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My top five birds. ( Cuckoo )
18th December 2012
I am always asking people what their their favourite birds are and inevitably they can't answer without a great deal of thought and even after thinking they change their minds again and again. I am in the same boat because my favourite bird list is often influenced by a recent birds behaviour.
However, a few birds keep returning back to the top of the list, even if I haven't seen them for a long time, so these birds I have to conclude must be my favourite birds. In my case these are inevitably enigmatic species, by this I mean birds that are usually extraordinarily shy or require a great deal of effort to see and in my case photograph.
I have no particular order to what I term my 'top five' birds they all have their reasons for being there.
They are;
Cuckoo.
Red Backed Shrike.
Wryneck.
Hawfinch.
Dotterel.

My reasons for choosing these birds are as follows;

I always used to heard a Cuckoo calling every May and June but try as I did I couldn't get anywhere near enough for a photograph. This was extremely frustrating so I decided to try and do something about it, this however, achieved nothing it only added to my frustration because any one who has tried to photograph Cuckoos will tell you just how elusive and shy they are. Then out of the blue one day while out walking I turned a corner and there was a young Cuckoo sitting on a fence being fed by a Meadow Pipit. I could barely believe it, after all my previous fruitless efforts here was a bird in front of me. I managed to take a few quick shots before they flew away but at least I had got near, this made me even more determined because I could see what a beautiful and unusual bird it was.
I now knew what type of terrain to look for and the following spring when I could again here a male bird calling, this time instead of walking around trying to get near to him, which I knew from past experience was futile, I just waited and watched for hours. Using this MO I was able to establish a pattern to his behaviour and I could see that at some time he was going to perch on the same isolated branch because he had done so frequently throughout the time I watched him.
However, getting near to that branch was difficult and I knew I also had a potentially long wait in front of me. Nevertheless I decided to try and outwit him and I got up very early one morning and arrived at the location in darkness. As I got out of the car to my great surprise I could hear him calling nearby in complete darkness, I never realised that Cuckoos did that, I was totally demoralised, I thought that it would be impossible to get to the place I wanted to be in without him detecting me because I had to go in by torchlight.
Nevertheless, I decided that I had to go forward with my plan and I got my portable hide set up under some old Gorse bushes and with the rising sun coming up behind me everything was in place. Once it had become light I could see him in the distance sitting in a tall tree just looking in my direction, I was not hopeful!
He just stayed there for about an hour doing nothing but then out of nowhere I could here a female Cuckoo calling. This really livened him up and he took off immediately in my direction, I had my lens focussed on 'the branch' but he just shot over the top of me and started calling in a tree behind me. Then the moment I had been longing for happened he landed on the branch, I shot him immediately and the feeling of achievement was really overwhelming, he took off and I thought OK that's my lot, but never mind I had him!
That wasn't it though, he came back again and again sometimes with hairy caterpillars in his beak and I was able to observe him flicking the unwanted poisonous insides away before eating the rest. When he finally left I almost floated back to the car I was so pleased.
Since that time I have had more success shooting these birds using this method. The Cuckoo is so full of character and because of its unique call and behaviour it is etched into the natural history of our spring. This is why it's one of my top five!

Next Blog... Red Backed Shrike.
My top five birds. ( Red Backed Shrike )
17th December 2012
The Shrikes are one of my favourite families of birds, there is just something about the way they perch on the top of bushes, out in the open, almost declaring that they are around and then completely disappearing and no amount of searching can relocate them.
I have seen and photographed all the European Shrikes and many others around the world but the Red Backed has always been my favourite, I love its subtle colours, the pink, the rusty red, the powder blue, for me all these colours combine beautifully to make it a glorious bird to see.
I always remember travelling to Norfolk over twenty years ago and it had been a busy stressful journey, hot and with heavy traffic. We had arrived at the cottage we were renting and after unpacking I checked the 'Norfolk Birdline' and it said a male Red Backed Shrike Holme Dunes, (about 3 miles away). It was about three O'clock and the FA cup was just kicking off, Spurs V Arsenal, Gazza etc. I said to Susan we'll go for that first thing in the morning, she agreed. We went out later and had a nice meal and a few beers to relax, but looking forward to our 'FIRST' Red Backed in the morning.
First thing we arrived at Holme and were told there was no sign of the bird and no further sightings were seen at all. I was shattered, I mistakenly believed that Red Backed hung around like Great Greys...THEY DON'T. Over the years I had always reacted the same day to Shrike reports but they were always juveniles, still a lovely bird but not the male with that gorgeous plumage. I was in Norfolk in the spring of 2012 when a report came through on my smartphone from birdguides... Male RBS Cromer on waste ground east of town. I left immediately I had to try and get it, I was so anxious about getting to see and possibly photograph one that it hurt. I drove around for ages and couldn't find the waste ground and we were about to concede defeat when we saw a group of birders in the distance on some ground behind a private housing estate. We drove around the estate and finally found a pathway on to the waste ground. I ran all the way over to the birders and one confirmed the bird was there, hidden in a bramble patch. Then suddenly it flew up into the air and flew away over the trees, I thought it was all over, so near and yet so far!
The birders began to disperse but I just couldn't leave yet, one thing I have learned is you have to be persistent or you will get nowhere. When it had quietened down I walked on further and I could see him on another bramble patch, I was really nervous, but I crept closer and closer until I was quite near, I focussed and when the shutter finally clicked I was so elated I can't describe it, all those long twenty years and here it was 'in the can' to use motion picture parlance.
It felt really good to finally get that shot of a bird you have longed for, a bird that used to be fairly common in the UK in the past but now is so elusive. I was talking to two seasoned birders recently who have been birding since the fifties and they said that Red Backed used to be easy to see in the UK countryside. Those days are gone and sadly will not return.
This is why the Red Backed Shrike is another of my 'top five'
Next Blog... Wryneck
My top five birds. ( Wryneck )
16th December 2012
The truly enigmatic Wryneck, although considered part of the Woodpecker family it is a very different proposition indeed. It can be an extremely difficult bird to locate and you can spend years trying to see one. It's not a bird you can go out to look for, it's almost like a gift that some higher power allows a birder to see once in a very long time with a caveat that says 'don't expect to see one again, you've had your share now'!
The same two birders I mentioned in the Red Backed Shrike blog who have been birding regularly since the fifties told me they had never seen a Wryneck, that is a testament to its enigmatic nature.
I had numerous encounters with Wrynecks in Norfolk and everyone was incredibly difficult to see. I've seen birders just sat around for hours on end waiting for one to appear out of a bramble patch only to leave totally disappointed. These birds can stay concealed for days at a time, everybody knows exactly where they are eg in a particular area of scrub, but they will not show. Then for the lucky observer they will just pop out for five seconds and then disappear for days again. They are such fickle birds, sometimes they can sit out on the top of a fence line in full view of everybody, or wander around a golf course eating ants while golfers walk by, such is their nature, in general though they are very difficult to see.
I remember being in Winterton on Sea in Norfolk many years ago after a good Easterley blow and I had already seen a Snow Bunting and a Juv Red Backed Shrike there and Winterton has a justified reputation as a hot spot for rare migrants turning up in these conditions so I was hopeful of more birds. There was an isolated Oak sapling about a hundred yards away and I could see a bird moving around in it so I zoomed in with my telescope and there was a Wryneck sat there looking at me, what a bird, I was delighted.
Then one of those special moments happened, a couple came walking along and they stopped to talk to us and I told them about the Bunting and the Shrike but before I could say anything else the woman said that her dream bird of all time was a Wryneck, she had been looking all her birding life for one with no success and she thought that it was never going to happen for her because she had never even been lucky enough to be in a place where one had even been reported. 'Well never mind, one day' I said 'but there is quite an interesting bird in my telescope'. She looked through the viewfinder straight at the Wryneck, she looked back at me with tears in her eyes and I knew what she was feeling because it can get you like that sometimes. It was very nice to help someone realise their dream.
On another occasion my wife Susan and I were on holiday in Cyprus standing looking out to sea one evening on the old Roman ruins above Pafos, before it had all been fenced off and totally commercialised. I caught sight of something moving on the ground about ten feet away and I said to Susan, 'don't make a sound, just look down at your feet', she looked down and to her astonishment a Wryneck was just sat there, unbelievably looking up at us completely unconcerned, then it just hopped away like a typical Woodpecker and disappeared.
I became totally fascinated by the Wryneck's cryptic plumage and also the way it twists its head around which gives it its name and it's because of this and those experiences and just the total uniqueness of these birds that it's in my top five.
Next blog...Hawfinch
My top five birds. ( Hawfinch )
15th December 2012
If there is one bird that is high up on a birder's 'To See' list it's the Hawfinch, they are so shy and elusive and these days their numbers are much less than twenty years ago.
I have known birders that have not seen one after years of trying, this is because they are usually high up in the canopy or hidden away in the forest feeding discreetly in a pile of leaf litter. I remember being in this position myself, really wanting to see this secretive yet absolutely gorgeous bird. I used to bump into people over in the Forest Of Dean twenty years ago who said that they had seen flocks of up to eighty birds. I could hardly believe my ears, I only wanted one!
However, slowly but surely I got to see distant telescope views of birds, sometimes quite a few, up to twenty birds. This was not, however, enough for me, I wanted a photograph, I wanted to be close to these almost mythical forest dwellers.
The only way that a Hawfinch betrays its presence is by its call, a sharp 'PIX'. If you can imagine having a live electrical cable in your hand and then touching it on a piece of metal the sharp noise the current makes as it makes contact is what a Hawfinch's call is like. Their song is a very quiet and weak affair, barely recognisable unless you are up very close.
One day I was in a forest car park before first light trying to photograph a male bird that was coming down infrequently to feed on seed that was being left out by the forestry commission. After a few hours the bird dropped down from the canopy for about twenty seconds and I managed to shoot a few frames and I was very pleased that I had finally managed to get close to a Hawfinch. Fifteen minutes later a car pulled alongside me and a man got out and stood in front of me and announced he was 'here to photograph the Hawfinch', he then returned to his car and proceeded to talk quite loudly to his mate who was sat in the back seat. This conversation was carried out through the cars two open windows. I felt like telling him he had more chance of winning the lottery because these birds will not tolerate this type of disturbance. I left them to get on with it because I was confident no birds would come near.
The male Hawfinch is best viewed around mid to late March when they are showing more as they look for females and as they come into their breeding plumage their huge beaks turn from a straw colour to a superb silvery blue. They are at this time one of the UK's most beautiful birds!
A year or two later, one weekend in March we were walking through the forest and some birds took off from the leaf litter in front of us and we could see that they were Hawfinches. We backtracked and waited almost an hour until one or two birds came back down and we could see they were feeding on Beech mast. Next to this feeding area was a holly tree with a perfect hollowed out bowl underneath it where sheep had been sheltering, I immediately pictured my hide tucked in there. If you are in a hide and it's out in the open these birds will still not approach because it's something new and they are very wary of it.
The following day I was tucked away in this bowl before first light, it's no good setting up in daylight, they wont come near no matter how quiet you are. I waited for about two hours until I heard the first 'PIX', I was a bit concerned because time was getting on and people might come walking through and that would be the end of it.
Suddenly I could hear a faint song, I didn't recognize it but I now know it was a Hawfinch. I could hear scratching and I realised a bird was sitting on top of my hide, I could not move or make a sound, I was terrified of disturbing it whatever it was, I didn't know for sure what is was but I soon did as a beautiful male bird hopped onto the ground and flew about twenty feet in front of me to feed on the Beech mast and Cherry kernels. Thinking back if he had been any closer I couldn't have photographed him because the minimum focussing distance of the lens I was using was eighteen feet!
I was mesmerised by his beautiful plumage, I moved the lens an inch at a time until I locked on to him, then the shutter fired and I realised I had him. He just looked at me but I kept shooting and I knew I had some cracking shots! What a feeling that was, to be that close to such an elusive bird, then off he went and I didn't see him again. I waited for about another 30 minutes but he didn't return. Such an elusive creature, there and gone without anybody except me knowing, fabulous!
Then I could hear voices and four birders came walking along the track and stopped right beside me, ten feet away, I must have been well concealed because they didn't know I was there. I could hear one say 'looks like there's none here today, lets try somewhere else', I watched them go and packed up and left, if I had seen them later I would have told them about the possible birds where I had been, but they had left.
This exemplifies just how elusive these birds are and that is why they are in my top five birds.
Next blog...Dotterel
My top five birds. ( Dotterel )
14th December 2012
If there has been one bird that has continually frustrated me for over twenty five years it is the Dotterel. It is even more annoying because every Spring these stunning birds appear on the high peaks and moors of the Brecon Beacons. The irony of it is they always appear to people who are not looking for them, typically hill walkers. One instance was a group of walkers from southern England walking between Corn Ddu and Penyfan on the Beacons and they literally had a bird land at their feet. They thought it was a Woodlark and just walked on having no real interest, birders would love something like that to happen to them!
I was on holiday in Extremadura in Spain and I had parked my vehicle near to a watering hole on the Belen plains and was just waiting. I was about fifty yards away from the water, I had Pin Tailed and Black Bellied Sandgrouse come in to drink and remarkably a Booted eagle come in to bathe. It was extremely hot there and I was about to leave when seven Dotterel flew in, they were the last bird I expected to see there. I could see how beautiful they were and I would have loved to have been closer to them but I knew it was not possible. From that time I just took a real shine to them, they were so elusive, they just had a drink and then they were gone, goodness knows where.
Another time I was walking along the beach in Holkam in north Norfolk in October and I could see a bird running along the creeks in front of me, as I looked I could see it was a Dotterel in Autumn plumage. This was quite a shock, it was there for a few minutes and then gone, that was my only UK sighting. Every year for the next twenty five years I always hoped I would see a bird in Spring plumage but it never materialised. I had literally given up hope of seeing one, things had got that bad.
In 2011 I went to Lesvos in the Spring and saw some great birds there, as always, but when I returned home I checked the local reports and I could see that Dotterel had been seen quite locally in an area very easy to get to. I was so frustrated yet I knew it was totally illogical, I had seen some exquisite birds on Lesvos, but I still wanted that Dotterel!
One day I was up in mid Wales and I had not seen very much, parked up I was drinking a cup of Coffee and decided to check my messages. Good job I did, I could hardly believe my eyes, Birdguides: Dotterel, Llanderfalle Hill, Brecon. Last seen midday. It was two O'clock, I literally left immediately, it was a bank holiday, traffic was horrendous. I had fifteen miles to cover, I was stuck behind everything, it's always the same, I felt like chewing the steering wheel in frustration. Finally I got there, hoping to see a few birders...nothing, not a soul, my heart sunk, I said to Susan it's gone we've missed it. I felt absolutely dreadful, all those years of trying and failed again! Then we both saw something in a small clump of reeds and unbelievably the most gorgeous female Dotterel walked out into the open. I was absolutely worried stiff she would fly off but I had to get closer, I got to within fifty feet and I thought that's enough, but she came walking towards me, like two destinies finally meeting in some film. I took some great close up shots as she continued feeding around me. I was there for almost an hour watching her, she was absolutely stunning. I finally left her alone on that remote hill top on her own.
I sincerely hope she was safe wherever she was heading for.
That is why this beautiful, elusive, yet confident bird is in my top five.
The UK Waxwing irruption 2012
10th December 2012
This Autumn and Winter has seen a very large irruption of Waxwings into the UK with birds appearing virtually everywhere at one time or another. This appears to be happening a little more frequently in my mind since the turn of the century. I am not in possession of any statistical data to reinforce this supposition but for Waxwings to turn up in numbers in the Brecon area is unusual. Brecon, because of its UK geography and the lack of a large amount of ornamental berry trees is usually one of the last places to record these birds. However, three times since the year 2000 we have had birds in the town suggesting these irruptions are happening more frequently, before that the times I can recall Waxwings in numbers in this area are very few indeed.
It's always nice to see these birds but I suppose it's better to see them infrequently because you appreciate them more when they do arrive. When I have spoken to Scandinavian birders on my travels around the world and I mention Waxwings, Bramblings and such like, they say 'Oh those things'. It's part of the human psyche that it doesn't matter how beautiful or rare a bird is when they are seen more regularly people become disinterested in them, I suppose even the sweetest cloys with the tasting.
I have seen a number of small flocks of these lovely birds in different areas this winter and there have been some nice spectacles, but one of my favourite things about them is their song. It is a lovely, faint and delicate affair sung both in fight and when perched, it has been likened to a small jewellery chain being shaken so If you get the chance it's well worth listening for.
Waxwings can be aged and sexed by their primary and secondary wing patterns, adult males usually have 6-8 red waxy tips and females have 5-7 with the red tips being shorter on the female, so there is an overlap, but in general terms males have more red tips. Juveniles have white edging to these feathers with a very faint yellow tinge and very small or no red tips. Adult males also have a broader yellow band on their tails and a darker black throat patch.
I have, however, had a great deal of difficulty tracking down a really decent flock of these birds this winter but on the weekend I finally managed to get reasonably close to a flock of around sixty birds feeding on an ornamental Rowan. I have found by bitter experience that if you hear about a flock of these birds you have to go, if you can the same day, and at the latest first thing the next day. I am always on the alert to news of Waxwings and I am always looking in likely locations for them. This theory was borne out again with this particular flock of birds because the day after I saw them they had moved on having consumed all the berries on the Rowan tree.
I first saw these particular birds high up in an Ash tree but I saw the low level Rowan tree across the road and I knew they would be coming down to feed and they duly obliged. It's a lovely experience to have them flying right past singing and then feeding in front of you. Lets hope they hang around in the UK for some time because they look superb feeding on red berries in frost and snow.
It is still early in the winter so any area with ornamental or indeed wild berries can still attract these birds for a few months yet. They usually like Rowan first then the likes of Guelder Rose and Sorbus. Cotoneaster and Pyrocanthea are usually last, they will also feed on Hawthorn and Rose hip and they also have a liking for apples.
They 'Hawk' insects in Summer and they can be seen doing this here but it is more of a token thing as in this cold spell insects are rapidly dying off.

I have taken a few shots around various locations, Please see Latest Images Waxwings.
Wintering Thrushes
19th November 2012
Fieldfares and Redwings are here in numbers now and finally they are starting to settle down. When they first come in they are so spooky, they just fly around in a flock hardly settling before they are off again and are very unapproachable. It's no good chasing them around because you cannot get near them, experience has taught me to wait until they establish a pattern of feeding and then stay in your car or hide and wait for them to come to their favourite berry tree. They nearly always go for the Rowan first and then later Hawthorn, sometimes they will favour Holly berries and this is the best situation for the photographer.
For me personally the background of a photograph and the ambient light is far more important than the subject itself. If you have a nice background and the light is mellow then the subject will take care of itself. On that basis Hawthorn is the least preferable tree because of its branches sticking out at all angles often in tangles that give an image what I call a spaghetti background. This often obscures part of your subject and can reflect light badly to create shadows and highlights.
With Rowan the berries often hang down away from its branches and when a subject perches to get at the berries you can get a cleaner shot and you can line up the background easier before you start shooting.
My favourite is the Holly because it is so dense and evergreen its branches are rarely totally exposed and it always provides a nice background to a bird like a Redwing.
I have taken a few shots of these birds lately while there are still berries on the trees, before long they will become difficult to find as the berries disappear.
I am praying that the berries will last for some Waxwings to come to the Brecon area, they are in Cardiff and Mid Wales and most other places but not here yet.
Please see Latest Images, Wintering Thrushes.
Golden Plovers
12th November 2012
There are always a couple of flocks of Golden Plover around on the upland areas of the Brecon Beacons in winter, they are often overlooked, but if you see them they are a very beautiful bird. I saw a flock as I was driving across a local moor so I stopped and took a few shots. I watched several people walk right past them without noticing because these birds defence is to crouch down until you can hardly see them. Providing you don't make a noise and don't move too much they are quite approachable, they were sunbathing in amongst some old bracken stubble, not the most ideal location for a good shot but still worth photographing.
Please see UK Birds, Waders and Plovers
Ring Ouzels
12th November 2012
Thousands of wintering thrushes are coming in to the Beacons now, quickly hoovering up the Rowan and Hawthorn berries. These birds can strip trees of their fruit very quickly in an almost Locust like fashion. Up in the nearby Elan valley there was a super abundance of Rowan and Hawthorn berries this Autumn, trees were laden with fruit, one week later they had been completely stripped by Redwings and Fielfares. There were only a few small trees left with any berries, these were situated in two car parks quite close together. I had a message that some passage Ring Ouzels were in the area, these are Scandinavian birds which pass through Wales every Autumn but are usually very difficult to get near because they are painfully shy. However, because there were only these few trees left with any fruit there was a fair chance they would be nearby. I decided to travel there the next day after I had the message, you can't afford to wait as they don't hang around, once the fruit is eaten then they are on their way South.
I arrived at one of the car parks at first light but after 15 mins waiting there were no birds to be seen so I moved on to the other car park and after a few minutes I spotted a male Ring Ouzel. You have to take it very easily with these birds they are very spooky indeed, one male bird I had been watching at another location a week previously, in an old quarry, was incredibly wary and would not come anywhere near as soon as he saw any movement.
I positioned my car where I thought the best angle was to the Rowan trees where I had first seen the bird and I sank down in the seat with a lens resting on a bean bag, immediately I could hear the distinctive 'chuck chuck' call that they make, but I could hear another noise and as I looked in my mirror a car pulled into the car park. With all the car park to choose from this guy in a suit came and parked right between me and the Ouzel tree. He got out of his car, looked at me, with a Canon 600mm lens sticking out of my car window, draped in Camo netting, pointing at a tree right behind him and proceeded to get a flask out of his car and pour a cup of tea or coffee. I found it incredible that someone could be so lacking in common sense, he was standing there with a white shirt on just looking at me while stirring his drink with a spoon he produced from his inside pocket. While I accept fully that it was his right to park wherever he chose and I have found from experience that it's no good saying anything because it only makes people dig their heels in and come out with it's a free country etc. I just found it so strange that at 07.30 in the morning in an isolated location with someone obviously trying to photograph 'something' that you would choose to park in the very worst spot possible. I really thought that the day was ruined for me because these birds will not come anywhere near with someone standing out in the open, especially with a white shirt on!
Then something seemed to click and he must have realised that he was being a plonker and he just got into his car and left with no prompting from me.
I must say I was very relieved because as the morning goes on there is less chance of a shot because it is a very popular area, so I settled down again and waited.
I heard the bird again and amazingly, again in my mirror, I could see three male birds in the tree right behind me. I thought I'd picked the wrong tree but it's no good trying to move you just have to put up with it, however, after 5 minutes or so they began to fly into the tree I was looking at. This was a very rare opportunity and although the tree branches were awkward I managed to get some reasonable shots. I was very happy to have the opportunity to get some shots as it could be years before another opportunity arises.
Please see UK Birds, Ring Ouzels.
Northern Grey Shrike
29th October 2012
The Northern Grey Shrike that winters on the Beacons has returned again, It's great to see him safe and well. I would love to know what he's been up to and where he's been. I'm fascinated by the travels of birds like him, I feel like I know him after these few years but he will only tolerate my presence up to a point then off he flies.
The secret to getting a reasonable shot of him is to quietly manipulate which Hawthorn bush he perches on. I don't even bother to take a shot of him against the sky, because he appears washed out in the silhouette. I move around until he has perched on a bush with the Beacons behind him, the mountain is the only object big enough to provide a background to stop silhouetting. Then with the sun behind me and the bird against the distant mountain I can get a reasonable shot. Although the Beacons are in the background they just appear as a smooth backcloth to the shot, that is the advantage of a large prime lens with very little depth of field.
Please see UK Birds, Cuckoos, Shrikes and Waxwings.
Wintering Thrushes
27th October 2012
Well I'm pleased to say my hopes have materialised and this cold front from the Arctic has driven northern birds down through the UK. I was up in the Elan valley in Mid Wales today and I saw a flock of over a thousand Fieldfares and Redwings. It consisted of about 90% Fieldfares, also flying among them were 2 Ring Ouzels and 1 male Brambling. They are always very mobile when they first arrive and are difficult to approach but when they settle down I will be trying to get some shots. I just enjoyed the spectacle for now, it's great to listen to the Fieldfares chattering and the Redwings soft little noises as they fly around. At one point I was surrounded on all sides by wintering thrushes, every tree top was full of them.
It's always nice to see some visible migration.
Marsh Harrier
23rd October 2012
Only the females and juveniles are in Norfolk at this time of year, they are a very impressive bird I wish we had more in Wales.
Please see latest images.
Spoonbill
23rd October 2012
I was standing by a large reed bed late one evening watching for any birds coming in to roost. The sun was quite low but the day remained quite bright. I saw a large white bird flying in and my first thoughts were little Egret but as it approached I could see it was a Spoonbill. It circled around and then as I hoped it came in to roost, they really are an impressive bird and I was lucky to get some shots as it came quickly across me with the sun shining on the reed beds.
Please see latest images.
A few days on the coast
23rd October 2012
I managed a few days on the Norfolk coast last week, the weather was very mild and calm most of the time, while this was not ideal conditions for seeing migrants it was nice to relax and still be able to photograph some nice birds. I'm pleased to say the two Barn Owls are still very active and they are busy raising their second brood of the year.
I've watched these owls for years now and being creatures of habit I know their movements very well. They always emerge from their roost at the same place, then hunt close by to get some food for their young and once they are fed they hunt the wider marsh for themselves.
I get positioned behind an old Rowan bush to partially hide myself and the birds accept this and come reasonably close to me. Providing I do not make a noise or move excessively I can shoot them hovering over their prey.
This is a lovely way to end any day and I really look forward to being out at last light watching the Barn Owls hunting while the Tawny Owl is hooting behind me in the wood.
Please see latest images.
Wintering thrushes on the weekend....Likely
23rd October 2012
A mega fall of thrushes has hit the Norfolk coast over the last two days, Fieldfares, Redwings and Ring Ouzels along with a huge fall of Robins, Goldcrests, Chaffinches and Bramblings. Also rare birds like Olive Backed Pipit and Red Flanked Bluetail.
This has been caused by an Easterly wind and a thick fog grounding migrating birds.
There is also an Arctic wind predicted to start blowing on Friday, so this could see good numbers of Fieldfares and Redwings coming into Wales also possibly some Ring Ouzels and Bramblings.
Saturday is set to be cold with clear blue skies ideal for seeing these birds, I really hope this happens, it could do with livening up around here.
Kingfishers fighting back!
16th September 2012
It’s been an extremely bad three years for the local Kingfisher population on the River Usk. During the desperately bleak winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 the river margins where these birds dive for food were frozen for weeks at a time. Temperatures of –10 to –15 degrees C persisted. This weather caused a high mortality rate among these birds, this was borne out by hardly any sightings around the area. Dippers and Wagtails were able to relocate to the small feeder streams to find food, Kingfishers were unable to do the same as they were too shallow to dive into. The local ponds and lakes were also all frozen so their food simply became unavailable.
Finally the winter of 2011/12 was very mild and I had hope that if any birds had survived those 'bad winters' they would have a chance to breed in the Summer of 2012.
It is now well documented that the summer of 2012 was the wettest for over a hundred years. This caused continuous flooding of any Kingfisher nests in the river banks, the weather can be particularly cruel to these beautiful little birds. The last Kingfisher I managed to photograph was in the September of 2009. This was a male bird, I remember the sequence of events quite vividly, not only for the lovely bird but for the circumstances surrounding it.
I had taken some nice shots of the bird and I was packing my kit up, I had put most of it in the car and was returning to get my portable hide. I had noticed previously an old wire fence which had once bordered the river but had now collapsed and was basically trodden into the earth. I paid little attention to it, however, I should have because the top wire had for some reason began to break clear from the earth and unknown to me was now sticking about three inches above the ground. On my return I caught my foot under it and this caused me to lunge forward, I knew at once that I was going into the river, it is a strange feeling when you realise the inevitability of the situation which is about to unfold. The only thing that I felt was in my control was the manner in which I entered the water. Would it be a flamboyant affair? a la Greg Luganis, the legendary Olympic diver, or a more pragmatic entry. I opted for the latter and just threw my legs from under me and jumped in. I landed with an almighty splash and found myself up to my waist in three feet of very cold water. I was wearing Wellingtons which were now obviously full and very heavy. I waded and then scrambled up the river bank, I was absolutely freezing, it’s quite remarkable how quickly you can get very cold. I still had to pack away my hide and I was now shivering with the cold, finally I got back to the car. Luckily there was no one around because I had to remove my trousers, I couldn’t drive home in them they were just too wet. I drove home in my Boxers, It’s a good job I wasn’t stopped for a routine check by the police because it would have taken some explaining!
The River Usk can be a very dangerous environment, just an inch or two of rain can transform a pleasant stretch of water into a violent, raging torrent. Two unfortunate people have lost their lives in the last two years on this river. Both of these tragedies near to the main bridges in Brecon town.
I have often said how on earth can someone fall into a river if they take reasonable care. I fully understand now how it can happen and it has had a very sobering effect on me. This year because of very high river levels I have just kept away. However, lately we have had a dry spell of weather and the water has returned to normal safe levels. With this in mind I went down on the river at first light just to see what birds were around. I sat down underneath my favourite old Beech tree and waited, I saw four Dippers feeding around the now exposed rocks and three Grey Wagtails which was very nice. I was thinking of leaving when a flash of electric blue whizzed past me and landed in a bush just up river. I must admit to feeling a bit emotional, it was so nice to see a Kingfisher back on the river. I had time to see it was a male before it flew off up river.
I wanted a closer look so later in the week I was up at 04.30 and on my way to the Usk. I was driving through Talybont on Usk in the dark when I thought I saw a small Rabbit in the middle of the road, I slowed down and a Tawny Owl took off and flew into the trees, a great start to the day. The area where this Kingfisher is, is quite awkward to get to, it is down a steep banking through a narrow tunnel of vegetation, bad enough in daylight but a lot worse in the dark. I have invested in a quite powerful LED light that fits on my head and it allows me to keep both hands free in situations like this.
I lowered my hide down first then made my way down. I had cut a nice branch on my previous visit and hidden it in the undergrowth.
I knew where I wanted to erect it because I had pushed a stick into the banking to mark the place. It’s no good searching around in the gloom you have to plan before hand, I got everything set up and got under cover.
Dippers were about first and it was about an hour before I heard a faint ‘Peep’, about the only noise a Kingfisher makes, a little later I could see a bird about ten yards away. It’s always tense as you hope it lands on your branch, it flew towards me but went straight past, nothing you can do except wait. Then out of nowhere a bird landed right on the branch, when I looked I had a real surprise, although it was bit gloomy I could see it was a female. This was great news, a male and female in the same location. I took a few shots as she sat there contented, she flew off but returned shortly after obviously liking her new perch. I took further shots as the light improved until she finally flew off, I happily packed up and left. I now have new hope for next spring providing we have a reasonable winter this year.
Fingers crossed!!



























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Gimball heads, are they worth the money?
07th August 2012
Please see 'Equipment Reviews' on the 'Home Page'
Brecon Beacons New Naturalist
13th July 2012
The forthcoming book 'The Brecon Beacons' is one of the latest publications in the 'Collins New Naturalist' series. These wide ranging natural history books are one of the most revered series of natural history publications in existence. They are very well written with high quality images and graphics. This particular book is written by Jonathan Mullard, his previous book in this series featured the spectacular Gower Peninsular in Wales. I was contacted by the author recently and it was agreed to feature a number of my photographs in this latest publication. It's very nice to see the Brecon Beacons getting on the map for its beautiful wildlife and also pleasing to me to see some of my images representing the wildlife of this area in this prestigious series of books.
Common Hawkers in our garden pond.
03rd July 2012
A few years ago we created a small pond, about eight feet by six feet in an area of our garden that wasn't used for anything in particular, it is down below the house backing onto a small deciduous copse. Our thoughts were originally that it would be a good place for birds to drink and bathe. However, year on year there is a very large amount of aquatic life developing there. It is quite remarkable just how varied the insect and amphibious life is in such a small body of water. There are Pond Skaters, Water Boatmen, a huge amount of Water Snails and various other water loving Beetles that I can't identify. There is also a colony of Common Newts that have taken up residence.
This week we noticed some Dragonfly Nymphs were starting to climb up the plant stems and then begin to 'Emerge' as Common Hawker Dragonflies. Originally we had seen some Dragonflies over the pond but just thought they were attracted by the water. However, immediately after the creation of the pond they must have been laying eggs there.
They mate in the air then lay their eggs usually on a plant stem, once hatched the life cycle of the Dragonfly begins as a Nymph. They have no wings yet and they live in the water while they grow. This remarkably can take between three and four years, that's how I know they laid eggs immediately the pond was created. Once the Nymphs cycle is complete they will remain in the water until the next spring until it is warm enough to emerge.
They prefer still water like ponds and marshes where it's calmer and then it's a matter of survival, sometimes bigger Nymphs eating smaller ones.
Once the Nymphs are fully grown, if the weather is suitable, they will complete their metamorphosis by crawling out of the water onto a plant stem and shedding their skin.
They will then become a Dragonfly, the skin left behind is called the 'Exuvia' this may stick to a plant for some time after the Dragonfly has emerged and flown away.
Once they have flown they will look for food and then a mate, once mated the female will again look for a calm body of water to lay her eggs and this fascinating life cycle will begin all over again!
An adult Dragonfly doesn't live for very long, all that effort over three years or so for about two months of life....REMARKABLE!
Interesting fact, Dragonflies have 30,000 eyes, this is the number of 'Omnatidia' in their compound eye structure, giving them 360 degree vision.
I have been cursing this abominable weather we are having to endure presently, in this instance it has made it very difficult for these beautiful insects to complete their life cycle. The plant stems in the pond were blowing around in the wind while they clung precariously to life and the rain hindered the drying of their wings. I am very pleased to say that after all that we witnessed no less than twenty five now adult Dragonflies emerge and fly away to complete their life cycle.
I managed to take some shots of them but it was very difficult having no close up lens and battling the wind.
Please see Mammals, Reptiles and Insects UK.
Black Redstart Spring 2012
08th June 2012
A male Black Redstart has once again returned to its breeding grounds and is busy building a nest, however, it is once again in a very precarious location, they don't make it easy for themselves. I took these shots in between lashing rain and bright sunshine with a blustery wind, quite challenging. These are dogged little birds and it will be great if they can raise another crop of youngsters. I wish them the best of luck!
Please see UK Birds, Common and Black Redstarts.