Saturday, 30 June 2012

Emperor dragonfly

Every year at around this time I try to get to grips with dragonflies and every year I fail. There are only 39 resident species of this insect (with 13 migrants) to get my head around, but I just can`t seem to get the I.D. features in my thick skull.

One dragonfly that I can confidently identify though is the magnificent beast in the photos above, the Emperor. Britain`s bulkiest dragonfly, measuring a whopping 78mm, a regal insect of warm summer`s evenings that can be found in large ponds, lakes and flooded gravel pits and sometimes ditches and canals. It is widespread in southern Britain and where found is locally abundant. The site where I managed to get the above digiscoped shots is Maxey gravel pits, a site known for its breeding dragonflies as well as its birds. There are several other species of this insect present, some of which I will endeavour to photograph and identify over time.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The youth of today!

Young ducks and waders are undeniably (and I hate to use the word!) cute. They are just balls of fluff, but are very obviously birds, unlike other birds where the very young look like something from the Jurassic period! On my recent visit to Cley, two species of young bird were in good numbers, Shelduck and Avocet. The photos below are of a group of young Shelduck, very feisty youngsters that were constantly `attacking` the adult Avocets when they got too close and a couple of videos show some young Avocets, a group of three fairly young ones and a single that was nearly fully grown.

All together now, aawww!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Pacific Golden Plover

The Pacific Golden Plover at Cley in north Norfolk has been present for the past few days, another potential `lifer` was in the offing and so I made the not so distant journey from Peterborough on Sunday. The journey was made in less than quick time as the heavens decided to open upon reaching Kings Lynn, leading me to drive at 15mph! I did think of turning around, but pressed on regardless, fearing the worst, that the bird had drowned in all the rain! I arrived at Cley, the sun was shining and the bird was present and visible from the North Hide. I quickly made my way to the rather full hide and after ensconcing myself in a far corner I got my first views of a Pacific Golden Plover. This bird was in stunning breeding plumage and very active, constantly feeding and flying. Other birds present were 4 Spoonbills, dozens of Avocets, numerous Dunlin, a male Ruff and a rather splendid Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage (more of which another time).

I apologise for the above digiscoped images. The bird was constantly distant and these do not do justice to the absolutely stunning plumage detail of the bird, but there are useful as `record` shots, if nothing else!

The Pacific Golden Plover is a much rarer visitor to our shores than the American Golden Plover, with 80 or so recordings of the bird since 1870, with 80% of this total since 1990. The bird at Cley was showing the longer legs, longer tertials and the grey axillaries (under the wing) that help to tell this apart from `our` Golden Plover and it also called a couple of times, which helped in the I.D. department.

I am on a roll at the moment!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pacific Golden Plover (video)

A trip to Cley Marshes on the north Norfolk coast produced this stunning adult Pacific Golden Plover in full breeding finery. A close relation to the American Golden Plover, but breeds in north Siberia and west Alaska and a rarer visitor to Britain, indeed another `lifer` ticked off.

This video is just a little taster until I wade through the hundreds of dodgy, distant digiscoped images and find something half-decent. Note the two Lapwing in the background having a `set-to`!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Northern Wheatear (from the archive)

A couple of shots showing two different male Wheatears taken earlier in the year at Maxey gravel pits. The bottom bird is, I think, a younger male as his `mask` is not quite as defined as the top bird. It won`t be long now until they start to make their return journey and they could well stop off at Maxey on their way through.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Little Bittern

Another weekend, another `twitch`.

With a visit to see my Dad planned on Sunday for Father`s Day and a `lifer` showing 20 miles from where my parents live, I decided to reduce my carbon footprint somewhat by doing both journeys in one go.

An adult female Little Bittern had been present at Rickmansworth Aquadrome for the past week, frequenting a small river and being remarkably `showy` for such a shy species. I had visions of adding another `tick` in my book. The sun was shining (a rarity in itself!) as I pulled into the car park where I was greeted by a few birders that had also just arrived. We all asked each other if any of us knew where to go, none of us did, but we found a map of the area and saw the location of the Little Bittern. We walked to the site, getting lost once, but there was no chance of missing the area as we were greeted by the following;

The bird was showing, but was constantly obscured by reeds, however I did get my first views of a Little Bittern in the U.K. and the world. She was constantly fishing, catching sticklebacks with consummate ease and at one point caught a newt, but was eventually flushed from her reedbed by a pair of Canada Geese, so I saw the bird in flight! Her new location was found, but whilst I was on site the bird never showed in the open and with my Dad expecting me, I left.

The only photo I have is below, a little obscured by reeds, but the bird is there;

For some better photos of this lovely bird click here.

The Little Bittern is a rare vagrant to our shores, although the species has bred here, in 1984 at a place called Potteric Carr in South Yorkshire, but there are an average of 5 sightings per year. A bird that is the size of a Moorhen and more at home in the warmer climes of Europe and the Middle East.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Common Lizard

I have never knowingly encountered a lizard of any kind in the U.K., that changed last weekend when the sun was paying a flying visit.

Lisa and I were walking along an area close to a river known as the Maxey Cut when Lisa noticed something on an old broken stile. We both thought that it was some sort of dropping, but on closer inspection as one of these droppings moved, it proved to be three Common Lizards basking in the warmth of the sun. I then noticed a couple more on a nearby log, five of these lovely reptiles in the space of 5 minutes! The largest one was almost completely flat, increasing his body size to take as much advantage of the sun as possible. They warmed up and were gone.

All photos taken with `hand-held` Canon A640 Powershot

Also known as the Viviparous Lizard, this is the commonest lizard in Britain. Their colour can vary from grey-brown to reddish and olive green, with variable stripes down the back and sometimes black blotches organized into rows down the back or flanks. They can grow up to 17cm in length, including the tail which they can shed as a defence mechanism. They give birth to up to 10 live young between June and September and their diet consists of insects, spiders, snails and earthworms, as well as other invertebrates.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

European Roller

This Roller (pronounced like polar) has been present in east Yorkshire for about a week now and shows no signs of moving on. It is feeding well, clearing the fields of leather-jackets and putting on a good show for the assembled masses.

A Jackdaw sized, heavily-built bird, with electric blue plumage and a brown back, quite unmistakeable. A bird that breeds in continental Europe, from Iberia to Turkey, with some populations in coastal north-west Africa. Another sub-species breeds from Iraq, Kazakhstan to Pakistan and western China. They winter in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 1664 there have been around 300 records in Great Britain, but they remain a fairly rare bird with a few turning up annually, another `tick` in my book.

A couple of videos are below, just showing the bird flying and feeding. The site is next to a main road, so there is a bit of traffic noise, I hope this doesn`t detract from the bird.

Below are some attempts at flight shots! The bird was just `asking` to be photographed in this way, but, whereas the boys with the 20 grand lenses just rattled off shots 10 to the dozen, all pin sharp, my humble efforts leave a lot to be desired! The camera I use for digiscoping just can`t seem to cope with moving wings, I can`t seem to get the shutter speed fast enough!

Hopefully, although the wings are nice and blurred, they give you an idea of the wing pattern.

Thursday, 7 June 2012


A few digiscoped shots of a couple of confiding Swallows from my recent visit to Frampton in Lincolnshire. These two birds were perched on the visitors centre and didn`t seem to mind the comings and goings of various binocular wearing and tripod clad birders.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Blue Tit

We have a nest box fixed to our house which I won in a spin the wheel type of competition at the British Bird Fair a couple of years ago. It was the `top` prize at the Bird Watching magazine stand. Up until this spring it has stood empty and I had toyed with the idea of moving it, but along with one thing and another, I just never got around to it. 

I am glad that I didn`t as this year we have had the `cheep` of young Blue Tits coming through our kitchen window as we stand at the sink washing up. The shots below show one of the young waiting for the adult to return with a tasty morsel or two, but I am sure that he is wondering what bird he is, although I don`t think birds can read!

Just in case there is any concern over the birds identity, here comes Mum or Dad just to let the youngster know!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Little Gulls

Last weekend there was a group of Little Gulls at Frampton Marsh RSPB on the Lincolnshire coast. The group numbers fluctuated throughout the time I was at the site, but the most I saw at one time was 12 individuals. The gulls looked to me to be 1st summer birds, but varied greatly in their appearance. Some looked like 1st winter birds, with pale heads, some had the start of a black hood and a couple had almost complete black hoods, with one bird looking almost adult like, except for its wing pattern.

This group gave me a chance to study the differing plumages in a group of birds, that whilst they looked different, were in fact the same species.

The above photo shows 4 Little Gulls and a larger Black-headed Gull in the background. You can see the differing plumage patterns on the heads of the birds, but they all show the wing patterns of 1st summer birds, with the dark on the upperwing appearing almost bleached, giving it a browner appearance than on winter birds.

The above 3 photos show the differences in the plumages on a larger section of the group, with up to 6 birds present in the last photo. They all show the wing pattern of 1st summer birds, but again, the differences in head plumage is quite apparent.

The photos below show a few of the birds in closer detail, giving a chance to see the wing pattern a bit better. The bright red legs and all black bill are I.D. features of this stunning little gull and are present on all, but juvenile birds (although in winter the legs are slightly pinker).

The two photos below show the bird with an almost complete black hood, but the bird is not an adult as the wing pattern shows. An adult Little Gull has clean grey wings with pure white tips and the hood is complete. This bird shows the dark on its upperwing and the hood has a whitish freckling on the front.

A good lesson for me in gull identification, showing the wide range of appearance of a bird that tends to only be shown as an adult summer or winter bird in the guide books.