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Red Kite
27th March 2012
There is a place that I always go to in late March to early April, to photograph Northern Wheatears, it's high up on the Brecon Beacons in a very quiet location. It's an ideal place to photograph what I consider to be one of the most photogenic spring migrants. They like to stay around a small cluster of broken Limestone rocks and they perch on top which makes a nice image. I was at this place yesterday, in glorious spring weather, but they haven't arrived yet. However, what happened next took me totally by surprise, I was sitting on my foldaway stool against a hedgerow when there was an almighty splashing from a pool which is about one hundred yards away, I thought an Osprey had entered the water, but there is nothing in the pool for a bird like that. After about a minute, much to my surprise, a Red Kite took off from the pool and landed on a fence post, it saw me and I thought 'that's it, it will take off now', it did, but it landed again immediately, its feathers must have been too wet for it to fly away. Usually you don't see Red Kites perched, they are nearly always on the wing and they are very shy and don't allow anyone to get too near to them. This was an opportunity that doesn't come around too often, so I took a few shots, then crept nearer and nearer, until I was about twenty yards away. The bird began to sun itself and fan its tail feathers out to dry, these are are an integral part of its flight, acting like a large rudder which it uses constantly to change direction. It began pulling its tail feathers through its bill to dry them and just sat there drying off and looking at me quite relaxed. When it was mostly dry it took off on its five foot wingspan and drifted across the valley. What a great experience!!
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River Usk birds and Spring Migrants.
26th March 2012
What an unbelievable spell of weather we are experiencing presently, it is a real pleasure to be out in the countryside. I was on the banks of the river Usk near Brecon yesterday morning before first light watching the Dippers go about their nest building, it looks like they can't make up their mind which nest site to use, they have one nest in the ceiling of an old stone structure on a canal which runs alongside the river and another in an old recess on the same structure, they are back and fore to both. As I was walking through the woods in the dark to get to the river, Robins and Blackbirds were in full song, it's correct what the old saying says about the Blackbird, ' Last to bed at night, first up in the morning'. The woods are carpeted at this time of year with Wood Anenome and Celandine and added to these are areas of Daffodil and Primrose. The leaves are out in readiness for the Bluebells which will take their turn to carpet the woodland floor in late April and May.
I watched the Dippers and also a pair of beautiful Grey wagtails courting in the same area from where I was tucked away under an old Beech, this tree, which is right on the river bank, has its roots submerged by the river. The roots trap silt from the river when it's in flood and a mini beach has formed over many years, this a landing place for Otters and they sometimes sit on the roots of this tree, what a tale this old tree could tell of it's sightings over the last hundred or so years. One morning last year I was in my portable hide waiting for a Kingfisher to appear when I looked casually out of the small opening on the side of the hide and something broke the surface of the river, my first thoughts were, 'that's a fair sized trout', I kept looking and an Otter broke the surface, then another and another. They climbed onto the rocks on the far bank of the river and I could see it was one large and two smaller Otters, obviously a female taking two youngsters out on the river, showing them their new world. They slid off the rocks and quietly swam away up the river and disappeared into the morning mist.
This morning, from under the Beech tree, I looked up and I saw what must have been an Osprey drift over high up above the river, I can't think what else it could be having ruled out Buzzard and Kite by flight pattern, I looked in a tree above the canal and I could see a male Sparrowhawk sitting there watching me, he took off and left me to it. I took a few shots of the Dippers and Wagtails and left them to carry on with their courting. In the woods on the way back Chiffchaffs were singing everywhere and a single Blackcap was in full song, some singer he is too! Goldcrests were chasing each other throughout the woods and Wrens were singing from all over, what a lovely place to spend a few hours.
I took a few casual shots from my visit, please see UK birds.
Canon 500 V 600
05th March 2012
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Northern Grey Shrike
18th February 2012
There's not much around at the moment, apart from the Common Yellowthroat that's thirty miles down the road near Newport, Gwent. I've seen plenty of these little 'sculkers' in the States and they are not easy to pin down, also given the amount of people there will be on a fist day twitch for a mega rarity like that, as a photographer, it's best to stay away for the time being. Therefore, I went out birding locally and thought I'd see if a wintering Northern Grey Shrike was up on a local moorland. This particular bird goes missing for long periods,( Weeks ), at a time, but he was there today.
He was perching on the tops of isolated small trees, silhouetted against a grey winter sky. These birds can be a nightmare to photograph because of this, you have to try and get them lower down, which they don't like. The bird was perched on top of a large Hawthorn bush which was no use for a photograph, for the reasons mentioned above. I decided, therefore, to wait lower down in some dense Gorse bushes near a fence line. I waited for about half an hour, until as I hoped, some walkers came along and pushed the bird off his perch, he could have gone further away but on this occasion he came down to the fence line. I quietly poked the lens through a gap in the Gorse, as one particularly vindictive piece was sticking right where the Sun doesn't shine, I had no choice but to put up with it as these birds are so spooky and if I had moved he would have flown immediately. I managed to get a few shots off before another walker came along and the bird was gone again. I couldn't complain because it was a walker that gave me the opportunity in the first place. I would have liked to have been a bit closer but you have to take what's on offer in these lean times.
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Short Eared Owls
07th February 2012
It's been a fantastic winter throughout the UK for these birds after their huge breeding season in Scandinavia. Unfortunately Powys has not benefited from this population explosion with only a scattering of birds around. There is one fairly local site which has one or two birds most years but they never show much, it is a barren, post industrial site, high on a mountain side in Gwent. It is an extremely cold, bleak, inhospitable place with old abandoned coal and iron workings and their subsequent slag heaps scarring the area.
I spent two afternoons absolutely freezing with no reward whatsoever, but on the third visit I was on the verge of giving up when I scanned a line of old concrete fencing posts for the last time, I thought I was seeing things, there was a bird sitting quietly staring at me from around a hundred yards away. There was only the last pinky glow of the setting sun for light, I racked the iso on the camera right up and thought right this is my last chance and I made my way quietly towards the bird until I got to the edge of an old railway cutting about 40 yards away. I had to use a corded shutter release because my hands were shaking with the cold. I took a few shots with the shutter making a Kerchunk noise as it does at about a twentieth of a second.
The bird tolerated me there, I think it felt sorry for me, and after about twenty shots it glided off into the gloom.
I couldn't wait to pack up and head off home, I was frozen, but at least I had some local shots!
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Nature - Red in Tooth and Claw
05th January 2012
Following on with the Sparrowhawk theme, the female is hardly ever seen in any detail by me, I know she's around because I get fleeting glimpses of her flying overhead and I saw here only last week as I was driving past the entrance to a farm which is just up the lane from my house. She had killed a starling and was sitting on a large stone by the farm entrance with it in her talons but she flew off as I passed.
However, it is quite ironic that over the last two days this female bird has given me the most detailed insight into Sparrowhawk behaviour ever.
It all started when she smashed into a Wood Pigeon that was flying over my garden bringing both of them down onto a grassy area. The pigeon briefly struggled but as she pressed her needle sharp talons into its vital organs it was all over very quickly. I was able to witness this at very close quarters, she then quickly started to pluck her prey but she obviously felt vulnerable in this open position because she dragged the pigeon across the garden to the shelter of a large hedgerow where she began to eat. I noticed that she became very anxious when the wind gusted and I thought a few times she might fly off.
I tried to take a few shots without disturbing her. I let her feed for quite a while and while she was absorbed I crept closer behind a tree. She ate her fill, taking about half an hour, and with a very full crop flew off. I thought that she had finished with her kill and would not return, although there was still quite a lot of flesh left on one breast.
I decided, just in case she returned, to set up more gear and wait. About three hours later she returned and began eating again, this time finishing the other breast. I was able to take some close up shots of her because she was so absorbed that she tolerated my presence. She left with another full crop and did not return again that day.
That night I fully expected the remains of the pigeon to have been eaten by whatever creatures move around during that time, Fox etc.
On this occasion this did not happen;
I knew that Sparrowhawks returned to their kills for a short time after, usually if they are disturbed but I never expected her to return the following day, but return she did. She immediately turned the pigeon over onto its side and began eating again, this time pulling out the entrails etc, she was obviously not going to waste anything. This time when her crop was full she dragged the bird into the hedge so it couldn't be seen by the local corvids etc, seeing this I knew she was coming back and she came back another twice that day and picked the pigeon to the bone. She was a proper hunter, killing to eat and wasting nothing!
I was surprised by the effort required to pluck a big bird such as a Pigeon.
After each feed she found a wet patch of grass to clean her bill and face, in this she was most particular, she also preened and rearranged her feathers as they became quite untidy during feeding.
I have not seen her since but over those two days I felt I knew her a lot better and I was grateful for the little insight into her world.
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Photographing a male Sparrowhawk
05th January 2012

By regular observation I'm fairly sure there are two Sparrowhawks consistently operating around my local area, one male and one female. I have had numerous encounters with the male as he has been attacking song birds in this area, including in my garden, on a regular basis for a few years and I have photographed him on several occasions. Although he is an extremely elusive bird he does have a regular flight path and MO and he rarely deviates from them. However, in order to photograph him successfully I need to be in my permanent hide, hidden behind Camouflage netting. I have to predict which branch he is going to perch on because if he misses his target then he only lands on a branch for a maximum of two or three seconds before flying off. Consequently, there is rarely enough time to reach for a lens and focus it because these birds live on their wits and the merest of movements or slightest noise will cause them to fly off. To overcome this problem I select a branch and auto focus on it and then switch off the auto focus to prevent any 'Hunting' by the auto focus system at the critical moment, I also switch off the image stabilization because even the slight noise it makes is enough to spook him. I also have to choose a smaller lens eg 300mm instead of 600mm to have more chance of framing the bird, (300mm lens covers a wider area). I also use my 1D Mk 2 camera for an even wider field of view, so with these mounted on a tripod and with a three foot corded shutter release it's just a matter of waiting for him to land, hopefully on the right branch and then immediately fire the shutter and hold it down until he flies off. I can usually manage to fire off between ten and twenty shots, (8.5 frames / Second) before he realises I'm there. If he lands on the wrong branch, although it's tempting, I never try and move because he will fly off and not return; keeping still will give him the confidence to perhaps return later. This may seem very involved but it's what's required to photograph this particular bird.
I hope this may be of some use to anybody interested in this type of wildlife photography.
Bittern
28th December 2011
One of the most difficult Herons to pin down, the Bittern is a master of disguise, using its cryptic plumage to hide in the reed beds where it spends almost all of its time. It's usually seen flying a short distance over the top of the reeds before frustratingly dropping out of site. However, sometimes they briefly creep out into the open and the lucky observer is rewarded with a photographic opportunity.....
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Great Grey Shrike
24th November 2011
I have been watching a Northern Grey Shrike for a couple of days on a very open area of moorland in the Brecon Beacons. This is a traditional site for these birds during most winters. This bird was, and still is, extremely elusive, flying away as soon as it sees anybody. These birds look conspicuous and with their habit of perching on the tops of bushes, you'd think they would be easy to find, however, in my experience they are very adept at disappearing. I watched it for a few hours, trying to establish a pattern to its behaviour and I could see it was favouring a particular Hawthorn tree. This was not its larder, just a good vantage point for it to look out from.
I decided the only way to get near it was from a hide so I got up at 06.00 this morning and drove to the site, using my usual MO, set the hide up in darkness and get undercover before daylight. It was very mild early on but within an hour a very cold wind had picked up. I thought I'd had a wasted journey because the hide began moving about in the wind and as these birds are very spooky I was afraid the noise and movement would frighten it away. I had to plant two feet on the corners of the hide to keep it steady, as I looked up the bird had landed on its favoured tree. I managed to get a few quick shots as it perched briefly in the wind, in two areas of the tree, then it was gone. The wind became even worse and the hide was almost blowing over so I called it a day by 09.00.
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Crossbill flock increasing
11th November 2011
I have been up on the Brecon Beacons again trying to pin down a flock of Fieldfare and Redwing, the weather was a little better today but these birds are still remaining very spooky and will not settle in one place, I will have to be patient. However, without wishing to sound like Victor Meldrew, I don't believe it, its happened again, I was sitting in my car drinking a cup of coffee when in flew a flock of about 70 Crossbills. It was a sandwich last time, this time I had to jettison my coffee out of the window, but I had my gear set up ready. They perched in a Larch tree opposite me and began feeding, I moved closer and closer, never looking up and trying to hide behind the lens and tripod. I find if you approach a couple of yards at a time, taking shots as you go, then at least you have some shots for your effort. They allowed me to get quite close until I couldn't go any further because the ground dropped away and I would have been looking up - which I hate. I managed some shots of both Males and Females this time.
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Autumn in Norfolk 2011
30th October 2011
I've just spent a week on the North Norfolk coast experiencing fine, dry, mild weather with winds from the SE. Whilst this wasn't the best conditions for falls of birds it was still very pleasant conditions for photographing typical Norfolk birds with the odd rarity thrown in. I've been visiting Norfolk for over twenty-five years and the birding opportunities are still first rate. I've seen many rarities in Norfolk over this period of time but it's the general, all-round birding which makes this a very special place. Everybody there understands and appreciates birds as opposed to other parts of the country where birding is seen as nerdy. I met some very nice people during my stay, freely exchanging birding information to our mutual advantage. I've put together a small portfolio of images from my time there.
Please see Norfolk Birds.
Crossbills
17th October 2011
What a horrible, windy, wet day up high on the Beacons, still hoping for some Ring Ouzels but no luck so far. Redwings and Fieldfares are flying around in ever increasing numbers, and once they settle on a feeding area I hope to get some shots of these lovely birds. I was eating a sandwich in my car, and as usual birds appear as soon as you take a bite, and sure enough it would have to be one of my most infrequently seen birds and also one of the most difficult to photograph, Crossbills! I jumped out of the car in a hurry because they don't show very often and I took a few handheld shots of this male bird feeding in a larch tree, the wind was really strong and it was drizzling heavily so the quality is not the best, but I thought i'd show them.
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The shy and wary Raven
16th October 2011
I always see them, flying high overhead, shouting their almost mocking laugh. I have always been fascinated by these shy birds, occupiers of windswept, remote and lonely places.
They just love to fly, they seem to take enjoyment in playing on the wind, tumbling down then swooping back up. I have great respect for any bird that flies upside down on purpose and I have watched them do this lately, from a distance as usual. Their plumage when seen up close is stunning, they are then no longer the big black bird that flies overhead, they are a beautiful mixture of colour, depending on the way the light hits their plumage. I waited for hours for a chance for them to come reasonably close for a shot, I was about to give up for the day, when this bird, who couldn't see me hidden away, landed on an old wooden finger post quite close by. Finally, the opportunity I have been awaiting for many years.
What a bird!!
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Chance encounter with Reynard
07th October 2011
I was out early this morning looking for any winter thrushes that might have arrived overnight, no luck unfortunately. However, I saw a group of magpies scatter from where they were feeding among some molehills and it's lucky I was hidden away because I was able to observe this beautiful fox appear from the hedgerow. It began chasing something which must have ran down a mole-run. The fox quickly dug out the molehill and I could see it had a rat in its jaws. It killed it instantly, chewed it up and swallowed it. It then ran off looking for its next meal. It was all over very quickly but a great spectacle to see.
Please see UK Mammals.
Autumn Migrants
24th September 2011
The Autumn migration appears to be under way with a few flocks of Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds appearing around the area. I saw this Ring Ouzel mixed in with a flock of Mistle Thrushes, probably a first winter male. These birds are by nature very flighty and quite difficult to photograph so I am always pleased to get any shots.
Following on behind these will be Redwings and Fieldfares there is, however, a shortage of Rowan berries around the area which Ouzels favour, but plenty of Hawthorn to keep the other winter thrushes happy.
Other parts of the country, ie north and south, have some exotic birds at the moment, some from the big Atlantic storms of two weeks ago and some from the east. Unfortunately our geographic location makes it very unlikely we will experience these rarities.
Can we expect another Waxwing irruption like last year? I live in hope............
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Sparrowhawk strikes again.
19th September 2011
Another Sparrowhawk encounter in my garden on Sunday afternoon; I was in my hide and just as an unfortunate Goldfinch flew across the space between feeders the Sparrowhawk came in and with unbelievable reactions and dexterity snatched it in mid air. Talk about being in the the wrong place at the wrong time. It's difficult to imagine how quick this birds reactions are and then to be able to change direction so quickly is quite amazing. The Goldfinch didn't know what hit it, I believe death was instant because it didn't move once after it was hit. It was taken down into the small wood below the garden where the Sparrowhawk has it's plucking post.
Nature in the raw, It's tough out there!
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Wrecked Wryneck
12th September 2011
A quite unusual find by a local man near the dam of Blaen Y Cwm reservoir on Llangynidr moor on the Gwent/Powys border. This bird was probably heading down the west coast of the UK from its Scandinavian breeding grounds when the current weather system swept it inland. It looks to be surviving OK, hiding from the inclement weather in and around some old coils of fencing wire. Once the weather breaks I hope it will be safely on its way again down to tropical Africa.
I managed to get a shot of the bird inside a coil of wire, in between very strong gusts of wind and heavy rain showers.
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Sparrowhawk is back
04th September 2011
During Saturday afternoon I spent a couple of hours in my permanent hide thinking how nice it was to be getting really close up to the birds, Chiffchaff in particular. I was packing up because the rain was getting heavier and the light was deteriorating, when suddenly, after an absence of about three months, in drops the male Sparrowhawk. I haven't seen any sign of him whatsoever and there he was, soaking wet, evidence of moulting, especially around his head, what a surprise. I was able to scramble for my 300mm lens and get one hand held shot off, now I'm glad I always keep it on the chair next to me! Then just as quickly he was gone again, he really is an elusive character.
My trusted old friend, ( Canon 40D ) is retired.
20th August 2011
There is always a sort of ornithological hiatus at this time of the year which makes me reflect on a few things, so I thought I would write a few words on my hobby, I'm not getting on a soapbox but it's nice to air a few thoughts now and again;

After many months of deliberation I have now bought a Canon 7D, I had to think long and hard because I have never been someone who chases technology in the vain hope that buying better equipment makes you a better photographer because it most definitely does not! You have to have a healthy dose of realism, which I'm glad to say I have developed over the years which keeps my feet on the ground and hopefully my bank balance healthy. However, there comes a time and I felt that the time had come. With the 7D I immediately noticed that the auto focusing is far superior to the 40D. This is a big advantage for moving subjects, which birds usually are. Also the much greater resolution of the 7D's sensor should reproduce more detail, we will see on that score. I will always have good memories of using the 40D, I used it in all conditions and it absolutely never let me down. I will also keep my Canon 1D Mk 2, it's built like a tank, very rapid auto focus, 8 frames/second and full auto focus up to f8.0. You can still pick them up and they are still a very good buy!
Getting good images is all about manipulation of the available light, having an eye for a composition and doing your homework on the subject. With a bird that just drops in, you have to think on your feet but if a bird eg a Kingfisher is your target, then find out where it's favourite perches are, they are very much creatures of habit. Go to it's habitat and spend an hour or two just watching. A kingfisher will go to it's favourite perches at first light to get its breakfast. it's just like us going to the fridge for the milk for our first cup of tea. A kingfisher I was watching on the River Usk just outside Brecon always pitched on an old supermarket trolley that had been thrown in the river, because the small pool just below it always had some little Minnows swimming around. Make sure you know the angle of the sun at the particular time you are going to be there and how its light falls on the area you want to photograph. If the situation with the light is not favourable, because of a shadow or another obstruction, then create another perch, take an nice branch with you and fix it on the river bank a few days before to get the bird used to it. One thing I must mention is, in the spring, while these, or indeed any other birds are breeding, just leave them alone. They will still be in their habitat in September and hopefully with some young birds. The moral of the story is just get the basics right and success will follow, but in my experience be prepared for disappointment at first and the success afterwards will more than make up for it.
Successful breeding season in my garden
18th August 2011
I'm very pleased to say it has been a really successful breeding season for the birds in my garden. All the usual birds, House Sparrow, Great and Blue Tit, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch have bred in numbers and there are now also young Bullfinches, Siskins, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Redstarts, Blackcaps, Blackbirds and Goldfinches. Greenfinches (whose numbers crashed last year) have bred in particularly good numbers, great news for this lovely finch. However, the most unusual spectacle was ten young Chiffchaffs in the garden one evening as I had only previously seen them in ones or twos.
Last year I constructed a permanent wooden photography hide with seating for two, which overlooks my garden pond, a feeding station and a small woodland; this is an oasis for birds in the local area and allows me to get close up photographs that otherwise would be impossible. The construction of both the pond and the hide are now really paying dividends. The pond itself is a big attraction for birds to drink and bathe and a Common Newt colony has become established there. I hope, during the winter, this garden pond, feeding station and woodland will be a refuge for the local bird population.
Please see Juvenile Birds in Latest Images.