Thursday, 28 February 2013

Bird project 9 - Knot

Calidris canutus Knot

Location: Mudflats just north of Knott End, on the southern edge of Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.
Conditions: Pure blue skies, sunshine, mild - mid afternoon, just after high tide. Some haze and heat shimmer.
Photograph quality: 3.

Comments: I went up to Knott End to do the Wyre Way walk south along the river estuary to Poulton. However, when I arrived, I walked up to the north shore, just to see what was there. The tide had just turned, and most of the waders were still close to the shore, so I set up my tripod and shot at 1400mm. There were plenty of shelduck and redshanks (the larger birds in the picture above, with bright orange legs) close in, and large flocks of sanderlings further out. But as I looked, I found there were larger grey birds with yellow-grey legs, which I knew were a new species, though I didn't know whether they were knot or dunlin at the time.

Morecambe Bay is a major wintering ground for this species, and the UK as a whole hosts several hundred thousand at this time of year.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Bird project 8 - Pintail

Anas acuta Pintail

Location: Marton Mere, Blackpool.
Conditions: Strong, low sunshine towards sunset; mild, light breeze.
Photograph quality: 2.

Comments: On my fourth trip to try and see the pintails recently reported on the mere, I finally succeeded. I had nearly given up, but at last, as the sun shone strongly not long before sinking below the trees, I saw this male. It was considerably larger than the teal around it, around 200m away, near the north shore hide. Fortunately, though it remained distant, it didn't move very much, just turning and drifting, so I was able to use Live View to focus (using stacked extenders means only manual focus was available), and take many shots. I suspect the bird to the right, below, is a female of the same species, but since this is the only shot I got of it, and its face is hidden, I can't be certain.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Bird project 7 - Stock dove

Columba oenas Stock dove

Location: Wires and barn roof 200-300 metres northeast of Marton Mere, Blackpool.
Conditions: Hazy sunshine, late afternoon; cold easterly wind.
Photograph quality: 3.

Comments: There are still a few species commonly found within walking distance or a short ride on public transport that I haven't yet photographed. Stock doves are seen regularly on farm buildings and power lines just east of Marton Mere, but perhaps because they look so similar to feral pigeons, I have overlooked them. I got a proper camera bag this month, so I can carry my tripod with much less difficulty. This allows me to spend much longer scanning for birds at a distance, using my camera, long lens, and two or three teleconverters as a spotting scope, and photographing anything notable.

I was also hoping to see a little owl, which is found in the same location, but it was not to be seen on this occasion. It took me some time to be absolutely sure the pigeons I photographed were stock doves, as the most obvious distinguishing feature (the green metallic neck) was not visible on any of the individuals. However, the general colouration, and especially the black eyes, are I believe conclusive.

The bird perched on the wire in the first photograph above is certain. The others, which seem similar, but were further away, are less definite, but still probably the same species. I've included a photograph of one yawning - something I've never seen before! Note, these photographs were taken at the limit of my equipment - at 2800mm focal length.

Bird project 6 - Waxwing

Bombycilla garrulus Waxwing

Location: Highfield Road, Blackpool.
Conditions: First sighting (07/02/2013) overcast, very thick cloud; second sighting (08/02/2013) bright sunshine, blue sky (both mid afternoon).
Photograph quality: 1.

Comments: One species I hadn't really expected to see this winter. There has been a much greater number of these birds in the UK over the 2012-13 winter, reportedly due to failing food sources in Scandinavia - an irruption. Flocks of dozens of birds each have been seen in most parts of the country, but no significant numbers had made it to the Blackpool area until this month (Preston - the next large town inland - has seen a lot of waxwings though). A flock was sighted on the first of February, and I tried to find it the next day - but it was gone. I assume this was the same flock, which reappeared less than a mile away, and was seen in the same location for several days (as of writing, it is still there).

The first sighting was in a low tree by the main road. I was able to set up my tripod and take a large number of images, and some video, but the light was very poor. However, the following day offered perfect conditions, and the number of birds had increased from 17 to around 35. I only got a couple of minutes with the flock this second time, but it was enough to get the shots I wanted. Check out my Flickr feed for some of the best shots of these birds.