Saturday 30 April 2016

Hoopoe in flight...

And also the Hoopoe with it's crest showing well - taken moments before the pic I posted yesterday.

Friday 29 April 2016

Hoopoe puts on a fantastic show

Last night's Hoopoe near Musbury did the decent thing and showed well for most of today, giving people some fantastic views. I'll let the pics do the talking:

You can imagine my delight when it perched up on this stump for a few seconds

I have some video footage and a couple of flight shots to post soon but I should probably get back to what I was meant to be doing today. Most patch birders here have seen a few Hoopoe now, so with this being my first I thought I'd better make the most of it! More to come...

HOOPOE on patch

After far too much writing on 'Montygate' here's something that's a nice change from the political crap; after all, people primarily come here for the birds and photos. The Monty posts have had just shy of 20,000 views so hopefully this is primarily because of the sheer quality of the bird - it certainly was a good one.

And here's another April beauty; Jo from Lower Bruckland Ponds found a Hoopoe this evening and as I was already in my car I was there in a couple of minutes. It was mobile and keeping to treetops, hard to keep track of but generally following the tree-line heading North along the lane from Lower Bruckland Farm towards Haye Farm - hopefully it'll be around that area in the morning. I lost it whilst sending out messages but Phil soon arrived and we tried to relocate it. It was getting late so the bird had possibly gone to roost; that would explain why it was so mobile in the trees. Phil reckons that the habitat towards Haye Farm is pretty much spot on for Hoopoe so hopefully it's still around. There's a Public Footpath sign and a gate near the entrance to the lane leading up to Haye Farm - this is probably the best spot to check for it in the morning (just keep walking/driving 200-300m ish up the road from the Ponds), although the suitable habitat area is huge there and Phil said they can be an absolute git to pin down sometimes. We'll find out - hopefully this will be a predictable one and remain in the area for everyone else to see. On the other hand, if you go for it and can't find it, then the Ponds café opens at 11am and I can recommend the cake or ice cream. Although, with recent temperatures more typical of February or March, a pot of Tea is more likely to be the refreshment of choice!

There may be better pics than this one but in about 3 hours the Sun will be rising so I should probably get to bed! There's a busy schedule for the rest of today with Conference Calls in the morning and a business trip to organise (only to Scotland) but I'm sure it'll be possible to fit some birding in around the necessary employment activities. Still 2 days of April left... can we manage another scarcity/rarity?

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Posing Finch

It's been fairly quiet around the patch today; the only notable bird was the Glossy Ibis which still remains here (written that many times now) so I took the opportunity to take some pics of a few of the resident birds. A rather smart Greenfinch posed for a few seconds in front of Seaton Hide, and with a nice distant background too. Not the most interesting of birds, but they can still make a pleasing image:

The next post will be an interesting & informative one - watch this space...

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Photo of the month - not a species you'd likely expect...

Firstly there has been a minor alteration to my previous post regarding some of the local 'politics' - this appears in bold type and begins 'Update'.


Birding early in the mornings and late in the evenings has given some pretty interesting lighting conditions for photography. Spring is a fantastic time of year to take 'pretty' photos of birds with colourful plant life; birds are quite active now due to some migrating, some courting and some already feeding young.

This image of a Blue Tit was taken at dusk on the periphery of The Borrow Pit. Due to the darkness causing extremes of shadows & highlights of the bird against the sky, careful exposure and recovery of shadow detail has given a rather pleasing aesthetic, almost like a painting.

Monday 25 April 2016

Bird of the month - April

The bird of this month is without doubt the stunning adult female Montagu's Harrier which was here between 17th and 19th.

I am going to keep this polite as directly insulting people never does anyone any favours, even if what is said is correct. Unfortunately one of the other local birders has had a bit of a public rant over the finding of this bird, claiming it primarily as his find. If you've read this then you'll know to what I am referring. Due to the content of this text being both incorrect and degrading to another person, I personally challenged him over it and proved his opinion was wrong with timings of texts etc as factual evidence. I didn't get irate but instead simply visually showed him the evidence and explained where & why he was wrong. You can argue with opinion but you cannot uphold an argument against factual, evidential proof. He now understands the correct course of events as per my original write-up HERE, and the air has been cleared.

Update - unnecessary & sarcastic comments are still appearing on his site despite the matter being settled face-to-face. I won't retaliate as his behaviour is quite frankly below me; the matter is not worth any more of my time.
Also I've been pleasantly surprised by the support from quite a few of you, so many thanks for that!

My account gives all relevant parties the correct level of credit due to them. The only possible area of doubt is that I gave the credit of first sighting as likely to have been that of a visitor ('Brenda Bishop' - thanks for the ID Steve...) who had reported a Hen Harrier. It's possible that this was a separate bird, but it is very unlikely. Such 'politics' shouldn't be necessary, but alas credit should be given where it is due and not taken where it isn't - I am proud to uphold that 'duty' responsibly and I will continue to do so.

Back to the brighter side of birding! April has been excellent so far, producing good numbers of the usual visitors and a couple of predictable but perhaps unexpected ones (aside from the Monty). Firstly a 2-day Red Kite on 17th & 18th was great to see, especially when it had a battle with the Monty. Redstart and Yellow Wagtail numbers have been strong on Seaton Marshes over the last few days, and Whimbrel numbers have now just reached double figures at the highest count. Best bird of last week has to be the Tufted Duck on the Lagoon at Seaton Marshes on 24th (see yesterday's post), found by Peter Mason as per other Tim.

So here is the new blog header! I have a feeling that this may end up being bird of the year, but I hope that that doesn't prove to be the case...

My bottle of wine is now nearly empty so it's time to wrap up this post! Hopefully tomorrow's post will have some more migrants in, but if not then I have a photo (of a common species) to share that I am rather chuffed with...

Sunday 24 April 2016

Patch Bronze - Tufted Duck joins the party...

Seaton Marshes continues to produce the goods with a Tufted Duck present on the Lagoon North of the hide this evening. Not an uncommon bird by any means, but it's pretty scarce here on patch; our last one was in 2014. Here's a couple snaps of it:

After the encounter with a stunning adult Yellow Wagtail last night, I figured an early morning trip to Seaton Marshes should hopefully show that they were still about. Unfortunately when I arrived I bumped into Mike Hill who said Phil Abbott had nothing of interest this morning and all was quiet. Thankfully this was wrong! There were at least 7 Yellow Wagtails showing well behind the Borrow Pit, one of them posing briefly for a couple of pics:

Dance, dance, dance

Better check my claws are all still there...

Gorgeous birds. Another 4 Yellow Wags dropped in this evening, presumably new birds as it was at last light (just like it was yesterday)! Also I finally had my first Swifts of the year, with 3 birds feeding over the Lagoon.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Exquisite Yellow Wagtail

A decent look around Seaton Marshes early afternoon yielded another Redstart (female) and also 3 Yellow Wags which dropped in and remained all day, 2 of them showing reliably from Seaton Hide. I decided it'd be worth an evening visit too as birds have been dropping in late in the day here recently; this proved to be a good idea as the Redstart was still present and at least 4 more Yellow Wags dropped. I knew they were approaching because of their unmistakeable call, and fortunately for me they popped up on a fence briefly. And oh my, one of them was an absolute beaut!

Just look at that colour!!! As it was light in the day and it was fairly dark, this bird appeared almost fluorescent!

Peregrine Pooping

There's an awful lot of content to put up here but I'm struggling to find the time to do so. I'm glad of this really; it'd be worse to have the time but nothing of interest to post! So here's a couple pics of a Peregrine Falcon which passed over Black Hole Marsh earlier this week. Distant pics so poor quality, but how often do you manage to capture a Peregrine pooping?!

I like the way it thrust its legs forwards in preparation for the release of its 'load'. Perhaps I am just easily amused!

Wednesday 20 April 2016

MONTY vs KITE and more patch goodies

After the decent fall of Wheatear etc yesterday I gave Colyford Common a good look around again this morning. Montagu's Harrier was an optimistic target species but alas it was not there. There were 2 Whitethroat and a Blackcap in the bushes at the North end of the Common but it was otherwise quiet. Black Hole Marsh yielded singles of Ringed Plover and Knot (definitely not a Sanderling) and Clive later had a summer plumage Barwit and 2 Greenshank flying upstream from Tower Hide.

An evening visit to Seaton Marshes was also fruitful, with the Whinchat which Bun found this morning showing well. I picked up another Whitethroat in the same bush and also caught up with Phil's female Redstart. Tim Wright was searching for the Redstart from Seaton Hide so I gave him a ring when I'd spotted it, only to find that he was watching another one! His was a nicer one too, an immature male. I managed a couple of VERY bad pics of it (taken at high ISO in near darkness) so hopefully it's still around in the morning for another opportunity...

Yeah, I said it was a bad pic! Here's a couple pics of Whitethroat and Blackcap that were at Colyford Common:

And now what you really came here for - the MONTY vs RED KITE fight. A few people have now nagged me to post them so here they are. Very distant - check. Heavily cropped - check. Fantastic to witness - CHECK CHECK CHECK.

This experience was another one of those special & unexpected moments, only bested by seeing 6 Kingfishers posing on one single branch on a local river back in 2011.

A Kestrel and Peregrine also provided some photo opportunities today but I think that's enough content for this post. More tomorrow...

Tuesday 19 April 2016

WHEATEAR posing beautifully

A text from Tim Wright at 13:00 gave some unexpected news that the Montagu's Harrier was still in the area; he had seen it from Cownhayne Lane just North of the A3052 bridge. I then headed to Colyford Common where a visitor said it had been in front the hide earlier, so this seemed the logical place to wait. I was hoping it'd come back to Colyford Common to roost so I stayed there til dusk, unfortunately without success. There were other noteworthy birds about though, with singles of Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler along with 7 Wheatear, including this rather showy female:

May the fall continue...

Monday 18 April 2016

MONTAGU'S HARRIER stayed for some more pics!!

If you haven't read it yet then the post previous to this one is worth looking at! If you have read it then thanks for coming back and tolerating some more waffle...

EDIT - Sue Smith has just posted some pics and pointed people in the direction of my blog but frankly her pics are at least as good, with one shot of the underside of the Monties being pretty darned spectacular! Her blog is the 'Bicycle Birder' one listed somewhere on the right. It is worth a look...

Now to this post:
Alarms were set for 5am to make sure I was in the hide at Colyford Common at first light to give the best chance at seeing the Monties again. A few other people came and went whilst I was there, assuming that it had gone as it hadn't shown. I decided to stick it out (really flipping cold - frost on the floor in the hide!) and the bird did indeed show at 09:15. I quickly sent texts out and birders flooded in shortly after. I also noticed a Grasshopper Warbler which was very vocal in front of the hide - a couple other patch birders came to see/hear it and connected (08:00 ish). We were later treated to a fantastic scrap between the Monties and a Red Kite, presumably the bird from yesterday; they were at it for a good 10 minutes before a corvid eventually moved the kite away. The Axmouth road was definitely the place to be as the birds flew close in regularly - unfortunately my car is in the garage so I could only move by foot; I didn't particularly fancy running from Colyford over to the Axmouth road... Here's a few pics of the Monties on it's own; it remained very distant most of the time, but was showing for a decent amount of time. Pics of the Red Kite vs Monties battle to follow soon...

Sunday 17 April 2016

MONTAGU'S HARRIER & Red Kite - Axe Estuary


I popped to Black Hole Marsh early afternoon to see if the Knot that Ian Mc found yesterday was still around. Sure enough it was still there, still in Winter plumage so a rather boring individual to look at. Two Whimbrel on the estuary from Tower Hide were the only other birds of interest, that is until I spotted a large bird of prey being harassed by a corvid over Bridge Marsh/A3052... It was a Red Kite! This is the second or third Kite to be seen so far this Spring so it was nice to finally spot one. I quickly sent out a message to the locals and then another raptor flew through my field of view. RINGTAIL HARRIER! Back to the phone to send more messages. A minute or two later Tim Wright phoned saying he and Phil were watching a probable Monties, and I said yes me too! Turns out they had seen Hen Harrier written on the board so knew there was something there, albeit misidentified. Although a visitor likely saw the bird first, it was still nice to pick it up myself without prior knowledge of it. What a jammy git - lucked into one in 2013 and now 2016 too! It's a shame the visitor didn't realise it was a Monties, would have been a terrific record for a visitor to get here, especially as this is a well-watched patch.

It went to roost early evening so hopefully it'll wait until light tomorrow morning before moving off. Here's a few pics. Please forgive the poor quality; it was half a kilometre away. Stunning colour on this individual, definitely better than the 2013 bird!

Marsh Harrier - Axe Estuary

Brief post from me as I'm busy with wedding work; my sister tied the know with another Tim yesterday! The Marsh Harrier has still been showing well over Coly Common lately, although we aren't sure if it's the same bird for a 2 week period or if it's been more than one bird. Here's a couple of distant pics of it:

Wednesday 13 April 2016

GLOSSY IBIS dancing - video

I've taken a fair bit of footage of some of the local rarities over the last couple of months but haven't yet uploaded it! The quality sacrifice when converting the footage for web playback can be crippling, and it takes a little more time than photo processing. The other aspect of videography that's difficult for me is that I use DSLR cameras which do not have autofocus in video mode, and manual focussing via the Live View camera screen is not an easy task. Still, I'm pleased with the footage of the lingering Glossy Ibis from this afternoon:

Saturday 9 April 2016

Photo Technique - clean background

One of the local birders asked me if I always remove the background from images like for the Green-Winged Teal which has now been published in various magazines. This was actually a poorly worded question as it was factually incorrect; the Green-Winged Teal pics had completely natural backgrounds! So the answer, very simply is NO, and I didn't.

Generally speaking I do very little editing to any image other than cropping and noise adjustments, although I will occasionally remove a twig or a fly if I find it really distracts from the intended focus of the image. I can't do that for images published in magazines as they always request a completely unedited image, but will sometimes do it for social media content.

I think the upper of the two images below is the one that was published more heavily so it's likely that this was the one being referred to. There is clearly water in the foreground here, which is showing movement due to the bird swimming; other than that, the water was still and, as such, the background is quite clean. I used the holes in a viewing screen to get as low as possible as this allows me to further emphasise the focus onto the bird by 'throwing' the background further away from the main subject. The lower pic was taken from the hide, which is from a higher viewing angle, and therefore more of the water is in focus here and the background is comparatively 'busy'. It's actually very simple as to why some backgrounds look clean and some don't, but it seems this needs explaining to some.

Another significant part of clean backgrounds is the aperture setting used; an image taken at say f4 will have significantly less depth of field than an image taken at f32. I almost exclusively use my cameras in full manual mode to give me maximum control of all settings and therefore maximum control over the outcome of the image files. Although DSLR cameras will take more pleasing pics than a bridge camera due to sensor performance and better lenses, there is also a heck of a lot more work involved in crafting the final image. I do sometimes carry a bridge camera to accompany my DSLR gear; the convenience of them makes them a fantastic thing to have ready for an opportunistic snap!

Another aspect that affects backgrounds is the wind. If the subject is on water (a lot of mine are) then wind will create disturbance in the background of pics, whether its water directly behind the bird or reeds swaying in the distance. A good way to reduce the impact of this is to pay attention to weather systems and also shoot in the early mornings and late afternoons; these periods are generally the calmest of the day. As it happens, both of the above pics were taken early in the morning - the other advantage of this time is that at first light I usually have the marsh to myself, so human disturbance isn't a problem. The below image shows how one area of water can be sheltered and relatively still compared to another area which can be rough. Again, it's all very simple really!

Another thing Black Hole Marsh is fantastic for is reflections, which again relies on totally still water, but also a specific light source direction. I may do a post on this soon too...