Saturday, October 21, 2017

All Things Must Pass

Brockweir Nr Chepstow Gwent UK

All thing must pass. After 55 years the family home has been sold. It's a bittersweet feeling as I bid farewell to the lanes and meadows I played in as a child, the brooks and rivers I fished and in later years, the gardens and orchards I birded. Will I ever return to my old haunts, I will never know. but the memories will be indelibly etched in my memory for the reminder of my days.
Mistle Thrush or Stormcock
Stormcock is an old English name for the Thrush because it sings in the heaviest storms .

The name was traditionally used in the south of England especially in Hampshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
The name derives from the fact that the Mistle Thrush, unlike most other birds, who seek shelter from stormy weather, actually seems to be stimulated by approaching storms and will sing or call lustily before and through bad weather.

Mistle Thrush

My last days were spent packing boxes and talking runs to the tip. Close-by was Cannop Ponds where a feeder attracts many of the forest birds. I had thirty minutes to spare between errands so headed for the ponds. These pictures from the comfort of my car which also acted as a blind.

These last images were taken with the Nikon P900

Blue Tit

 Male Chaffinch

Male Chaffinch colour variation. 

Chaffinch female.

Willow Tit..I think?
There are Marsh Tits nearby but quite rare.



"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday, October 20, 2017

Avalon Marshes Somerset UK

Oct 8 2017 Avalon Marshes Somerset Levels UK

The Avalon Marches are internationally famous for its nature reserves and wildlife. The area has been lived in and worked for ten thousand years. Pre-historic paths and villages from the Bronze Age criss-cross the area and scores of Roman coin hoards have been found in the area. Towering over the marshes is Glastonbury Tor. During the Middle Ages Glastonbury monastery became one of the most powerful and richest in England.

Glastonbury Tor

 The area was excavated for the peat and the workings later filled with water creating an intricate series of marshes rich in birdlife. These days the famous Glastonbury Festival attracts hundreds of thousand of music lovers. A visit to the marshes had been on my itinerary for the past three years but timing is everything and time after time the opportunity fell through.
Fortunately this time I finally had the chance to visit the area with my Birding Pal Paul Bowden, our second outing ten days. Our previous visit being to the Newport Wetlands where Paul found me two lifers, his expertise and knowledge would prove invaluable a second time.
We left Chepstow and were soon on the motorway over the Severn Bridge and passing north of Bristol. Our first stop was Westhay Moor Nature Reserve in search of Bearded Tits, a bird I had seen briefly on my previous UK visits but was hoping to capture some decent action shots.

Bearded Tit or Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus)
Male Bearded Tit

The Bearded Tits fed along this boardwalk encouraged with offering of grit, essential for their survival during the winter.
Nikon P900

Female Bearded Tit

On our arrival there were more birders and photographers than there were birds. There also seemed a little tension between the two groups with the odd quip exchanged, way too a competitive situation when all most of us wanted to do was watch the incredibly photogenic antics of the Bearded Tit.
The brief time I had with these birds was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have for a long time, they have such character, they bring a smile to everyones face, even the grumpy ones.

It was time to move on a to Ham Wall where the morning dew was beginning to burn off and scores butterflies were beginning to feed on pollen rich ivy lining the pathways. 


The target bird at Ham Wall was a Bittern. At the hide, perched above the reed bed the usual suspects were in plain view. Gadwal, Mute Swan, Stonechat and a Great Egret.

Paul in the foreground and a blindful of birders waiting for the Bittern.
Nikon P900
The longer we waited for the Bittern, the more species appeared. A Teal, a Little Grebe, Mallards, a Stonechat and a Water Rail to name just a few. Still no bittern but a Marsh Harrier being harassed by a Kestrel was exiting and then a Sparrowhawk, all good birds.
The Nikon P900 and its 80X zoom came in handy for this shot of Lapwing.


The Bittern never did show but isn't that the way it goes sometimes.
Just as we were leaving a Little Egret flew by. Recently the species have begun to nest in the UK.
Little Egret

The Avalon Marshes are a special places teeming with wildlife.
Nikon P900
Great Egret

Our last stop of call was Chew Valley where there were plenty of birds including Kingfishers, Grey Herons, Pochard, Pied Wagtail, Little and Great White Egret. We even checked for a Great Bustard but dipped on that although it had been seen earlier in the morning, That really would have been a brilliant way to end what had already been was already a perfect day's birding. Thanks Paul.

Pied Wagtail with what looks like a banding ring. P900 long distance shot.

Small Tortoiseshell

All images Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm unless stated.

"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

UK Birding (Lincolnshire)

Oct 2017 Mablethorpe Lincolnshire

There was family business to take care of on the other side of the UK, a gruelling six hour drive and a two-hundred mile road trip. To make matters worse there just isn't a direct route. One could follow the old Roman roads The Fosse Way or cross every major motorway and secondary that connects the south to the north of the UK. We compromised and used some of the motorway system and eventually arrived in the pitch dark and dog tired. Next morning I promised myself a trip to the seaside to clear the mind.
 Mablethorpe isn't exactly a birding mecca but close enough to some birding hotspots that there is always the possibility of something special turning up. I pulled up on to foreshore, made sure Dad had his paper, a Kit-Kat and hot cup of tea and made for the sand dunes and the crashing waves. He had a great view of the sea and was warm as toast from the sun. We could see each other in case there was some emergency. I had an hour, perhaps ninety minutes to see what I could turn up.

A great expanse of sand stretches for miles along the east coast.
 The very first birds I saw were a flock of Goldfinches feeding in the shrubs that hug the beach. They didn't stay long due to the ferocious winds coming off the flats. An arctic tern was hunting along the water's edge, barely able to keep a straight line.

Nikon D500 

I headed for the shoreline. Soon the fine sand turned to sticky mud, I had the wrong footwear. I knew I would be in trouble if I ventured too far so I used my Nikon P900 24mm-2000mm zoom camera to photograph an Oystercatcher feeding alongside the crashing waves. At about 80x power the camera does a fine job of documenting far away subjects although it doesn't in anyway replace a top quality scope

Oystercatcher P900

The beach was littered with Razor Shells.

click link
 to find out more 

A flock of Sanderling flew in and I able to get a little closer without getting stuck in the mud but no sooner had the birds gained my trust a dog walker and his unleashed mutt flushed the entire flock.

 Nikon D500
Soon my hour was over and time to take dad to see his new bungalow, it's not far from Gibraltar Point 
a super birding location that on the right day turn up some really good birds, rarities and the odd mega. I guess that means Dad will be having regular visitors during the spring and fall migration. 

Here are some pix from my a previous visit to cross-country-bird-trip-to-gibraltar.html

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Slimbridge Wetlands UK

Slimbridge Wetland Centre Gloucestershire UK

This was my fifth or sixth visit to the  Slimbridge Wetland Centre 
The sanctuary is very similar albeit a much larger version of the Reifel Bird Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC. Both are close to large estuaries as well as large tracts of agricultural land. Both offer a haven for migratory birds. Not only is the birding superb the centre's gift shop houses one the largest selection of bird books anywhere on the planet.


My guide for the day was Birding Pal Alan Baxter from Gloucester. I met Alan at the entrance and although we had only previously exchanged e-mails we immediately hit it off, especially when he suggested to the attendant I was entitled to a seniors discount. Five pounds saved just like that! 

We wandered from hide to hide looking for our two target birds, the Ruff and a Spoonbill, both had been showing earlier in the week but like any birding weren't guaranteed. At the first pond we were rewarded with a pair of Black-tailed Godwits, a Common Snipe (Wilson's to us in N.America) and the elusive Ruff, a great start to the day but still no sign of the Spoonbills though.

A  long distance shot of a Black-tailed Godwit.
 Barwits can't be mixed in with the flock so a decent photo makes for certain ID.


One of the better sightings with my new Hummingbird Scope were two Dark-bellied Brent or Brant. Now if only I could attach my iPhone I would have time to study my finds on the computer when I got home.

This Egyptian Goose (wild) flew into the ponds surprising a few observers. Quite a common bird in the eastern part of the country, nor so much in the West.

One birder insisted the goose was tame, all the others disagreed, a pointless argument as it turned out, the bird wasn't tagged and thus deemed a wild bird. Alan and I left the others, we had more ground to cover and a lot of ground there was, one could easily spend the whole day at the centre.


(Northern) Lapwing.


Common Snipe (Gallinago Gallinago)

Finally we heard from other birders a pair of immature Spoonbills had landed in one of the ponds. We hurried over and the pair were already pruning, partially obscured by a flock of black-headed Gulls. The hide was jam packed with a small army of birders, it was a tight squeeze with all the tripod mounted scopes and cameras jostling for position. Suddenly something made the birds take flight and provided us the opportunity of a flight shot. There were high fives all around, mission accomplished and time for a well deserved coffee break.

I left Slimbridge without buying another bird book for which my long suffering wife will thank me a plenty. We headed for Frampton in search of a Yellow-legged Gull. Fortunately Alan knew his gulls but not before I sighted a gull that looked different from the others, Alan confirmed my suspicions and yes it was the yellow-legged, species #143 on my UK list.

It was the perfect way to spend the day following a week-long session of packing and cleaning in preparedness for Dad's move across country from Gloucestershire to Lincolnshire. Next week will be spent sifting through more than  sixty years of memories my parents had squirrelled away, I wonder what treasures i'll find*

* And treasures I did uncover. Every postcard I had sent from my world travels, every newspaper and magazine tear sheet I'd sent them, my old school report cards (cringe) from the Sixties and earlier, old photos I had never seen, a lifetime of memories. 
Six days from now i'll have another opportunity to bird so until them.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday, October 1, 2017

UK birding #2

Setting the Scene

I'm in England helping Dad move to a smaller house, at 91 he's having a little trouble with the stairs. In between packing and cooking I've had a few hours to wander up and down the country lanes that meander around Brockweir, a village I moved to at eight years of age.


Looking upstream from Brockweir Bridge.
Nikon P900
I spent countless hours fishing the River Wye at Brockweir. I caught eels, chub, dace and the odd trout. I vividly remember catching elvers (see below) in large hand held nets. I would go down in the evening with a large torch and wait for the ebb tide to turn (the river is tidal at Brockweir) when strong river currents forced the still transparent young eels to the edge of the riverbank where they could be scooped up. We only ate them a few times, fried elvers and bacon wasn't my favourite dish.

plural noun: elvers
  1. a young eel, especially when undergoing mass migration upriver from the sea.

These days the fishery is gone or regulated after years of over fishing. The eel larvae are carried all the way from South America's Sargasso Sea, carried northward by the North Atlantic Drift. The baby eels or elvers remain in rivers and ponds for seven years and then return to South America lay their eggs deep in the ocean and the resulting larvae would float to the surface making their way to North America and Europe. The life-cycle of the eel (Anguilla anguillawas a complete mystery until very recently.

A 16th century malt house in the village.
Bucolic is a word often used to describe the scenery and way of life found here. It was a great place to grow up and a hard place to leave but looking back Canada had been the right choice for me when I emigrated in 1978.

                                                               More About Brockweir

...and there are birds too. All except the Robin are difficult to approach so quite a bit of stealth is required. The Robin is the most common bird in the hedgerows and very territorial. The Robin is a curious bird often coming out to greet the imposter be it car or hiker. I must have counted 15 on my last walk and that might be conservative as it has many types of calls that can confusing to the birder not familiar the 'tick-ick-ick' or the single 'tick'.

(European) Robin
Nikon P900

In the distance perhaps 12 miles away I can see the Severn Bridge suspension bridge and in the Valley below is Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abby
The abbey roof is still missing from the time when Henry the VIII sent his henchmen and the Dissolution to the Monasteriess (1547-1551) decimated the abbey. It's eerie walking around the village, walking in the footsteps of so many generations. Sometimes one can almost feel the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives. William Wordsworth, Lord Nelson, Bertram Russell, the fishermen and farmers too.

Ancient Hedgerows

Comma Butterfly

In the hedgerow was a Chiffchaff, a common warbler and the first of its kind to arrive in the UK in the spring and one of the last to depart for Africa as autumn deepens. Some hedgerows here are almost a thousand years old.
The older hedges make great habitat for birds as they may contain fruit and nut bearing plants that are safe from the farmer's plough and harvester.
The oak trees are laden with acorns, each tree has a family of grey squirrels busily collecting the nuts for their winter larder. Wood pigeons are also in the trees fattening up for the winter.

Wood Pigeon.
In the past farmers would shoot them for food, later generations of birds are still fearful of men and are very difficult to get close to even with my 24mm-2000mm P900 super zoom. I haven't seen a native red squirrel since I walked the lanes as a ten year old. I hope that same fate won't happen in Canada where the same grey squirrel is also a pest.

Nikon P900.

My First Fish

There's a small bridge barely wide enough for a small car or horse and buggy and a babbling brook where as an eight year old I caught my first trout. 
I leant over this wall to catch my first fish in 1961.
 The brook hasn't changed at all, these days it's much cleaner after the farm upstream was made to clean up their act. I can still remember walking home with the smelly catch. Almost six decades have passed since that day, just one of a lifetime of memories!
In those days I would be outdoors all day when school was out, the moniker 'Helicopter Parents'  hadn't been coined then. When school was out I would leave in the morning and return for supper. I would spend the day on the riverbank learning how to 'read' the river, learning where the fish might hang out, very similar in a way that birders learn how to find birds.

Pecking Order

Common Buzzard
Nikon P900
Walking along the lane on my way to the village store I noticed a Common Buzzard feeding on roadkill. What appears to be a domestic pheasant had lost its battle with a vehicle. There are thousands of pheasants in the fields, released in the spring and left to fatten up themselves for the autumn shooting season. The scrawny looking pheasants are not at all like the wild pheasants which have bred in the UK since the Middle Ages. They're hapless, soon to be victims of the gentry who will paying huge amounts of money for the "Privilege"
Foxes love the banquet too as do the raptors, unfortunately farmers are not averse to shooting or poisoning birds of prey. There are even egg collectors who raid nests.

On my return from my walk a few hours later I notice the road kill is pretty well picked clean and now being squabbled over by a pair of Magpies, such is the pecking order in the UK countryside.

One day I walked to 
My grandparents lived out their lives there. I often drank too much at the pub and walked home rather than risk driving the narrow lanes. Those were the days. In the church yard I found this Song Thrush feeding on the red berries of an ancient Yew tree.

Song Thrush

From the castle grounds I watch around forty Jackdaws plying the thermals off the steep escarpment. They glide and dive over the village, their raucous calls more playful than anything. Jackdaws pair for life and are very tolerant of humans although I'm not too sure if that's reciprocated, especially around gardens at harvest time. The Jackdaw is a social bird, interacting with humans and often using chimneys to nest and raise their young. I stopped to talk to one villager, she told me they were a noisy pest.

Jackdaw or Chimney-Sweep bird on the roff of the local pub.
Nikon P900 at 2000mm handheld
There was a few hours of daylight left and the weather was perfect for walking. I decided to take a quick drive down the River Severn to Lydney Docks before it got dark. Along the canal towpath I found Goldfinches, Chiffchaffs and a Kingfisher.

Getting late in the day so the shutter speed is too slow but I would have go this shot unless I had the P900 at 2000mm

Next day off is a trip to permitting!

John Gordon
BC Canada