A Great Finish to 2015 - Cranes, Curlews, Bramblings and Water Rail!

It was a great finish to the year with a few hours of sunshine lifting the spirits and the photos! Of note was a visit to Slimbridge WWT at the end of December in WARM SUNSHINE! There is something not at all right with the World...

The Common Cranes were in evidence and one decided to come towards the hide and have a good wash - to the sound of clattering shutters! It was nice to `lose` those leg-rings for once and to get large images without needing a teleconverter. Its just a good job we don`t use film anymore! I have posted a few :-) shots on Flickr...

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It was great to end the year with views of a truly positive conservation story.

There were a couple of Greater Scaup on the reserve; the really close-up one in the Eider Pool turning out to be a tufted duck however...

I call then not-scaups....

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The real jobs were to be found later that afternoon as the last few minutes of sun sank below the horizon on the far side of Rushy Pool.

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At The Kingfisher Hide a Mistle Thrush decided to eat the mistletoe berries behind the feeders. Unfortunately a branch insisted on getting in the way for almost every shot - you only need one though they say...

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Mistle Thrush on Mistletoe.
The Estuary was alive with waders - another conservation success at least for now - and geese were well represented.

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Brent Geese over The Severn Estuary.
Finally, often overlooked but worth a second look, it is worth noting how tolerant of humans the rooks are at Slimbridge. They can be difficult to approach anywhere else due to persecution.

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And then, just as the year drew to a close, a couple of hours of sun at my local reserve - The Christopher Cadbury Upton Warren Reserve - near Bromsgrove finally produced some crippling (to use the vernacular) views of a water rail and Curlew in flight; I took a few pictures....

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So - here`s hoping for a great 2016. New Zealand beckons...

Smew, Long-eared Owl and Marsh Harrier at Dungeness RSPB - and was that a scaup????

RSPB  Dungeness is a great reserve although it must be said that it can be a tad bleak....


The sunshine lasted for 5 minutes - I had about 1 minute to photograph the owl before the clouds rolled in and the rain began....
The directions given by the lady at the visitor center were precise and accurate however so we had little trouble finding the long-eared owl on the far side of `the dipping pool`. Getting a good shot was tricky however due to the gale-force wind! MANY photographs were taken!

All the same.....
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Long-eared Owl.
We knew there were likely to be smew on the reserve but experience had taught me that they were always on the far side of the big (very big) lake....

Enter first hide...

"Good God it`s a smew!"

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Next hide - `we never see anything from this one` - ahem....
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The Marsh Harrier that `put-up` the lapwing were a great footnote to a truly memorable day at this iconic reserve. 

The horizontal rain was not so welcome though....

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That is a lake, not the sea!
O yes - the scaup. Today (29th December) we watched two female great scaup at The Rushy Pen, Slimbridge WWT. I will have to have ANOTHER look at the photographs of that not-scaup/tufted before I delete them...

Calke Abbey and Reservoir - Green Woodpeckers and Tree-creeper and other woodland birds.

On 9th December there was the chance of some sunshine `north` so we set off for one of our favorite National Trust properties - Calke Abbey. A good day`s birding can be had by walking the grounds (spending time in the two excellent hides - with feeders) and walking to the near-by reservoir. There is also history here - the house has been `preserved` in a dilapidated state as it was when handed to the Trust and there are some lime-kilns to explore as well. (This is a good spot for wild flowers)>

The hides provided good views in bright sunshine of greenfinches, goldfinches, reed buntings, coal - blue -great and marsh tits, as well as a sparrowhawk trying his luck.

The walk through woodland provided some very close views of a tree-creeper (in dull light of course) and the path to the reservoir provided a brief view of two green woodpeckers; one day I will get close views of this bird)!

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And finally....

The long-horns are always worth a look as they `manage` the scrub. Their colours blend-in beautifully with the Winter vegetation.

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Hillers Farm Shop (near Dunington) for great birdwatching!

Hillers Farm Shop and Garden Center near Dunington (http://www.hillers.co.uk/) is certainly worth a visit when fine foods with minimum food-miles are required. I REALLY LIKE their bread pudding...

What is not always appreciated however is that they provide an excellent little hide with well-stocked bird-feeders. Food from the cafe also goes on the ground and attracts deer - watching a young deer eat cake while mom eats her cabbage is certainly entertaining. 

My first visit (to buy bread flour) provided great views of several deer and the `usual` woodland birds that visit feeders BUT I had no camera! (I`m still taking the tablets)...

The images below and others on my Flickr Feed show how close the birds are and relatively easy to photograph. Any reasonable camera will give good results. There were five great-spotted woodpeckers and up to three were visible at any one time for over an hour.
The half-dozen red-legged partridges were a real treat!

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Great-spotted Woodpecker.

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Marsh Tit.
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A young fallow deer enjoys cake!

Goosanders at Sandwell RSPB and much more.

The new visitor center at Sandwell RSPB reserve is now open so we decided to take a look at that and see if the goosanders would be showing well for the camera.

It was a strange journey to the reserve mind you, with Eunice (our Satnav) taking us straight through the middle of Birmingham when a couple of motorways would have served us much better but the reserve was easy to find and well sign-posted.

There was little visible from the one hide (which also faces into the sun) but a walk around the lake (much of which lies outside the reserve and in a country park) did yield some lovely views of about 20 goosanders in the low afternoon sunlight. They were quite a distance away however, so the 2x teleconverter was required with the 100-400 Mk 2 lens to get reasonable image sizes. The camera handled the high contrast well however (shooting in raw of course) and I am pleased with the results under tricky lighting conditions.

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An added bonus were good sightings of a songthrush in the woodland over the river and a flock of long-tailed tits by the lake. This is a good place for a few hours` birding with several paths leading away from the reserve into surrounding woodland. Head towards Sandwell Abbey for more small lakes and a heronry as well.

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Finally, I was intrigued by these tiny fungi (Bonnets) growing in the leaf-litter ( surrounded by human-litter). This is an urban oasis so litter can be an issue in places.

A Visit to Brandon Marsh delivers great views of Redpole and a Kingfisher!

Where has December gone?

Perhaps it was the turkey...

I have finally found time to sit in front of the computer and record the successful visit to Brandon Marsh this month. It has to be said that this is a reserve where I have had limited success over the years but that all changed this time!

The hedgerows were alive with bullfinches and lesser redpoles; a pair of the latter deciding to `pose` on seed-heads outside the hide for me so I could get some good shots in spite of the strong wind.

Lesser Redpole.
As indicated in the title, a Kingfisher showed-up later (along with the rain) and provided a few brief moments of opportunity before disappearing into the gloom. The morel of food in his beak was a bonus as well (for us both)! It seems that I have finally managed to get some decent shots of this lovely species - although a chance to photograph one in the SUN would be nice!

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We shall definitely have to visit this reserve more often next year; I`m told birds of prey can show well.

Time will tell....