Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Gannets Galore

Just wanted to post a few more images of the magnificent gannets seen at Bempton Cliffs at the weekend. I concentrated on the gannets on this visit as they were giving good views as they patrolled the cliffs. Towards the end of my stint the wind had picked up and the gannets were approaching at eye level and above. I was therefore able to get better flight images  than earlier in the day when they were mostly well below me. It was a wonderful experience and one I hope to repeat soon as there were sections of the cliffs that I didn't have time to visit. All in all for a first visit I was pleased with the results but one can always do better !!!

Seabird Spectacular - Bempton Cliffs

The holiday Sunday had promised at last some decent warm and sunny weather. I had decided therefore that Kath and I would visit the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs over on the East Coast of Yorkshire. We left the Lancs West Coast around 9am for the long journey east. It was a very frustrating journey via A59 to York and then via Driffield to Bridlington and Bempton. Being a sunny Bank Holiday the roads were extremely busy and roadworks near York caused long delays.
We finally arrived at Bempton around four and a half hours after leaving Preston.It was busy and the main parking areas were full. We parked in an adjoining field and were welcomed by a singing whitethroat. Ater a picnic lunch we headed for the cliff top path to enjoy the sensational views and teeming bird life. We spent the next three hours or so enjoying the sight of thousands of seabirds which had made these chalk cliffs their home for the next few months. The star bird for me was the gannet and Bempton is the only mainland site where they breed. Also present are guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes and everybody's favourite, the puffin. I enjoyed trying to get some action shots of the gannets as they constantly flew back and forth to their nesting sites precariously perched on these 400foot cliffs.
Satisfied that I had obtained some decent images we began the long journey back home to Lancashire. We chose to return via the M62 motorway which was further in mileage but much quicker than the A roads. We had an uneventful journey and enjoyed the scenery as we crossed back over The Pennines. It had been a long day but well worth it for the unique spectacle of a seabird city perched high above the North Sea on Yorkshire's spectacular east coast. I look forward to returning in a month or so when the birds will be busy feeding young and there will be many more exciting things to see. The images show gannets, immature and adult,  nesting kittiwakes, a puffin and a general view of the spectacular chalk cliffs of Bempton.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A Walk On The Wild Side

It was impossible to go out this week without getting caught in the rain. The mornings were mostly fine but by afternoon the clouds and rain moved in. This pattern of weather seems to have been present now for most of May.This is very frustrating for a photographer as he has to take care of his expensive equipment and protect it from the elements. Undeterred I did manage to get out with a couple of trips to The Forest of Bowland , a part of Lancashire which is still unspoilt and wild, and where you can still drive on traffic free roads far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Yesterday found me in a remote unfrequented part of Bowland as I set off to explore a valley that I hadn't visited for many years. Just after leaving the car I was checked out by a male stonechat who had a family close by and was anxious to see me on my way. I did however have time to take some images of this very handsome fellow before going on my way. Further up the valley were more stonechats busy feeding young in their nests hidden in the heather. A few red grouse were spooked but the hoped for bird, the whinchat, didn't show I understand this valley has a few pairs but they were keeping low on this visit.
The highlight of the week however came later as I was checking out a rocky area which looked like a suitable spot for ring ouzel. I didn't see ring ouzel but watching me from a rocky outpost was a peregrine falcon. She probably had a nest close by as the male bird was also in attendance. They were not happy at me being in the vicinity. I managed one or two shots before leaving these magnificent birds to enjoy the solitude of this wild spot. The weather had also taken a turn for the worse and steady rain was now falling and I had to make the long walk back to the car and civilisation. A ring ouzel was briefly seen on the way back and I think I heard a whinchat in song. I will have to return to this remote valley to look for these species and hopefully better weather will also return . The images show the female peregrine, and a couple of the very handsome male stonechat.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

In Between The Showers.

I am finding it difficult at the moment not to visit some of my favourite areas in the wilds of Bowland. It is a prime time for the arrival of summer visitors like whinchat, ring ouzel, spotted flycatcher, cuckoo etc etc. Unfortunately the weather has not been very welcoming with very strong winds and rainfall on most days this month. The birds are beginning to filter through and hopefully the weather will improve soon enabling them to raise their broods before departing back to sunnier climes.
I visited the hill country yesterday with a friend hoping maybe to catch sight of a whinchat or ring ouzel in areas where I had seen them in previous years. We were greeted by yet more rain and we had to take shelter in the lee of some large rocks until the lengthy shower passed by. We didn't come across whinchat or ring ouzel but had many sightings of meadow pipits and nice views of a male stonechat.
We came back down the hill and then visited a patch of woodland were previously we had good views of pied flycatchers and redstarts. There was quite a bit of activity as the sun was trying to shine and it was noticeably warmer. One very nice surprise was a spotted flycatcher recently arrived and one we hope will stay to nest in this delightful spot. We did eventually have reasonable views of male and female redstarts and the images above show both birds.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Back to Bowland

Following my trip to the coast the following day found me back in my favourite part of Bowland in the hill country up above Slaidburn. I returned to the fellside woodland where I had seen pied flycatchers and redstarts on my previous visit. The gale force easterly was still hammering across the fells but there was some respite in the shelter of the woodland.
I was soon onto more pied flycatchers as they sang in the afternoon sun. I was able to obtain my best images to date and was well pleased with the results. The highlight of the afternoon however was the sudden appearance of a roe deer hind as she leapt through a gap in the wall bordering the fellside. I don't know who was  more surprised as we both froze. I was quick enough however to capture the moment on camera before the deer bounded off through the woodland. A magic moment and one I will remember for a long time.
I had another nice surprise on the way home as I came across a pair of curlew mating close to the quiet country lane along which I was driving. The curlews gave me ample opportunities to capture another magic moment as this was the first time I had seen this behaviour. A great ending to a memorable afternoon's birdwatching/photography in this delightful part of Northern England. The images show male pied flycatchers, mating curlews and a very surprised roe deer.

A Trip to the Coast

Monday of this week saw myself and a friend heading for the coast. A trip of 17 Dotterel had been found on the mosslands of SW Lancs near to Southport. The dotterel that had so far passed through Lancashire this Spring had not hung around for long and this trip was no exception. Despite extensive searching of Plex and Halsall mosses no dotterel were found. We did however see a few Whimbrel and Corn Buntings and it was a very pleasant day in the warm sunshine. We spent the remainder of our time at the RSPB Marshside Reserve on the coast at Southport.
This proved a good decision as there was plenty of action as usual from waders and wildfowl. The Avocets at Marshside are the main attraction at this time of the year and there was much activity as they are mating, sitting on eggs, and already some chicks had left the nest. There is much predation here from Black Backed Gulls, Herons and Foxes which take many eggs and chicks. We were therefore fortunate to witness a chick having it's first outing as it took its first steps into the water closely guarded by it's parents. It was great to see how quickly the chick adapts to it's new world and it was wading and swimming and skimming the surface for food as well as any adult. Any hint of danger and the parents would call out and the chick would instinctively freeze until the parents gave the all clear. It was a delight to watch the youngster for half an hour or so and then the adults led their precious offspring back to the safety of the long grass in the meadow. What had started badly with no dotterel had finished on a high note as we had seen the avocet chick take it's first steps into its watery world. The images show some of the action from Marshside with the avocets in their spectacular fly pasts and the adult escorting the chick for his first swim.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Seeing Red

It had been a week of very poor weather with three days of constant rainfall followed by very stong and cold winds from the north west. I was determined to get out with the camera and so on the Friday I left with a friend to see what we could find. The trip began very badly with more heavy and persistent rain and again very strong winds. We headed for the Bowland area and decided to shelter from the weather in The Riverside Cafe at Slaidburn. After coffe and cake the rain was easing but it was still very wintry.
We headed North up towards the County Boundary at Cross of Greet. On the way we called in at a small fellside woodland which I had visited in previous years and found it to be occupied by pied flycatchers and redstarts. We disturbed a Roe Deer on entering the wood and eventually we caught sight of a redstart. It was not easy to approach the redstart as it flitted about the woodland but eventually we noticed it perching on the fence and wall that formed the boundary of the adjoining moorland. Again it was difficult to approach closely but I did manage a few shots, none of which were good, but I will be back hopefully under more favourable conditions when the current very disturbed weather settles down.
We then drove up the winding mountain road to cross the County Boundary into Yorkshire. What a contrast there was in the weather as we crossed the watershed and a beautiful sunny afternoon greeted us with stunning views across the moorland to Ingleborough and Whernside.Along this section of moorland was a pair of Red Grouse with the female looking superb in her cryptic plumage , blending perfectly with the moorland grasses and heather. The journey home via quiet lanes and roads was fabulous with stunning scenery and great weather to finish the day. What had begun with very wet and wintry weather finished in glorious Spring sunshine and I was glad we had decided not to abandon this super ride through the stunning scenery of this part of Northern England. The images show the male redstart, the super cryptic plumage of the female red grouse and one of the views enjoyed on the way home.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Another Piece of the action

Uploading this post on a very wet and miserable Bank Holiday. Yesterday however was somewhat better with plenty of sunny spells but a strong and cool wind from the North. I had decided on a return to the Pied Flycatcher woodland at Moor Piece in Bowland. My plan was to possibly obtain better images than previously as I had found an area of woodland with a number of nest boxes and a number of interested birds.
The male pied/flys were singinging their hearts out in an attempt to attract the females to their chosen nest box. I spent a couple of hours or so and did manage some better shots of the male birds posing on their song posts. However I was not completely satisfied as I felt the birds will probably allow a much closer approach than the forty yards or so from where I was shooting. I left them in peace until my return,which will probably be next week,when hopefully the current very damp weather will have moved on. The images show the pied flycatchers posing nicely on their song posts and a nice curlew seen on the way home feeding close to the road.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

May Day

A new month had arrived and with it a beautiful morning with blue skies and sunshine. The weather forecast promised rain by lunchtime so I decided on another visit to the Pied Flycatcher woodland at Moor Piece hoping for better results than previously. It was a beautiful journey over Longridge Fell stopping briefly to take in the view of Pendle Hill from Kemple End. On then down to cross the River Hodder and up to Bashall Eaves and the Moor Piece woodland.
As expected the flycatchers were singing, making location easier in amongst the many birch trees.I soon got onto a couple of birds but once again they were high up and it was difficult to obtain the correct position for a good shot. I moved to a different area and found more birds singing and eventually I managed the shot I had been aiming for, with the bird only twenty feet or so above the woodland floor and posing nicely on an unobstucted branch. I also managed a shot of a female piedfly which was the first one I had seen. So the signs look good for a favourable breeding season providing the weather stays summery and provides plenty of insects and grubs for the young birds.
As promised the weather was on the change and by the time I reached the car the first steady rain had arrived. On the return journey over Longridge Fell the rain was heavy and was to last a couple of hours or so before clearing again around teatime. However for once I had made the right decision and enjoyed a few hours of splendid birdwatching/photography in this lovely part of Bowland. The images above show the view of Pendle Hill from Kemple End, yours truly in action at Moor Piece Wood and the male and female Pied Flycatchers.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Piece and Quiet

No it's not a spelling mistake. Moor Piece is an area of woodland in the Forest Of Bowland, AONB. It is privately owned but is managed as a nature reserve by Lancashire Wildlife Trust. It is dominated by Birch which has self-seeded onto what was in the past an area of open peat bog. It is important for it's woodland,colony of Green Hairstreak butterfly  and varied birdlife. I had visited earlier in the week but was thwarted by a wet afternoon. I did however meet up with another bird photographer and we had an interesting conversation about birds and cameras.
I returned the next day on what was weatherwise a much better day. The birdlife responded to the better conditions and good numbers of birds were singing. My new found friend Paul was there again and we enjoyed a super afternoon trying to photograph a recently arrived male Pied Flycatcher which was periodically singing from high up in the birch trees in his efforts to attract a mate. It was difficult first of all to find the bird and then to try and obtain decent images of the bird as it was often concealed by branches as it constantly flitted between different parts of the woodland.
We persevered however and did managed to obtain one or two decent images. I will however return to see if I can do better as there will be more arrivals of Summer Migrants to this area of woodland. I had not visited Moor Piece for a couple of years and had forgotten how special this woodland is. Above all it was a beautiful place to be on a very nice Spring day and we had both enjoyed the peace and quiet. The images above show typical poses of a male Pied Flycatcher and a general view of Moor Piece Nature Reserve.