Sunday, 3 November 2013

Portland Again!

Well for the second time this year I visited Portland Bird Observatory for a few days for a combined birding/photography trip. The former was somewhat difficult with a real lack of scarce birds - the best being two of the least cooperative I have ever come across...

Red-Necked Grebe

Pomarine Skua

Two species of owl were seen and both in exactly the same area, a small disused quarry. Although both are species I can find locally, it was nice to be able to see them in an entirely different context

Barn Owl

Little Owl
Before we get onto some half decent photos, a few more 'record shots' from the trip include...

Black Redstart

Whilst the birding was considered fairly dull by the locals, many of the species seen (including those above) are extremely rare locally, so it was good to be able to photograph these for the first time. One bird I was particularly pleased to see was the Purple Sandpiper. I have seen this a couple of times before but on this occasion the showed exceedingly well feeding amongst the rocks...

Purple Sandpiper

And being within such close proximity to Weymouth, photographing shags was certainly not unexpected!

It was great fun watching them struggle amongst the waves that followed storm Jude (which as a side note was one of the most mundane weather events I have ever witnessed)...

The Rock Pipit is another scarcity in my local area, though at Portland they were plentiful with flocks of 20+ seen along the clifftops on some occasions...

 And my favourite...

And last but by no means least, the Arctic Tern. With Autumnwatch's theme this past week being 'Migration', this seems a particularly fitting bird to end on. This bird is a juvenile, born earlier this year, however by the time it dies, it may have undergone the longest distance travelled by any species of animal. With a migration that totals 44,000 miles a year, in its lifetime this bird will fly a distance equivalent to 3 round trips to the moon, an incredible feat and a beautiful bird!

Arctic Tern

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wild Goose Chase!

Last Saturday I went on a small venture to the South Coast around Milford-on-sea/Pennington! The weather forecast was promising, but somewhat predictably the heavens opened at the moment of arrival and took a few hours to finally clear! Still, this did not deter from our mission - to see a Red-Breasted Goose! Whilst everyone else was preoccupied watching an American wading bird that looks very similar to a species we have over here, with a few minor adjustments(!), I decided it would be nice to photograph something completely different...

Upon arrival we were told "the bird was just here about an hour ago", the worst, though often most common phrase heard when looking for a specific bird! After a somewhat lengthy wait we eventually spotted the goose distantly feeding with 250+ Brent Geese out on the saltmarsh ...

As the tide rose, the flocks of geese split up, and began to gradually swim closer to shore. To try and get some closer shots, I hid behind a nearby wall and watched as the Red-Breasted Goose slowly edged closer. At this stage it was still quite distant, but at no point did the bird move away from the brents (a large proportion of which were Juvenile, proof of a  successful breeding season in Siberia). As the goose came closer, and more ID features on this distinctive bird were picked up, it soon become apparent it was a 1st Winter. This was something of a surprise as myself along with a number of other birders presumed this bird was a returning adult that has been wintering along the south coast for the past 3-4 years now! Anyway, the bird...

The bird just kept coming closer until the brent flock suddenly stopped some 20m offshore. Here the Red-Breasted Goose showed superbly, before slowly swimming back out to sea! 

EDIT: Well my blog has decided to mess up the two best photographs of the goose, making them appear dark, noisy and just generally a bit hideous! If anyone knows why please let me know, I am editing on Aperture 3. The problem is shown to a certain extent in the photo above. Anyway, to view the two best shows of the goose, please see the Wildfowl Gallery on my website here:

or on flickr here:

After this amazing encounter (which I doubt will be matched in quite a while!) we headed off to Pennington Marsh to catch up with another rarity, a Long-Billed Dowitcher, an American species. The bird was picked up fairly quickly despite reports that it had been flushed by a Peregrine, though unfortunately was a little distant for the camera...

The local Turnstones showed well however...

As always you can keep up to date with my whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 30 September 2013


This year I worked on a small project with one of my favourite birds - the crossbill. I was blessed to have them nesting just 200m from my house in a small collection of pines, though due to their extremely secretive nature I only even discovered them once the juvenile had fledged! I had seen a a pair earlier in the year but presumed them to be passage birds! Thankfully the juvenile was unable to fly at the time of discovery to so there was sufficient evidence to suggest they had nested close-by.

The juvenile bird.

Once I had discovered the birds, it was a question of photographing them. Being pine-seed feeders they never fed below the 50m canopy of the pine trees and so I set myself a challenge. After doing a lot of research I learnt that due to their somewhat dry diet they require large quantities of water; so I promptly set about flooding small patches of no avail! After a little while I discovered why, the birds had already found a watering hole in the most desirable place imaginable - the pavement! A leaking water main had caused a fraction of water to spill on the concrete and this proved irresistible to the crossbills!

Long waits were required (not great during GCSEs!) but thankfully the local Goldcrest gave me some company...

The pavement was hardly the most natural of areas but it was still a rare chance to see these beautiful birds up close!

Female Crossbill

Female Crossbill

Male Crossbill

I was really after some shots off the concrete but as time moved on, so did the crossbills; the juvenile was soon flying well and so the birds really had no reason to stay. This shot of the male is all I managed:

As always thanks for reading!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Portland Bill

A slightly rushed post this unfortunately that will include some photography and birding elements to it (mainly the latter!) as for the past 4 nights I have been staying at the Portland Bird Observatory. The weather was sunny which was great for everyone except those who wanted to see some birds and the wind direction was hopeless...still I saw a lot of species that in my neck of the woods would be amazingly rare.

On all 4 days numbers of Yellow Wagtails (peaking at 200) and Wheatear (peaking at 150) were impressive and far better than the odd two or three I see on my local patch!

Wheatear (it was interesting to note the extreme variation among this species)
Ravens were widespread and Little Owls we fairly common amongst the many quarries on the island...

Little Owl
Right now onto some migrants!

A nightingale was present throughout my stay though as always with this species proved very elusive.


It is astonishing to think that this small butterfly has possibly flown all the way from Southern Europe!

Clouded Yellow

Whilst seeing species in the hand is never as good as in the field, it was great to have the opportunity to see the birds up close.

By far my favourite part of the trip was the sea-watching. For photography it was absolutely useless (I really need to go on a pelagic trip!) but for birding it offered two lifers for me and some fairly close views of both. 

Balearic Shearwater passage was slow for the first couple of days but by the end of the week was amazing, with 382 counted on my final day (a portland record?). This is a species the IUCN view as 'critically endangered' so to see this number (sometimes in flocks of over 50 birds was really quite remarkable!)....

Balearic Shearwater

Balearic Shearwater

Balearic Shearwater (!!)

It's always nice to find your own birds and on Friday evening, whilst photographing the Balearics I was astonished to find this Long-Tailed Skua flying around offshore. Typically no-one else was around to enjoy this bird!

Long-Tailed Skua

Long-Tailed Skua

And finally to finish off some half-decent photographs of two species I have never really photographed well before, the Linnet and Kestrel...



Just a quick thank you to the Portland Bird Observatory for their great hospitality and company, as well as the BTO who funded me for this trip... I will no doubt be returning next year! As always thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Back in a Week!

I am off to Shropshire/Wales next week with targets including Siskins and Red Kites, plus if I am lucky a White-Faced Darter. I have been doing a lot of wok with butterflies and dragonflies lately, as well as photographing a Sandwich Tern colony. A full blog post will be posted in a couple of weeks or so but for now here are a couple of teasers!

Sandwich Tern

Purple Emperor
Finally, a few weeks ago I had my first article published in RSPB Phoenix Magazine; the article can hopefully be read here.

As always thanks for reading!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Bearded Tits - Hyde Park

Yesterday I went over to Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens to photograph the Bearded Tits/Reedlings that have been in Hyde Park for nearly a month now. After a somewhat uneventful journey I arrived at the reedbed opposite the Diana Memorial Fountain, and there they were; incredibly close and seemingly unaware of their admirers, they fed happily in the reeds just 3-4 metres away. Perfect photo opportunity? Well no, not exactly.

The wind was appalling, the birds were blowing all over the place. They seemed perfectly content, but my camera's autofocus was definitely not. Then there was the light. If the sun was shining, the birds were skulking at the base of the reeds, and when the light was crap again, out they came!

Nevertheless they are real stars. If Hyde Park is easily accessible for you and you're not familiar with Bearded Tits, head over there, you won't be disappointed!

So time for some images:

Please let me know which is your favourite, and once again, thanks for reading! I will try and post some more photos before I head off to Norfolk!