Black Headed Buntings & Spanish Sparrows Lesvos
12th May 2011
Early one morning we travelled over to the far west of the Island to Sigri and Faneromeni area. Birds were in surprisingly short supply but we came across a blaze of colour and noise - a mixed flock of about 150 Black Headed Buntings and Spanish Sparrows were feeding in a roadside field. There is a plant which resembles a giant Fennell which grows up to 8 feet tall and the Black Headed Buntings seemed to like perching on it.
Please see Latest Images Lesvos.
Cetti's Warbler Lesvos
12th May 2011
The explosive sound of the enigmatic Cetti's Warbler can be heard all over Lesvos and unfortunately they are just as difficult to see there as they are in the UK. Every day I waited for a bird to show after an explosion of noise, but no luck. Then one evening we were standing on the bank of a river, when out of the blue, a Cetti's flew into a small bush right beside us, less than three feet away. We were astounded that this extremely secretive little bird was being so confiding. If that wasn't enough it proceeded to give an astonishing display, in every possible position imaginable, and all from this one little bush. I took a whole raft of shots, while trying at the same time, to enjoy the spectacle. It was as if it was giving us our own personal show, there was no one else around which certainly made it feel that way. Then just as quickly it flew away and disappeared, it was something that will stay with us for a very long time and I must admit to feeling very privileged indeed for some time afterwards.
Please see Latest Images Lesvos.
Ruppell's Warbler Lesvos
10th May 2011
Kavaki, Just north of Petra, is a well known historical nesting site for these beautiful warblers. It is a habitat of low scrub which also can attract other warblers such as Subalpine, Orphean and Barred, all of which were present when we visited on a beautiful sunny morning. I noticed that a male Ruppell's Warbler was using a particular bush top to sing from but there were too many people around on this visit to get a photograph. I didn't mention this bird's behaviour to anyone for fear of disturbance. When we returned early another morning there was a crowd of Dutch birders watching a Barred Warbler which was distant, so with no chance of a photograph, I decided to make my way down to the Ruppell's Warbler bush I had noticed on my first visit. I set up my gear and within 5 minutes he was at the top of the bush, giving spectacular close views, I couldn't believe my luck! but a little bit of planning sometimes gives great results.
Please see Latest Images - Lesvos Birds
Kruper's Nuthatch Lesvos
10th May 2011
Our first target bird was Kruper's Nuthatch and we arrived very early morning at the historical nesting area of Achladeri pinewoods to avoid the birding tour companies which seem to invade this area as the day goes on. This strategy paid off because we had the woods to ourselves for some time. Nightingales were singing everywhere - the best alarm clocks in the world. Immediately, a pair of Kruper's appeared and flew very close to us, feeding on the ground within twenty feet and flying to and from their nesting stump. This species is found throughout the Lesvos pinewoods and we were able to locate another pair later that day in a different location. Please see Latest Images - Lesvos
Lesvos Birding Spring 2011
08th May 2011
Just arrived back from a two week birding break with my wife, Susan, on the island of Lesvos. Spring migration arrived late in the Aegean this year, cold windy weather holding the birds back. A full trip report will be added in due course. I will also be adding small blogs for some individual species. There were many other birds seen and some images will be in Latest Images Lesvos later.
All images on Lesvos were taken with a Canon 300mm F4.0 prime lens.
Cinereous Bunting Lesvos
01st May 2011
This second iconic bird of Lesvos proved to be more difficult to photograph because it breeds on remote boulder strewn slopes on the western side of the Island. We drove through the mountain village of Agra into Cinereous Bunting country. We stopped near a prominent rock on the roadside only because there was a small pull-in nearby. We could hear Cretzchmar's Bunting singing and also saw five Blue Rock Thrushes flying on the slopes below us. On this first visit we heard Cinereous Buntings and saw them about 100 yds away. While our backs were turned a bird landed on the rock 20 ft away, I was so surprised that I completely missed the shot, much to my dismay. We drove on to Ipsilou Monastery and saw other birds but only distantly. We thought our chance had gone. We visited the rock again but had no luck whatsoever with the Bunting, however, we did see Bonnelli's Eagle, Short Toed Eagle and Long Legged Buzzard there. The following week we decided to give it one more try, the day was quiet and we were about to leave when suddenly a Cinereous Bunting landed right in front of us on top of the rock. My hands were shaking but I made sure that I took advantage of this very rare opportunity.
Please see Latest Images Lesvos.
Grasshopper Warblers
18th April 2011
There are quite a number of these birds coming in at the moment, with reports from various areas. Watching these birds can be frustrating as most of them creep around in low vegetation, then fly up onto a concealed perch to produce a 'Reel' then disappear again. They can remain concealed and just reel away for hours on end which is very frustrating.
I went down to Llangors lake where one has been present for a couple of days to try my luck. I could hear its reeling so I sat down by a nearby tree and waited and waited.
I thought I could hear it's song right in front of me but it can be very deceiving and in fact the bird was some ten yards away. Finally the bird perched in the next tree away from me and I was able to get some quick shots through the foliage before it disappeared again.
Please see Gallery.
Early morning on the river Usk
08th April 2011
At the moment the river is quite low so I decided to try to photograph some Dippers I had seen the previous week at a traditional nesting site that I have watched for a number of years. So I was up again at 4.00 a.m. scrambling down the river bank by torchlight and was undercover by day break. The Dippers were active almost immediately, but unfortunately, there was a heavy mist which did not clear until about 8.30 a.m. You have to be concealed early so that you don't disturb them at their nest site. Once the light improved they were moving around my hide with confidence, sometimes sitting right outside, which allowed me to witness their courtship display. The male postured and posed in front of the female bird but she was unimpressed and turned away every time, obviously the time is not right yet! However, it was a privilege to witness their courtship.
Two Grey Wagtails were also active in the same area and I am confident they will be breeding there also.
On a sadder note, there was no evidence of Kingfishers, who, I fear, perished in last year's harsh winter weather; they were always active along this stretch of the river in the past.
The Dippers flew out of sight, right down the river, on a number of occasions. I waited for such an opportunity to pack up quickly and leave with no disturbance to the birds.
Please see photos in Gallery.
04th April 2011
Migration is building up with a pace, Llangors lake is alive with Swallows and Sand Martins, 5 Yellow Wagtails are also there. Northern Wheatears are starting to establish territory on the higher ground, such an elegant bird in early spring. Chiffchaffs are singing everywhere, G S Woodpeckers drumming can be heard throughout the woodlands and I saw an early Male Pied Flycatcher today. Cuckoos have already made the south coast of Britain and we should be hearing the male calling quite soon, can't wait, one of my all time favourite birds.
On another topic a flock of thirty plus Siskins have been around my garden for the last two days, eating Sunflower seeds like they are going out of fashion. Lovely to hear them calling and singing to each other. Also, a female Brambling, the first Brambling recorded by me in my garden in sixteen years!
Please see Gallery.
21st March 2011
Its been a long standing ambition of mine to get close to Hawfinches. These birds have an almost mythical status because they are so difficult to see being extremely shy and unobtrusive, spending a lot of their time either high up in the canopy or alternatively feeding discreetly amongst the leaf litter. The article in this month's Bird Watching magazine describes the difficulty birders have in locating these birds. I was lucky to locate four Hawfinches last Thursday in the Forest of Dean and noted where they were feeding, one male was swaying from side to side in a courtship display, something I have never seen before. I decided to try to photograph these birds, so I got up at 4.00 a.m. today and got to the site by 5.30 a.m. I had to erect my hide by torchlight and get undercover before dawn broke. It was 8.00 a.m. before I heard their tell tale "pix" and one bird perched right above me, singing. I could hear scratching of claws and realised the bird was actually sitting on top of my hide, this was extremely frustrating as I could not move or make a sound for fear of disturbing it. Finally it landed on the ground in front of the hide and I was able to get some great close ups of this beautiful and elusive finch. It was a very small window of opportunity as by 9.00 a.m. they had disappeared again.
Please see Gallery.
The Sparrowhawk returns.
07th March 2011
At last, after much waiting and frustratingly near misses I have finally managed to photograph him facing the lens. I erected a perch for him to land on and I deliberately put it in front of a smooth background. I waited until yesterday for the right conditions the light was perfect. He's been terrorising the garden birds lately but almost always flying straight through, except for today.......... please see Gallery.
Short Eared Owls
03rd March 2011
I've been itching to get some decent Owl shots for quite a while so I went off to North Lincolnshire where up to twenty Short Eared Owls had been reported over wintering since around November last year. Numbers have significantly dropped to date as they have dispersed and will soon be heading off to their breeding grounds.
I had to go now or risk missing a good opportunity to photograph these beautiful birds.
When I arrived four birds were still being seen although sometimes quite distant. I set
my gear up and waited all day without seeing anything and I was about to pack up for the day when two birds started to show. They were interacting with each other and were flying and perching reasonably close to me. I managed to get some decent shots and the same timing and behaviour was repeated the following day. It was a long drive and very cold being out all day long but it was an opportunity that I probably wont have again so it was worth the effort.
Please see Gallery.
Handsome light plumaged Buzzard.
17th February 2011
What a variation in plumage our Common Buzzard has, I saw this bird perched in some Hawthorn today, he's really handsome! Please see Gallery.
The shy and no longer elusive Jay and Magpie.
01st February 2011
I have been trying to photograph Jays and Magpies for some time, but they can be very elusive and are extremely shy and very intelligent. However, I'm delighted that yesterday I managed to photograph both these birds in one session. The results were far better than I ever expected. Please see photographs in Gallery.
Tempting a Buzzard
01st February 2011
During this harsh and cold winter, -8C yesterday morning, birds, and Raptors in particular, who are primarily carrion feeders have a very spartan existence, so I was delighted to find a Common Buzzard feeding on some food that had been provided by some of the locals.
I had forgotten what magnificent birds they are.
Please see photographs in Gallery.
A log, some seed and a little patience.
30th January 2011
Parked up by a big felled tree which I noticed some birds were visiting and spread a little seed around. After an hour or so when they got used to me being there I managed to get some half decent shots, see Gallery Images.
Another Sparrowhawk kill
22nd January 2011
On Thursday this week I found more evidence of a Sparrowhawk kill in my garden, in amongst the plucked feathers were some small yellow feathers, possibly from a Goldfinch. While I waited in the hide on Friday three G S Woodpeckers were around the garden, while one was eating peanuts from a feeder the Sparrowhawk zoomed in and made an attempt to snatch him off the feeder. I have never seen any bird more terrorised in my life, it flew away screaming and I could still see it flying, flat out, about 500 yards away.
I've studied the Sparrowhawk's Modus Operandi, it alters very little; he never flies high up, he uses the lane where my house is as a conduit, he glides down the lane and at a specific point he sweeps up over the Hazel hedge opposite the feeders and then relies on surprise and lightning reactions to snatch any bird caught out in the open.
I have managed to get another shot of him on his "plucking post" but he is facing away again, so I have decided to erect some other perches, not interfering with his flight path, that hopefully will encourage him to turn around and show what a beautiful bird he is. Two of my favourite birds were in the garden today, Long Tailed Tit and Treecreeper, please see photos in Gallery.
Another encounter with the Sparrowhawk.
13th January 2011
What a superb bird! Sometimes when he passes through it's so fast all you see is a blur past the hide. I had about 5 seconds of shooting time as he made a pass at a Goldfinch, missed, and then landed on a tree branch before flying off straight away. See Gallery.
My Garden in January
12th January 2011
Hemmed in by bad weather I decided to see what birds had survived the horrendous cold spell in Nov/Dec 2010. I'm happy to say most species have survived with the noteable exception of Greenfinch, which as well as the cold spell, are being badly effected by trichomonosis. Goldfinch numbers are down by about 50%, however, Great Spotted Woodpeckers appear to be flourishing with 3 in my garden today and they are already displaying. The usually shy Jay is making tentative approaches towards the peanut feeder and a Treecreeper and Long Tailed Tits are starting to visit. The local male Sparrowhawk is still passing through and I intend to make a greater effort to photograph him this year. See Gallery.
On the Waxwing trail.
13th December 2010
Because of the lack of Waxwings locally I decided to look outside the area for these glorious birds. Saturday found me in Llanishen in Cardiff on a busy road where about 150 Waxwings were flying around and from time to time feeding in a tree above a bus stop. However, the light was poor and the traffic situation even worse, so I abandoned any hope of taking photographs. I wasn't put off, so on Sunday I went up to Bobblestock on the outskirts of Hereford and here there were about 80 birds perched in a tall tree and at regular intervals they were coming down to feed in a small, berry laden tree on the roadside. I was able to approach them quite closely and enjoy watching them feed and listen to their delicate and beautiful calling to each other. They were flying low just above the road and coming right up to me before rising up and just skimming over my head.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable few hours and I was able to get some reasonable shots.
Please see Gallery.