Friday, 30 March 2012

More of the Coly Kingfishers and Dippers

Given the glorious weather, I spent most of today down at the River Coly. Unfortunately a heck of a lot of other people had the same idea, except they were nearly all accompanied by dogs... So much for trying to get pics of undisturbed wildlife!
Here's a few shots which I did manage.






Kingfisher pics now removed as too many people are coming down the Coly asking where they can be seen; without considering that they're disturbing the birds by looking for them (unfortunately one of the nests is all too obvious and a lot of people have become aware of it's whereabouts). Sitting there opposite the nest with your dog and thinking you're not disturbing the birds??? Oh COME ON!! (This applies to a lot of people, some of which I know read this blog. Take the hint).

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Kingfisher info, 2 peregrines and 2 cranes...

(Severe lack of time so I'll make this quick):

...although unfortunately the Cranes were in Somerset. I was out flying (model planes) for the day with Dad, and we heard some calls which we recognised as Cranes, and there were two of them gliding on thermals over the airfield, in brilliant synchronicity. Had some cracking views, and they flew around in view for a good 7-8 minutes. First ones I've ever seen in the wild.
We saw the 2 peregrines in the morning; we heard their distinct calls whilst packing the car so we looked up and sure enough there were 2 birds flying close together right above us (150 metres up I guess).
I went for a brief walk along the River Coly yesterday and saw a few Kingfishers. I can now confirm that there is a pair at ALL THREE nest sites that I've mentioned in previous blog posts. Now all I need to do is find where they perch to fish so I can get some action shots (photo opportunities will always be down to luck regarding when there are dogs/un-subtle people around)... I have found a couple of areas which are prone to Kingfisher presence (other than the nests of course) so I'll ty monitoring these areas and see what I come up with.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

DIPPERS (River Coly)- vastly improved photos, & some video footage

The Dippers on the River Coly have now become quite an obsession! I'm still trying to get close enough to the ringed bird to be able to read the ring clearly... Here's a selection of yesterdays photos:


















Technique used to get fairly close up shots of Dipper:
- Locate the bird/birds (I always listen to pin point their location before actually seeing them. Obviously this depends on whether you are competent at identifying the call of Dipper or not)
- Observe the bird/birds and see which direction they are moving e.g. upstream or downstream
- Head in the same direction as the bird but go 15-20 metres FURTHER in that direction than them
- Check that the bird is still happy e.g. not looking agitated
- Move in until you're within 12 metres or so or the bird
- LIE DOWN on the ground, regardless of vegetation (I was lying on wet mud and some stinging nettles and brambles for the majority of the above shots)
- Move until you have a fairly clear view of the bird through the vegetation
- WAIT
- Assuming you haven't done any of the above wrong or made your presence obvious to the bird, then Dipper will continue heading in the original direction, hopefully right in front of where you are waiting. This is how I got close of shots. Find birds, observe behaviour, calculate distances moved in a set time frame, be quiet and slow in all movement, and above all, be PATIENT.

And a brief video clip:

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

SUPERB birdlife around the River Coly

Sunday morning: Up early, eat breakfast, set up cameras and tripod, leave the house and venture into the mist. Saw one Dipper down the Umborne end of the Coly (I'm 90% sure I've found this nest area as well, thankfully it's VERY inaccessible to the public :-) ), and two Kingfishers flying around VERY noisily. Still need to determine genders although I now think they are a pair as I've seen them both at the nest site. I assume it's a fairly young female as the beak is remarkably not-orange on the lower mandible. The mist was awful for photos and surprisingly wet! I went home to change clothes as they became rather damp.
At about 11 the sky cleared spectacularly, and I stepped outside the house with Dad. Peregrine. Soaring fairly close to the house. Watched for a minute or two, then a Buzzard flew over, and another, and another, until there were 6. Then a Sparrowhawk joined in the thermalling with the group of Buzzards. Hmm, 'looks promising' I thought! After taking a few snaps of the BOPs (Birds Of Prey) I headed back down to the Coly (Umborne end again first). This time there was no sign of the Dipper but the Kingy's were still very active, especially the male (the one that is clearly a male I mean). Then a small bird thermalling caught my eye again. Another Sparrowhawk. Then sure enough a Buzzard joined the thermal (a fair bit lower than the hawk mind you). And then a Peregrine flew over me (about 50 metres high) and joined the other two BOPs. It was odd seeing three different BOPs in the same patch of air. I took some pics but won't post them as I have better pics to post... (plus the BOP pics weren't great due to heavy backlighting).
Following this I went to the Chantry end of the Coly as I hadn't been there for a while. Saw a Dipper (complete with a metal ring on its right leg) after about 5 mins walking. Got fairly close to it as well but poor light prevented me taking any decent photos. This was a very pleasant surprise as I hadn't expected to see a Dipper up this end of the river. So I carried on upstream and saw multiple Kingfishers. 2 nest sites seem active (one at Umborne end, one at Chantry end) with another one at Chantry end which I've only seen the male at. I soon caught up with a Dipper again; also ringed. After returning home I saw Dad and he had also been at the Chantry end of the Coly (further upstream than I had been) and he'd seen MORE THAN ONE Dipper, and (a probable) 3 Kingfishers. So after work today I headed straight up the Coly in the ridiculous mist to see if I could find out more about Dipper numbers. 10 mins into the walk gave me a fair idea...:
















One with a ring so still can't be sure that there's more than two, but after talking with Dad and looking up our sighting times, we suspect that there could be up to 4. I'll investigate more; watch this space.
Here's some more Dipper pics from today. Again they are quite noisy due to low light and high ISOs on the camera. But I got so close that the mist thankfully wasn't a problem. The Dippers seemed completely unphased by me sneaking up to them; I don't think they noticed. I took the camera off the tripod and crawled along the ground VERY slowly. Got to within 6 or so metres from them. They even walked towards me so I'm pretty sure they had no idea I was there. Here's the shots (I took literally hundreds (600 ish) as I knew success ratio would be very poor given the weather conditions):































Lovely birds! Now all I need is for them to come out when there's some nice sunlight as pics would be infinitely better. We'll see!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

More Coly news- Dipper, Kingfishers. Plus some Axe bird pics

After recently having decided to try and get interested in gulls, I headed out to the Axe estuary yesterday afternoon as a Caspian Gull and two Iceland Gulls had been seen that same morning. I didn't see any of them. I later discovered that I was looking in the wrong place for the Casp. I went to look at the tram shed area as that's where it was last reported to be seen. I later learned (when checking through the blogs after I got home) that it had in fact flown to the South end of Seaton Marshes but obviously blog posts aren't generally updated 'live' so there was no way for me to know this at the time. I did see at least 35 Black Tailed Godwits on the Estuary though, with 29 being on Coronation Corner and a few a bit further downstream. Here's a few pics (the birds were backlit for some of the pics so the colours look a bit off (it's fairly apparent which pics this applies to):

This is the only pic that's not heavily backlit



















Here's a pic of a Lapwing (from last weekend) taken at Seaton Marshes:

















And I took a pic of a GULL. Unfortunately not a Casp or Iceland Gull:
















I went for a brief walk down the River Coly after work today and saw a male Kingfisher a few times. It kept landing in front of me for some reason. Whenever I heard it's call I stopped moving, knowing that it was flying my way, and at least 3 times it landed on a branch within 15 ish metres of me. I didn't get any pics anywhere near last years standard so I won't post anymore just yet. Also saw one Kingfisher yesterday. Here are a couple of yesterdays pics of a Dipper (I was gradually getting quite close to it before it got scared off by an ignorant dog walker. I might start taking pics of these people and posting mugshots to shame them!! In fairness a different dog walker did at least make an effort to try not to disturb the birds. Even if the effort was insufficient). I didn't see the Dipper at all today (first time I haven't successfully tracked it down for weeks). I'll probably have another go tomorrow.
























Hopefully I'll get a shot of this bird in some pleasant sunshine soon. Everything so far has been in VERY shady conditions. They'd probably look awful had I not had the tripod with me, the shutter speeds were around 1/160 sec whereas I like to keep it around the 1/500 sec mark at the SLOWEST (sometimes you just have to make a compromise and hope for the best though).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

River Coly- Interesting Kingfisher behaviour, Daubenton's bat, Dipper & more **corrected**

As I finished work at a sensible time today I went home and was out with the cameras about 5 minutes later! I saw that the clouds a few miles away to the west were raining, so I headed downstream on the Coly in the hope of missing the rain. I didn't. However, I stayed out as the birds were on good form (I sacrificed some of my clothes to try and cover up the camera gear to keep it dry-ish). I heard Kingfishers and a Dipper quite early on after Umborne bridge, and eventually found them after tracking their calls. Firstly for some Kingfisher pics. They're VERY poor quality but the behaviour shown is a little odd.





















From the last pic, these birds BOTH appear to be male as there is no red/orange on the lower mandible of either birds' beak. If that's the case, then the fish pass shown on pics 2 and 3 seems very odd given the time of year. There is a small fish in the beak of the bird on the right in pic 2. You can just about make it out if you zoom in on the pic. Next odd bit of behaviour was that there was a fish pass the OTHER way with the previous recipient bird now being the supplier. They were definitely behaving like a pair though. Whenever one flew off (usually flushed by dogs and their owners who nearly always seem incapable of realising that a photographer with serious gear, crouching low and stalking something, might not want to be disturbed) the other followed; they were never chasing each other off. I need to investigate further and get closer to see if either bird has any features characteristic of a female bird. Watch this space.
The Kingfisher family at the lower end of the Coly is a LOT tamer than the family that I photographed last year. Probably because their nest is very exposed to human and dog disturbance (yes, everyone who follows the footpath is technically breaking the law (Schedule 1 protection on the Kingfishers)). I've always been incredibly careful to stick to the regulations regarding watching and photographing Kingfishers. Hence why I wait at fishing sites which I've found, even though I've located 2 (possibly 3) active nest sites. It angers me when I see people playing with their beasts of burden and throwing sticks RIGHT in front of a Kingfisher nest. It leaves me in a tricky position; knowing that they are breaking the law (although perhaps unknowingly), but if I do say something, then they may exploit the nest for personal gain or entertainment (whether that's sitting and watching and causing unnecessary distress to the birds, or deliberately interfering with the nest site). Maybe these people should take notice of the signs which say to keep dogs under close control at all times. If you can't do so, then keep it on the bloody lead!!! Yeesh. Yes, this is basically a rant about people with/without dogs who are just so damned ignorant to a point of utter stupidity (and illegality!!). Anyway... with the 'Umborne end family' being relatively tame (can get within 20 metres of them fairly easily compared to the 'Chantry end family' which will usually fly off if you're within 75 metres) I'll soon be getting more pics like last year; maybe even some closer ones. Needless to say that this will depend entirely on the aforementioned 'disturbers':


10 years worth of monitoring and careful studying of characteristics did pay off last year!



















Whilst waving bye to the Kingfishers after they'd been scared off (no, I'm not letting this drop), I saw something completely unexpected. At around 15:00 I saw a bat flying up and down a short stretch of the river attacking a large group of flies. I rattled off a few shots of it (this was not easy, manual focussing a lens combination at 672mm focal length in 35mm speak, and from close range, and in a shadowy environment). I'm fairly sure this was a Natterer's Bat rather than the usual Pipistrelle. ** Correction, I've now been imformed that it was a Daubenton's Bat (thanks Fiona & Tim)**. Not rare by any stretch of the imagination, just something different. Here's a couple of pics. Comments/corrections welcome!

















Next thing I concentrated on was the Dipper. This is where the anger at dogs/owners was brought to a peak. I'd tracked the Dipper down a couple of times, only to have it flushed by people, and then dogs. When I finally located it in a more sheltered area, I sneaked up on it very slowly, taking shots at 3-5metre intervals. I then detatched the lens & camera from the tripod and started crawling. I was determined to get some close up shots! Conveniently, the Dipper was just behind two chunky tree trunks, so I crawled on the ground behind the trunks, ENSURING that the Dipper couldn't see me. I then moved out to the side from behind the trees and put the camera up to my eye (I was only about 8 metres away at this point, I'm fairly accomplished at the whole stealthy sneaking thing). An then BIFF, two dogs ran towards me and into my camera gear, getting mud on me and my gear, and flushing the Dipper before I got a shot of it from that position. The owners were shouting at their dogs, but to no avail. Again, if incapable of controlling your animals, keep them on the lead like any resposible person with any sense would. I confess to muttering a few choice words in a fairly unsubtle manner at the dogs, which I wish they could have understood. I think the owners could tell I wasn't particularly happy, they apologised profusely even though I didn't complain to them. All my effort wasted, and a bird disturbed unnecessarily. Nice one! Here's some pics which I took whilst the camera was still set up on the tripod from a fair distance:


























After this I thought I'd retire and go home. One last sighting on the way back was a nice Grey Heron which caught an eel and took about 3 minutes to persuade it to go into it's beak!





















Generic apology for the ranting nature of some of this post (pretty viscious by my soft standards, but it needed saying). Also a generic apology for the graininess of the photos; due to low light, all shots were taken between ISO 640 and ISO 1600, primarily at the higher end of those two limits.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Today at the River Coly and River Axe, and also something new...

After some success with the Dipper on the Coly last week, I thought I'd go out for another try. I won't dream up a witty pun regarding 'dipping' because I did see it. It flew past me a few times but never settled anywhere within sight. I took some TERRIBLE in-flight shots, which will not be appearing in this post! I also saw the two Kingfishers which I'm now more-or-less convinced is a pair as I've seen them both near one of last years nest sights on a regular basis. There were also a couple of Song Thrushes; the first I've seen on the Coly so far this year (I haven't had many trips there though). Other than that, there was nothing of particular interest.
After some lunch I went to see if anything was visible through the mist on the Axe. I didn't realise quite how bad the visibility would be until I got there! Again, nothing to get excited about with only the usual birds present. 2 Redshank in front of Tower hide, along with an Oystercatcher, 2 Little Grebe, a Curlew, and 5 Canada Geese near to a small group of Teal on BHM. There were the usual gulls too, although I confess to being a novice when it comes to gulls. Will have to try and take inspiration from Steve Waite's (Axe Birding) and Gavin Haig's (Not Quite Scilly) blogs and take an interest in them!!
Here's a few photos from today. Please forgive the lack of clarity and bland colours, the mist was far from ideal for taking photos.









Now for the 'something new' part. Having recently started reading the NQS blog, I was inspired to start my first ever (patch) year list of birds. Maybe if I get into it I'll find more time to make an effort to go and see rarities when they occur (by 'find more time' I mean have to take time off work as holiday). Anyway, count commenced! 40 today. Well... it's a start!