Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Trip to RSPB Blacktoft Sands and North Cave

Today was the final field trip for Leigh Ornithological Society (L.O.S.) and we were off to east Yorkshire to visit a couple of nature reserves there.  We started at RSPB Blacktoft Sands where the main attractions are the Marsh Harriers which roost and breed there and they didn't disappoint.

A female Montagu's Harrier was also seen here today, but unfortunately not by me. This bush clearly belonged to the Dunnock as he was singing from the top of it every time we passed by.

This Willow Warbler was unusually quiet however.

There were Tree Sparrows galore around much of the site.

I didn't see as many Little Egrets today aa I have done in the  past, but there were some about.

It was great to see these Spotted Redshanks in breeding plumage, even if they were a little distant.

There were more Swifts than you could shake a stick at, there's been a huge influx in the UK this week.

Large Grey Heron incoming ...

This is probably my best photograph of the day - an Exocet, sorry Avocet, mobbing the Grey Heron. Who says 'Size Matters'?

You're going down!

I'm never sure about whether we count Greylag Geese or not, as most that we see are descended from captive populations, unlike the ones on Mull which are regarded as being truly wild.

We then moved on to North Cave which was just a little further up the M62 motorway. This was a new site for most of us and I think it's fair to say that we were impressed with the variety of birds and habitats here, even if it is still being developed.

This Grey Heron was seen in one of the first pools.

There were even more Avocets here as well as two Little Ringed Plovers and a male Ruff coming into breeding plumage.

It was also nice to see four Common Tern here.

So a good trip with some great birds. Much better than I expected actually.

Friday, 5 May 2017

First Trip to Venus Pool in Shropshire

Following on from my successful day visiting the Night Heron in Shrewsbury, I decided I might as well have a quick look at Venus Pool which was only another 20 minutes or so away. I wasn't really expecting to see much and so it was more of a reconnaissance trip.

I'd heard about this place quite a lot from a Facebook friend called Meurig Garbutt and indeed it was he who gave me the directions to get there.

Venus Pool is a largish lake with a variety of habitats including gravel islands, shallow mud areas and a few reeds.  The area is surrounded by fields and arable farmland. There are three hides which are easily accessible from the small free car park, one of which is a feeding station and I believe several others around the opposite side of the pool, but which require a bit of a walk.  Unfortunately there isn't a circular route all the way round.

I didn't have time to walk to the far hides today, so I concentrated on the three hides near the car park.  Here I saw mainly the 'usual suspects' with the addition of a Yellow Wagtail and Common Sandpiper.

As I left the feeding station hide I met a bloke who turned out to be none other than the 'Shropshire Birder' himself, Jim Almond. We had a brief chat about the site before I realised who he was.  When I did, I introduced myself and told him that he was coming to give us a talk at Leigh Ornithological Society next week. It's a small world isn't it?

Night Heron in Shrewsbury

This gorgeous Night Heron has been at Dingle Gardens in Shrewsbury for most of this week. I spent five to six hours here waiting for a good shot, because most of the time the bird was perched in a bush and partially covered.

Here's some video of when it did eventually appear out in the open to go fishing,

Black Tuesday

As some people will know I had an accident with my camera gear last week on a day which I am now calling 'Black Tuesday'. I can't believe this has happened to me as I am normally extra careful with all my camera gear no matter how expensive or cheap it is.

Anyway I've just packed and sent it away for inspection by the insurers and further to that repair or replacement. Before I did I decided to take some photos of the damage just for reference in case there was any dispute about what needed to be done.  Here are the shots in all their 'gory detail';

My 500mm f/4E FL ED lens has snapped in two after falling from a tripod set at about five feet high on to a gravel path. It must have hit the ground with some force to do this and I was quite surprised that it had actually broken when I picked it up. When I first looked at it on the ground I thought it was OK.

Here is all the equipment that was damaged except for the tripod. This includes my 500mm lens, Nikon D500 camera body and my Nikon TC14EII teleconverter that was attached at the time. The teleconverter may not have suffered any damage but still needs checking.

This shot shows the damage to the casting on the small piece of the lens as well as the internal electronics.

This view shows the damage to to the internal casting which has snapped in two.

This view shows the ribbon cables and broken internal casting.

My Nikon D500 has been dented on the top where it hit the gravel path.  The camera does appear to still be working and there are no visible cracks to the screens or anywhere else.  However, with such an expensive precision optical instrument, the slightest internal misalignment will affect the quality of the photographs.

I'm actually hoping that they might replace the damaged gear with new stuff, but I rather think it will be repaired.  I just hope it comes back fully working and calibrated and better the new if possible.  I have to say that Axa, my insurers, have been very good up to now in getting my gear collected and assessed for repair. I've had to pay £350 excess because I opted for £250 voluntary excess in addition to the £100 compulsory excess as I never normally claim on my insurance.  How this time I have, and I am so glad I am covered.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Pallid Harrier in Whitendale near Dunsop Bridge

I haven't been out birding for a week or so now as I'm still coming to terms with that fact that my very expensive big Nikon 500mm lens is broken in two and awaiting collection by the insurers for assessment and further action.  However, the news of a Pallid Harrier showing well at Whitendale near Dunsop Bridge over the last couple of days has made it impossible for me to stay in any longer.

Fortunately I haven't sold my previous 300mm lens yet, as I'm at least keeping it until I've been to the Farne Islands later this year and back to Mull to see the White-tailed Eagles catching fish from the Mull Charters boat.  For both of these trips a long 500mm lens is just too big as the birds can be that close. I haven't used the 300mm since getting the 500mm, so today was going to be the time to reacquaint myself with it.  I'm afraid these are only really record shots as the bird was quite distant and the light wasn't great when it did appear.  I do wish I'd had the 500mm, today of all days.

I decided I'd also take my Nikon D500 and 1.4x teleconverter for testing, to see if the damage to the camera was merely cosmetic and didn't affect it's operation or performance. But as a backup I also had my D810 and two other teleconverters as I didn't want to miss getting a shot of this rare bird. As it happens, I only used the D500.

From previous reports I'd learnt that it was possible to cycle the three miles up the Dunsop Valley to Whitendale in order to reach the bird's location and so I also loaded my wife's bike into the back of my Freelander, as mine had a flat tyre. What a good decision that proved to be!

After a lovely drive through the Lancashire countryside I arrived at the little hamlet of Dunsop Bridge. It was very busy here, with the normal walker and day tripper numbers being swelled by the large crowd of birders who had turned up to see this rare bird.

As I cycled up the valley there were many birders returning carrying binoculars, spotting scopes and wide, beaming smiles.  I could tell from their faces that the bird had been showing well and I even said that to one or two of them.

The track up the valley was largely tarmac and ideal for cycling, right up to the point where it started to go uphill steeply.  I had to get off the bike and walk here on the pretence that I was 'just looking for Ring Ouzels', as up to six had recently been reported here. So after a steep but short uphill section I reached the viewing location for the Pallid Harrier, which had a good 360 degree view and which overlooked the Harrier's favourite spot on the fell.  I didn't time it but it only took me about 30 to 40 minutes to get to the right spot whereas those who have walked up on previous days have said that it can take anything between an hour to an hour and half depending on how fit you are.

As I decided to go late in the day, there were only a few people up here by then, and as usual I was told that I'd just missed a good sighting by a couple of minutes.  Actually I'm sure that I did get a brief glimpse of the bird as it quartered the fell before flying over the top, but then it was gone. People came and went, some without seeing it and it wasn't long before a large party on a birding fieldtrip arrived.

It was a good half hour before the bird reappeared, but then I had excellent views of it quartering the fell and flying down the valley.   It was a stunning adult grey male with very distinctive black markings on the tips of its wings. It seemed to do a bit of a hunting circuit and then disappeared again.

After another half hour or so it reappeared and at times was seen to be sky dancing and even carrying nesting material before dropping it in a specific place. I sort of felt sorry for this beautiful bird as it has virtually no chance of finding a mate here.  I also found it strange that it would start nest building before it had found a mate.

With the company of three lovely ladies, I stayed until nearly 7pm and by then the wind had got up quite a bit and the temperature dropped considerably. We got one last sighting before deciding it was time to head for home.  I felt sorry for the others having to walk back as I overtook them on my bike, but there was no way I could have given them a lift.  It only took about fifteen minutes to get back to my car and what a brilliant downhill ride it was!