Tag Archives: birds

Loch Fleet / Coul Links, stunning coastline…under threat

When we moved up here the very first place we visited was the Loch Fleet reserve. Located on the east coast of Sutherland in the Northern Highlands, it’s a stunning area of coastline where the tidal Loch Fleet meets the sea. The main tidal channel was clearly going to be somewhere I knew I would be spending some time as, within minutes of walking on the beach I was seeing Red Breasted Mergansers, Goldeneye and lots of Eider Ducks. There were inquisitive seals popping up in the water and checking us out and I even managed to spot an otter fishing in the channel. A short walk produced flocks of waders whirling across the water.

What a stunning place.

Loch Fleet

Loch Fleet

As a photographer, one thing I missed in the locations I visited in the South East of England was the ability to sit or lay quietly at the water’s edge to try and get good shots of coastal birds. Not a problem here, especially early morning in the winter. I am still refining my technique to see just how approachable (or not) various species are. Mostly the birds behave as expected – they see a human shape from several hundred yards and are already starting to head away from you. So I can’t explain why, when friends came to visit with a dog, when the dog was splashing around in the water after weed we were throwing, a pair of Eider seemed drawn to it and came really close…..bizarre!

Eiders are our heavist duck and can be found all year round. The male being a lovely black and white with an attractive green/yellow collar and beak. The female is brown and black but look closely and there is an intricate pattern to be found, both are lovely looking birds. To endear them even more they have a rather comical “ooooh” call which always gets a smile. They are also fairly social so it’s not unusual to see large groups or rafts of them as they feed together. They are diving ducks and will dive down to the sea bed to collect molluscs and crustaceans. Getting close to them while they are in the water is proving quite difficult, but by contrast, when they are flying they will happily fly really close to you as long as you are standing still.

Eider Duck (Male) - Loch Fleet

Eider Duck (Male) – Loch Fleet

Female Eider Duck in flight, Loch Fleet

Female Eider Duck in flight, Loch Fleet

I find these birds quite difficult to get really good flight shots of due to them often flying in pairs or groups so it’s harder to get all subjects in focus or to isolate a single bird such as this –

Male Eider Duck taking off, Loch Fleet

Male Eider Duck taking off, Loch Fleet

Occasionally they do line up well and fly in front the mountains in the distance which gives some lovely background colour –

Male Eiders in flight

Male Eiders in flight

I spent some time yesterday with the juveniles that were fishing close in, diving down looking for crabs. I had to lay prone on the stony beach, far from comfortable but they at least just treat me like a rock and ignore me. They stayed mostly distant but at a couple of points came almost too close to focus on. It’s a shame they didnt catch any crab at that point! Also a shame it wasn’t a lovely male, maybe next time.

Eider Portrait (juvenile)

Eider Portrait (juvenile)

Once they do catch a crab they seem to grasp it by a leg and shake it until the leg comes off, rinse and repeat. When the leg comes off they have to be careful not to lose it to a rival as they will happily try for an easy meal.

Here’s one that has undergone that treatment and is ready to eat –

Eider with crab

Eider with crab

Another fantastic bird that is abundant here is the Red Breasted Merganser. I’m finding them hard to get close to but they do fly past often. In this image the female leads with the male behind –

Red Breasted Mergansers in flight

Red Breasted Mergansers in flight

Red Breasted Merganser (male)

Red Breasted Merganser (male)

I’ll be spending some time trying to get images of them fishing, I know where to go, just need the right tides coinciding with reasonable weather and some time off work.

Winter is fast approaching and also brings a few migrants to the area. I’ve only spent one here so far and had a chance to photograph a couple of species I’ve not managed to get in front of the camera before. The first is the Goldeneye. Are you seeing the “diving duck theme” yet? I said the first two I mentioned were hard to get close to, the Goldeneye for me so far is by far the hardest. They appear to have a scare area of five hundred yards so once again the only way to be close is to hide somewhere and let them come to you. I’ve only once been lucky enough for a good look at these stunning subjects. I’ve not seen any yet this year but will most definitely be trying to get some shots of them diving and feeding.

Goldeneye (male)

Goldeneye (male)

The other winter visitor (last year), and moving away from ducks, was the pair of Shore Larks (also known as Horned Larks). Small and attractive looking birds that were feeding along the pebbles and low tide areas. They were really difficult to find initially (and thanks to the birders that pointed us in the right direction) and although known to be quite accommodating, were actually a little flighty. I went for the “i’m a seal” option and crawled on my belly to get close to their general area, then waited for them to come my way. This worked once but, just as they were reaching a good distance to get images (they are small so they do need to be quite close), another person decided the best way to approach them was to just try and walk right up. I know I can be a bit strange sometimes but after watching me crawl 50 yards on my stomach did they really think I was doing that for fun? Seriously wonder sometimes. Still – lovely birds (see below) and I hope they may return again this year.

Shore (Horned) Larks

Shore (Horned) Larks

The winter will also bring back flocks of waders, amazing to watch as the tide pushes them off their roost and they wheel in the sunlight –

Dunlin Flock

Dunlin Flock

As you walk along the shore here you’ll see the heads of inquistive seals popping up and checking you out. There is a haul out further inland on the sandbanks nearby and the laybys on the road afford decent views at low water. I have, so far, had one magical moment with a common seal. Whilst out at the mouth of the loch, I noticed a seal had hauled out on the beach behind me, the first time i’ve witnessed this here. I was hoping to get an image or two but with an approaching dog walker coming right towards it, and past me, I expected the seal to hurry back into the water. The dog owner was a regular here and said she hadn’t seen them do that in a long time. Sure enough the seal did head back into the water well before the dog came close. No drama there but I did expect that to be the end of the encounter, but no. A few minutes later there it was again. My wife and I backed up the beach and inched along the dunes at a respectable distance. I then did my much used “seal impression” and was on my knees then belly to slowly move a little closer.

The seal was very comfortable and decided to just have a lazy nap, with one eye half open, just 40 feet or so away. I was using my larger lens so was treated to a wonderful hour with this animal that must be amongst the masters of relaxing.

Common Seal doing the "banana"

Common Seal doing the “banana”

Sleepy Common Seal

Sleepy Common Seal

Dreaming of fish

Dreaming of fish

Common Seal Yawn, it's a hard life!

Common Seal Yawn, it’s a hard life!

This was one of those moments that will stay with me for a long time, such a priviledge. My seal impression must work then! I crawled in reverse back up the beach then slowly stood and left it to enjoy it’s nap.

I hope my images go a fraction of the way to showing you what a stunning place this is. Packed with wildlife, it’s a mix of pristine environments that deserves to be left for the wildlife. This is why I’m astounded that planning permission for a golf course (at Coul Links a short stroll down the beach and pretty much on top of this location) – has even gotten off the ground. Of all the places to choose, and believe me the whole area is quite beautiful, why would someone decide to try and build it on a triple protected (Ramsar Site, SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and International Special Protected Area) and have the audacity to say they would “improve it”.

I understand the need for local jobs,commerce and to bring money in but why choose here?

My understanding is that the Highland Council went ahead with approval despite being advised to reject it by their planners. The decision has now been “called in” for review by the Scottish Government. I seriously hope they send the right message here. To even be allowed to consider this site given the level of protection really makes me think that the deeper the pockets of the planner (a billionaire american no less. Remember Trump’s similar promises?), the shallower the law.

There are many organisations fighting this proposal including The RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Buglife

These bodies have a wealth of information about why they are opposed to the development which, if you wish to learn more, I urge you to have a look at, they can explain it much better than I in a few short words here. Apologies for ending on a sour note but there is still hope for this site. If we can’t fight when a triple protected site of environmental importance is under threat then when can we?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in D500, Loch Fleet, Scotland Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Springing into 2017

Half way through April and spring is well and truly underway. I guess the best way to start this post is with the most obvious sign of spring from the garden and one that many people probably take for granted – a frog chorus. Now frogs are hardly rare but you would be forgiven for thinking that in my garden. Despite having two reasonably sized wildlife ponds, it has been the newts that rule the water (newts eat frogspawn and vice versa)….maybe that’s all about to change?

After finding quite a few adult frogs at night and hearing them sing from our bedroom window, I knew that maybe this year would be a little different. My hopes were realised when one morning on my way to feed the birds I saw the first frog spawn of the year, and the first time in abundance for my pond(s).

Frogspawn clump

Frogspawn clump

Over the next couple of weeks there was a steady addition of spawn, the result being a large semi-floating mass with what must number into the thousands of eggs.

I’ve not had many chances to photograph Common Frogs so firstly out came the macro lens and my waterproof mat and I spent a session or two laid out at the side of the pond –

Common Frog close up

Common Frog close up

Common Frog Reflection

Common Frog Reflection

Despite some reasonable success they were still quite shy. What about trying to photograph them at night I wondered? A couple of remotely triggered flash units placed at 45 degress from each side and I was ready to go. This time the frogs were amazingly approachable with a little care and sat nicely for their portraits –

Smiley frog portrait

Smiley frog portrait

Floating in the dark

Floating in the dark

Common Frog reflected at night

Common Frog reflected at night

Whenever walking the garden at night around this time of year I have to be really careful of the travelling newts as they move around on damp nights –

Newt crossing lawn at night

Newt crossing lawn at night

It’s now a few weeks since the spawn was laid and my pond (the bulk was laid into a single pond) is now a writhing mass of life – everywhere you look there is a tadpole darting about, I could watch it for hours!

When the spawn first hatches the tadpoles tend to stay together and eat the rest of the jelly from the eggs, I tried to get a few images of this but any image taken into water is really difficult. Hopefully these convey what I was seeing –

Mass of tadpoles

Mass of tadpoles

Finally for the frog theme, i’m trying out a little aquarium photography. Although it’s a reasonable start, I’ll need to work out how to clear the water as the following image shows (oh and notice the hoglice in the bottom right photobombing!)

Tadpole underwater shot

Tadpole underwater shot

Bird wise the garden has been quite busy with the smaller birds being most active it seems. This Goldcrest was a welcome visitor and has been seen around regularly and not alone. Hopefully they will be nesting nearby –

Goldcrest side portrait

Goldcrest side portrait

Another lovely little bird that is definitely nesting nearby is the Long Tailed Tit. They have been picking up tiny bits from my fat feeders before zipping around finding spiders webs with which to construct their nest –

Long Tailed Tit gathering nesting material

Long Tailed Tit gathering nesting material

Long Tailed Tit with moss

Long Tailed Tit with moss

Not the best images but something I don’t often see so worth inclusion here.

They even have enough energy to manage a few chin-ups…

Long Tailed Tit chin up

Long Tailed Tit chin up

Moving away from the garden, I was treated to my first singing Sedge Warbler at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve at the beginning of April. This is a welcome sound as it heralds the reedbeds coming alive with warblers for the next few months. A small amount of time stood still and the bird was happily belting out his song close enough for some lovely portraits.

Sedge Warbler portrait

Sedge Warbler portrait

Singing Sedge Warbler

Singing Sedge Warbler

Finally, I’ve been giving access to private farmland, something I’ve been longing for to get some new space where it’s less likely i’ll be disturbed. It’s noticeable that all the wildlife I’ve spotted so far is really shy so it’ll be fun trying to get some good images.

One bird there is no shortage of is the Pheasant – this shot was early morning, low light and high ISO so fairly pleased with how it came out –

Pheasant in flight

Pheasant in flight

I also managed to find a pair of Treecreepers making a nest in some rotted wood. I’ll be keeping an eye on them over the coming weeks. I’d love to see the youngsters fledge into a huddle! –

Treecreeper with nesting material

Treecreeper with nesting material

That’s it for this instalment. Hope you enjoyed the images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Garden, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

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 , , , , , , , , |