Thursday, February 27, 2014


An 8.30pm alert from the ever vigilant Gary Woodburn that the Northern Lights were on show sent us scurrying off to the Howick coast road. The sky had a light greenish eerie glow at first then smudges and very faint streaks began to emerge. At first you wonder if its just your eyes seeing things, but by 8.45pm it was quite glowing like shards stretching high up into the darker night sky. At the top in the starry darkness was a red glow and as it stretched down wards this turned green. No full on arctic shimmering but still a nice display for us southeners....

This is the nearest image I can find like it tonight ( taken from internet)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The 300...

Well that was quick. I made my decision and went for it! Lens delivered today in the midst of gloss painting this afternoon, so all I could manage were a few snaps from the door to the feeders. Very nice they are too...

This Tree Spuggy is taken through our kitchen window, and its still not bad...

I'm really looking forward to a fine day with some 'real' birds...The sun on the visitors above makes a big difference...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another lesson learned, a day at the harbour.

 Another day, another lens borrowed. This time a kindly loan from Gary Woodburn of his Canon 300mm f4 with 1.4x extender, saw me and John down at Seahouses Harbour giving it the once over.

The light today was pretty useless when we were out, being overcast and quite windy, so the results aren't directly comparable to yesterdays photos, but here are a selection...

Eiders running up the ramp, thinking we had chips.
Is there a finer duck than this? I think not...
Calling and bubbling to females.

Various gulls got the paparazzi treatment.


Never has a Skemmie been so photographed! Lets call it a Rock Dove...
A Collared Dove, on a dull day on the north side of some pines with ISO1600.
John took this one of a Rock Pipit admiring its own reflection.

Very good results I think. Take into consideration that it is a new lens to me, the light was poor and these results are after an hour in the field.

So how do I decide what is best for me? Lets go through the pros and cons of each lens, not that there are many cons for either of them. Both are tremendous, and after being used to compact and bridge cameras, I would be very happy to use either of them to the exclusion of all else!

The 400...

Compact and lighter than the 300 set up.
A single optic, with very bright images and fast focusing.
Cheaper, slightly, as it doesn't need an extender.
Only one item to buy so its easier to get hold of.

My friend Roger has one. He says that he often leaves it at home during the winter as the lack of image stabilising needs better light than a Northumberland winter can provide.
3.5 mtr min focus distance, is ok for birds and mammals but not so good for butterflies etc.

The 300...

IS. A boon in dull Northumberland winter light, means faster shutter speeds can be obtained.
Focus down to 1.5 mtrs tested today would enable insect photography.
Extender ups the 'mag' to 430mm.

Quite long and heavy with IS and an extender.
Two pieces to buy makes it more expensive.

These 'cons' above are nit picking really, but its difficult to choose which one to fork out cash on.
I want a lens to carry in the field when birding, but it has to be used all year round. Despite what people think, I didnt notice any appreciable reduction in quality when using an extender. Certainly not enough to detract from blog photos which is my main use after all.

I think I'll go for, now hang on a minute.....

oh shite.

[Many thanks to Gary, Alan, Richard, Roger, John, Ian, Tom and everyone on t'internet for their help and advice.]

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A lesson learned...

I met up with Alan Gilbertson this morning at Warkworth for a field trial of his Canon 400mm f5.6 lens on my camera. Not only was he kind enough to give me a try out, he also showed me a thing or two about settings on the camera that I didn't have a clue about. Cheers Alan, I may be back in touch soon! 

The lens is quite a chunky thing with a well made feel about it. In today's sunshine, it seemed fine, hand held despite what people say about its lack of image stabilising, though what it would be like on a dull day remains to be seen. The Blackbird pic below was taken with only a shutter speed of 1/100 and it seems good enough to me. 

Blackbird in the shade
Moorhen on island under the road bridge.
The moorhen was quite a distance away, with pleasing results.

Black headed Gull
Taking flight shots would take some practice, but this isnt bad in an hour.

I love this drake Mallard. The photo looks better than the duck did!

Mallard squabble.
 I would like more attempts at birds doing stuff like this, it makes for an interesting photo I think.

A spuggy in the shade

Song Thrush

The closest focusing of 3.5 mtrs might seem a long way but in the field, close birds didn't fit in the viewfinder, hence my head shots, so it wasn't really a problem.

Now to get my mate Gary to let me road test the Canon 300mm with 1.4x extender....I wonder how it will compare in the hands of a beginner?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Now for something completely different.

I often threaten to get out there to find some seashore wildlife to post on here, but for some reason I never get around to it.. With an hour or two to spare this morning I thought I could have a look. Most rock pooling is done in summer, so I dont have much idea about what can be found inshore during the winter, but there was bound to be something...

On a gloomy but, relatively, pleasant day the large expanse of rock at Longhoughton Steel was my destination. Now this is quite a learning curve really, not knowing what gear to take, or even the best places to look, its all trial and error.

So, a few species were found in my hour and a half visit, that took me longer to identify when I got home! Its like insects and wildflowers this game....

Bladder Wrack
Knotted Wrack
As you can see from the top image, the rocks are turfed in seaweed. But what kind....So far I have  -

Knotted Wrack Ascophyllum nodosum
Bladder Wrack Fuscus vesiculosus
Corallina officinalis
Cladophora sp
Sea Lettuce Ulva sp
Pink Crust Lithothamnion glaciale

Then checking under some rocks turned up another bewildering selection. If you know this stuff please put my identifications right and let me know where I've gone wrong...

Northern Red Chiton Tonicella rubra ?
Northern Red Chiton Tonicella rubra? or maybe marmorea?

Scale Worm Harmothoe imbricata
Scale Worm sp Harmothoe imbricata

Common Brittlestar
Common Brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis

Common Prawn
Common Prawn Palaermon serratus
Grey Topshell Gibbula cineraria
Common Limpet Patella vulgata
Common Periwinkle Littorina littorea
Beadlet Anemone Actinia equina

Common Hermit Crab with Lithothamnion glaciale on its shell ( the pink crust)
Common Hermit Crab Pagurus bernhardus

Shore Crab
Shore Crab Caranus maenas

So, nothing new for me really but a few that I have never bothered to identify properly before. See there are benefits to this Pan species Listing thing...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A photo blog...

Although it has been the first sunny day for a while, the patch was generally quiet. Mind you, that could be my fault as I was just moseying around and didnt even get to look at the sea! I suppose the highlight was a Woodcock that flushed when I almost trod on it in the wood...

The woods were a sea of Snowdrops. 
11 Herons were beginning to get territorial at the pond.
Some colour in the woods. I've no idea what these are but they mustn't taste too good.
Keeping hidden...
A male Goldcrest singing while feeding.

As was this male Great Tit.

A 7-spot Ladybird on what I think is Male Fern?
Small Tortoiseshell dormant only 3 inches from where I placed it on 30th November.

Monday, February 10, 2014


A lovely day for a Monday holiday. Sun was shining, and the wind had dropped giving a spring like feel for the first time this year. It wont be long now...

I didnt really do too much except a few dog walks and a trip down to Amble to catch up with my sister and nephew.

On Saturday, Jane asked if I had seen the dead 'wader' along our lane into the village? I hadn't noticed, but she described a longish red bill on a brown bird, so I assumed a Redshank had been prey to a Sparrowhawk who had come away from the coast to eat its meal.

This morning I saw it for the first time and was very surprised to see that my identification guess was way off...

This Water Rail seems to have been a traffic casualty. To be hit on our lane is very unlucky indeed, but these things happen. I haven't seen a Water Rail here for a couple of years now, mainly because the place we get them is just a ditch in a wet scrubby wood, so they are very hard to see unless there is snow lying.

This afternoon on my way home from Amble, my eye caught sight of a small black and white bird on the river Coquet above Warkworth weir. I knew immediately that it was a Slavonian Grebe, and stopped the car in a layby further along. It showed very well down to about 20 yards on flat calm water. It constantly dived against the outflowing tide and current. Pity I didnt have a camera with me, as the light was excellent and the bird close enough to get something...

Alan Gilbertson did have his camera though , so thanks for this pic...

Nearby were 11+ Goldeneye, a pair of Red breasted Mergansers, a Little Grebe and about 50+ Wigeon.

Oh well work tomorrow....

Sunday, February 09, 2014


What a great surprise when Gary called me yesterday to tell me that there was a Myrtle Warbler in Co Durham and he had just seen it!

The other week it was seen at an undisclosed location during the RSPB Garden Birdwatch, by one of their volunteers. Quite reasonably, she was very reluctant to have her estate swamped by birders and did not wish the location to be disclosed. Luckily, Gary knew her from when he worked for the RSPB and entered into some negotiation. I was sworn to secrecy, in fact I was not told of the birds location until we were almost there this morning. 

The plan was to check that all was safe on the estate, then to release the news. As it happened, one of the 'trusted' people who were told about the record, clearly could not be trusted and blabbed away to the info services. A lesson learned here I think.

Anyway, as it turned out, everyone behaved well and there was no conflict. Gary paid for and placed his own feeding stuff in a hedge so that observers would not need to stare into gardens. A collection bucket rattled at visitors raised over £200 and the finder will be given the choice of charity it goes to. ( Yes I paid a fiver, did you?)

A bit of a twitch...
For the first two hours the bird showed regularly all over the place then a cold rain shower moved in and all went quiet until after lunch. As the rain clouds dispersed, it was relocated on Gary's feeders in the hedge where good views were had by everyone.

The Myrtle was a bit rangy for my camera...

Willow Tit
A nearby wood held a pair of Willow Tits and a Sparrowhawk flew over. Around the gardens a large flock of Goldfinches at niger feeders held Brambling and a lone Redpoll. I missed the three Waxwings that called in briefly.

Myrtle Warbler from my scribbled notes and pics later.
All in all and excellent day. Thanks to Gary who persevered in arranging the access this, only the 3rd mainland record, was my 403rd species. Superb!

[Update - I am giving my sketch above to the lady who found the bird...I hope she likes it!]