Old Moor – 22 Jan 2019

After a lengthy hiatus, I made a much-anticipated return to birding today with a visit to Old Moor, my ‘home’ RSPB reserve.

It was a fairly grey January afternoon when I arrived, not too cold, but with the chance of snow having been forecast, I kept a keen eye on the weather.

I began my visit in the Bird Garden where I was able to add several birds to my 2019 Yearlist: Bullfinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch were in evidence along with the usual suspects of Great and Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Stock Dove and Woodpigeon. The light wasn’t brilliant, but I enjoyed snapping some fairly close-up images of a beautiful-looking Male Bullfinch, a species I hadn’t seen for a good while.

Moving over to the Tree Sparrow Farm, I found it to be rather quiet here this afternoon. Another pair of Bullfinches were frequenting the feeders, whilst scratching-about on the ground below the feeders were a few Chaffinch, Dunnock and a solitary, female Reed Bunting.

Blackbird

This lovely, female Blackbird posed nicely for me in the Bird garden today.

I decided to walk up Green Lane, stopping first at the Family Hide. Again things were very quiet here, but I was able to add Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck and Cormorant to my Yearlist.

By the time I arrived in Field Pool West Hide, I was beginning to realise that a pattern was emerging – not many birds about on the water today. From here I watched a Cormorant make a splash as it glided into land on the water some distance in front of me. The only other birds I saw here were a couple of equally-distant Lapwing.

I spent some time in Wath Ings talking with Andrew Leggett, who does the Old Moor blog. He’s a great font of knowledge on all things birding. He told me that he had been to Rufford Park that morning to see a group of Hawfinches in the trees by the car park. Rufford is well-known for its Hawfinches, and I resolved to visit there myself on the very next sunny day we get!

There was a group of six Goldeneye on the mere at Wath Ings, but unfortunately I couldn’t spot them myself as they were too distant, and the light was fading fast by this time. Andrew’s parting-shot for the day was a ‘heads-up’ about a solitary Green Sandpiper which had been on the mudbank in front of the Family Hide earlier in the day. Thinking I must have missed it, I stopped in the Family Hide again as I returned down Green Lane. Sure-enough, the bird was there, although it took flight almost as soon as I’d spotted it! However, a glimpse was all I needed to add another bird to my Yearlist.

I was really glad to get back to Old Moor today, and hope that I’ll soon be back to making regular visits to all my favourite Birding sites. Helen and I have a Norfolk weekend booked for March, so Titchwell Marsh will definitely be high on our list of priorities for that. Roll-on some longer days and sunny ones at that!

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Frampton Marsh – 15 Jul 2018

On our way home from our Norfolk Birding Weekend, Helen and I couldn’t just drive past Frampton Marsh – a reserve that we’ve visited a good many times previously and enjoyed so much!

The weather has been oppressively-hot all weekend, and once again today it was up around 30°C on arrival at the reserve. If anything it felt even hotter here, away from the coastal breeze which took the edge off the temperatures at Titchwell.

Helen and I decided against walking the perimeter of the sea wall which separates the main marsh from the salt-marsh and the Wash today. A visit to the 360° Hide would be more than sufficient in this heat.

Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the lagoon.

On my last visit to Frampton, in April, I had spent much of my time in the 360° Hide facing North-East, watching numerous waders, including Little Ringed Plover and Ringed-Plover quite close to the hide, at the water’s edge. Today, after weeks of dry weather, there was no water whatsoever to the North-East of the hide and so we spent our time facing South West instead, where there was some water, but nothing like as much as there usually is. Much of the view before us was almost like desolate wasteland which clearly hadn’t been wet for some time.

Mixed Flock

Part of a very large mixed flock at Frampton today.

A good many birds were around, nonetheless, with Ruff, Avocet and Godwits once again dominating the field.  There were a few Redshank around, which were constantly-harried by Avocet if they dared to come close to where the Avocets were feeding, and I eventually found both Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers in the distance. As yesterday at Cley, however, it was much too hot for most birds to be out and about through the heat of the day.

Redshank

A lovely close-up of a Redshank showing-off its feather details

We moved over to the nearby Reedbed Hide and watched some distant Spoonbills preening themselves in the sunshine. A number of water-fowl were also present here along with the (seeming) ubiquitous Black-Tailed Godwits and Ruff.

As we walked back towards the Visitors’ Center and car park, we paused to take some photographs of the Spoonbills which we were now much closer to. As we watched, two of them took off and flew-lazily around the mere before landing on an island in the middle of the lake.

Spoonbill

Two Spoonbills on an island on the main marsh today

Swallow

Never an easy subject to photograph – a flying Swallow.

Our final photographs of the weekend were of a few swallows and a Sand Martin which were flying around just above the VC when we arrived there. A good way to end our fabulous birding weekend. Now all we needed (desperately!) was a very long, very cool drink and some air-conditioning in the car!

*PS: The total number of birds we sighted over the three days was 73. Not bad at all!

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Cley Marsh and Titchwell Marsh – 14 Jul 2018

The second day of our Norfolk Birding Weekend took us on a return visit to Cley Marsh, about twenty miles Eastwards along the North Norfolk coast from Titchwell Marsh. And if Helen and I had though it was a hot day yesterday at Titchers, well today was even hotter still! 30°C at around 11am, with no breeze whatsoever. Phew!

We quickly decided that we wouldn’t be able to visit all of the reserve today and prioritised going to visit the cluster of three distinctive thatch-roofed hides which provide views over the main marsh.

The walk from the main car park to the hides is on a board-walk through a very high reedbed – mostly about 6-8 feet tall. On the way we had heard a variety of small bird song from within the reeds, but had had no sightings. It was quite oppressive walking to the hides in the heat, and we were very relieved when we got inside the first one and sat down in the cooler space.

The first hide looked-out onto a large body of water. We could see: Ruff, Avocet, a solitary Green Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Mute Swans, Lapwing, Greylag Geese, a distant Marsh Harrier perched in a tree beyond the lake, and a few tiny Avocet chicks on the central island. The new binoculars again made identification of more distant birds much easier and pleasureable.

A fellow-birder, who joined us in the first hide after about half an hour told us that one of the other hides we had yet to visit currently had a Greenshank near the front, so we decided to try our luck there.

Sadly, no Greenshank was present, but several Lapwing and Avocet were close to the hide and provided good views. A Marsh Harrier flew-over nearby and we took a few photographs of it before it flew out of our sight. Whilst we were watching, both a Green Sandpiper and a Redshank arrived a few moments apart, but both birds were too far away to allow good photographs.

Cley 03 - Avocet

An Avocet looking very graceful in flight.

The third (middle) hide provided the largest amount of birds. Huge numbers of Godwit, Ruff and Greylag Geese dominated the water and the main island. A few tiny Dunlin could be seen in the distance, at the far side of the island, dwarfed by the much larger birds nearby. As we watched, it was comical to notice, as we have done many times before, how dominant the tiny Avocet can be. Many times a much larger and bulkier bird such as a Mallard would be driven-off by a belligerent Avocet which wanted an unfeasibly-huge area of free space around itself in which to feed undisturbed. Avocet are also very belligerent when other birds stray too close to their nests when they are brooding eggs, but huge numbers of Avocet chicks are predated-upon each year as they tend not to be quite such doting parents as might be imagined!

Cley 05 - Bullying Avocet

An Avocet ‘seeing-off’ three Godwits which were trying to feed in the Avocet’s patch.

We were feeling in need of refreshment at this point in the day, so made our way back to the Visitors’ Center and (large) restaurant/shop. a couple of cold drinks and a sandwich made all the difference, and encouraged-us to try a bit more of the reserve.

Next we drove to a secondary car-park at the road-end of the high bank which leads directly to the beach at Cley. It was too hot on this occasion to walk the entire path, but we managed to go about half-way along the path, photographing a Meadow Pipit and a few gulls as we went.

Our day at Cley had been very enjoyable, if hot! We got back in the car around 3.30pm feeling that we wanted to try our luck somewhere else before ending our birding day. It was, by this time, too late to visit another favourite reserve we had passed on the way to Cley – Sculthorpe Moor (where the reserve closes at 5pm) , so we decided to spend another couple of hours at Titchwell, where there is no closing time and no gates to close anyway!

On arrival at Titchwell it was still quite warm, and since we had had such a full (and exciting) day at Titchers testerday, we decided we’d not go too far today. The Beach Trail path has a number of benches situated along its length. Helen and I have previously enjoyed sitting on those, watching for warblers in the reeds, and that’s what we decided to do this evening.

Titchwell 01 - assorted

Part of the huge, mixed-flock of birds on the Freshwater Marsh at Titchwell.

As we left the car park and headed through the trees which lead to the Beach Trail, we were ‘accosted’ by a very angry Wren which was clearly unhappy with our intrusion near to where it must have a nesting site. The bird was making very strident, and very insistent alarm calls telling us to clear-off! I’ve been surprised before at how loud a tiny wren can be. This occasion was no exception!

Titchwell 02 - Reed Bunting

A lovely male Reed Bunting

We walked as far as the Island Hide, where we’d spent quite a bit of time yesterday. There was no sign of the Lesser Yellowlegs today, but a good number of Avocet and Ruff were still sifting-through the shallow mud just in front of the hide. And once again, I couldn’t resist taking some photographs of the tiny, (and rather distant!) Bearded Tits in the reedbed across from the hide.

Titchwell 03 - Reed Warbler

Usually very elusive, this Reed Warbler showed itself beautifully, albeit briefly!

After about an hour of sitting in the hide, we slowly wandered back towards the car park, spending time sitting on a couple of the benches, as we had planned. As we sat there we were treated to very good sightings of a Sedge Warbler and a Reed Warbler, both of which spontaneously decided to break cover and sit atop some tall weeds for several minutes.

Titchwell 04 - Sedge Warbler

A gorgeous Sedge Warbler sitting atop some reeds.

So, another great day’s birding. Our weekend was passing much too quickly. Frampton Marsh tomorrow on the way home. Once again the forecast is for very hot weather. Will there be many birds about for us to photograph? Time will tell.

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Titchwell Marsh – 13 Jul 2018

185 – Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

A MEGA – a Lesser Yellowlegs on the Freshwater Marsh at Titchwell.

Helen and I have come to Norfolk this weekend, to visit some of our favourite nature reserves and do some serious birding! Today we made a much-anticipated return visit to Titchwell Marsh RSPB, which we consider to probably be our favourite reserve of all those we have visited over the years. We have had some quite amazing bird photography opportunities here in the past, and hoped for more of the same with this visit.

Well, the anticipation levels were raised ever-higher before we’d even arrived at Titchwell! Half-way through our journey, and my iPhone received an SMS alert from BirdGuides telling us that a Lesser Yellowlegs was present at Titchwell – of all places! It was quite unbelievable that a MEGA, (that’s the Birding-world classification for a very rare bird), was currently present at the very reserve we were enroute to! Would we see it? Unlikely we thought; Titchwell is a very big reserve, the bird could be anywhere at all (if it was even still there by the time we arrived), and if it was still there, and we located it, would it not just be a tiny speck in the distance?

So, we dismissed any likelihood of finding the Yellowlegs and carried-on with our journey, hoping that the reserve wouldn’t be over-run by ardent twitchers by the time we arrived. (We’d had that experience once before at Minsmere, with hordes of people hunting for a Pectoral Sandpiper. That had been a bit hectic to say the least!).

The current heat wave we’ve been sweltering-under has carried-on unabated; it was around 28°C by the time we drove-into the car park at Titchers.

A brief visit to the shop in the Visitors’ Center saw us buying a new pair of binoculars to add to the cameras (and water-bottles!) we were already carrying. We’d wanted some really good ‘bins’ for ages, and are really happy with the ones we got today. The view through them is excellent, and much brighter than that provided by a long camera lens. As it was to prove, the new bins made our weekend’s birding much more productive, as we are now much better-able to find and identify distant birds.

We had a quick look at the recent sightings board in the Visitors’ Center to see where all the ‘good birds’ had been seen so far today. A staff member told us that the Lesser Yellowlegs had been spotted at several locations around the reserve so far, but hadn’t been seen in the last 2-3 hours. This pretty-much confirmed our earlier thoughts that it was extremely unlikely that we would be lucky-enough to see it, and that we should just forget all about it.

My favourite hide at Titchwell is Island Hide which protrudes-out into the Freshwater Marsh. That’s where we went first today. As we approached the hide, walking along an elevated path, we watched the reedbeds closely. A number of Warblers including my favourite (a Sedge Warbler) could be heard singing within the dense shrubbery, and occasional, brief flashes of brown could be glimpsed as we passed.

On settling-ourselves in the hide, we were treated to a vista that included huge numbers of birds, some close-in to the hide, and some much more distant. Species we could see included, Avocet, Ruff, Black-Tailed Godwit, assorted Gulls, various ducks including a great many young Mallard right beneath the hide windows, Greylag Geese, Moorhen, Coot and the occasional Pied Wagtail.

We quickly put the new binoculars to good use, surveying the reedbed about fifty yards in front of us, to the right of the hide. To our delight, we quickly discovered that a flock of Bearded Tits was flitting-about at the bottom of the reeds, and they were soon joined by a Water Rail! Not so long ago, Water Rail and Bearded Tit were two of my top three ‘bogey birds’ along with Bittern. Although I’ve now seen and photographed all three species, it occurred to me that on this occasion today, I was very nearly able to capture two of those three species in the same photograph!

Bearded Tit

Not a brilliant photo of a female Bearded Tit, but pleasing just the same!

After about an hour or so, we decided to carry-on along the path which leads ultimately to the beach, to see what else we could find. A large flock of Oystercatcher and a couple of roosting Spoonbill were at the far end of the Volunteer Marsh as we passed-by. At around this time I saw some kind of raptor chasing after another bird at high speed. I raised my camera and fired-off a few frames at what turned-out to be a Hobby chasing a Black-Tailed Godwit. I don’t know how the chase turned-out, but I was pleased to capture a few (slightly blurry!) shots of the action as it unfolded.

The beach was very quiet today; there was what appeared to be a large, mixed flock of gulls and Oystercatchers down at the water’s edge several hundred yards along from where we were, but it was much too hot for Helen and me to trudge a long way through deep sand to try to see them more closely. On previous visits to the beach at Titchwell, Helen and I have had close encounters with Sanderling, Knot and Turnstone. All these species had more sense than be out today in 30°C heat!

Returning back down the path we spent a few minutes capturing photographs of several Linnet and a Meadow Pipit which were sitting atop the gorse bushes just over the boundary wall to the West of the path. Male Linnets are especially attractive at this time of year with their bright pink chest feathers.

The next hour or so was spent in Parinder Hide, a double-sided hide which looks out onto the Freshwater Marsh to the South and the Volunteer (Saltwater) Marsh to the North. Here, amongst a plethora of other bird species which were present in large numbers, we watched a number of Mediterranean Gulls, including one adult, which was being constantly-nagged by a hungry juvenile. Eventually, the adult had had enough and flew off to sit on the water for some peace and quiet!

At this point it had reached around 5pm, but we had lots left yet to see, and there were still several hours of daylight to come. We walked all the way back down to the car for some refreshments and a much-needed rest.

Med Gulls

This adult Med Gull was rapidly getting fed-up of being nagged-at for more food!

An hour or so later, and feeling re-energised, we headed-off along Fen Trail next, through dense woodland and alongside various ponds, towards Fen Hide, where we had some wonderful Bearded Tit and Sedge Warbler sightings on our first visit to Titchwell. On this occasion, however, the reeds had grown so tall that they had completely hidden the view of the pond, and not much could be seen at all. A Marsh Harrier in the distance briefly gave us something to watch, but we soon decided to press-on towards the screen overlooking Patsy’s Reedbed.

Alas, again much too hot for anything exciting today. A few distant waterfowl were about all we could see, and there was no sign whatsoever of any Red Crested Pochard, which seem to be permanently resident here, and have certainly been present on each of our previous visits to Patsy’s Reedbed. We did enjoy photographing some Whitethroat in the trees as we walked back towards the Fen Trail again, however. I made a mental note that this must have been a good breeding-year for Whitethroats, as I’ve had far more sightings of them this year than in previous years.

Woodpigeons

These two Woodpigeons looked very comfy together!

By the time we had reached the Visitors’ Center again, we were feeling that we had probably seen all that we were going to see for the day. As we walked the last few yards, we met a fellow-birder who was scouring the trees at the bottom of the Beach Trail for some Tawny Owls that had been reported earlier in the day. Although we couldn’t find the owls, he casually informed us that, if we wanted to see it, the Lesser Yellowlegs had returned from the far (and inaccessible) end of the reserve and was currently near the Island Hide, very close to the path, from where he had just returned.

So, off we went up the Beach Trail path again, and sure-enough, the Lesser Yellowlegs was just where we had been told, very close to the path. A group of about ten birders were gathered watching it, making it very easy for Helen and I to find the bird.

We took a good few photographs of this very rare bird, which became my 185th wild bird photographed in the UK.

By this time it was after 8pm, and we felt that we had had enough birding-excitement for one day. Just as we started down the path towards the Visitors’ Center and car park once again, a Marsh Harrier flew up right in front of us and gave us our final good sighting of the day.

Cley Marsh tomorrow – I wonder what that might bring? Probably not another MEGA, but who knows?

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Brandon Marsh & Middleton Lakes – 02 Jul 2018

184 – Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

My 184th bird – a Wood Sandpiper.

Yesterday I visited two nature reserves in the Midlands – Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve near Coventry, and the RSPB’s reserve at Middleton Lakes near Tamworth. I’d been to Middleton Lakes on two previous occasions, but Brandon Marsh was a first-time visit.

Brandon Marsh is a 220 acre nature reserve operated by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is located adjacent to the River Avon and is near the village of Brandon, a few miles east of Coventry.

I arrived at the reserve just in time for its daily opening time of 09.30 am. We’ve been having a lot of hot weather of late, and the temperature was already about 28°C as I stepped out of the car and made my way onto the reserve.

There are seven hides at Brandon Marsh, and I began my visit by making my way towards Steetley Hide, which overlooks the ‘Kingfisher Pool’ at the Eastern end of the reserve.

The undulating path leading to the hide took me on a superb walk through some fairly dense woodland, and past several large pools. I could hear birds singing all around me, and caught occasional fleeting glimpses as they flitted from branch to branch. At one point I identified a Jay in the trees directly above my head, but alas, it was gone before I could bring my camera lens to bear on it. At another point I stopped to listen to some wonderful birdsong somewhere nearby. I used the app ‘Warblr’ on my iPhone to identify the bird as a Wren, and made a mental note to really try to get to grips with learning to recognise a lot more bird-songs as an aid to their identification on occasions like this when they are unable to be seen directly.

On entering the hide, I found myself looking out on a large pool with an island in the middle. There were high reeds all around and lots of trees and shrubbery. An obvious Kingfisher perch had been set up overlooking the pool and I got into conversation with a fellow-birder as we sat and waited, hopefully, for a sighting of a Kingfisher. After some forty-five minutes, however, we still hadn’t seen one. I had managed to capture a few shots of a Common Buzzard flying lazy circles overhead, and had a brief sighting of a Grey Heron as it relocated just out of my sight beyond the island in the pool. At this point I decided to try my luck at another hide. As I descended to the foot of the stairs leading from the hide, I paused briefly to try to take some photographs of a beautiful Banded Demoiselle damselfly that was flitting-about in the shrubbery just by the path.

Common Tern

‘One day son, you’ll be able to do this too!’

I next visited the ‘Mick Taylor/River Pool Hide’ and then the Teal Pool Hide in quick succession. I was aware of the ever-increasing heat and that I wanted to visit as many hides as I could manage in my half-day visit to Brandon Marsh, so didn’t stay long in any of the hides. The Teal Pool had completely dried-up, so I crossed-over into the adjacent East Marsh Hide which overlooks the main lake of the reserve (East Marsh Pool). Here, at last, I began to see large numbers of birds. Present were a good many Lapwing, assorted ducks, (some with ducklings in tow), and a number of Common Tern were flying back and forth over the lake, some catching fish to feed to their young, which were sitting on the central island making raucous calls to their parents.

I also visited ‘John Baldwin Hide’ and ‘Wright Hide’, both of which also overlook East Marsh Pool. I tried to capture some images of Common Tern in flight, (with limited success!), but the real interest for me at ‘Wright Hide’ was the presence of a single (rather distant) wader, which I initially mis-identified as a Spotted Redshank, but later realised to my delight was infact a Wood Sandpiper – a species I had not previously ever seen, but had been hoping to spot for some time. I took a number of shots of this marvellous little wader before it eventually flew-off.

By this time it was midday; I had been on the reserve for two and a half hours and I was absolutely parched! With the temperature now around 32°C, I made my way back to the Visitor Centre and gulped-down a cold drink before deciding to drive the 25 miles or so to visit my second reserve of the day – the RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes.

Looking back at my records, my two previous visits to Middleton Lakes were: last July (almost a year ago to the day) and then in March of this year. During last July’s visit I saw, and photographed far more bird species than I did on this occasion – I put it down to the birds having the good sense to stay out of sight on a really hot day!). And on my March visit, it was so cold that several of the ponds were completely iced-over. My ‘headline’ experience on that day was a prolonged sighting of a Water Rail that had been forced, by sheer hunger, to visit the area around the bird feeders in the extreme conditions – what a difference four months can make!

On arrival at Middleton Lakes today I was ‘greeted’ by a wonderful Common Whitethroat that was singing it’s heart-out at the top of one of the trees next to the beginning of the trail. I managed to snatch several quick photos of the bird before it disappeared.

Common Whitethroat

My ‘shot of the day’ was this super Whitethroat at Middleton Lakes.

I next visited the feeders near the Heronry, at the start of the Woodland Trail. There was no sign of any Herons today – the breeding season must surely be over for them by now in July(?). I caught a brief glimpse of a Nuthatch on one of the tree trunks by the feeders, and the other birds present were Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch and Blue Tit, with a couple of Mallard scrabbling-about below the feeders for any seeds dropped from above. However, the leaf-canopy above the feeders was quite dense thus making photography difficult, so I decided not to linger too long here today and began to make my way up the path leading to the lakes.

Just at the start of the path that leads into the Wetland Trail, there is an old farm with a large field adjacent to the path. As I surveyed the field, (where I had spied a couple of Redwing on my previous visit), I noticed some huge Guinea Fowl grazing the grass today. Although these were, infact, another new species for me to have photographed today, the bird can’t be included in my Bird List as they are domesticated birds rather than wild ones. As I walked further up the path loads of Speckled Wood butterflies flitted about me in the strong sunshine.

Guinea Fowl

An unexpected bird sighting today – Guinea Fowl!

Moving further-on up the path, I stopped briefly at Fisher’s Mill Pool. Back in March when I stopped here, I took photographs of a very tame Nuthatch which was feeding on seeds that someone had very-thoughtfully left on a tree stump. Today, alas, there was nothing about in such strong sunshine, other than some very large Dragonflies darting-about above the water’s surface.

Indeed, I carried-on all the way up to the West Scrape viewpoint today, hardly seeing any birds at all!

As I made my way back down the path towards the car-park, I photographed a beautiful Comma Butterfly sitting on the path at my feet. At least the Lepidoptera at Middleton Lakes hadn’t let me down today!

Comma Butterfly

A Comma Butterfly sunning itself at Middleton Lakes

All in all, however, I had to concede that I’d had a successful day’s birding – one new species for my Bird List at Brandon Marsh, and a few great shots of the Whitethroat near the car-park at Middleton Lakes. Despite the heat, I’d walked about six miles and had some great excercise as well. Roll-on my next Bird outing!

My 183rd new bird was a Raven – I photographed it whilst on a family outing rather than on a Birding Trip – hence no blog post about it.

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Bempton Cliffs – 18 May 2018

I can’t remember ever writing about photography equipment in one of these blog posts before, but it was because I wanted to try-out a new lens that I decided to visit Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire Coast today.

I’ve previously visited Bempton a number of times to photograph the tens of thousands of seabirds which breed there each year, and I was eager to get back there today for my first visit of 2018.

A few weeks ago, and in time for my recent visit to Inner Farne, off the Northumberland coast, I invested in a Nikkor 70-300mm lens to supplement my photographic equipment. Usually, I rely on a Sigma 150-600mm lens attached to my Nikon D750 when I’m photographing birds, but occasionally that can be overkill. The Sigma lens is very heavy and tiring to use handheld after a while. (It’s also rather unwieldy to use such a long lens whilst on the boat going around the Farne Islands, surrounded by other people who are equally intent of photographing the seabirds!) Furthermore, at locations like Inner Farne and Bempton Cliffs, a lens of that size isn’t really necessary anyway; the sheer numbers of birds gives them the confidence to largely-ignore inquisitive human beings and allow a very close approach. (At Inner Farne I’ve sometimes found it necessary to step back a bit because the bird I was trying to photograph was so close to me that my lens couldn’t focus on it! This is particularly true of the Arctic Terns which nest right alongside the wooden walkways, and peck passing humans on the head!).

I was very pleased with the results from the 70-300mm lens at Inner Farne, and I now wanted to try it out at Bempton to see if the results I was able to achieve here were equally satisfying.

It was an almost perfect day for my visit: the temperature was in the high teens (°C) and there was very little wind. Only a few clouds dotted the sky, which meant that I could try to isolate some seabirds against a beautiful blue sky.

There aren’t any hides at Bempton – they’re not needed. Instead there are large decking-style viewing platforms right on the edge of the cliffs at various points on the reserve. Today I visited ‘New Roll-Up’, ‘Grandstand’ and ‘Bartlett Nab’ viewpoints. As usual at Bempton, one of the first things you notice as you approach the cliff-edge is the indescribable, overpowering stench of guano! With something in the region of 250,000 seabirds (mostly huge Northern Gannets) nesting at Bempton, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise really!

Gannet

This Gannet was using its tail as an air-brake to slow it down for landing.

Over the next couple of hours or so, I snapped-away at Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Herring Gulls, Jackdaws and Rock Doves. It’s really quite thrilling standing atop Bempton’s 400ft-high cliffs looking out at so many birds, whizzing-along at all heights: some above, some below and some level with the cliff-tops. If there is a bit of a breeze blowing, some of the birds might be just ‘hanging’ in the air, making it relatively easy to achieve well-focussed images. With the settings I had on my camera, the new lens performed admirably, and I could tell from the viewscreen on the back of the camera that I was achieving a high success-rate with my focussing.

For all the sunshine, I eventually realised that my hands were frozen; there was just enough of a breeze at the edge of the cliffs to make it feel a bit chilly. As I started to make my way back towards the Visitors’ Center, I decided to walk the longer way, via a path which has hedgerows alongside it. I thought at this point that I had probably finished my bird photography for the day, but was very pleasantly-surprised to discover a number of Linnets and Whitethroats singing-away at the tops of the hedgerows, quite oblivious to my presence. I took a number of photographs of these birds, and for the first time during my visit to Bempton today, I yearned to have my long lens, which was sitting some distance away, in the car boot! Grrr!

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Adwick Washlands – 08 May 2018

Despite its being only about 20 miles away from home, it has been getting-on for two years since I last visited the RSPB’s Adwick Washlands reserve in the Dearne Valley, which is roughly midway between Barnsley and Doncaster, and is a satellite reserve of Old Moor.

It was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day today, with the temperature up around 26°c as I parked in the Furlong Road car park and walked along the path onto the reserve. The trees I passed were absolutely packed-full of singing birds. I tried my best to spot some of them, but it was nearly impossible with the trees now sporting their full Summer foliage, so I had to satisfy myself with trying to identify as many as I could by their singing alone. I was able to pick out Blackbird, Robin, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Chaffinch from amongst the chorus around me.

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The colours on this Lapwing are just spectacular!

Approaching the start of the first lake, I became aware of a disturbance at the water’s edge; it was a pair of Redshank which were making quite a fuss with their noisy mating-display ritual. Nearby several Avocet were feeding in the shallow water and a variety of waterfowl were also present: Gadwall, Moorhen, Coot and Mallard.

As I continued up the path, a Sedge Warbler started-up its distinctive singing in a tree very close to my location. This time I was lucky-enough to capture a few good photographs of the bird, which was conveniently-perched, well clear of obscuring foliage (for once!).

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A Sedge Warbler – captured mid-song!

By the time I had reached the mid-point of the reserve, I was actively scouring the area for any signs of Garganey. I first saw this rare, Summer-visiting duck at Adwick about three years ago, and have seen one only once more, at another reserve. Adwick has been fortunate-enough to have had Garganey visiting each Summer going back several years now, and from the Old Moor blog, I was aware that a pair of them were currently present on the reserve.

A fellow-birder directed me to a particular location on the reserve where he knew the birds had been sighted recently. Within five minutes of arriving at the spot, I did indeed catch a brief view of a handsome pair of Garganey which I was able to photograph, albeit from some distance, before they moved out of view.

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A drake Garganey

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A Grey Heron flies overhead

I next walked-up the path which leads to the Central Viewing Point on the reserve. Adwick doesn’t have any hides, but the viewing point does afford a good view over a sizeable swathe of the reserve and is a good location for spotting a great variety of birds, given that it overlooks both water and farmland habitats.

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A beautiful Linnet looking gorgeous in the sunshine

At the viewing point today were two RSPB staff members who were doing a census of the birds around the reserve. After reporting my Garganey sightings to them, we got into a discussion about the organisation’s future plans for Adwick, Old Moor, and the RSPB’s latest reserve at Sherwood Forest. I can’t wait to visit the Sherwood Forest reserve, which is currently in preparation for ‘opening its doors’ to the public for the first time later this year, having been told about the rather ‘exotic’ list of bird species the forest has to offer: Common and Black Redstart, Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker, Nightjar and Woodlark – wow! The only one of those five species I’ve ever even seen before is the Common Redstart, and that was a very brief sighting of a distant bird. Let’s hope for exciting birding-times ahead then!

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My last sighting of the day was this beautiful Willow Warbler

Walking back down the path again, I was treated to three really good sightings: a low-flying Grey Heron, which was beautifully-lit in the sunshine, a fabulous Kestrel which was soaring around just above my head, and a pair of Linnet which were perched on the fence as I passed and which didn’t seem at all perturbed by my presence.

A clear sighting of a lovely Willow Warbler, along with Goldfinch and Dunnock singing in the trees near the path rounded-out my visit to Adwick today. The Dearne Valley is really an exceptionally-good area to visit to watch and photograph birds of so many different species. I am very fortunate to live close to such great reserves.

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Harkess Rocks – Bamburgh – 02 May 2018

181 – Common Scoter

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A female Common Scoter sitting on the rocks

182 – Purple Sandpiper

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A flock of Purple Sandpipers getting wet!

Well, it’s been a long, long time since I photographed more than one new bird in a single birding session, but that’s precisely what happened today.

Helen and I are staying in Bamburgh in Northumberland for a few days, and this afternoon I decided to take my camera with me along to Harkess Rocks (just along the beach from Bamburgh Castle), to see what birds were around. I had previously been aware that Purple Sandpipers were regular Winter visitors on the shoreline in the area, and I had read just a few days ago that they were usually present right through the Winter until about May, so I went hoping that I might just get lucky.

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A beautifully-marked Turnstone on the beach at Bamburgh

On arrival, I immediately discovered a flock of about a dozen Turnstone and a single Ringed Plover on the beach, just in front of me. The Turnstones, in particular, seemed not to care about my close proximity and allowed me to take a great many close-up shots of them as they scurried-about on the sand looking for juicy morsels, whilst evading the waves breaking on the beach. Their mottled plumage was showing beautifully in the afternoon sunshine, and I really enjoyed taking photographs of these fabulous birds.

I cast my eyes about to see what else was present: a Sandwich Tern was diving into the sea about fifty yards offshore, a pair of Eider ducks were sitting on the rocks near the water’s edge about a hundred yards away, and a number of assorted gulls were floating out on the sea not too far away from my position.

I next decided to go a bit nearer to where the Eider ducks were located to take some photos of them. The male looked very dapper as he stood tall and stretched his wings whilst I snapped away at him. It was only then that I realised a third, (predominantly brown) bird was sitting near the Eiders. I knew it wasn’t a female Eider, but it didn’t register with me at the time that I may have been looking at a new bird for my list. I decided to take a couple of shots and identify the bird later-on. I was rather pleased, then, when I later discovered it was a female Common Scoter – a bird that I had never knowingly seen before, let alone take a photograph of!

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Bamburgh Castle provided the backdrop to my day’s Birding session

Surveying all the rocks nearby, I soon spotted another flock of birds on an outcrop of rocks separated from my position by the incoming tide. I quickly realised that it was a mixed flock of Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper – the very bird I had come hoping to see!

Unfortunately, the Sandpipers were all roosting with their heads tucked under their feathers. Also, they were rather farther away from me than I would have liked for a clear photo. However, I was soon rewarded for my patience when a wave crashed against the rocks where the birds were roosting, causing them all to temporarily fly-up to avoid the spray. I was very lucky to catch the moment with my camera.

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A rather distant group of Common Scoter out on the sea

After about an hour of snapping-away, I decided to head back to the house where Helen and I are currently staying to see what I had managed to capture. Just as I arrived at the car I noticed a small group of birds about two hundred yards offshore. They turned out to be Common Scoters too! What an exciting experience!

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Attenborough Nature Reserve – 23 Apr 2018

Today was my 300th birding excursion. Looking back over my records,  I noted that it’s almost 6 years since I started bird photography in earnest, which equates to approximately one outing per week. Currently, my total of wild birds photographed within the UK stands at 180, but it has become so much harder now that I’ve already snapped a high proportion of all the commonly-seen species. The two birds I most want to add to that total are Green Woodpecker and Dipper. Both are birds that I’ve previously seen in the wild, but not yet photographed. I hope it’s not another six years before that ambition is fulfilled!

For my visit today, I chose to go back to Attenborough Nature Reserve near Nottingham. Being only about 35 miles away, and straight down the M1 for most of it, Attenborough is an easy reserve for me to visit. The reserve itself is quite extensive, is comprised mostly of various bodies of water, and has an excellent reputation for the range of bird species seen there. I myself, have had a number of good successes with my bird photography at Attenborough, and very much hoped that today would be similarily productive.

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A Red Crested Pochard by the Visitors’ Center

By now Spring is well underway, and a huge ‘wall’ of birdsong greeted me from the moment I stepped out of the car at the Visitors’ Center today. I could hear Chiffchaff, Cettis Warbler, Robin, Great Tit, Sedge Warbler, Blackbird and probably several more species that I was unable to identify.

On arrival at Attenborough, I always start by looking at the assorted waterbirds that are gathered outside the Visitors’ Center, awaiting kindly humans who are prepared to feed them. Today, there were the usual Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Tufted Duck and Mallards, but one thing that is particulary unusual about Attenborough is that these ‘regular’ birds that appear in this gathering outside the VC also regularly include somewhat more exotic species such as Red Crested Pochard and Egyptian Goose. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever visited Attenborough without seeing these two species. The only other reserve where I’ve ever seen Red Crested Pochards is Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk, and those birds keep themselves well-distant from humans. Not so at Attenborough where the bird I saw today was quite tame, (only about six feet away from where I was standing), and appeared to be completely unconcerned about my presence.

After photographing the Red Crested Pochard, I decided to go through the Visitors’ Center and out the back entrance to visit the bird hide which overlooks Coneries Pond. This hide is immediately adjacent to the Sand Martin nesting wall, which today, was being made full-use of. There were Sand Martins buzzing about all over the lake in front of the hide, and regularly returning to their nests with food for their young. I spent about fifteen minutes trying my best to photograph this spectacle, but Sand Martins are such fast fliers, which dart both into and out-of their nesting holes, that it’s nearly impossible to capture a bird, which is both entirely within the frame of the photograph and in any sort of decent focus! However, as I keep telling myself, if it wasn’t a challenge I wouldn’t be doing it!

After my encounter with the Sand Martins, I next wanted to walk down the path leading towards Clifton Pond and its elevated hide. As I walked down the path there were birds singing everywhere – but could I spot even one of the little blighters…..? Grrr!

As I walked along the spit of land adjacent to the Wheatear Field, a really loud Sedge Warbler was singing just the other side of the hedge. (The Sedge Warbler’s song is without doubt my favourite birdsong). But, as before, the bird was nowhere to be seen…. double-grrr!

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A flight of Tufted Ducks arriving at Clifton Pond

I climbed up the two flights of steps and settled myself into the elevated bird hide, which affords an excellent view, both to the North, over Tween Pond and to the South over Clifton Pond. On a previous occasion whilst sitting in this hide, I was treated to a rather good view of a Water Rail, dabbling about in the reeds quite near the hide on the Clifton Pond side. Now, whilst I didn’t have a repeat of that experience today, I did, for the briefest second or two, spot a Bittern coming in to land in amongst the reeds. It was all over far too quickly for me to have time to react and raise my camera, and indeed, the several other birders present in the hide failed to spot the bird at all! I was nonetheless enthralled to have had only my second-ever Bittern sighting.

About six feet from where I was sitting up high in the elevated hide, a pair of Great Tits took up perches at the top of a hawthorn tree and began singing really loudly, right in front of me. I took a great many shots of these birds, given such a glorious opportunity, and with such willing models!

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This fabulous Great Tit took up a perch just about six feet from me and burst into song.

After about half an hour, hoping that the Bittern might fly up out of the reeds again (without success!), I decided to try my luck along at the Kingfisher Hide, which also overlooks Clifton Pond. As I took up my position in the hide, I discovered a Gey Heron standing quite still, in the shallows just in front of the hide, watching for any tell-tale movement of something it could spear with its long, razor-sharp beak. I eased up the window into the locked-open position as carefully, and quietly as I could, trying my very best not to spook the bird. I managed to take a few pictures of the bird before it decided that I was enough of a threat to cause it to fly-off!

After leaving the hide I made my way back up the path, back towards the Visitors’ Center and the Car Park. There were still loads of birds singing all around me as I walked along the path. This time I had a bit more success with sightings – a Robin and a Great Tit! Nice birds, of course, but where on Earth are all the Blackcaps, Reed Warblers and Whitethroats when you want to photograph them?? A Cettis Warbler was once again tantalizingly-close to where I passed it, but, as usual, Cettis are far more frequently heard than seen!

Attenborough is a super reserve, which is always worth visiting. One day I’ll get a really good, clear, long sighting of a Bittern. Today could so easily have been the day. Perhaps next time….

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Alkborough Flats – 21 Apr 2018

Today I made a return visit to Alkborough Flats in Lincolnshire. I first visited here about a year ago and have meant to come back ever since. The reserve is only about one and a half kilometers away from Blacktoft Sands, as the crow flies (well, any bird really!), but as it’s on the opposite bank of the Ouse/Trent/Humber confluence it’s over twenty-two miles away by car and takes around 50 minutes driving according to Google Maps.

I arrived at the reserve around 12.30pm and parked in the car park at the bottom of Prospect Lane, which comes down the hill from the village church. As soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear lots of different birds singing in the trees around me. One of the most distinctive I heard was that of my first Chiffchaff of the year, with its eponymous ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ sound.

Almost as soon as I started up the path towards Prospect Hide, I heard a distant Bittern booming in the reeds. As it turned out, I was to hear this bird booming throughout my visit to the reserve today – usually in a pattern of three booms on each occasion. It would have been wonderful to have seen the bird too, of course, but it’s nonetheless enthralling to experience its deep, throaty booming call, which is very reminiscent of the sound you get when you blow across the top of an old-fashioned milkbottle.

I was immediately a bit disappointed when I entered Prospect Hide and looked out of the windows. For one thing, the water level was much higher than on my previous visit, which inevitably reduces the chances of lots of waders being present. Also, the reeds which had been quite close to the hide itself on my previous visit, had been radically cut back. Whilst that meant that a much wider field of view was now possible, it cut-down the prospect of seeing Bearded Tits flitting across the front of the hide, which I was thrilled to see at least twice last time I visited.

However, within a few seconds of this minor disappointment, I noted that a lone Spoonbill was snoozing out on the water about two hundred yards from me. Also, on closer inspection, I realised that it had an attendant collection of waders standing nearby. Most of the waders were Spotted Redshanks, but a single Greenshank promptly flew in and joined them. A number of Avocet were also sprinkled around the lake.

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A Spoonbill, with accompanying Greenshank and a group of Spotted Redshank

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At last – the Spoonbill is awake and showing its dramatic bill!

Over the course of the next hour and a half, whilst I was in the hide, the Spoonbill periodically untucked its long bill from under its feathers and briefly took note of its surroundings. However, its feet didn’t budge at all from where they were firmly planted in the mud during the entire time I was in the hide.

I struck-up conversation with another birder who told me that he had relocated to this hide from another part of the reserve because he had seen a pair of Common Crane drop down into the reeds at the far side of the lake from the hide, and so we both waited patiently in the hope of catching a sighting of these massive birds. Apparently, a large number of Cranes have arrived in this general area in recent days and numerous sightings have been recorded throughout the region.

Alas, it was not to be. After about 90 minutes my rear end was quite numb and I needed to stretch my legs, so I left the hide and walked further up the path. Alongside the path is an extensive reedbed on one side, and an arable field on the other. I heard several Sedge Warblers whch were close to where I was passing, but had no sightings today!

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A male Reed Bunting keeps a close eye on me!

As I walked further along the path, I came upon a group of birders, with their binoculars trained on the arable field. As I approached them, I asked what it was that they had found, and was delighted to have my attention directed to where a beautiful Wheatear was grazing in the field. The bird was about 80-90 yards away and was beautifully camouflaged. One of those birders must have had extraordinarily good eyesight to spot it in the first place! I took a few rather distant photographs of the bird before I lost sight of it in the distance.

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A lovely Wheatear in the field alongside the main path

It was becoming slightly breezy now, so I decided to head back to the car. As I walked back down the path, I continued to hear the booming of the Bittern and the melodious, rambling singing of Sedge Warblers; this is definitely my favourite time in the birding calendar!

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