Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Little Gull showing well

Another morning text from Ian Mc had me hurrying out of the house, this time for a Little Gull at Colyford Common. I missed one there last year and thought I'd probably luck out with this one too as they rarely hang around in one area for long here. Fortunately it was still showing on Coly Common and I watched it for 15mins or so before 2 Peregrines flushed the BHGull flock that it was associating with. I later re-found it on Black Hole Marsh where it posed next to a 2nd Summer Med Gull briefly. It was quite flighty, alternating between feeding on BHM, the estuary and then heading back to Coly Common when I left shortly after midday. I had about 2 hours in total watching this bird which was rather nice! The only other bird of note from this morning was a single Swallow over BHM.

After heading home for lunch and some work I popped back out to see if the Little Gull was still about. I didn't see it again but Coly Common had at least 30 Sand Martins and 1 Swallow, plus there was a Knot on the estuary from Tower Hide (presumably the bird from yesterday).

The Little Gull was pretty distant (as are most birds on Coly Common) so the pics are a bit grainy due to being cropped in so much. Despite dodgy pics the views were great!

Little Gull in the front. 2nd Summer Med Gull with the obvious black head.

Trio of Geese, a Swallow and a Knot

Firstly, if any of the pics look weird below it's because I'm having to resort to using my Mac because my proper PC had a component failure today (at least the PSU...) and is out of action until I have time to rebuild it!

A couple of messages from Ian Mc this morning had me heading out the door; he'd found a Knot on Black Hole Marsh and also seen the Water Pipit from last night still at Colyford Common. I saw the Knot from Island hide but didn't take pics as it could wait until after seeing the Water Pipit. I managed to dip the Pipit again but did see a Greylag out on Bridge Marsh with the Swan Goose. I also had a VERY close encounter with a helicopter which was checking electricity lines along the marshes. It came as close as perhaps 50ft (yes feet) from me and the downdraft was quite impressive; it was so close I could tell that one of the occupants was using a Dell laptop...

The birds were not impressed by this big, loud & yellow visitor and I didn't see the Knot again after the chopper had flown around for a few minutes. It did however allow me to get a few distant flight shots of the Swan Goose (and the Greylag).

The only other birds of note for me today were the lingering 4 Pintail plus Grey Plover on BHM and a Swallow which flew over BHM shortly after 6pm - my first of the year.

Greylag with Canada Geese

Swan Goose with Canada Geese

Swan Goose with Canada Geese

Swan Goose with Canada Geese

A trio of Goose species! Plus some Wigeon.

Swan Goose

Swan Goose

Monday, 27 March 2017

Swan Goose on Patch...

Steve Waite tweeted a pic of a Swan Goose on Bridge Marsh late morning so I thought I'd go and have a look for it. It's not a bird that would appeal to 'listers' but I was interested anyway. The origins are obviously unknown but interestingly there has been a couple sightings of these in the UK lately, including in Dorset. The Lodmoor bird isn't the same one as they've been seen at the same time. I apologise for the pics; it was taken at long distance and heat shimmer was not conducive of sharp pics unfortunately:

Steve also had a good evening (see his Axe Birding blog linked somewhere on the blog list to the right) with 4 Little Ringed Plover and a Water Pipit on Coly Common. Initially I could only pick out 1 LRP and 3 Pied Wagtail but eventually got all 4 LRP. The best bird eluded me however and we couldn't find the Pipit before dark (Ian Mc and Tim Wright had joined the search by then). I haven't seen a Water Pipit here for a couple of years now. I regret not taking my scope this evening as I might have been able to pick out Steve's bird whilst the light was still okay; was certainly hard work picking out the LRPs with just bins. Steve also had another 2 LRP on Black Hole Marsh in the evening so there are now 6 in the valley here. As the light was really starting to fade Steve sent a message saying a drake and 3 female Goosander on the river so I had a look from Coly Common Hide but couldn't see them as this only shows a small section of the river. Just goes to show how useful a high vantage point is - Steve was watching from Farm Gate along the Axmouth to Boshill Cross road. I'll try again tomorrow in case the Water Pipit is still about. There's a change in the weather on its way too so perhaps something new will drop in; I'm yet to see a House Martin, Swallow or even a Wheatear this year...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Little Ringed Plovers at Black Hole Marsh

Time I've invested on patch has been yielding little reward lately so I was pleased to see 3 Little Ringed Plovers at Black Hole Marsh this afternoon. I heard 3rd hand that one had been reported earlier in the day so it was nice to add another couple to this. They remained pretty distant so the pic is a bit naff...

2 of the 3 LRPs

I've been out for a couple of hours daily lately and still haven't seen a Wheatear or House Martin despite diligent searching and also responding to other reports quite quickly. Wheatears in particular seem to have a knack of clearing out a few minutes before I get to them. It's still very early Spring so I know I'll get them; it's just a bit frustrating to repeatedly miss things by minutes despite putting in the hours. Then again birding can often be like that - that's part of the fun/satisfaction!

The 4 Pintail and single Grey Plover still linger, with the latter now showing some signs of moulting into breeding plumage. Hopefully we get to see it looking really smart before it departs...

I haven't managed any nice shots of the Black-tailed Godwits as the smartest ones haven't posed for me yet. More of them are showing the gorgeous rufous colours now so hopefully one poses nicely soon. Here's a couple snaps of birds which weren't as close as I'd have liked but there was certainly some nice light around!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Robin singing amongst the blossom...

This is one of my favourite recent photos, taken on the 18th at Black Hole Marsh. The light was very dull so I had to use ISO 3200 (using the 5DSR rather than the 1DXii) but this is just about tolerable when the subject is close:

A quick check of Black Hole Marsh most evenings lately has yielded a single Dunlin (on the 20th) along with the lingering Grey Plover and 4 male Pintail which were still there today. Also many of the Black-tailed Godwits are moulting into their summer plumage and some look fantastic at the moment! Hopefully they'll pose for a photo or two before they move off...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

3am Meteor 'Nightscape' of Black Hole Marsh

Night photography is something I haven't explored much so far but it often captivates me when I see the work of others; the results can be absolutely spectacular. Depending what the desired result is there are so many variables that need to be taken into account, the obvious main one being sources of light - these can be both shot making and shot spoiling.

Night shots tend to take some planning but just heading out with the camera can also yield some interesting shots. With night scenes there will always be parts of the image which are in complete shadow so a long exposure is necessary to bring out any detail. The downside of this is that any brightish light will likely be significantly overexposed; it is difficult to balance the two. There are various ways to combat the contrast of overexposed and underexposed areas in an image, including using physical graduated filters, digital graduated filters (Lightroom or similar), light painting the dark areas with a torch or even taking two different images and combining them; one would be set to bring out detail in the dark foreground and the other to control the 'blowing out' of any light sources.

I wanted to capture some detail of Black Hole Marsh whilst still being able to see stars in the sky for the final image. In terms of weather this required a clear sky, calm wind (which I didn't have) and no Moonlight as that'd make the sky too light and the stars would be less clear. Fortunately the sky remained free of cloud here for all the time I was out 00:00 - 04:00 and the Moon didn't show until 03:00 ish. The Moon was actually just coming into view for the shot posted below, hence the slightly brighter area behind the trees on the right hand side of the image. Although not planned I think this works okay here as the slight backlighting emphasises the detail in the trees a little. Something else that wasn't planned was the malfunction of a motion sensing light at The Lookout which was on intermittently with approximately 10 seconds on followed by 15 seconds off. I was trying to do long 30 second exposures so this would obviously capture the light in that time frame. This chance malfunction perhaps makes this image so much better than it would have been without it! It lights up the walkway to Island Hide and adds some nice detail to the middle of the image. There was a little more light pollution than I was hoping for with diffused light glowing distantly, probably over nearby towns within a few miles; this wasn't visible to the naked eye (it was completely dark apart from the stars and the dodgy light) but is quite obvious on a pic taken with a long exposure. I wanted to do this as a single image so I accepted that the light pollution would show if exposing to capture some detail of the foreground shadows.

In terms of image processing the contrast has been boosted, some shadows have been pushed to show a little more detail in the foreground and highlights have been pulled a tad to reduce the intensity of the light sources. This is a single image without any significant manipulation other than altering the RAW data captured in the original image. For those of you that use phones, bridge cameras or compact cameras in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you to make the image 'punchy' in the way that the camera sees fit. RAW files are always created intentionally 'flat' as it is simply capturing data for you to process later rather than having the camera interpret it in it's own way for you. Night photography can be a bit of a love/hate scenario in that some people don't like that cameras can capture more than what the human eye can see, whereas others think that what a camera can capture is simply amazing. After all, what the camera is capturing is actually there, it's just that the human eye isn't capable of seeing it in the same way.

As for the meteor? That was a nice bit of luck. I did see about a dozen of them but only a couple were bright enough to show up on the images. There is a remote possibility that what's been captured is a passing aircraft but a meteor did go through during this pic and the 'trail' doesn't look like the usual double-streak from aircraft in other pics. The streak is also slightly more intense towards the bottom which is how you'd expect a meteor to look rather than an aircraft. The image below has had a little more shadow & highlight adjustment than on the one that I've posted elsewhere so a little more foreground detail should be visible with this version.

Shot settings were as follows:
Shutter speed: 30 seconds
Aperture: f4
ISO: 8000
Focal length: 16mm

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Med Gull showing well (plus patch update)

A brief look from Tower Hide late afternoon showed that all 4 male Pintail were on Black Hole Marsh (I only had 3 on the 18th after the initial 4 on 17th) along with the lingering Grey Plover. A look over the gulls on the estuary yielded a 2nd Winter Mediterranean Gull and 60 - 80 Commons; they kept flying up so an accurate count was impossible.

Nice rear ends at Black Hole Marsh

A quick look over BHM and the estuary at around midday yielded nothing of interest initially. I chose the wrong moment to leave however as Len spotted 4 male Pintail land on the river a few minutes after I went to have a look around elsewhere. Fortunately Ian Mc relocated 3 of them on BHM from Tower Hide and then I relocated the 4th at the North end of BHM. They were still there when I left at 17:00 as was the lingering Grey Plover. As the light was fading 20+ Sand Martins flew over BHM but I still haven't managed to pick out a House Martin or Swallow amongst them. Other local news of interest is that Ian Mc had a Greylag on Bridge Marsh this morning and Bun had 7 male Wheatear on Beer Head at lunchtime. Spring migration has certainly picked up a notch.

3 of the 4 Pintail were still present at Black Hole Marsh on 18th.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Signs of Spring

It took a little longer than for some of the other local birders but I finally saw some Sand Martins with 40+ around Black Hole Marsh at 17:15. The Avocet continues to show near(ish) Tower Hide and there has been an increase in number of Chiffchaffs around BHM with perhaps 8 in the corner near the main entrance to the reserve and likely many more elsewhere. Away from the Axe a few pairs of Grey Wagtail have been showing well on the Coly.

Grey Wagtail

A few of the Sand Martins pictured flying over the BHM car park

Patch update and pics

I spent a few hours out around the patch today but only saw the usual suspects plus the lingering patch scarcities; 1+ Cattle Egret still at Colcombe Farm and both the Avocet & Grey Plover still on Black Hole Marsh. There was probably more than 1 Cattle Egret amongst the Little Egrets at Colcombe Farm but I was viewing distantly from Chantry Bridge and could only positively identify 1 as being a Cattle Egret.

Here's a few snaps taken around Black Hole Marsh today. Light was dull so these were all between ISO 3200 - 4000:



Long-tailed Tit


Monday, 13 March 2017

Avocet still at BHM

A check of Colyford Common, Black Hole Marsh and the estuary (from Tower Hide) yielded nothing of interest other than the lingering Avocet which spent a third day here. I was hoping to get a Wheatear now that they have fallen both East and West of us in small numbers but this will have to wait a little longer.

Just to make sure this post isn't visually boring here's a recent pic taken at Lower Bruckland Ponds. I'm looking forward to photographing a wide variety of insects here in few weeks time!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Short-eared Owl & Avocet on Patch

Many thanks to Ian Mc for the messages this morning; I was just about to head out for the SEO when he sent another message saying Avocet still on BHM. Being closer to home it was logical to try for the Avocet first. It was on show as soon as I got to Tower Hide and feeding in the same area as the bird in Autumn of last year. This bird is ringed so it'll be interesting to find out where else it has been. The pics aren't great due to the moderate distance and dull light but worth posting none-the-less:

With a Grey Plover in the background

After seeing the Avocet I proceeded to Seaton Marshes to see if the Short-eared Owl was still showing. It was showing but quite a long way off and partially behind cover. If you thought the Avocet pics were dodgy then prepare yourself for this one; it was far too distant for DSLR pics. A superzoom or digiscope arrangement would have been better suited but still not easy!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Lambert's Castle Hill

There was some glorious sunshine here this morning so we took the pooch out for a walk around Lambert's Castle Hill in Dorset. Not expecting to see much wildlife I only took a wide angle lens for pics but obviously had a pair of bins around my neck too. Bird activity was even worse than anticipated with a few corvids and a Robin being the highlights...

Here are a few snaps; the light wasn't from an ideal direction for pics but the views were stunning!

A brief walk along a short stretch of the Coly yielded views of 2 Dipper, 1 Kingfisher, 2 + Treecreeper and 6 + Redwing.