Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Insects with the PL 100-400

Sunday was very much like Saturday, sunny, warm in sheltered areas but with a nasty cold breeze. I took the new 100-400 lens out for a stroll around Aston End and up the river Beane.
Birdwise it was a bit disappointing. There were seven singing Chiffchaffs in total, the only 'spring' visitor I picked up. Three singing Greenfinches were about par for the course, and there were around a dozen Skylarks and five Yellowhammers. The winter thrushes seem too have departed now, and Meadow Pipits and Linnets seem to have gone as well. Still n Bullfinch, Little Owl etc.
One interesting bird was up near the Chells Manor radio mast-an alba Wagtail flying  north. Seemed to be rather too pale on the mantle to be Pied and I strongly suspect it was a White Wagtail.
Had more success with butterflies. A total of two Commas and five Small Tortoiseshells, most being around a small willow bush near what little is left of the river Beane (now thanks to the dry winter just a series of elongated puddles).

Saturday, 25 March 2017


Spent a couple of hours at Amwell this morning with Bill and William. Although a very sunny day, the raw north easterly was a bit unpleasant.
There has been a lot of work done around the reserve recently, a lot of trees have been removed-not sure why and a wedge has been 'layed' though trashed might be more appropriate. The water levels are still rather high though I was told that Barry did adjust the sluice before heading off to southern Argentina and a south atlantic cruise.
Most of the wintering duck have departed, with one drake Wigeon remaining. One Egyptian Goose is around, but I missed a very quick visit by a pair of Shelduck. Waders almost non existent of course as there is hardly any habitat for them, though a pair of Redshank have returned.
Several singing Chiffchaffs and a rather quiet Blackcap were the only hint of spring until late in the morning when a Comma and a few Brimstones appeared.

Rather than take the usual camera gear I too the GX8 with me, as a Panasonic Leica 100-400 lens arrived yesterday. The combo hardly weighs anything compared to my usual gear and made for a more comfortable walk. The lens focuses reasonably close should be good for insects and things. Didn't get to shoot any of those so once I got home I tried it on a few garden plants.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Few Good Birds Today

 Rather windy day today, but went out for a short trip with Colin and picked up some good birds.
First port of call was the Little Bunting at Great Barford. Since we were last there, the field has been ploughed up, but the local birders have been seeding the spot and the bunting has stuck around.
 Two birders were there when we arrived-got closer and recognised the two usual suspects on a day out from Tyttenhanger. They had been there for a bit without luck, but shortly after we arrived the Little Bunting appeared and spent most of the time feeding, flitting up into a bush now and again when disturbed by Great Tits and Robins. Just for a change, I decided to stick with the 500mm lens and the GX8, usually with the 2x converter but occasionally also with the 1.4x. Took a video sequence, which will be on Youtube later, but heres a pretty good image (effectively 2800mm on a full frame 35mm camera).

The wind was a bit of a problem and I had to up the iso quite a bit to get an adequate shutter speed.

 Next stop wasn't too far away at Colmworth/Little Staughton where a Great Grey Shrike had been around the church for a few days. Unfortunately there was no sign in the appropriate fields but eventually a guy turned up and told us it was on some wires a few fields to the north. Just a speck in the scopes, so some of us moved a bit closer, and found it hunting a field using the wires as a perch. Managed to get pretty close at times but as before, the wind played havoc with my camera.

Looked really nice in the occasional sunshine, but just wish it wasn't so shaky. We attracted interest from one or two passers by on the rather busy road, so had to explain what it was, where it was from and so on.
 We then called in at Diddington Pits north of Paxton. We had wanted to go there last time we were in the area but the mist and fog meant it was pointless. Talking to some who had been here recently, I had expected to have a lot of difficulty picking up the female Ring Necked Duck, but it proved easy at first-I saw a small group of Tufties, scanned through and it was the third bird I looked at. Unfortunately they all spent most of the time asleep and it was then very tricky to locate, not helped by having to look into the sun so they were backlit in the glare. It woke up for a bit but I never managed to get any worthwhile images. Three Red Crested Pochards were a bit of a bonus.
 Rather than call it a day we headed home via the Lodge, Sandy. A Twite has been wintering nearby but hasn't been seen recently but it was worth trying.
Bumped into Richard Pople who gave us directions, and we walked down through the reserve to Biggleswade Common, picking up Nuthatch, Coal Tits and Great and Green Woodpeckers. The damp patch of wood was just outside the reserve boundary, and while the Twite wasn't seen, we had several Lesser Redpolls-rather scarce this winter and a somewhat larger paler Mealy Redpoll. They seemed to spend most of the time down in a ditch, and seemed to be feeding predominantly close to the water, rather than up in the trees where I usually expect to see them.
On the way back through the heath which being on the east side was sheltered from the fierce wind, I picked up my first Peacock and Comma butterflies. We had a brief stop at one of the ponds but there were no visible amphibians and then spent a while hoping that a Brambling would come down to one of the feeding stations but it never appeared.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Staying Local

I have not been on any birding trips for a few weeks now, for various reasons, and most of the time I have stayed close to home.
The weekend before last, I popped down to Amwell for a couple of hours with the expectation of picking up a few year ticks. It was one of those nice late winter days with a hint of spring in the air, bright and mild. A few of the plums were in flower, catkins were out on the hazels and leaves were starting to emerge. Bird wise it was a bit of a nothing day really. The usual pair of Oystercatchers were back on the island, and there were still plenty of Wigeon Gadwall etc as the water levels were still pretty high. The wintering red head Smews had decided to hide for the day and no-one could find them, pity really as I was banking on getting them before they departed. Of course they were back again the next day. I couldn't find Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper or Bullfinch either. With a few hirundines in the country there was a chance of one appearing, but I was about a week early.
I have been around Aston End and along the nearby stretch of the Beane a couple of times, the most recent being on Sunday. In between my two visits, some of the roadside hedges have been cut but in a somewhat more sympathetic way than the usual hack and slash destruction. Unfortunately, with the rather dry winter, the river level is quite low. It is still flowing but I can see it drying up completely over the summer unless we have a lot of rain over the next few months. The recent storm Doris doesn't seem to have caused much in the way of damage, with only a couple of leaning trees in the conifer plantation.
Skylarks are singing in small numbers, and the fields have a few Meadow Pipits-but I haven't seen more than five yellowhammers and a single Linnet. Greenfinches seem to be increasing in recent years and five were singing around the village on Sunday (and I heard one while in the garden yesterday which is a bit of a bonus), but there has been no sign yet of Bullfinches-there should be at least three occupied territories.
Thrush numbers are declining as spring approaches. A couple of weeks back I had around 35 Fieldfare, 25 Redwing with several Song Thrushes in a flock by the river, but on Sunday there were around 30 rather distant birds-mainly Fieldfare flying around Lords Farm. Twenty Mallard were sitting in an adjacent field, no idea where they came from as its rare to see more than the odd bird around this stretch as there only a very small pond here and the river is not suitable for ducks these days.
I heard a Tawny Owl in the regular spot, but as usual Little Owls were absent. With only a couple of encounters over the last three years its pretty conclusive that the nest hole that has been so reliable over the last 30 years has been abandoned. There is a lot more disturbance in the area these days and I am hoping that they have found a quieter spot further up river, though I have yet to find it.
The only hint of spring on Sunday was a single singing Chiffchaff some Celandines in flower, and a few Blackthorn blossoms  just starting to open.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Couple from the Garden Today

Busy in the garden when the weather permits. Some of the bulbs purchased last year are in flower at the moment.