Six hours in a hide at a private site in Hampshire, resulted in about ten seconds with this young Kingfisher within range of my lens, and only one or two pictures that work. I’m very pleased with this picture so I’m not complaining, though it would have been nice to have taken a wider selection of images.
You can’t win them all and that’s wildlife photography for you! Patience will often pay off but there are rarely guarantees. It’s been a long time since I photographed Kingfisher and it’s almost always been from a hide. So having a good deal of background knowledge and fieldwork behind you will be the key.
My host had done just that and placed his hide in just the right place, from what he told me, after much trial and error.
You know who you are, thanks very much for the opportunity, I hope to do it again some time. Mission not quite accomplished, but a great start.
This magnificent Roe Deer buck was perhaps taking the same route he had done across his territory for many months. I found him running and pacing furiously along this new deer fence (deer fencing is very much designed to keep deer on the erector’s desired side of it).
He seemed confused and a little distressed, you can see the old rusty fence in the foreground which for years he has had no trouble clearing. I don’t know the reason for the new fence and at first I considered the photo spoiled by it. I still do, but coupled with the story, it seems to serve as a metaphor for much of what is going on for Britain’s wildlife.
So much of what seems like open countryside is in fact segregated in this way. So many people want to keep nature out of “their” space and so many could gain from embracing it and letting it flood in.
I don’t often pay sheep all that much attention but these lambs were undeniably cute, content and happy looking. The green and natural surrounding of Wales certainly helped to add to the feel of the photograph.
Photographing Owls (Owling) My experiences photographing Owls in Hampshire
A few years ago now in the early 2000’s I was driving home late one evening when a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of me on the outskirts of a rural village near my home in NE Hampshire. This was one of the first I had seen locally and so a few nights later I visited likely looking habitat nearby at dusk and to my pleasure found a bird hunting for voles in an overgrown field.
This was to be the start of a fascination with finding and photographing Owls locally and elsewhere in my home county of Hampshire. At this time many of the fields in the area had remained unploughed for some time and voles must have been plentiful in these areas. These…
A few days on a non-birding holiday in the Maltese islands with my wife did hold a few interesting birds from a British birders perspective. Early March is the start of the migration season and soon passage birds like Marsh harrier become of interest to hunters sadly.
Knowing well that this was the case I didn’t expect to see much and I only spent a few hours over the week actually looking. However I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst the islands do seem at first glance devoid of birdlife (in the uk you can’t really travel any distance without seeing birds of some sort in the sky or in the trees) on closer inspection there is more than the first impression of simply sparrows and feral pigeons. For a start the majority of the sparrows are Spanish sparrows.
Birdlife Malta are clearly doing some excellent work here in the face of what must feel like a demoralising uphill struggle against the want of the hunting fraternity on the islands. I would encourage anyone reading this to support their work however you can. If you plan to visit the islands do visit the reserves that they manage and you will find them to be little oasis in the bustling busyness of industry that seems to have consumed much of the islands. https://birdlifemalta.org/nature-reserves/
The first reserve I visited (Għadira Nature Reserve https://birdlifemalta.org/nature-reserves/ghadira/ ) has some shallow freshwater and islands that immediately looked interesting. In a few months I’m told breeding Black-winged stilt here is likely. The open water swarmed with House martin and Barn swallow as I arrived. It was early March so few of these birds have yet to reach the uk, but clearly spring starts earlier here
I had come to Malta having done no real prior research regarding the birds I was likely to see. As I said this wasn’t a birding holiday and perhaps naively, I’d assumed there was little to see anyway, given what I knew about the hunting. Of course, my bins and camera had come along just in case 🙂 It was also nice in many ways to discover what was here rather than see what I expected. Beyond the pigeons and sparrows, I found the next most common species all over the islands to be White wagtail, Black redstart, Zitting cisticola and Sardinian warbler. There were also Cetti’s warbler, Blackcap and Chiffchaff around and about.
I settled in one of the basic hides having had a brief chat with the knowledgeable and friendly staff at the visitor’s centre and scanned the promising looking habitat with bins. A Shelduck was present along with a feral Muscovy duck. The water’s edge looked good for waders but I had no idea what to expect here in Malta or at this time of year. I quickly picked up a Little ringed plover along with two Common sandpiper and a Ruff, followed by a Little stint. From a British perspective a haul of pretty good birds for a short wander while my wife had a snooze in the car.
We enjoyed various walks in some barren but interesting habitat over the next few days and I picked up further birds of interest such as Quail, which were heard regularly. Nightingale, Stonechat and, the apparently resident and fairly common in the right habitat here, but from a British perspective highly notable, Blue rock thrush, which we came across easily on Gozo.
At the Salina Nature Reserve ( https://birdlifemalta.org/nature-reserves/is-salina/ ) the salt pans give food and refuge to many gulls and water birds through the seasons. The pans held many gulls, Black headed gulls, Mediterranean gulls and Yellow legged gulls mostly, as well as a few Sandwich terns and this decent looking area no doubt turns up good waders, gulls and waterfowl through the migration season and is a good spot to sky watch for raptors too. I suspect that in just a few weeks when spring migration really kicks off Malta would have a lot to offer a visiting birder, sadly the sound of gunfire will no doubt be a feature also.
At the Salina reserve I had a very informative chat with one of the Birdlife Malta staff who was only too happy to share his knowledge and explain the situation, It made me wish I could do more to help their work on these islands.
One thing I hadn’t realise is that the hunting here is driven by taxidermy. The prize of a pristine stuffed Black stork or similar can fetch in the region of 2000 euros apparently, and underground collectors will pay such sums on the black market. Despite some laws that protect some species from hunting it seems unlikely that many of the unscrupulous bloodthirsty hunters on the island care about either the out of season restrictions or the legislation protecting specific species.
My new friend confirmed that a shoot first check later attitude is likely and that many of the eyes behind the guns don’t know the difference when it comes to female Aythya ducks for example and it’s unlikely they would care if they did. Sadly there is a trophy hunting mentally here, in that the rarer species, the protected species are therefore the more desirable from a black market taxidermy perspective and so ‘worth the risk’ if that is your mentality. It’s unclear how much enforcement there is when it comes to the laws around hunting here and what the punishments would be if caught or prosecuted. Recent government attitudes I’ve picked up on, would imply that Maltese politicians looking for votes are not unwilling to be swayed to the detriment of protected species. I suspect much like the game keepers who are willing to poison and trap birds of prey in the United Kingdom it is also considered ‘worth the risk’ because frankly that risk is small and equivalent to a slap on the wrist even if caught and prosecuted.
Links to a couple of Bird Life Malta posts showing the kind of heart wrenching situations they have to deal with every year here.
If you go to Malta and enjoy seeing the birds, publicise it and talk about it to like-minded people and perhaps Malta can have an ecotourism industry that will change things. Support the work of Birdlife Malta and report any dead or injured birds that you see.
There is plenty of helpful information on their website and much, much more to see from a wildlife perspective than I was able to manage in early spring on a non birding holiday. But I would go back for more and I hope in some small way this post will help.
Two pairs were already established, singing and showing well in the Bordon Inclosure on 16th of February this year (2022). I’m starting to wonder if they ever actually leave the area. Clearly Firecrest do move around and some migrate here but based on my experience it’s clear that many don’t winter especially far from where they breed.
I saw or heard nine singing Firecrest in the Deadwater Valley Trust Bordon Inclosure during a survey of a small area there first thing this morning. Most birds were associated with Ivy covered trees or Holly. They are tiny, the smallest british bird along with the Goldcrest and were formally a scarce bird in the UK. They first bred in the New Forest in 1962 and have steadily increased in numbers over the following decades. The Bordon area clearly suites them well and their song can be heard in suitable areas from late February to early March.
Please do browse my photo gallery which I intend to update as often as possible. I have lots of old images to go through and lots more being taken all the time 🙂 so I’ll probably never update it fully, you know what its like. Any questions please do drop me a post, DM or email. I have a backlog of images that do not yet feature. So please do ask if you are looking for anything specific.
The Dartford Warbler breeds in pockets of suitable habitat in the southern half of England and Wales and is susceptible to population crashes during hard winters. Due to the sizable amount of habitat in the New Forest and the Thames basin heaths, Hampshire has plenty of habitat and a healthy but fluctuating population. Local heathlands like Broxhead Common and Woolmer Forests suit it well. They can be hard to find and are at their easiest to see when they perch up and sing during breeding time.