Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cold enough for winter

Now the rain has stopped we manage to get out with a long walk in our minds after so much food and drink.


We begin at Kidwelly Quay but as soon as we leave the car we realise that the wind is bitter making it almost impossible to steady a scope and tripod.  Hearing that the Long-billed Dowitcher had been seen earlier I searched and searched the flocks of birds under the railway bridge. There were hordes of Redshanks and Teal and even 10 Greenshanks.  A large flock of Lapwings was on the saltmarsh but no sign of our American visitor.


We abandoned a walk on Cefn Sidan and instead went across to Ferryside hoping to catch a glimpse of the recently reported Avocet at Llansteffan.  No luck here either as dozens of dogs were rushing around the beach putting up birds everywhere.  Accompanying owners seemingly ignorant of the mayhem their animals were causing.  We headed home and had time to note 10 Whooper Swans amongst the Mutes at Cilsan Bridge but most of the latter were in the air having been flushed by a lady in red who was walking in the fields.  Not a good day for birds or birdwatchers.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Seasons Greetings

Caught in the Rain

The weather looked a bit like it might get out after a damp start.  I decided to go out anyway.  I stopped first at Cilsan Bridge in the Tywi Valley to check out the swan flock.  I was pleased to find 19 Whooper Swans but sadly with only two juveniles.  They obviously have not had a great breeding season.  The weather was still gloomy so depsite the flock being close no pictures were possible.

Whooper Swans at Cilsan Bridge on a previous occasion

I moved on to Kidwelly Quay and as usual there were hundreds of wildfowl and waders.  Large flocks of Teal were obvious and hundreds of Lapwings and Golden Plovers.  Smaller numbers of Redshanks and Curlew were also present but no sign of the Long-billed Dowitcher which was found again yesterday after going missing for a couple of  months.  Then the rain came with a vengeance.

Golden Plovers

I drove home but stopped briefly again by Cilsan Bridge.  The Whooper Swans were still there but now split into a flock of 15 on feild and 4 on another. Five Goosanders were on a piece of flooded grassland.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Wildlife Photography

Siskin in my Salem garden

I am often asked what gear I am using for taking photographs.  I am completely unsophisticated and merely use a Sigma SD14 camera and a Sigma 150-500mm F6.3 stabilised zoom lens.

Indian Black Ibis - photographed from a boat on the Chambal River, India

I have only taken photography seriously during the last 10 years or so.  Before that I was a fanatical bird ringer until I was struck down with dreadful back problems.  Two spinal operations followed and bending under a mist net was out of the question so that is when photography came in useful and began to occupy my time.  The stabilised lens is a huge benefit as I can avoid lugging a tripod around on most occasions.

Timber Wolf - photographed from inside the vehicle at Banff National Park, Canada

I know I could spend a lot of money on more sophisticated equipment but what I have is a nice compromise and allows me to take it with me all over The World.   Airlines are so restrictive on the weight and size of cabin baggage nowadays. 

Great Green Bush Cricket - photographed oin the terrace of my house in Southern France.

I am so glad that people like looking at my photographs -  it helps to be told they are OK otherwise it is all self judgemental.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Busy before Xmas

I have spent the last two days travelling up to London and amongst other thinks recorded the last ever BBC Radio 4 Home Planet.  The programme has run for 12 years but now the BBC has brought down the axe.  It seems a pity as it is pretty cheap to make and embraces so many members of the public sending in really stimulating questions. This programme goes out on January 3rd at 3pm.

Dunlin but not accompanied by a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

I called in at Blagdon Lake in Somerset today to try again to see the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which has been lurking there all this week.  Guess what?  Yes it was not there - nor anywhere else it seems. Dipped yet again.  Lots of lovely wildfowl, Lapwings and a few Dunlin.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

This Government is now a serious threat to our wildlife

Over recent months I have been watching the Westminster Government very closely.  Three issues on which they have said much in that time give me great concern for our wildlife. 

Over 50% of our butterflypopulations have been lost in recent years

First of all their intention to relax planning laws which may see building on more green sites some of which have significant nature conservation value in a local context. There are still plenty of sites in towns and cities on which building can take place and indeed there are apparently plenty of sites already with planning consent waiting for building to commence.  This means once again Government would be better convincing bankers to make funds available to get this process started.  Even John Gummer (Lord Deben) has expressed concern at the Governments policy on this issue.

If  Planning laws are relaxed we could see more building on heathland on the edge of towns and cities.

Anyone who listened carefully to the Chancellor's autumn statement could not miss his promise that environmental and wildlife legislation would be reviewed.  What exactly he has in mind is anyone's guess.  I can imagine some traditional Tory landowners who consider nobody should affect what they do on their land being miffed at some of the current legislation.  Many of the designations on sites in the UK come under EU legislation and it is hoped they remain sacrosanct.  Most designations also allow for some flexibitiy (too much to my mind) and allow development if it can be proved to be in the "National Need".  It beggars belief that politicians think reducing the legal  protection on our best wildlife sites will assist growth to get us out of this dreadful situation that we have been put in by politicians and bankers.

Some of our major ecosystems could be under threat if wildlife designations are weakened.

Now today we here that Badger culling will take place in England despite the overwhelming scientific evidence aginst the effectiveness of such action.  This decision is entirely political and another sop to some of the supporters of the Tory majority in the coalition.  Thank goodness there is currently silence on the review carried out by the Welsh Assembly.

Badgers still not safe
So all in all this coalition which was going to be the Greenest Government is actually a serious threat for the future of our wildlife. I also have not even mentioned the unpunished persecution of Hen Harriers in Northern England or the continuing decline in farmland birds.  Some of us have worked for 40 years or more to get current legislation in place to protect our wildlfe.  The latter is not perfect and could be stronger.  It requires Government Agencies in some cases to bring prosecutions but it seldom happens.  These agencies have now been castrated by successive governments.

Hen Harriers being illegally exterminated in Northern England without any apparent Goverment action - photo by Ian Spence.

If we are to have any relevant wildlife in future it will be down to the NGO's like RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts to be much more vocal and active in enlightening the public what is going on.  To achieve this they will need much more support and everyone who cares should join one of these vocal organisations.  The NGO's mentioned have far bigger memberships than any political party so we should all be voicing our concerns direct to the Prime Minister.  Imagine if he received a 100,000 letters of concern even he might take some notice.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dipping out again

As I was staying with my daughter in Cheltenham I took an early morning journey down to Chew Valley to try and see the long staying Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  Guess what?  It was not there.  I did see really well a Spotted Sandpiper a rarity from North America but it is a species I have seen many times before whereas the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper I have never seen anywhere.

Spotted Sandpiper photographed in Costa Rica

I did meet a few local birders who could not understand why the bird was not showing.  I tried looking at two recommended positions but still not there.  I did amuse myself trying to photograph a Grey Wagtail and watched a Water Rail hurry across a ditch.  Amongst the hundreds of Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Gadwall I did find a female Goosander.

My friendly Grey Wagtail

Just as I was packing up to leave a friendly birder informed me my target species had been a Blagdon Lake (just a couple of miles down the road) for most of the day but had just flown off.  Serves me right I suppose.  Some birds you are just not meant to see.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Brisk morning by the coast.

A hard frost greeted us this morning and I set off for the coast in temperatures well below freezing.  The sun was glorious so I made for Kidwelly Quay in the hope of finding the Water Rail again and improving my photographs.  The frost must have moved him on because there was no sign.  I did find a nice group of Reed Buntings and a single Linnet feeding on phragmites seeds.

Male Reed Bunting at Kidwelly still showing some breeding plumage

I moved off as it was really low tide and most species were way out.  I headed down to the beach at Cefn Sidan near Pembrey and walked out to the tide edge.  It was an amazing walk with the spectacle of several thousand Oystercatchers and smaller numbers of Sanderling and Dunlin feeding along the tideline as far as the eye could see in both directions.  On the sea itself there were at least 500 Common Scoters. The sensation of sheer space and isolation is hard to find in the UK today.


Exhausted but very stiumulated I headed for home but stopped off at Cilsan Bridge in the Tywi Valley to look for Whooper Swans.  I was not disappointed because there were 18 feeding amongst a much larger group of Mute Swans.

Whooper Swans
A great day made better by the Canaries beating the Magpies 4-2

Friday, 9 December 2011

Birding whilst Xmas Shopping

When do you go birding I am often asked?  I am always birding is my response.  The letter was certainly true as I loped around Carmarthen today dutifully carrying bags and agreeing to the purchase of items I assumed we did need.  There cannot be many towns in the UK where Red Kites hang over the town centre with its glitzy trimmings and canned carols.


Arriving back the car a pair of raucous Ravens chased each other just over my head for some precious morsel.  I do not call that bad when you are meant to be shopping.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Birthday Lunch

Today was cold and windy but bright sunshine.  We were taking a drive to Rhandirmwyn for  Beryl's birthday lunch at the Royal Oak.  In the bright light raptors were very obvious with Red Kites and Buzzards everywhere sailing on the wind.


We drove back across country to Pumsaint but few birds noted except for several flocks of Fieldfares feeding on roadside hawthorns where they still existed.  How sad the majority of farmers around here still do all their hedge trimming in the autumn thus destroying loads of food for wintering birds.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Wandering around the coast locally

I started at Penclacwydd but could not find too much except for a couple trying to convince themselves that Little Egrets were actually Great Whites.  I could not bring myself to point out that all their birds had black bills not yellow.

Water Rail

Had a look around Pembrey and did find quite a few Fieldfares on the local hedges.Moved on to Kidwelly Quay where half a dozen Red-breasted Mergansers caught my eye.  Finally I spent an hour by a dark ditch trying to get decent pictures of a confiding Water Rail.  Only when you look closely through a lens do you realise just how beautiful these birds are.