Saturday, January 11, 2014

Buff-bellied Pipit

The American Buff-bellied Pipit showed well again at Burton Marsh today, what a great year tick!
This superb rare bird was first found on the 20th December last year, and showed well on a number of occasions up to the New Year, when much to the disappointment of many year-listing birders (and also some who had failed to connect with this rarity) it could not be located. One birder I spoke to had traveled twice from Cumbria and failed to see it. I took a few record shots last year, which I shall post soon, but today I obtained more photos, although the harsh sunlight burnt out some of the paler plumage features (photographers are such perfectionists!). Here are a few shots to be going on with.
As always click on the photos to view a larger image.

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Caspian Tern
Desert Wheatear

Friday, January 10, 2014

Woodland birds

Took my lunch and my camera to a local woodland in the vague hope of photographing some birds on a dull winter's day. A quick sprinkling of bird seed on a fallen log enticed a few birds close to my car. Unfortunately the light was awful so a high ISO was required to achieve a reasonable shutter speed to try and freeze any movement. The images also suffered slightly from the colour of the log which was almost black and looks like rock in some of the photos. For a while I even attempted a few "arty" shots with a deliberately slow shutterspeed to blur any motion. This is not to everyone's taste, but trying to judge when a small bird is about to take off and capture that moment is a skill in itself. I think only one of these impressionistic images worked, but that's the joy of digital photography; anything is worth a go. Below is a selection of images from today, I shall return on a sunny day, with more time and with a decent perch for the birds. Although the usual Great Tits and Blue Tits were the most obvious birds a few Nuthatches put on a good show, while an overflying Raven was a great addition to the year list.

Monet, Manet or just a mess?

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Marsh Tits

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cory's Shearwater

One of the bonuses of whale watching trips in the Azores is the sightings of other marine life such as seabirds that are often difficult to see from land. One such species is the Cory's Shearwater, named after the American millionaire, ornithologist, sportsman and bird-collector Charles Barney Cory. These large seabirds are part of the procllariidae family or tubenoses that includes petrels and albatrosses.
On my trip to Sao Miguel island in the Azores last May, these magnificent birds were a regular sighting on any pelagic trip. In calm conditions they were often seen sitting on the surface of the sea until the proximity of our boat forced them to struggle into the air on laboured wings accompanied by the pattering of webbed feet across the water's surface. But once in the air and especially on breezy days they showed themselves to be the masters of the air currents, soaring and banking over the waves with their wings tips barely touching the sea, like speed skaters who stretch out their hands and skim the ice with their fingertips as they glide around a bend.
The vast majority of the world population of Cory's Shearwaters breed in the Azores, so it's a great place to see them, but the boat's skipper is more interested in cetaceans, so any photographs have to be snatched at speed as we pursue our main quarry.
One species that was completely new to me and was a pure delight was a Portuguese Man o' War. The skipper even stopped the boat for this! It floated like a semi-inflated child's balloon, opaque with a hint of purple. Although it looks like a jellyfish it is actually a colonial organism composed of specialised individuals known as zooids. It is named after an 18th century armed sailing ship, supposedly resembling the Portuguese version at full sail and it is know to have a powerful sting.

On the first few trips we also saw a good number of Fin Whales. These amazing cetaceans were migrating north, and showed very well on occasions, although even though they are the second largest animal on the planet you don't get to see a lot of the animal on the surface. I have included a number of photos of the backs and fins as they are used by scientists to identify individuals, so hopefully the images will be of use to people studying the animals' migrations. I will post another article soon with more images of Fin Whales from the same trip last May.

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Azores Bullfinch

Sperm Whale