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Sunday 31 October 2010

Sussex Break - 24th to 28th October, 2010

My wife and I had arranged a short break on the Sussex coast, and I was looking forward to some coastal bird photography - until I had an accident with my camera shortly before we went! This resulted in my 80-400 Nikkor being shipped off to Nikon for repair. With migration in full swing, there couldn't be a worse time to lose your main lens!! So off I went to Sussex armed with an extremely inferior Tamron 28-300, and my pocket Sony. The Tamron is next to useless near its full length, but it least it has a passable macro capability at shorter lengths - shame there aren't many insects around at this time of year!

Our first day was almost entirely spent taking the scenic route to Sussex, with time to take a walk along the seafront before it got dark, followed by dinner at Zizzi's.

The next day, fired with reports of a lingering Shore Lark at Cuckmerehaven, we set off westwards. On the way we stopped at Beachy Head. I'm so glad that we did as we had only been there a few minutes when we spotted a Peregrine having a go at a Crow that was in a cleft in the cliff face. This all took place very close to us, and was a great spectacle - I even managed a few flight shots, but had to take great care not to go over the edge as I was doing so, as the cliffs here are quite high, as you can see from the first image below!!

Lighthouse at Beachy Head


The crow survived the encounter, and after a couple of minutes the Peregrine gave up and continued eastwards along the coast.

There were quite a few Wheatear here also, and these tended to stay right on the very edge of the cliff top. Again photography was a little hazardous because of the ragged edge to the cliff, and the numerous rabbit holes on the top surface!


We then set off to Cuckmerehaven. The Shore Lark had been seen by the mouth of the Cuckmere river, approximately a mile from the road and car park. The walk there turned up Skylark, several distant Little Egret, and a Kingfisher.

Little Egret

(distant!) Kingfisher

We arrived to find a few birders present, but the Lark had not been spotted since the previous evening, and after a while we gave up (it was not subsequently reported to the best of my knowledge).

That night we decided to eat in the Belgian Café on Eastbourne's seafront. No driving needed, so I decided to reacquaint myself with some 'old friends' (Belgian beers - my favourite!). The starter (langoustines in Pernod) and main course (chicken in a tarragon sauce) were washed down with bottles of Lindemans Faro - my favourite beer with food, and not too alcoholic at only 4%. With dessert (creme brulée) I decided to push the boat out a bit and start on the Trappist beers, and so was drinking Chimay Bleue (9%), ending up with Rochefort 8 (9.2%), and a complimentary Genever ('Dutch gin'). It was a superb evening, and I can thoroughly recommend this place if you are ever in the area - food, drink, and service all excellent!

We woke to find that the brilliant sunshine of the previous day had given way to high winds and driving rain. We didn't hang about, but set off westwards along the coast as we were booked in near Arundel that night. The only photos taken were at Climping where we found Turnstones. The strong on-shore wind with a mixture of sea-spray and rain soon had us scurrying for our car - can you spot all eleven Turnstone in the first image below?


It was still raining the next morning , and so we spent our time trawling the antique shops, etc. in Arundel. However, the rain stopped soon after lunch (although it remained dull) and so we set off for the local Wetland Centre. I've only been to one of these before (the London WC), and I came away from this one with much the same feelings that I did from the London one - I'll probably not visit again. The whole set-up seems to be geared towards extracting money from the public. I found that I was rather upset by the huge numbers of 'pinioned' birds, that shouldn't normally be there. How can they justify doing this to (for example) large numbers of Eider? I'm sure it's just because they are spectacular and draw the paying punters.

Whilst there I did have my only opportunity during the break to use the macro of the Tamron lens - on a dragonfly. Birds seen (there of their own volition) included Peregrine (2 sightings in 3 days!) and Water Rail (which stayed ahead of us for a couple of hundred metres whilst we walked a boardwalk).

Common Darter (male)

Water Rail

Common Pheasant

I hope that I'm not too long without the Nikon lens - I feel feel quite lost without it, particularly as there are so many 'good' birds around at the moment!

Sunday 17 October 2010

Cannock Chase - Drought Sorted!! - on 12th October, 2010

Recently I mentioned on this blog that I've been suffering from a bit of a photographic 'drought' for several weeks. On Tuesday I decided to do what I usually do to fix such a situation - go to Cannock Chase!!! It was a bit of a grey day, but what the heck!

I found another birder at my favourite spot, who told me that the Yellowhammers and Bullfinches were absent, for some reason, and it was mainly Coal Tits in the area. I set up my hide, and sorted out my 'bait' for the birds, and found that I was surrounded before I finished putting out the bait. I've never seen the birds so eager to feed here! OK, so the birds were a little mundane, but I always like to see Nuthatch, the Willow Tits were in much greater numbers than I've seen here before, the Bullfinches did put in an appearance eventually, a Goldcrest kept flitting into view and flitting out again (no images of that one), and just before I left I had a distant view of a bird which gave me a 'year tick' (and which I'd not seen at all in 2009) - last image on this posting! Due to the dull weather, the images aren't brilliant, but I came away feeling great!


This Nuthatch had a worrying looking growth on the back of its head.

Coal Tit

Great Tit

Blue Tit

Willow Tit

Greenfinch (male)


Chaffinch (male)


Whilst in my hide, a couple of Redwing passed through, I managed a distant shot.


Bullfinch (female)

Bullfinch (male)

Long-tailed Tit

After about three hours in the hide, I suddenly found that I was not alone any more. A 'mother and baby' group of about a dozen young mothers had chosen this spot to meet up. It got a bit noisy! I decided to take a walk through the woods, and found Fallow Deer in several places (virtually no birds seen, however).

Fallow Deer

After half an hour or so I returned to my car and was about to leave (I'd promised my wife that I'd be back early to take her out for an Indian), when the cloud started to thin and it got a bit brighter. I didn't put up the hide again but spent a while just looking - suddenly I had a distant glimpse of what looked like a Brambling but then it disappeared when some dog walkers disturbed it. It eventually returned to a distant position, but I did manage a record shot.



What a way to end a brilliant day - nearly 500 frames taken in a shade over four hours! Drought over!!!!

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Waggy Time Again - on 11th October, 2010

Every autumn and every spring we get a grey wagtail visiting our garden on a regular basis. This has happened, without fail, for about five years now. It can't be the same bird - last year's was a 'first winter' bird, and the one that returned last week is also a 'first winter'. It's always a source of joy to us when "Waggy" returns.

Grey Wagtail - first winter bird

Also giving us pleasure at the moment is the Garden's Robin. He's looking particularly handsome at the moment - and he knows it!! He spends a lot of time looking at his reflection in the window of my office, or in the conservatory window (as shown below). The rest of the time he is very actively patrolling his territory and singing away in the cotoneaster or rowan outside my office window.

Robin (male)