Saturday, 17 May 2014

Crested Tits and Black-winged stilts at Marquenterre

Friday saw Steve A and myself return to Marquenterre - by coincidence a coach party from the SBBO was also going to be there.
The plan was to spend the first hour or so in the car park (as normal) then to try to improve on the spoonbill shots we managed the previous week. Things didn't work out as planned.
The car park wasn't as bird rich as last week with finch numbers in particular being well down. A couple of nightingales were singing as were a couple of chiffs, willow warblers and blackcap.
We worked our way along the landward line of pines towards where we heard a melodious warbler last week but it was totally silent today. We then started working the seaward line of pines back towards the park entrance where I started hearing crested tit. After about 10 minutes of searching we finally got sight of 1 then it (or another) flew out of the pines into the scrub near a horse paddock - this was good news because it meant the bird(s) would be at a lower level. Eventually we caught up with what we thought was 1 juvvy and 2 adults in some sort of fir tree that was about 20 ft high max.

Adult in the fir tree

Juvenile in the fir tree

For the next half hour we could see the birds searching for food and feeding the young one but photographic opportunities were limited and the birds refused to come out onto the outer twigs and show themselves. Then our luck changed spades!
The tits first made their way to the back(shady side) of the fir tree then flew across the open ground into some low scrub. The birds were low down, and when in the open gave fantastic views and in bright sunshine.

Adult (front) and juvenile
It was around now we realised there were 4 or even 5 juveniles and one in particular sat in the same place for probably 30 minutes and although pretty deep in the scrub by careful positioning you could get past most of the leaves and onto him. He obviously found waiting for food tiring because after a while he fell asleep!

Feeling tired

Fast asleep!


The best pictures were of the juveniles because they would sit somewhere for a few seconds and give you a chance to get the camera on them but the adults were constantly on the move and I certainly never got the shot(s) I wanted of them.

Crested tit (adult)

Eventually the birds moved back to the fir tree then deeper into some scrub so we called it a day with them. It was now around 11.30 - we'd spent over 2 hrs with the crested tits - so we entered the park happy in the knowledge that whatever else happened we'd had a good day with the camera.
On reaching the first pool after the visitor centre we immediately spotted black winged stilts (7). These were not present last week and so became the target for our attention for the rest of the day.
Several times they threatened to come close but each time noisy groups of day trippers out for a walk in the sun (most didn't even have binocs) disturbed them and the birds retreated.

Black-winged stilt

We did have a pop at the storks and spoonbills flying over but overall activity on this front was slow compared to last week although a couple of each did land on the pool - I just wish the spoonbills had landed a little closer.

A short session in the heron stadium showed the spoonbill young to be quite advanced.

Spoonbills and storks - note the young spoons bottom left

So another good day. I wonder whether we will have another go when everything has fledged and bird numbers moving about are higher.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Birding Marquenterre

Yesterday ( 9th) we (Steve Ashton (our trusty pilot), Alan Ashdown and Martyn Wilson) had a trip down to Marquenterre, Baie de Somme. This was our third attempt to go this spring - poor weather and a bank holiday thwarting the other attempts. The weather forecast was not brilliant - cloudy in the morning but becoming increasing brighter as the day wore on and with the prediction of quite strong winds throughout but given the recent weather and paucity of birds to point the camera at locally it still seemed an attractive proposition.
It was an early start for me as I was to pick up Martyn at 4.30am though for Martyn, who's normally on the ramp by 3.30 to 4.00 am, this constituted a lay-in. It also turned out to be an unexpectedly early start for Steve. He had asked Alan to phone him to make sure he was awake - so Alan phoned him at 3.15!!!!!! ( or something like that).
Anyway we caught our train (5.50 departure) and the drive down was uneventful though the weather looked pretty uninviting.

As normal we started in the car park (which offers better birding than most of East Kent!) hearing or seeing blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff, whitethroat, nightingale, hoards of greenfinch (flocks of them - up to 50 strong), chaffinch, goldfinch,  blue, great,  and eventually crested tit - which Alan found by the entrance booth.

Crested tit (juvenile)

There were 3 birds in the group - 2 adults and a young bird who he adults kept feeding. I'm sure this is why they stayed in sight for so long. I use the term "in sight" loosely -  the reality was they were mostly hidden from view by the pine needles and the adults were worse than firecrests for flitting about. Success with the camera was very limited but I managed a couple of shots the weren't too bad given the dark conditions (1/60th sec at ISO 400).
As the crowds (yes crowds, mainly school groups) built up waiting for the reserve to open the birds disappeared.
On entering the reserve we went straight to the night heron roost but they were nowhere to be seen so we moved to the main pools in the hope of getting some spoonbill or stork shots and although we managed both it was very slow and the light pretty poor.

Spoonbill in the gloom

Our next move was to the black neck grebe lake but on the way we found a whooper swan sitting on a nest (only one egg) and a little further along we flushed 2 night herons who hung in the air for a little while before disappearing off towards the roost we had just left. This sounds like a good photographic opportunity but it wasn't - whilst we could see them they were the other side of a  load of bushes!.

Whooper (not in the least bit plastic!)

On entry to the black-necked grebe hide we found them just a few yards off shore - unfortunately the reeds were quite high so we could only get pictures as they moved away.

Black-necked grebe

We could see 5 close by plus a little grebe and a couple of great cresteds.
From the hide on the opposite side of the track we could see a number of waders (green and redshank plus common sandpiper) and a little grebe on a nest. One of the group had suggested one was a possible marsh sandpiper so we went running...needless to say it wasn't.
From what was just about the furthest hide from the entrance we could see 7 great white egrets. Unfortuneatly all were a long way away and we couldn't get near them.

Gt white egret

It was beginning to brighten up a little so we went back to the pools close to the heron view point taking a few shots of a stork family on the way - mum plus 3 chicks.

Storks, young and old

With a  break for some food and a beer we spent most of the rest of the time trying to get aerial shots of the spoonbills (and the few storks) that were flying to and from the heronry.

When we tired of this we tried for some avocet shots but these proved even more difficult than the spoonbills because they just wouldn't come close enough.

The crane was seen first thing but it disappeared halfway though the day.
The final hour or so was spent in the woods/scrub that cover the sand dunes. We again managed to find a/the crested tit family but as before whilst we had them around us for what must have been 15-20 minutes getting a shot was incredibly difficult.

Crested tits

This all came to a halt when Alan (who wasn't even trying to get any crested tit pictures by this time) spotted a wild boar so we went on a wild boar chase. I never saw it but using our best field craft we managed to track down a goat! .........and near the goat was a wheatear.

And with that our time was up and it was off to catch a train.

As always we had a great laugh with just about everyone we know being held up for ridicule at one time or another, saw a few birds that we very rarely get to see our side of the water and managed a few reasonable images.
One day we'll try somewhere else but for now Marqueterre still represents a good day out.

Monday, 5 May 2014

...and the highlight was a Black-winged Stilt

I've not done a post since the 28th so I thought I'd let you know what I've been going on over the last week in east Kent..........though why anyone would want to know is beyond me!.

I had a couple of days (28/29th) continuing to try and get some cuckoo shots at Stodmarsh and failed. Several times I had fly-bys but always a little too distant for the shot I wanted.

The same was true for birds at rest....always too far away.

I also had no luck at all with sedge warblers who continued to sing from low down.
The 1st May was rainy so I only ventured as far as Restharrow where I spent an hour or so chatting with Ian and suggesting it was about time one of the black winged stilts turned up on the scrape.
The 2nd dawned damp and overcast and with a brisk NE wind so I decided not to bother going out ....then I got a text from Ian - a black winged stilt was on the scrape. So not venturing out was not one of my better decisions!
Whatever, I was off  within a couple of minutes getting the camera out of the backpack and the binocs round my neck as I was driving along the Ancient Highway to save time.

As I entered the scrape a couple of people kindly vacated the seats on the left hand side so as to allow me to get some shots. I'd guessed a setting of +2/3rds for the exposure and fired off 8 shots in sets of 2 then stopped to check the exposure. It looked good but before I could take any more the bird flew. If I'd had been delayed in anyway on the drive down I would have missed it. I have seen stilts in "Greater Kent" (ie France) but not in the more limited geographical region called England. Since I only took 8 shots the one below will look very similar to those already posted on Flickr and Birdguides.

I waited there several hours in the hope it would return but it didn't so I spent the time pointing the camera at the ducks, little grebes, swans and the lone greenshank that dropped in.


Since then I have returned to the scrape every day in the hope the stilt might return but it hasn't - it and it's mates have got to be somewhere.
The scrape residence are getting down to business. A couple of coot broods are now present, the swan is sitting, and I assume the little grebes are also sitting. A/the  greenshank has been seen a couple times and the last couple of days a common sandpiper has been around with it venturing in front of the hide this morning though overall I was disappointed with my efforts. I got one set of crisp shots, another pose where its just about passable but the rest were soft.

Common sandpiper

I don't know whether it's me, the camera, the angle of the incident light, a glarey background (ie water in this case) but sometime the 7D really does struggle to deliver shots as good as it should given the light and the distance of the bird (though sometimes it does miraculously well - I just wish I knew why).
Also today a grey plover turned up though only for about 5 seconds before it flew off inland - heaven only knows where it thinks it's going but it's the first grey plover I've ever sen on the scrape.

On land things are still pretty quiet, a few chiffs, a few more blackcaps but whitethroat and reed warblers numbers have been building nicely and the odd cuckoo has been calling out on Worth marsh.

Common Whitethroat

No sign of a flycatcher of any description so far and mippits are still very thin on the ground.
On the bright side the little owl has been in residence the last couple of days and some of the grey partridge have been exceedingly cooperative so it's not all doom and gloom.

Grey partridge

Little owl