Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hatfield Forest at 1.4x

Went for a walk this a.m. in the dull conditions before the sun broke through. Just myself, my sister, and the three eldest Dipper children. The forest is just approaching its prime, with the Horse Chestnuts in particular looking terrific.

Bird-wise, the forest was bursting with warblers. Six species all in good numbers, including at least 4 Lesser ‘throats. Otherwise a Cormorant, a pair of Common Terns (one ringed), a Gadwall, a Cuckoo, a few peckers, lots of Chaffinches and a couple of distant Fallow deer.

I took the 1.4x converter on the 100-400 lens. I used the standard configuration (manual focus) to see how accurate I could be focussing by eye. Overall conclusion is its okay with stationary birds, but I think for faster birds I’ll need to consider taping the pins.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow

don't be alarmed now. It's just a nesting Greenfinch

Canon 30D, 100-400mm IS zoom, brand new 1.4x converter. Oh yes!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Clouded Yellows

I though it was a bit strange to see Clouded Yellows in April. So did Simon Barnes, and he wrote about it in Saturday's Times

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sparrowhawk day

Stansted Airport Lagoons gets some good birds, but often on a one-day basis. My visits usually occur the day after, so they usually draw a blank. Today was no exception - a ruff seen yesterday was absent today. I took the opportunity to try and take some photos of birds in trees.

On the way back there were a few Sparrowhawks out - 1 near Hatfield Forest, and 3 over Sawbo marsh.

Does my camera drive bats batty?

My intended destination, Sawbo Marsh, was closed (and will be so for a few more weeks), so I went a few miles north to Tednambury Marsh. Diligent work by local watchers has produced a good number of Grasshopper Warblers in the Stort Valley recently, and there were a couple reeling away thie evening. I have this problem with Groppers that I hear snatches, and then there’s always a wren singing too, so was it just that churry bit of the wren’s song? But I finally got enough of a song on one, and the other was whirring away like it was powered by Duracell.

As we (self + D#1) left we walked up the lane from Gaston Green marina to the pond at the top of the road in the gloom (8:30 ish). The road is lined with bushes, and bats were whizzing up and down often just a few feet from our head. We stopped and watched for a while. My bat ID expertise is similar to my plants/butterflies/anything else, but I got the impression these were both bigger then Pipistrelles and not flying the same way, but smaller than Noctules.

Anyway, I tried to take a photo with the flash, and failed miserably. Then I got to thinking; my lenses are “ultrasonic” lenses. So presumably they auto-focus by using ultrasonic beams to find distance in the same way bats do. And the logical thing to do would be to use the same frequencies – why try to improve on nature?

So when I was trying to take the photos were the bats suddenly getting a blast of ultrasound? Was it like my camera screamingly loudly at them?

Here’s some atmosphere whilst I’m pondering this

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Rhodes round up

Final pics from Rhodes: The commonest butterfly was the Painted Lady which was everywhere. Elsewhere there were whites, some Clouded Yellows that were orangey-yellow, and one or two that were pale creamy. I did manage to get an Eastern Festoon on camera.

Plants are not my strong point, but I did come across some orchids high up in the centre of the island in a pine forest, and everything fits Anatolian Orchid.

I looked for bird reports on the net before I left but couldn't find anything. On return I found some reports on Fatbirder. There's obviously quite a lot I missed, and a few sites I didn't get to. I suspect one reason for the comparative dearth of reports is that birders heading towards the eastern Med will find more birds at Lesbos, Cyprus, Crete or the Turkish mainland. There isn't much water on Rhodes, so that's about twenty species you're already struggling for. Nevertheless if you want a holiday with some variety there's lots to keep you busy on Rhodes.

Of note is that neither Hawfinch or Booted Eagle, both in my probables list, figure as common in the reports and summaries. Hmmm.

Finally a few more shots from Rhodes. The swallow was inside the entrance to the church in Lindos, and the others were just ones I though interesting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rhodes summary

I left the big lens and telescope at home deliberately – its not practical on a family holiday, and the binoculars would still let me get most of the stuff we came across. Except when we unpacked there was no sign of the binoculars.

Nevertheless some birds still made themselves known. Hooded Crows were everywhere, and whatever is reducing the UK population of House Sparrows clearly isn’t affecting the many House Sparrows of Rhodes. Common Swifts and Barn Swallows were everywhere, and the old town had Crag Martins too.

Elsewhere Sardinian Warblers were well distributed, a Stone Curlew flew by the road for a while, a couple of Hoopoes flew past, Jays (local variety) were plentiful in the woods. A few White Wagtails were round the main town, and a few Rosy-Ringed Parakeets screeching round town gave a touch of home.

At Lindos we had Blue Rock Thrushes singing from the main vantage points, Alpine Swifts buzzed us on the Acropolis, a Lesser Whitethroat chattered quietly to itself, and a Cuckoo flew across. At the Valley of The Butterflies, so called because of the large number of Tiger Moths that gather there (yes I know, but would you visit The Valley of the Moths?) we has smashing views of a Kingfisher. Then at Monte Smith (above Rhodes town) a Woodchat Shrike and a Whinchat shared some scrub.

But without the binoculars it was difficult. There were of course bursts of chattering from unfamiliar warblers hidden deep in bushes; a black silhouetted falcon slid silently past. A brownish phyllosc gave surprisingly robust calls. Then there were frustrating sightings; a medium sized raptor must have been a dark-phase Booted Eagle on the grounds that it wasn’t obviously anything else. A super-size goldfinch that flopped out of a bush by the Old Town must surely have been a Hawfinch. And a heron that flew over the old town looked decidedly purple in the evening light

Then there were the instant identifications where doubt crept in later. My first Swift was very pale – a lifer! But then no other swift was, so perhaps it was a trick of that strong Mediterranean light. A Swallow with a pinkish rump whizzed past – but then Barn Swallows had rumps that shone in the strong light.

Finally the night before departure we packed to go home, and hey Presto my binoculars in a bag of crisp packets (Of course!). The final day we went round the Moat of the old town again. At first things were no better – three Pipits were strongly marked on the breast, white lines on the coverts, no other features, and conveniently silent. But then at last a luminescent black and cream Black-eared Wheatear flitted along the ramparts of the walls, a Wood Warbler worked its way methodically through a small tree, and finally a tatty Creamcrown Marsh Harrier flew south over the harbour to give the list a veneer of respectability.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

And the Winner Is!!

Not on this occasion. But with my standard of photography there will be plenty of other opportunities. Meanwhile, here's a close up of the offending bird.

Weymouth 14 April

Garganey can be awkward birds. Tucked away on a muddy puddle at the back of a reserve, or fast asleep on the wrong side of a clump of reeds, they can be frustratingly difficult.

But not today! Just as I was approaching the middle section of the south side of Lodmoor at around 7:15, a spanking male swam out to greet me. It swam to the far bank and preened, flexed, and generally posed around. It was a bit far for the 100-400 but I got a few record shots.

Otherwise, a Lesser Whitethroat gave some good views from the east path but was too fast for the camera. There were good numbers of Swallows and Chiffchaffs; Blackcap, Willow Wablers, were in good numbers, and Cetti’s were everwhere and sat on the top of bushes scolding “What the hell? This is an outrageous interruption!” A Sparrowhawk slipped past and a pair of Oyks were in their usual spot near Beachdown Way.

Back in Weymouth the family finally got up, and we went for a walk from Overcombe to Sutton Poyntz, excellent lunch in the Springhead, then up the hill over the White Horse and back to Overcombe. Plenty of common birds, lots of Chaffinches and the obligatory Buzzards, but of more interest was the mass of Peacock Butterflies and Whites out today. There were also a few Clouded Yellow Butterflies on the slopes of the hill, and one of those Hawkbird-Hummingmoth things.

Finally by the White Horse there were some excellent field lytchetts. There are extensive Lytchetts (or lynchets) in this area, but these were particularly heavily marked. I think these are from the middle ages, or possibly earlier. Any information on the origin of these ancient Dorset field terraces welcome.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Rhodes 31 March - 7 April

It's difficult birdwatching on a family holiday at the best of times, but its absolutely impossible if you forget to pack your binoculars.

Mrs Dipper and myself first went to Rhodes in 1988 on a day trip from Kos. So we knew about the old crusader town and the ancient Greek ruins at Lindos and elsewhere. We came back nineteen years on with the family. On this visit we discovered the extensive 1930's Italian architecture both in Rhodes, Kalithea, and in the interior at Profitas Illias, and some spectacular scenery in the interfior (its not the Alps but it still impressed me). I've put some photos on Flickr (search for Dorset Dipper).

Despite the lack of optical hardware I still saw some birds, and there were a few flowers and butterflies. I'll put a post up later when I've sorted the photos and made an attempt to identify them. Meanwhile here's a few scenery ones.

Finally there's a bird on one of these photos. It's hard to see but is there. There's £100 to the wildlife charity of your choice to anyone who can identify the picture and the bird. Closing date next Saturday. It's difficult, but if you know your mediterranean birds and think hard I think its possible.

Commonly Spotted Orchids

We are fortunate in the UK in that the commonest orchids are also amongst the most beautiful. I spent a morning photographing some on the lo...