Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sandwiches and Dippers

I like to indulge in some photography during my lunch hour at work. It's always good just to get away from the office, stretch the legs and take in some fresh air. One such lunch hour favourite is the Dippers that inhabit a local stream. These lunch hour trips are always a bit of a rush around, and allowing for travel time, I end up with around 40 minutes to find the birds and try and get some photographs. My sandwich usually being eaten on the move.

Its always tricky lighting conditions in this stream that tumbles down through a woodland valley. Time is limited, as once the riparian trees burst into leaf, the stream will be plunged into deep shade, effectively ruling out any photography. So I decided to start my brief sessions with the Dippers earlier this year, as I have always previously tried for them around March. As the sun is still low in the sky, the light reaching the swirling water is limited at the moment but should improve rapidly over the coming weeks. I hope to try and make a more concerted effort with these fascinating birds this year and that numerous short sessions will help me build a better picture of their habits. To date I have managed two visits due to the continuing poor weather.
My first visit was encouraging as I managed to locate two birds which both seem to have fairly well defined territories along the stream, making location potentially easier for future sessions where time is so precious. The Dippers are relatively easy to find as the search area is restricted to the narrow corridor of the brook.

One of the birds unfortunately appears to have an infected foot. However, it does not seem to be affecting it too much at present and it has been a joy watching it plunging in to the shallow rapids to feed.
I was pleased to see on my second session that this easily recognisable bird had already seemed to pair up with a mate, in this early breeding species.
I left both of them at the end of last week checking out some potential sites to build a nest.

Despite the narrow search area and their incredibly bright white breast, they are surprisingly easy birds to walk straight past.
However, I have managed to find and photograph birds on both sessions which is encouraging and should be able to build a small library of photos from multiple visits. A Dipper a day keeps the doctor away :).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Plot Visitors

In one of those rare moments of sunshine in one of the worst winters of weather I can remember for photography, I decided to make a visit to the new feeding station known as 'the Plot'. It has kept me busy keeping the variety of feeders constantly filled, as high numbers of birds have been visiting and eating their way through large quantities of seed, fat-balls and peanuts. On this particular morning it seemed fairly quiet in terms of numbers of birds arriving, the cause of which would be revealed later in the session.

The first birds returning to the feeders, after the minor disturbance of setting up the pop-up hide, were the Blue Tits as usual. Despite being a very common bird, which could be easily overlooked, when their plumage is in good condition they do look superb.
The tits were very quickly joined by a small flock of Goldfinch. This is one species that appears to have really benefited from the feed that people put out in their gardens, and what once was a fairly unusual sight is now common. The birds glowed in their beautiful colours in the early morning sun.
I decided to introduce a new perch taken from my garden which was already showing the first shoots of spring under the mild winter weather.
Another photograph taken later in the session, when one side of the photography area is plunged in to shade by a bush, giving dark backgrounds to the photos. I quite like these dark background photographs as they really show off the colours of the birds.
Next species to muscle in on the feeders were the larger Greenfinch. When these boisterous birds arrive all the other tends to be pushed out the way until they have had their fill.
A new species arrived in the shape of a small flock of Chaffinch. These birds don not tend to land so much on the perches but appear more content with picking up the fallen seed on the ground below the feeders. This is a male bird looking is great condition. It appears the birds are benefiting from their new food supply.
Joining in with the mopping up of seed from the ground was the arrival of six pheasants. A female bird peaking over from behind one of the logs.
Now you may be thinking that there was a lot of bird activity but compared to the numbers coming in to the feeders when I make my visits to refill, it was fairly quiet. The reason soon became apparent with a sudden burst of alarm calls from the scattering small song birds and rushing of air sound from above the hide resulted in a stunning male Sparrowhawk landing on the perch in front of me. As I was so close to perch to photograph the small birds, all I could fit into the frame was a head portrait. I managed to take about six photos before this predator with its highly tuned senses realised I was there and disappeared low and fast over the hedge. It was inevitable that so much bird activity would eventually attract a predator.
I am already looking forward to my next session at the Plot and to see what will turn up next.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Plan B

Last weekend, I did have good intentions but they proved to be too optimistic. The idea was to rise early on Saturday and head to some pine forest to try and find some Crossbills. However, I was booked in for a rare Friday night out in Liverpool and eventually arrived home at 3am. I very rarely drink and so the few drinks really impacted on my well being the next day. Not only did I sleep through the alarm clock but woke feeling like an army of blacksmiths were trying to hammer their way out of the back of my head. Looking out the window there was a strong breeze blowing which instantly cancelled out the tree top hugging Crossbills. Given my very delicate hungover condition a more gentle pursuit was required, a Plan B. I eventually forced myself out the front door to look for some winter thrushes.

I made my way to reliable site, feeling and probably looking decidedly green, and located a flock of around 60 Fieldfare slowly making their way across a field. However, there was a chain-link fence between myself and the birds which made any photography impossible. Time to look elsewhere. My level of motivation was rapidly declining as the pounding in my head seemed to be increasing. What kept me going though the trauma was the rare view of the sun shining, in what has been the worst winter weather for photography that I can remember.

Eventually I found a low Firethorn bush with a few remaining berries and three species of feeding thrushes. I positioned myself so that a grey wall of a building behind the bush provided an unusual neutral back drop to allow the colours of the birds to shine in the low winter sun. First bird before my sore eyes was a Fieldfare that landed on top of the bush. This bird was a really beautifully marked individual of a species that seems to show quite a degree of variation.
Another berry disappears.
Usually when so few berries are remaining these isolated bushes are dominated by a lone Mistle Thrush which tends to chase all the other birds away from its personal larder. However, this bird seemed quite relaxed about the Fieldfare and Redwing busily depleting the dwindling food supply.
The bird I was most happy to see coming in to feed were the Redwing, which are always particularly shy and one of the most difficult to approach. One waiting in a tree next to the bush.
Several Redwing were coming in to feed at the same time.
Memories of the previous night, down in one.
The session was cut short by an increasing feeling that the best place for me that day would be back in bed to recover from my self-induced illness. I have already planned next weekend and this time I will be back on track and with a clear head will be resolutely sticking to my plan.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Goodbye 2011

Happy New Year to you all. May your 2012 be filled with many wonderful wildlife encounters.

I was just backing up my images from 2011 when I came across a folder on the hard drive that had slipped under the processing radar. It was from a session last March where I spent an easy session at the Wildlife and Wetlands Centre at Martin Mere. I like to make a visit here in the Spring as you can often find numerous wild birds, especially Shelduck mixed in with the captive birds and at the time there are still plenty of Whooper Swan and wildfowl to photograph from the hides on the main lake.

The session started before I arrived as I came across a male pheasant in full spring display mode. The bird was puffed up and 'showing off' to another male that is just out of the photo.

Due to the light direction my first port of call at Martin Mere was the main hide which as usual had plenty of birds at close range to chose from. However, I must admit I do find it slightly frustrating as these permanent hides do not allow you to get the more attractive low angle and point of view. Therefore it always feels a little if you are photographing down upon the birds rather than getting down to their level which produces better images.

Large numbers of overwintering Whooper Swans were drifting around as usual, building up their energy reserves with the daily feed, before their long flight back to the breeding grounds in Iceland.

One of my favourite duck species, the Pintail, was present in large numbers. What these birds may lack in colour they certainly make up for through their attractive shape.
A female Pintail 'blowing bubbles' as it feeds in the shallows.
Amongst the Pintail were a few of the slightly more colourful Wigeon, that were announcing their presence with their characteristic whistling calls.
I left the main hide and took a wander around to see what else could be found. There was definitely a hint of Spring in the air during this March visit with Mallards busily mating. The female certainly seems to get the worse end of the deal during the process as she is pushed below the water.
After a good bit of searching around I finally managed to find a wild Pochard amongst the captive collections to end a relaxing session with the camera.
I have already been out with the camera this year despite the best attempts by the weather to thwart me and will show some of these photos in my next post.


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