Thursday, 25 August 2016

Back up the M40 to Christmas Common.

A planned re visit to Christmas Common, just off of junction 5 on the M.40 on Monday 14th August was postponed due to too much cloud cover forecasted, so we eventually returned on the morning of the 17th, the following Thursday. We left Mike Gould's at 5.00 am, Tim Gutsell and I making up the numbers, arriving at the common car park at 07.30 am and finding John Ball parked up, having had the same idea as us and hoping for some Red Kite photography. 
The weather was kind to us and from 9.00 am until we left at 11.30 am, we had up to 15 Red Kites above us which allowed for some camera action.

Unfortunately, given the time of the year, a lot of the birds were heavily into moult, leaving them a little scruffy looking. It was a wonder how some could fly with so many feathers missing. 

Fantastic birds and a great place to see them. It's also a lot closer than the feeding station at Gigrin farm in Rhayader, Mid Wales. Hopefully we will return during the spring when the Kites will be looking their best.
My only other recent outing has been to the hide in front of the Restharrow scrape on the Sandwich Bay estate. Not a great deal on offer for my visit, the best being a close in Common Sandpiper.

Other bits and pieces from the scrape included 

 Green Sandpiper

Little Egret

Grey Heron

I did visit the Feast hide at Grove (nowadays a complete waste of time) and noticed that a little bit of cutting has been done in front of the hide. The trouble is whoever done it neglected to go around the Kingfisher perch and just flailed it to a stump with the cutting machine. Whatever happened to all the proposals put forward from the organised meeting (a get together organised by N/E with reserve users) that took place last year, it’s as poor now as it has ever been. A great shame.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

La Brenne (Revisited) July 11th to 14th

Plans were quickly put in place for a return trip to La Brenne in the Northern region of the Loire Valley in Mid France, which was undertaken by Steve Ray, Tim Gutsell, Martyn Wilson, Alan Ashdown and yours truly, leaving Folkestone on the 06.20 am train (11th July) and arriving at Sublaines about 2.00 pm in the afternoon. We stopped at Sublaines on the way down in the hope of seeing the Little Bustard's and although we did not hold out much hope, (all of us thinking the grass would be too long) Martyn quickly spotted a bird, funnily enough, in exactly the same place as we saw our first one on the previous trip. A good start and a life time tick for Tim. (Not so for us seasoned pro's lol.) We then drove onto the Auberge Gabriere and checked in and then out again for a quick look in the Sous hide which would be where we were going to spend most of our afternoon time. A superb 3 course meal back at the hotel with a few drinks and then to bed and up at 4.00 am for a walk with Martyn and Alan. Never saw much in the dark but we did encounter some strange noises. When Steve and Tim were awake we drove the few miles to La Blizon, a lake that housed a Heronry at one end and as we did on our first trip, we waited in the hope that a few birds would fly overhead on their way out. Not much did but I did manage a few shots of a juvenile Night Heron.

We then decided to take a look at the Etang de la Bellabouche complex, an inland resort/holiday park for the French. There are a couple of manmade beaches and several sports activities on offer but the complex was in amongst a mixed woodland area where we were lucky enough to see Middle Spotted Woodpecker last September. We were lucky again, seeing at least 3 birds but it was very difficult to get any worthwhile images of them. The one I finally got was tatty, being heavily into moult but it’s only the second time I have seen this species. We also encountered for all of us, our first ever Camberwell Beauty, expertly picked out by Martyn as we drove up the entrance track to the reserves restaurant. Other butterflies seen were Heath and Silver Washed Fritillaries, a single Swallowtail and Clouded Yellow along with the commoner species.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker

Silver Washed Fritillary


Clouded Yellow

With the light far from ideal and the threat of lunch time showers before the forecasted sunshine for the afternoon, we left and made our way back to the Sous hide, hoping for a few targets for the cameras. A rather pleasant surprise was a superb looking adult Squacco Heron that landed on the fallen tree perch and stayed for a few minutes before alighting, tired of the unwelcome attentions from the resident Black-headed Gulls and Whiskered Terns.

Our hoped for Purple Herons seemed to be in abundance. From the Sous hide there must have been a dozen birds seen during our two afternoon visits. The cameras were busy trying to catch them as they flew over the reed beds in front of the hide. There were a few juvenile birds seen which is good news.

Juvenile Purple Heron

The Hotel restaurant was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday evening, due to the French holiday season not yet being in full swing, so we dined in the Hotel de Bouef Couronne, (a hotel in Mezziers en Brenne and about 5 kilometres from our hotel) for our evening meal on our second night. In a stark contrast to our hotel meal the previous evening, it was shit terrible and not worth anything like the 36 Euro's that we were charged for it. Also hidden in the bill was an 18 Euro bottle of claret that we did not order nor did we receive. I only make mention of this just in case you are in the area and looking for an evening meal.
The Wednesday started as did the Tuesday, an early morning walk in the dark with Tim joining us this time and then off to La Blizon. This was again pretty quiet but Alan found a tiny juvenile Cattle Egret stuck in some thick vegetation that he rescued and placed in the cover of a few bushes and hopefully it was found by the parent birds. We visited the quarry where we were able to get a few Bee Eater images on our last trip but this time the path way had been gated and there was no access to where the best vantage point was. We did see a few and it allowed Tim another lifetime tick. We called back to the Bellabouche holiday complex where the same Middle Spotted Woodpeckers were seen in the same trees, just as scruffy as the day before and just as hard to photograph, but it doesn’t stop you trying.

We had several sightings over the two afternoons in the Sous hide of Little Bitterns, both male and female and a newly fledged juvenile bird was seen, fairly distant along the edge of the reed bed in front of the hide. It was a long way off but we were able to get a few record shots of the bird to mark the occasion.

We saw less species on this trip but probably because we concentrated on photography from various hides. Black-Necked Grebes remained in very short supply, as was the case on our last trip here, seeing just a couple of birds from the hide overlooking the Etang Purais, but very distant. Plenty of Black Kites, a couple of Honey Buzzards and several Common Buzzards seen but we were not so lucky with Eagle species. I think Martyn had a couple of distant Short-Toed Eagles but that was it. Several flighty family flocks of Red-Backed Shrikes were seen along the numerous hedgerows but none were remotely interested in posing for the camera. There were also a couple of sightings of 3 Black Storks seen overhead, high, circling the area. Rather disappointing was no sightings of Hoopoe during our three days. The Whiskered Terns on the pool in front of the Sous hide were as numerous as on our last visit but I cannot recall seeing any juvenile birds there.

We were up again very early on the Thursday and having checked out the day before, we were on the road at 5.00 am for the journey home. A couple of stops en route for coffee and breakfast saw us back at the tunnel for midday, an early train home and back indoors before 3.00 pm. As always, good company and thanks for making it another worthwhile exercise.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Peregrine Falcon......a stunner.

After a week of this blog being killed off, due mainly to a lack of enthusiasm and very little time to spare, (the wife laughed at that one) I then started to miss not having a blog. Strange as sometimes blogging does become a bit of a chore and as this is mainly a photo blog, after a time the content becomes rather duplicated. Perhaps I need to wander further afield with different targets in mind. Anyway, I will carry on until I again get fed up, so I will probably be gone again next week. 

I was lucky enough to encounter a pair of juvenile Peregrines the other day, one of the birds perching close to me. From just 20 metres away it sat completely unfazed by my presence and carried on its business. A very worthwhile experience and the close proximity of the bird revealing just how stunning they are.

I was able to photograph this juvenile earlier, flying past me imitating a Hobby

Before landing in the distance.

Earlier images of the parent bird.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A La Brenne French Jolly.

The annual jolly arrived and soon went, this year an excursion back to La Brenne in the Loire region of France. Four of us set off at a ridiculous hour, catching the 03.20 am train from Folkestone with Martyn Wilson, Alan Ashdown and myself joining Steve Ray, whom did the driving for the trip. (Hence ridiculous start times lol). An uneventful journey down to a small town/village called Sublaines and just an hour short of our destination, where the trip got off to a great start with a lifer for all of us in the shape of a Little Bustard. We in fact saw 4 or 5 of them in arable scrub land covering a few square miles and as mentioned, a great start to our four days.

Our fact finding trip last Autumn put in place the hotel, staying at the Auberge de la Gabriere, which was clean, nice food (when the restaurant was open) and scored 11 out of 10 for location. We paid 53 Euros per night which was more than reasonable, made even better with a meal deal offer which meant a 3 course meal added for an all in price of 55 Euros per night. That offer was snapped up in a jiffy lol. 

My bedroom window was the 2nd from the right.

The view from my bedroom window overlooking the Etang de la Gabrierre.

The crew at Breakfast.

Most mornings before breakfast were spent at La Blizon, an area filled with small lakes enclosed by deciduous woodland. I parked myself on the edge of a lake, taking advantage of Herons and Egrets flying in and out of a Heronry about 500 metres away on the bottom edge of the Etang Blizon. Also it was a good place to wander about if the photography slowed.

Cattle Egret.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

A lot of the time was spent driving around the lanes looking for Shrikes in the hedgerows and raptors overhead. We knew in the back when something had been spotted, Steve stamping harshly on the brake pedal but by the time we picked ourselves up of the floor and retrieved our cameras from the front dash most of the stuff had flown lol. I never did well with raptor images, I had great views of Short-toed Eagles, a pair of close Honey Buzzards, (I don't know why I messed the photos of them up) Common Buzzards and Black Kites. The latter slowly became a bird I ignored once the i.d was confirmed through my binoculars; such was the regularity of sightings. Below, a very pale Common Buzzard giving a Short-toed Eagle impression.

Red-backed Shrikes were numerous; it surprised me as to just how many we saw whilst navigating the narrow road ways in amongst the various lakes. I worked my way down a hedgerow in a field to get a few images, resulting in a soaking from the tall wet grass but the images more than made up for that.

We visited various hides in the hope of finding some close Black-necked Grebes to photograph but although we did see a few, they were always too distant to trouble the camera. The Sous hide was the most productive with me catching my second lifer of the trip, a female Little Bittern, seen briefly in the reed bed before alighting and flying off to a more distant part of the lake. Several Whiskered Terns on show and although Purple Herons were seen, they largely remained frustratingly camera shy. We did catch one individual from the hide on the Maison de Natural le Brenne reserve. (Where the visitors centre is)

A poor record shot of a great bird. Little Bittern (female)

Lizard's basking in the sunshine.

Whiskered Tern.

Purple Heron.


A tip off and a trip to a nearby quarry at Marzinay, (it's not what you know, it's who you know lol) resulted in a small colony of Bee Eaters being found and one of the highlights of the trip. We were able to get a few images as they hawked for Bees out over the quarry. Whilst watching these, Steve found a Melodious Warbler which was nice. We also saw a few Cirl Buntings here as well. A good place to visit.

A pair of Spotted Fly-catcher's had arrived probably at the same time as us and started nest building in an old House Martin's nest a couple of buildings down from our hotel. Whilst having a few drinks after dinner it was nice to snap away as the pair of them toiled away, back and forward with nesting material.

Hoopoe was a bird I wanted to photograph and although I saw a few, I never seemed to get close enough to them. I stalked a pair down a grassy road side track and just as I was getting close enough to think about getting some images, a car flushed them. It's probably the only car that used the track throughout the entire day. A consolation was that once flushed, I counted six of them. My best results came through the car window at Bellabouche as we were looking for Middle Spotted Woodpeckers. A solitary Hoopoe landed in a grassy verge in the car park we were parked in and I managed a few shots before the bird flew off.

And that was that. The time flew by and no sooner than we arrived we were back heading North towards good old blighty. We passed back by the Little Bustard site at Sublaines but fog hampered any viewing so we carried on back towards our train. A brief stop at Marquenterre added very little, a Bluethroat the best and a couple of spoonbill's for the camera. We ended up on 108 species for the trip which was not too bad. The hides never produced as much as hoped for but I think we may of visited too early. The water levels were high as a result of heavy rainfall across mid France recently, although the weather was extremely kind to us throughout our entire stay might I add. Anyway, all of the afore theories will soon be answered as we have booked to return in early July. It sure beats a wet and windy weekend at Grove Ferry lol.