Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

I love Rainham Marshes


You know that feeling you get when the ends of your fingers tingle? Well mine were ringing in my ears. It may well have been the lovely Valentine’s Day I spent with the missus in Sevenoaks at The Vine restaurant or it possibly was the fact that I had a few hours on Sunday to nip over to Rainham to a) try to boost the Wildgoose Chasers bird list total which seems to be lagging behind most other teams and b) test the 7d and Sigma 150-500mm in the field, together, for the first time – now that’s exciting. Well it is for me.

It was nice to bump into Tom Bell with his images of the Ring-necked Paras feeding off his hand. Brave man. I signed in with Howard and the reserve seemed pretty quiet people-wise; only bird action was a female Blackcap (list tick) in the artificial orchard (apples on sticks) by the centre. I also added Goldcrest, Stock Dove, Great Crested Grebe and Golden Plover to the year list but still can’t locate a GSW!

Lapwing, Golden Plover and Shoveler

Little Egret

Marsh Harrier

Mute Swan

It’s going to take time to work out the best way to handle this kit – the light was poor. Every camera has its foibles and the Canon 7d is no exception. Once I get around those and learn how to get the best out of the lens, then I think this will be a rather satisfying combination.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Nazeing Meads and Lee Valley

One of those crazy Sundays with a quick trip to Nazeing Meads (heavily under-watched) for WeBS followed by a day volunteering at the Bittern Watchpoint.

Nazeing was a little quieter than the past few months tallies. There were still 6 Goldeneye about but only 4 Goosander where as previously I had recorded 12 on two occasions over the winter.


Drake Goosander
With the mud well and truly splattered up my regulation LVP Cargo pants, I scurried over to Fishers Green for a day of patient Bittern baiting. On top of this, I was also getting to grips with my new (albeit secondhand) Sigma 150mm – 500mm lens which seems to be performing pretty well in the gloom at Nazeing.

Normal service was resuming at Seventy Acres Lake. None had seen the Bittern early doors but a couple of Water Rail were doing the usual warm-up act.

From the bridge, a lone Muntjac clip-clopped over the bridge without any Troll appearing. It then reappeared from the hide giving good views.

So readers, I guess you want the star of the show right?

Well the Bittern took its time to show which was roughly 14.20pm and even then, it was fleeting or clandestine to say the least. But appear it did.

Once again, the new lens seams to be doing its stuff as the bittern sped across the cutting in the reedbed like a frightened chicken but a frightened Bittern would seem to be a more apt description to me.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Pleasure vs Pain

Yin and Yang. Heaven and Hell.

The phrase polar opposites seems to be quite apt for me after a day in the Bittern Watchpoint yesterday. Actually, polar vortex is closer to the truth. The day had started with my car warning me of ice – like I needed to be told! still, it’s a caring car so i mustn’t be rude about it. With freezing rain sliding off the windscreen, I drove over to the Lee Valley Park. By the time I got there, the rainy sleet was slowly petering out.

I have been looking for the regular Yellowhammers now for a few weeks and the possibility that there might be signs of these bright buntings (not academically you understand) was too much to resist.

Greylags in motion.
There were clattering of Jackdaws up at the farm and mutations of Fieldfare and Redwing hanging about outside the open barn as if they were having a crafty fag. Their guilt is magnified by the way they scatter at even my distant presence. They are quite funny really.

Filter-tipped Fieldfare
The almost ubiquitous Egyptian Geese squabbled on the goose fields with large numbers of Canada Geese. No sign of any yellowhammers and the weather had stopped falling on me. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from a high Poplar and Blackbirds and Song Thrushes zipped across the path in front of me as I headed to the Information Centre to see my good friends Brenda and Jo who were volunteering.
I bumped into Brenda before getting to the centre as someone had reported a swan in difficulty along the path. We went to investigate but neither of us are qualified or for that matter brave enough to tackle an adult swan. We found it and although it was a bit docile, it wasn’t noticeably injured but for a slight limp. Another volunteer, Kevin, would have no problem sorting it out as he’s an animal rescue officer and was usually around...hopefully.

We went back to the info point and paused to watch some of the ducks tackling the icy coat on the lake.
Coot. Big feet mate!


Lesser Black-backed Gull

Tufted Duck
Once in the Bittern Watchpoint, I settled down for the battle of wits between man and Bittern.

This year, the Bitterns have been difficult and very elusive. Usually with a frozen reedbed, the birds have little option other than to come out of hiding and fish for their supper in clear view. But because the winter has been remarkably mild our Bitterns have had everything their way.

Water Rail
We can rely on regular and sometimes prolonged views of the two or three Water Rails in the reedbed. At this point I found myself updating my day list of bird sighting with a welcoming hot cup of coffee when the Basta...Bittern walked or rather ran across one of the narrow channels cut in the reeds. One second? I don’t know but I only had time for a quicker with the camera and didn’t get much except the Bittern showing me a bit of leg. Well really!

Nice leg!
I was in two mind now. I thought I should have a look around the park a bit as the rain/sleet/snow/wind had stopped or should I stay in the hope of better Bittern shots. You have to understand that just a glimpse is good news, as of course there may not be any Bittern in the Reedbed. It’s a big Park (26 miles long and there’s plenty of reedbed up for grabs) but at least we definitely had one. I decided to come back later, near roost time and headed off to the car park. It’s only a minute from the centre but by the time I got to the car, the rain started again. I had lunch in the car and meet Jo as she arrived.

I think I can thank the rain as the afternoon would prove to be one of best any of us had had in the Bittern Information Point.

One of our new volunteers, Tilly, had been so sure she could see the Bittern but these birds can sit still for hours and I thought I could see something but when a shape doesn’t move for ages then you tend to give up.
Jo and Brenda. I think Jo can see the Bittern
We did see the Bittern. It moved back to where it started from and although it was difficult to get a lens on the thing we could see it moving about so it was only a matter of time. Well, it was actually a matter of a Mallard poking his beak into the Bittern’s business that made the Bittern fly up and grab hold of some reeds in clear view for us.

We all managed some good shots even though the bird was still in the reeds. Oh how we laughed. Even though by now my hands were frozen, I could still manage to press the camera buttons to check I had got something. The girls had some great pictures and I had some reasonable ones too.

Just goes to show how difficult these jokers are to see.
These birds give people so much pleasure when they show. We have sometimes hundreds of visitor a day and although they might not all be coming in for the Bittern, if they see it, then they always have a beam running right across their happy faces. The physical and mental pain getting there is worth it every time.