Friday, November 7, 2014

Sparrowhawk in my garden!

It isn't always planned field trips or chance encounters whilst out exploring the countryside that makes for a worthy blog post. Today a brief moment viewed from my kitchen window is more than enough to have me here writing and posting pics!
   Sparrowhawks have long been one of my favourite birds. Often only viewed  for a second or 2 as one passes swiftly on a hunt, or seen swirling on the thermals, sometimes so high up that they are little more than a dot in the sky. It's rare that you get the chance for a close detailed view of this beautiful bird of prey, and even rarer the chance to photograph one close up!
    I was making a cup of tea when my other half, Nicola, suddenly exclaimed 'There's a Sparrowhawk in the garden!'
  Sure enough, just 10 feet away on a branch of our Bird Cherry, sat the Sparrowhawk, which I think was a female. I quickly grabbed my camera, as on the handful of other occasions that one has landed in our garden it always disappears again pretty soon after!
   The bird posed quite nicely for a couple of minutes before flying off suddenly. A Woodpigeon sat on a neighbouring branch was unconcerned by it's presence.
   The light was poor and I was shooting at an angle through the kitchen window, but I'm quite happy with the shots, certainly the best I've ever managed of a Sparrowhawk!
A thrilling moment in an otherwise typical Autumn day!














Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Failing to find a Red Backed Shrike at Sand Point!

On Sunday the 28th September I went to Sand Point, a peninsula that stretches out into the Bristol Channel at the end of Sand Bay in Somerset, UK.
    I went with the sole intention of finding and photographing a Red Backed Shrike there, a very rare bird that I had always wanted to see but never had! One had been sighted here for a few days previous to my visit and I was hoping I'd get lucky!
  One big mistake was in not taking my binoculars with me! Scanning the slopes of the Point with a camera is not ideal!
  There were many small birds in the Blackthorn and Hawthorn bushes, but none of them were the elusive Shrike! One particular bird that got me excited more than once was the Stonechat! Like the Shrike it has a habit of sitting exposed on the edge of bushes and trees!
   There were also Robins, Chiffchaffs and Linnets in the bushes, but alas, no Shrike!
At one stage a Warbler appeared at a distance, I managed a couple of shots before it disappeared. It looked a little different to the Whitethroats I usually see, and I thought it may be the scarcer Lesser Whitethroat, but even looking at my shots I can't be sure!
   I walked right to the tip of the point and sat on the rocks at the end, looking over the Bristol Channel to Cardiff in Wales. To the left were the Islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm. My disappointment at not finding the Shrike quickly ebbed away as I relaxed for a few minutes, just enjoying the peace and tranquility. It was beautiful!
  As it was a warm sunny Autumn day the Point was busy with walkers, but none ventured right to the end where I was sat as it involved some awkward rock climbing above some worrying cliffs. As I scrambled over, bemoaning the fact I wasn't as young as I used to be, I was more worried about keeping my camera safe! Luckily I succeeded, and I also managed not to fall to my grisly death aswell, so doubly lucky!
   As I relaxed enjoying the view I saw and heard an Oystercatcher and a few Gulls. There were also a few Curlew and a Whimbrel flying around the end of the Point. They enjoy the mudflats and marshy areas between Kewstoke village and the Point.
 After a while I mustered enough energy to negotiate my way back over the rocks again and onto the gently sloping grassy slopes. It was here that I managed my best photo of the day, a beautiful Wheatear that appeared in front of me and for once didn't disappear as I raised my camera and focused, in fact it posed quite nicely! I'd always wanted a decent Wheatear photo, one of my favourite birds, and now I had one! A rather pleasing consolation prize for me, considering my failure to detect the Shrike! One day!!
    All in all a very nice 2 or 3 hours at a beautiful place! I must return soon with my family! :-)

Below are some of the pictures from the visit;





^^Above^^ - Wheatears




^^Above^^ - The confirmed Lesser Whitethroat!! (Thank you Oliver Mockridge!)


^^Above^^ - Magpie


^^Above^^ - Chiffchaff





^^Above^^ - Stonechats



^^Above^^ - Rock Pipit



^^Above^^ - Robin



^^Above^^ - A rather bedraggled looking Feral Pigeon!


^^Above^^ - Whimbrel


^^Above^^ - Curlew



^^Above^^ - Small Copper Butterfly on Ragwort


^^Above^^ - Speckled Wood Butterfly





^^Above^^ - Various rock plants..... not sure what type!


^^Above^^ - Rosehip




^^Above^^ - Blackberries, Bramble and grasses.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Swallows and Martins, Sparrowhawk and Chiffchaff!

One of the advantages of my job working on the roads is that I am regularly somewhere out in the Somerset countryside! Yesterday, the 10th September, I was working near the Quantock Hills at Fiddington, near Nether Stowey. It was a lovely day, and aside from playing with the traffic, I was aware of groups of Hirundines (Swallows and Martins!) on the overhead wires near a farm beside the road. During late Summer these birds regularly gather on cables and wires, often in small family groups, but sometimes in their 100s! They are preparing for their huge exhausting migration to Southern Africa, which still baffles and amazes me to this day, being such small and delicate looking birds!
 Once my job had finished I took my dinner break and grabbed my camera to try and get some shots of these beautiful birds. Ordinarily, they are a nightmare to photograph in flight, they are so quick and small and they can twist and turn unexpectedly, making them extremely difficult to focus on! However, I hoped to take advantage of them coming into land on the wires, and I managed some pictures I was pleased with!
  There was also a family group of Pied Wagtails on the nearby farm building, and they were fiestier birds than I had previously given them credit for! A few times I saw one chasing a Housemartin, not for a brief couple of seconds either, but for almost a whole minute, round and round!! When a Sparrowhawk circled low overhead, the Pied Wagtails even joined the Hirundines to mob it, calling loudly to warn other birds of it's prescence!
  I also watched a Chiffchaff on a garden wall, a tiny Warbler, and at one stage it tried to join the Swallows on the wires, but got chased off or spooked by one of the Swallows, and decided against it!
 There were also a family group of House Sparrows, always a lovely thing to see, especially now they are sadly a fast declining species in the UK.
  All in all, a great addition to my working day, and a much better way of spending my dinner break than reading yet more depressing news in  a newspaper, as I would normally do!

Below are some of the pictures I took;





^^ Above ^^ - Housemartins


^^Above^^ - Sandmartin









^^Above^^ - Swallows




^^Above^^ - Record shots of a Pied Wagtail chasing a Housemartin!






^^Above^^ - Passing Sparrowhawk with accompanying Pied Wagtails and Hirundines


^^Above^^ - A young Goldfinch, yet to get it's distinctive red face!


^^Above^^ - tiny Chiffchaff on a wall.



^^Above^^ - The Chiffchaff approaches the Swallows (top) but is frightened off! (Bottom)



^^Above^^ - Male House Sparrow


^^Above^^ - Hose Sparrow, landing Housemartin and a young Swallow.


^^Above^^ - 'You're not landing here', a young Swallow seems to be telling a Housemartin!


^^Above^^ - The difference between a Housemartin (Left) and a Swallow.


^^Above^^ - Swallows and Housemartins gathering on the overhead wires.