Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sea, Wind and Fire

I don't make a habit of going out with the camera at 4:30 in the morning and I especially don't make a habit of pointing a telescope at the sun, but this particular shot's been on my mind for a while.

Broadstairs Sunrise 

Distance to the Thanet wind-farm: approximately 7 miles.
Distance to the sun: approximately 93 million miles.

It may not be as newsworthy as the Venus transit but I was fortunate enough to catch a sunspot group (visible towards the right-hand side of the sun's disc). This is AR1504 (AR standing for Active Region) and it was the source of some significant flare activity recently, as shown in this video from NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO).

You'll also notice that the sun is distinctly flattened in this photo. I would offer an explanation, but why go to all that trouble when there's already a perfectly good one available on the excellent Atmospheric Optics website? A warning though before you visit this site: "Checklist" photographers (you know who you are) may be compelled to invest in a brand new set of wide-angle lenses after seeing examples of the full range of weird and wonderful phenomena that can grace our skies.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Grey Wagtails in Canterbury

Grey Wagtail @ Canterbury

The commonest species of wagtail in the UK is the black-and-white Pied Wagtail, which (according to some sources) is actually a sub-species of the White Wagtail, which itself is more grey than white ... though it shouldn't be confused with the Grey Wagtail, which - despite its name - is actually partially yellow ... though not so yellow that it should be confused with the Yellow Wagtail, which - I'm pleased to say - is true to its name and almost entirely yellow ... that is, except for the ones with a blue head.

Okay, so now that's cleared up, back to Grey Wagtails. I've seen them before in the West Country, but until recently I've only ever had fleeting glimpses of them in Kent. So I was pleasantly surprised the other week to learn that a pair of Grey Wagtails had successfully raised a family right in the middle of Canterbury, only five minutes' walk from the station. It took me a couple of visits to get them in the right light but eventually I got the shots I was looking for.

Grey Wagtail

Photographing birds in towns and cities is never as enjoyable (for me at least) as photographing them in the countryside, but one advantage is that they're generally used to passers-by, and - as a consequence - much more approachable. Now I just need to find some equally confiding Yellow Wagtails to complete my wagtail hat trick ... or should that be a "wagtrick"?

Grey Wagtail

For more Canterbury Grey Wagtail photos, check out Mike Gould's Flickr page and Steve Ashton's blog. I'm not sure if this is the same family or a different group further along the river. Hopefully the latter, as Kent could do with more of these delightful and energetic little birds.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Travels of Y114264

Pied/White Wagtail 

On 23 November 2011 a first-year female Pied/White Wagtail was caught and ringed at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire. 173 days later it showed up at Stone Bay, Broadstairs (a full 132 km from the ringing site), where yours truly happened to have his camera with him. As it foraged on the sand in front of the beach huts I was able to get close enough to photograph some of the detail on the ring:

Wagtail ring (blow-ups) 

As you can see, I was only able to get a partial reading of the characters - Y?426? and "NH MUS LONDON" (clearly, the Natural History museum). Fortunately, this was enough information for the BTO to identify it as Y114264. These types of small numbered rings are usually only reported when the bird is found dead or caught by another ringer; typically, reports are more likely to come from colour-ringed schemes, as was the case with this Waxwing I photographed in December 2010.

So why go to all this effort to trap and ring birds (the majority of which are never seen again)? To quote the BTO:

"Ringing birds is essential if we are to learn about how long they live and when and where they move, questions that are vital for bird conservation. Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around a bird’s leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals.
Although we have been ringing birds in Britain and Ireland for over 100 years, we are still discovering new facts about migration routes and wintering areas. However, the main focus of the Ringing Scheme today is monitoring bird populations. Ringing allows us to study how many young birds leave the nest and survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather. Changes in survival rates and other aspects of birds’ biology help us to understand the causes of population declines." 

There is, of course, also the personal satisfaction derived from transforming what would otherwise have been an anonymous member of its species into a recognisable individual with its own story to tell.

So, if you find or photograph a ringed bird you can report it to Euring Web Recoveries and the body responsible for that ringing scheme will send you a report detailing the bird's history.

See also:
BTO Bird Ringing Blog
Summary of all Ringing Recoveries for Pied/White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)
BTO Birdfacts: Pied Wagtail