November 2006


Surf Scoter at Beer, Devon. 28th December

My third attempt at photographing the Surf Scoter came with a little more luck. Upon arrival the light was certainly better than my last failed attempt but this time it was terribly backlit. I had to wait 2 hours for the sun to swing round enough to start getting reasonable shots. By this time the sun had gone in but I was fortunate enough to have enough light to take the ISO down to 100. This was need because the bird was still too far out for decent pictures. The shots managed seem to be the best achievable with my equipment and the birds proximity. Click on the Surf Scoter or the link for more images of this bird.

immature drake Surf Scoter Beer Devon

23rd December

I was hoping to go for the Surf Scoter again this morning but the dull conditions put me off so it was a brief search around my neglected patch. A Black-headed Gull was coming to bread with a ring which I was able to read. The bird was from Arnhem, Holland and the ring number was 3574.311. All the gulls were giving the usual superb views.I'm hoping for an interesting gull during the winter but feb/march time seems to be the best.

adult winter Common Gull

Black-headed Gull with holland ring

Orange legged Black-headed Gull and Starling 21st December

The fog had lifted enough to go out birding this morning. My visit to the sea front gave some interesting observations. The first was a Black-headed Gull that stood out by having bright orange legs. I noticed that immature Black-headed Gulls sometimes have paler legs than adults but this birds legs and bill were very striking. Another of the Black-headed Gulls lured by the bread showed signs of the splayed leg syndrome. This is a condition claimed as being present in cage and aviary birds earlier in the year but I have noticed it in many wild birds. This is brought about usually by a diet deficiency of Vitamin D3 or calcium, or caused by parents sitting on chicks and damaging them. During feeding time with the gulls a Starling perched briefly on the car wing mirror so some of these birds are used to being fed and becoming quite tame.

winter plumage Starling

Black-headed Gull with orange legs

Grey Phalarope West Bexington and Surf Scoter Beer 19th December

My last days holiday of 2006 was spent on the south coast. My first target was the Grey Phalarope at West Bexington. This was my first visit here. Upon arriving at the car park I was given the choice of walking east or west. Not being sure and making some phone calls I decided to head west. After 200 yards I reached an area that looked likely and it didn't take long to spot the bird in the distance. The views were typical for this species showing down to a few feet. I had a Grey Phalarope at Gailey Res in Staffs down to a few inches and this bird looked just as approachable showing no regard for my approach or presence. In fact, I had to move back twice as the bird came within the focus range of the lens of 4 metres.
With the Grey Phalarope seen well I decided whether to go for the Surf Scoter at Langstone Harbour. This bird looked to be showing well and could have been a good opportunity. Fortunately I hadn't gone to far when news broke of a Surf Scoter at Beer near Seaton. My initial enquires about a pier to the locals was met with blank faces so it was going to be slightly more of a task than I thought. The place wasn't that big so it didn't take long to track the bird down associating with a single female Common Scoter off a 30M concrete platform on the beach at Beer. Although showing well it was just out of range for the camera so only record shots were achieved.

immature Surf Scoter

Click the link or the Grey Phalarope for more pictures of this bird.

winter plumage Grey Phalarope

female Sparrowhawk 18th December

A quick visit to Weston STW was productive this morning. I stopped on the side of the road to get a photograph of a Buzzard. Shortly after, I caught site of a female Sparrowhawk in a tree. I stopped the car and pushed the lens out the window. To my surprise the bird did not fly off despite my being just 30 yards away.

female Sparrowhawk


juvenile Great Northern Diver Clevedon, North Somerset 17th December

I was wondering where my next good photo opportunity was going to come from and then a text came through of a Great Northern Diver on Clevedon Boating Lake. The boating lake is not that large so the views were bound to be good. Sure enough, when I got there the bird was easily visible with the naked eye diving regularly and caught a small fish at one stage.

juvenile Great Northern Diver

juvenile Great Northern Diver

Cattle Egret, River Otter, Devon 16th December

A bright sunny day was forecast for saturday so I decided to have another go for the Cattle Egret at Budleigh Salterton. The place is easy to find at SY074831. South Farm Road takes you to a bridge (called white bridge) over the river Otter. Take the footpath north that runs parallel to the west side of the river Otter. Upon arrival the field with the Little Egrets was quickly found. I counted 10 Little Egrets but no Cattle Egret. Whilst setting up my camera the bird flew in from the left and landed with the others. Unlike my last visit the egrets seemed quite settled and were not bothered by the dog walkers and joggers making the task of photographing this bird quite easy. The bird walked to within 80 yards at one stage so the only problem I had was setting up the camera correctly. Not too experienced at photographing white birds, my decision was to bracket the shots and hopefully get some plumage detail. Direct sunlight can be a bit unforgiving at times but compensate for it and there shouldn't be a problem. Click the link or Cattle Egret for more shots.

Cattle Egret Budleigh Salterton

Redwing and Fieldfare 15th December

During the last 3 days there has been an influx of winter thrushes to my area. Several hundred Fieldfare and Redwing were at Weston STW feeding in the hawthorn hedgerows. I managed to get some pictures but because of time restraints had to settle with some average shots.



Shag Clevedon, North Somerset 13th December

I was alerted last night of a report regarding 2 Shags at Clevedon boating lake. Just after first light it was confirmed and I made my way up. This was an Avon year tick for me. Both birds showed exceptionally well down to 15 metres on occasions. Again, I was affected by light but just managed to get enough light for a couple of good shots before I had to go to work. The light reflecting off the water helped raise the light levels and again I had to take off the teleconverter.

immature Shag Clevedon Boating Lake

immature Shag Clevedon Boating Lake

Spotted Redshank, River Axe, North Somerset 12th December

A near miss of a good photo opportunity this morning when a winter plumage Spotted Redshank was feeding at close range. The sun had not come up yet so I had to push the ISO up to 1000 and take off the teleconverter.

winter plumage Spotted Redshank

Black-headed Gull 9th December

With limited time and no scarce birds to go for I decided to find out where I was going wrong with the Leach's Petrel photos. I decided to go to Uphill beach and feed the gulls thus giving me the opportunity to get shots of moving birds at close range. This time I used my portable setup and realised that it was this I should have been using. Using a hand held setup enabled me to follow the birds around much easier.

winter adult Black-headed Gull

Dunlin north somerset 8th December

Back to the usual birding after a big drop in wind strength this morning. This Dunlin was on its own on the beach and allowed me to drive up to it. The first shots didn't come out too well because of the sea spray on the lens from yesterdays usage. After a good clean the fog had cleared from the shots which was a relief as the last time I experienced foggy shots I had to send the lens off for a costly repair.

winter plumage Dunlin

seabirds Severnside, north somerset 7th December

A morning at Severnside was a great experience with many sea birds showing well again. Soon after arriving came a call of a Bonxie feeding on a gull just 20 yards from the shoreline. I ran to the car and managed to reel off some shots whilst it was still feeding in front of half a dozen onlookers. It was difficult to count the number of Leach's Petrels around although 15 had been counted in one scan. The winds were due to increase but I was unable to stay and left happy with a memorable morning. Click the link or photo for more sea bird pictures.

Great Skua


Leach's Petrel Severnside, North Somerset 3rd December

At least 7 Leaches Petrels were at Severnside this afternoon. Some of the birds were on the tide line which is where I was standing! The birds were literally on view down to a few metres. The only difficult bit was getting photos. The wind was very strong, the focus was constantly hunting and my eyes were watering. On top of this the light was poor meaning the ISO had to be pushed right up. I was pleased to get one shot out of the 150 or so taken.

Leach's Petrel

Chiffchaff Hengistbury Head 2nd December

A poor start to the month starting with a dip. The Great Grey Shrike was nowhere to be seen in the first hour of light but I did have a fly over Crossbill and many Dartford Warblers. One dip down, I made my way to Hengistbury Head for a recently found Pallas's Warbler. After an hour of waiting and only a handfull of flight views, I was not convinced that staying any longer would be productive for photos. 4+ chiffchaffs gave good views. On the way back, I had a look for the Great White Egret with no luck.