Hello & Welcome!

This is the new home for my online Blog, I'll update and add to it from time to time with posts of interest to me, and hopefully that will interest you also!
This is yet another learning curve to me, so hopefully there will be various improvements as I go along in areas of layout, variety of content, narrative and hopefully photographic imagery - Please revisit and comment as often as you like :)

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


As some of you will know, I've long considered the Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis to be my 'bogey bird' the one I could never find, the one which is always there minutes before I arrive at a site, or shows up just after I leave.

This enigmatic resident bird grows to around 15cm and can allegedly be seen around the country and throughout the year. They nest in March-April with the first young being seen around April-May. The adults will chase the young away from the nest site as soon after they fledge as possible, to preserve the fish stocks in their territory, and start with another brood - and although 3 broods a year is not unusual - mortality rates in the young are high.

This year started off similarly, following up rumours of Kingfishers at 2 of my local nature reserves proved fruitless. Travelling further afield was likewise without result. Recent rumours of a nest site about 15 miles from home were more promising, coming from someone I have long respected for his environmental awareness, knowledge and understanding of a huge range of wildlife orientated subjects be they flora or fauna. He had introduced me to a photographer friend of his called Mick who had a particular interest in Kingfishers - promising indeed!

The habitat:- a fairly quiet stretch of river, combining a variety of extensive pools with shallow rapids. Extensive overhanging branches supporting steep but fairly loose high banks.

A stretch of the river with shallow rapids and an ideal kingfisher pool in the centre

One of several overhanging trees, recently cut back to maintain the rivers course, possibly a perching site?
One of the trees which supports the bank where the Kingfisers allegedly nest, another possible perch site?
A fallen tree forming what could be an ideal perch prior to accessing the alleged nest site
So when, my alarm went off at 5am I set off on my third trip to this area - the first had resulted in nothing more than a soaking due to heavy rain. The second had at least given me several sightings of blue blurs as the Kingfishers whizzed along the river peeping in alarm as they went, and fingers numb from cold. Third time lucky? Mick had got to the site very early, in order to set up his hide before it bacame daylight and thus disturb any birds as little as possible. I arrived at just after 7am, and managed a fairly undignified scramble into the hide. Then we sat... and waited... and waited..

We occasionally heard the distinct 'peep', and scoured the surroundings in the hope of catching a glimpse... to no avail.

The same stretch of river, and a fishing bird - Unfortunately in this case only a Grey Heron

After about 2 hours we had just started to wonder if the Kingfishers had moved further upstream, but shortly after we began to get the odd fly-by. For fear of disturbing the birds for too long, we decided to "Give it another hour"... and then:
First shot!
 "There!" one landed right in front of us, a quick zoom in and:

A female, distinguishable by the orange lower mandible of the beak

She sat for several seconds and we were able to get several shots

Such stunning birds, the contrast between the orange and blue plumage is really striking.

I am even more impressed by them having finally seen one 'in the flesh'.
Although we think there were two birds around - a possible pair, we only managed to get positive views of this female bird, although she did return to the probable nest site deep beneath the roots on the bank in the background of these shots. Was the male on incubation duty? Brood size is normally 5-7 eggs laid in April, but we only got a glimpse of one adult bird with a small fish, surely more fish would be required if there was a brood of chicks? Has the erratic weather delayed breeding? Are they still on eggs?

Already I'm thinking towards my 'next shot'... the fledgelings on a branch, the adults together, adults fishing, or with a fish. But for now, I'll settle with the shots I took this morning.

Kingfishers are no longer purely 'mythical' to me ;)

Thanks for reading :)


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Just sometimes...

I'm relatively new to birding and so there are many UK species I haven't yet seen. There are others I have seen but not managed to get pictures of, or have managed to get a fleeting shot of, but want to improve on. So it's good to be on a couple of birding, and bird photography oriented forums from which I can glean information about where those species may be found locally.
Pennington Flash is a large expanse of former coal workings which have long since collapsed and flooded. Since nature reclaimed the site, and it became overgrown it has become a haven for many species, including some very rare migrants and erratics. But it was not particularly these I was after - rumours of my bogey-bird, the Kingfisher, abound at this site, sightings from the past week and even as recently as yesterday prompted me to set off on Easter Sunday in search of this striking and enigmatic bird.

On arrival I managed to pick up a site map, and despite the heavy drizzle, set off in search of Horrocks Hide, the nearest hide to the carpark. Through the murk, I was able to see Great Crested Grebe, Black Headed Gull, Mute Swan, Lapwing and a small group of 8-10 Snipe around the area known as 'The Spit'. But alas, Horrocks Hide doesn't overlook the kind of terrain a Kingfisher was likely to frequent, so onwards to the more promising Tom Edmondson Hide. At the side of Kidney Pond I spotted a pair of Mute Swans busily nest building and could hear Chiffchaff singing in the hedgerows, but in a bid to try and keep dry I headed straight inside Edmondson Hide, only to be informed by a couple of other birdwatcher/photographers that I was 'a couple of minutes too late' a Grey Heron had just taken a medium sized Pike right in front of the hide! The Heron was still around, and looking out for dessert, so I hung around for a while. I was able to watch a pair of Canada Geese defending their territory from a troublesome Carrion Crow, a Wren foraging fairly close to the hide and a pair of Teal meandering through the reed-beds, but alas, no second performance from the Heron.

Between Edmondsons & Ramsdale Hide I was able to catch sight of a male Blackcap, but due to the undergrowth, was unable to get a shot of him. However it was another species ticked off the 'sighting list' but which remains firmly on the 'still to get a pic of' list. Once at Ramsdale Hide, I got distant views of Redshank, not ideal as it was still drizzling and the light was from the wrong direction, but a tick for the day nonetheless.

Redshank from Ramsdales Hide

Also on view from Ramsdales were several pairs of Teal, ever excitable Lapwing and a couple of pairs of Gadwall. 
Pair of Gadwall from Ramsdales Hide
Moving on from Ramsdales and a good walk round to Teal Hide along well made paths, allegedly liable to flooding, there was a good variety of more common birds singing in the trees, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wren and the ubiquitous Robin.
Co-operative Robin

It was along this path that I also got a sighting AND a picture of... A Kingfisher!

My First Kingfisher!

OK OK, so I know that's cheating, but it was a start.. The question remained; would I get a better opportunity, and a real bird, during my travels??
From Lapwing Hide, I could see... nothing, not a sausage, not a Lapwing, not even a Canada Goose! So onwards once more, this time heading for Bunting Hide, and the feeding station.

Once inside Bunting Hide, I was stunned. I have seen perhaps 6 Bullfinch in all my life, 2 at Leighton Moss which were spooked by a Sparrowhawk, a pair in my garden early in 2011 and a couple at a campsite in North Wales, also last year. But here, from just one hide, I could see perhaps a dozen! 12+ Bullfinch, all around me! 

A glut of Bullfinch!

It was difficult to watch them, as they flitted around, I was spoiled for choice as to where to point the camera next! I always aim to try and get more 'natural' looking shots, but when 2 pairs landed on one of the seed-tables at once I just had to break my own rules!

Also hanging aorund the feeding station were a couple of Greenfinch, several Reed Bunting
Blackbird, Magpie, Blue Tit, Great Tit and a pair of Willow Tit.

Reed Bunting from the aptly named Bunting Hide

Magpie from Bunting Hide

Bird of the Day - without doubt the Bullfinch! After the view from the feeding station I had to admit defeat as my fingers were going so numb I could hardly hold the camera, let alone press the shutter! Considering the weather, today was a very worthwhile explorative trip and I will definately be returning once we have more 'reliable' weather and favourable light.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Going to the Zoo

A friend and I decided that this year, we would have one day per month getting out and about, and so make the most of our infrequent and erratic days off. Last month was a sculpture day touring several installations in the North West of England. This month, with the weather hopefully improving, we decided that Chester Zoo was the place to go.

Chester is my favourite Zoo, with emphasis on conservation and breeding of endangered species, whilst supporting field work and support projects in countries around the world. On-going improvements at Chester have seen huge redevelopment over recent years, providing ever more impressive facilities for animals in their care, as well as the human visitors.

After watching the weather forecast for the day, it was clear we were in for one of the first days of Spring, with continuous sunshine and temperatures in the mid-to-high-teens throughout the day. Arriving at the main gate just after opening time (10am) it became apparent that we weren't the only ones who had targetted Chester as their day-trip destination.

On passing through the main gates, the main compound directly facing the gate is for the ever impressive Indian Elephants. Within their enclosure are various stimuli for them to enjoy, including a waterfall and pool to cool down. The regular breeding of Chesters Elephants give testimony to the care and attention these huge animals receive from their keepers.

The Rhino never seen to attract quite so much attention as the Elephants, perhaps the reason for that is their reputation for being both solitary, and aggressive - but for me they have a certain pre-historic charm - a resemblance to those ancient Triceratops with their horned heads
Chester covers a huge area, with over 110 acres of land, and to be honest the map isn't that accurate, it is very easy to wander around, get distracted and miss animals out, having to double back later and re-trace your steps once you realise!

High on our list of 'Must-See's' were the big cats. One of Chester's specialties are the Asiatic Lions, and the Spring sunshine was clearly very welcome to the big male.

Tigers are always a huge attraction at any zoo or safari park, never less so than when they have cubs. Due to the undergrowth and fencing it prove impossible to get pictures of Mum, but we could just about see one of the cubs in the shade.

Included amongst the species of 'Big-Cats' are the not-so-big Servals, one which I always struggle to get decent shots of due to their continued pacing, or them being hidden. Today was no exception, and it took several attempts and setting adjustments before I managed to get one I was happy with.
The relatively recent addition of the Jaguar house brought four Jaguars to the UK, three of the spotted version...

 And one pure black - although in the sunshine the spots were still clearly discernable in the fur of this magnificant cat.
Even big cats play sometimes!
But running the Tigers a close second for my vote for 'Favorite Big Cat' has to be the fastest land mammal - The Cheetahs.

For me, Cheetah encapsulate poise, elegance and arrogance - They know they are both fast and beautiful.
On from the big cats and around to the monkeys and apes, again it is the apes which attract the majority of the attention here.

The Spider Monkeys with their prehensile tails and aerial gymnastics never cease to fascinate and amuse!

Although at times their expressions of curiosity can be equally endearing!

Chester has an outstanding record as a 'centre of excellence' for breeding Orang-Utan from both Borneo & Sumatra - sadly due to the crowds they attract this means that is always difficult to get pictures inside, but blessed with the weather as we were yesterday, one Mum had chosen to venture outside with her infant.

And although Mum was stayed well hidden in the undergrowth, junior seemed more than happy grazing the vegetation in full view.
Some of our nearest evolutionary relatives are the Chimpanzees, and it is difficult not to feel a certain empathy with them as the teenagers square up to each other in fits of bravado.

Concerned mother heading away from the argument which had broken out between a couple of young males.

She was however still keeping an eye on the fracas she had left behind.
This old guy seemed unconcerned, apparently having "Seen it all before"

Another of my favourite animals at Chester are the Red Panda, they are hidden out of the way near the old main entrance, which to me is sad, as they really are endearing characters.
Just for once, they weren't curled up asleep in one of their trees, but wandring around their enclosure, doing their very best to keep their backs to me. But the lure of a piece of apple persuaded one of them to come close enough to capture this shot!

 And then we were off in search of what has surely become one of the most recognised small mammals on the planet, thanks to a certain insurance search-company.

We arrived just as the Meerkats were being fed and a brief talk was being given to a group of children. This adult was however still maintaining a lookout.

And the infants were doing their best to mimic the stance and looking exceptionally cute whilst doing so!!

It is kind of difficult to watch the youngsters, and not mutter 'Simples' under your breath!

Back across the globe to South America, where spring was clearly in the air for the worlds largest rodent

The Capybara clearly had 'other things' on their minds - well the male definately had!
There was quite a lot of nervous foot shuffling and throat clearing as little Johnnie asked "What are they doing mummy"

Still in South America, these Andean or Spectacled Bears were busy searching out chunks of apple which the keeper had just thrown randomly around their enclosure.

The head markings on this bear demonstrate how they got one of their common names.

One of the areas I had been most keep to visit was the Butterfly house - an open indoor enclosure where the butterflies are free-flying in search of nectar-rich flowers and suitable sites upon which to deposit their eggs.I have to admit to not having a clue what any of the Butterflies were, or anything about therm, but there is something very ethereal about them as they weave and chase through the trees and shrubs of their very humid walk-through enclosure. The shapes, sizes and colours of those which we saw were fascinating and intriguing. From those looking for all the world like a dead leaf (top left) to those which were almost completely transparent (Centre), eyespots, intricate mosaics and garish bright colours were all on display. And just for once the heat outside actually meant my camera didn't promptly steam up as we came inside - so I was finally able to capture some pics of these excellent creatures!

 But perhaps my favourite shot of the day was actually taken almost at the start of our world safari, but I think it summed up the mood of the day - Amazement, wonder & curiosity or pure bemusement? You decide! 

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Leighton Moss 25/02/12


Some of the great things about birding are never knowing quite what you are going to glimpse, how close you are going to get, or if you can get a half reasonable shot.

Sometimes you can arrive at a hide 2 minutes after the 'rarity of the day' flew out of sight - or like on this day, just as the Bittern flew by, with barely a chance to point the camera, let alone press the shutter!

 Personally I think Chaffinches are one of our most overlooked and colourful little 'garden' birds - this one was waiting his turn at the feeders.
 Leighton Moss always has a good number of Greenfinch hanging around the feeders.
 Once you venture away from the main building and onto the many paths you may get lucky and spot of of Leightons specialties.. the Marsh Tit.
Or a Great Tit, one of the other varieties seen here in abundance.

 Though standing or sitting quietly near a pre-baited tree may reward you with great views of the excellently camouflaged Tree-Creeper - or even my favourite woodland bird - the colourful Nuthatch

RSPB Leighton Moss has never yet disappointed with its open waters frequented by Otters, the expansive reed beds with their wild Red Deer or it's wide variety of resident and migrant birds. A great day out - get there early enough in autumn, and you may even get lucky and spot their Bearded Tits!