Monday, 22 October 2012

f... OWLmere

Ok so it's been a while since I last posted, and a lot has happened since. In order of importance...
  • Wife had a baby (Aimee) Gorgeous little lump of screaming flesh
  • Accepted a challenge on behalf of a Charity to complete the Three Peaks next June
  • Pretty much given up photography to spend more time improving my birding skills
  • Sold my lens, and bought a very nice Nikon ED Scope and Manfrotto Tripod
So due to the last few months being all about preperations for the baby, and following on actually doing the baby things my ability to get out in the field has been limited. So when I received a text from Steve Drake from Dagenham Chase LNR inviting me down to RSPB Fowlmere I jumped at the chance.

Not the Water Rail we saw

I had never been to Fowlmere, and I love going to new reserves to see what they have to offer. Fowlmere is a beautiful natural spot with a mixture of boardwalk and trails leading around the reserves. There are a few hides, overlooking various areas including a Spring, and the Reedbed. The main reason to go was that a pair of Barn Owls had successfully bred, and the offspring were getting ready to fledge. Indeed when we arrived at the point from which you can view the nestbox two of the four young were outside the box. They were beautiful in their adult plumage (still a bit rough around the edges). Sadly they only hung about outside for a minute or so. By the time I had my scope up they had sought shelter back inside the box.

Steve had arranged to meet up with Matt, a local birder with much better knowledge than I. For me it is always a joy to be with a knowledgeable birder, I always walk away knowing more than before. Matt walked us to the Spring Hide hoping to see a Kingfisher, instead we had a view of a tree alive with Siskin, with a few Goldfinch thrown in for good measure. Indeed Siskin seemed to be the bird of the day. They were in such abundance that wherever we were we were pretty much always accompanied by them.

A Bearded Tit that was heard, but not seen

Walking on to the Reedbed hide we were joined by Rob, another local birder, and again very knowledgeable. Matt had earlier noted the call of a Water Rail, and when we arrived at the hide we quickly spotted one. The Kingfisher that was missing from the Spring hide was here also. In fact it is the longest I've been in the presence of a Kingfisher, he was pretty much present for the entire time we were in the hide. We could see flocks of Redwing going over, and a Redpoll (which I missed). There was the definate call of a flock of Bearded Tit coming from the back of the reeds, but none were visible. A Muntjac Deer having a drink of the far side of the pool was a lovely thing to see too.

Moving on we went back on the trail around the reserve. Mistle Thrush, Bullfinch, and more Siskin joined us on the walk, as did a Fallow Deer. After breaking off the trail to a hedge across a field to see a Yellowhammer Steve and I returned to the trail and back to the car. One thing I noted about the reserve is the clarity of the water. The reserve is on watercress land, and the natural springs give crystal clear water all around the streams. This was proven when Steve saw a freshwater crayfish making it's way across one of the streams.

Back to the car and home in time for lunch, and an afternoon trip to Hainault Forest CP with the family.

The pictures are ones I took in the past, I may return to photography one day, but for now I'm just enjoying the birding.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Chase Me!! My New favourite Place

Swan bathed in the Dawn light
For a while now I've been trying to find a local patch. There are plenty of green areas in and around Dagenham (Where for the short term future I reside), but finding a greenspace where I feel comfortable walking around with Binoculars and a Camera with Telephoto lens hasn't been easy. I live wedged between 2 parks, I have Parsloes park on one side, and Mayesbrook park on the other. For birding Mayesbrook is miles better than Parsloes, but it is also full of Dagenhamites. I suppose my regular spot it Rainham Marshes RSPB Reserve, but is a distance to drive to, and lets face it a local patch should be local. Fortunately a contact of mine of Flickr, Steve Drake, put me on to The Chase LNR in Dagenham. I'd been to the Chase before, but just thought of it as an area for Anglers, but I was very wrong. It has large swathes of rough Grassland, many differing bodies of water from Angling Lakes, small ponds, and mud banked lakes, so there are plenty of opportunities for all sorts of species.

Cormorant fly past
On my first visit to the Chase I got up early as I wanted to be there for the dawn chorus. An advantage of the Chase is that you can gain entry from anytime of the day. The car park is open from dawn til dusk, but as the fishermen are there all night I think you can get in at any time. I arrived at 5:40am, and the first call I heard as I got out of the car was the yaffle of a Green Woodpecker as it flew over the car park. A good start, and as I started my walk onto the reserve I was bombarded with Blackbird, Robin and Wren, then the finches started in followed by the warblers with Whitethroat and Blackcap both giving their all. The one that I was really listening for though came in at about 6am. The sun was now up and bathing everything in a warm orange glow, when I heard "Cuckoo cuckoo" from a tree in the distance. As far away as I was, about 100 Metres I could see the cuckoo half way up a large tree, next to a pair of Wood Pigeon. I saw where I needed to go. Luckily I printed out a map of the site, which is available here Unluckily however I left it at home. So after I made my way back to the car park, away from the riding school I found a path to a small reed edged pond, and there in the tree above my head was the Cuckoo. I watched for a while as he made the call. Although I've heard Cuckoos before, I'd never been this close, and to watch the bellows style action as the noise is created was wonderful.

Walking on water
I carried on my walk around, noting the different species I saw, however I probably missed loads as I was trying to take in where I was and where I was going. I kept forgetting I had a camera with me, so I didn't take many shots, but I will on my next visit. So I think I have found my patch. It's close to home, still a drive, but just a 5 minute drive. Lots of different habitats, and the ability to off road it a bit. There are no real paths to lead you around, which I really like. It's probably my only criticism of Rainham Marshes is that you have to stick to the paths. So I'll be going back soon, and hopefully the camera will get a little more use next time. I have started contributing lists and photos to so take a look, there's even a picture of me on there, I'm the one in the blue shirt who, if you squint, looks like Brad Pitt. But you really, really have to squint... Practically close your eyes even.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Spring has Sprung

Spring in action, tree full of Bees and Butterflies
Unless you are living in a box with no windows you will have noticed that Spring has well and truly Sprung. The sound of birdsong and lawnmowers fill the air. Sunlight at an ungodly hour waking up 4year old children a bit too early for the likes of their parents (Grrr!), and the colour and smells of flowers delighting my eyes and nose respectively.

With this in mind I took my Pregnant wife, aforementioned 4year old daughter, Aunt and Uncle for a jaunt around Rainham Marshes on Sunday, and what a day. In my mind the perfect Spring day. It was warm, not hot, but warm enough to take of my jacket. A gentle breeze blew off the Thames carrying the smell of the sea in land, and Skylark song filled the air. It was gorgeous.

The chase is on!
(Taken by Mrs B)
If you've been to Rainham Marshes you will have noticed dotted around the place little signs explaining what you can see, or hear. Just before the new Purfleet hide there is a sign advising you keep an eye out for Water Voles. My Uncle, upon reading this asked if I'd seen Water Voles before in my many trips to Rainham, and I said yes I have, and I'd pretty much guarantee he saw them today, at which point I saw a ripple in the water over his shoulder. Asking him to turn and see the ripple, precisely on cue a Water Vole swam out from the side and across the water. This was fantastic, but it then got better when he arrived at the far bank, only to be chased out by a second Vole. They performed a synchronised swim that would have guaranteed them at least Bronze in the Animal Olympics that I think will be run in conjunction with London 2012.

Swimming Water Vole
(Taken by Mrs B)

Stopping first in the Purfleet hide to check out the Photographic exhibition of Barry Jacksons work. I did the DSLR walk at Rainham Marshes with Barry Jackson, and can confirm he a very nice bloke as well as a great photographer. My favourite being the Barn Owl on the Headstone. Go and have a look if you get a chance. A quick glance out at the scrape and I was pleased to see a few Water Pipits bathing. But it was time to get back out into the sunshine.

On the walk around we were never out of earshot of the Skylarks, and a couple of times they took off quite near us, and we could track the swirling gliding flight and ensuing dive bomb. Flocks of 100's of Black Tailed Godwits coming in off the Thames were quite a sight, but unfortunately we were getting a bit short of time by the time we got to the shooting butts, so it was time to get a move on as I'd promised my daughter she could play in the sand park.

Loads of birdsong in the Woodland area with Robin, Dunnock, Cetti's Warbler, Wren, Song Thrush, and Great and Blue Tits all in fine voice. A Kestrel gliding over the feeding station was a lovely sight, and then it was time to get home for the second half of the Rugby. A win for England, a delicious meal afterwards, great wine, and fantastic company. If only all Sundays were like this.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Return of the Mike

It seems an age since I last reported on what Earth vibrating wonderments are happening in my world, and in fact it has been a while. Things that have changed since last I typed.

Male Blackie, with almost bare larder (Amwell NR)

1, My flu left
2, My Sinus unblocked
3, My cough relented to what you would hear a polite lady do when trying to stop her husband saying something he shouldn't
4, I broke the camera, and Bins out of storage
5, It got cold

So dealing with these things in order.

Items 1 - 3, thank you all for the outpouring of concern for my ill health, and the parties and jubilations that have occured since to celebrate my return to fine fettle. You know who you are (And believe me there's not many of you).

4, It was a joy to charge up my batteries, get a fresh memory card, clean my lenses and head out into the world.

Pretty in Pink (Amwell NR)

I started at Hainault Forest on Feb 1st, following on from an appointment at the hospital, which I will return to later. Hainault was rubbish. Not really sure why I went there as I knew there wouldn't be much about. Great Spotted Woodpecker and Goldcrest were about as good as it got, and photography wise a bit of a waste of time, but to be honest my mind wasn't really on the job (due to the hospital thing) so I packed up, grabbed me Dad and took him for a pint (or 4).

Hainault if anything was a tester to see if I felt ok, and when I was confident I did feel ok I followed it up with a trip to Amwell NR, Herts on 4th Feb. As it had been cold and there was plenty of ice about I was hoping to see a Bittern. I'd researched where best to go and pointed my lens in that general direction, now although I didn't see the Bittern, I did see a load of other birds, and importantly got a few decent shots. There were some notable birds in there for me with a good set of thrushes, with Mistle, Song, Blackbird, Redwing and Fieldfare all showing nicely. Followed by a good set of tits (tee hee) Blue, Great, Coal, Long Tailed and Marsh (I'm calling Marsh over Willow, didn't get a great look, but more where I would expect to see a Marsh Tit). Water bird wise, there were plenty of Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Wigeon, and Teal etc, but the best of the day were a couple of Goldeneye. Quite distant, but displaying and looking beautiful. Siskins, Bullfinches, Treecreeper and Redpoll, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Buzzard plus many, many more made it a really good (if very cold (item 5)) day out.

Cold Winter Morning Sun

I packed up and headed home in time for the kick off of the Six Nations Rugby, and after the rugby looked out of the window as the snow began to fall. Thinking to myself "That's beautiful", "Then thinking "Hold on a Mo, I'm going out for dinner tonight!", then adding "How the Bloody Hell am I getting home tomorrow!!", then relaxed, opened another beer and continued to watch the snow... Beautiful.

Oh and that Hospital appointment that shook me up a little? Nothing bad, it was my wife's first scan... Baby due August 14th, I'm going to be a Daddy again!!

Monday, 30 January 2012

At least you've got your health, or perhaps not...

So... I suppose, Happy New Year?!?!

Well for me, it's not really been so happy, I've been a little poorly. Nothing major, and I don't want to appear to be like all other men (according to women) in overplaying illness to something much much worse than it is, but I have been poorly.

I saw the year turn and all of my contemporaries flew out the door to hit the 100's on their year lists before sunset on the first of January, I settled for looking out the window at my back garden (I hit 13 species, pretty good for my garden). Tales of Shrikes, Juncos, Senor Sparrows etc filled me with a yearning to get out of the house, perhaps not to twitch as that's not really me, but at the very least to see something different, exciting or new, and hopefully take a few passable snaps.

I managed a couple of excursions, a very brief trip to Rainham Marshes on 2nd January, but I only managed half an hour before I had to accept it's easier to walk around if you can breathe at the same time. I also broke free for a full day at Rainham for my birthday (10th January), although there wasn't really a lot there for me, or anyone else for that matter. Highlight being a Stonechat.

I have been getting over to Fairlop Waters as much as I can, which has not been a lot, but I was pleased to see a flock of Siskin on the 8th January. So a couple of weeks into January and I'm feeling better right? Wrong, I got the flu. Not man-flu, a little sniffle, but proper full on flu. You know the kind that can create a lot of vacancies at an old folks home, really, really smashed me for six. My body is destroyed, but there is a bright side... I'm feeling a bit better. I have a feeling of wellness beginning to descend on me, if I can lose this cough and this F******G BLOCKED F******G SINUS!!!!!! I'll be fine.

So that's why I'm now writing, because I can feel a happy New Year on the horizon. I have booked a day off work for Wednesday to break the camera out of storage and have planned a day in Herts shooting and birding on Saturday. I rattle when I walk with all the pills I've taken, I've lost half a stone in weight (bet not many others did that over Xmas) and I still feel a bit like what falls from a camels bum, but I am sure it's coming to an end, and I will once again be in the field with my bins, camera and a smile on my face. Hopefully see a few of you there!!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Sandy, Sorry it's taken so long...

It's been a while since I jotted down what I've been up to, but I've been a bit busy. Not busy birding as I would like to be, but working (Boo).

Sandy at Sandy... Strangely by the Bird feeders
So let me take you back in time (wobbly hands wobbly hands) to Saturday 19th November and my annual trip to RSPB HQ The Lodge, Sandy in Beds. There were reports of an Osprey that was still hanging around. Possibly confused with the unseasonably warm weather we experienced in November, or possibly not strong enough to make the flight to Africa, either way it was there. So I packed up the car with all the important stuff, Bins, Camera, Lenses, Extra Batteries, Extra Memory Cards, Sandwiches, flask of tea, Oh and I took the Wife too.

Last year I took her to Sandy, and it so happened that the weekend we chose fell on the weekend of the Xmas Fayre, so we thought we'd try and return the same weekend. For her it was for Xmas rubbish, for me it was so I could draw a comparison by returning to the same site 12 months apart and see how different the conditions are, and the resulting bird population. In 2010 Sandy had reported Redwing, Fieldfare, Redpolls of varying types and a few sightings of Waxwing, 2011 heralded pretty much none of the above, just a confused Osprey still thinking it's summertime!

Grey Waggie, with bling or possibly an ASBO tag
Bird wise it was quiet, almost a limbo. Migration was happening, but not here. There were none of the usual Autumn / Winter types about, and the highlights for me were a Green Sandpiper at the hide, and a Grey Wagtail that was very happy to perform in front of me for a good 10 minutes. My Wife, not known for being much of a birder was impressed with a pair of Raven that seem to have moved in there. Every time she saw a Crow I heard "Is that a Raven?", when she saw the Raven she said "Bloody hell, it's massive!!" Not something I've heard her say before. So all in all a strange day, not a great one for birding, but a pleasant day to walk about and enjoy the sunshine... In November?!?

PS - No sight of the bloody Osprey either!!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Crisis averted, and Ghosts a plenty

 CRISIS... Averted...

Firstly to deal with my earlier crisis of identity. I decided I don't really care about whether I am a photographer, or a birder, or both, or neither. Sometimes I enjoy taking pictures, sometimes I enjoy just watching birds. This was proven to me on Saturday when I spent an hour sat in my garden watching House Sparrows flitting into my tree before grabbing a snack from one of my feeders. I think sometimes when I'm out in the field I grab for the camera, when there isn't really a shot on, and miss the enjoyment of just watching the birds, so if anything I need to learn restraint. Bins first, lens second. That said I did take a few snaps of the Sparrows even though it was a very, very gloomy day, some of them came out quite nice. This is mostly due to the setup I now have being able to deal with those conditions, so to change away from this would be a bad decision.

My "Pet" Sparrows

I can never see myself with a scope watching the seas in the hope of catching migrants, and Patch ticks, year lists don't really have a place in my life. I do keep a record of what I've seen, when and where I've seen them etc., but this is more for a record that I can revisit these places in the future and compare. For example I'm off to RSPB The Lodge in Sandy at the weekend. This time last year there were Waxwings (which I didn't see), Redwings and Fieldfares, Redpolls and Bramblings (which I saw none of), however I did see a Nuthatch and a Goldcrest, both of which I have rubbish photographic records of so to improve on these would be great. So I will continue as I am, but who knows what the future holds.

There be Ghosts

I had the privilege of visiting the Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition in Shoreditch yesterday, and I was blown away. A couple of things really surprised me, for me the diversity of artforms from Painting to collage, Sculpture to musical installations were incredible, but the real surprise was that my wife was taken aback at the treatment of birds, and the way that humanity is careless in the way we treat the diverse range of lifeforms that share this planet with us. I think the destruction portrayed in birds killed in Malta really shocked her, as it did me. The form of a bird on the floor created from a border of photos of birds, filled in with spent shotgun cartridges was particularly powerful.

There are some extinctions that we have caused, and can't undo but to allow it to continue is appalling. The Dodo you could say we knew no better, but the Albatross? Surely now we know the dangers that we create for these creatures, and to not change the actions that cause their unnecessary deaths is careless in the extreme. Animals will naturally die out, and extinctions sometimes just happen, but when that extinction is caused by Humans then questions need to be asked.

Ralph Steadman Room
Anyway, back to the art and what stood out for me was the Ralph Steadman room. Floor to Ceiling, 4 walls covered in paintings. They laid out binoculars so that you could see the ones at the top of the walls, it was incredible.

The exhibition won't be there for much longer, but I urge anyone to make the effort, you will not regret it.