Tag Archives: Rye

Signs of spring…

Finally, after what seems to have been a winter devoid of decent light the weather is picking up and the glimpses of sun have spurred the wildlife into action for the breeding season.

After a recent trip to Rye where I saw (for the first time despite my hours spent on site) Short Eared Owls, but only close enough for record shots, I thought I’d head down to the harbour really early to catch the rising sun. There’s always the chance of something unusual too but I always feel I need to be the first round the paths to have a decent chance before anything has the chance to spook it.

What I love is that sound as you get closer to the pools and nesting islands at this time of year. The cacophany of the Black Headed Gulls and the shrill calls of the terns overhead is quite evocative and always means plenty of opportunity. I wanted to try and get some backlit shots as the sun rose so made sure I was there and in place around 30 minutes before sun up. I’m still trying to get to grips with the best way to expose for these shots but managed a couple which gave me further ideas for the future. The best thing about being there in place before sunrise is actually watching the sun come up and witnessing the change in the light, quite spectactular when the morning is right.

Black Headed Gull at sunrise, Rye Harbour

Black Headed Gull at sunrise, Rye Harbour

As expected there were plenty of birds wheeling around but I still found it really difficult to get more than a few shots I was happy with, it’s actually a bit harder than it seems! One shot that I did like the lighting on was this interaction between a pair of gulls –

Dawn Gulls, Rye Harbour

Dawn Gulls, Rye Harbour

A good practice but within 20 minutes or so the light has completely changed and time to switch to more conventional shots.

The Black Headed Gulls were in busy mode and many were gathering nesting material for their nests so always a great chance for a photo or two.

Black Headed Gull with nesting material - Rye Harbour

Black Headed Gull with nesting material – Rye Harbour

Black Headed Gull with nesting material - Rye Harbour

Black Headed Gull with nesting material – Rye Harbour

There were also one or two other waterbirds around but it was really noticeable that the bulk of the wildfowl had moved on with only the resident duck species easily visible. One which I see often at distance but it appears to be rather shy at this site is the Shelduck, the first time one has been close enough to get reasonable images – this one was feeding on a shallow bank just out from the hide –

Shelduck - Rye Harbour

Shelduck – Rye Harbour

The ever present tufted ducks were also giving the occasional swim past – this ones a male –

Tufted Duck male - Rye Harbour

Tufted Duck male – Rye Harbour

If you keep your eyes and ears open there is also another gull of interest, a scarce visitor in the shape of Mediterranean Gulls. These are really attractive birds and I was lucky enough to have a couple of pairs spend a short time on the shingle island in front of me –

Med Gull with leg ring - Rye harbour

Med Gull with leg ring – Rye harbour

I have reported the sighting above so that the data can be gathered about the leg ring. I had a quick look online and the ring seems to indicate the bird has come from France. Just a quick hop over the channel then. I would encourage anyone to report sightings as the information really helps build a good picture of the movement of any ringed bird.

Mediterranean Gull - Rye Harbour

Mediterranean Gull – Rye Harbour

No Short Eared Owls on this visit but still some great action and loads to see.

Additionally the garden is also showing signs of spring. As you’ll probably know I try to help nature along wherever I can and so have put out animal wool for the birds to gather for nesting. It’s a shame that the first interest coincided with awful grey skies but still interesting behaviour –

Blue Tit gathering wool from my garden

Blue Tit gathering wool from my garden

Blue Tit gathering wool from my garden

Blue Tit gathering wool from my garden

I highly recommend collecting wool if you see it while out walking or try to source some woolpack insulation, which is what I’ve used in the above photos. This came with a meat delivery for Xmas!

Another tip is to leave apples out for the birds to eat. You may think this is mainly a winter thing for birds such as Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbirds but they actually still get plenty of attention in springtime. Mostly it will be the Bluetits that will be having a quick snack but if you are lucky enough to get passing (or even long staying) Blackcaps they will love it!

Blackcap portrait of a garden visitor

Blackcap portrait of a garden visitor

Blackcap eating from apple in my garden

Blackcap eating from apple in my garden

 

 

 

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

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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 , , , , , , , |

Barn Owl photo frustration

A couple of weeks ago a small escape was arranged for Sunday afternoon. With light winds, clear skies and sun forecast, my wife and I decided to nip over to Rye to attempt to improve on my Barn Owl shots. Anyone that knows me will be well aware that this is becoming a little obsession of mine. I’ve watched the owl(s) at Rye many many times but still hanker for that “special” shot. Anyone paying attention is going to see the title of the post and realise it didn’t quite work out that way…

First order of the day was to walk over to the hide at Castle Water to see what’s about. Never disappointed for views here (not always great for images though) and there were wildfowl everywhere. Due to the distance they often stay, I only took one or two “trigger happy” shots. That said, I’d like to use this image to demonstrate a point –

female Widgeon coming in to land

female Widgeon coming in to land

Although I would consider this an “ok” shot, this is a pretty heavy crop but still retains some decent detail. It was shot at 1/4000s, f5.6 (the 1.4 converter was attached) and an ISO of 640. The ISO may seem quite high given the sunshine and reasonable light but often the super-fast shutter is what makes a keeper. The fact it’s against a reasonable light background helps. A small amount of noise reduction can also help in post production.

There were a couple of birders in the hide and one other photographer. After a short watch we left, knowing that we would need to be in place and fairly hidden to try and catch a close-up of the Barn Owl. The sun was starting to dip and  the light was looking perfect.

It’s a well known fact that often what alerts birds to your presence is the human shape. To counter this, my wife and I sat down with my tripod in front of me and I draped my bag hide around it. With hoods up and hunched over I was hoping we just looked like green blobs and would be of no interest to the owl when (or if) it showed. The sun was now dropping fast but, as the law of sod would have it, in rolled the cloud and, along with it, some mist for good measure. Then right on cue the Owl did it’s first circuit. Unbelievable. From gorgeous golden light to dim and dingy inside 5 minutes. Instead of reasonable ISO levels with decent shutter speeds, the shots were taken at ISO1600 and 1/800s. With birds in flight, even the slightly larger ones, this is no where near optimal. One or two shots came out just ok.

Barn Owl in flight

Barn Owl in flight

Frustratingly, just as the owl flew up and past us, it veered off. When I looked along the path there was another photographer who had just been walking through at the right time (for him, not for me!). When he drew level and started chatting, I suggested he hide a little so we had a chance of another flyby, so Arthur (/wave!) nipped down behind us and we chatted while waiting for the owl to come back. It didn’t seem to be too long before it was up for the hunt again. The light was getting worse but the views were excellent. The owl was dropping down occasionaly so clearly there was prey zipping about in the long grass. After a period of a couple of minutes almost hidden in the grass around 100 yards away, the owl took flight and it was clear that it had made a successful kill.

Barn Owl with catch

Barn Owl with catch

Fly past with food

Fly past with food

 

Quite a bittersweet moment. Fantastic views of a moment I have never witnessed at such a close range but with the awful light I couldn’t really get the sharpness and detail in the image that I wanted as can be seen from the shots. So all the best laid plans didn’t quite play out as I hoped. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back as there is always more to see and room for improvement.

 

 

 

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