Saturday, 14 June 2014

Rye Meads, Rye Harbour and Goodnestone

The last week has been rather rather quiet on the birding/photography front.
On Sunday I spent the morning at RSPB Rye Meads hoping to get some shots of the breeding kingfishers. The kingfishers are breeding there in an artificial bank made up of sand sandwiched between thin layers of concrete (well that's what it looks like). There is quite a large hide there but for photography you need to be there after lunch as the light direction is all wrong earlier in the day...........I arrived at 9.00 and had to leave at lunch.........I will know better next time (if there is a next time as I was only there because I had to go to Stanstead Airport.
As it happens it didn't really matter as the birds are on eggs and only one change-over occurred in the 3.5 hrs I was there and even then the neither birds came close.

Wednesday I went to Rye. You know what's going to be there, you just hope the weather and birds play ball. I arrived at 6.30 hoping to take advantage of the early morning sun to photograph the Sandwich terns on the island, which I did but numbers on the island are down on my last visit and the birds that are there seem to be still on eggs so there was little too-ing and fro-ing though some birds were returning with sand eels.

Sandwich tern

Too close to get it's wings in

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The avocets can still be found quite near the fence line early morning though they don't let you get very close.


There was a juvenile little gull around but it stayed distant all the time I was there.

Little gull
From the Ternary pool hide nearest the sea front I found a common tern preening and a redshank having a kip and from the beach I could see around 8-9 little terns though none seem to be on eggs - they are still chasing each other around so they may just be late starters.

Common tern

On Thursday (12th) I went to Goodnestone. Historically I have been told of spotted flycatchers in the area and I have seen honey buzzard there. Alas neither of these were seen on this visit but I had a pleasant wander around the churchyard - where a family of kestrels were in residence,  around the fields behind the church and along the Serpentine walk - a new walk open to the public around the edge of the Goodnestone estate.

I only saw  common stuff during my stroll but in all I had 4 families of gt spotted woodpecker, 3 singing goldcrests plus a couple of buzzards over.


So nothing spectacular but a pleasant walk somewhere different and on the way home I saw a red kite to boot.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Mid wales part deux: Skomer mainly.

Despite Rhayader being 100 miles from Skomer we had agreed that, weather permitting, we would go and so we did on the Tuesday (27th). It was an easy decision really because Rhayader was forecast to have wall to wall rain whereas Skomer was to have wall to wall sun.  It also was pretty easy for me because all I had to do was sit in the back of the bus and sleep but for Steve (who drove, as normal) the day was somewhat more arduous.
We arrived at Skomer around 7.30 and Al and Peter waited for the ticket office to open whilst the rest of us went looking for choughs on the headland (we are generous to a fault).
First up we found stonechats (3 pairs), linnets, mippits but we (Martyn and myself) soon spotted 2 choughs and worked our way towards them. Steve and Tim eventually found us (and the birds) and we all got some shots.


It was then time for the ferry. The sea was dead calm making for a pleasant crossing scattering auks as we went.
Climbing up from the ferry and waiting for the induction talk we could see a short eared owl hunting over on the the opposite side of the "Neck".
The previous day or two had seen black headed bunting and Blyth's reed warbler on the island but these were ignored as some of us went directly to the puffins and the others went for a stroll around the island. If the rarities had been found we would have twitched them but as it was they weren' we didn't.
It has to be said the Wick (the main puffin area) was a little disappointing. Yes there were puffins, yes they came within a few feet but the numbers were well down on our last visit (2 years ago, 1st week in June) and none were bringing sand eels to the burrows - suggesting most were still sitting on eggs. It would seem the birds are several weeks behind where they were on our last visit.

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".............well what about this hole darling? "

With so few birds flying and as far as I know none of us getting any decent flight shots we decided to move back to the landing stage to try our luck there.
I went back via the visitor center passing the hoards of lesser black backed gulls that call the island home at this time of the year. On the way I stopped of at a hide that only had gulls and kittiwakes in residence.
The walls along this walk had several pairs of oyster catchers displaying and calling, a sedge warbler "singing" in the bracken/blue bells,  and the rocky outcrops by the visitor center were home to a family of rock meadow pipits and rock whitethroats:

Sedge warbler


Meadow pipit

The island was awash with blue bells, another sign that things were well in arrears of what we have here and had there previously.
Back at the landing stage I tried ...........and failed to get the desired puffin flight shots. The birds were flying into the wind which unfortunately meant the sun was behind them - the outcome? The face of the bird was always shaded by their own bodies. It was more or less a complete waste of time and I don't think the other fared much better.

One of my best efforts.

There were some very close razorbills, puffins and on the sea some guillemots which did provide a diversion and a peregrine also flew past which the auks were not impressed by.


Guillemot with sand eel

So Skomer was what Skomer is - a great place to get up close and personal to some bird we rarely see down in Kent but was a little disappointing in that the eel carrying and flight shots of puffins were not achieved.

Our last 2 days were spent local other than a trip up to Bwlch Nant yr Arian and a trip to see a pair of breeding ospreys
Bwlch Nant yr Arian is another kite feeding center which was set in a tree lined valley. It was a very pretty place but now it a scene of total desolation as the trees have been totally removed due to an infection of the larch trees by Phytophthora ramorum. For an article on the problem see
The real issue, not discussed in the above article, is that a Forest Visitor Center now reside in a valley almost totally devoid of trees and will do so for decades.
All of this was unknown to us before we arrived so you can imagine the shock as we pulled up. Some of the group went for a walk around the lake but I spent a little time with the siskins that are still visiting the feeders then retired to the cafe to wait for the others.  We didn't stay long.


Another trip out was to Llyn Clywedog to see a pair of breeding ospreys but, as with most osprey breeding places, the birds are miles away from any view point . To see them go up the A470 from Rhayader, then the B4518 at Llanidloes which leads to the lake.

The balance of the time was spent in the Elan valley or at Gilfach. I actually spent most of my time in the Otter Hide with Alan at Gilfach  (the reserve wardens taking exception to my using a tripod around the visitor center) where as well as views of grey wagtail, pied flycatcher and  dipper, we had a pair of redstarts (not normally seen from the hide) and most unexpectedly a goosander.

Grey wagtail

Redstart on the bridge



That was about it really.
Overall it was good fun with the only dampener on the 5 days being the weather (which I blame Steve for), the late breeding of the puffins (which I again blame Steve for) and the unpleasant staff at Gilfach on our last day there (which I can't blame Steve for). I for one certainly won't be returning to Gilfach.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Mid Wales adventures

I've just got back from 5 days in Wales.
As normal we (Steve, MW, TG, AA, SM, PL and yours truely)  used the Elan Valley Hotel as our base and visited the local terrain, Gigrin Farm, Gilfach Nature Reserve and even though it involved a 100 mile drive Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire.
Unusually for a bird tour organised by Steve Ashton the weather was not good, in fact other than our day on Skomer the weather was at best overcast and at worse wet. I'm afraid Steve has lost his mojo.
We also visited Bwlch Nant yr Arian (I won't say who wanted to go threre) which was a near total waste of time because a disease in the trees have resulted in the whole hillside being stripped bare so you have the strange site of a huge forest visitor center in a valley devoid of any trees. Unless they plant mature trees it will not be worth visiting this place in my lifetime (I wonder how the staff motivate themselves with that thought?) though it seems the kite feeding continues.
We departed from Kent on Sunday 25th and normally we would have gone to Gigrin for the kites the first afternoon but the poor weather changed our plans and drove the local hill side and finished up wandering around the locally either in groups or individually. For most people this was in fact pretty productive from a bird watching perspective because we ticked off dipper, wood warbler, pied and spotted fly catcher, redstart, bullfinch as well as the more common species (chiffchaff and willow and garden warbler as well as blackcap). From a photographic perspective it wasn't very rewarding at least for me in that very few pictures were taken - in fact the only ones I kept were of a spotted flycatcher - a species I saw more of this holiday than any of the others in this area. I'm not sure how well the others did with the camera because getting sense out of anyone this trip was pretty difficult. It must be the Welsh air.

Spotted flycatcher

Day 2 (Monday - Bank Holiday)
The 26th  was still overcast but before breakfast we returned to the local hillside where several wood warblers were singing; one singing right by the road. This bird continued to sing all day and every day we were there. It had 3 or 4 perches from which it sang so it was just a matter of setting up and waiting.
The light was not brilliant (1/200 at ISO 400 and f5.6 or so at best) but as I use a tripod nearly all the time if you take enough pictures some will eventually catch the bird when it's not moving and look reasonably sharp.
We saw or heard wood warblers just about everywhere we stopped where there was suitable habitat. Whilst we were about a week earlier than the last visit it seemed that for some of the species the year is running several weeks later.

Wood Warbler

On the walk back to the hotel for breakfast I managed to get a record shot of the pair of bullfinch that lives near our hotel.


After breakfast we went to Gilfach where Martyn and I walked from the bottom up to the visitor center seeing a pair of dippers on the way and getting a couple of very poor shots.


Tripods are no longer allowed around the visitor center so given the number of people around I spent the rest of the morning in the Otter hide taking shots of a male pied flycatcher. The female was around but she was carrying nest material and spent most of the time in the nest boxes - again suggesting this pair were late though one box (with a camera; seen in the visitor center) had a pair where the eggs had just hatched.

Pied Fycatcher (male)

Pied Flycatcher (female)

Around 2.00pm we departed for Gigrin where the afternoon was spent taking red kite shots. To me it seemed that there were more kites than ever at the feeding station but buzzard numbers were well down on previous visits (and rook number greatly increased).
As stated earlier it was still pretty dull and most of my pictures were taken at 1/640 to 1/800th sec with the shutter speed being set manually. However despite the low shutter speed I managed some quite pleasing images....though quite how I'm not sure!

Red Kite

Normally I use spot focus for everything but for this visit I used  the 9 point focus option. With spot I spend a lot of time trying to focus on the face of the bird whereas with the 9 point option I just concentrated on keeping the bird in frame and let the focus system do it's worse; perhaps this enabled me to be more steady when panning etc. Whatever I was pleased with the results especially considering the conditions.