Saturday, 19 July 2014

Hungary for more!

Its been pretty much non-stop for the last few weeks, so I've eventually got around to writing a blog post.
At the start of June I was back in Scotland volunteering with National Trust for Scotland at Threave NNR, staying on the reserve meant I was able to get out and around the reserve on an evening which produced some great views of Roe Deer, Osprey and Barn Owl to name but a few. The resident of Barn owls were making themselves heard sometimes in the middle of the night right outside of the bedroom window! Being able to watch them quarter, hunt and fly back and into the nest to feed the young was particularly memorable experience! Whilst undertaking a bird survey around the reserve I was particularly pleased to find Tree sparrows nesting high in an Ash tree, a good record for the reserve and hopefully they will continue to increase. As always the stars of the show were the Ospreys and an evening spent along the banks of the Dee produced the first sighting of single young bird which was confirmed in the morning when one of the Osprey volunteers radioed in to say that two young were showing on the nest, they are some size now!

Threave estate

Over one of the weekends whilst away I went out to look at Seabird colonies in Dumfries & Galloway, it was my first visit to some of the cliffs, which is unusual since I've been visiting the area since I was very young! The cliffs didn't disappoint with large amounts of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiewake and Fulmar. The thrift clinging to the cliff edge help create a brilliant foreground and backdrop for photographing the Auks, Gulls and Fulmars, it was a bit disappointing that the light was so bad but the strong wind helped create brilliant soaring conditions for the star birds of the day, a pair of Peregrine falcon hunkered down on the cliff side at the nest were just visable and the size difference between the Male and Female was immediately noticeable. The female took off and was soon soaring above the cliffs as the wind hitting the cliff face was force upwards, she stayed in the air, soaring, for over 20 minutes in that time being briefly joined by the Male and several attacking Herring and Lesser black-backed gulls. A few hours spent in the afternoon looking for Otters was unsuccessful as too were my attempts to see Otter on the Dee throughout my stay, the closest I came to seeing one was during an early morning of Osprey watching when a dog walker happened to tell me had just seen one further upstream from one of the hides, unfortunately for me by the time I arrived it was gone.
Thanks to Karl for taking me up to see the Cliffs and Peregrines!

Guillemot on 'nest'

A few days after returning from Dumfries and Galloway I was heading for eastern Europe, a region completely new to me with wildlife that would be completely new to me too. Touching down in Budapest the first new species for me to encounter was Suslik, a species which I had anticipated being far more likely on the plains however as it turned out that Suslik was to be the only Suslik of the trip.
Brian (Killy Birder) has written a day by day report of the trip which can be found HERE so I am therefore going to keep this fairly brief and just point out my highlights.
On arriving in the Bukk Hills National park it wasn't long before we were watching one of the iconic birds of the area, the awe inspiring Eastern Imperial Eagle, the wingspan of the bird and the overall size of the bird was immense and unlike anything I have ever come across in the past, just watching the Imperial Eagle would have been one of my trip highlights however soon after a small bird of prey came into view circling lower on the same band of thermals as the Imperial Eagle above, it wasn't long before the two birds began to interact and as they came closer it was soon fairly obvious that it was a Goshawk attacking the Imperial Eagle! Having been unfortunate and not had the chance to see Goshawk in the U.K it was a real privilege to see interaction between two of the regions Iconic birds and something I doubt I will ever see again!
The scenery and atmosphere of the Hortobagy National park and the 'Putsza' takes some beating, watching cattle being pushed across the plains in the distance through the heathaze on the Little Hortobagy with the sound of Common Crane in the background was very surreal.

White Storks at the nest

White Stork "Bill clattering"

White Stork

Common Darter

Banded Damoiselle 

Something that stuck in my mind about these areas was the amount of "Farmland" species, Tree Sparrows could be found just about everywhere, something which can unfortunately not be said about the U.K, the farming techniques and land management in Hungary still have a somewhat soviet feel and in areas are still fairly 'primitive' in some respects, the amount of land set aside on field margins of nearly every field are large, Red-backed Shrikes can be found alongside nearly every roadside in these areas.

Female Red-backed Shrike

Hooded Crow

At Farm lator where we were staying in the Bukk Hills National Park the back garden of the accommodation also had a hide within an old store shed type building, myself and Brian tried to take full advantage of the hide by using it pretty much every morning sometimes at around 6:00-6:30 in the morning to make the most of the backlit effect being created by the early morning light. A wide range of species visited the garden each morning with the most predominant being Marsh tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Great Tit and Great spotted Woodpecker. Of course you can find all these species in the U.K I know of very few places in the U.K where the photographic opportunities for these species are better! Some more "Exotic" species that came into the feeding station were Serin (Lifer for me!), Hawfinch (Lifer for me!) and Middle Spotted Woodpecker (Another new lifer!) all giving superb views too! Red Squirrels did make very brief appearances but didn't favour venturing down to the feeders.

Farmland of the Bukk Hills National park

Great spotted Woodpecker

Juvenile Great spotted Woodpecker

Eurasian Nuthatch

Juvenile Hawfinch

Several days were spent venturing out in search for Butterflies and they didn't disappoint! But more on that in an up coming blog post!
More pictures to follow soon! Both of wildlife and Budapest so keep you eyes open for more pictures from Hungary over the next few weeks.
Thanks for reading and looking at just a small amount of photographs from Hungary! here is a quick look at what's to appear next time!

Twin-spot Fritillary



Monday, 26 May 2014

Killingworth lake, Moorlands and recent Photography

2014 started busy, remains busy and doesn't look like its going to get any less so! I've spent a good bit of time in North Tyneside in particular around Killingworth lake, I have also spent a bit of time further away in Scotland and Northumberland and my photography hasn't been just wildlife but the majority has!
A trip up the coast to Ross Back sands on a fresh January morning was one of the highlights of January with divers on the sea being one of the highlights as well as Long-tailed duck, Common Scoter and the ever present Eiders! Eiders have always been one of my favourite Birds and I look forward to getting my hands on the new T & AD Poyser monograph on the Common Eider that is due for publication later this year.
A morning spent in Seahouses Harbour in January helped me to get some Media coursework finished by producing a short time-lapse of the harbour, whilst letting the camera get on with taking the pictures I couldn't resist getting more pictures of these absolutely stunning birds! Who says 'common' birds aren't interesting!

Drake Eider - Seahouses Harbour

Female Eider - Seahouses Harbour

Female Eider - Stag Rocks

Drake Eider displaying - Seahouses Harbour

In February I took a bit of a step and bought myself a new lens after a rather long period of saving up! One of the first outings with the my new piece of kit was a trip to WWT Caerlaverock with a group from WWT Washington, the Dumfries and Galloway area is one of my favourite places and a trip to see what the area has to offer in the winter is always a brilliant opportunity, the chance to closely watch Whooper Swans has to be one of the highlights of the winter for me. This winter has been the first in several years that there has not been a wintering Whooper Swan on Killingworth lake, so missing out on my fix locally, except for a few distant sightings at the coast, it made the trip well worth while! I'm just about to complete reading "The Whooper Swan" monograph by Mark Brazil, other Monographs I've read (mostly in brief!) have sometimes come across quite 'dry' but I'm happy to say this one on the other hand was excellently written, maintaining vital information but explaining it in an easily accessible and readable format.
Back to Caerlaverock! The reserve, I have found can be quite intermittent, with points at which the hedgerows and surrounding grassland can be packed with noise and movement only for a minute later the area to seem devoid of any life whatsoever. This trip was no different, views of Yellowhammer were excellent as too was the sighting of my first Little Egret of the year, the Whooper swans and Barnacle geese still, as always stole the show.
The Peter Scott observatory at Caerlaverock has just been rebuilt and still offers great views of the wildfowl on the pond, unfortunately on the day the wind direction and rainfall meant that the large front windows of the Hide became very difficult to see out of due to the large amount of water bouncing off them sometimes near horizontally! However before we left the dull grey skies cleared and gave a narrow window of good light before disappearing and returning back to grey.

Feed time - Caerlaverock

Drake Wigeon - Caerlaverock

Whooper Swan - Caerlaverock

A lot of time spent in February was spent around Killingworth lake  to take advantage of good numbers of wintering Pochard, Tufted duck and Goldeneye and in the process try to capture some 'water-level' photographs. The latter species proved to be particularly difficult to get closer enough and low enough to the water to get the photograph I wanted but I did manage to get several shots of Goldeneyes that I am happy with, a challenge for next winter now!
The long staying female Greater Scaup also gave and continued to give fantastic views down to around 20 feet at times until only the past month when it departed.
With good numbers of Goldeneye and Gooseander throughout the winter the only species missing from the winter line up this year was the notable absence of a Whooper Swan, the past several years have always yielded at least a single wintering bird. 
Late February brought what is undoubtedly for me the star summer visitor to the lake, Great Crested Grebes.

Great Crested Grebe

Common Tern

Female Scaup

Drake Pochard

Drake Goldeneye

Mallard at Dawn - Killingworth lake

Mallard Duckling

Female Gooseander

March begun with a long-awaited 'lifer' in the form of 3 Snow Buntings near Blyth Harbour, the flitting movements of the birds, the occasional contact calls and the very confiding nature of the birds made it worth the wait and they defiantly didn't disappoint! Its a species that I have wanted to catch up with for some time now but never been able to catch up with, I'm looking forward to searching around for more next winter. A number of Snow Buntings were also seen when myself and Brian visited East Chevington in mid March. 

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

In April I took up my prize of a wildlife tour with Northern Experience Wildlife Tours, I decided that it I would like to watch another Black grouse lek and try and photograph other Moorland birds and wildlife as it as a habitat that I have only a handful of Images from, reaching the Lek at around 6:30 in the morning and opening the window of the car the first thing to hit us was the sound of the 'Bubbling grouse' below, with over 30 Blackcock lekking on the flattened areas of grass among the rushes it was above all other Lek sites I have visited and watching several Grey hen fly into the lek area was an added bonus as too was the snipe calling very close to the car but sadly out of sight. 
Moving into slightly lower ground Martin from Northern Experience Wildlife Tours took myself and Brian to a location which he knew was excellent for photographing and viewing Snipe, it didn't disappoint either with several calling birds on the fence posts and several birds drumming in the air above. A brilliant day out in a brilliant landscape and I'm happy with some of my pictures too which is always a bonus!

Snipe calling - County Durham

Red Grouse

Red Grouse
In April I was also back volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland at their Threave Estate in Dumfries & Galloway, during the week I was mainly fencing (Stock fencing rather than with swords it must be added!) during which time I had countless sightings of Raven and Red kite and I also the opportunity to watch the resident pair of Ospreys mate and also watch the Male come back to the nest and fly past with a large trout which has been freshly caught just down stream. 

Osprey with Brown Trout (Record shot)

Male Sparrowhawk

Hills at Sunset near Kippford

With April coming to a close the last outing of the month was co-leading an RSPB walk around Hulne Park near Alnwick, the walled deer park owned by Northumberland estates has a lot to offer with Avian, Mammalian and arboricultural interest with a wide variety of Native and non-native trees. With summer migrants well in the country and noisely proclaiming territories and attracting mates it was a brilliant time to focus this walk on bird song and we soon had the group, some of which had no previous experience of I.Ding bird song, actively listening out for Willow warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat and more.  
We didn't encounter any of the estates deer apart from 2 Roe Deer however we had several brilliant sightings including a pair of very confiding Dippers which paid little attention to us as they fed along the river bank, the male periodically bursting into Song, always a fascinating one to listen too! Several Grey Wagtails also put on a good show but the highlight of the day came in the form of two Male Redstarts as they flew between hawthorn bushes in an open area of pasture near the ruined abbey that stands within the encircled park. We finished our day with a Tawny owl calling loudly near by, not a bad ending to a very good walk which I hope everyone took something away from, I learnt a lot about Dawn Redwoods from other members of the group so I took that away with me!
I'm trying to keep this report of the past few months fairly brief but I have been out a lot recently and keeping the blog up to date has been a bit of challenge, I also had the great opportunity to help with some pre-season preparation on Coquet Island with the RSPB wardens which needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed, especially in tasks associated with the conservation of Roseate Terns, I also managed to get a few pictures of Seals too! To keep things fairly brief here are a few pictures from recent outings.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Grey Seal - Coquet Island

Red Squirrel - Cragside

Great Crested Grebe

Beach Trees- Gelt Woods

Mute Swan Cygnet - Talkin Tarn

Mute Swan Cygnet - Talkin Tarn

I also spent a few days in the Lammermuir Hills in the Scottish Borders last week which gave some of my best ever views of Golden Plover in Summer plumage with the added bonus of Golden Plover chicks! Grouse chicks, Lapwing Chicks and great photographic opportunities for Brown hare also made it really enjoyable, unfortunately the Mountain Hares weren't quite as obliging as the Brown hares were!

Cock Red Grouse - Lammermuir Hills

Brown Hare -Lammermuir Hills

Having quite a lot of so far unprocessed images to sift through and post from the past few months expect to see a few instalments of pictures from the past few months that I haven't had the chance to publish yet, thanks for taking the time to read and look through my images!