Monday, 13 April 2015

I don't do birds on twigs!

Excited by my recent Great Egret photo expedition, I returned to the Somerset levels yesterday to see what I could find. It is a great time to be out with the camera as the birds are starting to nest. Consequently there are many territorial disputes and other behaviours unique to this time of year. I just have to grab the opportunity to capture some of it before things settle down to the quiet of Summer.

Let's start with a duck fight! Here is a dispute between two Mallards

 The loser makes good his escape whilst the victor looks on.

He lands safely just a short distance away. I love the splashing water frozen by the camera. It is a shame that you cannot see the clarity of the original photo.

In the following shot a Gadwall is chased into the sky by a Coot. Coots are very aggressive right now. You may not be able to see it, but it is behind the duck - honest!

The Great Egrets are still in action. Display flights at this time of year involve some dramatic in-flight posturing. Some of which are captured in these next few shots.

This one reared up almost vertically in the air. It really is a most arresting sight.

Then there is this cross shape that occurs quite frequently, again performed in very slow flight.

Don't know what to call the following pose, show-boating comes to mind but I do not know why. Perhaps "surfing" would be a better term.

 More crossing

 and more surfing. Showing off big time!

And then of course there always has to be a bit of this. It would pay to keep a careful eye on the sky if this sort of thing can come raining down.

Whilst all this aerial exhibitionism is going on, this Coot is quietly getting on with the serious task of building a nest. Its mate is going to be well impressed when he comes in with this lot - perhaps.

Elsewhere this Cormorant has caught a flatfish which is almost too big to swallow and the gull fancies it. The Cormorant makes a threatening lunge, seeming to forget that it has a big fish in its mouth.

Meanwhile this Great Crested Grebe is left to deal with its more reasonably sized lunch in peace.

To finish this time, a couple of more serene shots of Gadwall in flight.

I hope that you are enjoying this blog. The number of readers is gradually creeping up. There was a big surge today in readers from the US - Hi everyone, and thanks.

Please do let your friends know about the blog and consider visiting my web page at and visiting and liking my Facebook page 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Great Egrets Galore

It was not until the spring of 2012 that Great Egrets started to breed for the first time in Britain. Luckily for me this was almost on my doorstep at the Shapwick Heath nature reserve in Somerset. They are now a common sight in this area and you can confidently expect to see at least one each time you visit.

Yesterday, April 8th, there were a number of them giving a grand flying display in and out of the reeds. It was a photographers' dream! I knew I had to get lucky one day. Here are just a few of the shots I took.

This bird is, I believe, most correctly called a Great Egret, although common parlance seems to favour "Great White Egret", but this sounds a bit too much like Jaws to me. The scientific name is indeed Egretta Alba, so there may be justification for the more popular name - they certainly are big, white and egrets!

As with Herons, they have a particular form of display flight which involves holding the neck at odd angles and flying very slowly.

For most of the year Great Egrets are recognisable chiefly by their colour and large size of course. However, if size is not easily judged in some situations the bright yellow bill confirms the identification even at great distance. Not in the breeding season though!

At this time of year the bill turns black in breeding adults and the Lores, the bare skin between eye and bill, turns green. You can see that in the following blow-up from one of the shots.

The other thing that happens is that the "thigh" bones turn reddish. I had not known that until I examined my photos from yesterday.

Here are a few more shots of them doing their stuff.

But it was not just about Great Egrets yesterday. This was the first shot of the day, a Coot chasing off a Moorhen and making waves.

As I have said before, I can never resist a good Duck. So here is a Mallard descending to land,

and here is its mate.

Not to be left out in all the fuss about Great Egrets, here is a Grey Heron doing its display flight through the reed tops.

The noisiest resident of the reserve is certainly the Marsh Frog. When these get going in chorus you just have to put your fingers in your ears!

I have saved the best for last though. As I was following the Great Egrets flying display I spotted, way in the distance over Glastonbury Tor, the unmistakable silhouettes of two Common Cranes circling high in the sky. They never came very low, but did eventually drift overhead and I managed this shot as a record. An absolutely unmistakable outline.

So, I hope you will agree that I had a great day out on the Somerset Levels. I feel so lucky to live here.

My website is at 

Please share my blog with your friends and, if you feel moved, "like" my Facebook page

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Birds not to overlook - plus an Easter Bunny!

Being both a bird watcher and a photographer can be difficult. I have a strong tendency to want to photograph only the rarer and more dramatic birds. In the process it is easy for me to overlook the beauty of the more common species. I have to keep reminding myself of their potential and, when I do, I am almost always pleasantly surprised by the images that result. Take Little Egrets for example.

It was not that long ago that they were never seen at all in the UK. Now they are to be found on wetlands, coasts and river estuaries in many parts of the country. They are so common that I can sometimes not be bothered to lift the camera as one flies by - big mistake. For all their new-found "ordinariness" they are still one of the more dramatic photographic subjects. I would put them in the same category as the Mute Swan - easily overlooked but deserving of much more attention by bird photographers.

The Little Egret below was recently ringed by the Axe Estuary Ringing Group based at Seaton. Photography has long been a tool of science and in this shot, and others taken at the same time, you can easily read the letters on the rings - Yellow AA and Green HH. 

Here are a few more in-flight shots of the same bird.

If you would like to visit the bird ringing website and find the blog for 21 March 2015 you will see this same bird cradled in the arms of one of the ringers.

It always amazes me how calm birds seem to be when handled by expert ringers. They seem to settle down quite readily. The photographs above also prove that it does them no harm. This Little Egret was just getting on with the important things in life as if nothing had happened. Here is another common bird:

This Blackbird was particularly unconcerned as I walk slowly up to it on a woodland path. Perhaps it now wishes it had washed its face for the portrait!

Finally, because it is Easter Sunday today, here is an Easter Bunny. I could not find any babies, so this rather cute looking adult will have to do. Happy Easter!

Please do visit my website and let your friends know about this blog. I would be happy to receive suggestions of what people would like to see here - you can get me vial the Contact page on my website.