Saturday, 16 August 2014

One Hare

There is a nice play on words in Urdu based on the similarity in sound between the name "Iqbal" and the words "ek baal", which literally translated means "one hair". As a result, any man with serious hair loss issues can be referred to as Iqbal, for he is indeed a man with very few hairs left. Since discovering this piece of word play whenever I see a single Brown Hare I play my own version of the game and whisper his name to myself: Iqbal. One Hare. There was an example this morning:
Iqbal in North Field

Also in North Field were 2 Ravens and this pellet. At first I assumed it was an owl pellet, the undigestible regurgitated remains of the last few meals. However, a little research reveals that the size, colour and location mean it is more likely to be a Common Buzzard pellet:

A Treecreeper by the pond was a real surprise, the second of the year, but only the 4th in the last 6 years and the first ever summer record. They are rare birds out here in these arable lands. The local Hobby pair have fledged 2, possibly 3 young, but I was surprised to come across them on the ground, in a recently ploughed field. Searching for insects on foot perhaps? Below is a hastily thrown together montage of the juvenile birds in flight, with an adult, centre:
Within a few weeks these beautiful falcons will have left us for their sub-Saharan wintering grounds.

89 species for the year (no additions since April 21st!)

Dutch Birding

No publications for over 40 years and then three come along all at once. Dutch Birding, the European birding journal, went for my favourite image of the female Caucasian Grouse that I stumbled across in April: 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Norway in July: Walking with Bluethroats, swimming with Goldeneye

We spent 10 days in mid July in Norway on a family holiday. Our first five nights were spent at 1000 meters altitude on the edge of the Rondane National Park at Brekkeseter in Høvringen. We were just above the treeline and sometimes just above the clouds:

Our cabin had a grass roof and Rondane National Park was our back garden:

Garden wildlife included Mountain Hares...

... the abundant Willow Warblers...

... the always shy Ring Ouzels...

... and big noisy Fieldfares. These birds are abundant around Cuddesdon in winter and it was a treat to see them on their Norwegian breeding grounds:

Further afield, out on the fjell, were proper mountain birds. Dotterel, Ptarmigan and Red-necked Phalaropes can all be found in these hills. But not if you are accompanied by a 2 year old and a 4 year old. We made do with the local Willow Grouse...

... and the ubiquitous Bluethroats. This fabulous species was common on the fjell and around Brekkeseter. We saw males:


... and lots of freshly fledged juveniles. Superficially similar to juvenile Robin, although they already have the orange tail bases of the adults:

The scenery was stunning, this is Tverrgjelet, a Great Snipe breeding area:


Golden Plover were common local breeders:

The nearest hill held a breeding pair of Rough-legged Buzzards. I photographed this female bird at 10pm, it is illuminated by the orange tones of the setting sun:

Some other wildlife: These Lapland Ringlet butterflies were abundant around Brekkeseter:

Yes, it did survive.

One evening my wife came across a Norwegian Lemming standing it's ground on the path. Using her phone, she captured this brilliant video of it shrieking madly before it scuttled off: 

Guess which of these children is NOT Norwegian?

After a fabulous five days in the mountains we headed south. We stopped at this motorway service station on the E6 some 90 minutes south of Rondane:

Note the grass covered roof on the filling station, the perfectly clean lake for children to swim in. There are tennis courts just visible in the right of the picture and a beach volley ball court behind them. Clacket Lane Services it is not. Some 5 hours later we arrived our friend's place, on Lake Lyseren, 30 minutes south-east of Oslo. It was a picture:

On our first evening we sat on the balcony and watched the sun slide into the lake as the clouds turned pink. And then, in this scene of utter tranquility, something astounding happened. A fireball exploded low in the northern sky. A dazzlingly bright streak of white light, which appeared to explode before vanishing. Brighter and stronger than any meteor I have ever seen, even with the sun still on the horizon. It looked something like this:

Having recovered from the shock of witnessing a truly rare astronomical event, and one in such scenery, we settle into life by the lake. I indulge my inner Wild Swimmer and head out into the lake a few times every day:

And out in the lake I bump into more wildlife. The local breeding ducks are Goldeneye, which by mid July are in an unfamiliar (to me) eclipse plumage. You could be forgiven for thinking that these were two female Goldeneye:

But when they take flight the extra white patch on the secondary coverts of the left hand bird reveals that this is an eclipse male. Compare wing patterns with the female, on the right:

Juvenile Goldeneye are very plain brown birds:

If I swam up quietly I could approach Goldeneye to within 10 meters or so, but occasionally they would pop up next to me, as close as 5 meters, a fantastic experience. In the centre of the lake was a family of these beauties, Red-throated Divers:

The butterflies here were more familiar, this is a Peacock:

This a Silver-washed Fritillery:

Norway is a fabulous country with some very special wildlife, we had an idyllic time. My Bluethroat encounters in particular, will long remain with me:

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Lundy Field Society Report 2013

My first cover! Lovely to see one of my images of a Snow Bunting used a cover picture on the recently published Lundy Field Society Report for 2013. This high quality publication appears amazingly quickly, covers all the fauna and flora recorded on the island, is packed full of immaculately presented details and is always a pleasure to read: 

I have visited the island of Lundy, off the north Devon coast, for all but one of the last seven autumns. I first went in September 2003 and almost immediately met Richard Campey, who was on the island for the same week. We hit it off, he introduced me to the island, bird photography and to the joy of discovering your own birds. In fact, he has a lot to answer for and a lot for me to thank him for. Without him this Snow Bunting cover would not exist. 

A few years afterwards Richard introduced me to Lundy regulars Tim Davies, Tim Jones and James Diamond. I joined them for a week and this has become an annual event every autumn. It is one of the birding and social highlights of my year and is always a huge pleasure. Last year we nearly struck gold. Richard, James and I left the island after a week with Tim D and Tim J only for them to find a Yellow-rumped Warbler, fresh in from the US on the back of the St Jude's Day storm. Despite such acts of treachery, we have arranged to go out to the island together once again this autumn:

Snow Buntings are cracking birds. The birds we come across in the autumn on Lundy are almost certainly from Iceland (subspecies insulae) and are heading south-east to winter on the coasts of France and the Lowlands. They can be incredibly approachable, but are a bugger to photograph: they spend all their time selfishly creeping about on the ground, with barely a thought for the poor photographer waiting for them to look up: 

But when they do, it is special:

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Birdwatch Magazine, August 2014

It was nice to see Birdwatch magazine publish a write up of my close encounter with a female Caucasian Grouse in Georgia back in April:

There was a little bit of the usual artistic licence...

...but they published what I sent them virtually unedited:

My only criticism is that if this was meant to be an article about a bird that "is hardly ever photographed in the wild", then why use a small image of only the head of the bird (above)? These images were supplied as well, which in my humble opinion, do seem to show the bird rather better... 

Perhaps it was a space/time problem? Either way it was lovely to relive the encounter again.