News

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.
Wood Warblers
05th June 2012
One of our little gems the Wood Warbler usually arrives in April and May to the Beacons, inhabiting light airy woodlands with open canopies. Not the easiest to photograph as it flits around constantly, stopping to give its "spinning coin" song. This song is its give away, then you can see a beautiful, bright, lemon and white little bird. This spring they have been few and far between, I have not found any in the usual sites they inhabit so I was glad to find a few birds while walking along the River Usk yesterday.
Please see UK Birds.
Beacons Birder in Norfolk, Spring 2012
31st May 2012
We have just been to Norfolk again, our second home, not literally I'm sorry to say. As usual, we were based right up on the North Norfolk coast, this is a prime birding location and for us the best birding in the UK. We went a little later than usual because of commitments, while there we encountered the coldest spell of weather we have ever known in May. The wind blew from the north west and made the days very cold indeed, we always take warm clothes whenever we go to Norfolk and It's a good thing we did because we would have had to buy coats in order to go out, it was literally that cold.
The birding was a little bit slow, but the beauty of Norfolk is whatever the wind direction you always have nice birds to see all year around. We tend to keep away from the big reserves such as Titchwell etc., preferring to spend our time on small areas where things are a lot quieter, after all Norfolk is one big reserve! These big RSPB reserves, although they do a great job for conservation and I fully applaud and support them morally and financially through membership, they are not a place for a photographer. There is a palpable resentment from some birders for anyone with a largish lens, I suppose people dressed from head to toe in Camo clothing standing in front of people or taking up all the room in a popular hide with their equipment doesn't help the situation. I have given my wife permission to shoot me if she ever sees me dressed in this way. There are plenty of very nice images to photograph without this type of behavior. I stand by my mantra, "do your homework, get up early, keep quiet, be patient and work alone".
Moving on, it just goes to show what a difference wind direction makes in Norfolk, one day the wind blew strongly from the east and the following two days produced a plethora of very good birds: European Bee Eater, Red Backed Shrikes, Bluethroats, Icterine Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Red Breasted Flycatcher. It is quite remarkable when it happens, unfortunately it doesn't happen that often these days, weather systems seem to be predominately from the west driving the birds away from the east coast. It days gone by falls of birds were legendary in Norfolk after a good 'Easterly'.
We bumped into Tony Peach a gentleman we met on Hols in Cyprus some years ago, he and his wife Margaret, like us, were staying in a small hotel in Nikoklia, this little hotel which only had eight rooms was a little jewel and birders came from all over to stay there. It was a lovely time with very nice company and it was great to see him again, he lives in Norfolk and is a very active birder. He had come to see the European Bee Eater, he has been birding for thirty years and this was like me his first Bee Eater in the UK.
I managed to photograph a very nice selection of birds notably, Cuckoo, Marsh Harrier, Red Backed Shrike, Barn Owl and Short Eared Owl. I also photographed a variety of other birds and I have put together a portfolio of images.
Please see Norfolk Birds, Norfolk Spring 2012.
Cuckoos increasing, Is there hope ?
31st May 2012
This 2012 Spring has seen an obvious increase in Cuckoo numbers in the Brecon Beacons. Birds are being reported from all over, two separate sightings from seasoned local patch recorders have both recorded seven birds together in one area. Reports of two and three birds in an area are common. Earlier this week I was out birding on a beautiful evening up on a local mountainside. The air was still and everywhere was bathed in the golden sunlight of a warm spring evening, one of those evenings which make you glad to be alive.
I could hear male Cuckoos calling from a couple of areas, echoing across the valley, a real sound of Spring, I then saw a Cuckoo flying past which began a soft bubbling call, a female, she flew out of sight, however, this sparked a frenzy of activity from no less than three males all flying around together. One bird flew off probably trying to find the female while the other two began a territorial battle. I know from experience that when this happens these birds become preoccupied and this can lead to them perching closer than they normally would.
The Cuckoo is a very shy and unapproachable bird and will fly off at the slightest disturbance, therefore, you have to be very measured in your approach to photographing them. There were a few isolated trees in the area and they like to perch whenever they can, so I sat and waited until the action came closer, they were flying from tree to tree pecking at each other and making a variety of noises.
At last one bird landed on a hawthorn bush reasonably close, I got up slowly, the bird was looking in my direction but seemed settled, the sun although getting quite low was just falling on the bird, illuminating him in a warm glow.
I made slow measured movements and was able to take a few shots before the other bird came back in and it all started again. It was quite a spectacle and a privilege to watch.
Lets hope this year is the start of a resurgence in numbers of these lovely birds.
Please see Cuckoos, Shrikes and Waxwings.
Dotterel - a twenty five year wait!!
07th May 2012
It's been a very long wait indeed. I've seen Dotterel through a telescope drinking from a pool on the Belen Plains in Extremadura and running along a beach in Norfolk in their worn Autumn plumage. Never until now, have I had the opportunity to photograph one.
Last year I went to Lesvos in late April and when I came home I found that there had been birds on a easily accessible hillside not fifteen miles from where I live and what made it worse, it was in an area I know so well having walked there since I was a boy. I saw some lovely birds in Lesvos but I still felt I had missed out - what a strange feeling.
Dotterels are some of the most enigmatic little birds, they are very difficult to locate passing through the UK from their wintering grounds in North Africa to their breeding grounds in the far north of Scotland and Scandinavia during a very small window in late April and early May. They then appear only on remote hillsides, sometimes up to 3000ft. This year driven on by a burning desire to photograph these birds I have on three occasions walked the area where they were seen last year with no luck whatsoever. There have been very few reports of these birds on passage anywhere this year and I thought another year had gone by.
I was up in mid wales on Sunday looking for Cuckoos, with no success. I was parked on a hillside when a message came through on my smartphone at 16.00hrs from Birdguides - "a single Dotterel on a hillside just outside Brecon, last seen late morning". My heart rate increased I left immediately, I was about 15 miles away, I had to take the main road there was no choice it was the most direct route but I was stuck behind every conceivable slow moving vehicle, Buses, Campers, Bank holiday drivers, what a frustrating drive, now I know why I don't twitch!
I got to the top of the hill where the bird had been reported - no sign of anyone just a vast open space, I thought 'that's it, I've missed out again'. I got my scope out and began looking more in hope than expectation, then I spotted something hiding in a clump of reeds, I couldn't believe my eyes about 100yds away a beautiful female bird, my heart rate went up to a new level. Female Dotterels are more colourful than the males I was hoping if the bird was still there that it would be a female.
I had my kit on the back seat to save time, I walked quietly in an arc around the bird to avoid disturbance I compressed my tripod right down and kept as low as I could. She seemed to tolerate my presence and I took a few shots then moved 5yds forward then some more, etc etc. I knelt down on the soaking wet ground, I didn't care, then to my astonishment she came walking towards me inquisitively looking at me and just feeding by trembling her foot on the ground to catch worms. I stayed there for an hour with just the two of us in the middle of a sodden moorland. I took a whole raft of close up shots it was one of the best moments in many years of birding. I reluctantly left her still quietly feeding and made my way back to the car with one of my big ambitions finally realised.
Please see latest images, Dotterel.
Migration in reverse but Wheatears at last!!
29th April 2012
This horrendous weather we have been enduring for almost the whole of April must make the upland areas of the Brecon Beacons very unpleasant for Spring migrants, but come they must. Yesterday I saw a thousand Swallows over Llangors lake, swarming like flies low down over the surface of the water feeding on insects driven down by the bad weather, quite a spectacle, there were also around twenty Swifts there. Swifts are almost always the last to arrive over the lake, Sand Martins have been there for a few weeks, but conspicuous by their absence are House Martins. In years gone by House Martins were always here before the Swifts and the Acrocephalus Warblers like Reed and Sedge, but this is now the reverse.
However, at last there is some passage of Northern Wheatears showing on the Beacons. Yesterday I counted about eighty in my traditional sites for these lovely birds, some are starting nest building in old isolated limestone walls and conglomerate boulders. They certainly need some shelter in the inhospitable areas where they choose to breed.
These sites always provide me with some lovely views of what are some of the smartest spring migrants.
Please see UK Birds.
Peregrine Falcon, What a bird!!!
21st April 2012
While out walking in the Brecon Beacons yesterday looking for Spring Migrants, I had some success, seeing Redstart, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. I also watched a Marsh tit with nesting material in its beak and a Pair of Bullfinches courting, always nice. However, I was hoping to hear a Cuckoo but no luck, perhaps it's just a fraction early for them to get going in the upland areas of the Beacons. We have been having some violent rain and hail showers lately here and if you are unfortunate to get caught out in one it's very unpleasant indeed. I was walking about a mile from the car, with one eye on the sky, as I looked up I noticed a huge black cloud moving quickly in my direction, I was near an old limestone escarpment with some overhangs so I got under cover just as an unbelievable hailstone shower started. There were stones as big as garden peas bouncing a foot off the floor, suddenly I heard a loud screeching and a Male Peregrine came zooming in and landed on a ledge opposite me and got under cover in a small cave, he must have had the same idea as me, shelter!
When the storm finished I could see him tearing at what looked like a Pigeon carcass, he must have hidden it there earlier and this place must have been his shelter. I put the lens together as quickly as I could and managed to shoot a few frames before he flew off into the now blue sky. These storms are a real nuisance but they certainly presented me with some nice views of a fabulous bird.
Please see latest images, Peregrine Falcon.
Chiffchaff / Willow Warbler comparison.
17th April 2012
Alongside one of our local reservoirs there is a small copse of Hawthorn and Hazel, just a few small bushes, quite close to the roadside. Nothing there to attract birds you would think and everybody basically ignores this area. There is, however, a little trickle of water which runs there all year round, it makes its way down from the opposite hill side, flows under the road and meanders through this little copse. The birds love this little oasis, they come there to drink and bathe and always land in the bushes first before dropping down to the water. If you are patient and quiet some nice shots can be taken.
I waited early one morning this week, tucked in under the Hazel hedge, it's best to be there early because the light is on the right side. I managed to get some close ups of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff which were my targets, I was looking at the images on the camera screen when I heard a small ' Wheet, Wheet ', I thought 'that's a Redstart ', I waited, and about five minutes later a first winter bird flew into the Hawthorn. He is not yet in full breeding plumage but is still a handsome bird. I was delighted, it's one of my favourite spring migrants.
For ID purposes;
With the Willow Warbler you can see there are lighter legs, a lighter coloured and blunter bill, a more prominant, yellow / white supercillium and a general lighter appearance to the breast and belly.
With the Chiffchaff you can see the dark legs, a much darker and pointy bill, a more buffy coloured breast, a small pale, indistinct supercillium, a darkish eye stripe that cuts through its white eye ring breaking it up at the front and rear. These are really the basic features I look for, but also one of my best ways of separating these birds, apart from the song is, the Chiffchaff flicks its tail down regularly, the Willow Warbler does not.
Please see UK birds.
Bramblings
10th April 2012
I have hardly seen any of these beautiful birds all winter and I was walking through a local conifer plantation when a flock of about 200 birds took off from the forest floor.
What a shock, I managed to fire off a few shots with my Canon 300 F4.0 before they disappeared up into the canopy. They were singing as they flew, what a wonderful sight and sound.
The males are starting to develop their summer plumage, absolutely stunning.
Please see UK Birds.
Duelling Ospreys
09th April 2012
Once again it's Osprey time, late March through April, they always turn up on passage around the various Reservoirs in the Brecon Beacons. I don't have many sightings, just the usual brief one off, then they seem to disappear. So when I heard about a sighting locally I went to have a look and there was one bird sitting in a pine tree on the banks of the Cantref Reservoir on the A470 Merthyr to Brecon road. It gave some excellent scope views and I took some shots for record purposes, While I was looking through my scope I heard a big splash away to my left and I realised there was another bird which had come over and dived straight into the water, it caught quite a large rainbow trout and when it tried to take off again it couldn't because the fish was too heavy, so it had to drag it across the water to the bank of the reservoir. This prompted the original Osprey to fly down and try and steal the fish, there started an almighty scrap with both birds struggling to take the fish. They were both pulling in opposite directions and then coming together trying to tear chunks out of the trout. The bird that originally caught the fish just about came out on top and managed to fly off with it's catch. It flew away to the East over the mountain, I thought that was the end of it, the remaining bird went back to its tree and settled down. However, about 30 minutes later the other bird reappeared, still with half the fish in its talons, it obviously couldn't eat it all in one go. It circled around and then settled in a Pine tree high up on the mountain. The first bird tried to catch a fish for itself but in my time there was unsuccessful, unfortunately the rain came in quite heavy and forced me to leave. There is a final twist to the story, and that is my mate, who was walking up on a mountain about five miles away reported that he had a very unusual sighting of an Osprey eating a fish on top of a 'Trig' point. Then it flew off west, my direction, with half the fish still in its talons. It must have been the same bird, it's too much of a coincidence, what an unusual and very entertaining series of events.
I took a whole raft of shots, unfortunately from a distance, so they are only for a record.
Please see UK Birds.