Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Local Mega Seen Today!

Big surprise today at work-two Collared Doves in the conifers outside. The first I have seen in the Stevenage area since early November. Cannot understand why they have been so elusive in the last few months. They stopped coming to my feeders in October-about the time I took out the big Bay Tree, after some 25 years presence in the garden, but I expect to see them regularly travelling to and from work, the local supermarket and on my walks around Aston End. Be interesting to see what happens later on.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Bramfield Hawfinches

After an apparent year's break, the Hawfinches are back in Bramfield village, showing quite well at times. As I have not been out for a while I decided to go there this morning, though with a quick visit to Amwell first thing.
It was a nice sunny morning, but with a nasty northerly breeze and there was a bit of ice here and there. I had hoped to see the Smew, as up to five have been seen recently, but they were not showing. Apparently two were present at the south end first thing, but had presumably done their usual trick and hid behind the main island. The Ravens which are back did not show for me either, though four different Red Kites were nice in the blue winter sky.
I walked up to Tumbling Bay but there were few ducks on it and there was nothing in the riverside trees either. Returning, I stopped at the James Hide feeders where one of the Marsh Tits was present, and one or two Siskins were in the Alders above me.

I left at 1030, arriving at Bramfield about twenty minutes later. There were a few rather disconsolate birders present in the Churchyard. Two hawfinches had been seen around 0830, with another very briefly some time after 1000. I wandered around for a bit checking some of the areas around the Rectory and had got to the south end when I saw someone waving-and being ignored by most of the others. He had seen bird fly out of the Rectory and into the Churchyard. I went in and found two Hawfinch in a bare oak in the adjacent garden with some Greenfinches. They soon flew off having only been seen by a few. About ten minutes later, while I was chatting to someone we realised that another had appeared in a low tree, before flying into a Yew to feed. Despite the difficulties in seeing it, most were able to get onto it and occasionally the views were pretty good. Unfortunately it eventually flew off and could not be located again. As I left, it or another had been found a little way up the road, before flying into one of the gardens.
Added a few other year ticks today, including several vocal Nuthatches, but its been over two months now since I last saw Collared Doves!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades

Last night the sky was reasonably clear, but rather bright-I think the local school had their floodlights on. It was also very windy with a nasty windchill so I was only out for a brief period just after 20.00. Three images totalling 150 seconds with the Zeiss 100mm lens at f2.8 and iso 800. Had problems with the colour balance and trying to bring out the faint tail, so its a bit overcooked.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Comet Lovejoy and Orion

Last night (10th January) the skies were reasonably clear at times so I obtained a few images. This time I used the 100mm Zeiss lens at f2, reduced the iso to 800 and increased the exposures to 50 seconds. The resulting images were very nice in Lightroom, but the lens suffers considerably from vignetting. The Adobe profiles are not ideal with long exposure astro photography so I produced a few flat files and used Deep Sky Stacker  to generate a Tiff file for subsequent processing. The results are not perfect but its a bit better.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Comet Lovejoy

Had a few clear nights this week. The comet is getting a bit higher in the sky and is quite bright. Even from my light polluted garden it is visible as a faint smudge with the naked eye.
Tried to get some more images, but even with the filter I am limited to fairly short exposures with the 300mm F4 lens. Settings of iso 2000 and exposures of 15-20 seconds seem optimum before background noise starts to become a problem. Would be a lot better from a darker location. Tonight was not ideal, as there seemed to be a bit of haze, with thin whips of cloud drifting over, but I wasn't expecting to have an opportunity so I quickly set up in the garden and obtained a few reasonable images. The ion tail that some are capturing is beyond my short exposures unfortunately but it still looks nice.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Fog and Ice

Went for a walk around Aston End this morning. Overnight it has been very cold and foggy, so everything is coated in frost, so I took the camera and a selection of short lenses. Only got a few hundred yards and almost decided to turn back as it  was so slippery, but I persevered.
Found a small tit flock in the plantation, with some Goldcrests in it, but could not find Coal Tits for some reason. After that things turned really quiet with very little to see or hear for the next half hour. Lots of ice and very deep puddles in the lanes but I made it to the ford. Water is very high, which is nice to see, and flowing very fast. Even nicer was a Little Egret flying north, my first for this part of the Beane valley.
Things then got a bit quit again until I got to Lords Farm where as expected, I found a flock of Fieldfare. Numbering around a hundred, there were also a few Redwing and Mistle Thrush in the area. Always mobile, they were ranging up and down a half mile stretch of the river. Over near the paddocks, it was clear that heavy rain had had an impact, with a lot of flattened vegetation and some areas with standing water. Heard two Little Owls, but they were not in the traditional trees.
Only other birds of note were two Bullfinch up around Chells Manor. No Larks, Pipits or Buntings.  No raptors either but with no sun and fog all morning was not expecting to see any.

Friday, 2 January 2015


This morning went to Amwell. Weather is a lot better today, nice bright sunshine, but a lot cooler, and there is still a bit of a sharp breeze.
Nice bonus as I drove in from Cauthery Lane-a Kingfisher was on the railings by the war memorial lake.
Rather quiet as expected. Water levels very high still, and as a result little for waders and gulls to loaf on. Seem to be a lot of Shoveller, a few Teal and plenty of Gadwall. Couple of Goldeneye, but the recent drake Smew only stayed a couple of hours unfortunately. Its the worst winter for Smew at Amwell for many years.
Walked through the wood with Mick and Tony Hukin. Seem to be a lot of Redwing around, plus a few Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. The alders held the usual Goldfinch flock, but Siskin numbers are up. We only found eight, but there are around 20 present. No Redpolls this year though. Struggled to locate Marsh Tit. Phil has removed the Hollycross feeders as he was fed up feeding the sheep, which have damaged many of the trees, so birds are a bit thin on the ground there now. We did hear one or two around the James hide, and we also picked up two female Bullfinch as well.
Bumped into Dave from Royston-have not seen him for quite a while, so had a bit of a chat as he is keen on astronomy among other things.
Phil told us to keep an eye or ear open for Raven. Did not find them, but just heard that four were seen this afternoon.
No sign of the Bustard today, so don't know what we will be doing on Sunday.

New years Day

Unlike most keen birders who were heading up to twitch the Little Bustard near Bridlington, I decided on something  a bit more sedate to kick the New Year off. I needed it, but there is some talk of the recent influx maybe pertaining to released French birds, but to be perfectly honest, I did not feel up to a long journey, and i don't think Colin was either.
Our plan such as it was, was to travel round the fens, targeting raptors owls and wildfowl, but by the time Colin arrived the wind had really picked up so we decided to go to the Norfolk coast.
On the way we had a quick look for Glaucous Gull at Milton without success, and also stopped at Hunstanton to pick up Fulmar, and with the empty roads got to Titchwell at 0930. It was windy, overcast and despite supposedly being warm felt rather miserable. There was not much really, the usual assortment of waders and wildfowl on the fresh marsh-with maybe 20 Avocet being the highlight.  A continual scan of Thornham failed to pick up Hen Harrier or Peregrine, but two or three Marsh harriers were nice. At the end of the path, a small flock of twit in the dunes was nice. Very little on the sea- a few Mergansers and Scoter.
Went back via the Fen Trail, the only bird of note being Chiffchaff.
After lunch, we went to Burnham Overy having made a detour round Brancaster where we failed to locate any geese, let alone four Tundra Beans. A scan from the road picked up the Great White Egret, a Red Kite and several Buzzards and Marsh Harriers. Walked down to the sea wall but the Egret had vanished. Kept scanning over towards Holkham but we failed to find Rough Legged Buzzards, hen harriers or owls. Plenty of Brent and Pink Footed Geese milling around, but nothing out of the ordinary with them. Left at 1330 and was home two hours later.