Tag Archives: Avocet

Minsmere wildlife photography – part 2

After an encouraging first “day” at Minsmere ( I tend to be there at the crack of dawn and leaving when most are just arriving) I was looking forward to getting back to try my luck again and the next day the weather was a little more favourable in the evening. Once again the amount of rabbits on every available piece of grassy area really struck me and with a few of the wildlfowers in bloom, made quite an attractive image –

Rabbit Portrait, Minsmere

Rabbit Portrait, Minsmere

I headed back round to the East hide and was rewarded for my patience when a Spotted Redshank, a bird I’ve not photographed before, eventually made it’s way closer after feeding tantalisingly out of reach of a good shot. Even better it decided to sit not too far in front and preen for a few minutes and gave plenty of opportunity for reflection shots whilst doing so. It also had a quick bath.

Spotted Redshank preening, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank preening, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank bathing, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank bathing, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank reflection, Minsmere

Spotted Redshank reflection, Minsmere

As before there was certainly not a shortage of subjects as the scrape especially was a hive of activity. The Little Egrets were again fishing right in front of the hide but just down behind the reeds. Every so often one would come a little further out and allow for some great views. This seems to be my summer for them! I took an image here that was successful in the Bird Watching “Bird Photo of the year” and was runner up for the cover star part of the competition. So far there has only been a small image in the latest (October 2015) Bird Watching magazine. I’m really hoping they will make a bit more of the images that were shortlisted or commended and maybe have more images next month or in an extra pullout. I’d love to see some of the other entries. Anyway – here’s the one from me – I just loved the pose and the display.

Posing Little Egret, Minsmere

Posing Little Egret, Minsmere

Staying with the scrape, and as anyone with an interest in wildlife will know, nature can be harsh. It’s inevitable with so many young birds around that a predator will attempt to grab one, they have young to feed also, it’s just part of the circle of life. Whilst I can’t describe it as “pleasant”, you need to be rather matter of fact about it. As a photographer it of course offers an opportunity to grab some great (if slightly morbid) action shots. I witnessed a few smash and grabs during my week but the one closest that I managed to get the camera on was of a Lesser Black Backed Gull grabbing a Common Tern chick. The Gull was persued in vain by one of the parents and then by the other Gulls in an attempt to steal the prize –

The chase is on - a chick has been taken

The chase is on – a chick has been taken

In pursuit of the prize

In pursuit of the prize

Mid air tussle for a Tern chick

Mid air tussle for a Tern chick

 

There are so many different areas and habitats at Minsmere it’s hard to decided where to go next! I recommend the viewpoint for the Sand Martin nesting bank though. I struggled to get any worthwhile flight shots of these birds, not too easy with a 500mm so I always appreciate the effort when I see a decent shot, however just standing and watching the bustle of the birds as they came to nests to feed the chicks was wonderful.

Sand Martins at nest bank, Minsmere

Sand Martins at nest bank, Minsmere

Recently fledged Sand Martins, Minsmere

Recently fledged Sand Martins, Minsmere

The following day once again saw us up before the sun and quietly stalking across Whin Hill as the sun rose. I really wanted a chance at the Stoats – if you watched Springwatch this year, this area is where they were filming the parents with food, moving kits etc. I don’t know the normal layout for this area but for our week there was still a temporary path across the hill. With shortish grassland and plenty of wildflowers along with lots of rabbits and burrows it looked like a perfect day to catch some action. Things don’t always go as planned though and the first subject that I took some images of was a Muntjac Deer. This isn’t something I see down in Sussex at all so was quite pleased to get not only great views but some decent photos too. As the sun was rising behind us and the tiny amount of breeze was in my face, a small amount of stealth meant I could get frame filling shots.

Muntjac in morning sun, Minsmere

Muntjac in morning sun, Minsmere

Muntjac grooming, Minsmere

Muntjac grooming, Minsmere

Finally the Muntjac must have got an idea I was there and decided to head for the trees –

Muntjac running in morning sun, Minsmere

Muntjac running in morning sun, Minsmere

Finally for this post – just a quick example of how things don’t always go as planned. We walked down to the Island Mere Hide and found 2 people were already ahead of us in the hide. We stopped on the walkway, mainly because Maria wanted to see if she could see “Spineless Si” – those who watched Springwatch will understand as this was where he was filmed. There were a few noises from the reeds closeby, not suprising as there are coots and moorhens aplenty so we didn’t take much notice other than a cursory glance that way. Unless the noisemaker is at the egde it’s impossible to see anyway the reeds are so dense. All of a sudden there was a loud crash and a Bittern flew up just yards away, we were treated to the closest views of a bittern exploding from the reeds you can get, it made us both jump, and although instincts kicked in and I got the camera on it, these birds have a great habit of just showing you their rear end – which is all i got as a photo! So close yet so far….

The lady that was in the hide came out shortly after and said “you must have got some great photos!” to which I had to explain a bird’s backside doesn’t really count. They had known the bird was there but didn’t think to signal to us to move inside.Oops.

Bittern missed shot, Minsmere

Bittern missed shot, Minsmere

Bleh – next time! This place is great for Bittern opportunities and I did have several sightings through the week, just wished I’d know it was there!

More info about my week and where I stayed coming in the next update, hopefully not such a gap between posts this time. Thanks for looking.

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Mammals, Minsmere, Nikon D7200, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Minsmere wildlife photography…

After a week spent watching the amazing seabird spectacle of Bempton Cliffs, we then headed down the coast to Minsmere – another popular reserve that I had not been to previously. Time to rectify that.

Our accomodation was to be a lovely cottage that backed on to the reserve and had a populated Barn Owl box in the back garden. I had my hide with me and was hoping for those elusive close ups of a Barn Owl, preferably with a feed for the chick(s). After a pretty straight forward drive I couldn’t help but quickly unload the car and walk to the reserve (without my gear) just to get a feel for the layout. It was soon clear that although the reserve is technically within walking distance, it’s actually quite a way and when carrying 2 stone of kit it’s going to be too far to walk each day. No problem, one of the other things I like about RSPB reserves is that you can get in at any time even if the visitor centre was closed, and Minsmere is no exception.

The reserve is some size and has lots of different environments from reedbeds, woodland, scrapes, heathland and beach. I just knew this was going to be a successful week.

Heading back to the cottage and the light was already starting to drop, a quick look out of the bedroom window revealed the Barn Owl coming in with the first feed of the evening. Lovely views!

A quick scan of the weather showed that despite it being June, and alledgedly summer, the very next morning looked like the only good sunrise to be had for the forseeable future. Argh! Plans were made for a very early start.

At this time of the year the alarm has to be really early to catch that sunrise and so I was up and on my way for 4.30am and after the short drive was unsurprisingly the first person to arrive. I had decided that I would head for the East Hide so that the rising sun would be behind me and would bathe the scrape in lovely golden light. Once you start walking through the reserve the thing that really struck me is just how tame the rabbits are. Great place for kids as you are guaranteed to see wildlife of some kind.

My first encounter was to be after heading across the North Wall and going through the gate to the beach / dunes. As I had the sun rising behind me and there was barely a breath of wind, when I spotted a Red Deer hind feeding in the long grass on the bank, she had no idea I was there. I slowly levelled the camera and let her approach…

 

 

 

Red Deer hind feeding

Red Deer hind feeding

 

I’ve been told that the deer here can be quite accommodating but not having any experience in this area I was being careful – no sudden movements or noises. The shutter noise barely received a glance.

Red Deer hind chewing

Red Deer hind chewing

This hind really had no idea I was even there and was getting closer and closer. It’s a perfect start to have a willing subject like this so I made the most of it and took plenty of images. Eventually she was so close I could only fit her head into the frame and she finally realised that “something” was there ahead of her but still couldn’t work me out. Alot of sniffing and staring ensued –

Red Deer hind alert to possible danger

Red Deer hind alert to possible danger

Finally, after a fantastic experience, her waryness got the better of her and she skipped over the top of the sea wall, stopping for once glance back as she went.

Carrying on towards the East hide, there were swallows and Sand Martins flitting over the sand and the air was alive with birdsong. Mornings like this are a tonic for the hassles of everyday life, I could happily lose myself in this moment for hours an hours (and frequently do!). I spotted a recently fledged family of Cetti’s Warblers in the scrub just outside the hide but was not able to get a single image. Shame but lovely to see.

The East hide (like many on this site) are in two storeys. I chose to sit low down to get the best angle and was greeted by a scrape full of life. I would class my home patch as Rye Harbour in Sussex and, although there are now a healthy population of Avocets at breeding time, they do seem well spread out. Not so here at Minsmere, they had gathered into a large feeding flock and were in a sifting frenzy –

Flock of feeding avocets

Flock of feeding avocets

Avocets are a bird you just can’t help point a camera at. They are elegant yet feisty and full of character and always give something of interest to photograph.

Feeding Avocet

Feeding Avocet

Avocet in flight

Avocet in flight

Even just a side shot with that fantastic beak is worth photographing!

Avocet side portrait

Avocet side portrait

But where they really excel is protecting their young. They won’t tolerate ANYTHING near them and will vigorously defend against all comers regardless of size.

Avocet parent attacking a Little Egret

Avocet parent attacking a Little Egret

Trespassers will NOT be tolerated

Trespassers will NOT be tolerated

It’s an interesting situation that two birds that have struggled greatly in the past are now cramping each other’s style. Great to see them both thriving.

It’s always worth keeping an eye out for other activity too as birds are always coming and going and often it’s easy to miss opoortunities by not being prepared. This fly past from a Barnacle Goose was a good example. I watched it coming from some distance and grabbed some shots as it dropped down over the edge of the reedbed and descended onto the scrape at a distance. This isn’t a bird I often see on my home patches.

Barnacle Goose flying in

Barnacle Goose flying in

Redshank aren’t scare by any means but getting a flight shot is normally quite hard – this time of year (juneish) when they have young they will fly and alarm call so listen out for the advance warning.

Redshank in flight

Redshank in flight

Redshank alarm call

Redshank alarm call

For now I’ll leave you with a closeup of a Little Egret, a bird I’ll be returning to in the next update, along with Spotted Redshank, Bearded Tits, House and Sand Martins and a close but no cigar shot of a Bittern encounter. I’ll also let you know how the Barn Owl opportunities were.

Little Egret portrait

Little Egret portrait

Hope you liked. Thanks for looking.

 

Posted in Birds, Mammals, Minsmere, Nikon D7200, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Norfolk in June

Considering I live on the south coast and Norfolk is around a 4 hour drive it’s surprising I haven’t visited before now. Mid June of 2014 saw this finally addressed as we loaded up the car and headed for our accomodation just outside of Cromer in a quiet countryside location. I was hoping to get images of Barn Owl and Hares from where we stayed but It didn’t quite turn out that way. The Barn Owl hadn’t been seen in weeks at the location and the Hares, although I did see them inside the property grounds, quickly crossed the open short grass in favour of anywhere that had some cover. I did give it a go, sitting out in the hide, but the best I managed was a few images of the local pheasants.

Once again we were really lucky with the weather. It’s easy to forget just how early it gets light at this time of the year and as always I like to be up before sunrise and in place with the camera to get the best light. Luckily my wife is understanding and happy to join me on the early starts.

Another small faux pas I made with the accomodation is that it was a little further from some of the sites on my wishlist than I realised and resulted in a fair amount of driving. Definitely a lesson learned here! At 4am though that’s a pleasure and wildlife is everywhere. If you get off the main roads and cut across between the fields it’s not unusual to have half a dozen hare running up the road before you, along with rabbits, lots of birds including Barn Owls and also Muntjac and Roe Deer. Virtually every early morning start gave excellent views before we had even arrived at our venue.

Our first port of call was RSPB Titchwell Marsh. I’d heard good things about this location and was keen to see for myself. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. You can access the site before sunrise (visiting centre opens later), there’s plenty of parking and the facilities are good. Our first foray onto the reserve took us up the western side of the reserve along a path that seperates the reserve from the saltmarsh. Great elevated views from the comfortable path with the possibility of seeing all the reedbed / saltmarsh and scrape specialists.

My main photographic target this morning was to be the Avocets. I do see them at Rye but really close views are not that common so good images are hard to come by. The same cannot be said for this location. Parrinder hide (south) was fantastic. First time I’ve been in such a “modern” hide and the field of view from the massive open windows was excellent!

Posing Avocet at Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

Posing Avocet at Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

The birds were happily feeding in the lagoon in front of the hide, at times they were too close to fit into the frame! Now that’s close…

Wading Avocet, Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

Wading Avocet, Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

Avocet feeding at Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

Avocet feeding at Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

I’m never going to complain about good weather but it has to be said that correct exposure for black and white birds in the sun is a bit of a nightmare. Added to this is the orientation of the hide in relation to the rising sun which was causing heavy shadows which meant picking your shots carefully to avoid the large contrasts. Certainly something to be considered for my next visit, perhaps a clouded day might make things easier.

With the birds feeding right in front of the hide you’d think it couldn’t get much better. There were clear territories for breeding pairs on the islands in the scrape and the pair in front of the hide had four healthy chicks running around. This did mean that the parents were extremely vigilant and were in the air and attacking anything that moved from Pied Wagtails to Shelduck.

Avocet attacking Lapwing

Avocet attacking Lapwing

Avocet attacking Shelduck

Avocet attacking Shelduck

Avocet chick in the water

Avocet chick in the water

Avocet chick feeding

Avocet chick feeding

A fantastic experience being able to watch these amazing birds from so close.

Although this was our first day, a walk around the reserve confirmed that I would definitely need to come back later in the week. The mix of woodland, reedbed, marsh, salt marsh and both salt and fresh water means there is an incredible amount of life here. I did also see Barn Owls (photos for another day) Bearded Tits and Spoonbills on the reserve along with all the usual suspects. The two things I didn’t manage to glimpse were Water Voles and Chinese Water Deer. Next time then!

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A day of reflection at Elmley Marshes

With a forecast of almost no wind and a bright sunny day I just knew I had to get out with the camera. Elmley was my choice of venue. It’s around a 80 minute drive from where I am and as, in my opinion, the entrance track as the sun is rising is one of the highlights of the reserve in my opinion, it meant a really early start.

As I turned from the road and started down the access track I could already see a large flock of birds wheeling around. A good number of starlings were gathering on the fields to feed along with a decent sized flock of curlew.Being such a still day inevitably meant fog. Although a little jumpy, I took a few shots of the curlew feeding in the field.

Curlew feeding in the fog

With a lot of water in the fields from the recent deluges we have had, my eye was naturally drawn to the reflections. It’s rare to have such a calm surface to the water and as even the lightest ripple can make a decent reflection difficult, I tried to make the most of the situation.Moving the car very slowly forward I changed the angle slightly so that I could include more birds. I was hoping they would go closer to the waters edge but before I could manage many more shots a passing Marsh Harrier put them to flight and I had to watch them wheeling away through the fog and landing further out.

 

Curlew reflection at Elmley Marshes

A lovely way to start the day, the ethereal fog and their haunting calls.

The sun soon burned the fog away and as I crept further along the track there were many more opportunities to continue with the reflection theme……

Lapwing reflection, Elmley Marshes

Lapwing reflection, Elmley Marshes

Redshank reflection, Elmley Marshes

Redshank reflection, Elmley Marshes

And my personal favourite..

Redshank calling, Elmley Marshes

Redhank calling, Elmley Marshes

Whilst driving slowly along the access track, as long as you take it really slowly, it’s possible to get incredibly close shots of some of the birds, especially the waders. They don’t see the car as a threat and your shape is well hidden so if there are no sudden movements they will allow views like this –

Lapwing closeup

Lapwing closeup

After parking up at the farm I started the walk to the main part of the reserve. The numbers of birds here really is quite a spectacle and you realise just how many wildfowl are in the fields and pools when a raptor flies through and scares them. The bulk of the birds in this image are Widgeon and was just a small part of an enormous flock that my 500mm didn’t really do justice to.

Wildfowl, Elmley Marshes

Wildfowl, Elmley Marshes

One of the birds I really hoped to get some shots of was the Avocet. They breed here and although a little early for any serious courtship action I hoped to get some good views as they fed in front of the hides. The views I certainly had but not close. The water level was very high which meant that the majority of the birds that did choose to rest near the hides were actually a little way off. A couple of shots I did manage and will have to return again in a few months to improve on.

Avocet in flight

Avocet in flight

Coming in to land

Coming in to land

Another plan I had was to stay into the afternoon and, as high tide pushed the birds that were feeding in the Swale into the reserve, I could catch them flying in as flocks. I hadn’t really thought this through as the amount of laying water across the fields meant that the birds had a massive choice where to land and the majority didn’t come close enough for a photo (lesson learnt!). These Ringed Plover did oblige though.

Ringed Plover in flight

Inevitably action slows down a little during the middle of the day but my eye was drawn towards a distant flock of starlings (a murmuration) that were whirling in the sky. Their fast and urgent movements suggested their was more going on that met the eye. I’m glad I did. This was a distant photo (500mm + a 1.4 converter) and is a Peregrine Falcon in hunting mode as it hurtled into the flock….

Peregrine attacking starlings

Peregrine attacking starlings

Peregrine among the starlings

Peregrine among the starlings

Peregrine attack

Peregrine attack

Not a successful hunt this time.

Another bird I had really hoped to see and photograph was the Short Eared Owl, regularly seen at Elmley. Although this owl can be seen at any time during the day, late afternoon is often the best time, especially in the golden light of a dropping sun. I have to send a thanks to Gary Stamp whom I met on the day and chatted to for a while. After a no show from the owl and parting company he appeared again a little later to let me know that the owl was out and about and to keep my eyes peeled. Sure enough the location I waited in was good. I’d love to say that I took some stunning images of the bird hunting across the reeds in the stunning evening light but unfortunately this time it wasn’t to be. Some reasonable views but no good photos still made the wait worthwhile and a quick showing from the local Barn Owl as the light dropped made it doubly so.

 

 

 

 

 

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