I have not done one of Lisa’s challenges for a few weeks. When the sun’s been shining and the temperatures managed to get above the dizzy heights of +12c (not often!) I have been engrossed in chasing butterflies. And now Mrs H has kicked my butt into getting some more decorating done which is taking longer to do than anticipated and filling the whole house with dust!
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
When cats run home and light is come, And dew is cold upon the ground, And the far-off stream is dumb, And the whirring sail goes round, And the whirring sail goes round; Alone and warming his five wits, The white owl in the belfry sits.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The curlew’s trademark, long down curved bill
Delves deep in mud, belly to fill
Heath and moorland breeding ground
Mating calls eerie sound
And then chicks arrive
Oh how they thrive
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple – dawn – drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
Gerard Manley Hopkins
I always shoot my nature photography in colour. Well why wouldn’t you? Colour is what nature is all about. For sure there are some stunningly beautiful butterflies and birds that are black and white but the habitat adds that splash of colour. So when Lisa launched her latest challenge https://oureyesopen.blog/2021/03/19/bird-weekly-photo-challenge-birds-in-black-white-or-sepia/ it got me scratching the old noggin. Any files I choose would have to be converted to monochrome and re-processed, what would work best? I think I hit upon a formula.
If I was to pick a bird that wasn’t very colourful to start with, add in a neutral background it might work. I started with this gull image and was astounded how beautiful it looked. It’s actually better than the colour version!
If I was to pick a dull, dreary day perhaps mono could give those rubbish shots a lift? I remembered a trip to Titchwell RSPB reserve when it was like that, so applied the treatment to a few images. In breeding plumage this Ruff cries out to be photographed in colour but on a murky brown lagoon on a misty day?
And a black and white wader from the same trip, an Avocet. To be fair this image is not too far removed from the original!
My last offering is perhaps my favourite bird image. It was shot against a bright blue sky in winter.
Thanks for the tricky challenge Lisa. I have been looking at these shots and realising there is potential for even more mono, I actually really like them. Would I go out and photograph purely in mono? Probably not, but with the software in post processing to convert them you can have the best of both worlds and even give so-so shots a big boost!
This is a difficult challenge from Lisa this week. The reason is that, like butterflies and dragonflies, there are many species that cause my heart to go all a flutter. There are a few that stand out, unfortunately I don’t have any images. For instance the European Bee-eater. Fond memories of this multi-coloured beauty from holidays to Greece and Spain. Or the Robin sized Red-flanked Bluetail from deep in the Siberian Taiga, this once near mythical bird is now an almost annual vagrant to these shores in autumn but still gets the pulse going if one is found nearby.
There are two families of bird that I really like, the waders and warblers.
Nearly all the warblers are spring migrants from sub-Sahara. Unlike the colourful New-World counterparts they are mostly brown jobs that like to skulk about but their songs lift the spirits after the long winter months. The Sedge Warbler inhabits the reedbeds of wet lands. It’s song a fast scratchy affair sounding like cha-cha-cha-chi chi-chi-chicka-chicka ending in a flourish as the bird rises from its oft hidden position to ‘parachute’ back down. It can also mimic phrases of other bird songs.
Waders are a diverse bunch and that, to me, is their attraction. Not all are found wading either. The Snipe above was photographed on the lawn of our previous home. This was March 2018 and the weather this week has been a carbon copy of then. I wonder if the new owners had any surprise visitors!
Some birds are always exciting to see, like the Barn Owl. Not uncommon but it’s usually out at night. We were fortunate where we used to live that there was a resident owl that at dusk hunted the fields opposite our old home.
The Waxwing is a thrill to see. This is a Scandinavian bird that in some years comes to the UK in big numbers, other years none. One of my earliest memories was being taken by my father to see a flock on our small holding back in the early 60’s. Who can’t be impressed by this beauty.
But it’s not just the birds, often it’s the place as well. To be somewhere special and see special birds is the icing on the cake. For me to wander about the wetlands in spring listening to those newly arrived warblers and watching the years first dragonflies when a graceful Marsh Harrier drifts by sends me home a happy bunny!
Hmmm sounds like a 90’s film title. Don’t remember seeing it though, I’m not a great movie fan I lack the attention span to get involved with over two hours of action. No, my film viewing is limited to the likes of ‘Finding Nemo’ or the ‘Ice Age’ series. I digress. This week Lisa has set the bird photo challenge to shots of our feathered friends on fences or wires. https://oureyesopen.blog/2021/01/29/bird-weekly-photo-challenge-birds-on-a-wire-or-a-fence/
So taking advantage of our extended lockdown and disgusting British winter weather I trawled through the dusty files to unearth these frames.
Out of the breeding season Linnets will form big flocks in search of seeds, often mixing with other species. Come spring and the male has a dapper deep pink flush to his breast and head to woo the ladies.
The Stonechat gets it’s name from the sound of it’s alarm call which is like two stones being struck together. They can be found on heathland and coastal dunes. If you think the wire in the above three shots looks similar you are right, all were taken on the same morning along the same field.
Don’t forget to visit Lisa’s blog and if you have any suitable images why not join in.
BIRDING. The joy of going out watching birds, any birds the more the merrier. Could be in the garden, park, nature reserve, anywhere really.
TWITCHING. Going specifically to see a rare bird. The name derives from the nervous twitch that comes on as you near your destination.
DIPPING. Not seeing that rare bird you dropped everything to rush off to.
MEGA. A very rare bird.
Back in the day I used to have a radio pager that would give me up to the minute information and directions to all the rare birds in the Country. I gave up the pager due to cost but still receive weekly emails. Whilst reading this week’s offerings a headline caught my eye, a ‘mega’ in the neighbouring County of Suffolk and at the same site another major rarity! Checked the old interweb and both were still present on Wednesday. Now, I haven’t been twitching since 2016 when the Lemming used to accompany me (Mrs H didn’t like the crowds and madness involved). But I have a bit of spare time on my hands and an old urge came over me, no faffing around to get ready for work, the joy of retirement! So as the Ramones sang “Hey ho lets go!”
After a 50+ mile drive (Disclaimer. I was travelling to exercise so not strictly breaking lockdown rules 😉) I was faced with a mile hike (the exercise bit!) on a wind swept shingle ridge to reach the shore pools the bird was on. Was I getting that nervous twitch? Slightly, some old feelings never fade away. Half way I met a returning birder “It’s showing down to 20 feet”, relief, I could see a small group of people up ahead, let’s hope it doesn’t discover it’s wings.
I can imagine some of my American readers thinking “Oh it’s only a Greater Yellowlegs” but put into context this is only the thirtieth of this species to be found in the UK and for me it is a ‘lifer’ a first sighting. The shorebirds, also called waders, are my favourite family of birds and are not always found on shores or wading! (see https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/02/woodcock-snipe/) And now, with this very confiding bird, I have seen 62 species.
I did mention at the beginning there were two rare birds present. When your lucks in. After a couple of hours snapping away at our American visitor the other flew in landing on an island in the pool. It was an Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla tschutschenis try saying that after a couple of beers!). This gorgeous little bird had pitched up on our east coast all the way from eastern Siberia or Alaska. Sadly it stayed out of range of my lens, I have a record shot and if you squint you can see what it is. I had thought I might post the image but no, it’s a bit poor to be truthful. Oh I might as well but don’t laugh!
Spring is coming. Leaves are starting to break from their buds and in the country lanes blackthorn blossom is emerging. The few daffodils that survive our heavy soil are in bloom along with the gorgeous hellebores. Bright yellow forsythia and the small blue and pink pulmonaria join the primroses and winter heathers. When the sun shines and temperatures rise a little the first honey bees and bumblebees have been making use of this new source of nectar and energy.
Blue Tits and Great Tits are inspecting the nest boxes for suitable homes in the not too distant future while the Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are starting to find their voices. Yet things seem a bit restless. It’s still a little early and far from warm, though we have not had a proper winter it may not have finished with us just yet.
Mid-week and with the prospect of a little sun I took a look at a section of derelict canal a couple of miles from home. I was delighted to see a pair of Grey Wagtails in the old lock. These gorgeous birds are more at home on fast flowing streams but with the lock gates long removed forming a waterfall they looked well suited to this habitat. The strong wind cut right through you and half an hour was long enough for my fingers to go numb but these birds were obviously getting the spring urge.
Back home and from the comfort of indoors I managed to get this pleasing shot of a male Chaffinch. Lots of birds visit our neighbours feeders and they are in easy view of the bedroom window.
This period in 2018 we had the ‘Beast from the East’ with heavy snow blocking the roads. In 2019 we enjoyed two weeks of sun and temperatures in the 70’sF and five species of butterfly in the garden. This year its been storms, gales and periods of heavy rain and none too warm, the joys of living in England! And this photographer is getting restless too.
Ducks with teeth? Well not quite. There is however a group of quackers that collectively go by the name Sawbills. This is due to the edges of the beak being serrated which comes in handy when your diet consists mostly of slippery fish and you have no hands to hold them! There are six species worldwide. Of these four are seen in the UK. The Hooded Merganser is a very rare vagrant from North America, the gorgeous Smew a winter visitor in small numbers from Scandinavia, the Red-breasted Merganser and the Goosander both breeders in the north and west.
On new years day, after a bit of a late night, we went for a walk to get some fresh air. Not too far from our hotel in the Welsh town of Llandrindod Wells was a park with a beautiful man-made lake. Apart from the usual Mallards, Canada Geese and Mute Swans all trying to scrounge a crust or three I noticed a small group of four ducks out in the middle that were not familiar.
They turned out to be Goosanders (Mergus merganser). In my part of the country they are a scarce winter visitor, I am more used to seeing the Red-breasted Merganser. Here in Wales they breed in holes in trees next to fast flowing rivers but in winter will visit still waters where the feeding is a touch easier. The drakes are very dapper with their mostly white plumage and dark heads with a deep green sheen. The ducks are grey with a ginger hair-do. They were quite nervous. Although attracted to the commotion when children fed bread to the usual suspects when I pointed a lens in their direction they sidled back out to the centre. In all there were about eight.
This area of Mid-Wales is very well known to bird watchers. It was in the remote valleys of Powys and Ceredigion like the Elan where, in the 50’s, the last handful of Red Kites survived in the UK. In Medieval times Kites were common across the land and protected by law as their scavenging helped clear up man’s waste. This changed in the 16th century when they were declared vermin and hunted to near extinction. Now thanks to a re-introduction scheme they are once again flourishing and can be seen almost anywhere. I saw many on my break but the light was poor and photography difficult. So here’s a shot from Norfolk in 2017 when I had a close encounter!
When I was out in Germany I noticed that the crows did not look quite the same as those I am used to back in the UK. I didn’t get good sightings to start with but when I did I realised these were Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix)
In the UK this species is mostly restricted to northern Scotland and Ireland. The odd bird will wander south in the winter. The crow I am more used to is the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) which is entirely black. It is not many years ago that these two were, in this Country, treated as variants of the same species. The crow family is not everyone’s favourite and perhaps with some justification. Most often they are seen living up to their carrion name, scavenging on road kill. They are very adept at this and will fly up at the last second so as not to become the main course! They do however prey on the nests of other birds. Populations of corvids has grown in recent years and with very few natural predators this is causing a slight imbalance.
Tuesday. On my notifications wordpress informed me I have been blogging for two years! Wahey! Happy birthday to me etc, etc. I remember so well when I started. I thought it would be nice to share some of my photos, why keep them to yourself? Spurred on by the Lemming who has her own blog – https://crazystupidmusic.wordpress.com/?wref=bif , I searched the internet for advice. The kind man on google said easy, be done in ten minutes! Don’t make me laugh! Six hours later and I had somehow managed to cobble together the beginnings of this blog spot. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, or the terminology used (still don’t lol) it might as well have been in ancient Greek. Anyway, we got there and through this medium I have been able to meet some incredible people! You fellow bloggers inspire me to carry on. The range of photography out there in wp world is mind blowing. So a HUGE THANKS to every single one of you!! 12,560 views from 79 Countries WOW!
The day started frosty. By the time I’d finished the housework (love my days off!) it was warming up nicely to 14c. Decided to visit a nature reserve about twenty miles away as a recce for the summer and dragonfly potential. It’s called Upton Fen. According to my new dragonfly book the Common Hawker can be found there in July. Common? not in this part of Britain, anything but! Found the car park easily enough and set off on a lovely walk through woodland along the banks of a dyke. This is perfect habitat. Crossed over the dyke and the path took me through a section of reedbed, through another gate and I was overlooking the Bure Marshes. The sky was deep blue, no breeze and now about 18c, phew!
I should have taken my binoculars or telescope to scan the wetlands. I could hear a strange call I just could not place and then realised I was being watched! About thirty yards away was the motionless head of a Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis). Originally introduced to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in 1896 and later Whipsnade in 1930. These very small deer, about the size of a retriever dog, inevitably escaped along with their cousins the similar Muntjac and spread through the Country, finding the Broads much to their liking.
In the sky above the Marsh Harriers started to appear, soaring up on the thermals emitting their strange squeaky mewing call which doesn’t befit their looks. In total there were five and a very pale Buzzard. Mostly these birds were well out of range of my camera. The Harriers started to display, what we call ‘sky dancing’, where the male rapidly climbs and dives, twisting and calling before spiraling into the reeds. Later on the pair will continue to perform to each other, bringing nesting material.
It’s been a fabulous day out, so warm it could be May and great to be alive. I had the reserve to myself and shall definitely return in the summer for the dragons. I will leave you with one last image of a Harrier, a bit of a lucky capture. Again many thanks for all of you who visit this site, I really appreciate it.
Friday was again glorious spring like weather. With no gardening chores planned I decided we should take a drive out. A visit to Sculthorpe Moor appealed, lots of photo opportunities there. However on arrival the car park was crammed with maybe fifty plus vehicles. When we have been here before there has never been more than ten other cars, and then it’s difficult to get a good seat in the observation hides. Time for a plan B.
Headed out to the coast. It’s the school half term holidays, brilliant weather, everywhere is busy. Driving through Stiffkey with it’s very narrow, knapped flint wall lined roads I had a thought, Stiffkey Fen. Pulled into the little lay-by with only one other car there. A Marsh Harrier hunted the field opposite, so close, and I hadn’t yet got the camera out of the bag! So off we went for our walk. The path takes you alongside the tiny Stiffkey River which is probably no more than fifteen feet wide at most and overhung with brambles and branches. Mrs H spotted movement on the far side, a Moorhen? No a Water Rail!
The Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) is a very shy and secretive bird. They are fairly common in reedbeds and will give away their presence with an array of the most unusual calls, mostly grunts or groans but then a high pitched pig like squealing. They will eat anything from small fish to seeds and berries and in severe winters have been recorded killing and eating small birds, even though they are not that big themselves.
I really wanted to get some nice images of this fellow. It was difficult, the Rail was creeping in and out of the tangle of branches in a shady spot, so I upped the iso. There were only two spots I could look from where branches on my bank did not obscure the view, the slightest movement and the Water Rail ran into cover. After a few minutes it would reappear, constantly flicking it’s tail and moving further upstream towards a clearer sunlit spot. I lowered the iso, bad move! Even when it was in the sunny area the shutter speed was too low. Dozens of what would have been cracking images were wasted because of movement blur, I should have tried to take more time, not easy on a constantly moving bird!
There was another nice sighting. When we were on the raised coastal path overlooking the fen a Barn Owl drifted by.
Always strange to see an owl out hunting in bright sunshine. Up here on the Norfolk coast it is something they tend to do, especially when the weather has been bad. Well the weather has been great but it was lovely to watch, even more so when it was backlit by the sun, with a touch of mist over the reeds.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.