Wednesday, 28 December 2011

new camera #2

Ginger santa (sister) obviously has more money than sense as she splurged a few hundred beans on a new camera for her dear brother and today was the day that I finally found enough time to get out and about and see what it could do....its only got a couple of baby lenses with it so im not expecting the world but as something to help me figure out the basics of bird photography this should work quite nicely. So, off I headed today to find some owls to point the camera at. For those who were out in the midlands area today you will know for the most part it was a glorious sunny day with loads of lovely lovely light to illuminate the owly goodness - the downside was the wind! By heck it were windy today! And that put the owls off. Out of the 15+ visits I've made to the site this winter today was the worst in terms of numbers of owls seen, the range at which they were seen from and the duration they spent in view. So all in all a pretty poor day really although I still saw 5, maybe 6 Short Eared Owls though which on face value sounds pretty good......

Thursday, 22 December 2011

birdwatching! patch tick na na naaaa

I've managed to do some birdwatching of sorts over the past few days - i'm itching to get over to Rutland in the near future but haven't managed it so far, a trip to the owls yesterday produced this image with the new phone:

And i've just spent the best part of an hour down at Jubilee park fulfilling my resolution to visit the "local patch" more least its only about a month inbetween visits this time! It did further highlight that I do see new/mildly interesting stuff there if I actually visit - today it was a possible patch tick Grey Wagtail on the river (can't remember if i've seen one here before or not, certainly not for the past two years or so) and a definite patch tick Weasel that was hunting along the opposite bank. Other stuff seen included a Little Grebe on the river (river tick), two male Greater spotted Woodpeckers in the same tree and precisely 6 Wigeon on the pool. Oh and a Kestrel provided the raptor supplement for the day, combined with a Sparrowhawk that went over the house earlier. No images unfortunately except this one of the lovely vista of the river/test gravel pool at Jubilee.....

In terms of garden watching i've been trying to get decent images of the Bullfinch that have been visiting lots recently but I've not been getting on too well, firstly the birds are reluctant to come to the nearer of the two sets of feeders (even if I put their favoured sunflower dispenser on that feeder pole) and secondly any sunlight that graces the garden in the afternoons comes from a terrible angle. Here are the best of a bad bunch:

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

New camera!

I've lured you in thinking i've got some dangerous SLR beastie haven't I? Well unfortunately that isn't the case, i've merely upgraded my phone. To a shiny new samsung galaxy s2 that has a whopping 8 megapixel camera attached to it. Considering my old phone had a shameful 5 megapixel bag of turds attached to it this must thus be regarded as a technological advancement on par with the invention of the wheel. By my estimates I should be able to produce 60% better images now!

A veritable plethora of assignments and suchlike has prevented me from doing any birding over the past couple of weeks except a couple of quick visits to see the Short eared Owls on the way back from uni so over the past two days I've been having a quick blast at the birds in the garden to see what sort of images I could attain with the new toy:

there's a few of these around at the minute.

and loads of these...

about 5 or 6 of these too....

but only one of these!!!

damn you autofocus!


terrible image (i can still do those) of a coal tit.

hungry goldie

perching goldie

perching bluey


Monday, 28 November 2011

Best yet

Dropped in to see the owls at Maidwell on the way home from uni again this afternoon - my route home almost goes straight past the site (or straight past if I take a longer route) so it would be rude not to! So getting on site at an earlier time than usual of 1.20pm I was rather pleased to immediately see several Short-eared Owls floating around doing their usual business of hunting, sitting and fighting. Very nice. A conservative count would say I saw 6 birds with a couple more way off in the distance but I suspect I saw more. A couple of the previously mentioned sitting birds did the decent thing and sat within range (ish) of the cameraphone and as the light was much better than previous attempts the results were much better. The best yet infact. Although admittedly that isn't much of an achievement.

 Oh go on then, lets crop one to death:

I enjoyed cropping the pants off that other image so much im going to do it again:

but you can make out its ear tufts - educational and amusing!


The other day I noticed a juvenile greenfinch under the feeders that had clearly been on the pies:




Now I know first winter birds of many species are larger than their parents - I believe the tactic focuses on the theory that juvenile birds need larger fat reserves to get them safely through the tough times of winter because they're amateurish at feeding and stuff but I've personally never seen such a big Greenfinch!

Friday, 18 November 2011

The big smoke. Life tick!

Hooded birder smoked loads of narcotics today. Loads.

I didn't really, I went to London to visit Kew gardens and to become the Hooded botanist for the day! I shall explain further - my Biodiversity and Conservation class went on a fieldtrip to Kew today for a guided tour around their herbarium and to look at the plants and whatnot.
If I liked plants as much as I like birds this would have been like leafy heroin for me, I imagine it would be like the reaction I had when taken to Slimbridge for the first time as a bird mental 7 year old. Said reaction involved pant-wetting, high-pitched gibberish and four grain bags being emptied within the first 5 minutes.
Unfortunately the gardens didn't quite have the same effect today but it was still damned interesting - for those who don't know what a herbarium is (which included myself until this morning) its basically a library of plant samples. Kew's is massive. 7.5 million specimens massive. These plant specimens range from recent to over 400 years old and there are even specimens collected from tombs of Egyptian Pharoahs! We were also lucky enough to be shown some of the actual specimens that Darwin himself collected on the HMS Beagle which was frigging cool!
Anyone thats been to Kew will know its a truly huge site so what was my life tick? Ring necked Parakeets! Admittedly im somewhat less excited about seeing these birds for the first time compared to others i've recently ticked but it was nice to finally catch up with them. One bird did cause enjoyment by mobbing a Sparrowhawk, im somewhat surprised it didn't end up as lunch! Most common woodland species were seen/heard around the grounds too so it wasn't a bad day all in all!

Autumnal stuff

Fancy greenhouse

Inside fancy greenhouse

Cactus House

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Distractions but a patch tick!

Apologies for the lack of recent posts but in my defence I haven't been out birding much in the past fortnight due to a number of reasons. Such as sorting out tedious car related issues, working on my dissertation and generally being rather busy. But who am I kidding, the main reason for the lack of birding has been the recent release of computer gamery from two of my all time favourite franchises - The Call of Duty series and the legendary Football Manager.
So little birding has been achieved in the last fortnight so what have I done? Leicester City qualified for the Europa League after four seasons of hard graft and I have a KDR (kills to deaths ratio) of 1.48 on COD and have just prestiged for the first time. Im not sure why im even writing those words on a bird blog.......

Hooded birder went birding! Ok it was only a quick jaunt down to Jubilee but after this recent influx of Whitefronts to the UK, the enormous feral goose flock that haunts the floodplains of Jubilee Park were certainly worth a look over incase a couple of bonafide wild geese had attached themselves to the happy throng. They hadn't. There was this though......

100% wild Snow Goose - please note tactic of shooting through reeds for enhanced appearance of wild and rare.
And please note further the use of a poor camera so the nice shiny ring on its leg isn't noticeable.

This however was certainly wild enough to be allowed and was definitely a patch tick! Hooded birder wins.

unrEGRETtable. poor I know.....

The wilds of Jubilee Park also threw up single Grey Wagtail, Reed Bunting and 5 Wigeon on the pool, a flock of around 12 Linnet were knocking around and there was a couple of Common Gulls in with the BH gulls. Flyover Sparrowhawk and Buzzard were also seen and I've resolved to visit the place more often. It is afterall less than a mile away and certainly has potential to throw up decent birds. Whether it will or not however is another matter.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Collection of the best/worst

Here at Hooded birder incorporated we strive to bring you the very latest in crappy phonescoped images and today we are pleased to publish 3 brand new images of Short Eared Owls which will im sure you will agree are absolutely aweful.
Feast your mince pies on these badboys!


Sunday, 6 November 2011


Oh dear reader what a treat I had in store for you on Thursday! After a morning doing non-birding related activities I planned to head over to Rutland to meet mother dearest who was on the Egleton reserve for an afternoon taking in the avian delights of what is surely the best (or largest at least) nature reserve in central England. You lucky lucky readers were going to receive a blow by blow account of the trip, hopefully encountering such birds as the Yank Wigeon, the long staying WRS and maybe even a delightful SEO over lagoon 1 in the fading light and drooling over the collection of aweful brilliant photos taken.....such a plan wasn't to be however as this happened en-route:

Not an ideal situation
So the birdmobile is dead. Well not officially yet, but it doesnt take a genius to predict that it will be declared dead in the near future. Badtimes. This was my first ever car and lasted the 7 years and 60,000 miles of ownership like a true trooper and has been the main method of transportation for the many birding trips I've been on in the last two years. Rene the Renault may you rest in peace.....
Anyway, hire car (provided by the other persons insurer cus it was their fault innit) has now arrived and distractions such as a friends wedding (congratulations Mr and Mrs Francis!) are now out of the way so I can go birding again! To be fair I could have easily walked to the "local patch" - a place I haven't visited since about August, but that idea was quickly rejected on the grounds that its crap and im lazy.
So I think i'll start off again this afternoon with some SEO's! It does seem to be shaping up to be a good year for them, certainly the best since I've started birding so I plan to binge on them like a hungry shmackhead whilst they're around incase a pesky cold snap makes them bugger off like last year!

EDIT: Back from owling and am pleased to report 5+ Short eared Owl and a single Little Owl were seen. Even more pleasing was the total lack of people in Golfs ignoring give way signs and ploughing into innocent motorists. Most pleasing of all was the fact that my good non-birding friends Hayley and Jack came along for the ride too and had only ever seen 3 wild owls ever and thus trebled their owl encounterage in one afternoon! By my estimates I'd need to see around 750 owls in a single day to achieve the same feat! And as for Mr Riddle....he'd need to see at least 6.4billion owls I reckon.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Few words, some images

Bunkers at Harrington Airfield

Convenient chair

view from chair.


well good photo of a SEO

Spot the shortie!

well good photo of a SEO #2

Friday, 28 October 2011

Time and a place

Now I like owls as much as the next person. Probably more infact. Much more. But when sleep is interrupted by a sexed-up Tawny Owl making an enormous amount of noise outside my window at 2am my previous opinion of owls goes out the window!
Shut up you feathered bugger and go and murder the local voles! Better still, have a go at one of the local cats, I bet you could have one. Have a punt at the fat one that looks like a Friesian cow. You know you want to.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


A bonanza of owls to be accurate. 14 sightings (plus two "heard onlys"!) over the past 2 days with 4 different species involved! I would now commence a long winded and ultimately boring post about these sightings but I cannot be bothered. The salient facts are this: all species have been seen besides Long-eared Owl and despite the large number of sightings not one photo has been obtained - mainly due to a combination of it being too dark/far away/flighty. To explain further stuff that flies around automatically excludes itself from having its photograph taken - its impossible for me to track a bird using the scope AND skillfully hover the phone camera about 1cm from the scope eyepiece AND press the "take photo" button at the same time. I don't have enough hands! Or the co-ordination. And owls (Short Eared and Barn in particular) like flying around and I can't take photo's of them. The end. Goodnight.

EDIT: I've just spied that Paul has just posted a few images from this evening so look at his site to get a feel for what my images would have been like had I taken some. I wasn't with Paul this evening (but I was yesterday, hence the irregular number of sightings for me!) but was viewing the same birds from a different, and further away spot. The key thing to remember however is that my images would have been much much worse. Plus I saw two barnies that he didn't so I win. Sort of.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

3rd time's a charm!

Taking full advantage of having a working automobile again I made my way over to Harrington Airfield at first light this morning hoping to strike third time lucky and finally see the Great Grey Shrike that seems to have chosen Harrington as its overwintering destination - I do hope it stays for the duration! Anyway, arriving on site just after 7.45am I was pleased to find myself being the only person present (because it is likely to be the first visitors of the day who will accidently put up a SEO) and wasted no time in walking the path through the scrub towards the first set of bunkers. I'd just reached the first set of bunkers when I picked up a bird flying straight towards me at a lowish height from the North. Looked a bit like a magpie in flight. Only smaller. Thats the boy! It did the decent thing and dropped onto a perch not too far away either - perfect for a bit of gratuitous scoping!
It stayed in this area for the best part of half an hour and even allowed me to move a tad nearer so I could take some crappy record shots as it flitted from perch to perch. What a cracking bird!

After feasting my eyes on the bird for a good while I was cocking about on my phone sending a couple of emails and whatnot and looked up and realised it had gone! Bugger! Another birder turned up shortly afterwards who had seen it flying southwards from the area that I had seen it in towards a very distant wood. I called time at that point as it seemed reasonable to suggest the bird wouldn't be returning for a good while and went and spent a couple of hours at Blueberry farm in the hope of shorties again. No shorties but loads of migrant thrushes along with single Merlin and Treecreeper.

On the way home Stanford reservoir produced this nice Grey Wagtail along the inflow channel too. The below image is phone-binned, my first attempt at that in ages!

So a productive morning out owls unfortunately, that might change later though!

Friday, 21 October 2011

two failures.....

Yep thats right, two attempts at seeing the Great Grey Shrike(s) at Harrington Airfield and two failures.

First was on Tuesday in the hope of completing a hat trick of lifers in as many days. The shrike had been seen about an hour previous to my arrival but none of the other birders that I encountered (there were a fair few) had seen it. I did see a Merlin over the entrance upon my arrival and the large flock of Golden Plover (I counted 427) provided entertainment whenever they were put up into the air.

Harrington on a nice calm day (not really, it was horrendously windy)

Plovers innit.

I walked the line of bunkers (visible in the distance of the top image) a few times in the end but got bored with seeing no Shrikes so I gave in and stopped at Blueberry farm (cheers Paul!), Maidwell for a lookie on the way back. Didn't see any SEO but a Peregrine at least gave me something to look at when it drifted over gaining height and then proceeded to stoop at what must have been 6,000 miles per hour. At least. Unfortunately lost it as it broke the skyline so I didn't manage to see the conclusion of the stoop but it was still the best that happened whilst I was there.

Blueberry farm - quality SEO habbo

And now we move onto today.....

After the news yesterday that two Shrikes had been seen together at the airfield after a paucity of sightings since Tuesday I headed back over to Harrington before uni this morning. I got there at about 10.30 (damned snooze button....) which gave me a nice window of two hours to hopefully pick up one of the birds before I had to go and learn about conservation and stuff. My beginning tactic today involved pulling over at the Memorial layby in the hope of (albeit distantly) picking up one of the birds in flight because although you can walk through the scrub patch and thus be close to the birds the density of the habitat means you can rarely see more than twenty yards in front of you. And so I chose the lay-by in the hope of a better overall view of Shrike land. This cunning  plan seemed cunning too. A birder had seen one, maybe two birds from that very spot not twenty minutes beforehand......
"I'm in here", I thought.
No I wasn't. At least they'd turned off the wind machine today.
Within minutes of arrival a Short Eared Owl was quartering up and down through the scrub patch however which admittedly did cheer me up as recently I've been trying for my first this Autumn and shorties are one of, if not my favourite birds.
About a hour into my allotted time I became paranoid that the Shrike were still in the scrub patch around the bunkers but were on the wrong side of it to be seen from the lay-by so I decided to give in with Plan A and go to plan B - walk the bunkers. So I did, and saw precisely zero shrike. But a guy walking about 20 yards infront of me accidently put up the Short Eared Owl from the long grass close to the path and it gave brilliant views - even better for the guy infront of me, he could have reached out and touched it! And then I ran out of time. So had to leave. Doesn't seem like they've been sighted since though....a crack of dawn jobbie seems the most realistic prospect of seeing them at this point. We'll see how that goes!