Sunday, December 26, 2010

Icily does it.

Managed to get out a couple of times recently, despite my wussiness about the ice. On Tuesday, I went out to Bradfield on the bus, intending to walk home along Damflask Reservoir and the River Loxley, but the lure of Agden was too great, so I walked around the reservoir and was fulsomely rewarded with some fine landscape views as well as the reliably good wildlife. I managed to flush out what might have been a woodcock (or was it a snipe?), but it was way too fast for me. At the feeders, the usual array of blue tits, coal tits, great tits and eventually some brilliant long-tailed tids (my favourites - sooo cute!), blackbirds, robins, a single nuthatch  and the bank voles were obligingly coming out to feed on the bird seed, and towards the end of the walk, a brown hare was highlighted against the snow as the light began to fade. Getting a blackbird, a bank vole and a coal tit in one shot was a bit of a highlight for me, although I have to say, I'm proudest of the long-tailed tit pictures.
Yesterday, Christmas Day, with fond memories of last year and a dipper that made my day, I set off via an atmospherically frosty Walkley Cemetery, down to Rivelin Valley. With all the ice along the river, it really was most magical. I had not got too far along before I arrived at a spot where there were lots of birds flitting around so I set up base camp, took a few photos and has my hot drink and mince pie. I saw wrens, treecreepers, jays, goldcrests, and - wait for it - long tailed tits. Although I got photos of the jay and goldcrest, they were not brilliant, but the treecreeper and the wren were a bit better. As well as the birds, I also spotted, and had a pleasant chat with the family from across the road, who were also enjoying a Christmas Day stroll. Also, and with a degree of inevitability, I final ran into Roger Butterfield, a fellow Tweep, and Flickrer, and a wonderful photographer, with whom I've had quite a lot of communication, but never met in person, despite the fact he lives only a few hundred yards from me. (see links).
I also took quite a lot of shots of the icy river, and did a bit of experimenting with the guide setting, a new feature on my new camera body. which looks like a good learning tool, as well as a handy shortcut to advanced settings.
When I got home, I realised that I had got 2 key settings wrong, so the fact that I got some reasonable shots was really a bonus. No dippers this year, but I'm sure it won't be long before I see some again. I've booked myself on a couple of day courses to make me try harder to get the best out of my camera, rather than just stick in Auto, so that's all part of the plan for next year.
Happy New Year to everyone! I'm looking forward to even more wildlife watching in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Splashing and splurging

Since the last lot of snow, pretty much all of my organised activities have been cancelled. I've done a few more local walks - Rivelin and Loxley Valleys in even deeper snow. It was nice to get into Loxley Valley again as it's been a while. As I was walking from home, I didn't get very far, but that didn't matter as there was plenty to see. The first highlight was a flock of long-tailed tits, and a wren by the first dam. I decided to head for an area where on my last visit I had seen kingfishers and grey wagtails. No such luck on these, but possibly even better, as I was entertained for about half an hour by a lovely dipper going about it's daily business.

As I climbed up the steep bank above the river, I got some good views of 3 jays amongst the trees, and a couple of treecreepers.
After a few days at home, the snow began to clear and I ventured out to Manchester for a wander round the Christmas Market, which I think is one of the best. and then along the Sheffield Canal to Blackburn Meadows SWT Reserve. There is always plenty to see along this stretch, and as well as the ubiquitous long-tailed tits, I was rewarded with sightings of kestrel, goosander, song thrush, goldfinch and a squirrel doing a circus act using one of the pipes across the canal as a bridge.
I'd been toying with the idea of getting a new camera body and when I noticed that mine was in need of cleaning, I went up to the camera shop to explore my options. To cut a long story short, it cost me a lot less than I was expecting to upgrade and I now have a higher spec camera which is actually simpler to use. One feature is that it is supposed to perform better in low light, so the following day I paid a long overdue visit to Old Moor to really put it to the test. It was a grim day: one of those where it never seems to get light, but in spite of this I saw a good number of birds, and the camera stood up well to this test. No masterpieces, but some good record shots in very poor light, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do in better light. Here's a shot I got of a brambling - a first sighting and a first photo with the new camera.

I had hoped to go waxwing chasing again today. Lots of reports still in the area, but I wussed out as it was icy on the pavements after another snowfall yesterday. At least I can stay in the warm watch birds at the garden feeders and draw them, even if I don't get out to see them. I've added a few more drawings to the drawings page. I'm hoping for more snow - the forecast is for sub-zero temperatures - at least I can do local walks in the snow, whereas the icy pavements make getting out and about no fun at all.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

From Waxcaps to Waxwings to Whiteout!

Wow, November went out with a bang - and December came sweeping in in a big white coat. Edinburgh seems long ago and far away. My outing with the local RSPB group to Frampton Marsh went pretty well. I met an old colleague on the coach, so the journey went quickly. The reserve itself is quite new so it still feels a bit "under development", but there was plenty to see. It was quite busy as they had double booked, so as well as casual visitors there were 2 coach parties. At times, the hides were a bit congested. The real highlight for me was watching a barn owl hunting over the marsh shortly before we left. I got a few hasty shots, which turned out better than I expected - they might be used in the trip report, but it hasn't been posted yet. Weather permitting, I'll be going on the next trip to Tophill Low. I've also been on a couple of waxwing forays. Having the intel from Sheffield Bird Study Group really helped me to track them down, and I managed a number of sightings and quite a lot of photographs of varying quality. I like this one best, as it is against a green background, not the usual backlit sky, and I've managed to get the wing colours showing, which isn't the case on many other photos I've seen.
Since the snow started, I've been on a couple of local walks in Rivelin Valley. I'm glad to have this so close by - it means I can get out and get fresh air and take pictures without having to dig out the car, or even worry about whether the buses are running. On Sunday the light was stunning. I had a couple of unexpected encounters - one with a couple of geo-cachers wanting to look under my sitting rock for their cache - I helped them hunt for a while but by the time I moved on, they still hadn't found it - and a nearly too close encounter with a guy who had taken the steep road that skirts the top of the wood I was walking along, and failed to stop at the bottom in the icy conditions. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but he'd made a bit of a mess if the car which had ploughed into the undergrowth before finally coming to a halt. On Tuesday I did the same walk after a little more snow. It was less eventful, and the light was not as good, but I did see a jay, lots of long-tailed tits and a grey wagtail.
Pretty much everything I had in my diary for this week has been cancelled - a visit to a friend, a couple of bird-related events, my art class, my Mac workshop... I'm still not used to the fact that I don't actually have to do anything. I've been feeding the birds in the garden, of course, and spending a lot of time watching for new ones. Nothing new so far unfortunately, but plenty of the usual suspects: magpie, robin, blackbirds, dunnock, chaffinch, coal tit, great tit, blue tit, long tailed tit, wood pigeon, collared dove, feral pigeon, starling - oh and I did see a kestrel overhead yesterday, which is a first from the window.
As there is some sunshine forecast for tomorrow, I might get my boots and my Yaktrax on and get out to another stroll.