply had to find a good place to visit. Gannets are present in huge numbers at a number of well defined sites around the UK but none better in terms of accessibility for me than Bempton Cliffs RSPB Reserve near Bridlington in Yorkshire.

A mere 6 hour drive from my base in Somerset makes this cliff top reserve practically on the doorstep according to hardened wildlife photographers. For me as a newcomer to 'target species hunting' it seemed a long way so I broke my journey with my father in Lincolnshire.

At the reserve there is a small visitor centre with a gift shop which also does drinks and snacks. Entrance to the reserve is straight through the shop but before embarking on the cliff top path you can visit a small feeding station just 10m to the left. We saw a handsome linnet in the car park and a good number of tree sparrows amongst the more familiar blue and great tits. Turning right on entering the reserve would take you to a T-junction on the cliff path and we chose to go left along a safely fenced footpath which runs along the edge of an area rough grassland surprisingly close to the cliff edge. The real drama of this site lies in the grandeur of the cliffs which drop nearly vertically a distance of 100m into the North Sea. Gannet with chick

To my shame I have to admit that I didn't take any landscape shots myself the picture on the right being a public domain image from the Wikipedia article on the Cliffs here. The only excuse I can muster is that I went in bird hunting mode and was being thoroughly spoiled for choice of subjects. At this point I'd also recommend the general area of Flamborough head as a spectacular place to visit.Gannet passing weed - the approach

The RSPB lists as its star species for this reserve gannets, kittiwakes, puffins, short-eared owls and tree sparrows but for me the real highlight has to be the gannets. Although it was late in the year - August - there was still breeding activity and I've posted below a reasnable shot I managed of these late breeding birds. This was taken with the Canon 30D Sigma 500mm f4.5 and Canon 1.4x TC on a lightweight Benro carbon fibre tripod. In the blustery inshore wind I could really have done with a heavy duty tripod but a) I don't have one and b) my motivation for lugging camera gear around is higher if it doesn't kill me in the process - yes, I'm a wimp. Ganneting passing weed - the transfer

As we walked along the path the was a continuous to-ing and fro-ing of herring gulls, kittiwakes but above all gannets. I spent a lot of time trying to get decent shots as they hurtled past and had a measure of success. My favourite of these high speed shots was a sequence which I've posted two below in which one gannet is flying along with seaweed in its mouth and another comes up behind and takes it away; for all the world like skilful relay team members passing the baton. Wonderful to watch!

I managed to catch the whole approach and Bempton gannettransfer sequence but it was all happening pretty far off so there's not as much detail as I'd have liked. Why it was happening in the first place I don't know. There seemed to be a lot of collecting of bits of plant matter at the edge of the cliffs as well although I didn't notice any more passing to one another going on. Presumably it's all a sort of bonding exercise but if anyone has any insight into this I'd appreciate your opinion .

The biggest thrill of the day was when we reached the northernmost end of the cliff path. Here the brisk onshore breeze combined with the shape of the cliffs had combined to give the perfect updraft for just hanging on the breeze. A large number of birds congregated here using it as a handy way of making an accurate landing amongst some favoured plants on the cliff edge. They seemed completely unconcerned by onlookers and another photographer and I snapped away at a distance of as little as 5m at times. I had to switch to the Canon 100-400mm zoom from time to time as they were so close.

The picture to the right is full frame - just cropped to fit. What great birds these are. Plenty more on my hard drive but lots of people have done it better and in nicer light too so I won't trouble you with more. Unfortunately I failed to get any nice pictures of the kittiwakes and we saw no puffins at all. On the way out we had an unexpected bonus with lots of juvenile swallows soaking up the late afternoon sun while their parents hunted and came back to feed them. I didn't get any particularly good shots but had a couple for the record.

In summary, a great day out and a fantastic place to try out gannet and other seabird photography.

(WildImaging) Bempton Cliffs Gannet photography https://wildimaging.co.uk/blog/2008/8/bempton-cliffs-gannet-photography Fri, 08 Aug 2008 20:02:00 GMT