Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Brecks bonanza! Great Grey Shrike, Hawfinch and Crossbills

A very early start saw Brian, Norman and me at Lynford Arboretum by 7.15 am. Our initial stake-out of the 'feeder tunnel' was unproductive, so I walked down to the stone bridge: immediately I heard the distinctive calls of a small flock of Crossbills. I trotted (!) back to call the others and soon we were enjoying excellent views of two pairs of these recently-elusive finches.

We walked back to the tunnel, where Strumpshaw regulars Kim and Elaine and Breckland specialist Carl had pinned down a female Hawfinch. Although distant, the views were most welcome: we also added Brambling to the day's finch haul!

Riding our luck, we drove north to Cockley Cley. After a fruitless walk around (enlivened only by a beautiful pale Buzzard and a Yellowhammer) I suddenly had one of my famous hunches. Within minutes we found ourselves within thirty feet of a most confiding Great Grey Shrike: shame the skies had become so gloomy. Just after 1.00pm the clouds opened, so we drove back to East Norfolk: a terrific day out!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Venus and Mercury

Excellent! I managed to see - and photograph - both Venus and Mercury tonight: Mars wasn't far away, either! Didn't manage to see the comet, however: it might be easier by the weekend.

Egrets, planets and a comet!

Brian Tubby to the rescue! Having spent some hours last night reading the manual and trying to get best performance from the new camera, I met both Brians (T & S) at the Fen for a shortish try-out. In the event I was having all kinds of trouble: the leap from KS-2 to K-3 is a big one and I just couldn't get the autofocus to behave. Brian (as always!) took pity on me and made a few quick adjustments to a camera model (and maker!) about which he knows even less than I! Needless to say, the results were instantly improved! Still lots to learn...

Sadly, there were very few birds braving the high winds, but some distant Little Egrets and  Marsh Harriers at least revealed some of the potential of my new 'toy'. The bee is some kind of Miner Bee: cute little thing, less than 2cm in length.

Nice to bump into lots of other regulars - Elizabeth D, Sue, Mike (AKA Red!) and Mike: a short outing, but pleasant nonetheless, although I did waste an hour at Reception Hide when a 'pinned down' Jack Snipe flew out of cover to reveal a cream crown stripe and long bill!

Now a heads-up: if it's clear tonight just after sunset the thinnest crescent Venus, Mercury and Mars will all be quite close together above the western horizon. Also, the snappily-named Comet 41P Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak will be just below the bottom right-hand star of The Great Bear / Ursa Major / Big Dipper's 'bowl'. If it's clear, the comet should be easily visible with binoculars as a fuzzy blob!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Buckenham Marsh RSPB

Although the sky was threatening and I was wearing my 'just been to the Doctor's' clothes, I thought I'd see if any Garganey had arrived at Buckenham yet. To keep it short: they may have, but if so, I didn't see them!

There were still large numbers of Wigeon: interesting to note the Marsh Harrier lurking on the edge of the pool hoping for a chance to snatch one! Ten Avocets and a few Ruff were feeding among the duck and a Little Egret allowed me to check the new camera in difficult conditions: still lots to learn, but I can see it and I are going to get on just fine!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Snow Buntings at Winterton

Linda fancied an eagle hunt along the East Coast and we were parked by the roadside at Horsey by 8.45. In the event we did see lots of raptors, but they were all either Buzzards or Marsh Harriers.

After a while we moved on to Winterton: we parked by the beach café and strolled westwards along the dune-tops in the hope of a Glaucous Gull. We soon realised that half of Norfolk's canine population was running unfettered on the beach, so things weren't looking very promising. However, following an extra half mile slog, we found a small flock of around ten Snow Buntings. The light was terrible and the birds somewhat distant, but I managed a few try-outs with the new camera: looks promising.



Saturday, 18 March 2017

Ooops, I did it again!

Linda had to visit Wex today to get one of her Trailcams repaired under warrantee. While she did the paperwork, I wandered around and checked out the cabinets: inevitably I found a possible addition to my camera armoury! Among the tiny display of Pentax gear was a demo model K3: just a couple of hundred shutter ops and available at half list price. I must have been wearing the right aftershave (Joop, since you ask!) because Linda insisted on buying it for me!

It's a great piece of kit: apart from the really expensive full-frame K-1 it's the only camera advertised  by Ricoh / Pentax as 'professional'. Stuck indoors this afternoon, but I managed to photograph the Robin below: it's 200 feet away against a murky grey sky, but already I can see the benefits of a 24.4 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor.

Roll on my next birding trip: let's hope yesterday's White-tailed Eagle visits the Yare Valley!

Friday, 17 March 2017

From as rare as hen's teeth to positively common!

I was looking for something in the recesses of a wardrobe when I came across a photo album, filled with very old bird pictures. I'm almost certain these are all my own - the dodgy quality suggests that's the case! - but if not, I do apologise.

At the time I was very much more inclined to drive long distances to see a new bird, sometimes at the drop of the proverbial hat. I had a Praktika SLR and 300 prime, but neither were anywhere near approaching the Pentax KS-2 and 300 / f4 set up I use these days. Nevertheless, I frequently clicked away, only to be very disappointed when I picked the results up from Boots a fortnight later!

What the photos below have in common is that they all represent what were very unusual and twitchable birds when they were taken:

1) Great White Egret at Horsey. I queued for an hour and paid ten bob for a five minute view from the top of the mill. I recall it was only the twelfth UK record at the time!

2) Great White Egret at Minsmere. Similar situation: the queue at the entrance waiting for staff to open the carpark was several hundred vehicles long! This was the first occasion I met Lee Evans!

3) Little Egret at Welney. I left a dinner party and drove from Norwich to see this bird! It was a tick for me - and lots of others - at the time.

4) Glossy Ibis at Stodmarsh. Back in the eighties two of these had been resident for a number of years. One Winter, Linda, Bob Walker and I drove down especially to see one of them, having to wait until dusk for it to glide in to roost.

5) Cattle Egret. The first time I met Martin Reed was when he and his then wife Sally came over at Nancy's and persuaded me to drive to Hykeham in Lincolnshire to add this bird to our life lists.

Of course, all of these are either established residents these days (I've seen seven different Cattle Egrets and six different Great Whites since last Autumn!) or are either breeding or showing signs that they soon will.

Some Herons are getting scarcer though: Night and Purple Herons seem much harder to connect with these days, whereas I remember both either breeding or being rumoured to do so at several sites in the nineties...


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Venus - approaching inferior conjunction

I managed to grab a few images of Venus tonight just before it set at around 7.30. Since they're all the same, I'll only post one of them! This is just how it looked through my 4" refractor, with the 'bowl' of the crescent pointing downwards towards the Sun.

Pea off!

The Peacocks don't seem able to take a hint! Both our neighbours and Linda and I keep rushing out into the garden to shush them away, but still they return! 😣 I hadn't realised just how well they can fly: the white bird fluttered on to the ridge of our roof and then carried on to our neighbours' garden.

They are undeniable amusing to watch and - despite having  less-than-impressive 'fans' - are pretty attractive too. The problem is, however, that they seem to possess insatiable appetites, especially for spring flowers and bulbs. They must belong to someone: perhaps they'd like to come and retrieve them!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Crescent Venus and waning Moon...

My oldest mate Paul Williams - who lives in Derbyshire - sent me these two lovely photos tonight. Believe it or not, the thin crescent is the planet Venus, photographed by Paul with his 8" reflecting telescope. To exhibit this phase, Venus has to be approaching its closest to the Earth: it will reach inferior conjunction on March 25th. Then, it will become invisible as its unilluminated hemisphere faces the Earth. But if it's clear over the next couple of nights, it's really worth having a look at Venus - it's the bright 'star' just above the western horizon at dusk.

The second image is the Moon, again taken by Paul. Note the terraced walls and central peaks of the large crater Copernicus!

Dartford Warblers, Hen Harrier and a couple of year ticks!

Brian and I left the Yare Valley just after seven and were on Dunwich Heath by eight. The morning was warm and still, so unsurprisingly there were Dartfords everywhere: Brian will demur, but I reckon we saw fifteen or more! As always, they weren't easy to photograph, but we managed a few images. Biggest surprise was a ringtail Hen Harrier: we saw it only fleetingly and very distantly, but a nice bird nonetheless.

A move to Minsmere was pretty fruitless, until a short diversion to the Rhododendron Tunnel added Siskin and a very bright Redpoll to the list. The stroll back to the car gave us close-ups of a Muntjac.

Last stop was Dunwich Beach: a longish walk produced incredibly distant views of at least one Great White Egret, as well as several Stonechats and a well-marked Pipit: I thought Tree Pipit?