Monday, 23 November 2015

Catching up.

After learning by way of social media (thanks Phil S) about the presence of a female Goosander at Kearsney Abbey in Dover, I decided on a visit. Only a fairly smallish duck pond but for an hour I could not find the bird. Sitting on a felled tree stump on the pond edge I saw plenty of over friendly ducks, 2 not so friendly Little Grebes and eventually a far from friendly female Goosander. She swam from the overhanging vegetation on one island to the overhanging vegetation of a second island and that was that. Very wary of people the bird shied away and could only be seen deep in the shadows of the overhanging vegetation but I was able to get a few images as she crossed the pond. In my opinion a very smart looking Sawbill.

Also seen whilst in the grounds of Kearsney Abbey were 2 or 3 Kingfishers and at least four Grey Wagtails. A Common Buzzard was seen high overhead when I was waiting for the Goosander to put in an appearance.

Just down the road at De Bradelei Wharf in the dock complex, another Sawbill in the shape of a female Red-Breasted Merganser has taken up residence. Quite why it has decided to choose this location is a bit of a mystery but by accounts, it seems to of been there for well over a month now. Given the location it was very easy to find and I have been twice over the past few weeks to have a look. Although vaguely similiar in appearance to the Goosander it's easy to tell the differences.

My other outings of late, (which due to the weather conditions have been very few) has been in pursuit of what seems at the moment to be a glut of Short-Eared Owls. I have been lucky and had superb views of these birds as they have hunted over The Cinque Ports Golf Course at Sandwich Bay, sometimes having them overhead and just metres from my camera lens.

Monday, 26 October 2015 time flies.

Looking through old photo files, (a sure indication that we are into a dull and dreary spell of  weather) it dawned on me that it is now seven years (too the day of this posting) since I was able to twitch and photograph the American Green Heron on the Royal Military canal in West Hythe. (My first real biggie) A dull wet and windy Sunday morning, 26th October 2008 and along with the "Grove Ferry gang" (a few of us met every Sunday morning at Grove back then) I remember standing alongside the canal bank in Hythe, cold and camera at the ready with concentrated efforts to keep it sheltered from the persistent drizzle and thinking what a waste of time this is. (me forever the optimist) Then Martyn Wilson shouts, "there it is". A mad scramble for views followed as the Heron appeared  from a wooded area, flying in and landing in the reeds on the far bank of the canal. As it happened, the need for haste was uncalled for, the bird performed pretty well throughout the day and continued to do so late into November. A fine twitch and one I will always remember.

Back to the present, and as mentioned previously, here in the south east of the country we seem to be stuck with dull and overcast skies which makes wildlife photography a little difficult. I have had a few excursions out, seeing a Great Grey Shrike sitting atop a bush just a few metres from me at Beltinge but it was so gloomy that you needed a torch and that was 9 o clock in the morning, (Sunday 18th). Still it's a great bird to see. I returned to Beltinge on Wednesday (22nd) in the afternoon, taking advantage of some rare sunshine. The Shrike had moved on but I did see a Dartford Warbler. However, most of my time was spent with the Stonechat's, they seemed to be less camera shy.

Thursday, (22nd) and another dull grey day as I walked around the marshes of Reculver when my second Great Grey Shrike of the week was seen sitting on top of a Hawthorn bush along the shuart track. Using the hedge as cover I slowly worked my way nearer to the bird and was able to get close enough to get some fairly decent images, especially as the light was pretty dire. Returning on Friday afternoon, 23rd, the Shrike had moved on, (a shame) but there were two Dartford Warblers in a bush just short of the railway line at the Shuart crossing and I saw my first Brambling of the year. 

A trip out to Grove Ferry yesterday (Sunday 25th) was all about meeting a member of staff from N/E who was asking for ideas on how to improve the reserve and in particular the views from the ramp and the Feast hide. Quite a constructive chat but it would of been nice if a few more birders/photographers put in an appearance to voice their opinions. Not much in the way of photo's, several Bearded Tits but they were hard work and being a Sunday, it was not a day for hard work, a pair of Stonechat's were an easier option.

A couple of hours in the afternoon at Sandwich Bay allowed me to get a few Short-Eared Owl images with at least 6 birds seen throughout my stay. The sun dipped as I arrived which was a shame and losing the hour through the clocks going back took its toll as by 5 o clock the light had gone, enforcing my departure.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Bearded Tits.............lots of them.

I stumbled over a flock of Bearded Tits at Grove Ferry, noisily going about their business in the reed bed alongside the Harrison's Drove and it was not until a juvenile Kestrel flushed them that I realised there was over a hundred birds present. A few returned and I was able to grab a few shots as they climbed the reed stems.

Click on image for full size.

Smart birds.............A Grove Ferry favourite for me.

Monday, 21 September 2015

La Brenne National Park in the middle of France.

A later than usual jolly was taken this year, in the company of Steve Ray, Martyn Wilson and Tim Gutsell, out to the Northern Loire area of France known as the La Brenne National Park. It was mainly a fact finding trip as we plan to return next May and two good facts we did learn was don't go when all the birds have departed and also go in decent weather, having endured rain, rain and a bit more rain. Also we tried a new method of transport which in my opinion worked really well, saving me a lot of driving hours and also saving the others a lot of nodding time. We left Ashford International at 06.55am on Saturday morning (12th) and two hours later we were in a taxi crossing Paris to the Gare Montparnasse and another train ride down to the French city of Tours. A sleek black Italian hire car was waiting for us at Tours Station, a nice looking Ferrari  Fiat 500 CL which was really neither sleek or nice looking but was economical, spacious and more than adequate for our needs. ( We even got Tim's suitcase in it)

Gare de Saint-Pierre-des-Corps (effectively Tours North Station) Our train back to Paris.

The crew relaxing on the train from Paris to Tours.

It was about an hour's drive down to our hotel in Saint-Gaultier, which took more like three hours as we constantly searched for Great Bustard and Stone Curlew, two species that are regular in the area but I think we may of been a few weeks too late. Never mind, I think we will have more luck when we return in May. We did see Buzzards and Kestrel's in spectacular numbers as a consolation.

Our Hotel in Saint-Gaultier.

Over the four days we spent in La Brenne we visited most of the lakes (etangs) that had hides on them and met Tony Williams, a likeable English chap who is the warden on the Maison de la nature reserve in the heart of the Brenne park. He steered us in the right direction and was most helpful with information and local knowledge. He has even given us his telephone number for help when we arrive next May which I thought was a nice gesture. The trip species list was 81, courtesy of Martyn (numbers ) Wilson, which could of been more, a few obvious ones such as Song Thrush missing but given the lateness of our arrival was not too bad really. The weather in truth was not great, mostly dull and overcast with heavy showers throughout our 4 days (still the hides are waterproof) but we did see the sun briefly on a few occasions. The photography as a result suffered but we did manage a few shots from the various hides we visited. A Great White Egret was not camera shy in front of the hide on the Etang de la Sous.

Great White Egret.

I managed two lifers on the trip, a Red Squirrel which I have never seen before and a Middle Spotted Woodpecker. We saw probably three or four Middle Spots in a wooded area around Bellebouche Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Brenne National Park. Great views were had and we were all able to see the differences from the Greater Spotted Woodpecker. Unfortunately it was raining and the light was poor so I only managed record shots to mark the occasion.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker. (Record Shots)

Steve and Martyn at Bellebouche.

It was in the car park at Bellebouche that we came across several families of Black Redstart's. I would estimate that there was in excess of 20 birds here, mostly recently fledged youngsters along with a few Pied Fly-catchers and I also saw Short-toed Tree-creepers.

Black Redstart's.

Most of our time was spent in the heart of the Brenne park, close to Etang de le Sous and the Etang de Gabriere. We breakfasted each morning at the Auberge de Gabriere, a small hotel on the edge of the lake, and although the weather was poor, it's the first time I have been eating breakfast with a pair of Osprey fishing and a Flamingo in view. I tried to get images of the Osprey's but unfortunately the weather won that contest. We have booked our rooms at this hotel for our next visit, the location being the deciding factor in our choice.

Auberge Gabriere, A nice Breakfast and our hotel choice for next May.

We saw two Short-toed Eagles, picked out by Eagle eyed Martyn and for me these were the birds of the trip, even if the Woodpecker was a lifer. Whilst watching the first of the Eagles we saw the largest Boar imaginable, calmly trotting across the road and disappearing into the dense forest on the other side. A truly huge beast. I would think we must of seen at least 200 Cattle Egrets during the four days, they seemed to be in every field that had cattle in. The rest of my images came from the hide on the Etang de la Sous, mainly common stuff, a few posted below.

Grey Heron.

Great Crested Grebe. (juvenile)

Little Egret.

Water Rail.



Etang Gabriere..........Purple Heron (juvenile).

And that's about it. Nothing spectacular in the way of images but we did find out a lot for our next visit in the Spring of 2016. The train and hiring of the car was a great idea, a little more expensive than taking your own car but a lot easier. We filled the Fiat up back in Tours before we returned it to the hire company and the cost was 40 Euros, so just a mere 10 Euros each for the whole four days for fuel. (I wonder if Steve and Martyn are reading this and thinking whoops, we forgot to pay Steve his 10 Euros each fuel money) Ha Ha.
Hotel was cheap and cheerful, about £30 per night, it was basic but clean and we had a couple of really nice meals in a restaurant recommended to us by the hotel proprietor. Mind you, we had no choice as it was the only place to eat as the town seemed as if it had gone into hibernation for the winter. Great trip in spite of the weather with as always great company. Tim took a suitcase big enough to take everything including the kitchen sink, but on arrival, the first thing he needed was a travel plug and he forgot to pack it. Lucky I had two in my tiny pint sized holdall. lol.

Au Revoir et Bon Nuit.