Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A trip to Minsmere (not the first, wont be the last!)Tuesday 30th April 2013

Just a short entry here.

I popped to RSPB Minsmere back at the end of April (because, yes I'm that behind in my blog of late) to see what was what and hoped to get a sighting and photograph of the Garganey Drake that Bird Guides had alerted me too that morning. And I should have gone that morning too. Because when I did get there, the sun was starting to get low in the sky and made it all but impossible to get a clear image of anything behind South Hide onto that part of the scrape which is where they were supposed to be residing. However I did get a sighting of the Ferruginous Duck that had been residing there for some time now. But no Garganey Drake.

However not all was lost. I was informed on returning to the Visitors centre that a Tawny Owl had taken up station in a tall tree in the small forest not too far from the centre. So I took myself down there and sure enough found a small group of people craning their heads up looking into a pine tree. It was a pretty windy day so the tree canopy was moving about alot, which actually helped because as the branches moved their in a folk of the tree sat the owl, asleep!! Quiet how it was able to hold on in the wind let alone sleep is a bit beyond me, but sleeping it was.

I set myself up in a clearing which gave me a good angle to the bird and just waited for the branches to move out the way and started photographing. Their not great, but least I know have a documentable photo of a Tawny Owl.

It was clear the bird was in no mood to move, so I left others to watch it and head back to the centre, before I did I made my way round to the discovery area as I had been told to listen out for a Garden Warbler. And sure enough I heard it. Lovely song. I even got a fleeting glimpse of it too. So not too bad for a trip to my favourite reserve.
Can't wait to go again when the chance arises. I love Minsmere. It has never let me down in all the trips I have done (and i have done alot!)

Kind regards


A truly memorable birthday present, Thanks hun... 27th April 2013.

***Apologises for not blogging lately. Been on holiday and had alot of work.***

We all have profound moments in our lives. Some are because we become parents for the first time, your first flat or house and the pride of knowing its yours, getting married, passing your driving test and having that sense of independence. Getting your first wage. Your first kiss from your boyfriend or girlfriend. The point I'm making is that it leaves a memory that rarely is forgotten throughout your life. Some are so poinient that they shape things to come for the rest of your life, no matter how large or small.

One of those moments happened to me when I was ten. It was a school day like pretty much any other, except for one difference, we had a falconry display coming to the school for the afternoon and my parents had paid for me to see it. I disliked school alot, tell me someone that didn't at some point. But I was bullied for the majority of mine, sometimes through my own silly actions but most of the time just because I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this day was going to be different. Well it wasn't, not until we got outside to watch the display. I was left alone for a while, which was lovely.
I don't really remember too much of what the man was saying or of what flew that day, except for one particularly moment that has stayed with me for 27 years.
I remember we were all asked to lay on the glass of the playing field side-by-side. After much giggling and silliness we all settle down and listened to what the man was saying again. I couldn't really hear what was being said because people were whispering close by, much to my annoyance.
Without warning the man stopped talking, and I had a sudden sixth sense feeling of something impending, my senses all went on alert and I could feel the light breeze across my face and the smell of freshly cut grass in my nostrils. The sky was clear and that lovely blue that only the sky can produce. Then out of nowhere this silhouette came across me. It cut the sun out for what felt like an age. Like in slow motion is flew over me, large, silent, imposing, deadly. I was transfixed with its dark browns and small flashes of yellowie-orange. In the distance I could hear the odd scream from a girl or laughter, but for that brief moment I was total alone,  immersed in my little world of a ten year old boys fantasy of whatever it was that had just flown past me. I later learnt the bird was a European Eagle Owl.
That was the moment that I knew I would have a fascination with wildlife, birds in particular and especially birds of prey for the rest of my life. Little did I know that as time went on, I would see, photograph and experience things not many other people would.
As time has gone by I have seen other displays and visited falconry centres. I've even considered owning my own bird. Still do. But nothing has ever remotely got close to that feeling I had when I was ten.
Last year I got the opportunity to see a very special spectacle whilst on Holiday in Wales. There was a forestry commission that at certain times of the day throughout the year would feed the wild Red Kite population. People would come from far and wide to see it. Myself, my wife and son attended one of theses feeding bonanza's and were left feeling very humbled by what we saw. The sky was full of wild Red Kites where ever you looked. I took about 200 photo's and once I had gone through them I had been rewarded with some lovely shots.

That was back at the end of October of last year.
The month before that we had been to a zoo fairly close to us called Banham Zoo. It was just me and the wife and we had a great time there, especially watching the bird of prey display. In fact it is this that leads me up-to-date with the present. For while that show was on we were both paying attention to the falconer when I got that same feeling I had way back when I was ten, it was only briefly but enough to bring the memory back vivid in my mind and make my skin goose bump, just at the same time the same bird that had flew over me when I was that boy did it again to me 27 years later as a man sitting on a bench watching another display. Once again another European Eagle Owl was to blame. A member of the public was also having some sort of experience day with the team and was helping hold and fly the birds. I turned to my wife and said I would love to do something like that myself. Of course you tend to forget what you say after time.

The wife didn't.

Its Saturday the 27th April 2013. A fairly nice day of which we have planed to take our grandson to Banham Zoo for his first zoo trip. We were packed and ready to go, as I had been down to my local patch to photograph a rare species that came into the country the day before. (Read about this in the previous blog entry about the Eastern Subalpine Warbler.)

We arrived at the zoo, unpacked and at the entrance where we paid, my wife produced some sort of folder with Banham on the front a a piece of paper, which she handed to the lady in the booth. Curious I waited till we got in and then asked what was that all about.
It was then that my wife dropped the bombshell on me that at 2:00pm that afternoon I was going to be collected from the souvenir shop and spend the entire afternoon with the birds of prey at the zoo on an experience just like I had seen the member of the public the previous year having!!!
God she knows how to surprise me!!!!
We went and had something to eat and then had a quick look round before I went off to the shop.
I was met by Andy Hallsworth who was the head falconer and after a bit of paperwork and discussion on what would happen we headed down to where the birds were kept. I had asked if I could use my camera, which they agreed to, and I'll come back to that later.
Straight out of the gun I was in the action as we were to assist in the display that was going to take place at 2.30pm. I on the other hand was still coming to term with that was happening and what my wife had done!
I was going to hold one of the birds as it flew to and throw over the heads of the crowd. His name was Yogi and he was a Great Grey Owl. He was a big bird but surprisingly he was very light when he landed on my hand. He went backwards and forwards between me and the other falconer just missing peoples heads which made people laugh. What impressed me the most was the size of his head. It was massive!

Once Yogi had done his bit, I was asked to sit down for a short time and got the chance to photograph PJ the African Harrier Hawk. He's a bit special in the respect that he can hold on to the side of trees and find prey by looking in holes and so forth.

After PJ, Andy collected me and we headed down the bottom of the arena which was a large field with a pond in the middle of it. I could just about hear what Steve, the other falconer was saying over his microphone. He was about to release Gadget and Poe, the Black Kites. Out they came and they did their part of the display with grace and beauty that only a Kite can perform. I stood at the end of the field and photographed the Kites flying around.

After them came Hooch the European Eagle Owl. He's quiet the character and wont do anything without reason. Especially when he is supposed to fly the length of the field towards me and my camera and land on his fence post. Just goes to show that these birds are wild and not trained puppets.
Because he was just not interested in doing so. It became clearer later that it had been the way the wind was blowing that had put him off. It was coming from the wrong direction which would have meant it would have been very difficult to fly the line he is supposed to follow and land safely. Just goes to show their intelligence.

Eventually Hooch came down to the bottom of the field and did part of his display. Then returned to the audience to show how poor their eye sight is unless the subject is moving which was demonstrated when Steve had to flick a piece of meat in front of Hooch for him to see it.
Once Hooch went back to his home they brought out a Peregrine Falcon. Unfortunately it was way to fast for my camera to even attempt to try and photograph flying about. However it was pretty awe inspiring to watch arguably the fastest animal in the world flying around and above me.

Then came the funny part. We made our way up onto a hill and prepared ourselves for the pending arrival of 9 Vultures that the zoo look after. 3 Hooded and 6 Ruppell Griffin Vultures. They all have names but most of them escape me now I write this. I was more interested in not being knocked over by them as they landed at my feet. Weirdly they were cute in an ugly sort of way. Perfectly well behaved (but what you expect, we had the food.)
They flew back and forward to Steve at the front of the arena and then back to me and Andy on the hill with little or no effort at all. These massive birds looked so majestic in the air, sometimes millimetres off the ground!

That was the end of the display for the public and after a few conversations with the audience the falconers and me chatting to my wife, we then closed the gates and it was time for me to spend time with the birds on my own. I can't explain my emotions at that point but Sufis to say that I didn't know whether to cry or just conbust on the spot!
We feed the Vultures first inside their massive home where they even have room to exercise and fly about, which considering the wing span of the Giffins which is about 6ft, gives you some idea of the size of their house. They rather enjoyed their beef bone and polished it off in no time. It was a shock how quick they stripped the bone I can tell ya. It was all a bit....well, organised. You could tell there was a pecking order.
After that it was time to make a life long dream come true. I was going to be introduced to Lofty. Lofty is called Lofty because he was found in a loft and his parents were no where to be found. Of course the worse was feared and realised some days later when they were both found perished. He was then hand reared into the adult bird he is today. Lofty had been doing indoor displays for most of the year and not really been outside, so it was uncertain to how he would react to it. However, Andy decided to see how he would do. To all our delight he performed brilliantly if a little slow to get started. All the noises were a bit overwhelming for him at first but he coped.

This is all so well and good John, but what is lofty!! I hear you saying.

Lofty is a Barn Owl!!!!

Ahhh the memories I have of this moment are difficult to put into words. I'm not going to even attempt to. All i say is it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Lofty was magnificent and a bit of a charmer. He even charmed my wife!

It was time for Lofty to go have a rest, but Andy was very pleased with him and felt it could be soon that he would be reintroduced to the BoP display in future weeks to come.
Next came a very humbling experience and left both me and Claire feeling quiet inferior. It was at this point that I realised that Andy was doing far more than the experience would normally allow. Letting Claire hold Lofty and be around when I was feeding the birds gave me the first incling but now Claire was hold other birds too.
Anyway, humbling, that's what it feels like when your being stared straight in the eyes by a 7kg (14lb) Male Bale Eagle called Sam.

When Sam looked at you it felt like he was searching your soul. Making judgement on you whether you should be allowed to live or die at his talons. It was a truly uplifting moment of totally intimidating. His beak was massive and looked like it would just remove my nose in one swift movement, his talons were massive. We both had to wear a special re enforced glove so he didn't crush our hand or wrist, that is the power of his claws. He weighed so much both me and Claire had to wedge our elbows into our body to hold him up! Amazing creature.

Time was flying past and we had done so much. There was one last experience to share. Andy returned Sam to his perch and then went off to collect the last bird we would spend time with. Myself, steve, Claire and a sleeping Riley ventured off onto the arena and was greeted by Andy again shortly after with Aaron. We were to take Aaron off to do his daily exercising. However we had such fun with him inside the arena we didn't actually get him to do what he is best at, which is catch rabbits over the far side of the zoo. Instead we played games of chase and got him to fly straight at me so I could photograph him. Andy got his to all but land on my hat!!
Oh Aaron is a Male Harris Hawk.

Once again Claire got the chance to hold another bird, making this experience just as rewarding for her as it was for me.

The end of an amazing day, an amazing experience. And yes, my face is very red, that was the sunburn from a few days before when I photographed the Grasshopper Warbler.

 This final shot was taken after alot of laughter as Aaron had by now had enough and didn't want to fly no more. He sat on Rileys pushchair for ages then we made our way back to the sanctuary where Aaron hopped back onto his perch.

We thank Andy and Steve for the whole afternoon, and to my surprise they asked if I was happy for them to take my memory card and go copy the photo's I had taken. I of course agreed with the promise that they let me edit them at home and send them in better shape in the weeks after.
We all agreed to this and have since sent the images in. I have heard back from the zoo and they were very pleased with them and am now interested in me making regular trips to the zoo to take more and not just of the BoP.
I'll let you know what comes of it.

Kind regards


Tuesday, 30 April 2013

My first rare of the year and a first for Suffolk. 27th April 2013.

It was a Friday night, and I thought I would just pop onto BINS Click here and see if there was anything interesting that had appeared during the day.
To my pleasant surprise there was! An Eastern Subalpine Warbler had landed down at my local patch of Languard Common and was showing well for people. Funny, it supposed to be in Morocco!
I mentioned this to my wife and said I'd pop down there in the morning before we went off and did anything.
Sure enough I got up the next day and headed down to find a ever growing crowd of people looking at it and got some lovely photo's of a very obliging bird.

Kind regards


Monday, 29 April 2013

Some birthdays are pretty special. 25th April 2013

Birthdays. When you were a young child, right up till your late teens they are important to you. From presents and parties to going out late and not quiet remembering what happened. There important at that age.
As you grow older the fun goes out of them little by little till you start to dread the dam date arriving. Subsequently you get to the point where the majority of the time its best left not said, it hoping it goes past nice and quickly.
However, once in a while a birthday comes along and surprises you. Not like in a surprise party or meal that someone has sneaked about getting sorted for you whether you had an idea of it or not. A genuine experience of 'wow, I'm not going to forget that for a while. That was nice!' birthday.
We that's what happened to me on mine.
It started like any other day does. You get up, make yourself ready then decided what your going to do with yourself to alleviate the impending hours that await you. For me I decided I was going to go out and do a bit of bird watching and photography.
I'd looked on Bins Click here to see if there was anything interesting on there area and sure enough there was down at my local patch of landguard. I packed my camera and off I went.

I arrived at Landguard and made my way onto the common and noticed a group at a distance who had cameras and were watching something. I approached them and introduced myself. Listened to what they were talking about and was watching the dozen or so Wheatears feeding. Then one of the gentlemen said his goodbyes, picked his camera up and walked off. He seemed to be heading off to look for something so I followed, caught up with the gentlemen and we started chatting. We saw a couple of Meadow Pipits and a nice Male Linnet It was a few minutes into our conversation that I caught a glimpse of the man at just the right netangle to suddenly realise who I was in the company of.

3 years ago I started bird watching, I found Bins online and started to find the places to go and what to look for. I bought myself a bridge camera and began learning how to take photo's. It was then that I started to follow with interest a photographer called John Richardson, and over the last few years I have sit in wonder at some of the beautiful wildlife he has photographed hoping one day I might be as good as him and of course get to meet him. I updated my camera, and with more and more practise produced better and better results. Yet I still never got to meet my Idol. I'd either miss him by a day or he was somewhere else than I was. I even had friends that knew his well and yet still I missed meeting him!

Until my birthday, because the man I was talking to, the glimpse I had had. It was then that I realised to my total and utter amazement that it was John Richardson! My idol!
Of course I was trying my hardest to just act as normal as possible. After all you don't want to jump right in and make yourself look like a total crazed person gibbering away saying "I'm your number one fan!" (Sorry, reference to the movie 'Misery' there.)
However inside I could hardly contain myself.
I explained myself to him and properly introduced myself. When I had done that, he then went on to say he had seen some of my work and had heard of me! Well, that did it, I was total blown away by that bit of news I can tell ya.
Anyway, he was going to go look for a Grasshopper Warbler that was down near the ferry from a text alert he had received. He had never seen on, just heard it. I asked if I could join him to which he agreed.
This really couldn't get any better, I thought to myself. My birthday, meeting John, going to go photograph with him a uncommon bird. Yes flaming please!!

We travelled down to the Ferry. Took a bit of time working out from the instructions that the alert had giving to where the bird was but once we had found it we spent our time chatting and waiting patiently for an opportunity to photograph it. For some reason once your in John's company thing seem to happen that luck alone cant explain. Because within minutes the little bird, which is supposed to be a fairly elusive and shy species, was in the brush next to us singing its heart out in front of me and John.

Pleased with the first shots we had got, we waited to see if it would come out into the open better and a full body shot.
Whilst we were waiting we were watching other birds coming over the sea way and off into the distance. I was even able to get a flight shot of a Little Egret that came over.

Sure enough after a little waiting about (John going for a dip in a nearby watery ditch. We'll say no more Mr Richardson.) The bird moved position out into the open.

It was getting close to time for me to have to leave for work. I was ecstatic with what had happened that morning and it will stay with me for a very long time. Plus the sunburn which I had no idea I had till I arrived at work will remind me for a while at least!
All I can say really is. Thank you John for making THIS birthday special.
Kind regards

My first trip to Minsmere this year. 23rd April 2013.

I'll admit it now, I've not been out to photograph or birdwatch at all this year. Infact I will to say not since after my holiday in Wales back in Oct 2012. Bad of me, I know.
However, what with weather and work, it not been the easiest hobby to make time for of late. That and spring to was a little while to get going what with all that snow we have had, snow, rain....blah. Anyway....without making more excuses I did get an opputunity to go out for an afternoon walk around my fav RSPB reserve in the county, Minsmere.
I arrived with the weather feeling lovely and warm and a fairly clear sky. Took a stroll right round the reserve and finally settle down in the Island Mere hide in the hopes of catching sight of my first Bittern of the year.
I did however get a few distant shots of a Female Wheatear off the beach near East hide on my walk round.
I settled down in the hide and enjoyed the light warm breeze coming through the window, the sun was shining low in the sky giving everything a lease of life and glow. The rich colours of the reeds and plants seemed all that more vivid. The sounds of water and wildlife where a very relaxing backing track. I did have to wait long for my quay. On the left hand side of hide, where the reeds stopped and the water began, came out a Male Bittern. He made his way down the edge of the reeds fishing as he went.
Now without coming across big headed or nothing, I have taken my fair share of Bittern photographs. However catching a Bittern with a fish in its mouth has eluded me for some time. Thankfully, patience is a vertue, and practice makes perfect. I took up a good position and started photographing. The results were worth it:


All in all a lovely experience once again from Minsmere. I'd seen the manager, Ian Barnthorpe a few hours before hand and had explained this was my first trip this year which he ageknowledged but also said that it was early days and that I would get something soon enough.
Boy was he right. Thanks Ian.
Kind regards,

Hello there....

Welcome to my blog. I'm Chappers aka John Chapman and after some consideration I have decided to start a blog about my obsession with wildlife (specifically birds) and photography.
Thankfully I have plenty to share with you all at the moment as I have just gone and celebrated my 37th birthday which just so happens to have had a fair few wonderful experiences develope.
Shall we start......