Monday, December 22, 2003

Having been away yesterday, I was well miffed to miss another of the areas elusives - Red-breasted Merganser - found by Will Bowell on the River Welland north of Crowland.

An extensive search of the river from Welland Bank Pits eastwards drew a blank on the RB merg but enjoyable (if not frustrating!) birding with Hen Harrier, Stonechats, Whooper Swans, Red-crested Pochard and Pintail all seen.

On the way back home I decided to check out Star Pit. It was largely frozen, but amazingly accompanying the Redshank and Snipe was a rather scruffy and sorry looking Grey Plover - PBC year tick no. 185!

Thurs, 18 Dec 2003
Shag - that major PBC elusive - is bagged at last!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Brian Stone does it again! Dartford Warbler! Not only a PBC first, but a Hunts first! Well done matey!

Although originally found on the southern riverside edge of the River Nene at Padholme Pumping Station, by the time I and the masses (well 10 people!) had amassed, the bird had flown across the river and had been lost.

A brief glimpse of the bird in flight by myself (UTVs) was followed by another wait when Brian thought he saw it distantly near a couple of Stonechats. We all watched the Stonechats. I followed a movement to the left and eventually it materialised. Bingo! I was watching a Watford Dabbler!

The bird was very active and mobile, moving around Stanground Wash with Stonechats and was always distant. I chanced my arm with the camera when it sat up and was visible against the pale grass background. Amazingly, given the tiny size of the bird and the distance involved, I got this record shot!

Brian stayed on until dark and managed a couple of better shots.

But the day had a sting in the tail for our Bri. Leaving the area in the dark, a wet road and muddy tyres saw him slip off into a roadside field with one helluva result! Thankfully for all of us who depend on him for finding some birds to look at, he escaped unharmed but I've yet to hear how long he had to freeze his hoodjajips off waiting for the cavalry to arrive.

Amazingly, as I was leaving Padholme Pumping Station, I found the second warbler of the day here - a Sedge Warbler, feeding along the counter drain on the Flag Fen side of the river bank. This was just a bit easier to snap!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

A call from Brian Stone drags me away form my computer for an hour or so, when he tells me county recorder John Oates has found a Siberian Chiffchaff at Tanholt Gravel Pits. I get straight out but on arrival the bird hasn't been seen for about 45 mins. An hour or so searching and still nothing. Even all the gulls and crows have been scared away by bird scarers, so we are left to enjoy a few Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests.

Mon, 8 December 2003
A brilliant sunny day and I thought I would try for some better shots of the Hooded Crow that's been seen at Eye Tip from Tanholt Gravel Pits. Whilst failing to find the Hoodie, Brian Stone calls me to say he has a Greenland White-fronted Goose on Orton Brick Pit. With only one accepted county record prior to this year, this was the second PBC area record this year following my own find of a family party of four at Prior's Fen in January.

I about turned and headed straight for OBP, but while on the way Brian rings to say it has flown off towards Hampton with other geese. I head straight for the unlikely setting of Hampton Lakes, and after sifting through all the plastics (Bar-headed Goose, Barnacle Goose) and a Pink-footed Goose, I latch on to the Greenland White-front. And what a cracker! Brian's has joined me by now and we both get out our cameras and beginning clicking to record what may well up as only the third county record.

Friday, December 05, 2003

In this day of e-mail and constant staring at a computer screen, I'm beginning to see the attraction of using the good old-fashioned telephone.

This afternoon whilst talking to a colleague on the phone, my gaze was, as usual when on the phone, fixed to the garden following every movement, bins at the ready. It was 4.10pm and few birds were left in the garden, most having departed for their roosts. A small group of Starlings were wheeling around over their leylandii roost site when suddenly a streak burst into the sky from the left. "Merlin!" I found myself shrieking down the phone to my colleague. "Wow! It's chasing a Mipit" I added.

The Mipit headed upwards, circling in a slow jinking flight. The Merlin followed every turn, spiraling skywards, almost faltering at one point, with tail fully fanned, when the Mipit suddenly broke away. The Merlin seemed caught out, but suddenly hit turbo and shot off like a bullet. One of those few-second moments which seem to last a lifetime! It was fantastic, and unfortunately, not wanting to drop the phone on my colleague, I didn't get to see the rest of the chase and the outcome.

My colleague was thoroughly gripped but complimented me on my live commentary!

Merlin is increasingly regular on the fen now and I almost expect to see it most weeks, and more often than not from the office window (I think the sixth sighting from my desk).

With Peregrine added to my house list recently while on the phone to local recorder Brian Stone, and a few other species added that way (Moorhen immediately springs to mind), I think I might make more use of my newly-discovered birding aid!

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Having had a day of dipping on Sunday (Hooded Crow, White-fronted Goose, Smew and Jack Snipe) I was thrilled when Brian Stone rang to tell me that he had refound the Hooded Crow at Eye Tip. Seconds later I was in the car and within 15 minutes I was watching my 206th PBC area species. Fan-bloody-tastic! The briefest, distant views gave way to a long wait before it eventually came in to the field in front of me and started feeding among the loafing gulls. I rattled off a handful of record shots, which despite the gloom and distance came out reasonably well.

Monday, November 24, 2003

It's been a busy week with virtually no time for birding, and BOU work dominating my time. What free moments I've found have been put paid to with the weather being foul!

Today found me along Ham Lane at Ferry Meadows CP, watching a very late Lesser Whitethroat. Such late birds have to be checked carefully just in case they turn out to be one of the eastern forms, several of which have been seen in Britain in recent weeks. An hour's watching and digiscoping revealed it to be more than a bog-standard curruca - see here. Four Lesser Redpolls were also welcome.

What is presumably the same Great Spotted Woodpecker from autumn is back on the nut feeder (now in adult male plumage).

Friday, 21 November 2003:
A chance sighting of a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker seen in flight whilst driving along the drove at Blackpool Hill was a cracking find and an unexpected fen tick. If it's got the inclination, it might find my feeders, 1.5 miles to the south!

Weds, 19 November 2003:
Star bird of last week, though, was undoubtedly the imm male Peregrine first seen soaring over the house whilst on the phone to Brian Stone (sorry Bri!). Ironically, this was the 92nd garden tick for me in just under a year, and equals Brian's total, and taking me to joint second in the PBC garden stakes (Hamletts beware!). I saw the Peg twice more that afternoon, plus a female Merlin in pursuit of a rocket-propelled Meadow Pipit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Having notched up number 90 for the garden list on Sunday, I really didn't think that no. 91 was only a couple of days away. Chomping on my muesli I nearly choked when I saw the distinct black cap of a Blackcap in the rose bush in the front garden! Fan-bloody-tastic!

A damn murky day otherwise and a walk on the fen before work was pretty quiet.

The day was spent slaving over BOU Council preparation and going through the drafts of the my latest bino survey for Bird Watching magazine (Dec issue) - posh bins - the best of the best of the best (and all that).

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Readying myself to leave to watch my kid brother Martyn play footie for Netherton Kestrels, through the kitchen window the shape of four swans were visible in the back fields. Having never seen a Mute Swan in the fields here (only ever seen fly-overs), I grabbed my 10+15x Duovids and cranking them up to 15x was gazing at my 90th garden tick - four Whooper Swans!

Bloody fantastic. When I moved into the cottage in November 2002, I set myself the ambitious target of seeing 90 species in or from the garden in my first year. With the first anniversary around the corner, I was beginning to think that I was going to find myself one short! But no, the Whoopers make it 90, and my next goal is to see just how long it takes me to get to 100 species which obvsiously now within reach as I have seen 15 species within a mile or so of the house which must all be contenders for the garden.

Back from watching Martyn and his team get beat 4-0, I spent the day watching Premiership footie and working on the website. The garden was relatively busy with Tree Sparrows, Sparrowhawk and Yellowhammers all present again. Just along the drove from the house I again saw the Buzzard which appears to be using the copse by Bedford's Barn Farm as its roost and cover site.

Between the L'pool/Man U and Chelsea/Newcastle games, I spent an hour wandering around the fen. Birds had either already headed off to roost or were heading that way. Streams of gulls were heading over towards their Fletton BP roost, and the Starlings were swirling around. I put up four Grey Partridge and a couple of Snipe from one field, but the highlight(!) was only my third fen record of Canada Goose! Yep - with only one sight and one heard (in fog the other night) record, the 75 I had heading NE over the fen towards the Nene corridor was only the third record in nearly 12 months.

Back at the house I decided to look at the Great Fen Project website, and boy! When finished, its NE section will incorporate part of the old Whittlesey Mere site which lies adjacent to Farcet Fen! I can walk over to the old Whittlesey Mere fen from the house (and frequently do) so when the Great Fen Project is finished, I hope to be able to cycle from the house all the way to Woodwalton Fen without the need to go along any roads! Brilliant.

Sat, 8 November 2003
With Brian Stone finding Black Redstart and Brambling at the Millennium Bridge at Northey, I decided to spend the morning birding this much neglected area. I chose to follow the Green Wheel Cycle Route from the bridge and east between Wash Northey and the King's Dyke brick works. Nothing outstanding but loads of birds - Fieldfares, Goldfinches, Meadow Pipits, tit flocks, Bullfinch - plenty of birds to look and sift through looking for that elusive scarcity.

Thr afternoon was spent witnessing my first POSH home win of the season as we put two goals past non-league Hereford in the FA Cup.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's been a fairly quiet few days with little birding opportunity due to work. Even the garden was proving quiet, apart from the usual Sparrowhawk raids on the feeding station.

Today, tho, saw a cracking return to form. I hadn't seen a Tree Sparrow since 25 Oct, but this morning six Treeps returned to the garden and were very active on the feeders and at the sombrero. Since they first moved in in early January, this was the first period I had been Treep-free.

Next up was the blur of a female Merlin shooting past the office window mid-morning. Fantastic!

I had declined a lunchtime birding session with local recorder Brian Stone to concentrate on the Lowland Farmland Bird conference I am running for the BOU. It was nearly to my loss, for at 1.55pm Bri rang to tell me he had found a Black Redstart and a male Brambling at the Millennium Bridge, Northey, at the western end of North Bank east of Peterborough.
Black Red is a good local find and when he said it was photo-ready I deserted my desk in favour of what turned out to be a spanking little bird.

I arrived with no immediate sign, but then it appeared on the corral just where Bri said it was feeding, and I watched it for 30 or so mins as it fed actively from the fence posts and gates of the corral. Fantastic. And a really photogenic little bugger!

A quick shufty along the track where Bri had seen the Brambling with other finches revealed jack-squat - no finches at all. The hedgerow on the other side of the field tho was chocker with Fieldfares, about 220 at least, making a right racket.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I'd spent the last couple of days away and was knee-deep in e-mails and work today with little time for even a peek outside until the quiet of the fen was suddenly broken by thunderous noise of two Army Puma helicopters! The first came right over the house, by the sounds of it skimming the roof! I leapt up and out the back to see what the noise was (grabbing my bins on the way of course!). Outside I saw a Puma chopper skimming the field behind the house when a second came over the house in pursuit of the first. Wow! War games on Farcet Fen!

Looking back at the first, it was flushing everything from the ground in its path. Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers, Corn and Reed Buntings all came leaping up from their ground feeding sites. A large bird then rose. An owl! I was on to it immediately and switching my Duovids to 12x was staring at a Short-eared Owl. Fantastic. Garden tick no.88. It rose quickly on deep wingbeats, then turned and flew straight towards me still gaining height. It was taking the reverse route that the two choppers had just taken, which lead it right over the house. Fabulous! As it came up to the garden and overhead, I could see its yellow eyes still on 12x. Wow!

The choppers sped off towards the nearby irrigation reservoir, scattering a handful of Fieldfares from the nearby elms. I had just lost the owl from view as it too headed towards the res, so I started checking all the birds in the air. Lapwings, Stock Doves, Woodpigs, then a duck. A female Goldeneye. Great. Not even a garden year tick, but only the second record. It had obviously been put up from the res. Then coming out of the background of whirring shopper blades, the clear 'tchuu' calls of a Redshank - garden tick no.89! Fan-bloody-tastic! Nowhere near as enjoyable as the SEO, but nonetheless, still a welcome addition to the garden list. The Redshank was followed by two Snipe and all three birds zoomed around over the fen before departing to the south-west and out of site.

Distracted from my work, and it being lunchtime, I decided to have a quick walk out to the raised reservoir to scan the fen from their for other birds. The SEO was put up again by the choppers and settled not far from me in a clump of fat hen trying to hide from the great armoured sky-monsters. More pipits and Skylarks were being put up and hordes of Woodpigs, but nothing else of note. I returned back to my desk (via the kitchen for a sarnie and a coffee) well chuffed with the two additions!

Short-eared Owl and Redshank take me to 89 species seen in the garden or from the house and garden since I moved in on 30 November last year. Only two gardens in the PBC area have recorded over 90 species - the Stone's garden in Elton (92) and the Hamlett's Longthorpe garden (93) - and both watched for well over the 11 months I've had! With some relatively easy species still missing, 100 species should be well within reach.

28-29 October 2003
A couple of days in Germany and very little to bright up the monotony of the meeting room. The meeting room did, however, have a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the nearby river valley and Common Buzzards and Red Kites being mobbed by various corvids were welcome distractions at times!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

A lazy morning! A slow breakfast and beginning to regret watching the England vs Samoa Rugby World Cup game when a text from ace bird finder Kevin Durose broke the boredom. 'Green-winged Teal at Star pit'. Do me! I missed it (as I presume it's the same returning bird we had in the area since 2000) when it was on the Nene Washes in Feb.

Arriving at Dogsthorpe Star Pit NR it didn't take me long to locate the bird - not quite fully out of eclipse, but a jam-spangler all the same. Although distant, I rattled off a few photos at least to get a record shot. My only distress about the GWT is that I gave this pit a good grilling yesterday and either it wasn't here or I overlooked it.

GWT sorted, I headed back to Tanholt GP, scene of yesterday's Firecrest but no joy. Bird action was down all round with fewer crests and tits hopping about and definitely fewer thrushes, although 35 Fieldfares dropped on to the berry-laden bushes. A first-winter Med Gull flew over heading for the landfill and a Whooper Swan 'whooped' across the sky to the east.

Last stop of the day was to Crown Lakes CP to check out a report from yesterday of a Black-necked or Slavonian Grebe. No sign and very little about, probably due to the illegal motorbikers that were around.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

An early start on a freezing morning. There was a hard ground frost overnight and the ground in most areas was well frozen. I made my way towards the washes. I stopped off at the Dog-in-a-Doublet as the river was right up. Nothing on the river but three fen/imm Stonechats visible from the bridge flitting around the edge of Town Fifties at the head of the RSPB reserve.

I moved on to Prior's Fen. Parking up a flock of 52 Fieldfare flew over west. I walked out through the fields and found another Stonechat flitting around a game strip. Arriving at East Pit it was unusually quiet. Only Mute Swans, the now resident Black Swan, but no geese or duck. Middle Pit held three more Mutes, three Redshank and a Dunlin, and the usual flotilla of Coot.

I walked the reedfringe on the footpath side hoping for some sign or sound of the Bearded Tits that were reported from 19 October. Amazingly, this same site has now held Beardies on the 19 Oct on three consecutive years! In 2001 I found a family party here, last year it was George Walthew's turn, and this year John Rodford (who he?). But no sign today.

A movement to my left and an imm female Merlin came slicing through the cold morning air passing right in front of me. Wow! What a cracking view with the sun straight behind me and full on the bird. The coarse markings were clearly visible and the size sexed it. It swept over the nearby field, turn and then suddenly kicked off making a dart along the reedfringe of East Pit before pulling up and then powering away. Bloody fantastic!

Catching my breath I looked round to see two 'long' ducks flying across the back edge of Middle Pit. Goosanders. Two males. They just powered through and I saw them go beyond West Pit westwards.

I followed the reedfringe back eastwards, checking all the nooks and crannies and eventually disturbed my quarry - a Jack Snipe. It did the characteristic lift up, rocking flight (like a miniature Woodcock) before looping over my head and dropping down in to the reedbed.

I maneuvered around and after some scanning managed to pick it out, outstretched, among the edge of the reeds. It was clearly watching me, pinned against the ground, bill laid flat on the floor and body as flat as it could. The golden stripes of the plumage now coming into their own as cryptic camouflage among the golden reedstems. As I reached for the camera, it obviously got too nervous and took flight again, only a short distance, dropping into a much denser area and out of view. Damn. I was just beginning to see some stunning photos coming up!

I left Prior's pretty chuffed, and departed with more Fieldfares going west. Driving along the North Bank at Northey, I noticed the hawthorns on the other side of the river looked alive with birds, so I quickly pulled off at the rusty Millennium Bridge, and counted around 420 Fieldfares whizzing around the fields and bushes.

I decided to make a rare visit to Tanholt GP to look for the two Goosanders that had flown through Prior's earlier. I parked up at the Tanholt Farm end and walked in. The trees and bushes were hoochin' with birds - loads of thrushes eating the huge number of berries, crests, tits and Chaffinches in the line of sycamores and ashes.

I decided to bird the pit and then with the sun more behind me, bird the trees and bushes on the way back. The first pit held only two male Pochard. At the crossing there was a field full of gulls. It looks like with the draining of Star Pit by Dogsthorpe Tip, the gulls were now using Tanholt to bath and the adjacent fields to loaf around in.

I stopped and scanned the flock, instantly picking up on an adult Med Gull on the near edge of the flock. A man on a bike then appeared and put the flock up - and what a flock! I was only looking at about a quarter of it, as it extended over the brow of the field, and suddenly there were thousands of gulls in the air! The Med Gull was easy enough to follow and it departed towards the tip with a host of other gulls. I continued on to the second pit but nothing, only more gulls.

I turned round and made my way back to the passerine action further back. Along the berry-laden bushes I counted over 32 Redwings, 28 Blackbirds, 5 Song Thrushes and a couple of Fieldfare. Rounding the corner to the sycamores, a troop of 7 Long-tailed Tits bounced through with a handful of Blue and Greats. I started following the movements higher up in the tops of the sycamores. Chaffinch, Chaffinch, Chaffinch. A few Goldcrests appeared and disappeared. A few more Chaffinches. A couple more crests and 5 more Long-tails and it all went quiet. A few more Chaffinches (or the same ones again) arrived in the tops. Picking my way through them I noticed a smaller bird flitting around one of the sycamore tops. Firecrest! Bloody fantastic!

I'd seen probably double figure Firecrests last weekend along the east coast, but his was only my second ever PBC bird and the first I had found in the area myself. Bloody brilliant! (are Firecrests brilliant! said in a Fast Show kinda way!). The bird performed brilliantly for a couple of minutes before disappearing around the back of the tree. After about five minutes it was back, in the next tree along. It did the same thing, appeared to work round the tree, disappearing around the back then popping up a couple of trees along, slowly working its way along. I watched it on and off for about 15 mins then texted the news out to a handful of locals and directly onto Peterbirder (aren't mobiles brilliant! sorry - Fast Show again!).

The whole place was beginning to liven up again - Long-tails and Goldcrests calling all around and a male Blackcap appeared in front of me. What a spot. I followed the birds along the tree line and relocated the Firecrest further along. I watched it for another five minutes or so but with no sign or sound from any of the locals I left to search somewhere else.

My last stop of the day was Dogsthorpe Star Pit. Wow the water level had gone down with the pumping. Black-headed Gulls were everywhere, but noticing there were loads of Moorhens I did a quick count - 41! Continual scanning eventually I picked up a handful of Snipe, Teal, Shoveler and Little Grebes.

Man U lost at home to Fulham (1-3 first home defeat in 14 months) - bollox! POSH drew at Luton (1-1) - thank you Leon!

Friday, 24 October 2003
A quiet day in the garden due to the increased activity of a pair of Sparrowhawks whose raids on the garden feeding station are getting more frequent.

The male has now taken to perching in a nearby willow and attacking the feeding birds from there. It's amazing just how rarely I see either bird catch anything, and in recently the male's frustration has show when he lands on the side of the thick Leylandii hedge and tries to reach for the birds taking cover inside.

Today he went one step further. After clinging to the side for some time, he dropped on to the floor where he just stared at the hedge for a couple of minutes before hopping under it and trying to get to the birds from below! Ingenious. But he still went away empty-footed.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Buzzard nailed at long last on to the garden list! And none of this scoping Morborne Hill from the upstairs window malarkey. No. One big bird sat in the field opposite the house - well and truly nailed! Buzzard makes it species no 87 since moving in on 30 Nov 02, and leaves me only three species short of my target of 90 species by 30 Nov 03.

Garden birds have been slow this week with numbers surpressed as most species having dispersed over the surrounding farmland now that the harvest is in and stubble fields are holding most of the birds. Driving back from the post office this morning a large flock of passerines wheeling over a roadside field soon found me watching around 450 Linnets.

New in certainly, as I ain't had a sniff of a finch flock this size around the fen in recent days. They were fantastic as they wheeled around, like Knots over an estuary, suddenly settling, feeding manically before springing skywards again. Although nervous feeders, none of the other birds using the field seemed wary, so I think this too pointed to them being newly-arrived. They had chosen a stubble field which had been fine-tilled which just breaks the topsoil, revealing loads of seeds and invertebrates. The field was jumping with birds including three Golden Plover, Rooks, Jackdaws, Starlings, Skylarks and Pied Wagtails.

Further along the fen and a single field held over 300 Feral Pigeons. I've never seen this sort of number anywhere in the fens before so where have they come from? Mikey Weedon suggests they may have been displaced from the recently-demolished Baker Perkins factory, but that would surely only remove their roosting site, and not affect their normal feeding pattern. Would it?

Back in the garden, what few birds there were had to take the daily raids by a male and female Sparrowhawk. Both left empty-handed as the Leylandii fortress did its job. It's bloody good fun watching the hawks fly in almost slow motion along the hedge making leaps, feet first, as they try and reach their intended prey.

It's been a good week so far, with the garden's second Brambling (on Monday) and second flyover Canada Goose record!

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Wednesday, 22 October 2003
I awoke to a really grim day - a stark contrast to recent fine days. The wind was all over the place, and predominantly in the south-east, which meant as soon as it started raining, my office window was a blur of water droplets obscuring my view of the garden and the birds. Brill! The heavy rain and wind surpressed the number of birds using the garden, with the usual flock of House and Tree Sparrows and Greenfinches.

A brief look for yesterday's Stonechat on the way to and from the post office drew a blank, but the stubble fields were chocked with Woodpigeon and Feral Pigeons - given the number of the latter on the fen today, central Peterborough must be pretty empty!
Tuesday, 21 October 2003
With Stonechats popping up all around the PBC area, it was no surprise to find a fem/imm along the drove. Three Sparrowhawks soaring high over the house drifted off south-west (presumably migrants) and a male and female raiding the feeding station made five Spars on/over the fen in one day. Not bad.

A young hedgehog spent the afternoon wandering around the garden and comically trying to reach up to the Sombrero - with little joy! It did eventually manage a dip of its nose in the water before giving up and then finding Andy's much lower water trough.

Monday, 20 October 2003
Work. The garden was proving not too busy - still 6 Treeps. Returning from an hour's soaking at Eldernell (and no birds) I pulled up at the front to flush a Brambling which flew off east . . and kept on going. Not even a garden year tick.

Sunday, 19 October 2003

Day two of 'out of PBC area weekend'! I headed over to the Norfolk/Suffolk coast and a bad start dipping on Hume's Leaf Warbler (please - not Hume's Yellow-browed!). Deciding Great Yarmouth cemy sounded infinitely better than the HLW site, I departed some 15 minutes before the sod decided to break cover, perform for five mins and then go and hide again. Still, Great Yarmouth cemy was better, and having walked into the Pallas's Warbler on arrival, soon located the sycamore circled by birders watching the Olive-backed Pipit. And what a spanker! The OBP performed brilliantly creeping along branches picking off insects from the twigs and leaves. Superb!

For some unknown reason that I later came to regret, I decided not to for go 'just another' American Goldie and headed for Lowestoft and a non-existent Yellow-browed. No sign of the YBW, I retraced my route back to Sizewell and feeling comforted that the Hume's LW had been seen at 2pm, decided to stick it out . . . until 6pm when every soddin bird in the area had shown itself (including several Firecrests and a fly-over Woodlark), but not the HLW. Ho hum.

The drive home to Peterborough was only made manageable thanks to a flask of Lavazza coffee and a stop at Pizza Express in Bury St Edmunds (yum-yum!). It was made even sweeter tho, knowing that I had again not missed anything at home (probably down to the fact that most active weekend PBCers were in Norfolk/Suffolk!).

Saturday, 18 October 2003
A right rare occurrence - a day out of my beloved PBC area to bird the Lincs coast. An early start and subsequent timely arrival at Skegness - only no one told the dickies! Working the south end of Skeggie revealed not a great deal - a few fly over Redwings and oddly, 5 Grey Wagtails over to the north. Switching to the north end of the town to the 'bluetail' site instantly brought something to look at - a spanking male Bramblefinch. The bird was feeding in the sycamores, creeping along the branches, allowing me to get some snaps with the digiscope.

A search of the surrounding area produced nothing else (later in the day the male Sardine was to be 'refound' here!) so I relocated to Gib Point where I bumped in to Robin Cosgrove. We birded Sykes's Farm which, compared to the Skeggie areas, was positively dripping with birds. But no sign of the morning's Yellow-browed or the day before's Pallas's. Lots of Bramblings around and a Blackcap were the highlight.

News from further north and Pallas's and Yellow-browed at Saltfleet so it was back in the car. I had got as far as Chapel St Leonard when the pager bleeped with news of a Olive-backed Pipit at . . . Skeggie! Bollox! About turn and 20 mins later I was parked in Derby Ave and searching the gardens for the OBP. I had already decided to give it only an hour before making my way to Saltfleet. As it happened, gen on site revealed the OBP had not been seen for some hours and not by anyone other than finders (recent PBC arrival Kevin Durose and Rutland refugee John 'Lefty' Wright - lucky chaps!). I soon relocated to Saltfleet where on arrival I was lucky to see the Pallas's within, oh, about five seconds of waiting. Now that's more like it!

Over the next hour I watched the sycamores behind the amusements 'hut' and managed to get some excellent views of the seven-stripe sprite, and 'assisted' other arriving birders to get on to it. Vagrant warbler watching can be really good fun, and today was no exception, but it can rarely be more entertaining. To say some of those looking for the Pallas's didn't know their arse from their elbow would be an understatement! Still, a couple of those fitting this description soon realised the complexities of watching a small group of tall trees stuffed with Goldcrests, at least four Firecrests and one Pallas's. Not everything that moved was going to be the Pallas's! In fact, it rarely was.

'Putting the birder on the Pallas's' was proving just as much fun a watching the bird itself, and at least in order to put the birder on to the bird, meant that I first had to find it! Then the fun started. I kept using a perched Woodpigeon as a reference point. After about 10 minutes of mentioning the Woodpig, one guy exclaimed with much relief 'Fantastic! I've found the pigeon!'. At least it was a start.

I returned home happy that my quest for a rare Phyllosc had been successful and I had had a really fun time with some good birding characters. And what's more, I hadn't missed anything in the PBC area!

Saturday, March 01, 2003

schizochroic Collared Dove

This Collared Dove shows the plumage abnormality of schizochroicism. This is a regressive gene found in females which leads to a pigment defect and renders the overall plumage tones a mixture of white and fawn.

This female bred near my garden in 2003 (with the normal male bird it is paired with in the photo) and reared at least one schizochroic daughter. The daughter's plumage was less marked than the mother, and she too bred here in 2004 rearing another female (now at least a third generation). This youngest addition however had near normal plumage, and it was only when it was alongside a normal bird could you tell that its plumage was slightly paler.

schizochroic Collared Dove Farcet Fen

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Digiscoping is the marriage of a digital camera and a spotting scope. There’s a wee bit of skill involved, but everyone’s doing it!

I’ve been digiscoping since Feb 2002 when the finding of a Grey Phalarope on one of our local patches spurred me in to taking the plunge. Since then I’ve taken tens of thousands of images, contributed photos to magazines, journals, brochures, websites etc – its great! My first ever subject, the Grey Phalarope, was used by both Bird Watching and Practical Photography mags!

In summer 2004, Bird Watching magazine asked me to be one of the three main contributors for their Digiscoping Made Simple supplement and Atropos asked me to write an article on Digiscoping Insects (Atropos 20: 35-41). I’ve contributed to Leica’s birding and nature watching brochures for the last three years.

I also post my pictures on my own website,, on my blog, Toadsnatcher – warts ‘n’ all and on the local Peterbirding site.

Well, if looking at my pics helps you take the plunge, then bear in mind you do need to invest in good equipment and know a little about what settings you need to take good shots. A fair bit of fieldcraft helps – but you’ll soon learn what to do and what not to do! If you can, get a copy of Digiscoping Made Simple from Bird Watching magazine – its full of helpful advice on equipment, techniques and settings.

Scope: Leica APO Televid 77 with fixed 20xWW eyepiece
Camera: Nikon Coolpix 995
Adaptor: London Camera Exchange for Leica scope eyepieces
Shutter release: Nikon digital cable remote control
Memory cards: 2x 128Mb, 2x 64Mb, 1x 16Mb
Monitor shade: Nikon sunshade
Two rechargable batteries plus standard Duracell for emergencies (never needed yet!)

Mode: manual
Focus mode: macro
Centre-weighted focus
Aperture priority
White balance: auto
Metering: Spot AF area
Continuous shooting
Best Shot Selector: off
Image adjustment: Less Contrast
Saturation: Auto
Image quality: fine
Image size: 2048x1704
ISO: 100
Image sharpening: high
Focus options
AF Area Mode: manual
Auto Focus Mode: single AF
Focus Confirmation: on
Exposure compensation usually set to between -0.3 and -1.3 (rarely at 0)

This article is from Atropos (20: 35-41) but although insects are the subject matter, it gives a good grounding into digiscoping in general.

In recent years, the birding community has embraced the digital age whole-heartedly with the advent of digiscoping. Birders have long been able to attach an SLR camera body to their telescopes with the aid of special photoadapters, but the combination of telescope and SLR camera never really caught on as the focal lengths were never actually that great. For example, an SLR camera body attached to a Leica APO Televid 77 produced a long-telephoto lens of 800mm at f10.4. Nothing spectacular.

Those birders who long wanted to take photos but were put off by the reality, have been quick to see the potential in marrying digital cameras to their scopes. At first, this was achieved by using video and camcorders, but with the arrival of digital still cameras, this became even more appealing, since the cameras were both smaller in size and cheaper to buy than moving footage units. Besides, most people want stills and not film from which you have to then take grabs (stills) if you want them.

Initially, digiscoping was undertaken by simply hand-holding the camera to the eyepiece of the scope, combining the telescope’s magnified image with the magnification power of the camera’s lens. Suddenly birds could be photographed by anyone with a scope! Wow! Home made adapters soon appeared, then commercially available adapters, and the rest, as they say, is history. The digiscoping market was born.

I bought my first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 995, in February 2002 and have taken around 17,000 images with it. I may have kept less than a third of these, but herein lies another benefit of the digital age – after the initial investment it’s virtually cost-free. As an active birder I already had a scope, and I already had both desktop and laptop computers (most people have desktop machines these days). So all I required was the camera, software (which comes with the camera), the appropriate adapter for my scope and a handful of optional extras – digital remote for the camera, several memory cards, spare rechargeable battery and a sunshade for the camera’s monitor. The whole lot set me back around £800, but it has cost me nothing since – no film or developing charges for those 17,000 photos!

My digiscoping camera kit – Nikon Coolpix 995, digital cable release, scope adapter, sunshade, extra memory cards, spare rechargeable battery and emergency standard battery

By the spring of last year I had been using my camera with my scope for several months when I found myself in Lesbos. Amidst photographing many of the birds, I found myself, without thinking about it, taking photos of several of the insects I came across. Initially, this was done as an aid to help me identify them when I got back home, but others were simply too irresistible! I had extended my digiscoping to insects.

Back home with and the onset of summer, my use of my digital camera was to take another turn. Visiting one of my local birding patches, I came across a Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea, and without thinking about it, I removed the scope adapter from the camera and started photographing it. This one action deemed my traditional SLR camera set-up redundant and I haven’t used it since.

By combining both traditional use of my digital cameras (I now have two) with the ability to attach either of them to my scopes (I have several with different size objectives), I have a formidable armoury for photographing all aspects of wildlife. If an insect is close and approachable, I make use of the macro lens facility on the camera and use it in the conventional manner. If the insect is not close, high in a tree say, or is simply flighty and won’t allow close approach, I can attach the camera to my scope and photograph it from a distance.

I don’t think I need to describe here how I use a digital camera in the traditional manner, but I will describe how I use it when combined with my telescope.

My main digiscoping camera is a Nikon Coolpix 995. The Coolpix series has established itself as the camera of choice for digiscoping. The main reasons for this are 1) it has an internal moving lens so that the camera’s lens can be placed as close to the scope’s eyepiece as possible; 2) it has a filter thread which allows the attachment of an adapter that slips over the scope’s eyepiece; 3) it has a rotating monitor which allows you to angle the monitor to suit your viewing angle. The 995 model which I have (4500 is the current model) has a 3.3 million pixel capability.

I attach the camera to my scope by means of a simple (London Camera Exchange) adapter which slides over the eyepiece and is secured by up to three plastic screws (I only use one). The adapter lives on the camera in my shoulder bag and is therefore always ready to be used with the scope when the need arises. To use it conventionally, I take the adapter off if necessary (it depends on what level of zoom the camera is set on as to whether the adapter can be seen by the camera’s lens).

I use two telescopes, a Leica APO Televid 77 and the smaller Leica APO Televid 62. I tend to use the 77mm much more, but in summer, the 62mm is becoming more or less my constant companion. It’s much smaller and lighter to carry, and with the brighter days of summer, the need for the extra light gathering of the 77mm isn’t essential (when photographing birds in the dull of winter, a larger objective scope provides much more light and faster shutter speeds). Perched insects also move far less than birds (or mammals) do, and so a slower shutter speed can be tolerated.

As to which telescope eyepiece to use, the lower the magnification the better. Some scope manufacturers do not offer anything under 30x, but Leica have an outstanding 20x wide angle lens which is simply superb for digiscoping. This eyepiece fits on both scopes, and is 20x on the 77mm and 16x on the 62mm. I occasionally use the 32xWA (or 28xWA on the 62mm) eyepiece, but I never use my 20x-60x (16x-48x on the 62mm) zoom eyepiece. All three of these lenses are the same external diameter so the one eyepiece adapter can be used on them all. The reason I go for the fixed lower magnification is simple. Digital cameras are light-hungry, and the higher magnifications allow less light to pass through to the camera and have a much narrower field of view – essential for locating and tracking your subject. Less light also means slower shutter speeds.

My camera mounted on the eyepiece of my Leica APO Televid 77 using the special adapter – cable release and sunshade also attached and ready to use

Digiscoping is a compromise allowing those already with the scope and tripod to add a camera and take photos (and good ones at that). The sturdier the tripod and the smoother the head the better for photography. But since birding (or isnect-watching) is still the primary activity, most people don’t want to start investing in more kit, especially heavier tripod when the trend in recent years is to move towards lightweight carbon fibre models. I use a Manfrotto Carbon Fibre 441 with a Manfrotto 700RC2 head (recently introduced). This is still very much a birding set-up which is competent for digiscoping.

The camera settings are critical in the pursuit of good photos. I only ever use the camera in manual mode where I can pre-set my preferred options which the camera then saves. This means that when I turn the camera on, it is already set up exactly how I want it. As it happens, part of the manual setting for use with the scope includes the camera being pre-set in macro mode, so even if I am using the camera conventionally to photograph an insect, it is already set up for macro use. My other preferred settings are –
aperture priority
double frame exposure – the camera takes two photographs one after the other with each press of the shutter release
fine mode – there are several image qualities to use: basic, normal or fine – I use the highest quality to achieve the best results
large file size – again, several settings limit the overall size of the image from the conventional 35mm slide size to aroundA3 in size – the bigger the file and the higher the quality, the fewer images an individual card can store – I get 82 images on a 128Mb card
image sharpening set to high – this simply sharpens each photo digitally as it is stored to the memory card (this is generally better than sharpening on the computer, but the image can be further sharpened if necessary once downloaded)
centre-weighted focusing – this concentrates the camera’s auto focusing in the centre of the image
lens zoom setting – most digital cameras come with an optical zoom element and a digital zoom capability. I (like most digiscopers) use the optical zoom (4x on the Coolpix 995) as standard – I use the digital zoom very rarely. If it’s out of range of the optical zoom x scope eyepiece, then it’s too far away to bother with (unless perhaps, a record shot is required)

In addition, I also use a remote cable release with my camera to reduce shake. As you can imagine, using a camera on 4x optical zoom with a 20x eyepiece produces a highly magnified image which is prone to shake, so using a remote device to fire the shutter reduces the risk of introducing any additional shake. The device I choose to use is Nikon’s digital cable release. This allows me to operate not only the shutter release, but also the zoom facility of the camera lens. Manual mechanical releases are also available.

So, when I’m in the field and come across a subject to digiscope, I first focus the scope on the subject, I then reach in to my shoulder bag grabbing the camera at the same time as reaching into my pocket for the remote cable release. The remote cable attached I then turn on the camera and whilst it is booting up (it is after all a mini computer!) I attach it, using the already mounted adapter, to the scope’s eyepiece. Once the camera is attached, a single depress of the cable release shutter button, the image appears on the camera’s monitor and the camera is ready to use. This all sounds complicated and laborious, but in reality we are only talking about 30 seconds from reaching for the camera to seeing the image on the monitor!

Me digiscoping a Green-winged Teal in Peterborough © Katie Fuller

Now the fun starts! Few tripods and heads can truly cope with the combined weight of the scope and camera or the sensitivity needed to photograph at high power. So some tweaks of the head to position the subject in the centre of the frame are usually necessary, maybe a slight adjustment of the telescope’s focusing, then I can start zooming in and out and taking my photos. And I don’t just take one or two – I will often take dozens, sometimes over a hundred of the same subject. Admittedly I take fewer shots of insects than I do a moving bird or mammal, but none the less, each image costs nothing, as there are no film or processing costs.

In the field you are limited only by the amount of memory cards you have and how many shots you choose to store on each. If you do not have a laptop or other storage device to hand, then you can flick through each card viewing each image taken on the monitor and delete those images you don’t want and so creating space for more images. If things are getting critical, and you are in fine mode and the one of the larger image size settings, you can increase the remaining space on your card by reducing the image size or dropping to normal. This just depends what your intended use of the end results are likely to be. If, like me, your aim is to publish in print your photos (as well as use then on the web) then you will want the highest quality and largest setting at all times. But if you are taking images that will only ever be used on the web, then you ca drop to basic and a lower file size. For example, using a 128Mb card I can get 82 images using fine mode and the largest file size. Simply by dropping down the file size, this increases to around 130 images. By then dropping to normal quality I can get 250 images and on basic (web only use) I get a staggering 450 images!

When I have used up all the available space on one card, I simply remove it and slide in another. I have three compact flash cards – two 64Mb cards and a 128Mb card (in addition to the 16Mb card that came with the camera, which I never use as it stores too few images). It is better to use several smaller cards than one big one (512Mb), as like all digital media, compact flash cards can corrupt. I have replaced one 64Mb card in 18 months. Also, don’t buy your cards from a high street store – search the web and you will find them far cheaper – sometimes for half the price!

After a day’s wildlife watching and photographing, I return home my memory cards full of images ready to download on to my computer. This is done either by connecting the camera directly to the computer, or, as I prefer, inserting each memory card into a card reader attached to my computer (creating an additional drive). I can then transfer the images from the card to the computer’s hard drive just as I would copy files from a floppy disk or CD. Once the photos are on the computer’s hard drive, you can then do with them what you will!

The first thing to do is to delete all the duff images – there’ll be plenty of those! When it comes to image manipulation, most people tend only to ‘touch up’ their images. Using Adobe Photoshop, I tend only to touch up images as and when I use them. I first take a copy of the original image (I never manipulate an original) then I usually only alter the brightness and contrast and then sharpen them a little. Rarely do I try to adjust any of the colour balances, but software such as Photoshop is very powerful and will basically allow you to do whatever you want. I also have multiple copies of all my saved images – one set on the desktop, a set on my laptop, a set on an external hard drive and a fourth set on CD! My laptop is fast getting clogged up and I will soon only use this to download onto, rather than as a store. I also use my laptop to download on to when on trips. I can take over a thousand photos in a fortnight’s holiday, so unless you take loads of memory cards, a laptop is essential. Since most of my holidays are leading wildlife tours, I can also pull together the best of the images form the trip and produce a Powerpoint presentation for the trip participants at the end of the week (depends how little sleep I want!).

Moving over to a digital camera, and using it in combination with my telescope, has transformed not only my photography, but my overall enjoyment as a wildlife observer. I get endless use out of the images I have taken. I am lucky that I have now easily recouped my initial outlay, having had my images used by magazines such as Bird Watching and Practical Photography (I had the 17th photographed I ever took with my Coolpix 995 published in both magazines!), and in brochures for Leica and Speyside Wildlife. I have sold prints of some of the rarer birds I have photographed, I give images free to my local bird club for use on their website (, and to my county club for use in the annual bird report (Cambridgeshire), and share my pictures with friends to use as computer screen backgrounds or as prints. I am also in the process of building my own website (, on which I will have a gallery of some of my better images.

The only thing limiting digital photography is the user’s own imagination. Embrace, enjoy and enliven your wildlife watching with digital technology!

Digiscoping gallery – Leica scopes with Nikon Coolpix 995

Blue-tailed Damselfly. Female form rufescens. Suffolk. June 2003. Leica APO Televid 62 with 16xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F4.6. 1/1000th second.

Emperor Dragonfly. Ovipositing female. Cambridgeshire. June 2003. Leica APO Televid 62 with 16xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F4.6. 1/1000th second

Four-spotted Chaser. Immature male. Lincolnshire. June 2002. Leica APO Televid 77 with 20xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F3.5. 1/125th second.

Norfolk Hawker. Male high in an oak tree. Suffolk. June 2003. Leica APO Televid 62 with 16xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5.1. 1/300th second.

Southern Hawker. Male. Cambridgeshire. July 2002. Leica APO Televid 77 with 20xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F4.8. 1/20th second.

Variable Damsefly. Male. Suffolk. June 2003. Leica APO Televid 62 with 16xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5.4. 1/10th second.

Painted Lady. Cambridgeshire. August 2002. Leica APO Televid 62 with 16xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5. 1/10th second.

Painted Lady. Cambridgeshire. August 2002. Leica APO Televid 62 with 16xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F4.1. 1/125th second.

Spotted Fritillary. Lesbos, Greece. April 2002. Leica APO Televid 77 with 20xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F6.1. 1/1000th second.

Epallage fatime. Female. Lesbos, Greece. April 2002. Leica APO Televid 77 with 32xWA eyepiece and Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F4.2. 1/1000th second.

Some hand-held photos taken with my Nikon Coolpix 995

Southern Hawker. Male. Cambridgeshire. July 2002. Hand-held with Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5.1. 1/1000th second.

Scarce Chaser. Cambridgeshire. June 2003. Hand-held Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5.1. 1/1000th second.

Red-eyed Damselfly. Cambridgeshire. June 2003. Hand-held with Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5.8. 1/1000th second.

Small Tortoiseshell. Cambridgeshire. July 2002. Hand-held with Nikon Coolpix 995. ISO 100. F5.1. 1/125th second.