Archive for February, 2008

Bird watching in the garden again

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

(Entry copied from my WAB blog)

Spent some more time trying to photograph birds in the back garden again today. I’m still trying out new things with my new camera, rather than always relying on the ‘automatic’ mode. As it was such a bright day (glorious blue skies and warm for the time of year), I set on ‘Shutter Priority’ mode and set it to a high shutter speed, with the idea of getting sharper images but with less depth of field.

Blue Tit

Previously when I’ve been taking photos in the garden, I’ve put some bird food out on two large branches on the apple tree where the bird feeders are. Of course, I would then focus on one branch and the birds would visit the other one – I’d refocus on that branch, and the birds would simultaneously switch to the first branch (or so it seemed!). So I just put the extra food on one branch this time. I positioned myself with my camera and tripod about 30 feet away.

Unfortunately not a lot turned up – perhaps I was too close and too obviously visible. Great Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinches were the only birds that came to feed, and so I at least got some better photos of those. A buzzard flew overhead, and a wren and a robin also appeared in the garden. I managed to get a very distant shot of a Yellowhammer in a tree at the bottom of a neighbour’s garden – it came into our garden and landed on a bush behind the apple tree, but hidden from my view by some branches. I see these birds often on my walks, but it is a very rare visitor indeed to our garden.

Great Tit

Two Collared Doves fluttered low across the garden, and later on I saw a Sparrowhawk fly across the rooftops. But there was no sign of the regular ‘Greenfinch gang’, let alone the Bramblings and Greater Spotted Woodpecker that have visited the garden recently. At least I’d managed to spot a Long-tailed Tit on the feeders while I had my breakfast.

Old Amersham and Little Kingshill

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Today’s was my third 12-mile walk in four days, and the first time I’ve walked on successive days for 9-10 months. So I found it a bit more of a struggle today, and I’m feeling more tired than usual now.

I started at Old Amersham, which I passed through on yesterday’s walk. I began about 10 am, and first walked along the very attractive High Street, full of old coaching inns and mainly Georgian buildings. I passed the church and the market, where there were a few stalls. I then followed the valley of the river Misbourne westward, soon passing the grand house of Shardeloes on top of a hill on my left, while on my right was a large ornamental pond formed by damming the river.

I continued through empty pastures to reach Little Missenden, where I turned left and followed the road all the way through what is one of my favourite villages from all my walks. I passed the church, one of the most interesting I’ve visited with its Saxon walls and mediaeval wall paintings. I then turned left on a footpath that passed through a paddock and then some fields, very gradually climbing the end of a hill. At one point I turned to look back and admire the view – I saw a large bird in the sky at some distance, which I later saw was a Red Kite when I expanded a photo on my PC.

The path took me to Little Kingshill, where I turned left and followed the road for about half a mile. I then turned left on a footpath that began by the Baptist chapel. This was a pleasant path between a fence and a hedge, which soon descended into a small valley, where I turned left into a wood. After a short distance, I turned right and slightly uphill, to reach a stile on the edge of the wood. I went ahead and then left round two sides of an empty pasture, and continued through a sequence of paddocks to a road. I turned right, then went left at a mini-roundabout, and followed a road through Holmer Green for about half a mile.

Shortly after passing a sports field and a pub, I took an alleyway going right, soon turning left into another alley. I continued ahead along a residential street to reach the start of a footpath on the edge of the village. I descended into a small wood in a valley and continued up the other side, following a hedgerow through a field to reach a lane.

On the other side, the path continued between hedges and fences a short distance to reach Toby’s Lane, a track between hedges leading to Little Missenden to my left. But I went right instead – I would now be following the route of the Chiltern Hertage Trail the rest of the way. The guide book or leaflet for that walk warns that Toby’s Lane can be very muddy in Winter and advises using a parallel lane when that’s the case. The short section I followed was really muddy – I had to cling to branches in the hedge as I edged myself along the side of the track, avoiding the worst of the soft, inches-deep mud. Fortunately I soon turned right onto a footpath which crossed an empty pasture and then joined a private drive past a few houses and a farm. I turned left at the end, and soon reached a main road.

On the other side, I then had a long and enjoyable section through Penn Wood, which is managed by the Woodland Trust – a notice said it was being grazed by cattle, but I didn’t see any. On the far side of the wood I reached the village of Penn Street. I followed the road alongside a cricket pitch, and turned left at a junction, still with the cricket pitch on my left. I took a path on the right that went down a drive and then crossed a field diagonally to a wood. The path ran along just inside the edge of the wood, then crossed an empty pasture, before runing between hedges a short distance to reach the village of Winchmore Hill.

I sat on a bench here and ate my lunch as it was now almost 1pm. The route to the next village, Coleshill, was very familiar to me, as it’s part of the Chiltern Way as well as the Chiltern Heritage Trail. I left Winchmore Hill opposite a chapel, and followed a hedgerow on my right to a small wood with a short and very muddy track through it. I crossed a rough pasture to a stile, and then the path ran betwen fences and hedges to reach a gravel drive between properties in Coleshill.

I crossed a road and followed an alley passing right of the church to another road. I turned left and followed the road for about half a mile, until it turned right. I took a path going ahead, initially on a farm drive and then through an empty pasture. I then turned right and followed a path that gradually descened towards Old Amersham which I could now see in the valley ahead of me. I went over a bridge over the bypass, and followed paths round an empty field of rough grass, emerging close to the High Street and the car park.

Again it took me 4 hours to walk 12 miles, a disappointing speed considering I took hardly any photos and had few other stops at all. It was another glorious day – I didn’t need my coat at all as it was so warm, and there were bright blue skies throughout. I must make the most of this weather while it lasts!

Chalfont St Giles and Old Amersham

Friday, February 8th, 2008

A beautiful day for a walk today – clear blue skies and so warm that I took my coat off after half an hour and never needed it again. It felt more like Spring than early February! I started at Chalfont St Giles and walked a circular route of about 12 miles.

From Chalfont St Giles I followed the route of the South Bucks Way for a few miles, heading northwest along the valley of the river Misbourne towards Old Amersham (initially retracing part of my last walk). I saw some Periwinkle growing by a lane (not sure if it was greater or lesser periwinkle), and later saw a Red Kite fly up from the ground as I crossed a paddock. I left the route of the South Bucks Way and crossed a field and then a footbridge over the small river (I saw two buzzards about here), before turning left and following the edge of the river into Old Amersham.

I was now on part of the Chiltern Heritage Trail, and I continued on its route as I turned left along a main road then right at a roundabout. I turned left along a footpath on the edge of Old Amersham, with a large field sloping uphill to my right. When I reached the start of a cemetery, I decided to take a small detour – I turned right and followed a footpath uphill to reach the Martyr’s Memorial, set up to commemorate seven Protestant martyrs burned at the stake for their beliefs in 1521 (in two cases the children of the victim were made to light the fire).

I returned the way I came and continued past the cemetery, turning left over a brick bridge and walking through the churchyard, going left of the impressive church in Amersham old town. I now rejoined the South Bucks Way and headed back in the direction I’d come, back down the Misbourne valley. But before reaching the point where I’d turned off the SBW before, I turned right and headed diagonally across a couple of fields, going steadily uphill. I passed through a corner of a wood, and continued through four more recently ploughed fields, on a clear and pleasant path with nice views to either side.

I passed through a farm and stable complex either side of a lane, and continued on a bridleway – this was a good track, heading fairly gently uphill. I passed another farm, and then left the track as it turned left and crossed a small field to a lane. On the other side, I had a very pleasant stroll through a wood – with all the birdsong and the blue skies it really felt like Spring had come early. I crossed a field of rough grass, and continued on a path between overgrown hedges to reach a road junction on the edge of Seer Green.

I turned left, and then took a path going right. I passed another stables and then followed a hedgerow through an empty pasture. Over a stile, I followed a driveway to a road on the edge of the village of Jordans. I turned right and followed the road through the village. I took another slight detour to walk through the grounds of the Old Quaker Meeting House, which is still being renovated after a serious fire – the area around the graves of William Penn and his family were cordoned off because of the building works.

I turned left along a lane, soon passing the youth hostel on my right. It was a narrow lane with no verges, but fortunately not much traffic. I turned left along a farm drive, and then followed a path through a sequence of horse paddocks. I then turned right, along  a fenced path beside a farm track. I saw a Jay fly off here. I then stopped and ate my lunch as I sat on a chopped up tree trunk here. I soon took a path going right, between two overgrown hedges, turning left at the end to reach a road.

Across the road I continued on another good path enclosed between hedges or fences. This ran on for about a mile or so, again with nice views. I crossed a track or lane and went up and down a dip, continuing beside sports pitches and then down a tarmac path as I re-entered Chalfont St Giles. At the end of the path, I turned right, passing Milton’s Cottage (also closed for repairs!) as I amde my way back to the car park.

This was a very pleasant walk on a gorgeous day. It took me just under four hours to walk the approximate 12 miles, and I was home very early at about 2.50pm.

Chenies, Little Chalfont and Chalfont St Giles

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

For various reasons (mainly bad weather and a heavy cold) today’s was my first long walk for three weeks. I started at Chenies, just east of Chesham, and followed the Chess Valley to Latimer. This was all part of the route of the Chiltern Heritage Trail, which I walked about 18 months ago.  En route I saw a Little Egret beside the river Chess, which I’d been hoping to see as I saw 2-3 of them last time I was here.

Little Egret, on river Chess near Chenies

I then headed south through a wood to Little Chalfont. I went through various fields and paddocks, and then walked round the edge of a golf course, heading down to the Misbourne valley. I saw my first wildflower of the year, a violet, beside the golf course. I followed the Misbourne valley east into Chalfont St Giles (following part of the South Bucks Way), and then went north through Chorleywood West back to Chenies. This last section was all very familiar to me as it was part of both the Chiltern Way and the Chiltern Heritage Trail. As I neared Chenies, I saw some Lesser Celandine.

Rabbit, along the Misbourne Valley near Chalfont St Giles

More photos from Norfolk

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Here are three more photos from my weekend in Norfolk (as usual, you can click on the images to see them enlarged). The first two are birds, whose identity I had checked out on ‘Wild About Britain’ as I wasn’t 100% sure what they were.

 Spotted Redshank

 Black-tailed Godwit

I really like this sunset photo, taken from the track behind the pine belt at Holkham. In reality, it was nowhere near as dark as the photo suggests, but I really love what the camera has done.


Sunset at Holkham

Bird watching in Norfolk again

Monday, February 4th, 2008

(Entry copied from my WAB blog)

I have just had a very enjoyable weekend bird watching in North Norfolk. I drove up on Friday morning, arriving at the RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh about 1pm. It had been a lovely bright morning as I drove up, but unfortunately it was now incredibly windy, not very good conditions for seeing birds at all. I didn’t bother to go down to the beach, but spent most of the afternoon in the main hide at the reserve, overlooking a large expanse of water. There were a lot of Pintail about, and a few Ruff, as well as the more common types of duck and a few small waders. A snipe emerged briefly from the reeds a couple of times. There were a few Golden Plover later on and a flock of Brent Geese arrived.

As planned, my friend Elaine arrived from London late Friday evening (we meet up a couple of times a year to go birding, usually in Norfolk or else at Minsmere in Suffolk). In the morning we went back to Titchwell Marsh – it was a cold but sunny morning, and thankfully there was now very little wind. We got off to a great start – we saw a Woodcock between the car park and the visitor centre! I knew one had been seen there yesterday, so when we saw someone staring fixedly into the undergrowth, I guessed what he’d found. The gentleman kindly pointed out where the woodcock was – fortunately it was right against a mossy branch, otherwise it would be impossible to locate such a well-camouflaged bird.

Ruff, with Dunlin behind it

Sadly for Elaine the Brambling I’d seen on the feeders by the vistor centre yesterday was no longer about. We made our traditional vist to the Fen Hide and, keeping with tradition, saw nothing. We then followed the path along the bank through the reserve, heading towards the beech. We saw Tufted Duck, Pochard, Little Egret and Reed Buntingon the marsh to the left, and Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, Redshank and various ducks on the lagoon to the right.

We went in the main hide again -no Ruff or Snipe this time, but the Pintail were still there. There were Avocet, Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Dunlin, Sanderling, Shelduck, Shoveller, Teal, Starling and Ringed Plover.

As we then made our way to the beach, we stopped to look at some Goldeneye. Suddenly a Water Rail popped up about 20 feet in front of us and then paddled across some water to some vegetation at the foot of the bank we were on. I managed to take a photo, but it was very blurred (disappointing, as this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to get such a close shot of this elusive bird).

Little Egret

On the beach we saw a fair mixture of waders, including Turnstone, Sanderling, Oystercatcher and Redshank. On the sea, we got a good view of a Red-breasted Merganser, close inshore. As we made our way back to the visitor centre we saw a Snipe and a Curlew out on the marsh.

After lunch, we went to Holkham and walked round Holkham Park. We once saw all three woodpeckers here, but didn’t see any at all today though someone told us that a Lesser-Spotted woodpecker had been reported there earlier. We did get a distant view of a flock of Brambling, and saw some Egyptian Geese, a Jay, a Coal Tit and a Wren.

We then went to the beach and pine belt at Holkham. We went through the gate from the car park towards the beach, and went to set up our scopes for a quick scan over the fields to our right, as we’d seen owls there on previous visits – before we even set up our scopes a Barn Owl flew across a short distance in front of us and went into the pines. When we did look through the scopes, we saw another Barn Owl way off in the distance across the fields. We didn’t see too much else as we followed the path left along the edge of the pine belt on the dunes. The first hide was full, so we went on to the second (Joe Jordan) hide. It was now quite windy. We saw some Marsh Harriers, the grey markings of a male showing up really well in the fading light. The highlight here was seeing 60 Litle Egrets come in to roost. As it got dark, we eventually saw some geese come in, but maybe only a thouasand or so, nowhere near the spectacular sight and sound we had experienced here on previous visits at this time of year.

Reed Bunting

On Sunday morning, we came back to Holkham. We started off going right along the edge of the beach – we saw some Redshank and then a small group of other birders. Another couple of Birders thought thety were Rock Pipits and Skylarks, but I wasn’t really sure of either identification (they’re all LBJ’s to me, I’m afraid!). We went on to the beach, hoping to see Snow Bunting which we’ve seen here on our last two winter vists – just as we’d almost given up, we saw six of them on the edge of the dunes.

We then walked across the wide expanse of Holkham beach, and entered the pine belt near the first hide. We followed a narrow path west through the pines – as so often happens, we went ages without seeing anything (except a solitary goldfinch), then just as we were getting to the end of the pine belt there was a whole burst of activity. First we spotted a Tree Creeper, then just yards away a mixed group of Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits.

We emerged from the pine trees and went a little further through the dunes, before turning back towards the Joe Jordan hide. We saw a pair of Stonechat on the way, and as we entered the trees near the hide we saw a Robin, Blackbirds and a Wren.


We then had a very interesting afternoon watching the birds from the hide. We saw Barnacle Geese, Egyptian Geese, Pink-footed Geese, White-fronted Geese, Greylag Geese, Marsh Harriers and another Barn Owl. The most exciting sighting though (and I know it doesn’t count!) was a Sacred Ibis! This came as a complete shock, but we quickly realised it must have escaped from somewhere – I’ve since seen on the web that it’s been reported at Holkham and along the coast at Stiffkey for several months now.

We left about 3.30pm to make our separate ways home, each having about a three hour drive. We’d seen 65-70 different birds, and had had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.