First Patch Birding of 2016

First Patch Birding of 2016 - Rook
First Patch Birding of 2016 - Rook
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 320
Water droplets were clinging to the long, lush, green stems of grass, either from an exceptionally heavy dew or more likely the overnight rain, when I set foot on the fields of the patch today for the first time this year, and as wet as the grass looked it was nothing to how it felt. Each step was like wading through a an invisible pond, one hidden in the long grass.

Splashing my way through the fields it was great to be out on the patch again and smelling the crisp fresh, winter air, as much as I enjoyed Jan the 1st on Sheppey, with my dad (or my morning pootle) there is nothing quite like home, and no birding these days quite as enjoyable as birding my patch. 


First Patch Birding of 2016


With the amount of water on the fields you would be forgiven for thinking the Ouse had burst her banks, but as I arrived at the muddy river she was as high as she could be without actually breaking free, a touch more rain, or when the ground water finally manages to seep its way through, and she will spread out across the flood plains.

As I arrived at the swollen river I was greeted by a tinny, metallic whistle closely followed by the electric blue flash of a Kingfisher as a male bird belted past me up river. Alighting carefully on a blackthorn, standing tall across the river, he began to search through the cloudy waters below. The Bright orange of his chest standing out from the darker background of the winter fields.

Now here is a word of caution to any photographers out there, make sure your settings are ready from the go, that way you will be ready to capture any birds from the instant you are out. Not like me today, the Kingfisher was perched beautifully, in the open and well lit, it even allowed me to approach however my settings were all wrong and so I had to adjust and as I did he dropped to a lower branch where he was hidden. I supply the below image as a warning and a reminder to myself.

Badly photographed male Kingfisher
Badly photographed male Kingfisher
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 500 (cropped)

Wagtails


As I followed the rapid flow of the river East I was alerted to the incoming presence of a flock of Pied Wagtails as they bounced in on black and grey wings. Landing beside a large puddle in one of the flooded fields, looked down on by the old church, I counted an astounding 33 birds, though there may have been more as they didn't settle long and moved from puddle to puddle. 

While counting the black and white wagtails to my right, I heard the similar, yet easily separated, call of a Grey Wagtail to my left somewhere along the river. A quick scan and I picked it up bobbing along the the detritus on the far bank, picking around through the fallen leaves and foam created by the strong current.

Grey Wagtail in amongst fallen twigs
Grey Wagtail in amongst fallen twigs
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 320 (cropped)

Grey Wagtail beside the river foam
Grey Wagtail beside the river foam
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/100 ISO 400 (cropped)


While I watched as the Grey Wagtail slowly moved up and down the far bank, in the distance the almost haunting yaffle of a Green Woodpecker could be heard above the cawing of the local Rooks and Carrion Crow. And as I walked in their direction a small party of tits began to gather in the bushes beside the river.

The Long-tailed Tit came first in their frantic search, through the leafless bushes, for a tasty morsel, their piping contact calls echoing all around after a while. These were closely followed by Blue Tit and Great Tit, the former almost as frantic as the LTT ahead of them, the latter more reserved it seems. Intermingling with the small flock were the largest number of Goldcrest I have recorded on the patch so far, with 8 in total picking around the tits, but there will be more on these later.

Underneath the Bridge


After passing through the low cattle creep and onto the east side of the patch I was amused to see the new path had become a small river. Now when I first saw the plans for this area it was meant to be a board walk through a wild flower meadow, the current concrete or tarmac path completely goes against that, yet as it is now under water the board walk seems a much better idea.

The loud crack of a bird scarer rattled around the river valley and the air suddenly became a mass of birds, large flocks of mixed duck had been startled into the air and were now wheeling and whiffling around the grey skies. Massive flocks of the tiny European Teal, were mixing with smaller flocks of Eurasian Wigeon and Shoveler and a party of 7 Goosander flew powerfully through, unusually all made up of male birds.

Suddenly out of the small stand of trees across the river the brown, majestic form of a female Sparrowhawk burst out of the bushes and across the flowing water, she easily wove her way in and out of the tall willows and out over the high water of the manor farm pits. A few minutes later she could be seen perched in one of the bare bushes looking out over the masses of wildfowl before dropping down into a stand of reeds below her perch.

View of the Flooded Pits
View of the Flooded Pits
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/400 ISO 400


Ducking and Diving


As I continued along the river I was really surprised with the numbers of duck that were about today, my previous walks towards the end of last year had not been filled with wildfowl at all, yet today the numbers of Teal was well into the hundreds as were Wigeon numbers, Pochard who usually gather in ones and twos had a flock of 13 birds on the camp site lakes, while Tufted Ducks seemed to be everywhere, and while scanning through for more Goosander (3 two females and a male) I was excited to spot a male Pintail on the Southern fringes of the main pits, further scanning showed another male and a female swimming near by and then two more (a male and female) dropped in from above. I have previously seen 1 female here and never a flock of 5 in Milton Keynes or Bucks.

Look to the Skies


As I moved further East large numbers of Teal were again spooked into the skies, at first I thought I had missed a gun shot or one of the local dogs had approached too close for comfort, but when I realised it was only the small dabbling duck in the air I realised it must have been something else.

Scanning the skies I soon picked up the unmistakable shape of a Peregrine Falcon, its powerful wings helping it streak through the sky, I watched as it harried the small ducks as they flew erratically in broken flocks all over the skies above the pits. Sadly unsuccessful in its attempts to catch one of these desired quarry it flew off over the river and railway track into the distance.

Wigeon in Flight
Wigeon in Flight
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/1000 ISO 250

Small Teal flock
Small Teal flock
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/500 ISO 250

Distant shot of Peregrine Falcon
Distant shot of Peregrine Falcon (heavy crop and very dark sorry)
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/5000 ISO 640 (heavy crop)

Flooded Paths


As with many other visits of mine to the area around the Millennium bridge I kept a close eye open for my wintering Stonechats and sure enough today first one (the female) and then the other (the male) popped up on the purple and brown scrub, they were joined in their search for food by a flock of 10 Reed Bunting and several Goldfinch, while over head 4 Meadow Pipits passed through.

Stonechat (male)
Stonechat (male)
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/100 ISO 250

Stonechat (male)
Stonechat (male)Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/80 ISO 250

Female Stonechat and Goldfinch
Female Stonechat and Goldfinch
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/5.6 1/160 ISO 250

Any attempt to push on further around the lakes, as I had intended (I wanted better views of the Pintail), was abandoned when I approached the bridge, a small stream was running across the path, flowing from the river and into the lakes, walking boots are great but anything less than wellies and I would have wet feet so I decided to head back the way I had come.

Before turning tail fully I stopped to enjoy another Long-tailed Tit flock that was moving through the bushes beside the path and try and capture a photo or tow, even in the poor light. I failed with them but did manage Pied Wagtail, Goldfinch and Great Tit photos.

Pied Wagtail on the Fence
Pied Wagtail on the Fence
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 400

Goldfinch gathering seeds
Goldfinch gathering seeds
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/160 ISO 400

Great Tit
Great Tit
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/500 ISO 400

Walking back West along the river, it was much of the same as on my outward journey, Little Egrets and Grey Heron could be seen flying low over the water, while Shoveler, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck, as well as the pair of Aylesbury ducks that stood out bright white against the reeds, could be seen swimming the surface.

Little Egret in flight
Little Egret in flight
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/1000 ISO 250


Stopping for a chat with another couple of birders they too had seen the Pintail (always nice to know I am not alone seeing something) and had also seen a chiffchaff back up river, after pointing them in the direction of the Stonechat I headed off to look.

Goldcrest Encounters


After no luck finding the wintering warbler I headed back under the canal and stood trying to decide if I should head up through the old lock or back along the river. While I tried to make up my mind I spent a few moment photographing the Grey Heron and Mallard that were just across the river and trying to work out if the large splashes coming from the river itself were fish or an otter (I am hopeful one will turn up, but this was just a fish).

Grey Heron
Grey Heron
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/100 ISO 400

Female Mallard quacking
Female Mallard quacking
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/100 ISO 400


My desicion was made for me when I saw a large walking party heading along the river path towards me, rather than try and fight my way through them and knowing they would likely have disturbed all the local wildlife I headed into the path leading to the old lock. The small channel that was once water filled as a canal was once again deep in water as the river had re-filled what man had drained.

As I first entered the path a small grey.green bird flew out from the waters edge and over the flood filled channel, on closer inspection it was one of the Goldcrest from my earlier encounter, I began to stalk the bird up the path, and eventually it popped back to my side and allowed me some wonderful views and photographic opportunities. At one point it was too close to focus on! 

The following images are not cropped in anyway, so hopefully it will show you just how close the bird came.

Goldcrest at a distance I would expect
Goldcrest at a distance I would expect
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 400

Coming in to see me - Goldcrest
Coming in to see me - Goldcrest
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 400

Goldcrest Getting closer
Goldcrest Getting closer
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/160 ISO 400

Goldcrest moving in
Goldcrest moving in
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/200 ISO 400

Up close and personal with a Goldcrest
Up close and personal with a Goldcrest
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 400

Goldcrest - any closer and I couldn't focus
Goldcrest - any closer and I couldn't focus
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/250 ISO 400

After having my fill of this beautiful little bird, or rather after it had had enough of me, I carried on through the old lock area, A Great Spotted Woodpecker began calling from one of the nearby decaying trees, and both Chaffinch and Goldfinch flitted about at the tops of the bushes but it was the final view of a flock of 5 Bullfinch that ended my day.

Female Chaffinch
Female Chaffinch
Canon 70D 400mm @ f/6.3 1/1250 ISO 400


Not a bad days birding by all accounts and a great start to the years birding on the patch, I ended up having seen 61 species.

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4 comments:

  1. Terrific post and wonderful goldcrest pictures... and sounds like a terrific morning on the patch!

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  2. Your photos are wonderful! What brand of lens are you using? As a fellow 70d user I am keen to invest in a longer zoom!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The tele lens is a Canon 400mm f/5.6 It's a cracking (if ageing now) lens, I bought 2nd hand to replace an old Canon 100-400 zoom, as I wanted the extra sharpness you get with a prime over the zoom.

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