Staines with Penny

31st JANUARY 2010

Another sunny day and as I was only going for a "short" walk, Penny said she'd come with me. First we went to Staines Moor, and enjoyed a stroll along the river. On the way back I saw three unusual birds on the water, and took some pictures despite the adverse lighting. They were three Goosander, a male and two female.....
....but they were very jumpy and soon flew off to the west.
On our way back to the car, I saw a Quantas airliner and took its picture. It was only when I got home that I realised it was one of the new Airbus A380 super-jumbos.
Next we called in very briefly at Staines reservoir. The most interesting thing within range of my camera was a pair of Great Crested Grebes, still in winter plumage, doing some early rehearsals for the mating ritual. One dived down and came back with some weed.....
....while the other responded by approaching in this strange pose, which is new to me. But I'm sure they know what they're doing!
Penny didn't like the reservoir; the fences are rather like a prison!

Pagham Harbour

30th JANUARY 2010

I woke early, good weather was forecast and the tides were favourable, so I made a spot decision to visit Pagham Harbour. I parked in the nature reserve car park by the sea, and walked along towards the harbour entrance. It was high tide, and a large flock of little brown birds was foraging the water's edge inside the harbour. I got close enough for some pictures, and saw that at least some of them were Skylarks.
Further round, near the lagoon, a small group of Pipits was also foraging, along with a Robin, a pair of Blackbirds, and a Dunnock. Later comparison of the pictures with the Collins Guide suggested that this was a Tree Pipit (strongish eye-line, back toenail not very long), but I'm open to further suggestions.
I wandered down a little dead-end path and found two Reed Buntings on a small dead tree. One flew away, but the other obligingly sat still for a photograph.
The main path headed north, and I was attracted by the sight and sound of hundreds of Brent Geese arriving to graze on a waterlogged golf course.
In the hedge alongside the golf course I spotted a Yellowhammer sitting in the sun.
...and I wasn't the only one attracted by the Geese!!
I stopped to chat to a local dog-walker, and was advised to drive round to Church Lane and walk along the sea wall. It was certainly worthwhile, and one if the pleasures was the sight and sound of a group of half-a-dozen Curlews flying noisily back from a waterlogged field.
I watched the sun setting over the harbour before heading for home, and a rather apropriate supper of roast Quail. I enjoyed them with only the mildest feeling of guilt!

WWT Barnes

24th JANUARY 2010

A little unforecast sunshine in the morning was enough to convince me that a trip to Barnes was worthwhile, and this was cemented by a phone call from Phil (Birdmad). Unfortunately it was not sunny at Barnes.

A crowd of people at one of the favoured spots for Bitterns told its own story, but by the time I arrived the Bittern was deeper in the reeds and no photos resulted. I arrived at the Wildside hide to be told that I had just missed seeing a Water Rail eating a fish, right in front of the hide. Not a good start.

Things improved a bit when I looked out of the hide to see two Cormorants on the island, both with the attractive bushy white headdress indicative of the sub-species "P.c.sinensis".

Cormorants P.c.sinensis

When I left the hide, I found another Cormorant diving close to the bridge, and got some quick close-up pictures before he moved further away.


I got a few more pictures before I had to leave, my favourites being a bored-looking Heron, and a Pintal who has just finished his preening.

Grey Heron


Technical notes: All pictures taken with Sigma 150-500mm lens, using a bean bag for support (

Staines & Wisley

17th JANUARY 2010.

At last, another sunny day. First stop was Staines Reservoir, where I wandered across the causeway and back. I was told there were Scaup and Black-Necked Grebes there, but they were well out of range of my camera and binoculars. I enjoyed watching the Goldeneye, Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants, Tufty Ducks, Wigeon, Goldfinches, a Pied Wagtail (in flight), and Boeing 747s.

Goldeneye, Staines Reservoir.

A Pied Wagtail flew past, and had a yellow face, possibly showing it to be a juvenile. It was flying in the "flap-flap-flap - g l i d e - flap-flap-flap - g l i d e -" pattern characteristic of wagtails, and in the picture it is in the - g l i d e - phase, with its wings completely folded away.

Pied Wagtail (with yellow face) flying across Staines reservoir.

Two goldfinches sat on the fence and watched me distainfully, while they took a rest from whatever journey they were on.

Goldfinch, Staines reservoir.

I then moved on to Staines Moor. The river was quite high, but not in flood. I watched Dabchicks, Skylarks, a Little Egret, Pipits (Meadow and Water), and a Kestrel (on the lookout for a Brown Shrike, highly regarded among gourmet Kestrels).

Dabchick (Little Grebe), foraging on the Colne

Kestrel, watching for his lunch on Staines Moor.

Skylark, showing his crest, Staines Moor.

Finally, I called in at the RHS Gardens at Wisley where, I had been told, there was fallen fruit in the orchards, attracting a wide variety of birds. Unfortunately, I found that the trees had been pruned and the fallen fruit removed. I did get some good views of a Jay though.

A Jay in the orchards at Wisley

The River Wey runs past the gardens, and was very high and fast-flowing. I was surprised to see a Little Grebe out in the middle of the rapids, swimming frantically upstream but moving rapidly downstream. He eventually made it to the bank.

Little Grebe against the current!

Technical notes: All pictures taken with Sigma 150-500mm lens. Reservoir shots used bean bag for support ( All others used a tripod except for the fast-flowing Grebe, where a wobbly fence was quickly pressed into service, and in-flight shots which were hand-held and panned.

Pleased to See the Snow Go

15th JANUARY 2010

While I was making lunch today I noticed a lot of  activity out of the front window. The birds were pleased that the snow had gone, for a variety of reasons. A Song Thrush was on the garden busily throwing soggy dead leaves around in search of the insects and grubs he hoped to find underneath, an that's a lot easier to do without the snow.

A Blackbird was taking advantage of a pool of meltwater in the slush at the top of the drive to have a thorough bath, probably his first since the snow arrived.

For the Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Robins, Dunnocks, the feeders had provided supplies despite the snow. We also had some unusual visitors to the feeder; Greenfinches and Long-Tailed Tits, and - very unusual - a Redpoll, which came and sat on the feeder for a while looking round and wondering what to do next, then flew away while I was getting the camera.

The picture below was taken a couple of days earlier, and shows how the ground-feeders still manage to find food despite the snow. This Blackbird dug through several inches of snow to get to the lawn beneath.

Mr. Fox

12th JANUARY 2010

This morning we watched Mr Fox do his morning tour of the garden. He visited every corner, went away, then came back again for another round.  He's looking a little startled in the picture because the builders have just started drilling a hole in the neighbours' wall.

Technical note: It was early and there wasn't much light, so I cranked the camera up to 3200ASA, and got one or two worthwhile (if a little grainy) portraits.

Saturday 9th January 2010


The forecast was for sun, and the ground was covered in snow. I had to go somewhere with the camera! The first stop was Staines Moor, where the Little Grebes were starting their dating process by giving each other little presents. Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Water Pipits were feeding along the margins of the river.

About midday I moved on to Barnes. The first thing I saw as I approached the wildside hide was an excited group of people with tripods, and it didn't take long to spot a Bittern walking along the ice at the edge of the reeds.

By then it was time for some of WWT's excellent soup, and in the restaurant I met with Brian and Debbie, out on a similar mission to my own. After lunch we wandered over towards the Peacock tower. Diversions en route included a Metaxa party in an otherwise deserted cold, birdless hide, and an attempt with about 20 others to see a Woodcock feeding in dense undergrowth. I had been telling people that if there was ice on the lake I always saw Water Rails from the Peacock tower, and today was no exception.

All in all, an excellent day!

Technical note:
I have been experimenting with my 500mm lens, trying both hand-held with the shake reduction enabled, and tripod-mounted without shake reduction. The former gives good results sometimes, but it depends on the shutter speed, subject distance, and how steady I am. Today was my first serious attempt at using the tripod out of doors, and it certainly seems to give consistently better results. My conclusion is that shake reduction can give acceptable results if there is no alternative, but a tripod, beanbag or similar should if possible always be used with a lens as long as this.

First Baby Birds of 2010!

7th JANUARY 2010

I was walking along the canal by Cox's Mill, and under the railway bridge I saw a bit of pigeon activity. This is a common place for pigeons to roost as there are pigeon-sized sheltered tunnels between the girders. I saw some movement in one, so took a "blind" picture with flash, and was surprised to find a picture of two pigeon squabs staring back at me! Definitely the first nestlings I've seen this year.

Pigeon squabs. Not a pretty sight!

Monday 4th January 2010


I had a hospital appointment in the morning, and as it was a fine sunny day with a heavy frost on the ground, I decided a short lunchtime walk would be in order. Staines Moor was nearby and looked interesting, so that's where I went.

After crossing over the railway and under the A30 road, I was in open meadow and soon reached the banks of the River Colne. I hadn't walked far when a little russet-coloured bird landed on a clump of grass on the opposite bank, then on to another even closer to me. I recognised it from a previous encounter as a male Stonechat, and he sat watching me for long enough for me to take his photograph.

Other sightings included two Little Egret, a pair of Bullfinch, Fieldfare, Reed Bunting, Wrens, Robins, Thrushes, Blackbirds, Parakeets, Little Grebes, Meadow Pipits, and a Water Pipit working its way along the mud and debris at the edge of the river.

Unfortunately there was no sign of the reported Brown Shrike, last seen there on 1st January.

Friday, 1st January 2010


The first thing I noticed when I sat down to breakfast (apart from the appetising smell of brewing coffee and the perfect, flaky croissants and pain au chocolat) was that the bird feeder outside the window was busy with squabbling Tree Sparrows. I hadn't seen a Tree Sparrow for many years (other than in Australia), and I had read that they were now scarce in this country, so it was a pleasant surprise to see so many of them. They were sharing their breakfast location with House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Goldfinches, Robins (one one-legged), Dunnocks, Pied Wagtails, Collared Doves, and probably others I've forgotten.

After breakfast we went over to the Cotswold Water Park for a rather wet walk. We saw a group of Bullfinches in the trees (two males and a female), and a pair of Gadwall were on the lake.