Sunday, 30 January 2011

Canon teleconverter experiments at Barnes

Cold day (1-2C) with cold NE winds hitting even central London, but not enough to kick off any bird movements at Barnes. The Shelduck is still present (as, apparently, is the Scaup although I missed it today).

I also tried out my new Canon 2x teleconverter for the camera (a Canon 7D) using it for both close targets like this Mallard. This bird was fairly close and shows up rather soft.

And more distant ones like these Peregrines (on Charing Cross Hospital taken from the WWF hide). These shots were taken with both 2x (the first photo) and then stacked 2x and 1.4x converters (the second). The stacked teleconverters combined with the 400mm lens (the f5.6 prime) add up to a focal length of 1120mm (sort of equivalent to a magnification of 22x). Basically I think the birds were just too far away for this to be any kind of useful test, but shots are included to give some idea of the difference in reach. While its hard to see on the small grey dots, the size difference between the two birds (female on the left) is immense. The birds are the small dots on the third railing down from the top and the second and sixth 'columns' from the left of the right hanbd (protruding part) of the buidling. The Peregrines perch here quite a lot, usually either on these railings or on the top of the white verticals.

A massive crop from the photo of the female with stacked teleconverters. This is, obviously, pretty rubbish, but, with a rough calculation using Google maps this is only slightly under a mile away (about 5,000 feet).

The day was pretty dull with poor light so shutter speeds were rock bottom which really didn't help photo quality.

The Siskin flock is still on site, around 14 birds around the back of the Sheltered Lagoon, but missing the Lesser Redpolls previously with the flock.

A few Snipe were also present, although fewer than at the start of the winter period. Jack Snipe seem especially thin on the ground this year. The water levels have been very high at Barnes for some time - whenever this happens the numbers of Snipe always seem to plummet. One of the few birds showing today below (taken with the 400mm and 2x converter).

Great crested Grebes seem to be in a mix of plumages ranging from some in full summer and others barely out of winter plumage - one pair were diplaying together were made up of a 'summer' and a 'winter' bird.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Waxwing duck broken

Had a cheeky trip out from the office today. I was scanning through the news services while I was on the phone and found that there was a flock of Waxwings about 10 minutes walk from the office. I'd dipped on another flock near the office about 10 days ago and had failed on another 3-4 attempts during the current invasion. I was beginning to think that I'd be the only birder in the country not to pick up any Waxwings despite the thousands of birds currenlty in the country.

I wandered round St John's Square peering into berry trees with no success then looked up to see tv aerials covered in Waxwings. All the following shots taken with a rubbish phone camera - of all the hundreds of Waxwing photos currently on the web, these may well be the worst.

Looking for more berry trees I saw another birder had one staked out with a camera and went over to join him. The Waxwings did a few flights round the tree but were a little nervous of landing as the street was pretty busy with a constant stream of people walking past their favoured tree. At one point they landed in the small tree, grabbed a few berries each and flew off again, returning to the TV aerials.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Cheeky work twitch

I had a meeting in Staines today which was temptingly close to a herd of Bewick's found at Harmondsworth just north of Heathrow Airport. After the meeting I drove round to where they'd been reported and, driving slowly and peering through a hedge saw what looked like a group of swans in a field with a bunch of gulls. Lept out of the car in my suit and scanned the field - 16 Bewick's Swans including 3 juveniles. I dived back into the car to change into jeans and put some more jumpers on, grab scope and camera, etc. This took about five minutes and, emerging from the car, saw the flock in flight clearing the hedge in front of me - managed to get off a few shots. I'd foolishly left my 1.4x converter on the lens so had to focus manually since there wasn't time to change it.

Briefly stopped off at Staines Reservoir to check for the Great Northern Divers seen yesterday but not sign on a fairly quiet trip. Highlight were 35-40 Goldeneye, good numbers of Wigeon and Shoveler and a flock of 30 or so Fieldfare on the west bank.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

2011 Kick Off - Barnes

There is something special about January the first. No matter how much it's an arbitrary date in an arbitrary calendar. The first day's birding of the new year is always fun. Part of the reason for this is the additional excitement you get from really common birds. I tried to explain this to my partner when I said I was going out birding on the first of Jan which she thought was ridiculous, but I bet at least 99% of birders are out there on New Years Day. Not that I do anything that looks remotely like yearlisting. I do keep a list of birds I've seen during the year but (in my head at least) that's quite different. Since my return to UK birding I've spent most of my time on my two local patches with occasional day trips (even, whisper it, twitches) further afield. This means I've frequently seen fewer than 200 species in a year, although a few more day trips mean I've edged over that in the last couple of years.

Barnes is a great place to start the year. Not only is it my most productive local patch but it has a mix of common species with things that are generally hard to get in London (eg Bittern, Jack Snipe, Water Pipit) plus the chance of adding something unusual.

This year Barnes scored well on with pretty much all of the expected common birds, a couple of species that can be tricky (Skylark, Linnet, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll)

Had great views of a Water Rail legging it between the Wader Scrape and the first channel on the Grazing Marsh. On the way out a Cetti's was calling and showed really well in the big entrance lake near the bird feeder. The number of these at Barnes has just exploded over the last year going from one (perhaps two) wintering birds before 2010 to around 4-6 singing males in 2010 and a number of wintering birds in 2010/2011.

The visit ended with 53 spp, but no sign of a number of Barnes regulars I'd expect to pick up in the next month or so (Bittern, Jack Snipe, Water Pipit, Stonechat, Chiffchaff, Peregrine) and also missed some basics like Kestrel, Sprawk, Stock Dove, Redwing, Fieldfare and Greylag. Where have all the Stonechats gone at Barnes? It used to regularly host wintering Stonechats. I didn't pick up a single one last year and no sign so far - the birds are usually in place by late autumn so it looks like this winter period isn't going to see any either.

Also chose to wander around Teddington stalking one of the London Waxwing flocks. Saw bugger all. I must be about the only birder in Britain who hasn't seen a Waxwing this winter. Did pick up Collared Dove and House Sparrow, though. Jan 1st total 55spp.