Daily Archives: January 22, 2011

Early morning duck walk 22/01/2011

Before I sally forth on my intended theme for this post, and continuing the astronomical precedent from my earlier post where I included a picture of the recent partial solar eclipse, I want to share a picture of the moon I took last week. At this time of year opportunities for wildlife photography in the evenings are severely limited. But on Tuesday and Wednesday (18th and  19th January) the moon looked spectacular early in the evening when it was low in the eastern sky,  and also very early in the morning, around dawn, when it was low in the western sky. So on Tuesday I rushed home from work, grabbed my camera and headed out the door with the dog in tow to try some lunar photography. I think the moon is an amazing thing and I can’t resist the opportunity to photograph it, and this is what I got:

Full moon low in the eastern sky 180111
Full moon low in the eastern sky around 6pm on 18th January, 2011 (f5.6, 1/800, ISO 800, 300mm)

After my lunar digression, and as alluded to in my post ‘Avian East Anglia’ I have been out taking a look at the bird life at Milton Country Park. I set off with my friend just after 8am on a very cold grey Saturday morning, which became progressively colder, greyer and rainy as time went by. Consequently I was less than hopeful of seeing much in the way of wildlife.

My fears of a fruitless walk at the Country Park were unfounded. As we entered the park a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) was making plenty of noise high in a tree and during the walk we saw two and heard at least two others. I don’t usually use a spotting scope but my friend, David, has one and it really does enable some terrific close up views of  distant creatures. We viewed a great spotted woodpecker at the top of a tall tree a good 100m away and the scope brought it right up close. I may add one to my next Christmas list.

A distant great spotted woodpecker – if only I could digiscope! This one wasn’t taken on Saturday… but it was at Milton Country Park

A cock bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) was busy feeding in some bushes at the edge of a lake and plenty of blue tits (Cyanistes caerulius) and great tits (Parus major) were to be seen. A brood of six last years mute swan cygnets (Cygnus olor) were communing  in a quiet corner of a lake:

One of six mute swan cygnets

And a pair of adult mute swans were on the slipway into an adjacent lake. A flock of mixed gulls consisting predominantly of black headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) with a single common gull (Larus canus) in their midst shared a flooded field on the edge of the Park with a flock of 57 lapwing. The lapwing would take to the air periodically and fly circuits round the Park before settling down again and each time they rose there seemed to be more of them, but a final count on the ground came to 57. I was pleased to see this number as I rarely see flocks of lapwing greater than 20  individuals.

Coot (Fulica atra), cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), a moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and a lone kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) made appearances but the stars of the day were the various duck species. I like ducks and it’s always good to see more than just mallard:


Male tufted duck resplendent against the oleaginous steely grey-blue of the water in the early morning

Note the prominent tuft and the yellow eye of the tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) above. It was tricky to get good quality images due to the low light of the murky early morning. I opened up my lens (Nikon 70-300mm VR2 zoom) to f5.6 and was using a shutter speed of 1/80s at 300mm zoom. The ISO was set to 800 to cope with the light hence the slightly grainy look.

A flock of approximately 20-30 shoveler (Anas clypeata) were feeding on the same lake as the tufted duck:




Small group of shoveler – see the splendid beak of the male in the background (top) and in the foreground (lower)

Shoveler diet consists of small insects, molluscs, crustaceans, seeds etc. which they filter from the water with huge spatulate beaks by sweeping the beak from side to side with their whole head underwater whilst swimming round in tight circles. They come up for air only very briefly which meant I had to take quite a few pictures before getting one with the beak visible. Beatiful birds, I like these.

Several small groups of wigeon (Anas penelope) and gadwall (Anas strepera) mingled with the other water birds such as the numerous coot, gulls and cormorant.


A coot in the foregound with a pair of gadwall close by and a pair of wigeon in the background

By the end of our walk I was frozen but it was well worth braving the cold to see such a diverse range of birdlife. I shall return there on a sunny morning to try and get some less grainy photographs!


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Avian East Anglia

I’ve just got back from a walk around Milton Country Park, on the northern edge of Cambridge, which was enjoyable and cold in equal measure. Of which more subsequently. And now I’m sitting watching our resident robin chase a dunnock around a bush in my back garden whilst pondering the diversity of birdlife in our area.

Avian diversity in East Anglia was the subject of a slideshow I saw last week organised by the local Cambridge RSPB group entitled ‘Birds of East Anglia’. The speaker was Bill Baston who is a highly accomplished bird photographer living in Suffolk, and has probably photographed nearly all the birds we see in this region. Bill has a very good website, www.billbaston.com, where he’s posted many excellent images from his travels to many parts of the world. For the photographers amongst you he uses Canon hardware with a 500mm telephoto lens.

East Anglia is an excellent place to see birds due to it’s proximity to mainland Europe and the North Sea. Many rare and sometimes exotic visitors can arrive here by mistake or due to being blown off course whilst heading south on the winter migration. The European bee-eater (Merops apiaster), the northern subspecies of long tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus) which is immediately distinguishable from our regular British long tailed tit (A. c. rosaceus) by its completely white head, and the unmistakeable hoopoe (Upupa epops) can all occasionally be seen by the vigilant spotter.

Aswell as such visiting rarities it’s usually not necessary to travel too far to see our normal indigenous species, amongst which I include regular migrants. There is a large diversity of habitat in East Anglia, from the tidal mudflats of The Wash in the north of the region, famous for it’s enormous flocks of overwintering waders and geese, the Brecks on the Norfolk/Suffolk border where nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus – the generic name from the Latin for ‘goatsucker’ as a result of the archaic, and mistaken, notion they suck milk from goats!) can be seen and heard ‘churring‘ on summer evenings, to the Blackwater estuary in Essex at the southern end of East Anglia which is also a great place to see large numbers of waders and other sea birds. In between  these extremities lie the Norfolk Broads, the UK’s largest protected wetland and National Park, Wicken Fen near Ely and Grafham Water near Huntingdon.

This is a small sample of all of the lovely places to see wildlife in this region. But if you don’t find yourself anywhere near these, parks, gardens, hedgerows and fields are all worth a glance – you never know what you might find.