Sunday, 14 February 2010

Speed-birding on a Saturday morning...

...otherwise known as having just over an hour to kill before having to go to work, spotting a goldfinch and loads of other birds in the garden, and thus deciding to spend that hour birding!

This particular Goldfinch was part of the charm (I was apparently wrong to call them a "flock" the other day) of Goldies which has been feeding from the ash tree in the garden for the past week or so.  Perhaps it was the group scout, as it was the first and only of the group to come and investigate the new Niger seed feeder we've introduced for their delectation.  Hope it liked them and reported back to that effect!

Managed to get one crappish shot just to prove it was there :)

After this individual flew off, I glanced around the rest of the garden and noticed an unusually high amount of bird activity - including a first for this garden: not just one, but a pair of stunning Bullfinches!  Sadly in my over-excited haste to run back to the window with my bins, I scared them both off.  Yep, I'm a crap birder!  Gutted, as I've never seen a pair together anywhere, and have never seen a Bullfinch anywhere near the garden.  They did seem to be eyeing up the feeders though, so I'm hoping they'll return...

So this is why I spent my spare hour yesterday morning watching the garden - I was hoping the Bullfinches would return.  However, as I said there were loads of other birds around, so I decided to try and get a shot of every species I could see.  And here they are (again no great shots in this bunch - too far away, poor light, etc etc...):

Wood Pigeon
Great Tits on a wire

Blue Tit
Coal Tit


Housesparrow (female) chillin with Blackbird

Dunnock with Blackbird

Female Housesparrow (L) and Dunnock (R) - spot the difference!

Housesparrow pair

That's nine species captured on one garden in a short space of time - nature rocks :)  And of course there were the Bullfinches, as well as a Magpie, a Collared Dove and a Rook which I didn't manage to shoot.  Looking forward to next time I have an hour to kill!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

I'm back - and with Goldfinches in my garden!!!

Well folks, it's been a while.  I've gone from being (very) part-time self-employed to being that and full-time employed - and I'm finding it's taking up rather too much of my time!

Certainly it's eating into my birding, photography and generally getting out into the countryside in a major way.  I haven't been able to really do much of any of these for about two weeks.  Hmph! 

So today I returned home, mid-afternoon, and had a quick look in the garden to see what bird action might be taking place.  There was a lone Blue Tit eating from the feeders, and a couple of Wood Pigeons high up in a tree.  I was about to walk away when I noticed a smaller bird even higher up in the same tree.  I couldn't make out its colouring from where I was standing, but something about its shape and the way it moved told me it wasn't one of the regular visitors to our garden.  All of a sudden, it was joined by about 20 more, and I rushed to get my bins.  Yep, it was a flock of Goldfinches - my favourite favourite bird.  Just a tad excited!!  Of course I've seen loads of Goldfinches before, but never in my back garden - and certainly not in these numbers.  I was able to get a few record shots, but that's all:

For a while I was hoping that they'd venture down to the feeders so I could see them close up.  However, upon closer inspection it became obvious that they had plenty to feed on in the tree.  Buds, I presume, or some sort of insect?  If anyone can enlighten me I'd be grateful!  As I said, I've never seen them in this garden before, and they've obviously found something delicious, which is great :) 

So, that's my day made!  Now if only I didn't have to go to work at 6:45 tomorrow morning, I could hang out here and see if they return... 

Monday, 25 January 2010

Arts Market at Horse & Jockey, Chorlton - this Saturday!

My first Arts Market of 2010 - would be great to see a good turnout, but not sure how busy it will be so soon after Christmas...

Still, come along if you're in the area - it's a lovely pub with good food, a nice vibe, and of course there'll be my prints for sale along with lots of other fantastic art and craft stalls.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Magic photography for a grey day :)

One of the most amazing things about photography, for me, is that it allows us to see things in the world around us which we would otherwise never see - usually because they're moving too fast! 

So on this grey, rainy, back-to-traditional-English-Winter kind of day, I thought I'd brighten my day by trying to capture water droplets landing in a bowl of water.  I can already hear you thinking "Mmm-hmm, sounds thrilling".  Well, it was certainly challenging, and patience-testing!  But I reckon the results are worth it.  I'm always amazed to see such an everyday thing as water looking so different...

Like these golden droplets:

Now my original plan was to try and capture the 'crown' the drop makes as it hits the water.  Turns out that this is way easier said than done!  This was the best I managed to get:

The background wasn't right in this shot - but hey, it's all about the experimenting.

I finally settled on a bright blue background, which I reckon gives a nice effect.  Here are a selection of my favourite shots:

Of course the real magic here is that there's no magic involved whatsoever.  No camera trickery or special effects.  This is just what water does - and that's plenty magic enough for me!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Wintry Titbits

Here's a snapshot of the past few days, birdwise (no great photography on display, just record shots)...

I was very happy (for me) but worried (for the birds) to see a stunning, solitary Redwing in the garden.  They have been visiting gardens in search of food during the particularly cold snap we've just had - something which wouldn't happen during our usually mild winters.  I shot this through a window, so it ain't great, but it might be the only time I get to see a Redwing from my window, so it's actually quite fitting :)

Next day, a bit more snow, and a mean-looking Rook in a tree:

The day after that, I hit Redesmere again, with no plan other than to go for a walk and see what was around.  We stopped a while to watch some Chaffinches.  I got a few shots of one bird which I wasn't sure was a chaffinch - it wasn't until I got home and blew the image up on the computer that I realised it was a Brambling!  Pleased with that, as it's the first time I've seen one of these Winter visitors.  A couple of poor quality record shots follow:

Speaking of poor quality shots, I took the following from miles away, as I couldn't identify the bird with my bins.  If anyone knows what it is, please let me know!  I thought it was a Bullfinch at first but not pink enough (click on photo for larger image)...

My next spot of birding took place near Preston, where I stayed at a friend's house.  We sat watching the birds coming to her feeding table, and taking shots through the window - which included this Blue Tit:

He was soon joined by a small group of Long-Tailed Tits, which my friend had never seen in her garden before - so had to record one for posterity:

Whilst walking along the River Ribble in Preston, spotted a group of several male and one female Goosanders way over on the other side of the swollen river, which was cool.

Later on, we came across a group of Redwing feeding in front of some houses - these are the best shots I've taken of Redwing to date:

And that, my friends, is it for tonight.  I've got a lot to do tomorrow, but hoping to squeeze in a short trip to Redesmere or similar.  And if I run out of time, I'll stick to the garden and see if anything interesting turns up :)

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Kingfisher Diaries (part 5) - RESULT!!

YES!!!!  Today I finally managed to get a shot of one of the Redesmere Kingfishers as it perched on a branch.  I'd been waiting for barely 5 minutes when it showed up!  Unfortunately the light was pretty bad and it also chose to position itself with my car in the background - so not a great shot, but happy with it as a first capture:

It appeared another eight or nine times over the next 90 minutes or so, but my camera was struggling to focus in the low light, and I never had more than a couple of seconds in which to shoot, so I didn't manage to get any further shots.  Ideally I'd need to be a bit further away, but with only a 300mm lens to play with I'd struggle to get a decent shot.  I decided to come back when the light is better, and try a different position - hopefully tomorrow!

For anyone not yet bored of Robin shots, I managed to get a couple of amusing ones whilst waiting for the Kingfisher - this ruffled little one kept on getting closer and trying to distract me:

So another good morning's birding :)  Can't quite believe I've managed to capture the Kingfisher already!  Need to persevere to get a really good shot, but still - RESULT!! :)

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Kingfisher Diaries (part 4) - D'OH!! (and a dancing robin)

Well it seems as though this part of the country is beginning to thaw a little... which could mean more snow on the way?  In the meantime, I took a little diversion home today via Redesmere, to see how the snow and ice has been affecting the bird life there.

I found the mere almost completely frozen over, apart from a small area near the car park where every single duck, goose, coot and swan was gathered. 

Decided to walk over the corner where I've several times spotted the Kingfisher - all I could see was a squirrel on the bank nearby and a blackbird foraging in the snow.  Then, as I took another step forward, a flash of blue flew away into the trees from just 3 metres in front of me!!  I'd startled the Kingfisher on its post!  Very annoyed at myself.  Lesson from this - next time, scour the area from a distance with bins before approaching!  Hmph.

Slight recompense - captured a Robin 'dancing' on a post instead:

Plan for tomorrow is to hid out in the corner where the Kingfisher was today, and wait...  there is a small patch of unfrozen water there also, and numerous potential fishing posts...  so I'm putting 2 and 2 together and hopefully making 4 in thinking that the Kingfisher will be needing to spend a fair bit of time there at the moment...

Watch this space!!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snowy Cheshire, woo hoo!!

Current mood = pretty chuffed to be living in a beautiful part of the country.  Even more beautiful under this blanket of snow.  Which is incidentally proving very useful as well as pretty - our water's been cut off so we're using melted snow to fill the toilet cisterns!

But never mind that.  Went out for a walk today not far from Macclesfield - mostly woods, fields and a mere.  It was truly breathtaking.  Check out this view - it looked almost surreal (especially with the scary factory fume plumes):

On a smaller scale, there were stunning ice crystal formations everywhere:

I came across these sheep in a field, seemingly unawares of the eye-catching trails they'd left behind them:

And towards the end of the walk, watched this Robin for a while:

I think I shall be sad when the snow is gone and the landscape is back to normal...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

OK, changing my mind about snow...

Don't get me wrong - I still love it!  The snow here in the North-West has made even the most mundane scene look magical and peaceful...  apart from anywhere with roads and pavements, that is.

I used to find it amusing whenever the UK ground to a halt due to a bit of snow which Canadians/Swiss/Russians/Germans etc would barely even notice.  However, I've realised during this season's current snowfest that the fact we're not equipped for it makes sense - as we're constantly being told, this is the worst "cold snap" this country's seen in 30 years.  Would it really make sense for the country and individuals to invest in equipment/facilities that we'll only need for a few days, possibly once a year?  I think not!

Proof that we're not used to snow and how to deal with it can be seen in the shots below.  These were taken on a fairly major road round the corner from my house (I was on foot!), which normally has constant free-flowing traffic:

Look - cars pointing in all directions, and one on the pavement!

The traffic queues were due to people like this guy having to stop in the road to try and dig their cars out (credit to Sara Ellis for the following two shots):

And yet, despite the fact it was obviously going to take everyone ages to get wherever they were going - if they got there at all - I saw several people scraping their cars and digging out their drives so they too could join the melee:

Now I'm sure some of these people had genuinely necessary journeys to make, but I bet a lot of them just didn't think 'a bit of snow' could be such a pain in the ass!

Even my dad, in his 4x4, got stuck yesterday in a snowdrift up a local hillside!  We'd planned to go sledging, but ended up spending almost an hour digging the car out, before reversing down the lane and going home:

So, whilst the snow has not adversely affected my life so far, let's just say I have a new-found respect for it!

Monday, 4 January 2010

New year... new bird!!

The more time goes by, the less often I spot 'firsts'.  Makes sense - when I first got into birding, practically every bird I saw drew a "Oh my god, what is that!!".  Now that I've seen a lot more birds, it's obviously more rare to find one that I haven't seen before.

But that's exactly what happened today!!  I feel very privileged indeed to have seen it, as it is one of Britain's most threatened birds, and pretty rare in this part of the country - as well as difficult to spot.  Birders in this country are lucky to see even just one in their lifetime... 

Before I fill you in, I want to share a few other shots from today.  I went out for a couple of hours - freezing cold, blue sky, snow everywhere.  It was beautiful.  And a proper birder's treat :)

First up was a Bullfinch:

On my way up towards Sutton reservoir, I had to get a shot of one of my faves, a Long-Tailed Tit:

A little later, I watched a contortionist Treecreeper for a while:

I reached the reservoir in the hope of spotting a Kingfisher, as I saw one flash before my eyes once last year, and have kept meaning to come back ever since.  Not much showing Kingfisher-wise however, so I watched this Wren for a while - I love the over-the-shoulder glance:

I'd been out for a couple of hours by this point and the sun had moved to an inconvenient position, so I headed back down the hill to where my car was parked.  Before leaving though, I thought I'd just have one last look down the lane where I originally saw the Bullfinch.  I watched some Long-Tailed Tits for a while, then turned around when I heard what I thought was a Nuthatch. 

What I saw was this:

Obviously a Woodpecker - but what you can't tell from this shot is that it was the size of a Sparrow.  Which makes it not your run-of-the-mill Great Spotted, but the much much rarer Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.  As I said, these are one of the most threatened birds in Britain, with numbers having declined by 80% over the past 30 years.  Approx. 2,000 pairs remain in Britain, compared to approx. 40,000 pairs of the Great Spotted variety - and most of the remaining birds are in the South.  All of this meant that I feel incredibly privileged to have spotted this bird just a short distance from where I live.

I would've been happy enough to have had time to snatch just one shot, but it seemed completely unaware of my presence, and I was able to watch it for several minutes, making its way up (and then down - backwards!) the tree:

The following shot was the best I was able to get:

It eventually flew into another tree, and got so high that I was no longer able to see it.  No matter - I went home hungry and buzzing!

As well as the birds pictured here, other birds of interest were several Redwing, Goldfinches, and, just before I reached my car, a UBOP (Unidentified Bird Of Prey).  I might make it a belated New Year's resolution to work on identifying birds of prey...  other than Kestrels, the rest leave me stumped! 

Also, to save up or start playing the lottery so that I can one day afford a 500mm lens.  Until then, I'll have to keep making do with my 300mm...

That's almost it for today, but thought I'd leave you with a shot I took at sunset from my bedroom window - the silhouettes of all the neighbourhood crows off to roost for the night:

Right, I'm off to email the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB to tell them of my sighting :)