News

Getting up early - Part two.
25th June 2014
Yesterday morning was so pleasant that I decided to get up very early again. This morning, however, was much cooler with no direct sunlight. Better in some ways for seeing birds and other wildlife, less haze and less silhouetting. I didn't mention anything in the previous blog but when I surprised the Tawny Owl yesterday I thought I heard some small squeaking from the same area of the woods. This is the time for young Tawny Owls to leave the nest and fly short distances around the woods on their own, although never straying far from their mother.
I arrived about the same time as yesterday and just waited quietly and sure enough after about ten minutes I heard the sqeaking again. I was now fairly sure there were youngsters there, seeing them however, is another matter. I scoured the canopy to no avail and then I heard the adult Owl hooting and straight away there was a small squeaking, this roughly located where they were hidden away. Then the adult flew across the canopy and landed on a branch and passed some food to another bird, it must have been a youngster but I still couldn't see anything!
I moved my position to view from a different angle, sometimes this is all it takes to reveal a hidden bird, then I saw a little movement tight up against a tree trunk. I couldn't believe it, a young Tawny Owlet was looking straight at me and then an even bigger surprise a second little face peered around the first bird, two Owlets! both looking at me. I managed to take a number of shots of these two incredibly cute little birds, it really made my morning.
It definitely is worth getting up early!!!


Please see Latest Images, Tawny Owls, for more pics.
The reward for getting up early.
24th June 2014
The last few nights have been really sultry and sleep at the moment doesn't come easy to me. I left my bedroom window open an inch last night in an attempt to let some cool air into the house. Some hope, it felt like being back in India! All that was missing was the smell of curry.
I did manage to sleep briefly until a Blackcap woke me at 03.50, singing from the Ash tree near my bedroom window. I could hardly complain about being woken up by such a prolific songster so I decided to get up at 04.30.
I made some tea and forced myself to eat a very small bowl of cereals, I knew I'd be hungry later. I got some kit together and I left home at 05.15, there was quite a heavy dew on the grass and a slight mist over the fields, however, this was burned off very quickly giving way to a glorious morning.
Soon I was walking through a local deciduous woodland, my boots were soaking with the morning dew and the sun was just coming up over the horizon creating a dappling effect through the woods. Suddenly I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, a dark shape floating between the trees. I stopped and saw in silhouette an Owl, I knew it must be a Tawny in this situation. Often heard but rarely seen these birds usually appear to a bird watcher in poor light unless they are lucky enough to come across a roosting bird.
However, just in front of me I could now see an adult Tawny Owl perched on a branch just ahead of me. I had my Tripod and Canon 600 over my shoulder but I had a 1.4 converter mounted on it in readiness for some small bird photography. I knew this would be too much lens for this situation so I very carefully lowered the lens and tripod, praying that I wouldn't spook this fabulous bird. I removed the converter and replaced the camera as silently as possible. This is always the time when you can't get the camera mounted back on the lens, thankfully it went on first time. This reinforces my point in a previous blog about an 800mm f5.6 lens not being as versatile as a 600mm f4.0. With the 800mm I would not have made this shot, Too much focal length and too small an aperture!!
There still wasn't great light so I pushed the iso up a little and under exposed by a stop, both to raise the shutter speed a little, you can always recover an under exposed raw image after doing this. This is where RAW has an advantage over jpeg.
Also I had the advantage of a solid tripod and head and a corded shutter release allowing me to shoot at still quite a slow shutter speed. This is where stability is everything!
The Owl remained still, glaring at me, I took a few frames and hoped for the best, after a few seconds it flew up into the canopy and disappeared, I could here it hooting but I didn't see it again.
What a dramatic start to a day!!

A Spring morning on the Brecon Beacons.
19th June 2014
I have been getting up really early during this beautiful spell of Spring weather. It is my favourite time of day just as the earth is waking up from it's short slumber. It doesn't really get dark this time of year there is just a deep 'blueing' of the sky. In the far north, up in the the Shetlands the islanders call it the 'Simmer Dim' - a lovely time of year.
The night before last my wife and I were out in the gartden in the late evening, another lovely time of day, enjoying a glass of wine, everything was shutting down and the Lesser Black Backed Gulls were on their nightly fly over our house on their way to Llangors Lake to roost. Suddenly there was a commotion up high and the gulls began wheeling around and calling loudly. We always keep a pair of binoculars handy and we could then see the reason for the fuss, a large female Goshawk was drifting over, no wonder they were upset she is a top predator. She circled a few times, had a look around and then drifted off towards the local conifer plantation to roost.
At a particular time of the evening the new mown grass in the fields surrounding our house smells so sweet as it cools down after being heated up all day, it is an iconic smell of the countryside. This year there are many Pheasants around the fields and they like to feed among the mown grass, they also come into the garden to pick up spilt seed from under the bird feeders and it is not unusual for one or two to come and look into the house through a window, they are very inquisitive.
Then later on, just as the sun goes down over what we call the 'Allt' this is short for Allt Yr Esgair, meaning the wooded ridge, there is a really 'earthy' smell, as if the earth is shutting down again, I must admit to waiting for it to happen, it only lasts a few minutes but it is so regular and so powerful.
I really look forward to these evenings, just simple pleasures, sipping a nice glass of wine or an ice cold beer while listening to the Blackbirds sing. I get so much pleasure from these simple things and I consider myself very fortunate to live where I do. Over the next few evenings I will be going up onto a local hillside to try and see some Nightjars, I always like to go somewhere around the longest day. What a fabulous bird they are, no better sight on a late evening as they fly against the inky sky, hopefully with some moonlight for extra atmosphere.
Yesterday I was up early walking the hillside above my house and among the gorse and ferns Whinchats were darting to and fro and Yellowhammers were singing their distinctive song. The light was absolutely wonderful, what I call the 'Golden Light', it doesn't happen too often but when it does you pray for a bird to appear so you can take advantage of it. I could see a male Yellowhammer flying around and singing from various perches, they have their favourite trees and bushes and I waited by one of these trees. This wondrous light was still shining when suddenly he flew and perched right in the bush, I thanked the gods of light because they must have been smiling on me. I shot him just as he turned to look at me in absolutely perfect conditions.
I made my way back down the hillside just as the sun began to shine brightly once again, the clouds moved away and the 'Golden Light' was gone, it really is that fickle.

Spring in the Brecon Beacons.
06th May 2014
Spring is fully here in the Brecon Beacons, the weather has finally settled down and the evenings are drawing out. It's a pleasure to be out early in the mornings to hear the birds singing and to see the woodlands full of Celandine, Wood Anenome, Lady's Smock and of course Bluebells. Cuckoos are calling and the Green Woodpecker's 'Yaffle' is echoing across the valley this morning. This is also prime time for Dotterel passage as they make their way north to breed, but there have been no reports as yet and I have myself been out walking the hill tops in search of these enigmatic birds, we live in hope!
This week I have began to hear in numbers the call and song of the Wood Warbler, this tiny little jewel of our woodlands is incredibly difficuly to pin down for a photograph becauae they are so small. They also tend to occupy the tree canopies in their search for insects and grubs and rarely come down to eye level. Although their single note call, a repeated 'Tee' and their 'Spinning Coin' song are quite distinctive it still remains quite difficult to focus a lens on them because they are so restless, they rarely stay still for more than a few seconds and getting an uncluttered background is an achievement. However, today I managed to locate a singing bird and to get a few shots as it very briefly perched on an isolated twig in a clearing as it flew between trees.
These little birds will always for me remain the iconic sound of spring in our woodlands!

Return of the Cuckoos.
22nd April 2014
The Cuckoos have returned to the Brecon Beacons this spring;
I have been out walking all this week hoping to hear their wonderful sound and last Friday I heard it in a local clear-fell. What a surprise though, three males all flying around one area trying to establish a territory. When this happens it is the perfect scenario for a bird watcher as they tend to forget about nearby people because they are so involved with each other.
One bird landed literally five feet away from me in a Hawthorn bush, so preoccupied was he! Another male bird landed about thirty feet away and that is what I was waiting for.
I shot him as he perched on some flimsy Hawthorn branches, they always amaze me with their dexterity as they land on branches that seem to be too thin to support them. The only problem is when they do this you have to wait for the branch to stop moving and hopefully they don't fly off before.
They really are a charismatic bird of our spring and I will never tire of seeing them, long may they frequent our shores!
Please see Favorites, Cuckoos.
Half a million hits.
14th April 2014
Today sees the 500,000th hit to this website, it's a significant milestone for a small and quite specialist website like this where only one person is posting. I could never have predicted this much traffic when I initiated it in August 2010. It's quite hard work getting new images of a sufficient standard and also writing Blog posts that I think will be interesting. Some of the most viewed Blog posts are really quite surprising to me and the most viewed photograph is totally bewildering!
The trip reports and equipment reviews pages have also proved to be extremely popular with visitors.
It's my intention to maintain this site as long as I continue to see that people have an interest, It's certainly not about me, the birds are the focus here, I'm just the vehicle. Therefore, long may we continue and many genuine thanks to all the visitors.
Steve.
Merlin; The pocket rocket.
11th April 2014
The Merlin, the UK's smallest raptor is a rarely seen bird. It is a dashing and mercurial falcon seen typically on high moorland in summer where it breeds, but also at estuaries and tide lines in winter, where it terrorises shore birds.
It is a persistent hunter, pursuing it's quarry with extreme agility and relentless determination. Usually they are seen flying high on a moor chasing Skylarks or Meadow Pipits or harassing Dunlin and other small waders near the sea in winter.
Rarely, if ever, a birdwatcher gets a chance to study this stunningly beautiful bird. However, all that changed yesterday - I was watching some Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits feeding in a muddy field when a small bird flew through at incredible speed making a pass at the Pipits. My first thoughts were male Sparrowhawk, but I couldn't be sure because of the speed of the action. Then a few minutes later it happened again, only this time the attacker landed on a small stick poking out of a mound of earth. I was hidden behind a pile of rotting silage and the smell was, shall we say different!
The smell from the silage paled into insignificance when ten yards in front of me I was looking at a female Merlin. I realised immediately that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and my heart rate went up proportionally. I moved the lens a fraction of an inch at a time because she was so wary, she knew I was there, but she remained on the small stick and just stared at me. I focussed and fired the shutter, what a feeling that was! she turned her head to look around and then just took off and flew away into the distance.
What a bird!! - Please see Latest Images, Merlin.
Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad and the Ring Ouzel.
02nd April 2014
There is a small valley situated in the heart of the Brecon Beacons mountain range called Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad.



Literally translated it means, ‘ Cliffs of the Salmon coloured rock.’
Although surrounded by the classic wide-open spaces of the Beacons, it is solitary and self-contained. It is enclosed within a shady, atmospheric amphitheatre created by the aforementioned soaring craggy cliffs of Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad.
Walk up into this valley in the early morning and immediately you have a feeling of isolation from the outside world, noise from traffic and life in general is removed. The surrounding cliffs are near vertical and the lower slopes are covered by Wimberry, Heather and some quite rare alpine plants at the southern end of their range. Hawthorn and Whitebeam trees cling precariously to these steep slopes.
This is the haunt of the iconic Peregrine Falcon and the Raven, that denison of lonely windswept places. It is also one of the very best areas to find the Ring Ouzel, a summer migrant returning from its wintering grounds in North Africa, arriving usually in the last week of March. The Torquatus race of Ring Ouzel is found in the north and west of Europe and they breed on these craggy slopes, feeding on insects, worms and berries.
These birds are very shy and unapproachable and that is what attracts me to them, I like difficult challenges. The male Ring Ouzel will just sit out on an isolated Hawthorn Tree or elevated rock and utter his piping call, a ‘Peep Peep Peep’ series of single notes that are echoing and far reaching. The male’s song, a ‘Clack Clack Clack’ seems to epitomise the lonely and remote areas where they will attempt to raise their young. Both male and female use a low clucking sound, a ‘Chuuck Chuuck Chuuck’ as a contact call and this is usually the only way they can be detected. When this is heard you know they are not far away because this call doesn’t carry any distance.
These lovely birds are unfortunately in serious decline and the thought of not being able to hear their lonely calls or to see them perched out with their bright white crescent contrasting against their dark plumage is quite upsetting to me. I hope their numbers can recover and they continue to frequent this country.
In the hope of seeing some returning birds I made my annual March visit up to Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad. I have been up there three times lately and this week I finally heard that piping call. After some time a male bird flew down and I could see it chasing another male, which had probably just come in. One bird then started to feed among the limestone rocks at the base of the cliff and then flew and perched in a Hawthorn tree. I managed to take a few shots before he flew back up onto the cliffs. What a lovely sight and sound of spring in the Brecon Beacons.

Please see Favourites, Ring Ouzels.
Great Spotted Cuckoo.
15th March 2014
I'm experiencing a mini return to my old twitching days lately, hot on the heels of the Red Flanked Bluetail in Marshfield, my fourth in the UK. I went down to Pembroke yesterday, Friday 14th, to try and see a Great Spotted Cuckoo that had been reported on Wednesday this week.
I remember twitching one of these birds near Southampton over twenty years ago. I have also seen a few on my travels but they are always a nice bird to see.
The fog on the drive down was really dense and this coupled with endless roadworks made for a very unpleasant journey indeed. I was not very hopeful of seeing the bird in those foggy conditions, however, I was fairly sure that the fog would prevent it from flying away. When we arrived we saw the Cuckoo in a hawthorn bush quite near the car park, I think that's where it had been roosting.
After the mist began to lift slightly he began to move about and shortly after he flew onto the nearby golf course. We walked the public footpath through the course and soon after we saw him perched in a bush. It was obvious from the outset that any photographs would only be for record purposes as the mist never lifted much and viewing the bird, was at times, like looking through 'Cling-Film'.
We had a few very good views of him perching out, but the situation was not ideal because we couldn't wander around the golf course because technically there was no right of way and it is there for paying members. Having said this, all the golfers we met were very friendly and accommodating and many showed interest in the Cuckoo.
We had overall a successful day and met some very nice people from as far afield as Newcastle, Stoke and Sussex.
Please see Rare Birds, Great Spotted Cuckoo.
Red Flanked Bluetail; Birding or Trophy Hunting!
10th March 2014
We were in the Forest of Dean on Friday looking at Hawfinches and Two Barred Crossbills. It was a glorious day so we thought as we were quite near the Red Flanked Bluetail site of Marshfield we would pay a visit. When we arrived there were five or six 'Birders' there.
We quickly saw the bird, unavoidable really, as it has been flitting around the same trees for a month or so. I took a few shots as it perched briefly on sticks that people had placed in the ground and then it was feeding on meal worms that had been provided. While we were making conversation amongst the group, I said to one of the 'Birders' 'I see there was an early Ring Ouzel in Gloucester today', he looked at me quizzically and said 'What's one of those, I've never heard of them', That just about summed up the title of this blog post, I'd had enough by then and we said our goodbyes and strolled back up the track.

The Iconic and very Elusive Houbara Bustard.
04th March 2014
Last week we decided to take a winter break to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands to try and photograph, in particular, the Houbara Bustard. I previously had brief views of the Undulata, nominate species, in Morocco, despite a very nasty bout of food poisoning.
Since then I have wanted to get some better views and hopefully some shots in better circumstances. The Canary Islands have the race Fuerteventurae and this is the best place to try and see them.
However, these birds are very difficult to locate and if you do find one, they are, for such a large bird unbelievably good at disappearing. This is very frustrating as they don't fly off or scatter in panic, they just slowly walk away and totally blend into the surroundings and no amount of scanning can relocate them.
We drove many of the remote sandy tracks, nearly getting stuck once, in search of these iconic desert birds. The so called renowned areas, El Rubicon and El Jable only produced brief distant views before the birds disappeared. You cannot walk these areas because of their quite rightly protected status, you can walk the tracks but this is not really an option because the sand is sometimes whipped up to such an extent that you can't see and your optics would also be severely compromised.
The situation is therefore, you patrol these tracks and if a bird is seen briefly and then disappears then that's it you move on, very frustrating!!
As the week progressed It was becoming more evident that photographing these birds was going to be very difficult, just seeing one was really very difficult indeed. One day we went to see the Volcanoes at Timanfaya and we were speaking to the resident Geologist who told us that his colleague was a bird watcher and he radioed her to come over and talk to us. This woman gave us an area to try, as she saw Houbaras from time to time while she was out horse riding, we were at the area the next morning but unfortunately this also proved fruitless.
As a last resort we decided to try one last area we could see on the map, on arriving there we had great views of a Stone Curlew and also some Barbary Partridge. It looked a much better place than either of the more well documented locations. We could see a Goatherd in the distance and as he came nearer he waved to us and appeared quite friendly. I showed him a picture of a Houbara Bustard from our book and he made a gesture that indicated that they were all around the area. He also indicated through signing that it was best to not drive but to walk the plains. This was not an option as I have mentioned previously, to illustrate this, this man was totally wrapped up with protection against the sand including tinted goggles. Also this particular area was a designated site and these people and their way of life are part of the accepted environment but a birdwatcher or photographer is most definitely not!
I then decided to produce my last throw of the dice, a packet of mint humbugs, never known to fail before and indeed once I pressed a couple into his hand he immediately became more communicative and began to point out a particular area where he was obviously seeing the birds. It was still not going to be easy and we said goodbye to our new friend and left the site as the day was getting on.
Next morning we were back there, this time at the Goatherd's indicated site, immediately I could see a male Houbara about 100 yards away, there was a small sandy track that I turned onto and I could see it would take me within shooting distance. I had my Bean-Bag and lens balanced on the car window as I inched closer. I was being watched closely by him but he was staying put, I got quite close and moved the car side on so I could get a shot. He immediately started to move so I shot him straight away, at last I had a photograph!! He didn't walk away though he stayed there and allowed us some great views as he fed and walked around. We felt very privileged indeed to spend time with this very elusive bird. Finally he walked away up and over a ridge, these birds seem to like a bit of elevation so they can see their surroundings. Anyone looking for these birds should find a quiet sandy and stoney area with plenty of medium size bushes and plants which is quite near some elevated ground.
Finally as we were talking about our experience I looked up and saw him looking down at us from the top of the ridge, I couldn't believe it, one final shot which I gratefully accepted, then he just melted away onto the plains.
Please see more in Latest Images, Lanzarote.
Also read more in the trip reports section.

Sewage plant birding.
11th February 2014
Brecon sewage treatment plant, as with other similar plants around the country, continue to provide a very good environment for birds, especially in winter. Insects are attracted to the small life forms around the decomposing organic matter, these insects in turn provide food for the birds. In addition, when organic matter like sewage decomposes the resultant exothermic reaction gives off heat which turns the settlement clarifiers at the plant into large radiators providing a warm place for birds to roost in severe weather.
A local birder has made this area his regular 'Patch' and it has turned up some very nice birds over the last few years. The first, a few years ago was a Citrine Wagtail, again feeding near the sewage outfall from the plant which discharges into the river Usk some 100yards away. The same food chain event occuring, the discharge water is warmer than the ambient temperature of the river and this warmth attracted insects and this in turn attracted this rare Wagtail.
Also there is a regular roost of Pied Wagtails at this plant, sometimes up to three figures can be found there.
In addition there is a hedgerow adjacent to the plant and on closer examination a huge amount of flies and insects can be found therein. This winter this hedgerow has provided food for a large number of birds. Yesterday I saw up to fifteen Wrens, ten Goldcrests and at least twenty Long Tailed Tits. However, that was not the reason for my visit, it was because the aforementioned birder has now found what is thought to be a Siberian Chiffchaff. These birds are hard to accurately identify and their call is often needed in addition to the sighting.
There is at least one other wintering Chiffchaff in this hedgerow and a good comparison can be made, always a bonus. On arrival I could immediately see the tonal differences between the birds, the presumed Siberian bird being much lighter and buffier brown, making the now obvious Collybita Chiffchaff, (the nominate race), look almost olive green by comparison.
To summarise;
Collybita is the species of Chiffchaff we see every spring in the UK, also there are some other newly declared species which are in Spain and the Canary islands. In addition there is the Tristis race and the Abietinus race of Collybita. Abietinus is from Scandinavia and Tristis is from Siberia. This bird looks a strong candidate for a Tristis, it has all the classic characteristics as follows;
· Absence of olive in the crown and mantle.
· Absence of yellow away from the underwing.
· Presence of a grey-brown or pale brown hue in the upperparts.
· Presence of warm buff in the supercilium and ear-coverts.
· Presence of buff at the breast-sides/flanks.
· Very black-looking bill and legs.

In addition a bird has been calling like a Tristis in the hedgerow area, a monosyllabic high pitched 'TEE'.
This would complete the ID of the bird in question.
Below is a comparison of Collybita ( Nominate) and the presumed Tristis, I welcome any comments or corrections to the ID.
Also please see UK Birds, Siberian Chiffchaff.


Presumed 'Tristis' notice the ID criteria mentioned above.


Nominate Collybita ( UK Spring/Summer ) Much more olive green etc etc.
A flooded Llangors Lake and the elusive Cettis Warbler.
10th January 2014
The appalling spell of weather we have been enduring over the last few weeks has caused massive flooding of the nearby Llangors Lake. The whole reedbed has become totally waterlogged forcing birds like Water Rail to flee into the nearby Llangasty woods. These woods are themselves under water but there is some vegetation that is above the water, which allows the birds to feed and roost. Many ducks have now taken refuge on the lake because they can't stay on the River Usk, (their normal habitat), because it is a raging torrent. A Kingfisher is also trying to fish the lake for the same reasons, yesterday I saw it perched underneath the walkway to the new hide, trying to fish the only shallow water available, times are hard for them.
However, there is one bird that is extremely elusive to see under any circumstances and that is the Cettis Warbler. These little birds are unbelievably noisy, they have a very loud and explosive song yet they remain notoriously difficult to see let alone photograph.
This current flooding though has turned the tables somewhat in favour of the bird watcher. Normally Cettis spend almost all of their time skulking at the bottom of reedbeds and low bushes, they then infrequently show themselves for a few seconds before quickly disappearing again. They rarely keep still for more than a second or two as they constantly move from reed to reed foraging for food. This flood has changed all that, they can no longer move at the bottom of the reedbed, they have to feed higher up and this means they can be seen more easily.
I have waited for such an opportunity to present itself and yesterday I could see a Cettis moving about among the reeds and I could see it gradually getting higher up the stems looking for food. There is a fence rail which runs around its usual habitat and this fence provides easy access to a few clumps of grass that have grown in amongst some bushes. I could see the Cettis making its way towards this rail, I had a feeling it was going to move along it to get to the grassy area so I focused my lens on the rail just before this grassy area. Sure enough it came along probing every bit of vegetation on its way, I waited until it was still for about two seconds and then I fired the shutter. I had a couple of shots at least before it disappeared again, this happened twice before it disappeared totally.
Please see UK Birds, Warblers.
Happy Xmas and New Year.
15th December 2013
It’s that time of year again, it doesn’t feel like another year has passed, but here we are with Xmas almost upon us once again.
As Ebenezer Scrooge would say, in A Xmas Carol by Charles Dickens ”Another year older and not a penny richer“.
From a financial point of view, for most of us that is probably correct. However, from an ornithological standing it has been a very good year. The wonderful summer we have had this year has allowed birds to breed and to raise their young in relatively stable conditions. The highlight for me was being able to photograph Water Rails with their young, a once in a lifetime opportunity. This summer weather has also provided a super abundance of fruit for our winter visitors and residents. I hope that this year will go some way to repairing the damage previous poor summers and bitterly cold winters have had on bird populations.

After this glorious summer had ended and the Autumn bird passage arrived, if someone had told me I was going to photograph, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long Billed Dowitcher, Penduline Tit, Ring Ouzels, Northern Grey Shrike and Desert Wheatear I would have laughed at them. This unpredictability, however, is what I love about nature watching, you can go for long periods without seeing anything and you can’t imagine where the next image is coming from. Then suddenly right out of the blue there it is right in front of you!!

I hope that we have a reasonable coming winter, we are approaching the shortest day of the year and the weather is unseasonably mild, so far this is very good news for our wildlife.

This website’s statistics march inexorably onward towards the half million mark, something else I would have laughed at when I initiated it in 2010. I would genuinely like to thank everyone who visits these pages; it is most encouraging.

It’s just left for me to wish everyone a Happy Xmas and a bird filled 2014.

Steve.



A Red Kite hunts over a misty Llangasty Church, on the shore of Llangors Lake.

Red Kite taken with a Canon ef 600 f4.0 L.
Church and Meadow taken with a Canon ef 17-40 f4.0 L.
Desert Wheatear
15th December 2013
A first winter male Desert Wheatear has been hanging around the seafront of Severn Beach village near the new Severn bridge for a few days. It was seen by two people who didn't know what it was so they contacted a local birder and told him that they had seen a 'Wheatear-like bird'. On investigation he was surprised to find a Desert Wheatear feeding among the detritus on the beach.
Normally found in North Africa where they inhabit stony ground with scattered vegetation, just outside of the really sandy areas of desert. They are a short distance migrant usually just moving further south in winter, so what this bird is doing on a stony beach in Gloucestershire in December is anybody's guess. It has moved in the opposite direction to its usual migration pattern, probably blown northwards by the strong southerly winds we have been experiencing.
I have seen many of these lovely birds in Morocco but I was still keen to see another one, especially so close to home.
I traveled down on Saturday to see it and I was amazed to find it such a confiding bird, it had no fear of people whatsoever and at one stage was within six feet of the assembled birdwatchers. It wasn't a challenge to photograph so I just took a few shots and enjoyed the spectacle it provided. People concerned by reports of its welfare had been feeding it meal worms and it had also been observed eating earwigs, it spent a few periods of time just keeping still, probably stuffed by all the food on offer.
What a lovely little bird to see, an early Xmas present.
Please see Rare Birds, Desert Wheatear.
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
24th November 2013
The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal runs from its basin right outside the Theatre Brycheiniog in the centre of Brecon, through a few small local villages and on to its termination outside the market town of Abergavenny.
I have walked along this canal for nearly forty years and I have watched its popularity grow as more and more people hire boats and barges for holidays and also cycle and walk its length. This popularity bears no resemblance to how I remember the canal all those years ago. While I was looking at the lock keepers house yesterday I was thinking about old Tom who used to live there. He was a real old character, he used to ride his battered old bike along the canal footpath most evenings to enjoy a few pints in the White Hart in Talybont on Usk. He used to tell great stories, of which I couldn’t get enough. Mike the landlord, known as ‘Mike the White’ wouldn’t have a television or juke box in his pub, he said they ruined conversation! He did, however, have live music there some nights, no amps, just a guitar or banjo and a singalong. I particularly remember one night when a blind gentleman was led in and sat down with a pint, suddenly a guitar was produced and this man sang and played one of the most beautiful renditions of 'Unchained Melody' by the Righteous Brothers I have ever heard. Mike, who never displayed much emotion retreated to the kitchen and later reappeared with tears running down his face declaring that he had been peeling onions for a stew he was making, however, we all knew the real reason for his tears. Another time Screaming Lord Such of Monster Raving Looney Party fame stayed the night at the pub during one of his political campaigns. After his dinner he retired to his room and the following morning Mike knocked on his bedroom door to tell him breakfast was ready, only to find that he had disappeared in the night without paying his bill.
What great times we had there!!
Sadly both Mike and Tom passed away many years ago, and the pub, just like many others now, no individuality.....
I digress;

The deciduous trees which line the canal banks are particularly beautiful for a short period this time of year as their leaves change to a myriad of different colours. There is a small window of time when a photographer can capture these colours. A bright sunny day with blue sky is needed, a lack of people and before the first heavy frosts cause the leaves to drop. I have invested in a new wide angled lens and I thought I would give it a test run. I will detail my impression of it in the equipment review section on the front page of this site.
Meanwhile, please see Landscapes, Around the local area, Mon and Brecon Canal.
Arctic winds and Two Barred Crossbills.
17th November 2013
We are set for the first real cold spell of the winter next week with Arctic winds blowing and some snow falling on high ground. Heavy frosts are also predicted so a combination of these winds and frosts should finally remove the last lingering leaves from the trees. Hopefully this weather will also push Bramblings south to this area, time to increase the feeding programme in my garden. There are about twenty migrant Blackbirds around my garden as I write, feeding on fallen apples and Cotoneaster berries.
Waxwings are in Derby today (30), I don't think we'll see any here this year, but I hope I'm wrong.
This year has seen a remarkable movement of Two Barred Crossbills into the UK and a double figure flock are currently in the Forest of Dean near Speech House. I managed to see a flock of betweem four and six birds flying and briefly perching in Hemlock trees at this location. However, I was lucky to see them at all because the noise that some people make is hard to credit, how they ever expect to see anything amazes me. One man was talking so loudly I could hear what he was saying twenty yards away. Some time later he was 'talking' on his mobile phone and I use the term talking in the loosest sense, because the person he was talking to could probably have heard him without the phone!. Another group were laughing and talking really loudly and paying no attention to the birds flying around the tree tops. Later on I was standing just waiting to see if anything would fly or perch near to a small pond, when I could hear a group of people coming from approximately 100yds away laughing and shouting, ironically when they appeared they were all three dressed in Camo clothing, what a joke! they haven't got the first clue about watching nature. A number of people had travelled long distances to see, what are after all, very rare birds in the UK. Lee Evans (Twitcher) stood next to me was getting really frustrated with all the noise and for once I had to agree with him.
These Crossbills have irrupted in numbers,( 50,000 ) being reported moving from Siberian forests into Scandinavia and some of these have subsequently been seen in various areas of the UK over the last couple of months. They are usually very rare in the UK and these current numbers are unprecedented. They make quite distinctive 'Trumpet' like sounds during their call and song, unlike our common Crossbill and they have as their name indicates two large white wing bars.
Well worth keeping an eye out for in local conifer plantations!


Penduline Tit.
10th November 2013
When news broke of a male Penduline Tit showing at Uskmouth nature reserve near Newport I couldn't decide whether to go or not. These are beautiful little birds and quite rare in the UK and although their range is spreading, unless you are prepared to go to one of the Kent reserves, Dungeness or Stodmarsh you are not going to see one. With this in mind I decided to try my luck and I left early Saturday morning in the pouring rain. The weather forecast was, however, predicting sunny spells later in the morning.
I arrived at the reserve in the rain and there were about fifteen birders there, the bird had called but had not been seen. I waited outside the reserve centre for about an hour before the bird flew over us and dropped down into the reed bed, I didn't have a view so I decided to walk away to the side of the reed bed and just wait. The rain had eased considerably by now and blue sky was breaking through. Shortly after the bird started to feed on the bull rushes, vigorously pulling them apart searching for seeds. The reed mace started off looking like a large sausage but by the time the bird had finished it looked like a candy floss.
This lovely little bird put on a great show, mostly being obscured by the reeds but from time to time showing right out in the open. The crowd had grown rapidly to about fifty and it was then I decided there was too much noise and movement, so I called it a day, being quite contented with the shots I had managed.
There was a report later that the bird had flown away from the reed bed, so I'm glad I decided to go early and not leave it until Sunday when the weather forecast was much more favourable.
Please see Rare Birds, Penduline Tit.
Northern Grey Shrike.
07th November 2013
A wintering Northern Grey Shrike has returned to an upland area near Brecon. It's lovely to see this bird back again, I wonder where he's been? I would love to have seen him on his travels. After Tuesday's report by two top local patch workers I was itching to see him. However, yesterday's weather was dreadful and as a result I was penned in, but today I was there early to try and see him. I was lucky to see him almost as I arrived, there was nobody around and the bird was relaxed, he doesn't like people so you have to get there early. I managed to shoot him perched on a fence post as I hid behind a large gorse bush. It really is very nice to see this bird again, I hope he has a pleasant and safe winter here!
I have subsequently photographed him in various locations.
Please see Uk Birds, Cuckoos, Shrikes and Waxwings, Northern Grey Shrike.
Ring Ouzel Autumn passage 2013.
31st October 2013
At last the Ring Ouzels are on return passage from Scandinavia, they have appeared at a traditional site this week. I was there at first light this morning to try and see these lovely but very shy birds.
Out of interest the female bird at the top of the Rowan looking left is the same bird that is in the middle of the Rowan in another image. Both marked (1). It is quite remarkable what tricks light can play, the bird in the middle of the tree appears much darker, but look at the blemishes below its left eye and they are exactly the same in both images!
I'm sure many darker females get mistaken for males, but the males, as shown in the images on the site, are a much more sooty black with a snowy white crescent with no mottling on it. Females are not sooty black, they are varying colours, from a greyish black to a chocolate brown and they have a duller more mottled crescent.
Sometimes they are not so straight forward as they seem!
I am no expert by any means but this is the only criteria I can use with any confidence.
Please see UK Birds, Ring Ouzels.