Friday, November 30, 2007

Cardiff has wildlife

The report of water rail was enough to drag me to the wilds of north Cardiff. The Glamorganshire Canal nature reserve is a part of a bigger country park, and proved to be a pleasant enough place - wander along the canal on your right, with a small river on your left, a couple of bird hides and a feeding station - it all seemed promising.
It was particularly nice to find a spot with lots of moorhen and no coot squabbling away.

Down at the hide another moorhen was doing a black grouse impersonation in the sunshine (yes - real sun - in some places!), ..........
whilst the mallards and kingfishers glowed.Annoyingly the kingfishers would perch quite near the hide, but always took their fish further afield - good views, but not photos - at least not at 600 pixels!
Several jay joined the usual birds at the feeding station, ..........but sadly the water rail were largely conspicuous by their noisy calls, rather than views. I did get some glimpses on the far side of the pool, though, and when I first walked into the hide I found a rail was swimming in open water - a first for me. The light was poor and my shot rushed, to catch it before it reached dry land, but you can see what I mean.
Definitely worth another go, even the hassle of all those roadworks on the M4. The final bonus (well a bit of a mixed bonus really) was some pretty good views of a mink. It was down on the river bank at first, right below my feet so I saw it well, but the vegetation made any pictures impossible. When it crossed over it to the other bank I managed one quick snap though.

Next time I'll try and have a look for those dippers as well.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"They look like chaffinches to me"

One of my aims this year had been to get some shots of bramblings. I got some awful ones a couple of springs ago, and hoped to do better, but there were few around last winter, so after a fruitless spring I thought I'd missed my chance. This autumn has been different (does that mean anything weather-wise?), and for some time reports of birds have popped up all over the area. I got my female shots (see last post), but was keen to get the male, so I spent a few more mornings hanging around Beechenhurst.
He was a bit reluctant, so I spent some time trying out an idea I had to use my Panasonic FZ30 on a wide angle setting with a long cable release to get some close ups. Unlike a DSLR it has a silent action, so once the birds have accepted the camera it shouldn't put them off. Focusing proved somewhat tricky but eventually I got a couple of reasonable shots of a nuthatch and marsh tit on the bird table. Definitely worth more experimenting.

Anyway, eventually the male brambling did appear. The light was rubbish and it was a pretty active feeder - you know how some birds just move all the time - but I got a couple of OK shots in the end. Despite Kay's comment (see title), I think he's rather gorgeous. She's right in as much as this is the northern relative of the chaffinch, both being Fringilla species.

The name probably has nothing to do with brambles, but is derived from brandling, an old word for brindled pattern - look at the back view below and you can see how this could be true.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Woodland close-ups

The few chances I've had to get out in recent weeks have mainly seen me in the Forest of Dean. To start with a glorious autumn was well underway .........

and I found a few more of those fabulous lilac coloured fungi.
The real pleasure has been the chance to get close to a range of woodland birds - admittedly nothing too rare, but with the help of some patience and a little bird seed I've had closer views than ever before, using a 300mm lens at most. The light could have been better, I had to keep the aperture large, and I probably should have done a little more afterwork on the shots - but what the hell!

The coal tits were the first in. At times they were feeding within 2 feet of me when I was pointing the camera elsewhere. They can be feisty little things at times.Next up the blue and great titsthen the chaffinches (one shot looks like one of those pottery hens - I found it amusing until I noticed the scaly leg that probably accounted for the posture. So many of the chaff's seem to have this.)A blackbird called by and caught a patch of sunlight beautifullyOne of my favourites - nuthatch - showed up as well. The last shot was taken at the feeding station at Beechenhurst, and it really did look like the bird had closed it's eyes and spat out the seed.Perhaps the biggest surprise was the great spotted woodpecker - not so much that it showed, but that it came so close - I had a coat with a hood up, but no more of a hide than that.In the same area I finally got a shot of it's cousin a green woodpecker - OK it's not great but it's the best I've managed, and to get this I was lying up against a tree smelling very strongly of piss!Round at Beechenhurst there were a few bramblings in with the chaffinches - with another couple of hours I expect I would have got some better shots, especially of the quite elusive male grubbing around in the leaves, but that's life.I went chasing some more brambling this weekend near Pontypool (Pantygasseg to be precise), but didn't find them. There were some twitchy redwing perched in the treetops, then I finally thought I'd got a better shot from the car, but it's not so good after all. Shows the colours as well as I've ever seen though.

So there we go - a long post, but the result of some fun times, and a whole winter to do better!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Devil and the Deep Blue C

The capercaillie is a magnificent bird. I've seen a few in Abernethy Forest - mostly glimpses of huge turkeys flying through the trees during an early morning RSPB trip to see black grouse, but also during an excellent morning at Loch Garten (they open the osprey hide early as it overlooks a lek) when a cock bird flew onto the top of a small pine tree and strutted his stuff. You could see his breath in the morning air. I've got some dreadful video shot through a telescope, but it was too far for photo's. I'd never heard of digiscoping at that time and didn't even own a compact digital camera. For once just watching was enough. This is a shot I've 'borrowed', but it does show the true blue underlying the apparent black plumage.

These next shots are mine, taken near Loch an Eilean from what is probably best described as a commercial hide. The light was very low and the camera struggled, but again this was something to just enjoy. Pine marten are regarded as (one of) the predators needing controlling by some gamekeepers.

So what's the link? An RSPB volunteer has studied the nests of capercaillie in Abernethy and has found that pine marten had raided the nests of nearly all. Capercaillie are a protected species. the UK population is less than 2,000. The Biodiversity Action Plan is aiming for 5,000 by 2011 (the original aim was 20,000).

Pine marten are also a protected species. A conservation nightmare - or just life in the raw?

[thanks to BBC Wildlife magazine, yet again]