Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Wash in winter

This week, while I was visiting my parents for Christmas, I decided that, rather than relaxing, having a lie in and generally getting ready for the New Year, I would instead wake up at 5 am and drive to the RSPB Snettisham nature reserve to watch and photograph the Pink-footed Geese spectacular.

Pink-footed Geese from Iceland and Greenland migrate to the wash for the winter, roosting out on the open water of The Wash. Every morning, from September through to about March, huge squadrons of geese fly inland to feed on the sugar beet remnants in the fields of Norfolk farms.

I arrived at the reserve at 7 am, even before the sun had woken up. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by a chorus of honking geese, somewhere out in darkness of The Wash. Thank goodness my phone has a torch on it as, stupidly, I'd forgotten to pack one. I'd also managed to leave one of my gloves at home. My hands were going to be cold! I walked through the reserve to the beach and could just about make out the huge dark groups of geese out on the water beginning to wake up. Then, at about 7.30 am, as the sun began to shine brightly, they began to take flight in great skeins.

I really struck it lucky with the weather as well. Yes, it was cold, especially when the wind blew in off the water, but it was also clear and my early morning efforts were rewarded with a spectacular sunrise, which changed and evolved with every passing minute.

Once the geese had flown inland to find their breakfast, I began to take a look around the reserve.  I went into one of the hides and was immediately greeted by a friendly Robin.

He flew from bramble to bramble and then off to find his breakfast elsewhere. Watching all of these birds go and find their breakfast made me realise that my bowl of Cheerios at 5.30 am were clearly not enough and my stomach started to voice its displeasure.  I did, however, remember to pack a flask of tea which managed to keep hunger and cold at bay for a while longer.

The reserve has a lot more to offer other than just geese and robins. As the tide began to recede, uncovering vast mudflats, the beachcombers began to appear. First I spotted a few Turnstone, rooting around on the newly uncovered beach, joined shortly by a couple of Reed Buntings. Unfortunately the small LCD screen on my camera let me down, in that I didn't see that the photo of the Turnstone wasn't the best it could have been. I'll have to stick that shot down on the "redo list" for the next time I go.

Back on one of the reserve lagoons, an incredible number of Oystercatchers were sitting on a shingle beach, slowly waking up. I didn't notice at the time but there were also an incredible number of Knot roosting on the same bank (the grey bits on the right hand side). I also spied a Bar-tailed Godwit hiding in there as well.

Back on The Wash, the sun was now well and truly up. Unfortunately, the temperature had not followed suit and the wind compounded that fact.

Looking over one of the banks between the beach and the lagoon, I spotted a very large flock of roosting Knot, just beginning to wake up.

Their alarm clock obviously went off as, all at once, they took to the skies.  The collective sound of their wing beats sounded exactly like a breaking wave. It was an amazing thing to see and hear.

They went out onto the mudflats to meet up with the other tens of thousands of Knot and waders already feeding, occasionally taking to the sky, always signalled by the crashing wave soundtrack.

Barnes Common and the River Thames

It's been a while since my last post, so this is a bit of a catch up...

A couple of weekends ago, I took a late afternoon walk around Barnes Common. The light was not great and there wasn't a great deal to see but I did spy a Grey Squirrel foraging in the undergrowth. There was obviously a bit of a territory argument between it and a neighbour as it was barking as I approached.

I also spotted a large group of Ring-necked Parakeets feeding on the seeds of the trees. They fed for about 15 minutes and then flew off in one large group, making their characteristic squawking racket as they went.

I walked back via Barnes pond, where a lot of Canada Geese and a few Pink-footed Geese seem to have made their winter home. The light was really starting to fade by this time, hence the noise in the photo.

I finished my walk along the River Thames, taking in Barnes Bridge at sunset and finally along to the brewery.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The River Thames in autumn

Last weekend I was full of good intentions to head to the Wetlands centre and snap some of the autumn migrants that are now regularly dropping in. I didn't, however, account for the shortening days or how fast the light goes when it begins to. As a result, on Saturday I ended up having a walk along the banks of the River Thames and, in hindsight, I'm quite glad that I didn't make it to the WWT.

The sunset on Saturday evening turned out to be spectacular. At low tide, as the sun descended slowly, I was afforded beautiful views of the river and the bird life it supports.

Groups of Mallards were to be found which, with the sunset behind them, looked beautiful.

I also saw a Great Crested Grebe in its winter plumage, hunting for its dinner.

As I continued to wander up the river back, a family of Mute Swans swam past.

I also spyed a Grey Heron fishing for dinner. I'm not sure how good this particular Heron was as, the few times it did go for a fish, it appeared to fall on the target rather than decisively striking. It posed for a nice photo though.

Once the light had gone, I began to head home. On my way back I heard a Robin in one of the trees chirping away to anyone who listened. I managed to snap this shot of it using a flash and am quite pleased with the result.

The following day I again, attempted to get myself to the Wetlands centre. This time it was public transport that stopped me getting there. With no bus in sight after 20 minutes of waiting in the cold, I decided I would walk instead. Again, it was low tide as I strolled along the river and, again, I was tempted to take photos along the river bank instead of going over to the WWT.

The Great Crested Grebe was out fishing again and, this time, I was able to get a better lit shot of it.

The fog began to draw in as the sunlight faded making for lovely atmospheric shots.

Before the fog got too bad, which it did... very quickly, a murmuration of Starlings were flying just above the bridge. It wasn't the largest murmuration ever seen but it was still fascinating to watch.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A cold, grey day at the wetlands centre

Last weekend I spent a couple of hours at the Wildfowl & Wetlands centre, secretly hoping to capture that once in a lifetime shot of the recently returned Bittern. Sadly, on that day, it was not to be.

I was also hoping to see some of the birds currently migrating over London. Again, this was not meant to be.

Still, it's always nice to wander around the centre, even on an over-cast and slightly drizzly day.

There were still plenty of wildfowl around to see and snap.

There will be other days, better light and more birds.

Still, I'm happy with the few shots I did get.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Richmond park deer rut - Part 2

A couple of weekends ago, I went back to Richmond Park to see the deer rut. It was my aim this time to show Kelly some rutting stags and, I'm glad to say, the stags were obliging.

I decided I would get up very early and get to the park for sunrise, which was about 7.30 am on that particular day, hoping I'd get a nice, atmospheric, misty shot of a stag silhouetted against the rising sun. What I actually got was bad light and clouds. Still, I did manage to watch a Green Woodpecker flying around for a bit. I couldn't really get a decent shot of it, owing to the distance and the bad light, but I quite like the way this shot came out.

After locking up my bike, I was immediately greeted with the familiar roar of a dominant stag, this one with a group of hinds to watch over.

There was a lot of work to be done by the dominant stag, as the hinds were attracting a lot of other stags attentions. Mind you, I don't think the following guy posed much of a challenge to him though.

Perhaps this guy, although I think he might stand a better chance in a few more years.  He did give me a bit of a fright though when he popped he head up right next to me.  I certainly wasn't about to fight him!

There was the usual group of large stags and hinds a short walk from Pembroke Lodge, with a number of very large and fairly evenly matched stags keeping each other at bay.

Again, the apparent lack of knowledge some people have about dangerous these creatures can potentially be was all too obvious.  The guy in the photo below didn't have his dog on a lead and didn't slow his walk in the slightest, even when faced with a stag on the footpath ahead of him.  Fortunately (for him...) the stag made a dash for it into the bracken. 

I met Kelly at Pembroke Lodge and we joined the Friends of Richmond Park for a deer talk by Chris Howard of the British Deer Society, followed by a led walk around the park.  It was an interesting talk and a nice excuse to go inside, warm up and have a cup of tea.

It was on this walk where Kelly got to see two very evenly matched stags rutting.  The one of the right of the next photo had a harem of about six hinds and the other stag brazenly walked over to see if he could make them his.

They were fighting for about 15 minutes which, to my knowledge, is quite a long time, proving how evenly matched they were.

Eventually, the challenger turned and fled, with the victor hot on his heels.

We continued on our walk and saw lots of other red deer stags watching over various groups of hinds but no other action apart from the usual roaring.

There was a large group of Fallow deer as well but, as their rut had not started yet, males and females seemed content to hang around together.

Back at the spot near Pembroke Lodge, the large stags continued to roar to each other and to any hinds who were within ear shot.

On our way back to the park gate, we came across two hinds who were on their own; always a little disconcerting as I half expected to turn around to find myself face to face with their stag.  Fortunately this was not the case this time.

And finally, just to add a balance (well, sort of...), here's one of the parks resident Ring-necked Parakeets.  He and his friends were providing an accompaniment to the stags soundtrack.

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