Friday, 29 June 2018

Interesting Heron

Firstly I must write sorry to those of you who check this blog regularly but repeatedly see the same post(s) at the top! Birding time has taken a massive hit lately but I did manage to get out a couple of times recently. I was surprised to see a Greenshank on Black Hole Marsh on Wednesday evening as I can't remember personally seeing one here in June before (might have done but I'm not going to trawl through and check). Other birds of note were 2 Common Sandpipers and a group of Gadwall. Exactly how many there were I could not tell as both camera & scope were at home and I only had binoculars with me. Ian Mc had 13 the following morning and 11 were still there when I popped over for a look in the afternoon. The Greenshank and 2 Common Sands were also still present.

The most interesting bird for me was a rather striking Heron. It was DARK. I was watching it in isolation for most of the time so I wasn't sure just how dark, but thankfully a 'normal' Grey Heron came nearby for a proper comparison:




Melanism? Hopefully we'll be able to see how this bird develops over the coming days and weeks.


Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Milky Way - photo taken at Seaton Hole

At 23:00 on Thursday (14th) the sky was almost completely free from cloud here and this gave me a sudden desire to go out and do some night photography. The only other thing I needed to check was the Moon phase as it needs to be either dull i.e. thin crescent or not visible at all, otherwise the moonlight will bleach out the sky on a long exposure. Turns out this was perfect timing and conditions were ideal! I headed out and arrived at Seaton Hole at around midnight.

The Milky Way is difficult to get pics of, especially if trying to get a detailed foreground in shot rather than just the sea. A common way of doing it is to take multiple pics exposing for the sky and foreground in separate shots and then stacking them together in photo editing software. It's a bit more difficult to get right but I've always tried to do it in a single exposure and then play around with the settings in Lightroom to make it a bit more punchy. It still requires editing, but I like the challenge of doing it in one shot rather than making an image out of multiple shots (sometimes it almost has to be multiple shots i.e. if it's so dark that detail in the foreground needs a significantly longer exposure to be seen).

Settings were 16mm focal length, 30sec exposure, f/4 aperture at ISO 5000. I don't have a camera body that's particularly good in low light anymore so this could have been a lot better with different gear. Still, I'm pleased with what I came away with.

This has been shared on Facebook hundreds of times now and I've had a few enquiries about prints. Please feel free to message me if you are interested in one; it's probably easiest to do this via Facebook HERE.

The pic below is deliberately low resolution but this looks okay up to A3:


Thursday, 31 May 2018

Red-footed Falcon INCREDIBLE views

Watching raptors has long been one of my favourite aspects of birding so when I saw reports of a 2cy female Red-footed Falcon only 45mins from home my interest was instantly spiked. Some of the reports almost sounded too good to true as it was giving 'unbelievable views' and 'showing down to 15ft' at times. I'd only previously seen one Red-footed Falcon, back in May 2016 at Wareham Forest and it wasn't a great performer; it came close a couple of times but was usually out of view.

This bird at Isle Brewers near Taunton was fantastic to watch. Despite the drizzle we headed over mid-afternoon and after leaving the car it took less than a minute to get on the bird as it was flying directly over the small group of keen watchers. It had a couple of favoured perches which it was loyal to, returning to them for extended periods of time between flights.

As is often the case with such birds, getting good pics of the wee beauty was a massive challenge. Erratic flight paths from a fairly small bird is a nasty combination for camera autofocus systems and the dull light didn't help either (although at least there was no heat haze). Viewing through binoculars was easier but I was determined to get some okay pics as a better memento for the occasion. Here are a few of the images where things came together quite nicely!










Tuesday, 15 May 2018

104+ Red Kites over Colyton in 2 days

With the continuing hot and settled weather I was hopeful we'd have more Red Kites today. 2 over Colyton mid-morning was the best of it until the afternoon when there was a strong passage again with another 22+ birds. It was more difficult to be sure of numbers than yesterday as all except 5 of the birds in the afternoon were extremely high so we ended up writing a couple off as possible repeats and likely missed a fair few due to altitude.

Fran reported 5 over Seaton in the morning and a few others were seen locally on patch that didn't come over Colyton, but like yesterday it seems Colyton had more going over than any other site locally. Well, any other site being watched that is!

Looking at tweets (Twitter) it sounds as though we smashed the Devon record for Red Kites (from one site in one day) from our garden in Colyton yesterday which seems absolutely crazy. We were very strict and deliberately conservative if there was any uncertainty when counting so our counts will be below the actual numbers that went over on both days. It's nice that this record is both from the garden and within the patch boundary, but with the way the Red Kite population is increasing in the UK this may not even be that impressive in a few years time. We'll see!

Now I need to catch up on some sleep because I've been birding during the days and ended up working through a lot of last night! Worth it though. So worth it.

Pic from yesterday as I didn't bother with the camera today

Monday, 14 May 2018

MEGA Red Kite passage 80+ birds

What an utterly brilliant afternoon that was! The Red Kite passage over Seaton last year (see HERE) left a lasting impression and was easily one of my personal highlights of 2017. In terms of sheer numbers, today smashed the total we had from the two (main) days of passage last year.

I had the first one over the house at around 14:15 so I rushed out with the camera to take some dodgy pics of it. 2 minutes later when I was back in the office a quick glance out of the window revealed that there were another 3 flying towards me! So, back out with the camera and there were suddenly 5 above me. At this stage is was pretty obvious that there was some passage going on as all birds were heading West so I phoned Dad and we co-ordinated a watch from his garden for the next few hours. Even with both sets of eyes we will have missed quite a few birds; approx. half of them were easy to see i.e. between 100-600 metres away or so, but many of them were VERY high and some we only picked out by chance with the binoculars. Our 80 was slightly conservative as we reckon we had a couple more but didn't want to double count anything so any that were possible repeats were discarded. On the whole, keeping an accurate total was easy as nearly all of them were heading directly West. I suspect that the true number over Colyton this afternoon would have been slightly over 100 as some were already on the limit of our binoculars so others would almost certainly have been too high to see.

Ian Mc phoned to say he had a Hobby (and some Red Kites) from the A3052. Interestingly I had a few Hobbies passing at the same time as the Red Kites last year so it was nice for the same to happen this time. I expected it to be too high by the time it came over us in Colyton but it wasn't; it flew directly over the garden perhaps only 100 metres above us.

Photos were a challenge as the heat haze was particularly extreme so all pics came out slightly soft. Also please forgive the colours and shadows; the backlighting was quite tricky to deal with. Still, with passage events like this it's the thrill/experience that counts, and that was an afternoon I will not be forgetting anytime soon...








Tuesday, 8 May 2018

More Red Kites

Spending a lot of time looking to the sky out of windows paid off yesterday with a Red Kite flying low over Colyton heading East, and Dad had another one today heading West. All of my Kite pics so far this year have been from half a mile away or more so here is a pic of one of the 60 ish patch Red Kites I saw last year:



Other patch news of interest:
A text from Ian Mc in the morning of Monday 7th said there was a Marsh Harrier over the estuary. I suspect that it was here from late afternoon on Sunday as there were two big flushes on the estuary about an hour apart from each other. I thought maybe it was a Red Kite with the first flush as there had been a couple already but after the 2nd flush I said to Dad (we were watching the Garganey) that the behaviour from the gulls was more typical of a Harrier type flush i.e. from the ground upwards rather than something flying overhead. We couldn't see what it was from where we were but it's likely that this was the Marsh Harrier that was reported the next day. No regrets missing it though; that Garganey was great to watch!

We've now got at least 8 Swifts back in Colyton. I wanted some pics of them but they have been feeding very high with the recent warm weather, although it looks as though that has now started to change for the colder!


Monday, 7 May 2018

Hobby and another Garganey

Well what a stunning end to the weekend that was! Ian Mc texted to say there was a drake Garganey still at The Borrow Pit (Seaton Marshes) so I picked up Dad and headed down for a look. It was asleep when we arrived so I spent a lot of time looking upwards in the hope of seeing something half decent pass over. This proved worthwhile as I eventually spotted a Hobby flying over. The small group of us took a few snaps before it drifted out of sight northwards:




Soon after this the Garganey woke up and performed well; it seemed oblivious to the group of observers but was rather wary of other birds on the water. Something that I wasn't expecting was for him to be calling quite regularly! A slightly strange call but great to hear. This is (only) the 5th Garganey I've seen here having found 4 others previously but this was by FAR the best of them in terms of viewing experience.






What a superb looking bird!