Monday, 30 August 2010

Birthday Birding (28/8/10)

Saturday 28th August, one day after my sixteenth birthday and a fairly decent date for birds, how could the thought of going out birding then not pass through my mind? It certainly did pass through my mind, and that morning I found myself out on a full day's birding, and was fortunate enough to meet local birder Andrew Whitehouse at the Ythan and spend the day birding with him. Unfortunately, and slightly to my surprise, a majority of the day wasn't awfully productive. A routine check of most of the Ythan (including the Collieston area) produced very few passage waders (e.g. no Ruff, Blackwits, etc.) at all, and a single Osprey and a couple of Greenshanks were probably the most notable birds. Off Collieston a few Arctic Skuas and a Bonxie did pass, and a Peregrine was nice to see too. The beauty of having a DSLR, however, is that even if it is quiet you can enjoy photographing the commoner species, and I was able to do so in the Ythan area. See below for my photos whilst I was there:

Lapwing, Inches Point, Ythan Estuary (28/8)

Mallards, nr Slains Pool, Ythan area (28/8)

This Osprey flew high over our heads! (28/8)

So overall the Ythan was rather disappointing, and we ended up going to Strathbeg in the hope that it would be more productive and that I'd be able to catch up on Green Sandpiper for the year. It was more lively than the Ythan, but still wasn't that impressive in terms of passage wader counts - 8 Ruffs, 5 Greenshanks, 1 Black-tailed Godwits and 80 Golden Plovers, but no Green Sandpipers. Quite a few birds of prey were present on the reserve, each causing havoc amongst the waders. These included 2 Peregrines, a Marsh Harrier, and a Buzzard. I wasn't able to photograph the Marsh Harrier unfortunately, but I managed to capture the other two species - the Buzzard rather well, and the Peregrine rather poorly due to the speed which it was flying. On the way back from a check of Tower Pool Hide, I spotted a couple of rather obliging mig juvenile Whitethroats in a bush too....

Buzzard, Loch of Strathbeg (28/8)

Peregrine, Loch of Strathbeg (28/8)

Whitethroat, Loch of Strathbeg (28/8)

A Barred Warbler was present at Rattray Head last week, and we decided that we might as well go and have a look for it and anything else in the bushes down there, although we knew it was very likely to have gone. We did indeed and not surprisingly fail to find it, so we decided to have another check off the sea. We didn't have any success here either, with no skuas or shearwaters passing whatsoever. However about 10 of these lovely little birds were scuttling along the shoreline....

Sanderling, Rattray Head (28/8)

It was only at the end of the day that things started getting better for us. Now, I have a very bad history with Surf Scoters off Blackdog, an area of beach just 2 or so miles north of Aberdeen that annually holds 1-2 of this species. Put it this way, in the last 2 years I reckon I have tried upwards of 15 times to see these birds and I have failed every time! They are such a bugger to see, as they hang around with many hundreds of Common and Velvet Scoters, and whenever I have gone the Scoter flocks have always been very distant, scattered, and are often a mile down the coast at Murcar GC, where they are also seen (often I don't have time to go here as I visit in the evening). Having seen the conditions of the sea at Rattray, it seemed like a good idea to go to Blackdog and have another try for them, and with Andrew with us there was an extra pair of eyes. Arriving at Blackdog we found the sea completely still, the light reasonable, and the Scoter flock unusally close in. We went down to the dunes and duly started searching them, and I was over the moon when I heard Andrew say after a minute or so: I've got a Surfie in this closest flock'. My Dad caught onto it too, When he moved away from his scope to show me, I was immediately on to, after hundreds and hundreds of times trying to look for one, a drake Surf Scoter! Finally, I had seen one! After about 2 minutes of watching it I managed to lose it (probably because it had dived), but very soon afterwards Andrew called out again saying 'I've got another two'. He told us where they were, and indeed there was two others. These birds were far more distant, but were undoubtedly Surfies. It was fantastic, I had managed to get lucky with the closeness of the main flock, and I had been rewarded with 3 Surf Scoters. The most memorable views however were of the closest bird, which I managed to get facing towards the scope lens when a bit of sunshine broke through, illuminating the bird's weird but fantastic features brilliantly. It was a fantastic end to the day, and essentially the ideal birthday treat. Of course they were too far out to have any chance of photographing!

Thanks for reading, any comments or feedback is greatly welcomed!


Monday, 23 August 2010



This Saturday just gone I decided to have a morning check of my local patch the Ythan Estuary. There were quite a few passage waders about, including 80 Golden Plovers, 3 Ruffs, 16 Knot and a single Curlew Sandpiper (unfortunately too far away to photograph). Along with this, at least 3 Ospreys were fishing on the Estuary, with two of the birds coming close, both performing their usual, flamboyant aerial shows. This meant that I managed to practise photographing the species once again, and the results are definitely an improvement from last time, even though in a couple the bird is very high in the photo. See below (images are cropped, as they were of this species last time):

The second bird fancied harrassing the waders on the Estuary...

Unfortunately the Ospreys will be leaving in the next month or so, so I don't have that much more time to photograph them before they leave... However they will of course return, that's the beauty of having them breeding 10 miles from your hometown!

That is that for now, tune in next time for more! Feedback is welcome!

Friday, 20 August 2010

A New Era of Birding

Hello all, and welcome to my photography blog! The title says all, with the purchase of my first ever DSLR and lens respectively, a Canon EOS 40D and a Canon 400mm, a new era of birding has risen - an era of birding where photography will play a major role in my enjoyment of birding. I purchased my Canon E0S 40D and Canon 400mm about 3 weeks ago now, arriving just before I was going away on a family holiday to North Yorkshire. This was rather fortunate timing, as it meant I could spend a lot of my time on the holiday familiarizing myself with my new equipment. And indeed I did.

On holiday I was staying in a village called Settrington, equidistant between York and the coastal town of Scarborough. Within a 30-40 mile radius were sites such as Wykeham Forest, Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head, two of those which I would visit during the holiday. Settrington was your archetypal village, situated in the countryside, which thus meant common countryside birds were in prominence. Swallows and House Martins were breeding in some of the houses, there were plenty of Collared Doves, plus a scattering of other commoner species. When I got out with my camera equipment for the first time I was surprised by its weight, but would soon get used it. I decided that walking around Settrington and picturing the commoner birds was a fantastic way to start my photography and would help me familiarize myself with its several functions - after all, its always best to start simple. I quickly got used to my camera, and took great enjoyment in photographing the commoner birds. I had a wander round most nights, and to be quite honest I'm quite happy with my results.
Swallow - Settrington

Song Thursh - Settrington

House Sparrow - Settrington

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Wood Pigeon - Settrington

Collared Dove - Settrington

House Martin - Settrington
A few days before I left, I ended up at Flamborough Head on a family day out - a place on the East Yorks coast which is famed for its drift migrants and seabird passage at times (about. When I visited there wasn't much going on to be honest, but there were a few commoner birds that kept me entertained (see photos below).

Pied Wagtail - Flamborough Head (5/8)
Kittiwakes - Flambourough Head (5/8)
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On the way back to Aberdeen I met Andrew Kinghorn, a young birder, and went in search of Long-eared Owls at a site near him in Durham (previously having seen a distant Honey Buzzard at Wykeham Forest before travelling up). I was successful, with one young bird late on. Photograph wise there was a stunning sunset which I captured and a rather silhouetted Yellowhammer (see below). A big thank you to Andrew for showing me the Owls, it was a pleasure to meet you!

Sunset over the Durham Countryside

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Yellowhammer sings the day to sleep at undisclosed site, Durham

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It was painful for me not to be able to get out to my local patches with my camera for a week or so after returning from North Yorkshire. I found that in the garden there was very little to photograph, and going up and down my street or to the local park seemed odd to me. As a result, I didn't photograph much near the house, until an unexpected visitor entered, spending a surprising amount of time in my garden. A very pleasant experience indeed, and a surprisingly photogenic bird (photos taken through window so a bit blurry and bird quite a distance away)!

Juv. Sparrowhawk in my garden, 11/8

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From the moment I got my camera, I was looking forward to the first time I'd be able to get out to my local patches of the Ythan Estuary, Loch of Strathbeg. Unfortunately that time didn't come till this time last week (13/8) when I decided to go down to Girdleness for some sea-watching. On the way I had a small check to see what was in by the harbour, and found a very obliging flock of 18 Goosanders, quite a common sight at Girdlenss. I pictured a few of the closer in birds. The sea-watch was quite good, with a good number of Bonxies and Arctic Skuas through. To my delight, one of the Bonxies we saw came very close in, close enough for me to photograph well. Many Gannets were passing too, some of them coming to fish quite close in...
Goosanders, Girdleness, 13/8
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Great Skua at sea, Girdleness, 13/8
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A fishing Gannet, Girdleness, 13/8
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The next day I was lucky to have a full day's birding, visiting my other local patches (the Ythan and Strathbeg), plus a few other locations. A seawatch off Peterhead produced 10 Bonxies, 6 Arctic Skuas, 2 Velvet Scoters, 15 Manx Shearwaters and the highlight, 4 Sooty Shearwaters. Visits to Kinnaird Head (a place for seawatching), Annacheil (sp?) Lagoon in search of Green Sand and Cairnbulg all proved relatively unsuccessful, although a few Bonxies and an Arctic Skua passed through Kinnaird Head. Very few photos were taken at these locations, with the large bulk of photos being taken at Loch of Strathbeg and the Ythan. At the Loch of Strathbeg it was quite entertaining, with one Spotted Redshank amongst a few other passage waders - 9 Ruff, 40 G0lden Plover, plenty of Lapwings and 4 Greenshanks. A Red Kite was also around (unfortunately too far away to photgraph), my second of the year and an absolutely fabulous bird. The waders were mostly too far away, but I managed to get some shots of the Lapwings and Golden Plovers when they were put up by the Red Kite. Whilst I was there a woman with far better equipment than mine (a Canon 5D Mark II I think and an 800mm Olympus lens, don't ask me to specify the exact type!) kindly let me use her 800mm Olympus lens with my camera so I could get some photos of a very obliging Grey Heron on the pool (note that one photo is cropped). Meanwhile at the Ythan a single Ruff, Greenshank and 2 Blackwits were the highlights passage wader wise, but the best of all was a very obliging Osprey. Ospreys breed around the Ythan, and can often be seen fishing over the Estuary during the spring and summer months. When fishing they often come obligingly close as you'll see in the photos below! It was slightly to high up in the sky to get great quality shots, but I'm happy with them nonetheless. Below you can see the photos I took from the entirety of the day.

Grey Heron, Loch of Strathbeg, 14/8

Lapwings and Golden Plover (and perhaps Red Kite in the very distant background?)

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Black-headed Gull, Cairnbulg, 14/8

Turnstone and Redshanks, Cairnbulg, 14/8

Osprey, Ythan Estuary, 14/8

And that is that so far. I have only been out the once with my camera equipment to my local patches, and I'm looking forward to going out with it again. I'm very happy with how I'm getting on with my new photographic equipment. My photos aren't exactly high quality yet, but with perserverance I'm sure I'll improve. To see more of my photos feel free to check out my flickr page that is linked below. Beware however that I am having a problem with flickr right now, as I have apparently past my 100MB limit for the month, thus meaning I can't upload any recent photos... Any feedback or advice you may like to give me on my photos can be posted on here, or on flickr if you prefer.

Thanks very much for reading, tune in after my next day's birding for more.