Short eared owl

  • March 8, 2015 8:19 pm

A wonderful first for me today. I’ve always wanted to see and photograph Short-eared owls, but I’ve never quite managed it, for some reason they have always eluded me. So today, on the advice of the wonderful and talented John Richardson (CLICK to have a look at his blog) I headed over to a beautiful stretch of Suffolk coastline. Soon after arriving, the astonishing sight of a brown patterned owl gliding nonchalantly across open water. Upon reaching the rough grass alongside the path, he began to hunt, buoyant in flight just like a Barn owl, but larger, more powerful. On long wings he quartered across the field, pouncing into the grass, and showing off his attractive brown and cream checker pattern markings. Hovering lightly in the breeze, allowing me a photo despite the terrible light, then gliding down the bank. With an attitude as fierce as his stunning yellow eyes, he silently slides past no more than ten paces away on rounded wings, ignoring his various watching admirers. An incredible experience that I won’t forget any time soon. I hope I’ll be able to get back there in better light, but for now, here’s something a bit artistic…

Short-eared owl, Asio flammeus, hunting, Suffolk. March

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Staying home

  • February 24, 2015 8:34 pm

I’m very fortunate to live near some lovely countryside, with two small nature reserves just a few minutes walk away from home. This weekend I decided to explore these instead of heading to the Fen. The closest reserve is an area of heathy common, with short rabbit grazed turf, and prickly gorse bushes. There’s a boggy area with a small stream, where I found a Little Egret hunting. I watched as he paddled in the shallow water stalking and striking his prey. He wandered up the bank and paused in the frost to take a look at me, before moving off back to the stream to resume hunting.

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, in frost, Norfolk, Winter

I watched for a while longer, but the first dog walkers of the day appeared, so I headed over to the other little reserve, and area of wet meadow. This is such a contrast to the common, open, lush and green. Incredibly peaceful in the early morning sunshine, I sat and watched as the frost slowly melted. Flights of Woodpigeon crossed the vast blue sky, and a team of quacking ducks circled overhead. A male Reed bunting balanced atop a reed stem watching me. Definitely well worth exploring, hopefully I’ll get the time to get to know the local wildlife a bit better!

Back in the garden this Collared dove sat on the fence…

Collared dove, Streptopelia decaocto, perched on garden fence, Norfolk,

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First signs of Spring

  • February 15, 2015 5:53 pm

All has been rather quiet of late down on the Fen, no meaningful images in the last few weeks, which is somewhat disappointing. Yet there are the first subtle signs of spring all around. On my way there this morning a Skylark rises into the air on trembling wings, belting out his intricate song. On the Fen, a woodpecker drums and a Chaffinch’s song tumbles from the hedge. No deer around again today, and the Bearded tits are becoming ever more elusive. I hear them and catch a glimpse through the reeds, but that is all. Soon they’ll be moving off to their breeding grounds. There’s not much else around except for a Little Egret paddling amongst the flooded rushes, and the overwintering pair of Stonechat’s skip ahead of me along the path.

I couldn’t post a blog without a photo, so here’s a Snowdrop from the garden. The local verges are already twinkling with these little beauties, looks like spring is on it’s way.

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Spot the bird

  • January 11, 2015 5:38 pm

Wildlife photographers have a habit of showing only their very best work, which is of course understandable. It does leave aspiring wildlife photographers a little disillusioned or disappointed with their own efforts, because it’s a fact that for every amazing photo taken, there’s ten, twenty, or a hundred (or more!) ‘misses’. After all, we’re dealing with living beings which move, run or fly away, and refuse to look in the right direction. Sometimes, we go out to shoot, and come away totally empty handed, which is why patience and persistence is key to nature photography.

Today was nearly one of those days. Over on the fen this morning, bright but incredibly windy. In the shelter of the hedgerow, a twittering flock of small birds were feeding, Long-tailed tits, Blue and Great tits, a Robin, and several cryptically camouflaged little birds. Can you spot the bird in this photo?

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It’s a Treecreeper, fascinating little birds that creep up the trees, checking every crack and crevice for insects, using their curved needle like beak to extract their quarry and their long, stiff forked tail as a prop to help them cling to the bark. They are constantly in motion with tiny mouse like movements, making them extremely difficult to photograph. This one refused to look at the camera, but does nicely illustrate just how well camouflaged they are, and also my point about the frustrations of wildlife photography!

Walking on to see if I could spot the Bearded Reedlings, I was faced with a sea of swishing reeds, swaying violently in the swirling wind, and I knew it was unlikely I would see them. After an hour of waiting I heard a few pinging calls, but didn’t see the birds.

Heading back to the warmth of the hedge line, I spotted one of the Fieldfares perched so attempted a stealthy approach. Fieldfares are one of our wonderful winter visitors, a beautiful thrush species, they are closely associated with orchards, feeding on the fallen apples, and may also be seen feeding on berries in the hedges. On the fen they seem to pay close attention to the dry mole run riddled areas, perhaps taking advantage of the worms and insects bought to the surface here. This one was surprising tolerant and allowed me to photograph it as it sat in the hedge.

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Hello Deer

  • January 4, 2015 9:32 pm

I’ve had a few new visitors to my blog recently, so I just wanted give you a warm welcome to my website, and also to introduce my local patch, where I do a lot of my photography – Redgrave and Lopham Fen.

Redgrave and Lopham Fen is the largest remaining valley fen in England, and managed by Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The reserve encompasses not just fenland, but woodland and heath too. It’s a peaceful haven for me, having lived in the area for around 20 years I’ve grown up here, walking the tracks that criss cross the reserve and watching the amazing wildlife. For the wildlife, this place is an oasis in the agricultural vastness of the surrounding fields. The river Waveney rises here, although there’s not much to see at it’s source, just a boggy area and flooded scrape patrolled by Grey Herons, and dabbled by Teal in winter.

There’s something to see year round, but winter is a favourite time to visit for me, the frost crystallised on the reeds and clear cold sky, and often I have this tranquil place to myself. This morning I paused to watch a group of Long-tailed tits foraging in the brambles, and when I walked a little further a movement ahead made me stop. It was a Roe deer, the youngster from the group of three I photographed earlier in the week, she was so close, and hadn’t yet noticed me. Carefully and quietly setting up the camera, I waited and watched, fully expecting her to sense me and bound away, but in the cold still air she couldn’t smell me, and maybe if I stay still she won’t see me. She turned, nibbling on bramble leaves, and focussing manually for quietness and the distracting branches, I took her picture.

Roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, youngster in hedgerow, Norfolk, January, Winter

Roe deer have to be my favourite deer species, such elegance and grace, and such a privilege to observe one so closely. Amazingly the sound of the camera shutter didn’t spook her, and she started to move towards me. Just the other side of the brambles, just a few meters away. So close I could hear each dainty hoof-step on the frozen leaves layered on the ground. She passed by, and waiting until she had moved off, we went our separate ways.

The birds were very busy, and despite the fact it’s only January a pair of Blue tits were investigating a potential nest site. A tantalising glimpse of spring.

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The Bearded tits whizzed across the path, not pausing for a photo today, but as ever, lovely to see. Walking back, a reminder that it is still winter, a dried umbellifer sparkling with the frost.

Frosted plant, Norfolk, Winter, January

I noticed a Fieldfare paying close attention to a Molehill, and after a few moments I realised why – the mole was busy rearranging his home, pushing soil up to the surface and no doubt insects or worms too, hence the attraction to the Fieldfare. Short video here: Mole in the Molehill.

 

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To the Sea

  • January 2, 2015 10:20 pm

The coast in winter, the roar of the sea, beauty and ferocity. Wind whipped sea foam sparkling in the weak sun, the fizz of waves pouring over pebbles. A twittering from small birds dashing away from the rising tide. I visited the most easterly point in the UK, Ness Point in Lowestoft, in search of Purple Sandpipers. These little birds, darting around like clockwork toys between the rocks and waves are regular winter visitors to this area and I was keen to see them. After three visits I eventually managed a couple of images, but they are tricky birds to photograph, small and constantly moving.

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There were also some Turnstones around…

Turnstone, Arenaria interpres, perched on rock, Suffolk, Winter, December

But the Sandpipers were the stars, busying about feeding and preening, taking no notice of the human onlookers.

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Follow this link to see a video of the Purple Sandpipers…

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

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Roe deer day

  • December 29, 2014 1:46 pm

Beautiful morning out on the fen today. I love this place in the winter, the sparking white blue of the frost contrasts with the golden morning sun on the reeds, always stunning to see. It wasn’t long before I came across lots of Fieldfares, and a trio of Roe deer grazing in the field adjacent to the path. I settled down in the hedgerow to watch them, a real treat to observe them simply going about their business.

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Interestingly the buck has just one antler. They cast them at this time of year, so their new antlers can grow throughout the winter in preparation for the breeding season next year.

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And finally, those Bearded reedlings are still giving me the run around! I don’t mind though, it’s always a pleasure to watch these little birds, even if just for a brief moment, before they flit away through the reeds.

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Bountiful berries

  • December 20, 2014 4:43 pm

This year the local hedgerows are laden with berries, and we’ve had a sudden influx of Redwing. These pretty little birds, slightly smaller than a Song Thrush, with a handsome russet red flash under their wings migrate in from Scandinavia and Russia to spend the winter here. Last weekend they were busy feeding in the hedges along with the local Blackbirds.

Redwing, Turdus iliacus, perched in hawthorn hedge, berries, Norfolk, Winter

Blackbird, Turdus merula, male, on hawthorn berries, hedgerow, Norfolk, Winter

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Nearly but not quite

  • December 6, 2014 2:12 pm

Someone very wise once said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It’s true, and that’s what we do as wildlife photographers. We visit the same spot again and again, hoping for that one moment when it all comes together. The light, the subject – we wait for that one moment. Well that’s what I’ve been doing for several weeks now. Waiting on the Fen, for a special subject. This morning was a beautiful frosty start to the day, the first thing I see slinking through the crystallised grass is a Fox, sleek and handsome he stares at me when I squeak, and then bounces away as I try to turn the camera towards him. The frozen ground crunches underfoot, and the first golden light pours over the glistening white frost. The hedge is full of chattering Fieldfares, a pair of Swans glide overhead and two of the resident Roe deer watch shyly as I walk by.

Great reedmace, Typha latifoli, Bulrush, frost, Winter, Suffolk, December

 

Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum, covered in frost, Winter, December, Suffolk

 

I reach the spot and wait, an hour or maybe two goes by with nothing but the most fleeting of glimpses. I move on, and then there,  a movement. Two more, quite close, a flutter, a whistle, they flit on the top of the reeds, the birds I’ve been trying to photograph for weeks.

 

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Bearded tits. Not very well named really, they’re not a member of the tit family, and the male wears a rather dapper moustache rather than a beard. Anyway, they are special little birds, a regular, though elusive Winter visitor to the Fen. So here’s my nearly but not quite photo, they decided to perch momentarily on the same reed, meaning I couldn’t get both in focus, then they moved down into the reeds to feed, not allowing any other chances to get a clear view. Nearly, but not quite. I’ll keep trying!

 

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Painting the sky with birds

  • November 30, 2014 8:55 pm

The rush of air in wings, a thousand birds swirling through the sky in perfect synchrony. At this time of year you can witness one of natures most spectacular events as thousands of Starlings flock together to roost in safety. Across the country great clouds of birds gather at dusk, dancing through the sky together before pouring down into the roosting site. These murmurations occur in many different places, one of the most famous being Brighton Pier, but they also happen over reedbeds. There’s normally a small murmuration on the fen every year, so I set out to photograph it. I wasn’t particularly successful on this occasion sadly, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back soon.

Whilst I was there though, with the light fading fast, I turned my attention to the equally spectacular Rook and Jackdaw roost. The noise is the first thing that strikes you, the combined voices of hundreds of Rooks and Jackdaws becomes an overwhelming cacophony, as the birds swoop through the sky. Not in synchrony like the Starlings, much more a chaotic ballet as each birds searches for the perfect roosting spot. With the sun now below the horizon, the birds pour into the trees. With barely any light to shoot with I manually focus on the birds already in the trees and keep my finger on the shutter button. Each flying bird leaves a ghostly trail through the sky with such a slow shutter speed, and the camera captures the very last glimmer of light in the sky. After I take this image, a trembling hoot from one of the local Tawny Owls echoes out from the wood, and I know it’s time to head home.

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