Saturday, 24 January 2015

A plastic puzzle

Sorry it's been a long time since my last post. I have no excuses (well, I do but you've heard them all before...). Actually I have been without my D700 since Christmas, after leaving it at my friends' place (not on purpose - much as I love them I'm not quite ready to hand over my camera as a gift...). Should get it back next weekend. But I did and do still have the D300.

ANYWAY, what a lovely day it was today. Not even (quite) freezing cold. My Saturdays aren't quite my own, these days, as I spend the mornings helping to teach children how to do aikido (anyone reading this who has a kid, send them to the Shodokan Tonbridge aikido club and I'll turn them into a terrifying ninja for you!). However, I was home by just gone 1pm and wasn't completely shattered so I decided to go down the hill and look at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. On the way I had a brief close encounter with a Redwing, which I'd have loved to have photographed, but the Redwing felt quite strongly that I shouldn't.

I was literally unpacking my camera by the horse field when this Pheasant strolled into view just a few metres away, and I had time to grab one very badly framed shot before he saw me and broke into a comical Pheasant sprint. Looking at him, I'm reminded of that dreadful phrase you see on the fashion page of the newspaper - 'try adding a pop of colour'. This Pheasant seems to have added 'pops' of every colour known to man and bird.

By rights the horse field should have contained Redwings and perhaps even Fieldfares, but it didn't, just horses.

Grebe hide was busy and loud. I stood on the wheelchair ramp to get a shot of this Blue Tit, the only little bird brave enough to come near the feeders. Out on the lake were many Tufted Ducks but I couldn't see a lot else.

I looked through the visitor centre window at the sightings book, and noticed that top of the day list was 'white ibis'. That would be the juvenile American White Ibis that's been here since October. I felt a twinge of guilt at not coming to look for it sooner - even though it's (almost definitely) an escape it's still rather an interesting thing to show up. I wasn't sure if it was on the field you can see from Willow hide or the huge field beyond Long Lake, but decided to head that way and have a look.

On the way up, I had a look at the big lake, which had the usual stuff on it, including this Cormorant that's boasting such a fine crop of white filoplumes that it almost looks like a different species. These special feathers, present at the start of the breeding season only, are apparently most prominent in older birds, which suggests this Cormorant is a proper mature silver fox (or silver vixen).

Looking for the nature? It's thattaway. Robins were much in evidence but I didn't see many other little birds about today. A few gangs of tits, but a total lack of finches - quite odd not to bump into at least one Siskin/redpoll flock here in January.

Willow hide was crammed to capacity and, again, loud. There's a reason I rarely come here on weekends... Peering over the tops of heads I could see Tufties, a Jay up a tree, a fair few Shovelers and Gadwalls, no Wigeons though. And apparently no ibis from here - well, I couldn't see it and no-one was talking about  it, so I figured it must be in the big field further along. So all in all I didn't see much point hanging around, so continued towards Long Lake.

 I went down to one of the swims on the north shore of West Lake, to look for the Egyptian Geese that I could hear honking and gurgling away. Couldn't see them, but this fully ornamented Great Crested Grebe popped up right in front of me, much to its dismay. I also startled a couple of Wrens that were chasing each other about in the lakeside trees.

All the other grebes I saw here (and there were many) were winter-plumaged (as is surely appropriate for January), including this one doing a great Nessie impression. Also out there were many Tufties and a few Pochards.

And on past Long Lake and to the big field at the end. As I approached, squelching through giant muddy puddles, I could see a small knot of birders, so concluded that the ibis was indeed here. And I didn't even have to search for it, because it was immediately pointed out to me, among a flock of Greylag and Canada Geese in a distant and rather shady corner of the field.

And here it is. Impressed? No, nor was I. Actually, that's a bit unfair. Ibises are lovely birds. It was very actively feeding, moving much faster than the geese (though seeming not to want to wander far from them) and poking at the ground with that splendid ibis bill. You'll notice it's not white - juvenile American White Ibises aren't. The plumage says it's a first-winter bird, which is usually a good sign when looking at a possible vagrant. But this probably isn't one.American White Ibis is a pretty sedentary species, not known to have ever crossed the Atlantic. And while no zoo/private collector has turned up asking for its ibis back, apparently the species is quite popular in collections on the near continent. So it is almost certainly a plastic fantastic, but to give it its dues it is surviving pretty damn well out on its own in the wilds of Kent.

I hung around here for a while, chatting to other birders (and thanks for the scope views, guys), and generally having a look at what else was about. I located a small group of mixed thrushes (Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds) quite close to us (but in deep shadow).

See that big lump in the tree? That's you, that is. Sorry, channelling the Mary Whitehouse Experience there... ahem. The big lump in the tree is a Common Buzzard, found by the same chap who'd first pointed out the ibis. Would have been nice to see it soaring over the field in sunlight (and a bit closer) but I suppose Common Buzzards can't just soar everywhere all day, especially on cold days like this.

This same chap had told me that the only time he'd failed to find the ibis in this field was when there were no geese here. And he also said that he'd seen the ibis flying with the geese. So it seemed to me that it might be worth waiting a while to see if anything happened with the geese...

... and after a while, this happened...

... which caused this to happen with the geese still on the ground. More geese from the other side of the field joined in, and they all flew right overhead, so things were a bit chaotic for a moment and I couldn't find the ibis, but then I did, and it was flying, but it only flew about 5 metres before landing again and resuming its ground-poking. I blame the one solitary goose that didn't leave the field with all the others - apparently the ibis is happy as long as there's at least one goose in its vicinity.

I did manage a couple of pics of it (just about) in flight.

It did then wander a little closer - still nowhere near close enough but you can at least get a bit of a better look at it. From other pics I've seen, it does sometimes come a lot nearer to the path.

It was getting on a bit now and I was starting to lose sensation in my feet, so I walked back to the visitor centre, seeing little of note on the way.

Going through the wildlife garden, my attention was drawn by these backlit Honesty seedpods. Honesty gets its name from its seedpods - their papery membranes are so thin that you can easily see the seeds inside (or in this case, the big hole where something broke in and removed the seeds).

A bonus as I was starting to pack away - a lovely adult Herring Gull going quite low overhead, with the late afternoon sun giving it a bit of a glow. I was in Hastings earlier this week but sans camera, so didn't get to photograph any Herring Gulls there, which was a downer but this helped make up for it. And if you don't think gulls are lovely, you are probably reading the wrong blog.

I took a pic or two of the waxing crescent moon before I left. Decided they looked a bit insipid with the blue sky, so I had a bit of Photoshop fun with this one.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Abernethy Forest again

I'm just back from another Scotland trip. Did not enjoy the best of weather or the best of luck but here are a selection of pics anyway - some mammals, some birds, some plants and (just because I can) some rather shonky landscapes.

Roe Deer first. These are very common in the area, and quite confiding (for wild deer).

Red Squirrels are plentiful too, though are easier to see in the gardens than the forest itself. This one was a regular visitor to the garden of the wee cottage where I stayed.

The river Nethy is pretty reliable for Dippers and Goosanders, though both are super-shy if they realise you are staring at them (or, worse, pointing a 300mm lens at them). I also saw, on one occasion, a whopping great fish that jumped out of the water at one of the slow, deep bits - I guess it was probably a big Brown Trout (looked too brown to be a Salmon).

A walk north along the Speyside Way on the only properly sunny day produced a range of nice stuff, including this lot - from the top, a very dark Common Buzzard, some genuinely wild Greylags, a Redwing and another Redwing, nicely posing Reed Bunting, and a very close but horribly lit Sparrowhawk. Also on this walk I saw Goosander on the Spey, lots more Roe Deer, a shy Bank Vole, a few distant Whooper Swans with the Greylags, some Yellowhammers, lots of Siskins, and a big, shy feral cat that would've quickened my pulse big-time had it been stripy tabby rather than black.

The garden bird feeder pulled in an endless stream of Great, Blue and Coal Tits, plus at least two different Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and the odd Chaffinch and Greenfinch. Oddly, though there were Siskins around (and I have photographed them on feeders here in summer) they didn't come down to the feeders at all.

Thanks to the feeder, I also had an experience that lots of you (at least, those of you who have gardens) probably have all the time, but it was a first for me - a close-range, perched, eye-level Sparrowhawk. Pity there was a big branch in the way. I did try to move to a better vantage point but the Sprawk was having none of it and shot over the hedge and away. The little birds were back within 10 minutes.

Another visitor to the garden tree was this female-type crossbill, which looks big-billed enough to me to be a Scottish Crossbill. There was also a nice chubby red male higher up in the tree, but unphotographable behind a mesh of twigs.

A last few locals, Robins, a Treecreeper, a lovely wee Goldcrest and a Pheasant up a tree.

Bit of scene-setting - backlit Bracken, a soggy web, and and a very thoroughly lichen-covered tree trunk. The lichen is one of the best things about this area - nearly every surface is strung with fluffy, dangly lichens and thickly crusted with silvery, leafy lichens. Probably best not to stand still too long.

Aaaand, the promised landscapey scenic views. I'm very much a clueless amateur when it comes to landscape photos. From the top, these are: sunrise over Dell of Abernethy, the Duack Burn near Nethy Bridge, main path through Abernethy Forest from the Dell, um... somewhere else in the Forest (I've forgotten), Loch Garten  looking moody (with about six pixels-worth of female Goldeneye in there just left of centre), the river Nethy, and a look along the Speyside Way towards Grantown-on-Spey.

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