Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Desert Wheatear, Burniston, North Yorkshire, 19th December 2007

An early morning dart across Yorkshire saw me arrive at 0800am to look for the Desert Wheatear. I walked onto the headland and scanned the area looking for this cracking little bird and in the ploughed field opposite, a Greenland Wheatear scurried around in and out of the furrows. All of a sudden, within feet of me, the Desert Wheatear showed. It was too close to focus on, but eventually moved around allowing images to be taken and performed superbly.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Mourning Dove, Clachan a Luib, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland 6th November 2007

Its always great when your at work and a text goes off in ya pocket and there's nothing you can do about it. Mike and Jane Malpass had texted me to say that they were on their way to North Uist, as a Mourning Dove has been found on some farmland up there.
Typical, two more days on shift before even a sniff of a chance of going.
I got home from work and mentioned it to Hazel, who was laid up having had an operation, but I said we would go in two days and that she could sleep and rest in the car travelling up. She was up for it.
Two days later, we were heading for Uig on the Isle of Skye, to catch the ferry to North Uist. Whilst driving up, we had a break at Fort William, and spoke to Jane on the phone. They'd connected with the bird, albeit in driving rain, and that the forecast up there was poor. Tom Tams was up there, as well as many more 'big hitters'.
We carried on north and drove over the Skye bridge onto the island, and headed up to the ferry port at Uig. Whilst waiting, we watched Ravens bullying White Tailed Eagles over the harbour. A brilliant spectacle in a beautiful setting.
We boarded the ferry, and eventually arrived at Lochmaddy on Uist. The light was fading and we had to find some digs.
After a good nights sleep, we were up early, had our breakfast, then set off the Clachan a Luib to look for the dove.

We arrived at the area, and a blue VW Golf was parked up, with the owner still sat in it. Hazel wound down her window, and I asked if this was the right area for the dove. Indeed it was, as it was sat behind a small rock for cover.

I immediately took two images as a record from inside the car. I took two, and no more. My camera battery was flat, as my camera had been switched on for the whole journey!!!!!!!!!!!
We had to go back to the guest house we had just left, so that I could charge my battery up. By the time it was charged, the weather had set in, so I decided we would push the boat out, and stay in the Lochmaddy Hotel and try again tomorrow.
The next day it was sunny and after breakfast headed back to the farmland where we had been the previous day. A female Hen harrier was gliding around as we approached our destination.
Fantastic, no one around and the bird was still around, even if it seemed a little more flighty than yesterday.
I sat by the road, waiting for it to arrive back in its usual place, which it eventually did, just as a Range Rover pulled up to ask what I was doing. I explained and the occupiers told me the Dove had been there over a week. They sat in the car as the Dove landed right on cue. The Range Rover was now between me and the bird, so I used the car as a hide and got the images I was after.

After a great day it was time to catch the ferry back for the long drive home to Lancashire. The first thing I did when I got home was buy a spare camera battery.
You live and learn!

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Eagle Owl, Whitendale, Trough of Bowland, Lancashire 5th May 2007

Hazel was away on business, so on the Friday evening I rung me father in law, to see what was happening on his farm. The usual. He then asked me if I'd ever seen Eagle Owl. I said I'd seen them in Finland and France. He said his close mate Geoff thought he had one on his farmland in the next valley and had ruled out Short Eared Owl, due to the size, and also the fact it had attacked him!!
I said we'll be through tomorrow to see whats happening up there.
The next day, Hazel and me travelled up to Whitendale, to try and connect with the 'Eagle' Owl.
Geoff showed us the lacerations on his neck, and it was obvious that it had gripped him hard. He said he would drive to the area on his quad bike, and that we could follow in the Land Rover.
He pointed over the valley, and there it was, an Eagle Owl sat on a boulder.
Geoff explained that he thought the female was on our side of the valley with two young.
My camera was set up, but the bird was nearly 100 yards away.
We watched from afar for a while, when Geoff's young son arrived on another quad bike.
He asked if id photographed the owl, and I told him it was too far away.
His response surprised me, saying, 'Ill be back in a few minutes'.
Five minutes later, he arrived with his sheep dog sat behind him.
'Watch this'.
He let his dog off the bike, and straight away, the Eagle owl flew across the valley like a Lancaster Bomber, and landed on a fence post right in front of my camera. It couldn't have happened any better. The owl sat there for a while before dropping into the long grass.

The Eagle Owl is a fantastic bird, but unfortunately its smack bang in the middle of where Hen Harriers breed, and it remains to be seen, how much damage this bird could do to the local Harrier population.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Harlequin Ducks, River Laxa, Lake Myvatn, Iceland, April 2007

If a poll was compiled to find the most handsome
duck that breeds in the Western Palearctic,
Harlequin Duck would surely top the list. In April
2007, Hazel and me flew to Keflavik, Iceland, for a week’s
bird photography holiday, with Harlequin Ducks
as our main target. Iceland is, of course, the
only place in the Western Palearctic where
Harlequin Ducks breed.
Keflavik airport lies about 50km southwest of
Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. From there, we
drove north on Road 1 to Borgarnes, and then
took Road 54 over to the peninsula of the Snaefellsnes
mountains and down to Froda. We
obtained our first views of Harlequin Ducks
here, looking distantly from Road 574, north
and seaward to Breidafjorur.
We stayed overnight in the small north-western
town of Olasfsvik. The following morning, we
visited the cliffs at Onverdarnes, where BrĂ¼nnich’s
Guillemots could be seen, and then drove back
to Borgarnes on Road 1, and onwards across
towards Akureyri, eventually arriving at the
famous Lake Myvatn, far in the east.
Our base while staying in the Myvatn area was
the Sel Hotel, Myvatn, which is situated on Road 1,
only about a mile from the area where Harlequin
Ducks are most easily viewed.
In April, male Harlequins start to head
towards their breeding grounds, towards fresh
water, having spent the winter on the sea (where
they can be easily seen in the Reykjavik area).
The males then remain in the breeding areas
until about late June, whereas the females and
young stay there until August. Lake Myvatn
holds probably the densest population of
breeding Harlequin Ducks in the world, with
more than 10,000 birds. These birds can be
seen later in the year than April and early May,
but beware the dark clouds of midges that
congregate around the lake in late spring and
summer! According to local people, this is how
Myvatn gets its name: Myvatn means ‘The Lake
of Midges’!
The best viewpoint for Harlequin Ducks that
we found was by the bridge on Road 848. Head
west from the hotel to a right turn over a bridge
which spans the River Laxa. This is Road 848,
which heads north before meeting Road 1 in a
loop to the east of the lake. There is a layby by
the bridge in which to park.

In the early morning hours, Harlequin Ducks
were actually quite difficult to find here –
Barrow’s Goldeneyes were the predominant
birds – but, after spending a couple of days
visiting the area, we noticed that the Harlequins
were beginning to congregate around the bridge
area in the afternoons, after having travelled
west, downstream from Lake Myvatn.
During the subsequent mornings, we spent
our time nearby, watching Gyr Falcons divebombing
the resident ravens, and then we headed
back to the bridge area for the afternoons. Then
we were able to watch the Harlequins fighting
their way through the fast-flowing torrents of
the Laxa. They were approachable and quite
easy to photograph. Each evening, they went to
roost in the long grass on the banks of the river.
Apart from the Harlequins and the Barrow’s
Goldeneyes, other birds that we saw easily in
the Lake Myvatn area included other sea ducks,
Slavonian Grebes, Merlins and Snow Buntings,
as well as the Gyr Falcons.
We thoroughly recommend a trip to Iceland; it
is totally unspoilt and naturally beautiful. The
weather can be cold (on our April trip, daytime
temperatures at Myvatn were down to about
–7°C, with snow and wind at times), but this will
not spoil your visit.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Snowy Owl, Borve, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland 22nd March 2007

I was off work with three very badly damaged fingers after they had been guillotined whilst dismantling a front porch. I was lucky not to lose all three, but for some superb surgery by the consultant at Lancaster Royal Infirmary. Hazel was on holiday at the same time, when news came in that a Snowy Owl was on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides.
Now although my fingers were in aluminium splints to stop me bending them, the pull of this bird was tremendous. Add to that, an American Herring Gull had been seen in Stornaway Harbour, near the fish merchants, so hopefully we could be in for a good trip.
'Come on, lets go' I said to Hazel, and within an hour we were heading north to Skye.
We arrived at Uig and waited for the ferry to Stornaway. We arrived at dusk and headed straight to Borve, to see if we could see it. A distant pale Owl could be seen quartering in the distance.
Well at least we've seen it. Hopefully tomorrow, we could get some images. We stopped off at Martin Scotts house to get some information, and he was more than helpful.
The next day, we drove down to the harbour to try and find the American Herring Gull. It was there, stood on the harbour feasting on fish scraps. Iceland Gulls were also plentiful.

Whilst in the town I took an opportunity to photograph a Hooded Crow.

We then headed towards Borve, and changed into our waterproofs and boots, as the terrain was boggy and saturated.
The Snowy Owl could be seen distantly, so we crept along the dykes out of site towards the it whilst it sat on the field.
We looked over the top of where we were and stood right in front of us was a superb female Snowy Owl. I slowly raised my camera to get a record shot.

The shutter went off, the owl looked at us, then flew 20 foot away. I photographed it again, then left it in peace.

We walked back to the car, and as we got there, a car pulled up behind. The driver got out and we recognised the bloke as Martin Scott, who'd given us some info the previous evening. He asked us what we had been doing, and we explained that I'd photographed the owl. Martin laughed and asked why we'd spent all that time yomping across moorland. We said cause thats where the bird was. He asked us to look at theblue coal bags in the distance. So we did, and there on the right hand edge of the bags, was another female Snowy Owl. Two female Snowy Owls divided by a fence. Unreal. It got better by the second.
So with that, I set off to try and photograph the second bird. I left my tripod at the car, and crept towards the sleeping owl. It never moved a muscle, even when a sheep charged towards it. It simply opened iteyes at sat there motionless.