September 26, 2011

Red, Yellow, Green & Black

I hardly ever post on a regular basis but when I do its always about colours. Well so far this autumn for me has been a riot of colour. A trip to Fleetwood marine lake started it all off with a gorgeous summer plumaged Red-throated Diver. Still in full summer these birds are stunning. Although beautiful it was evident to me after a very short time that this bird was not well. During the time I watched it the bird never caught any food and kept  closing its eyes. At one point this bird flopped out onto the concrete sides of the the lake surrounded by litter and drinks bottles and looked very ungainly and somewhat pathetic, far from the graceful beauty when in the water. My fear for this bird was confirmed two days later when it was found dead.

What amazed me when watching the other 'Flockarazzi' was how many of them seemed to be blasting away at the bird when it had its eyes closed or when the background had the concrete sides of the lake in view. This is is now the fourth marine lake in the North West that I have photographed Red-throated Diver following on from Crosby, West Kirby and Fairhaven, but the first summer plumaged bird.

When out of the water it is not hard to see just why divers are such powerful swimmers, just look at the size of the birds feet.

This month I have also been over to Ohio for work with Opticron  and been to one of the best places in the world to photograph American wood warblers. Magee Marsh is just fantastic for photography and is even better in Spring. Although my time was limited as we were on outr way back to Detroit to catch a flight home, the 700 yard boardwalk produced a stunning array of warblers. Cape May, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Myrtle, Canada, American Redstart, Nashville, Connecticut, Blackpoll, Bay-breasted all on view but sadly not all photographed. If interested in North American warblers then this is THE place to go and placed very highly on my list of places to re-visit.

July 10, 2011

Less, er - is more!

Lesser Grey Shrike has been on the target list for more years than I would like to even think about, or admit. Never twitched one, never been anywhere when one has turned up, and crucially never seen one anywhere else in the world. Just another of the very long list of gaps in my BOU spreadsheet to fill. So a 3:30 alarm call again! A solitary trip this one as nobody needed it but me. Sandwiches packed, coffee in the car and Sat nav programmed so it was to St David's in Pembrokeshire. I did think that it may be easier if I went via M6/5/4 but the very nice lady from TomTom said I should go from Liverpool via Wrexham, Oswestry, Newtown, Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Fishguard, St David's and finally onto the tiny hamlet of St Justinian's - 197 miles. A little over three and a half hours later and I was unpacking the camera in a fantastic little car park overlooking the St Justinian's RNLI station. Two miles off shore was the RSPB Reserve of Ramsey Island.  No sooner was I out of the car when I bumped into the husband of the finder of the bird, and he had bads news. The bird was not present in the field that it had been feeding in for the last five days. The deadly 'D' word appeared front & centre of my thoughts. Nah surely it would not have gone last night with low cloud & rain on site? Would it? Determined to find the bird again I walked off to where it was last seen on Friday afternoon.

The coastal path here is reminiscent of Scilly and a great walk up to where the bird was last seen. There I found Richard Stonier who had been on site for over an hour and could not find the bird. We were in the right location but the bird had obviously either gone as the finder had said or moved. We decided to move further north and away from from the car park. It was not longt before the bird was picked up by Richard at great distance in a horse paddock with a resident white horse. Richard needed this bird as well but it was the most distant shrike in the history of time - ever! Even more distant than the Flamborough Brown Shrike To illustrate below is an uncropped image taken at 700mm on my 7D.

The Shrike had decided it had had enough of parading in front of the locals all week and relocated to some private land with No Access. Great! As it was so far away I took to watching it on Live View and could see that it was a small shrike with small bill and broad black bandit mask, even with a slight hint of pink on the flanks, which strangely does not show on the attched images. UTVs in my binos but better on the back of the camera. But is watching a bird on the back of the camera a bit like watching it on TV? Closer views had to be had. I eventually got a lot closer to the bird and watched at fairly close quarters but never frame filling views. It stayed close to the horse paddocks and was catching wasps for most of the morning. I hear that later the bird 'Surrendered' and went back to the area that it had been feeding all week, but by then I was on my back home

I had more fun from a photo aspect with a Skylark that was busy collecting food to take back to the nest. It would sing from a post before going to collect food, then return to the same or adjacent post before going back to the nest to feed it's burgeoning family.

June 28, 2011

White Summer

You see there are birds, normal just every day birds, common as muck birds. Then there are list padders which are better than what you see every day and keep the list ticking along, followed by cripplers, stonkers,  Megas and as Bill Oddie once said there Cosmic Mind Fuckers. Every now and then you get to see a true Cosmic Mind Fucker and they are truly memorable but the White-throated Robin on 6th June was a truly awesome twitch of epic proportions. Certainly this is one twitch that will be talked about for decades to come. It started off all very quietly at the Bowling Green in Olive Street Hartlepool. Civilized even with a rather sedate lady pensioners bowls match.

The robin paraded around the green and in amongst the poppies and dispelled all the angst built up on the fraught journey to Hartlepool via Chesterfield. What a bird and what a poser and what a knob for not having my camera in my car! It was simple done and dusted and I should have gone home with a real blocker in the bag , even before the Seaforth crew arrived. But I didn't and so unfolded what was to become known as "The Siege of The Surgery". There have been lots of blog entries, tweets, Facebook posts,  column inches and even a podcast of a Conference Call about it. This twitch I think is the first real twitch to go viral with Facebook, Twitter and all the new blogs out there. What is unaminous though is that it was perhaps the most memorable & good natured for years, despite how it looked. Because it really did look like a siege of a walled city. All that was needed was the heady smell of cordite in the air and a few stretcher bearers taking the wounded away. But no fights, not even one squabble. What kind of hardcore fringe splinter group descended upon the headland that day?

All of the fights would come later in the month when harsh words would levelled at each other and much bashing keyboards nationwide

So the White-throated Robin started the White Summer. A British Mainland first! What could be better than that?

Well a British First could. I know it was a long from it's home, (America) and a long way from my home and a frigging long way out at sea but it was a first afterall. A White-winged Scoter, it looked mostly like a non-White-winged Scoter apart from looking a little duskier that it's Eurasian cousin and it's bill was little larger and rosier than a Velvet's. The bill! Oh yes the bill. It was much larger, a lot larger. Larger because the usual twitching partners refused a lift to Aberdeen. Although a nice bird to connect with and if accepted then a tick it certainly was not as good as the King Eider on the Ythan Estuary.

Then the third part of our White Summer. The humungous White-tailed Eagle that has been in Lincolnshire for the last couple of months. Just over three miles off the A16 I watched this bird fly in to it's usual loafing area near Ruckland Ponds.

There you have it, three great birds in June, all White and no effin images of any of them. Time for a musical interlude.

April 21, 2011

Back to Black

Finally something else to post from the UK, I've not finished with postings about what I seen in Thailand so watch out for some Brown-winged-Kingfisher shots later. The absence of any Little Gulls at Seaforth and Croby Marina has seen me look elsewhere for my photopgraphic 'fix' recently. I am fortunate that I travel over larges swathes of the country in the course of my job and sometimes at this time of year if I get up at Stupid O'clock I can have a couple of hours out with the camera before my first meeting of the day. BLack Grouse has always been one of those birds that I have always wanted to photograph properly ever since I picked up my first camera. It's just that in the UK without a Schedule 1 License it's pretty damn difficult unless you happen to chance upon a lek that can be seen from the comfort of your car. On a still morning the the whipping sounds and burbling of  birds at a  busy lek are amazing. The sounds just don't fit with the bird. Having had my fill of still images on a couple of previos visits I thought I'd use the most under used function of my Canon EOS 7D and record some video from the comfort of my car. I'm quite pleased with the results for what is only my third attempt at video. I'm amazed at just house much sound is recorded from the in-built mic, I may even invest in a dedicated hotshoe mounted mic. Taken using my EF 500mm with 1.4x TC I turned off the IS stabiliser and  the whole ensemble was sat on a bean bag

April 8, 2011

Bangkok Beauties

 Well you're in Bangkok very early in the morning after an overnight flight from Lonon and the hotel that you have booked does not have a room ready for you for the next four hours, what do you do? Apart from complain like mad you just have to sit and do nothing in reception or you can go birding. As the reception staff of the hotel lose all their powers of speech, particularly the English language when you complain we had no option but to sit and wait.  I organised a pot of coffee for Jeanette and I then went off to explore the area around the hotel. We were staying in Downtown Bangkok at the Century Park Hotel which was a decent enough hotel but as mentioned the  Reception staff were really surly and unhelpful. The rest of the hotel staff and the hotel itself was great...

Anyway back to the birding. Two streets away from the hotel I found a small green space and local park. For such a crowded space Bangkok really knows how to look after their parks, this park was a no-smoking park which is just fantastic, now if they could just do something about the smog. Squeezed in amongst the high rise aprtment blocks the park called Suan Sant Phap was a cracking little green oasis. An amazing number of species here too for being in the middle of an Urban Jungle. First on the list were the ubiquitous Tree Sparrow. A lot paler and a little dowdier than the handsome birds we get here in the UK but so many more of them. As soon as I entered the park a Black-naped Oriole flew up from feeding on the grass and perched up in a Eucalyptus tree, however it did not stay there. This was to be the first in a long line of new life birds for my Thailand trip. I had only previously seen Black-naped Oriole in a cage in a market in the town of Ubud in Bali. That market in Bali really was not a nice place to be as I also found Orange-headed Thrush in cages too. You can imagine it was really satisfying to find my first wild Black-naped Oriole. Further into the park I found Eastern Crowned Warbler, Pied Fantail, Oriental Magpie Robin and Copprsmith Barbet. The Barbet was difficult to find at first but he did help by continuing to belt out distinctive Tonk  call. When I finally did find the Barbet it showed me where it was nesting. A hollowed branch over a busy footpath turned out to be this birds home. I stayed a while wanting to get images of the bird as it exited the nest. I was to become a bird of an attraction in this busy community park. I must have looked a little strange pointing my 500mm lens up into the trees. In no time at all I found myself having to explain to some of the local walkers and joggers just what I was doing. This is where Live View on the 7D comes in handy and I just showed them the bird on the back of the camera.

March 29, 2011

Three (more) Cheers for Anna

I may be accused of wringing this one dry but here goes. Ok we all know that I was recently in San Diego and it was work but strangely the Festival did not start till 11:00am each morning so that gave me plenty of time to go birding in the local area around Mission Bay. One morning I just walked around Mission Bay and up towards the Hyatt Regencey Hotel. Western, Ring-billed, Heermans & California Gull  kept me occupied along with American Crow. On the water were American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Brant and Pacific Diver. At one point a flock of 60 Black Slimmers were flushed from their roost. I've just noticed the typo and of course I meant Black Skimmers, but if I was as talented or imaginative (read as weird) as perhaps Tom McKinney  then I'd go off on a tangent about 5 dozen African American overweight people being woke up from their slumbers on a Californian beach. But I'm not and I wouldn't know where to take the analogy further.

So I eventually got to the Hyatt Regencey Hotel gardens and this one Anna's Hummingbird kept coming back to the same perch and allowed me to get very close to it. I only had a 300mm lens with me but I was able to get a number of frame-filling pictures of the bird. It even allowed me to walk around it and change the background from whiteout sky to a diffuse green of the shrubbery behind it. It was amazing to watch as the colours of the gorget changed from plain black to iridescent reddish-gold to purple and red.

March 28, 2011

Satan's Children

No it's not the name of the latest thrash metal rock band from Los Angeles, not even the title of a song by Iron Maiden. Its just what I entitled the image below. But now that I am writing this blog entry I Googled Satan's Children, and it is actually the name of a Horror Thriller from 1975 starring Stephen White, obviously before he became the Lancashire Recorder and warden for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust at Seaforth. I tried then to get a review from the master of evil himself the BBC 5-Live film critic Mark Kermode, but he has not written one. Further searching of 'Satan's Children' on the BBC website then brought up a result that was even stranger than this blog entry, a Celtic v Rangers fixture from 2009. You see all kinds of strange shit happens when you mess with Satan.

Anyway they may look like Satan's children but they are actually Crab-eating Macaques Macaca fascicularis taken at the beach resort of Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand. I spent a great afternoon photographing them whilst on holiday last month. It was a large troop consisting of 40 or so primates. This troop used to come down to a stream adjacent to the beach in the afternoons and were a big attraction to the tourisits who sometimes got too close to them. Not as close this lady got. The troop were very boisterous and playful with each other in the stream. Some of the more dominant males were very noisy and a bit scary if they got too close.  I sat down on the sand to take some pictures and one large male decided to come over and investigate what I was up to. Aware that a large male was coming over I loudly hissed at it, but this guy was not scared and stood up to its full height and barked at me before exposing some rather large fangs - scary! I barked back, stood up and waved my arms at it forcing it to retreat as well as providing some entertainment for the compact camera toting, bikini clad tourists.

March 25, 2011

Catch Up

The last few weeks have been chaotic and I have only just finished editing the full res images from Thailand and California so I thought I'd post some images from west coast USA. My camera died on this trip that was a work trip but not before getting some new 'Digi-ticks' as well as connecting with some decent west coast birds. Every tree seemed to have an Audubon's warbler in and the car park of the hotel had Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Black Phoebe, Say's Pheobe, Anna's Hummingbird as well as Cassin's Kingbird. The Kingbird has the Latin name Tyrannus vociferans and it was not hard to see why, very noisy and birds and were heard long before I found them. The Black Phoebe were catching a large number of Painted Lady butterflies. I had them checked out by an 'invert man' at the San Diego Bird Festival and they are the same Painted Lady that we get here in Europe. The Brewer's Blackbirds fed in amongst the American Coot on the lawn of the hotel near the swimming pool and were there each morning before breakfast.  Black Crowned Night Heron fed on the same lawn next to the hot tub at night before roosting out on yachts in the marina during the daytime.

March 9, 2011

California Dreaming

I've just had five days in California for work purposes. I was attending the San Diego Bird Festival. Opticron were sponsoring the event and I was asked to join a birding trip into the Anza-Borrego desert in Southern California. You can just imagine my loud protestaions at being made to bird in southern California. Kicking and screaming I was dragged off to Heathrow for a Virgin Atlantic fight to Los Angeles. San Diego County has the enviable reputation of being the US county with the largest number of species recorded there - over 500. Closely followed by the the county immediately to the north Orange County. Having only birded in Texas there would be a raft of  new species for me that can only be encountered in western USA and some California specialities. High on my most wanted list were the gulls, Western, California and Heermann's and all were very easy and all three were found without me leaving the grounds of the hotel. Other gulls there were American Herring Gull, Bonaparte's Gull and Ring-billed Gull. The hotel was the Dana Hotel & Marina located on the norhtern arm of Mission Bay, San Diego. Here there were Brewer's Blackbirds feeding on the lawns in amongst the American Coots and Black-crowned Night Heron fed at night by the hot tub. Black Phoebe used the volley ball net as a perch keeping a look out for any passing Painted Lady butterflies, before swooping down like a flycatcher and catching them. The palm trees were alive with the chipping of Audubon's Warblers which simply went berserk when pished -  Why does that not happen when in the UK?

The First day of the festival was Thursday and I needed a couple of hours to set-up the optics in the Marina Village Convention Center (sic). Whilst setting up I found it difficult to concentrate with Belted Kingfisher perched up on a nearby boat and visible from my stand. Spotted Sandpiper, Snowy Egret and Eared Grebe (a much better name for Black-necked Grebe in my view) and Forsters Tern were to be regular visitors to this area of the marina over the next few days. Coopers Hawk, Say's Phoebe & Cassin's Kingbird greeted us each morning in the car park. One of the best sightings of the whole weekend was something other than a bird and it was to be found in the car park each morning. Surely the coolest ego plate around.

I later learned that this was the license plate of a birder I would spend a bit of time with over the weekend. Steve Sosensky a birder with a lower 48 list of 691 and he says he will not bird out of the USA before reaching 700. I spent both Thursday and Friday manning the Opticron stand and talking to American birders explaining who Opticron are and occasionally doing some birding at the marina. Rough-winged Swallow, Savannah Sparrow and Anna's Hummingbird also found at the convention center. But the big birding day was to be the Opticron sponsored trip into the Anza-Borrego desert. Thirty five empy nest birders and a twelve year boy were booked onto the trip which was being led by real life cowboy Bob Miller. Bob has spent his whole life birding in the desert and an exellent guide, he was assisted by Borrego resident Paul Jorgensen. But 36 is a big birding group and as a sponsor of the trip I was roped in to be a third guide. The day was all about some of the desert specialities in this part of the state. Despit being a two-hour drive from San Diego we were still in the county of San Diego. Targets today would be Sage, Crissal & Le Conte's Thrasher along with Lawrence's Goldfinch, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin and Greater Roadrunner. We found seven Sage Thrasher, 3 Le Conte's Thrasher and only heard Crissal but all taget birds were found except the Roadrunner

February 16, 2011

What to do with rejects?

In a digital age with so many pictures takenI find myself deleting often hundreds of images at a time. Sometimes, especially if it isa a new bird then the the very first images from a shoot are the ones that end up in the digital trashcan. With a new bird I always want to see it first and try to see it well then try to get images. But once the record shot is in the can then more time & care can be taken to get better, much better pictures. At the end of the day I can find myself with a very large number of pictures that look almost identical and I continually ask myself how many can or should I keep? I know for example that I deleted something like 700 in focus and sharp images of White-tailed Plover. Why? Well because I had similar images of the bird or perhaps a feather was out of place, or no highlight in the eye or just because I did not like the pose of the bird. I certainly binned a lot of shots that many people would have been pleased with, especially those folk that could not get into see tha bird on its brief two-day visit to Seaforth last May.

So two weeks ago I was birding on the Inner Gulf Coast of Thailand and looking at Spoon-billed Sandpipers, image below. A fantastic bird and definitley one of the most sought after species for serious birders. Although seen well the images are only likely to be my own record shots. Especially seeing what a group of photographers have managed to achieve in China, or even what Birdwatch Editor Dominic Mitchell managed a couple of days later. But the day was not all about the Spoonies. Other Target species were Nordmann's Greenshank and Long-toed Stint. The Nordmann's stayed distant and took to flight when a flock of Brown-headed Gulls flew off. So would the Long-toed Stint save the day photographically speaking? I'd almost given up when I got onto a small group of birds feeding on a saltpan close to the car at Pak Thale. Curlew Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Broad-billed Sandpiper and the Long-toed Stints. The stints perfromed fantastically well and I managed a range of shots better than I could of wished for. But now I am asking myself what to do with all the rejects ? Below is one of the rejects.

February 11, 2011

A Spoonfull of Gorgeousness

A brief update from Ao Nang, Krabi, Thailand where I am awaiting transfer to the island Koh Phi Phi Don where hopefully three species of Frigatebird await.

Last week in a day trip from the fast-paced, hectic & teeming Bangkok I was driven 2 hours down the coast by Peter Ericsson to Laem Pak Bia, Pak Thale and the Kings Project in search of Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Peter is a Ex-pat Swede now living in Thailand, and if you thought that my driving was fast then Peter has that Scandinavian rally-driving knack of very fast driving and late braking. Several times in the passenger seat I was stamping on the non-existant passenger seat brake pedal. Despite that Peter is THE man for guiding down the coast and has never failed to get his customers the Spoonies, Nordmann's Greenshank, Malaysian Plover and the enigmatic and undescribed White-faced Plover.

I can't say that I was never nervous of connecting with the target species, because I was and kept logging on to Birdforum for updates. Thanks also due to Mark Andrews who was leading the Wildwings Tours because he even gave me a Welcome to Thailand text to say that there was an incredible 7 Spoonies on site.

Once on site at Pak Thale it took less that 5-minutes to connect with a single bird feeding on the saltpans with Red-necked Stints. Fantastic! A distant bird but tick never-the-less. Further scanning produced another three birds feeding together and a little closer. A joy to watch but never really close enough to get mega pictures.

More to follow but not till I get home

January 17, 2011

Black or Red

I'm sure there are bloggers out there in the blogosphere who know exactly what they want to write about and just get on with. Many are extremely prolific and sometimes I wonder where they get the inspiration from? Some blogs are just the diary of birders who seem to be out in the field every day and their entries are lists of what they have seen on their patch, these can be useful. Others are musings about the next split and in-depth taxonomy are without a doubt a great reference source. But a lot of blogs are just the vehicle for photographers to show off their work and tend to be about just what they have photographed recently which is basically what this blog will be about. But is anybody really interested what you have to say or do folks just want to see the images? Afterall this blog is unlikely to be as interesting or as libellous as Mr White's Reservoir Cats or as expletive-crammed as Skill-bills or are they just merely the musings of the same Glossop birder. So where do folks get the inspiration from?

Which leads me to todays posting. I was looking at the this blog and noticed the labels and they were all colour labels, Pink-footed Goose etc. This got me thinking, a couple of 'Red' birds in the first posting of the year and I wondered whether there was more 'Red' on the BOU list or 'Black' birds outnumbered  'Red'. So I ran a query on my Excel BOU list. The results  were initially confusing because the search kicked out some anomalies such as eaRED, whiskeRED, collaRED and barRED. So some birding trivia, there are 32 Black species on the BOU list and 32 Red species too when using the British Vernacular name.

Black with red

Is this Black or Red?

Both Black & Red

January 15, 2011

Red All Over

Well it's now 2011 and I did say that I was going to start a blog again, but that was in November. I even have a follower, Thanks Des for your patience but the back end of 2010 was just so busy at work. So having updated the website and culling a lot of images and pages it is now time to get back to writing blog entries. Re-writing the website is just so time consuming and mind-numbingly dull, I'd rather sort out the sock drawer.

I seem to have missed all my opprotunities this winter to shoot Waxwings although I've seen them all over the country but not had the opportunity or light conditions to get anything decent, maybe there is time yet but I think with most of the berries gone so has this winters photo opportunities.

What has been good though has been the 1w Red-necked Grebe at Fairhaven Lake at Lytham. I've had good sessions before with Red-necked Grebe in both summer and winter plumages but as Red-necked Grebes are fairly scarce in the North West any opportunity must be taken. I had two visits in different light conditions and at first thought that the bird looked unwell and would not survive. A couple of days later the bird was apparently feeding welll and was catching small sticklebacks. It had the annoying habit of turning its back on the photographers when it cought a fish and would swim away and deal with the spiny fish.

 A few days later and  a repeat visit to the Fylde was called for. This time the target was the 1st Winter Red-breasted Goose. The first visit resulted in not seeing the bird, alot of shooting on the Fylde and all the Pink Feet had gone to a field that was difficult to view. On the second visit the bird was still distant but viewable and got better when flushed by a guy entering the field  with two terriers.

So there it is, the first post of 2011, lets see if I can keep it up throughout the rest of the year