Monday, 15 October 2012


The UK's Starling population has declined in recent years but, if you're wondering where they're gone, look no further than Newquay in Cornwall. There are loads of them in that town. These young ones were at Fistral Beach and were pretty tame, no doubt well-fed on handouts from surfers and other beach-goers.

Just got made redundant, so I should have plenty of time for birding should nothing else turn up.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A very rare bird

But a bird of a different kind. A Vulcan bomber flew over on its way from the Bournemouth Air Show to the Shoreham Air Show this afternoon. I knew it would be around but didn't think it would fly over here so, when I heard loud jet engines, I ran outside and then ran back in for my camera and just managed to get the shot below. The Vulcan, originally intended to drop nuclear bombs on the enemy in the event of war between the USA and the Soviet Union, was retired in 1984 and this one, Avro Vulcan XH558, is the last of its kind.

Monday, 23 July 2012


A male and female Kestrel have been around all day, at one point giving a Common Buzzard a hard time. I didn't manage to get the Buzzard as that had gone by the time I got my camera, but I did manage to take a photo of the female Kestrel

And the sky really was this colour. The south of the country is - at last! - having some great summer weather, at least until Friday.

Click for largest size

And a Meadow Brown butterfly in the hedge. Butterflies had suffered with the shite summer we've had, but it seems to have done Meadow Browns good as I have never seen as many as I have the past couple of days.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

A(msterdam) to Zzzzzzzzzzzzz(eebrugge)

A couple of weeks ago I was in Amsterdam, NL, then the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, aboard the P&O ship Oriana. How I came to be aboard that ship was a matter of luck, a friend of a friend was supposed to be on that trip, he dropped out and I was asked if I wanted to come along instead. Why not, I had nothing else on at the time and, besides, I like ships and sea travel.

I took my new 100-400mm lens with me on this trip. There were plenty of birds about but most were out of camera range. The Noordzeekanaal to Amsterdam, during the first day of the cruise, was alive with birds, with gull and tern colonies at IJmuiden and lagoons along the canal holding waders - mostly Oystercatchers - and ducks. There was even a population of - presumably feral - Egyptian Geese. The Noordzeekanaal flows through an area which is a mixture of nature and industry in a predominantly man-made landscape, the surrounding area is almost completely flat. There were chemical factories, ships, docks, piles of coal, farms, villages and, of course, windmills (turbines), yet my impression was of the bird calls - terns, gulls and waders - being the most noticeable element in this landscape.

The Noordzeekanaal in the evening, as we headed back out to the North Sea

The following shots were taken at Zeebrugge. The terns were a challenge, they were fast little buggers but I managed to get a few acceptable shots of them. The 100-400 is good for bird photography and very sharp. However, I'll stick with my 400mm prime for birds-in-flight shots as the AF is faster although the 100-400 will be a travel and all-round lens. Mentioning travel, poncing around the North Sea on a cruise ship is one thing but I now have itchy feet for a long haul trip. Where - maybe Africa or Asia; when - no idea, maybe next year or 2014, depending on finances (as ever).

Click for largest.

I know. Boring. Roll on autumn migration...

Friday, 29 June 2012

Nothing we didn't know!

This has been the wettest second quarter (April to June) in the UK since records began in 1910. In other news it has emerged that the Pope's religious leanings tend towards Catholicism and bears relieve themselves in sylvan settings.
Let's hope things improve from July onwards - but I am not optimistic.

Still, the sun did emerge from its hiding place for a brief time today and I got to try out my new lens a bit more. It appears that, while its performance is good across the focal lengths and at all apertures, its 'sweet spot' is at f/8. It is as sharp as anything at that aperture and gives my 400mm telephoto (while the latter is a sharper lens) a close run for its money.

Click on photos for largest size.

Boating types speeding past in a RIB (crop from original)

There was a lovely schooner anchored just offshore, the 'Eleanora E', which is going to be participating in some races later in the summer. I did see this in the distance yesterday, under full sail, but as I was at work I didn't have my camera with me. Note half-hearted guest appearance by the sun.

To drag this back on topic, as it is 'supposed' to be a birding blog, here's a gull which caused a brief 'WTF is that?!' moment. Apologies for the poor photo but it was a grabbed shot and a hefty crop from the original. It was a moment of 'OMG it's a....hang on, no, it's a Med Gull'.

I am off on some brief travels on Tuesday, returning on Saturday. I am going off on a party cruise with a friend on P&O's Oriana. Should be fun. I am not expecting to see many birds, it being July and the sea time being at night, but I'll still take my binoculars and big lens, just in case. You never know...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

New toy!

I am weak. Very weak. Totally and utterly weak. Why? Well, I have used a 400mm f/5.6 L-series lens for four years now for my bird photography, backed up with a 70-200mm f/4 L zoom for close up shots, sometimes with a 1.4x extender on it to make it 280mm at the longest end. However, I was lacking anything between 200-400mm and I was missing the flexibility and versatility of a zoom.

I'd been considering a large telephoto zoom lens for months now, not just for birds, but for other subjects as well. The 1.4x extender on the 70-200 worked well enough but at the cost of some quality and I wasn't that happy with the results, as using the bare lens then doing a hefty crop often produced more pleasing results. Many times since December I have perused magazine pages and websites looking at Canon and Sigma long zooms and comparing them. In the end the choice came down to the Canon 100-400 L IS or the Sigma 120-400mm OS which is half the Canon's price.
Anyway, and this is where the weakness comes in, I'd resisted getting a large zoom for ages but finally weakened before completely caving in yesterday and bought a Canon 100-400mm L lens. Unfortunately the weather is still crap - crappier in fact - being foggy and grey all day and the birds have vanished (it's that time of year), so I have not had a chance to properly try it out yet.

One of my aunt's cats, Molly, was a less-than-willing subject. (Yeah. Cats. I know. But Molly and her sister are indoor cats, from Cats Protection).

And a noisy pic of a Chinook helicopter that was flying around this afternoon. The light and visibility were atrocious

I am keeping the 400mm f/5.6 - I'd solicited opinions on Bird Forum and elsewhere and it seems that a lot of people have both lenses - as I can't bear to part with it and it remains one of the best birding lenses there is. My 70-200, though, is now up for sale. If you're passing the Island Photo Centre in Newport, Isle of Wight, and see a commission-sale 70-200mm f/4 L looking a bit lonely in there, please do me and it a favour by giving it a new home - yours for the princely sum of £400! No it isn't, I changed my mind. Better keep it, just in case.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ventnor Downs

It was a horrible, grey, wet and windy 'summer' morning with the result I couldn't be bothered to get out of bed until my aunt suggested we go out, have lunch and take the dogs for a walk. Luckily, by the time we left the house, the rain had stopped and by the time we left the pub, the sun was peeping out from behind the clouds.

We ended up on Ventnor Downs but, unsurprisingly, given the windy conditions, not a lot was about.

The small birds, Meadow Pipits, were a bit too far away for decent shots, but do make quite nice 'bird in habitat' pics.

A 14-mile shot! A container ship in the Solent.

Roll on autumn - may as well, as the 'summer' is garbage so far and, from what I have heard and read, not going to improve a lot between now and September. Migration will be under way by then so I am planning a trip to Blakeney Point. I say 'planning', I am actually really only thinking about planning it at this stage. I have never seen a Bluethroat or a Red-flanked Bluetail and I would have a fairly good chance of seeing one, or both, of these on the north Norfolk coast if the weather conditions (a nice easterly airflow) are right.

Ok, here's a subject that is very close to a lot of (wildlife) photographers' hearts - lens envy. 'Camera' envy doesn't come into it quite so much as it is the piece of glass on the front of the box of tricks, rather than the box of tricks itself, that determines image quality. Well, that and the person behind the camera, obviously.
I see a lot of photographs on the net and feel as envious as hell, as these photos are often beyond merely 'excellent' and often blow my own meagre efforts out of the water. The photos are often taken with 500mm or 600mm f/4 lenses, those nice big white ones (if you're talking about Canon) which cost as much as a decent second-hand car and which we mere mortals can't afford, not without a very understanding bank (not in these straitened times!) or a highly well-paid job - usually both. The thing is, though, you don't need lenses that cost the same as a car, as the vastly cheaper 400mm f/5.6 will do the same job. It, too, is an L-series lens and the only difference, apart from the shorter focal length and lack of IS, is the f-ratio of 5.6 as opposed to the more preferable f/4. The really great shots are achieved by the use of hides, tripods, lying in wait for hours on end and also finding out about the creature, its habits and where it is most likely to be seen at a given time of day. In short, bags of patience and "fieldcraft".
Jono Lethbridge has written about this very subject more eloquently than me, and you can see it on his blog (see blog links to the right, under 'Wanstead Birder'). If you can't be bothered to trawl through the links - and life's too short to mess about - here's a direct link: Photography Envy

Good luck to England against Italy in the Euro 2012 quarter final tonight!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Summer - is the new autumn

Or so it would seem. After a couple of nice days, it's back to the autumnal rain and gales, it's stair-rodding it down outside, aided and abetted by a nice force 8 gale. It is actually the summer solstice but you'd actually think it was the autumn equinox, given the gash weather. I know Britain has a reputation for dodgy weather and often disappointing summers but this is unusual; we have had two MONTHS of this garbage and it is beyond a joke now. I have never had 'SAD' in June before!
This led me to a (expletive-laden) rant on Facebook and an American friend offering to swap his 100°F temps for our rain. Not even remotely funny...

The rain has caused problems at the Isle of Wight Festival today, it's the first day and cars have not been able to get onto the site, meaning gridlock right across the Island from the ferry ports and people - including residents - being stuck in traffic for literally hours. I nearly got caught out myself when driving from Ryde to Wootton for work. In the end I had to abandon the attempt to get to Wootton and beat a hasty retreat back to Ryde, the work will have to wait for another time, fortunately it is something that can wait. Even the back roads and rat runs were gridlocked! That's what you get when you get a combination of dire weather, the festival being in a not-very-sensible place and the population of a decent-sized town descending on the Island at the same time. 70,000 people is half the Island's population (approx. 140,000) again.

Here's a grabbed shot of the lovely summery June weather, as seen through the dining room doors. As someone said on a forum, you can slag off politicians to their face, boo your football team when they put in a bad performance, etc, but you can't do a damn thing about the weather, which makes it so frustrating!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Common or garden

Here follows a load of pictures of common garden birds, including 8 pictures of one Starling because I couldn't decide which photo to use. Garden birds are boring birds? No way. Apart from anything else, they provide good photographic practice - and they're fun to watch.
I spent part of the afternoon, between work and a hair appointment, sitting in the garden taking pictures and making the most of the last of the summer sun that we're likely to see for the next few days, as the rain is coming back.

Click for largest, they're not labelled, you all know what they are.