Sunday, 18 June 2017

A Hunting Barn Owl

I came across a Barn Owl and using the hedgerow as cover i had pretty close up views as it passed my vantage point whilst quartering a field hunting for prey in the afternoon sunshine. 

A wonderful summer evening sight. This Owl seems to be doing alright for Voles, he catches 5 or 6 during the hour and a half long sessions that I have watched him over several nights during the past week or so.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Tales from Wales (in the rain)

And so another jaunt came and went, the 2017 jolly shared with Tim Gutsell, Alan Ashdown and Mike Gould, revisiting Powy's in Mid Wales, which on reflection was a mistake, especially as we have only just in recent years discovered the delights of the La Brenne region of Mid France. ( A lesson learnt I think) We planned for 3 nights, leaving home on the Monday morning (29th May) but realising this was a bank holiday I found a hotel in Llandrindod Wells with 4 vacant rooms on the Sunday night (28th) meaning we could leave on the Sunday morning which we did. What more, the rooms were charged at £20 per night, (single rooms) were clean and tidy and we rated it 5 star for value for money. The hotel is called the Glen Usk and if looking for a room in the area, it gets a thumbs up from the four of us. Arriving just after lunch meant we had time to get to Gigrin which we did and spent the afternoon with the Kites. We chose to hire the top photography hide as it was unbooked and after paying a hefty £25 each for the privilege, it was easy to see why it was unbooked. Still, I suppose there are always a few idiots that rock up and are more than willing to part with their hard earned cash (lol). Saying that, it is advantageous photographing from a height as you are then on an eye level with the birds. One thought to the staff at Gigrin, is a full hide at £15 per person not better than an empty hide at £25 per person ?

(Above 2 photos courtesy of Alan Ashdown)

When at Gigrin I like to try and get a few Buzzard images but they were very few and far between. I think the huge number of Kites have frightened them off, the few that did visit were constantly harassed by swooping Red Kites.

The feeding station at Gigrin may be commercialised and a bit touristy but it is a great place to see and get Red Kite images. We had a couple of Ravens that I did not bother with and for some reason known only to him, Tim was snapping away at the Rooks, for too long i thought ha ha. Below is a selection of Red Kite images from our Gigrin visit on our first afternoon in Wales.

There was a White leucistic Kite present, and from it's wing tags I could see that it was the same bird I photographed here in 2010. (No 51) I took a few images, getting rid of the tags as they are not very pleasing on the eye.

A good start to our trip and after breakfast and an early morning walk around Llandrindrod Wells on the Monday morning, we moved on, calling into the Gilfach reserve a few miles North of Rhayader before checking into our hotel for the rest of the trip, the Elan Valley Hotel which unsurprisingly enough is situated in the Elan Valley. It's a hotel which we have stayed in on several occasions before but for this trip the hotel had new owners and although they were very nice people, we quickly became aware that they were not hoteliers and to be quite honest, it was not a patch on our previous stays. Still, one good thing, it's not moved so the hotel still scored 10 out of 10 for location and the reason why we choose this hotel when visiting Powy's. Most of the day was spent on the River Elan or at Gilfach.
Tuesday morning and Tim, Alan and I was up and out at 5.00 AM counting Pied Fly and Redstart's, whilst Mike was left in bed counting sheep ( something he liked doing a lot lol) but it soon became evident that the weather was not going to be kind to us. In fact we did struggle with the weather with all four of us counting our blessings when it was just grey and not dark dull and grey. Still you have to make the most of it and apart from the odd moan and groan (mostly from me) we soldiered on until the Wednesday when it started to (putting it bluntly) piss down and my suggestions for calling it a day, settling up our hotel bill and leaving for home was unanimously endorsed by the other three and that is what we did.

Alan and Tim (early morning) in front of the Elan Valley Hotel (you can almost hear Mike snoring from the open bedroom windows lol)

Dull, grey with low cloud rolling down from the mountains, the Welsh weather sucks.

Me trying to look happy but it was bloody freezing as well as damp and dismal.

Most of our time was spent on the reserve at Gilfach as there is a hide there if the weather turned wet, which it often did, and a cafe which cheered mike up no end. We visited the place every day and it was a surprise to bump into Steve Reynaert who was there for the week. I hope he managed to dodge the rain as by all accounts it got steadily worse as the week went on. There were numerous Pied Fly-Catchers using the many nesting boxes placed around the reserve and the fact that you could get quite close to them made up for the poor conditions.

We came across quite a few Redstart's but they were busy feeding young so we left them alone. There was a pair in box number 1 in front of the Otter hide and with a bit of patience they could be seen as they returned to the box, unaware of us watching from the hide. I had opportunities to grab a few record shots but that was all.

Dippers can usually be seen nesting under the road bridge from the Otter hide at Gilfach but we only saw one from there. In fact I only saw 2 Dippers whilst in Wales, the one just mentioned and one on the River Elan by our hotel. As is usual, they always seem to be in the dark shady areas of the river making photography tricky. Again, I only managed a few record shots.

And that was about it. We saw plenty of Wood Warblers but I never bothered with them as the light was truly awful, being that they inhabit wooded areas, and from the car in the light drizzle we saw a few Whinchat's on the fence posts that lined the road up to the Elan Valley Dam (record shot below) where also a couple of Wheatear families were seen up on the rocky outcrops

 Summing up, apart from Gigrin, photography was very difficult. Next years jolly is back to La Brenne in July where at least if it rains there are plenty of hides to take refuge in. Great company as always, just a shame the weather was poor. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Feasting on Common Terns.

I did not think I would be able to get out again until after our Welsh trip but I had a few hours free this morning (Sat 27th) and had a walk down the Lampern wall at Stodmarsh looking for Common Terns to photograph. I arrived just after 05.45 am but to my surprise I could not see any Terns out on the two Tern rafts on the main lake. I only stayed for half an hour as it was a little slow, two Cuckoo's seen but distant, 2 Garden Warblers heard and my first booming Bittern of the year. It only boomed 3 times, fairly distant from me on the Lampern Wall by the two benches, the Bittern seemingly somewhere out on Water Meadows between the river and the Marsh hide. Bittern's have been like Hens teeth for me this year. I stopped at the Grove end of the reserve on the way home and called into the Feast hide where there were 10 common Terns  (5 pairs) out on the new island in front of the hide. ( Are these the Stodmarsh ones ?) Every now and then they were spooked and got up and flew around the pool giving me a chance to use the camera. It looks like a few nest site are being scraped out so hopefully they will remain in view of the hide for a while. A male Marsh Harrier was hunting out over the reed beds and a distant Sparrowhawk was seen over the river. Two Mute Swans were showing of their 3 fluffy Signets.

Nice to finish the day off watching Arsenal actually play some decent football and a much needed piece of silverware to end a rather disappointing season.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

More Cuckoo Encounters.

Not a lot going on with me at the moment, killing time before our trip to Wales next week. I have made use of the lovely sun filled mornings with a few visits to Stodmarsh, arriving as the Sun rises, staying until about 8.00am and leaving for work before many visitors arrive on the reserve. The Reed bed hide has had a single Common Sandpiper present on three of my visits (a record shot below) and the resident Heron continues to successfully fish the pool in front of the hide.

For the past week, there have been three Cuckoo's chasing each other around the trees that line the Lampern Wall. Having the reserve virtually to myself for an hour or so, I was able to get below their chosen perches and rattle off a few shots, making a nice change from the usual flight shots associated with this species.

Although looking up at them, (not ideal) it's nice to get Cuckoo's perched out in the open and not covered in foliage. Cuckoo's are one smart looking bird in my opinion, my favourite of the commoner migrants that visit our shores. I was also able to get a few images of them in flight, endorsing my last blog post title, "Cuckoo's, like Buses"

Hopefully my next post will have a few different bird images from our 4 day stay in the Elan Valley in Powy's Mid Wales.