Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Today's Been A Good Day ...

Today's been a good day and I haven't fired a single shot.  It started with a rare visit to Manchester for the Nikon Professional Services Roadshow where I had the sensors on both my two Nikon DLSR bodies as well as my 300mm f/2.8 lens, my 18-105mm lens and my three teleconverters all cleaned by a Nikon technician for nothing.  All it cost me was the petrol for the 10 mile trip to the Lowry Hotel in Manchester and £3 all day parking at a disused pub car park.  Well, I wasn't going to pay the £10 that the Lowry was charging for parking.

Whilst I was there I also got my hands on the brand new Nikon 180-400mm lens of which this is said to be the only one in the country.  Needless to say, we weren't allowed to take any shots with it using a memory card, but it looked very nice and has a built in teleconverter.  I also had an assortment of other goodies to try including the Nikon D5 (want one), the latest 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR zoom (also want one) and the 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR wide-angle zoom (want one of those too).

I chatted to various very helpful people from Nikon about having my camera gear checked and calibrated and finally decided that I'd send it in using the Nikon Professional Services three day turnaround service soon.  This was decided as soon as I found out that the baloney mount ring in my 300mm lens was slightly bent and could be the source of sharpness problems, especially when using the 2x teleconverter.

So I left the Lowry Hotel quite pleased, but even more so when I got outside and discovered on my phone that the Snow Bunting photo which I took last week at Crosby had been awarded 'Photo of the Week' on BirdGuides today, just like L.O.S. Chairman David Shallcross said it would!

This is the second POTW award I've had from BirdGuides in the last two months, as well as one 'notable' award.  Needless to say I'm well pleased!

I then set off for Calumet in Piccadilly to sort out a problem I've had with a broken Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod which I bought from one of their open days last year.  No need for any details here but the manager will contact me shortly to see how I take this issue forward and it may result in me upgrading my tripod to a Gitzo model.

But then I got talking to the salesman about camera rucksacks for 500mm and 600mm lenses and if they had any I could see.  They didn't have any on show, so he went in the back storeroom and returned with a used rucksack which he couldn't be sold and that I could have it for nothing.  Bingo! It was just what I was looking for and has saved me over £130 in buying a new one.

Like I said at the start of this post, today's been a good day!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Only One Turtle Dove ...

OK, the title doesn't quite work, it should be 'Two Turtle Doves' along with the 'Partridge in a Pear Tree'. But hey, Turtle Doves are like the proverbial hen's teeth in Lancashire nowadays, despite having bred there in the not too distant past.  The photos were taken at 5:10pm in the gloom near Knott End-on-Sea, so the colours are a bit variable from one shot to another.

Apparently there was a 77% decline in UK Turtle Doves from 1970 to 1998 and the reasons are not entirely clear.  Suggestions range from migrating birds being shot in the Mediterranean, climatic change causing drought in their wintering grounds in Africa and the changes in agricultural practices which have affected many farmland birds. So they certainly were a lot more common than they are now.

Unfortunately however, there are some doubts about this bird's authenticity in being truly wild.  It's a bit too early for them to have returned from Africa, and they haven't been seen in Lancashire for many years, with most observations being in south-east England.  So some people think that this is an escapee from a collection somewhere.

But I've have just been told about a Turtle Dove currently overwintering in Sweden where it is probably much colder than here, and this bird is not at all tame so who knows?  As I've never seen one before, this is a lifer for me and will stay so until someone disproves its origin.

Whilst waiting for the Turtle Dove to reappear, I took a few other shots including sneaking up behind a hedge to see a very close Pink-footed Goose, a Little Egret feeding on the salt marsh and a Barn Owl caught red-faced on a kill.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Lunt Meadows Finally Produces (Part 2)

Late this afternoon I finally got one of the owl shots that I've been dreaming of ever since I first went to Lunt Meadows about five years ago - a close Short-eared Owl sitting on one of the fence posts.

Steve Jones and Graham Roberts, two fellow members of the Leigh Ornithological Society, were also at Lunt Meadows this afternoon but they were much further away from the bird than I, especially when I crept up a little further to a distance of around 20 metres.

So these are Steve's photos of the bird which just happen to include me in the shot as well.  I'm the one with the camera and big lens!
As these were the only decent shots I got of this bird today, I thought I'd have a go at series of cropped headshots to show off those fabulous eyes.

After waiting for this bird to appear for around two hours, the Barn Owl suddenly decided to come out at the same time and for a moment I didn't know what to shoot.  The Shortie won out, but I did manage to grab a few of the Barnie as well. The light was a little challenging by now.

So it turned out to be not a bad day at all today.

Only My Second Ever Visit to Crosby Marina

There has been a solitary male Snow Bunting in the dunes with the Skylarks at Crosby Marina near Liverpool since before Christmas, and today was the day to add it to my 2018 year tick list. The first time I came here was in 2015 when a long-staying female Long-tailed Duck was giving close views on the small boating lake.

I found the bird chasing a Skylark around the grassy rucks as soon as I arrived - the wing pattern and colours were unmistakable.  It landed briefly in a bush and then on a fence on the far side of the rucks, but then took off towards the dunes and despite several circuits of the grassy areas and the dunes, I couldn't relocate it for over an hour.

But then, just as I was completing my third circuit, I found it feeding alone on the thin sandy path at the base of the dunes.  I managed to get quite close, and then it flew towards the wire fence before landing in some vegetation.

This seemed to be its 'patch' and indeed, it's the place where it's been most often seen here.  Whilst on the fence it was always on the look out for Skylarks and eventually it took off chasing one of them and I didn't see it again.  Fortunately I had got some shots in the bag by then.

This Cormorant went over shortly after the Snow Bunting had flown off.

And I took this Common Gull on a post shot on one of my circuits of the grassy ruck areas.

As soon as I had grabbed a few shots of the Snow Bunting I put it out on the new North West Birding WhatsApp group I recently created and Paul Bennett, who I had recently met at the 'Poynton Waxwing', was just arriving at Lunt Meadows 15 minutes down the road from Crosby, and so he diverted and came here instead.  We had a chat and I explained when and where I had seen the bird and I left him hunting it down as I was heading for Lunt Meadows myself.

Paul Bennett - 'Man On A Mission'

I believe he did eventually see it, but only from a distance, so I'm sure he'll be back.  But just before I left I got some nice shots of this Black-tailed Godwit on the grassy area to the right of the lakes.

I finished off here with this shot of two Carrion Crows enjoying a quick smoke on the chimneys of one of the big posh Victorian seaward-facing houses on the seafront.  Oh, what decadence those must have seen in years gone by!


My Snow Bunting shot featured above was awarded 'Photo of the Week' on BirdGuides today:

Here's what Steve Young had to say this time:
Wintering Snow Buntings are always a popular subject among birders and photographers alike, and this season has been no exception with large numbers of images uploaded to our galleries. The lone male individual at Crosby, Lancashire, has been particularly photogenic and Martyn Jones has captured a wonderful shot as it lands on a dead stalk.

Crisp, winter light has brought out all the feather detail and allowed a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. This would have all been over in a second, so the photographer has done well to be ready, focused and then fire off a couple of shots.

Congratulations to Martin on his winning image. It was taken with a 500-mm lens, 1.4x converter and shot at 1/5000th sec, f6.3 and ISO 800.
I think I'll forgive him spelling my name incorrectly in the last paragraph. That's two POTW's I've had in the first two months of this year - not sure I can keep that up!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

What's This Common Scoter Doing Here?

A Common Scoter has been giving very close views on Barrow Lodge near Clitheroe for over a week now., Because this is a sea duck which normally feeds and roosts in huge rafts of similar birds way out to sea it's rare to get close to them and so this one was a must to photograph.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Solitary 'Poynton Waxwing'

Some winters are great for Waxwings whereas others aren't. Large influxes of birds like Waxwings, Bramblings and Hawfinches depend on the weather and food supply in the countries from where they originate - if the weather and food supply is good, they don't need to migrate so far for the winter.

This year has been great for Hawfinches, not bad for Brambling but mediocre for Waxwings. So when birds do appear, even just one, there is a lot of interest from the birding community as the news gets round.

I tried for a single bird in Sprotborough near Rotherham recently, because it was regularly visiting a street with plenty of cotoneaster berries.  I sat for an hour and half in the road facing someone's house waiting for this bird to arrive, and it didn't.  All I had was a solitary Blackbird where the Waxwing should have been.  I viewed never to travel more than a few miles for just a single bird ever again.

But this solitary bird was and, as I write, is still being seen regularly in a suburban street in Poynton, Cheshire, so the prospects of seeing it were good and I decided to go.  When I arrived there were three other birders present, so I just looked up and there was the Waxwing.

The birders were locals Phil Oddy, who had kept us updated on Facebook and WhatsApp almost every day since it was first spotted, photographer Paul Bennett and professional wildlife photographer and guide Ben Hall who happened to live in this very street.

We had plenty of time to chat about life, the universe and everything because the bird spent most of its time up in a bare tree and only came down very briefly for a few seconds to feed on two small Rowan tree with yellow berries.

As you can see from the photographs, the weather wasn't great and the light was very poor, but I wasn't too upset about this as I've got good Waxwing shots from previous years.  I only really came because I probably won't get chance to see another one this winter.