Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Arrival of Spring

After what can only be described as an atrocious winter, it has been nice to finally see and enjoy the sun the past few weeks! Over this time, the first signs of spring have revealed themselves and this weekend I caught up with 2 of the earliest migrants.

Chiffchaffs have been singing their typical (and frankly quite irritating!) song for a couple of weeks now but I hadn't actually seen one until this morning. Although they are a rather common migrant I have never really photographed them before; so this year they are one of my top priorities. There is some way to go before I get the shots I want, but this is a very nice way to start the project. It's amazing to think that this bird weighs no more than 10grams, yet has probably travelled from the Mediterranean or even West Africa!

Yesterday I caught up with one of the most attractive migrants, the Wheatear. A fairly regular passage migrant in my area (though usually later in the year) but it is normally a very difficult bird to approach! I was alerted to this bird's presence on my local patch by a friend and I'm rather glad I made the effort to go and see him! Like the Chiffchaff, this is another long-distance migrant, wintering in the somewhat warmer climes of sub-Saharan Africa!

Finally, I would like to share some success! Over the past month I have been awarded 2 competition titles. The first is the Oasis PhotoContest; an Italian-based international competition, where I was delighted to be awarded 1st place in their Junior section with this image of a Glaucous Gull.

The photo can also be seen here on the Oasis PhotoContest website (please note this will be only available if viewed on a computer).

Last week I was notified that I have won this year's Junior British Mammal Photographer of the Year with my image of a Common Seal. I was really chuffed to win this award (not least because I also won it last year!) but because I have been awarded my very own Bushnell Trailcam, which could become a real asset to my photography! The winning image can be found on the link below:

Hopefully the first Willow Warblers will be appearing in my area over the next couple of weeks, and I will have to revisit the Dartfords at some point!

As always thanks for reading :-)

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Hampshire Birding!

When anybody even thinks of birding in Hampshire, it is invariably either the coastline, or the 'New Forest dog walker and screaming children park' that comes to mind. As a result the rest of Hampshire is somewhat neglected, leaving many to believe there simply isn't the same amount of wildlife here as in other parts. Needless to say this couldn't be further from the truth!

With my AS Exams approaching in the coming months, I am going to have to spend more and more time around the north east of the county, closer to home. At first I considered this to be something of a disaster, but over the last couple of weeks I have been treated to some spectacular wildlife, much of it within a 30 minute drive of the front door!

Towards the end of February a Great Grey Shrike was found on the chalk downland slopes at Kingsclere. This bird had almost certainly been present all winter, though due to the complete lack of coverage these parts receive, had only been discovered a few days before this photo was taken.

Great Grey Shrike

This brings me on to today, and what a day it was! I decided to visit a whole range of locations to see what I could find and certainly was not disappointed.
I began the day at a site that will have to remain undisclosed unfortunately, in the hope of finding Otters. Although they are normally nocturnal and extremely secretive, at this site they seem to have adopted a more photographer friendly lifestyle, and occasionally hunt during the day. I arrived fairly early and almost immediately struck gold with the female Otter. She stayed in the middle of the lake unfortunately and after catching her fish, decided she would head back to the river, where she sadly remained out of sight for the remaining time I was there.


Whilst waiting for her to reappear I noticed a Wren making the most of the spring day and proclaiming his territory. I sat down and waited for him to come closer and was amazed when he popped up right in front of me!

With the otter showing no signs of returning I headed off to a small area of woodland. Despite appearing somewhat unimpressive, this is the last 'stronghold' for the increasingly rare Willow Tit in Hampshire.

(C) Google Maps
After a short while I soon located at least 2 pairs of birds, though they were difficult to photograph, often feeding high in the trees.

Willow Tit

By now the afternoon was approaching and we decided to start driving back towards home. Whilst heading through some woodland a large bird of prey had us pull-in. I could immediately see it was not a Buzzard or Peregrine; my first thoughts being Sparrowhawk I decided to rattle off some shots. The bird seemed unusually large for a Sparrowhawk and it quickly became clear it was probably a Goshawk (later confirmed by others). This species is extremely unusual in Hampshire outside of the New Forest, where they usually only show distantly.


After all the excitement I was a little worried the final stop of the day would not live up to expectations! I decided to take a trip to some local heathland in search of the Dartford Warbler; always a tricky subject! I arrived mid afternoon which was not ideal, but was treated almost immediately to the soft wheezing noise made by the birds. Over the next two hours, I located at least 6 pairs in a rather small area so it seems as if this mild winter has really benefited this species. As always they were highly elusive, often appearing for a split second before disappearing into the heather. This bird popped out onto a dead piece of gorse, saw me, and rather unusually stayed put!

That is all for now folks, I will hopefully be photographing Dartford Warblers again next weekend and maybe even some adders!