2016 diary - Q3 (July - September)

Ref:
Date:
Location:
Photographer:
Local days out

I’m not quite sure what happened in July, because when I looked back through my calendar to write-up this quarterly diary I was surprised to see that there wasn’t a single entry for local days out. I know we were in France for two weeks as noted below, but I still would have expected to have been out at least once! I can only assume that if there were any suitable days they clashed with other commitments.

August didn’t fair much better as I was busy catching up on some DIY and garden maintenance work at home. However, we did venture down to Weymouth a couple of times, and also over to the Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve in Hampshire. Both trips to Weymouth took in Radipole Lake and Lodmoor with the usual sightings of gulls and ducks, and a few waders. The only species of note were eight little stints that were there on the second visit at the end of the month. They were distant and scattered around the reserve when we arrived, but late in the afternoon they came together and slowly edged their away along one of the exposed mud banks to a position where they were just in range.

Little Stints - Lodmoor Nature Reserve, Weymouth
Little Stints - Lodmoor Nature Reserve, Weymouth
 

It was a bit more productive down at Keyhaven though, as the weather conditions and tide had pushed a few more birds into the lagoons. The main species were Canada geese, normal waterfowl and black-tailed godwits, but we also saw some sandwich terns fishing out in the Solent, a little grebe, a couple of juvenile ruff and a wood sandpiper. Unfortunately, the sandpiper was quite distant and although the ruff came a bit closer the photos were affected by a fair amount of heat haze from the late morning sunshine. We had better luck with a couple of co-operative common ring plovers, which I believe were a female adult bird and a juvenile. They were in a lot closer on an exposed area of mud on the edge of the Butt’s Lagoon, which is one of the few places where you can take low-level shots.

Little Grebe - Keyhaven
Little Grebe - Keyhaven
Common Ringed Plover - Keyhaven
Common Ringed Plover - Keyhaven

xxx
September was much busier with further trips back to the regular destinations as mentioned above, but also with the quite long, near two hour drive out to the Avalon Marshes in Somerset to visit RSPB Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath and, towards the end of the month, over to Ferrybridge and Portland a few times.

On the south coast at Lymington we mainly photographed juvenile knot, dunlin and redshank on the first visit, plus a bonus of getting a couple of nice shots of a rock pipit. And, on the second visit, curlew, oystercatchers, redshank and curlew sandpiper. At Keyhaven, on the other end of the reserve, it was mainly Canada geese, general waterfowl and black-tailed godwits - much the same as it was in August, but with the addition of a few grey herons and little egrets. The species found along this stretch of coastline vary quite a bit season to season and even from one day to the next, but what I find interesting is that the Lymington end of the reserve seems to attract different species than those you’ll see at Keyhaven even though the general habitat look pretty similar.

Rock Pipit
Rock Pipit
 

The day we had on the Avalon Marshes was a bit of a strange one, because although it was very disappointing photographically we saw three rather special species. The first was a bittern at Ham Wall, which was out in the open upon our arrival at the main viewing platform - it was a long way off across the marsh, but it was showing nicely in the early morning sunshine and definitely worth a couple of long-range shots of what is a rarely sighted and secretive species. It didn’t stay out of cover for long and soon disappeared back into the reeds.

Bittern - Ham Wall, Avalon Marshes
Bittern - Ham Wall, Avalon Marshes
 

For the next two to three hours we walked right round the reserve checking out the hides, but ended up seeing hardly anything. So after a lunchtime cup of soup back at the car, we ventured across the road onto Shapwick Heath, which is a designated National Nature Reserve managed by Natural England. We haven’t been to this reserve before so didn’t know what to expect. There’s a large pool come scrape area to the right of the path opposite an elevated hide in which there were various waterfowl and waders. But, at the back, with a few little egrets, were two great white egrets. This species is currently classed as a ‘scarce migrant / winter visitor’ so, even though they are now regularly seen in this particular area, it was good to encounter something a bit different - despite the fact that we’ve photographed them overseas this year in Romania, Mallorca and France.

The best though was still to come, because we were lucky enough to see an osprey from the small raised hide at Noah’s Lake. Unfortunately though it was sitting on a partially obscured branch on a half-submerged dead tree at the far side of the lake. We were told that it had caught a fish earlier in the day and would now sit there until it was ready to catch again, which could have been a long wait. But it wasn’t, because ten minutes later it took off and flew over the trees out of sight, only to come back to the same branch after a further ten minutes or so with another small fish. It then repeated the process shortly after including making an unsuccessful attempt at catching a fish in Noah’s Lake. It was far too far off to get any usable photos, but it was the first time I’ve witnessed an osprey fishing and was really surprised to see this bird hovering just like a kestrel before dropping onto its targeted prey. It hit the surface at a fair speed and, from the few long-distant shots that I took, appeared to go right under the water before emerging empty clawed with a few powerful beats of its wings. This encounter made the day and makes me even more determined to investigate somewhere we can go to photograph this beautiful bird of prey fishing naturally in the wild.

Great White Egret - Shapwick Heath, Avalon Marshes
Great White Egret - Shapwick Heath, Avalon Marshes
Osprey - Shapwick Heath, Avalon Marshes
Osprey - Shapwick Heath, Avalon Marshes

xxx
The trips to Lodmoor didn’t produce anything particularly unusual although it was the first time I’ve seen bar-tailed godwits there. We’ve seen and photographed black-tailed godwits at Lodmoor on many an occasion, but never bar-tailed. Whilst both species were present, there was no interaction between them - the small group of black-tailed concentrated their feeding in the shallow water, whilst the four bar-tailed that we saw were separated and picking around on the exposed mud.

A dozen or so bar-tailed godwits were also down on the Fleet Lagoon mudflats at Ferrybridge and after seeing some rather nice shots that one of our Flickr friends had posted we decided to try an early morning session with the aim of getting something similar. From previous experience I know that this is a venue where you need a number of elements to come together. Apart from having some birds to photograph, you need to be there early on a calm sunny morning at low tide. You also need wellies and waterproof trousers so you can get down on the mud, and space to work without other photographers trying to do the same. We got lucky on two out of the three trips we made, although on both occasions the beautiful low early morning autumn light didn’t last long before cloud cover blocked the sun. However, we still had time to get some pretty nice shots of the bar-tailed godwits, plus a few other small shorebirds such as dunlin, sanderling and common ringed plovers.

Bar-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge, Weymouth
Bar-tailed Godwit - Ferrybridge, Weymouth
 

Sanderling - Ferrybridge, Weymouth
Sanderling - Ferrybridge, Weymouth
Dunlin - Ferrybridge, Weymouth
Dunlin - Ferrybridge, Weymouth

xxx
We also had a couple of morning sessions on Portland. The first was primarily to see if we could find and photograph a wryneck that had been reported, which is a rare migrant species that’s probably come from northeast Europe. Our arrival was timely as we bumped into a birding photographer friend who lives on the island and who has local knowledge and experience in finding unusual species. He didn’t disappoint and, although there were a couple of other photographer’s looking across the same fields, we managed to both see and get a few shots of the bird. Locating it was a bit easier than photographing it though as it was in a large private horse field behind a stone wall and a tall hedgerow. It was also quite active keeping mainly at the very back of the field, but we got lucky on one occasion when it landed relatively close to one of the few gaps in the hedgerow where, with a bit of manoeuvring, I could get a few shots of it over the wall.

Wryneck - Portland
Wryneck - Portland
 

We returned a couple of days later to see if we could get better photos, but couldn’t locate it, so we spent a bit of time trying to get a decent shot of a wheatear, which was about the only other species we could find.

Northern Wheatear - Portland
Northern Wheatear - Portland
 


Overseas trips

We didn’t have any designated wildlife photography trips planned for this part of the year as we wanted to spend some time at home catching up on a bit of DIY and garden maintenance work.

However, we did make a return visit to the Marais Poitevin marshlands region of France in July to stay in the same little gite that we stayed in last September. This was going to be a restful and relaxing holiday with just a bit of photography thrown in if we decided to venture out on the odd morning. The first few days were very windy, quite cloudy and not that warm, but then the weather changed considerably with clear blue skies and lots of sunshine. In the end it got far too hot to do anything much at all, so we spent our time lounging around the gite, interspersed with the occasional wander along the canal or across the fields. As noted in my '2015 Annual Trip Summary' report, the birds and general wildlife in this area are extremely timid and photographing anything is a real challenge. But, it’s an extremely quiet location and, even if the photography is frustrating, there is always something happening. You can while away many an hour sitting on the decking with your binoculars in hand and a cold beer within easy reach.

The area where we stay is towards the northwest of the region near Fontenay-le-Comte. The Marais Poitevin spreads across a large area of nearly 1000 km2 west of Niort, south of Fontenay and north of La Rochelle, and is the second largest marsh in France to the Camargue. It effectively consists of two zones, the largest being the 'dry marsh' area in the west stretching up from the Atlantic coast, which is mainly farming land, and the ‘wet marsh’ area more to the east of the region. It’s this ‘wet marsh’ area, known locally as la Venise Verte (The Green Venice) that’s the most popular with tourists as you can hire rowing boats to explore the network of canals. It’s a terrible admission in a way, but we still haven’t explored that area, which is why I don’t have a 'travel section’ write-up for the Marais Poitevin, but following this latest trip I did compile a small ’selections’ photo set including an extended introduction.

Red-backed Shrike - Marais Poitevin, France
Red-backed Shrike - Marais Poitevin, France
Eurasian Hoopoe - Marais Poitevin, France
Eurasian Hoopoe - Marais Poitevin, France

xxx

Other events and news

BirdFair
In August we travelled up to Rutland Water for the British Birdwatching Fair, more commonly known as ‘BirdFair' - an annual event that has now been running for the past 27 years. It’s a popular and very well organised show for anyone that has an interest in nature and, whilst bird watching is the main theme, there are various talks and exhibitors that will appeal to wildlife photographers in general. This year there were in excess of 400 trade stands spread through the various marquees. There are companies like Bushnell, Country Innovations and Nikon promoting their products, various book stands offering show discounts, bird conservation organisations, and artists and photographers like David Tipling and Chris Gomersall showcasing their work. In addition there are specialist wildlife tour operators, and representatives from virtually every country in the world. We currently have a number of pre-booked trips lined up over the coming months and took the opportunity of meeting a few of the photographic guides / tour leaders that we will be with on those trips - Ashley Grove (Gambia), Martin Kelsey (Extremadura) and Nick Garbutt (Peru). In fact we met quite a few people we knew whilst walking around and, all in all, it was a great day.

When you circulate through the marquees looking at the different country stands you realise just how many places there are in the world to visit. I remember last year when we went with the specific intention of looking at about half a dozen destinations and ended up coming away with a wish-list of no less than nineteen places we wanted to visit. One of the stands that took our interest was Finnature and, knowing that we were unlikely to make our own way up to Finland, followed up with booking a few days with a local bird photographer based in Kussamo next March with the hope of photographing golden and white-tailed eagles in the snow, and possibly great grey owls. This year it was a chance chat with Andrew Fortuna, a really nice knowledgable photographer, who runs a small Gibraltar based company called Aviantours. We talked to him about raptor photographic opportunities in southern Spain and Gibraltar during the Spring migratory period and, whilst we’re already fully booked next March/April, have arranged a full week with him in April 2018. I’ve always been organised and focused when arranging holidays or specialist trips and, even when I was working, liked to make bookings up to a year in advance. But, now I’m retired and looking further ahead, I’ve realised that many of these specialist guides and trips are booked very quickly and, consequently, if you don’t want to be disappointed it’s necessary to be even more organised. In fact we’re now building up a trip schedule stretching over the next two years which, health and finances permitting, will continue on that basis.


Great Bear Forest - British Columbia, Canada
Now this is planning a long way ahead, but in September 2018 we’re rather hopeful of being able to have the opportunity of photographing grizzly (brown) bears, coupled with a possibility of seeing the kermode bear also known as the ‘spirit bear’, which is a rare white or cream coloured American black bear subspecies. This is rather a special trip, so I’m going to hold fire mentioning any other details at the moment until our booking is confirmed.


D500
I’ve mentioned this new DX (crop frame) camera at the bottom of the last two quarterly diaries and have noted that, whilst I wasn’t going to be tempted, I guessed that my wife Tris would, as she had been going on about it ever since it was first announced earlier in the year. After the Photography Show in March I predicted that she would succumb to the temptation and desire for the extra reach and end up trading in her second camera, the D610, for it. Well, I would have won the bet, as that is exactly what she did at the end of August. However, whilst she loved the design and ergonomics, and the extra 50% crop-factor reach, she wasn’t happy with the image quality when comparing with similar shots taken on her beloved D750. So it went back after a few days and exchanged for a second D750.