29 January 2006

Leam Valley - a rare outing

I've been confined to barracks a fair bit of late, so it was bliss to take an early morning stroll around Leam Valley today.

Cold, clear and empty - just the way I like it. It was one of those mornings where even the ordinary seemed extraordinary and wonderful - no rare birds, but a Jay, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Cormorants roosting near the weir, a Yellowhammer along the riverside and a tight little flock of Redwing all enlivened my morning.

I even got this snapshot of a Jay - not a great photo by any means, but my best yet of this elusive but magnificent bird.

22 January 2006

Great Spotted Woodpecker - a herald of spring

One of the early heralds of a new spring is the Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Even now in the depths of January, the GSW is already making preparations for the coming season, marking out his territory and advertising for a new mate.

The way they do this is by 'drumming' on tree trunks, rapidly banging their bills to create a noise not unlike a wooden ruler being twanged off the end of a desk.

I've heard this from my back garden for the last couple of weeks, and as I stood and watched my garden feeders this morning I finally caught sight of the bird himself. This was a garden first, and very exciting - even more so for having a camera to hand (the pictures were taken through the window on a foggy morning, so not bad considering).

A patch of red on the back of the head (just visible in this photo) means this is definitely a male by the way.

Up up and away

There were several reasons for treating myself to the new camera.

First was the opportunity for snatched shots - no more frantically setting up the digiscoping gear (tripod, scope, camera, adaptor, shutter release and battery pack) to try to capture that sudden and unexpected encounter. This Siskin which I found at Ryton Pools this weekend is a classic example.

The second was the variety and diversity of photography possible - to all intents and purposes this is basically a DSLR minus the interchangeable lenses. It has full automatic or manual controls, a great Leica f2.8 lens which runs from 35-432mm or so, and is at home taking portraits or landscapes as it is taking bird photos.

Here is Charlie to prove the point.

And finally, it can do things you could never do with digiscoping in a thousand year of trying. This quick flight shot of a Black-headed Gull at Draycote is a case in point - easy to take with a few minutes practice and I'm looking forward to plenty more like it.

Where did January go?

Or perhaps titled: "Becoming a father - what happened next".

At last I find a few moments to post and catch up on the last few weeks.

As I already mentioned, I became a father just before Christmas. I think it's fair to say that this has put something of a crimp on my birding.

Not that I'm complaining mind - I couldn't be happier about it- but it's worth recording here in my birding diary since it has undoubtedly had a significant effect on the style and substance of my birding.

Trips out have certainly been few and far between, but I have had a few opportunities to play with my new camera, a Panasonic FZ20 with TCON-17 teleconverter - giving me a cost-effective 730mm zoom lens on a 5mp camera.

I have set a hide up in the garage, and started to adjust the array of feeders for better photographic opportunities. These Greenfinch and House Sparrow photos show what is possible given a bit of decent light and a little bit of planning.