Tag Archives: RX Wildlife

Chilly day at Rye Harbour

It’s Tuesday early evening and I’ve just realised that tomorrow is going to be a perfect day for photography. A quick check on the tide tables and weather websites and a phone call to the boss and I’m set for an early start (thanks boss!)

I have a plan but I’m always in two minds about what to do. I’ve decided to start at the harbour end as the sun rises, mainly to try for wildfowl and the kingfishers, then off to Pett Pools for lunchtime to see if the Glossy Ibis is still about and finally back to Rye for Castle Water hide and try at the Barn Owl as the sun drops.

It’s a freezing morning – the second in a row at about -4 degrees. Even with my 2 pairs of gloves (one thin pair so I can still operate the camera) my hands are frozen as I walk towards the hide. Theres a bit of a commotion on the other side of the reserve and I can see a huge flock of plovers as they wheel in the glowing pre-dawn sky. This image is a small part of the flock. There must have been several thousand birds in the sky.

Golden Plover flock at dawn

Golden Plover flock at dawn

Dawn flock

Dawn flock

 

I can see that large areas of water have frozen over which may make for some interesting images. Sure enough, as I slowly peep through the hide window as I open it I can see a large amount of wildfowl right in front of the hide. A good start! The birds have been concentrated into the left side of the pool due to a sheet of ice covering the right half. There are hundreds of Widgeon, their whistling calls an integral part of the winter soundscape. They are joined by Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Coots, Little Grebes and a few geese, the most notable being a Brent goose that’s resting close by.

The birds are moving in and out of the area close to the hide and it’s actually the Gadwall that present the best chances for images.

 

Gadwall at sunrise

Gadwall at sunrise

Gadwall head on

Gadwall head on

Many of the other ducks just seemed to be glad the night was over and were warming up in the dawn sun…

Widgeon at dawn on frosty morning

Widgeon at dawn on frosty morning

Mallard takeoff

Mallard takeoff

To give you an idea of the view outside the hide and the numbers of birds I took a couple of images….

Wildfowl at Rye

Wildfowl at Rye

Wildfowl at Rye taken with wider view

Wildfowl at Rye taken with wider view

As with my last visit there were good numbers of Little Grebe amongst the other birds and again showing their skill at catching fish –

Little Grebe with fish

Little Grebe with fish

So how did I get on with the Kingfishers? When I arrived the perches in front of the hide were covered in frost and looking perfect. I just needed the bird to turn up before the sun melted it. It did turn up….and sat there for all of 2 seconds before zipping off down towards the cottage. I think the number of ducks around the perches put it off but …I’ll never know.

What I did see over on the lake next to the narrow pit path was a pair of kingfishers zipping back and forth. They were a long way off and I couldn’t quite see what they were up to. I took a couple of shots just to see when I got home and I believe they were two males having some kind of dispute. They got into a little bit of a spat so it may have been a territorial thing. This next image shows that they were getting aggressive – it’s a poor image and a huge crop but I thought it of interest…

Kingfisher Fight (large crop)

Kingfisher Fight (large crop)

A quick check out from the other hide showed it was quite quiet (within lens range) apart from a small group of roosting Lapwing. Beautfiul birds with a very distinctive call.

Lapwings on ice

Lapwings on ice

Having checked the tides I knew that high tide had been around 6am and that the water would be dropping enough that there may be some waders feeding over near the harbour mouth. As it was mid week I thought I’d give this a try – at weekends and later in the day it’s just too busy and these days it seems a high percentage of people have their dogs running all over the place so waiting for waders to come to you is just an exercise in frustration. It’s the main reason you don’t find me at the harbour end very often.

That said, there were quite a few Turnstones, Redshank, Ringed Plover and the odd feeding Oystercatcher to try and photograph. They didn’t seem bothered by the huge lorries that were back and forth as part of the sea defence works so I walked close to the wall on the channel side, found a dry flat rock, sat down and wrapped the bag hide around the tripod to hide my shape. This is a tip that pays dividends. Not being seen is half the battle in getting decent images and just being behind a non descript shape and hiding the human form can mean you are ignored by the birds.

It took a while but eventually a few came close enough to photograph –

Redshank looking for food

Redshank looking for food

Oystercatcher pulling worm

Oystercatcher pulling worm

Oystercatcher calling

Oystercatcher calling

There were also a small flock of Ringed Plover slowly making their way towards me as they picked tidbits from the weed and sand. I had the camera trained on them and was about 2 minutes away from them being close enough to start taking images when one of the workmen above slammed his car boot shut – every bird gone. Arrrrggggggggggh!. Not his fault, doubt he even had a clue I was even there but frustrating none the less. What I would give for places to go where other people can’t spook the birds. Oh well time to move.

I stuck to my plan and headed down to Pett Pools to see if the long staying Glossy Ibis was there. Unfortunately it was really quiet so I took the opportunity to just rest and have some lunch for 20 minutes. A week or so ago I did head there with my friend Mali and had some ok views of the bird. Not as good as he had achieved on some visits before but there was something in common – total idiots driving past and giving loud blasts on their car horns. Another example of the selfishness that makes my blood boil. No reason to do that other than bloody mindedness. Maybe I’ll get a chance to stand in front of their view when they are trying to watch their team in the FA cup final. I’m sure they would find that funny. What was refreshing though was meeting two families that were also looking for the bird, really pleasant people with a genuine interest for wildlife. Helped to restore my faith in humanity a little bit.

Part 3 of the plan was to head back out to Castle Water. The walk out wasn’t very productive for images although there were notable numbers of geese feeding in the sheep fields along the way. I reached the hide and very slowly opened the door…..only to find that someone had left every single window open and the birds saw a large flash of light from the sun behind suddenly light everything up….cue hundreds of birds that were right outside the hide scarpering across the water. Thanks…

A large area of the water was frozen (to the right) and again large numbers of widgeon and teal made up the bulk of the birds. Plenty of movement but, as is often with this hide, they tend to fly just a little too far away from the hide for decent flight shots. Some of the coots were having a few issues with the ice though..

Skating Coot

Skating Coot

I have to say that following the work that’s been done to improve the landscaping out from this hide it certainly feels like it’s going to be an even greater place for images / birdwatching. There are kingfisher perches quite close (no views this day but it did visit last time) and with the water being alot closer, the birds will come in that little bit more (if not disturbed!) which may offer some decent chances. Really appreciate the efforts of the Sussex Wildlife Trust to make the reserve the best it can be.

One bird you can pretty much guarantee to show up at some point is the Marsh Harrier and sure enough the scattering of birds was the telltale sign that one was incoming….

Wildfowl flock takes flight as a Marsh Harrier approaches

Wildfowl flock takes flight as a Marsh Harrier approaches

These are mainly Teal with the odd Mallard and Gadwall. What I did notice when processing the image was the Tufted Duck at the bottom left of the image. It occured to me that of course they tend not to fly away when an aerial predator approaches as they are a diving duck – they can just dip under the water!

Marsh Harrier on the hunt

Marsh Harrier on the hunt

Marsh Harriers are notoriously difficult to get good images of. They have such keen eyesight that the slightest movement will have them veering away so unless you are hidden your chances of getting a “keeper” photograph are slim. Even the hide is sometimes not enough as they seem to spot you long before they are in range for a good shot. When you do get a good opportunity you’ll want to try and make the most of it…..which is exactly what i didn’t do this time. When the bird came close and veered a little I managed to clip the wings…..even with lots of practice I still don’t get it right everytime, I guess that’s part of the attraction, you just never know if it’s going to be your day!. This is the “close but no cigar” shot. I know some may look at this and think “what’s wrong with that?” but I can’t help see the missed chance….next time!-

Marsh Harrier in flight

Marsh Harrier in flight

Another bird I hoped to see but wasn’t sure I would was the Water Rail. A secretive and skulking bird, often the only views will be as it dashes between the reeds. Due to area still being a bit bare out front I didn’t think they would be using it. A movement from the corner of my eye alerted me to a rail dashing from the gorse (first time i’ve seen that) into the largest clump of reeds. Being an incredibly still day with not even a breath of wind, I expected to see the reeds moving to give away the birds location and was surprised that it didn’t move a single stem and suddenly appeared at the edge and did a quick half flight into the next clump. This time I had a good idea where it would exit so trained the lens ready…

Water Rail amongst reeds

Water Rail amongst reeds

Water Rail dashing through reeds

Water Rail dashing through reeds

One final bird worth a mention before I move away from the hide is the Pintail Duck, a smart looking bird that decided to have a bit of a wash out from the hide….

Pintail washing

Pintail washing

The sun is finally starting to drop and I need to get in place for a chance to see the Barn Owl. I never get tired of photographing these amazing birds, there’s something about the way they fly, the way they just seem to appear and glide silently across the fields which makes every encounter quite special.

While waiting I couldn’t help grabbing a shot of the reeds glowing gold –

Reedbed at sunset

Reedbed at sunset

…and as I turn back to the field the owl has suddenly appeared. Unbelievable! once more I have no idea which direction it arrived from. Perfect light and a fantastic bird made for some lovely images –

Barn Owl at sunset

Barn Owl at sunset

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl incoming!

Barn Owl incoming!

Barn Owl eye contact

Barn Owl eye contact

Whilst Barn Owls can sometimes be accommodating, to get these shots I’m hidden under my bag hide, sat low to hide my shape. The Owl has heard the shutter in the lower shots and is glancing over to see what the noise is. It’s a fraction of a second before it continues that beautiful ghostly flight as it quarters the field.

The owl then disappeared  – after waiting some time I looked out to scan the area but there was no further sign. Another chance to grab the dying sun in the reeds –

As the sun sets

As the sun sets

There was to be one final surprise. I did get a far glimpse of the owl again so back under the hide I went. This time I didn’t take any images as it flew close, I waited, barely daring to breath as it got closer and closer then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it spin mid air and come down to land. Moving so slowly it was barely visible I looked above the lens and could see the owl perched just 30 yards away. I brought the lens round so so slowly while I muttered “please don’t fly, please don’t fly” under my breath. The reward was a shot I’ve been after for years. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Apologies this post has been so long, I feel I’ve hardly had a chance to get out and a decent update was well overdue. Hope you enjoyed….

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl in perfect pose

Barn Owl in perfect pose

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Nikon D7200, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A Tale of two Foxes

Regular readers of my blog will know that my suburban garden is as much a wildlife refuge as I can make it. Deep hedges, areas of long grass and weeds for cover and insects (well that’s what I tell the wife anyway), 2 ponds and birdfeeds spread around. I also put out food for my crepuscular and noctural visitors in the form of peanuts and odd scraps. I make no apology for this, it gives the animals a small boost to start the night and allows me to watch and share in their adventures and, if lucky, a few photographs to remember those moments.

Despite the ridiculous press that urban / suburban foxes sometimes receive (I’m not saying incidents don’t happen but put it in perspective against dog attacks and the mess some of the owners leave) I have always found the local foxes to be very wary indeed. In fact my visiting badgers were much happier to ignore me and carry on than the foxes were.

Last year that somewhat changed when, on rising for an early photo session start, I saw a trio of bouncy fox cubs rolling around the garden at 4.30 am. My original blog is HERE. At the end of the article you can see the proud mum and maybe notice that white spot just visible on her front left leg. From those 3 cubs I know that one certainly didn’t survive. This year I’ve found that one of the females definitely survived.

The mum is still a regular visitor and I grabbed a snap back on the 21st March. Again see the white spot on her leg.

Female fox that visits me most nights

Female fox that visits me most nights

This vixen visits every night and it was clear to see she had young somewhere as her teats were clearly visible –

Fox side portrait showing teats

Fox side portrait showing teats

I guess I’m a sucker for a chance at more photos of cubs and made sure she had something to take them every evening. Soon she was joined by one of last year’s females and again, it was VERY obvious that there are young to feed very close by –

Young red Fox vixen showing teats

Young Red Fox vixen showing teats

It’s been a pleasure watching these two in the evenings. They don’t often show up at the same time and I’m wondering if they were raising the same family. I’m trying to find out if the daughter could possibly come into milk to support a litter that her mother gave birth to. They both visit, collect food (sometimes stopping to eat themselves) and head off in the same direction each time. I have an inkling where they may be denned but as these are all mature gardens it’s difficult to know for sure. One thing that is clear, my immediate neighbour who has no time or care at all for wildlife has completely stripped his garden of all cover and the majority of the mature trees. Where I’m guessing the cubs played last year is now a no go area with no cover at all. I guess some people just want a tidy but lifeless garden. Shame.

The two girls have been busy back and forth each eveing and I’ve been fortunate to be able to try and get photos that normally would be out of the question. They are not bothered by the cameras at all and are happy for me to be rolling around on my conservatory floor while I attempt to get portraits or shots of them eating, drinking, scratching and..well…anything of interest….

Red Fox yawning

Red Fox yawning

 

Red Fox portrait closeup

Red Fox portrait closeup

The young vixen (one year old) even comes and has a look to see where her food is. I often find her sitting on the back doorstep or curled up around 10 feet away. I should point out that i do NOT and WILL NOT hand feed even though she probably could be encouraged. I want to give her an extra chance but I don’t want her to get into trouble by approaching other humans, especially those that believe foxes are somehow a threat to them. When I touch the door handle she will back off to a sensible distance….

Red Fox vixen watching me through the door

Red Fox vixen watching me through the door

So despite seeing last year’s cubs on April 28th, as I write this I have yet to see hide nor hair of this years young. I have a sneaky suspicion they are still around as food is still being taken in the right direction but both vixens are not showing much in the way of milk so I’m guessing they are weaned (at around 6 weeks old). However, not all has been happy in the fox camp. Both vixens suddenly developed limps as did a dog fox that I occasionally see. Very weird. My suspicious mind was wondering if some of my less wildlife friendly neighbours has caused this but I honestly can’t tell. I’m now thinking that maybe they have had a falling out with the badgers as the older vixen disappeared for a week to 10 days and when she re-appeared she had clearly been in a serious fight. She has lost her good looks with a serious injury above her left eye which is affecting her jaw also. She is lucky to have not lost the eye. I’m not going to post any images of this as it looks quite distressing. The good news is that she is otherwise fit and healthy, still has vision in both eyes and is capable of feeding herself and her offspring.

At the same time, the younger vixen (who we refer to as “daughter”) is not recovering. She has a really sore front paw which, when I took some photographs of it, I can see is infected. I’ll be off to the vets this week to see If I can get anything for her as it’s now been weeks with this issue.

For now I’ll leave you with a couple of images of them at their best. Fingers crossed that the cubs will be coming to our little refuge sometime soon.

Red Fox vixen sniffing the spring evening air

Red Fox vixen sniffing the spring evening air

Something tasty this way comes

Something tasty this way comes

Portrait of the older vixen showing her good looks

Portrait of the older vixen showing her good looks

 

Hope you enjoyed the images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fox, Mammals, Nikon D7200, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Spring is in the air…

Spring has most definitely arrived. I’ve been waiting for signs that spring migrant birds are arriving and have been keeping an eye on the websites (RXWildlife and Sussex Ornithological Society) to see what’s been landing on our shores. I admit to not being a birdwatcher, rather a photographer, and still have alot to learn about the best times and conditions to hope to see large falls of birds as they arrive. On bank holiday Monday over easter my wife and I nipped over to Rye (my favourite local haunt) to see what had turned up.

I am often asked for tips on bird photography and the first one that springs to mind (no pun intended) is …get up early! I can’t stress how much difference being on site at sunrise makes to a trip as opposed to arriving at 10am and wondering where everything is. I know not everyone has the freedom to arrive when they like but I often find I’m going home just as everyone arrives.

At this time of year the first thing that greets you is the countless birdsong coming from every direction. Another tip here – try and learn as many as you can. Often I hear the bird first then look for it.  A good example is coming later in this article. Although the Bittern was booming around the view point, I knew that would be a bird I’d be very lucky to find even when hearing it.

First bird to put in an appearance and sat up really well was this male Reed Bunting –

male Reed Bunting at sunrise

male Reed Bunting at sunrise

Moving on, and as always, keeping half an eye on the field for the Barn Owl, there were calls from a bird often heard but not so often seen, and even when it is it can be a fleeting glimpse as a family group flit across the top of the reedbed. I am of course talking about the pinging calls of the Bearded Tits. If it wasn’t for the calls you often wouldn’t have a chance at locating them. As the calls came closer the Barn owl also appeared at the far end of the field! It sat tight on a post some distance away so sitting tight seemed the best move, and I was well rewarded when a couple of stunning male Bearded Tits travelled in front of me quite high on the reeds, pinging away (link to the RSPB website with audio clip HERE). I shoot in Manual mode pretty much at all times and when the birds are between me and the rising sun, the camera can easily get confused about exposure. Another tip – get your exposure readings from a point prior to when the shot arrives (shoot a similar test shot) so that you know you have it right before the moment is passed.

Bearded Tit (male) at sunrise

Bearded Tit (male) at sunrise

Male Bearded Tit in reedbed

Male Bearded Tit in reedbed

Male Bearded Tit in sun

Male Bearded Tit in sun

And finally…the closest I’ve come to a shot I’ve been after for some time – it didn’t quite meet exactly what I was looking for – these little birds just love to skulk in the reedbed and trying to get a “clean” shot of them is always a challenge. It was close though!

Male Bearded Tit in flight

Male Bearded Tit in flight

 

I know these birds are with us year round and aren’t migrants, but I can only think their excited pings were their search for a female given that they were all males.

One bird that most definitely is a migrant and a welcome first sighting for me this year is the Wheatear –

Wheatear perched on dead branch

Wheatear perched on dead branch

Migrant wise, that was about it for anything different although this week I’ve seen my first House Martins, loads of Chiff Chaffs and one of my favourite Warblers in song, the Blackcap.

The hide didn’t turn up much of note although the scrub on the way back did have a bird that I seldom get a chance to photograph – the Linnet, in amongst the brambles. Quite a lovely looking bird when you get a good view.

Linnet in brambles

Linnet in brambles

Hope you enjoyed the images. Next update more garden Foxes and a trip to find Adders

Posted in Birds, Nikon D7200, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , |

December at Dungeness and Rye

Work and weather seem to have been against me this month and I’ve only managed a couple of trips out.

I’m probably in the minority here but I love this time of year and especially when the temperature really takes a dive. The addition of frost and the fantastic sunrise and sunset lighting always give me good ideas for what I’d like to attempt to photograph. There have only been a couple of small cold snaps down here in the South and they have yet to freeze over any larger water bodies. When the larger lakes freeze it often changes the behaviour of some birds that are normally difficult to see as they come out into the open to forage. Bittern and Water Rail are good examples of this. I might not have had the frost but the lighting was certainly fantastic on my first morning out to Rye.

Sunrise Geese

Sunrise Geese

I find it difficult to get good images of flocks of geese despite there being great numbers around at this time of the year but really liked this image for the lighting and the shapes of the geese.

I also have a favourite spot at Rye to attempt to photograph the Barn Owl. I never tire of trying to get images of these amazing birds and I’m often there before sun up when the bird is just an ethereal white shape gliding in the half light. Anyone who is involved in wildlife photography will be more than aware that often the best laid plans lead to no photos as your target species either doesn’t turn up or won’t come close enough for decent shots. I mentioned earlier about frosty images and perfect light and whenever I see the post in the following shot I am reminded of several days where I stood hidden and motionless pre dawn,  in sub zero temperatures, watching an incredible sunrise over frost bitten fields only to be staring at a blank post the entire time. The perfect image was there, it was just missing the owl!

Barn Owl watching for rodents

Barn Owl watching for rodents

Having heard reports of a Bittern being seen, my next stop was the hide at Castle Water. My wife and I crept in, making as little noise as possible and I slowly opened one of the windows. The first thing that caught my attention was a Little Egret fishing the margins just over to the left and close enough to get some great images. At this point I was moving very slowly at full stretch to lock the window in place when I looked ahead to see a beady pair of eyes staring right back at me. The Bittern was in the closest reeds and I had been spotted. It’s at these moments when you just hope it’ll ignore you, I even slowly looked half away so that I wasn’t making eye contact but the Bittern had other ideas and launched from the reeds as I was still in (slow motion) full stretch. The chance of photographing a Bittern at close range are few and far between so I really wasn’t impressed with myself that I’d just ruined an opportunity. To top it off, the Little Egret also took it’s cue from the Bittern and was gone. ARGH!

I didn’t give up however and continued waiting in case the Bittern decided to drop back in. I’d love to be able to say it did but it actually stayed on the other side of the lake for the next couple of hours. I took a couple of shots of it “hidden” in the reeds and when it looked like it was about to move I trained the camera on him and waited until he took off (I say he – I have no idea how to sex a bittern! maybe I should look that up) –

Hidden Bittern

Hidden Bittern

a Bittern erupts takeoff flies  from the reeds

a Bittern erupts from the reeds

Although I’ve mainly concentrated on the “wow” birds, there were hundreds of wildfowl out from the hide and you will always see Marsh Harrier here, no pictures this week but that’s what keeps me coming back.

My next trip which incorporated both Dungeness and Rye Harbour with my good friend Mali were slightly unusual in that I have finally got fed up of waiting for the Nikon D300 replacement and picked up a Nikon D7100 and this was my first time using it. I’m sure now that i’ve spent some money the mythical D400 or D9300, or whatever it’s going to be called, will show up imminently. Here’s (still) hoping.

The first bird to get the D7100 treatment was a female Stonechat. Not particularly close but worth just seeing how the image would turn out now that I had the extra megapixels to play with. Not to bad although I’m never a fan of birds perched on barbed wire. It’s not going to win any prizes but I was happy with the detail when zoomed in when viewed on the camera.

Female Stonechat

Female Stonechat

The next opportunity wasn’t so well taken but we found Coots fishing close in to one of the hides and, despite underexposing and having to lighten it up a bit (so introducing more noise than the 800 ISO that i was using) it was good to see plenty of detail available despite the very large crop here –

Coot with fish

Coot with fish

The stars of Dungeness were in no doubt. I had chosen Dungie as I knew there had been a few Great White Egret around and, as it’s a bird I had not yet photographed, I wanted to try to get a few shots. I have seen them here in the past but more often that not, they are over the far side of the lake out from the Dengemarsh hide. This time though they were very visible. I say they as there must have been either 4 or 5 birds on the reserve. At one point I could see 3 in my field of view alone. I wonder if these are soon going to be as “common” to see as Little Egrets?

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

At the hide closest (before?) the visitor centre Mali pointed out a viewpoint and from here I could see two Great White Egrets. When they then started flying towards us it was all eyes to the camera to see if we could capture a decent flight shot. The sun was in and out behind the clouds and, as is tradition, I blew the highlights on many of the images. Even with my experience I still find this challenging. This one however, was properly exposed  –

Great White Egret in flight, Dungeness RSPB

Great White Egret in flight, Dungeness RSPB

The final shot of the Egrets that I’ll post today I’ll have to thank Mali for. After the birds had seemingly flown past and landed just round the corner, Mali went back into the hide to see if he could spot them. He didn’t see it but at the very moment he was in there I got the best fly past of the day – Thanks Mali! I have no idea if he did spook the bird when going into the hide but I’ll take any help I can get!

Great White Egret fly past

Great White Egret fly past, Dungeness RSPB

After the great views we had of these large birds (around the size of a Grey Heron) we headed back to Rye Harbour. Not the best time to attempt to see anything to be honest but of note were the number of Little Grebe around and fishing close to the hides.

Little Grebe close-up

Little Grebe close-up

I’m writing this just a couple of days before Christmas and hoping to get out over the holiday period. Fingers crossed!

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Dungeness, Garden, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , |