2017 diary - Q4 (October - December)

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Local days out

There was nothing particularly memorable or exciting about the trips around my home patch during this autumn period, other than I finally managed to take some images of a Grey Phalarope so, in the main, I’m going to resist writing screeds just for the sake of it and let the photos do the talking.

Nonetheless, it’s worth saying a bit about the phalarope as I’ve been trying to get close to one for a while now when they’ve been seen locally, but apart from a long-distant ‘record shot’ at Brownsea Island lagoon a couple of year’s back I’ve been unsuccessful. I always seem to have a knack of missing them, either because we’re away or by the time I get there it’s moved on. However, this year there was a long-stayer down on the Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve in Hampshire and it was that bird that finally gave me my first proper sighting. I seem to recall that it was first seen in early September when we were in Scotland, but then vanished for a while. At the time I assumed it was just another missed opportunity, but a couple of weeks later it was spotted again with reports confirming that it was on Keyhaven Lagoon. I heard that people were enjoying good views of it and were managing to get some nice close up photos. When I saw some of the photos on Flickr I knew it was time to make the effort and see if I could find it. If you haven’t seen a phalarope you’ll not appreciate their size - they are very small birds and, consequently, you need them relatively close if you’re going to stand any chance of getting decent images. And, ideally, in an accessible area where you can get a low shooting angle. Fortunately they are well-known for being very plucky and confiding little birds, so if you are lucky enough to find one feeding in a suitable location you should be able to make a slow approach without causing it concern.

I first tried for the bird when it was seen at Keyhaven, but it was the same old story when I got down there. “Yes, it was here yesterday” I was told, but “it’s nowhere to be seen today”. But then I’d get back home and see on BirdGuides, or the Hampshire Bird News site, that it had been spotted elsewhere on the reserve. On one occasion I even saw that it had been reported close to where I’d been at roughly the time I was there! However, I persevered over the next couple of weeks and finally on Thursday 26th October I found it. It was my sixth or seventh attempt. I knew it had been seen the day before on Oxey Lagoon, which is further down towards Lymington and that was exactly where I found it. After all the time I’d been looking it was a pleasing sight, made better by the fact that it was close in feeding off an exposed mud flat. And nobody else was there which was an added bonus because, apart from a few dog walkers on the path above me, I was totally alone with it for about an hour. A bird watcher and another photographer turned up later, but by that time I’d had a very good session with the little chap. I crouched down the best I could on the edge of the mud whilst he actively went about his business. Back and fourth he’d go finding tiny morsels to eat, and occasionally moving out into shallow water, but always coming back in close. So close in fact that at times I could almost have reached out and picked him up, and that’s no exaggeration. They’re such fearless little birds, just the same as the even smaller Red-necked Phalaropes we photographed in Iceland.

Grey Phalarope - Oxey Lagoon, Lymington
Grey Phalarope - Oxey Lagoon, Lymington

Grey Phalarope - Oxey Lagoon, Lymington
Grey Phalarope - Oxey Lagoon, Lymington
Grey Phalarope - Oxey Lagoon, Lymington
Grey Phalarope - Oxey Lagoon, Lymington

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The only downside was the weather. It was a damp, dull grey morning with lingering sea mist, which meant that the photos were very much a case of grey on grey. There was a little bit of vegetation and colour here and there across the mud flat but generally the scene was pretty bleak, but during the time I was there I did manage to pull together a reasonable collection of varied shots. It was a simple encounter, but one I’ll look back on with fond memories.

With all of those visits to Keyhaven it’s not surprising that I managed to photograph quite a few other species whilst I was there; some common, and some not so common such as an Arctic Skua - here are a few photos :

Chiffchaff - Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
Chiffchaff - Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
Goldfinch - Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
Goldfinch - Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
 

Little Grebe - Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
Little Grebe - Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
Northern Pintail - Fishtail Lagoon, Keyhaven
Northern Pintail - Fishtail Lagoon, Keyhaven
 

Black-tailed Godwit - Pennington Marshes
Black-tailed Godwit - Pennington Marshes
Arctic Skua - Fishtail Lagoon, Keyhaven
Arctic Skua - Fishtail Lagoon, Keyhaven
 

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Elsewhere I spent some time in the New Forest around Ashley Walk and Black Bottom Gutter in search of Ring Ouzels, and some time down at Portland and Weymouth. My treks around the New Forest were enjoyable but mostly fruitless in terms of photos, albeit I did have a lovely sighting early one morning of a herd of Fallow Deer. But, despite my cunning and stealth-like stalking skills, they soon sensed my presence and slowly made their way into the woods before I could get remotely close. The couple of trips to Portland produced next to nothing apart from a few long-distant shots at Ferrybridge of various waders and some wintering Brent Geese. I had another very boring walk around Radipole Lake in Weymouth and a couple of stints on the west path at Lodmoor trying to get a photo of the Lesser Yellowlegs. Whilst I managed to see the Yellowlegs on each of my visits they were all distant sightings, so I only managed ‘record shots’. It was the first time I’d seen the species and, with it being so far away, I found it difficult to identify when in close proximity to Ruff and, at one point, next to a Greenshank. From a birding point of view it’s classified as a rare American vagrant, so not surprisingly it had a lot of interest, both locally, and from quite a number of ‘birders’ who’d driven down to Weymouth from much further afield just to have a chance of seeing it.

Ruff - Lodmoor Nature Reserve
Ruff - Lodmoor Nature Reserve
Lesser Yellowlegs (distant 'record shot') - Lodmoor Nature Reserve
Lesser Yellowlegs (distant 'record shot') - Lodmoor Nature Reserve

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Overseas trips

From mid October the last quarter of the year was all about our long awaited trip to Peru - an adventure that started high in the Andes before descending down to the mid-elevation cloud-forest and then further onto the Alto Madre de Dios River that would finally take us into the Manú Biosphere Reserve and the Amazon rainforest. I wrote a long piece for my travel section, which I titled 'Andes to Amazon'. That was only a couple of weeks ago, so I see little point in repeating myself just for this diary entry.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock - Kosñipita Valley, Peruvian Andes
Andean Cock-of-the-Rock - Kosñipita Valley, Peruvian Andes
 


Other events and news

The final comments on my previous journal entry were all about the announcement of the D850 and the fact that I had placed one on pre-order. I also confirmed my intention of starting a 'D850 diary come blog section' for the website. That’s now set up with some prelims and a couple of articles covering specifications, memory cards and the custom control assignment options. It’s still early days as I only took delivery of the camera at the beginning of December after we got back from Peru, but I will be keeping the diary updated with any information that I feel is either of general interest or something that I may personally want to refer back to in the future.

As soon as it was delivered, I traded in one of my D810’s as I could see no purpose in keeping both of them as well as the D850. I’ve also spent some time reviewing my lenses which has involved a couple of part-exchanges and selling off a bit of gear I wasn’t using. As a result, the 'my gear' list is currently out of date. Similarly with some of the information regarding my computer system and associated software, because over the Christmas break I had to update Lightroom to the latest Classic version in order to support the D850 and, at the same time, update my Mac OS to High Sierra to support Lightroom. One thing leads to another. I wasn’t looking forward to implementing the upgrades, but am pleased to confirm that the process went smoothly.

DxO PhotoLabs

I also took advantage of a Christmas offer on the latest release of the DxO PhotoLab suite (formerly OpticsPro) in order to give me access to their highly regarded PRIME noise reduction module.



FoCal lens calibration software

And then, to complete these purchases and upgrades, I decided to finally invest in Reikan Technology’s FoCal lens calibration software which had just been updated to support the D850 and Apple's High Sierra OS. I’d been thinking about this for a while and knew a friend that had been using it regularly, so with wanting to ensure that my new camera and various lenses were matched as well as possible I thought that it was a good time to take the plunge.


I will update all the appropriate sections of 'my gear' as soon as I have the time and will also consider writing a D850 blog entry to do with my experiences with lens calibration and subsequent, although not necessarily related, issues when I first used my 500mm f/4E lens and TC-14E III with the camera. That was in January, just before writing this journal entry, so is not something I want to expand upon at the moment. It may be a problem or it may not, we’ll see, but the process of using the FoCal software is interesting all the same and, therefore, merits a bit more attention.