Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Red Squirrel

The Isle of Wight is famous for its Red Squirrels. These cute creatures have been wiped out in most other parts of the UK, apart from here, Brownsea Island (in Poole Harbour, Dorset), some parts of the north of England, parts of Wales and the Highlands of Scotland, due to habitat loss and, quite possibly, the introduction of the Grey Squirrel on which competition for food and also the lethal squirrel pox has been blamed.
Near me, the nature reserve at Alverstone Mead has a population of Red Squirrels which are easy to see due to their lack of fear of people (they get handouts!). This makes them comparatively easy to photograph, although you only need a wide angle lens because they come close...and I mean close, literally only a couple of feet away. The only problem is the darkness created by the wooded environment and the contrast caused by deep shade and bright light on a sunny day like today. I used my 6D with 100-400mm lens - which was overkill - and had to use ISOs in the thousands, hence some grain in the pictures. Next time, I'll use my 70-200mm f/2.8.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Merops apiaster

Recently, I received a text saying there were European Bee-eaters paying us a visit here on the sunny Isle of Wight (we're having a decent summer so far, so I hope it's to their liking) and they were to be found at Wydcombe Manor near Whitwell. I couldn't do anything about it until Friday - I don't work Fridays - so I went over then. I got distant views of the birds in a distant dead tree but nothing photographable, until I paid a return visit today, as we're off work for a week. The Bee-eaters were closer, although sometimes still in the distant dead tree, and I managed to get a few shots approaching acceptable.

I've done nothing to these photos except apply a MASSIVE crop (chucking away a good 90% of the original file). Click to see the full sized photos, which are 100% crops.

It's great that these birds are on National Trust land and the NT have been very organised about getting birders in to see them, with the location signposted off the main road from Niton to Rookley, and a car park available.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

New toy

I went over to Southampton, to the London Camera Exchange at Civic Centre, yesterday for a new camera bag and maybe a new (secondhand) lens as well. As it happens I left LCE with no new bag and no lens, mainly because I couldn't find a bag I liked and there were no lenses I wanted (s/h Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L). Instead, I've somehow ended up with a secondhand Canon 1D Mark III with only 6300 shutter clicks on it. I've always wanted a 1D-series DSLR but, given that new models (the latest is the 1Dx) command huge prices, they've always been out of my financial reach. The 1D3 is a bit old now, having been released in 2007, but it's still a very capable device and so far I am pleased with the results from it.
I've not seriously tried it on wild birds but here's the pup and my aunt's pet gander, Mr. G. The shots were with my 100-400mm zoom.

And a quick shot of Queen Mary 2 in Southampton yesterday. I always like photographing 'Her Madge' as she's an impressive ship (had the pleasure of a short cruise on her in 2012, she's fabulous, inside and out). The photo was taken with the 24-105mm zoom.

The one major disadvantage of this camera is that it is heavy, very heavy. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014


A Bullfinch is an unusual garden visitor. Not a crippler, definitely not rare by any means, but not that common now so it's nice to see and such a pretty bird, too. When I took the photo a few days ago it was just the male about, but yesterday he was joined by his Mrs.
Apols for bad image, it was into the evening, it was cloudy and the light - what there was of it - was going, plus I was trying to handhold my 100-400mm zoom and the ISO was set to stupid hundred.


As a Southampton FC fan I am more than a tad irritated - no I'm not, I am actually completely pissed off - by the national rags trying to sell the entire first team. They ought to learn not to make stuff up and, not only that, realise that keep repeating rumours, lies and conjecture (with the occasional arse-covering reverse-ferret), won't make it any more likely to happen. Knock it off, tossers.

Monday, 19 May 2014


Turnstones at East Cowes a couple of weeks ago

Monday, 21 April 2014

Back home

I'm back from Australia and it was a great trip, even if I didn't do as much birding as I intended (I went to an astronomy event and all-night observing meant that the days were spent not doing much, especially in 30°C heat). I will have a few photos to put on here though, once I've processed them.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Blogging via email

Because iPads (and, to be fair, not just iPads, tablets in general) are generally useless for everything except browsing the net, collecting email (it's happy to receive them although its ideas differ from mine about sending them), reading electronic books and listening to music, if I want to update the blog during the three weeks I'll be away I'll have to use email. Blogger doesn't have an app (why?) which would make life a lot easier and the regular browser interface is practically unusable in Safari.

I think I can add photos, so I'll attach one to the email and see what happens. The photo is of a Rainbow Bee-eater from my previous visit to Australia. I hope this works, so far the Gmail mobile site isn't great while the mobile app is plain old shite!

I am setting off tomorrow and will return home on 9th April, unless idiot politicians get us all nuked over Crimea...and the moronic willy-waving over that land-grab is getting ever more serious.

It seems as if email blogging works okay although I have to go in and edit out all the email-related crap.

NB - I've added in old imported posts from my old travel blog, these relate to my previous trip to Australia and SE Asia and can be seen under '2009' (links on right). The formatting's a bit screwed but I'll sort it out at some point.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Culver Down

Photos from Culver this morning, on a glorious warm early spring day. As usual, click on them for largest sizes.


Herring Gull



It looks as if one is getting an earful from the other, but there was no sound and it was most likely part of their courtship display as the left bird appeared to be begging.

Meadow Pipit

There was no sign of the reported male Black Redstarts on the cottages, or on the fort either, where I've seen them in the past. A quick visit to the little housing estate in Sandown also drew a blank and I think Black Reds are avoiding me this year!
Skylarks were singing, a sure sign of the approaching season and Chiffchaffs were calling from scrub. After an hour, Culver was getting crowded as more people arrived (although, to me, more than about half a dozen people is 'crowded'!) so I left.

Glossy Ibis pics

This was the first opportunity since Sunday to get another look at the Adgestone Glossy Ibis and hopefully a closer view than I had last week. The Ibis was feeding on a field adjacent to the marsh, and I was able to get a few photos at the long end of my 100-400mm zoom. They are huge crops because the bird just wasn't close enough to get better ones, but a lot better than Sunday's woeful extreme range effort.

Click for the largest size

Following the Glossy Ibis visit, I then went up to Culver in the hope of some early migrants. There weren't but I did get a few photos of common species which will be in the next post.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Glossy Ibis

Today, a fabulous, warm early spring day with loads of sunshine, began with a birding group walk at Binstead, a village near Ryde on the north-east coast of the Isle of Wight. As I left home, a Raven was perched on a fence post at the top of the road.
We met close to the church and, after watching the local Nuthatches (Binstead is one of only two places on the island where these occur; why more haven't made their way across the Solent, no-one knows) we went to the beach. Out on the Solent was a Great Northern Diver, while a Sandwich Tern was sitting on a buoy close in, although there was no sign of the Black-necked Grebes.
We made our way back to our cars - Binstead, away from the grotty bits, namely the main A3054 road that takes you through to Ryde, is incredibly pretty - and into Ryde itself for the Black-necked Grebes, because we guessed they would be around the point and easier to see from Ryde. They were, or at least one was, which was coming into its summer plumage.
The new - well, new to me that is, as it's secondhand - Swarovski ATS 65 is superb and, despite obviously having seen a lot of action, being a bit scruffy - totally destroys my old Kowa TSN 601 in the image quality stakes as I knew it would. It's a lot easier to look through, you get 'into' the view, rather than feeling as if you're looking through a knot-hole in wood, and the colours are so much better.

While we were in Binstead, those of us signed up to the local rare bird text alerts got messages about a Glossy Ibis on the marshes at Adgestone, a village near Sandown. I decided to see if I could see it - via trips to get some petrol and a side trip to see if I could spot a Black Redstart which is frequenting a particular address on a small housing estate in Sandown (I dipped on the Redstart and didn't really want to loiter suspiciously on a housing estate while searching for it) - and I duly did, from a hill top overlooking the marshes. I took a long-distance photo and have cropped the hell out of it, leaving only a tiny part of the centre of the photo, so the quality is abysmal, and heat shimmer doesn't help either, but you can see the bird on the dead tree at centre. As with all the photos, click for the largest view.

The view from the hill overlooking the marshes.

I decided to see if I could get closer views, so I went into Adgestone itself and walked around the muddy footpath where I joined another birder. He said the bird had been scared by dog walkers and had gone the other side of thick reeds. We waited for a while - and heard a Cetti's Warbler and saw a Chiffchaff - but, apart from a split-second view as it flapped about, we didn't see it again.

A pair of Mute swans flew over

Daffodils at home

A ladybird

Nice to see spring here, although it's early days and there'll be a few cold, wet days before winter is finally banished.

Good wins for the Saints in the  Premier League (although looking at the line ups for the FA Cup semi-final matches makes it all the more galling they cocked it up at Sunderland last month; it was a fantastic opportunity to progress and maybe win) and England rugby in the Six Nations.
Terrible news about the - at the time of writing - still missing, suspected crashed, Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 and, on a personal level, it's all the more sobering as I'll be travelling with them next week, via Kuala Lumpur to Sydney. That said, it's one of the best airlines for safety and the cause of this accident will no doubt be discovered in due course. Whatever the cause, it's a truly dreadful thing to happen.

Last week in that factory, thank goodness. I'll miss the money of course, and a couple of the people I get on with well, but I won't miss having to get up at stupid o'clock to be there at 0700, especially in winter.

Saturday, 1 March 2014


Today was a nice early spring day (March 1st is the start of meteorological spring in the northern hemisphere) so I went to Ryde for a bit of sea watching. It was nice to get out after a few days of feeling ill with a bad flu-like cold - people might laugh at colds but they can make you feel worse than crap.

Click on photos for largest size, because I mostly saved this lot at 1500 px on the longest side, to show the birds better, but they're too large for the blog template width.

Plenty of gulls about, as usual

And, again, here are Sanderling for your viewing pleasure. These are such cute little birds and passing old ladies were cooing over them: 'Ooh, aren't they sweet?!' and, indeed, they are dear little birds. These photos show a small fraction of the 150 or so that were there. Some of the Sanderlings had colour rings and flags on their legs, and these are part of a project by the International Wader Study Group to track the migration of these birds.

A Pied Wagtail or two were about, such as this young one on the beach

An interesting sight was a couple of Ravens, which flew over the canoe lake and town; these have been seen in Ryde a lot recently. I have to admit it was a surprise to see them, I'd only ever seen them on Culver Cliff, at Newtown and other less-populated places. Here, on the Isle of Wight, these once scarce birds of wilder places are coming into towns and I wonder if it's the same elsewhere?

Two spectacularly crap photos of one of the Ravens seen this morning. I hate photographing jet-black birds.

A Chiffchaff was calling, from the scrubby plants on the top of the bank on the north side of the canoe lake. It was also fly-catching. We have resident Chiffchaffs here so I'm not sure this was one of these or a recently-arrived one from further south. I tried to take its photo but failed. It was too quick and the bushes gave my 6D's AF a problem.
Also, there were two Great Northern Divers out on the sea, along with three Great Crested Grebes. A Grey Wagtail was on the wall of the south side of the canoe lake which itself had the usual population of Mute Swans, Canada Geese and 'Yuck Ducks' (various Mallard x AN Other hybrids).

I headed for home, via a quick look at Seaview, after an hour as I have one of those classic post-viral thingies where you don't feel so much ill as merely trampled by a herd of elephants.

The other purpose of the outing was to meet up with local birder Derek Hale as he has an old 65mm Swarovski ATS spotting scope for sale, which I'm interested in. I've been meaning to replace my old beat up Kowa for a while and have been looking at Swarovski scopes, but the prices for new ones are hideous and I can't really justify spending well over a grand (nearly £1400!) on one, especially with a trip to Australia just two weeks away. It's certainly seen some action and is a bit scruffy itself but, optically, is in good condition and, comparing it and my Kowa side-by-side it blows the Kowa - itself a nice little scope - out of the water, especially with clarity of the view and the colours in the Swarovski are much better, neutral, rather than yellowish. For me though, the superior eye relief of the Swarovski eyepiece is the main reason for getting one, as I wear spectacles and, unlike some people, I can't be doing with taking them off and putting them on again; even putting them on my head means they tangle up in my hair.

Bloody football. Monday at work's going to be even more of a drag than usual, with the plastic scousers there giving it the large one.