What are my birding highlights over the last few weeks at RSPB Marshside ?
Well, there have been spectacular displays of thousands of Black-tailed Godwits, Lapwings and Golden Plovers which make an incredible sight when flushed from the ground by a hunting raptor. This has notably been a Peregrine, which had a real go at them!
However, this time has provided me with close-up portraits of both male and female Kestrels, a useful opportunity to compare. There I was photographing my first ever Grey Phalarope (rare bird!), when this male Kestrel flew towards me, landed on the most perfectly placed fencepost and posed coyly for several minutes.
His blue-grey head and tail and lighter, less speckled back separate him from all other British falcons.
This female Kestrel was waiting patiently for me to photograph her. Immediately I'd finished, she bobbed a couple of times and flew off fast and low, causing mass panic among the ducks.
Its grey-brown head separates it from the male (with blue-grey head).
It's also paler brown on the head and back than the female Merlin and has streaks rather than the Sparrowhawk's bars on the front.
The Grey Phalarope is quite a rarity, as only a few make landfall during their southwards migration which is mostly over the Atlantic Ocean.
About the size of a Starling, this winter bird is identified mostly by its head pattern, which to me makes it look like a balding old man with a black eye!
There is also a distinctive dark stripe down the back of its neck.
This Water Rail was only the second I have ever seen! I know most of you realise how rare and privileged a sight this is, as these birds generally stay well out of sight in the reedbeds.
They are rather like a small, attractively marked Moorhen, with longer red beak. The beak was covered in mud in the first two photos, which made me think it might be a young one.
However, young ones have a paler straw-coloured beak and much paler neck and breast. They have a beautiful dark blue-grey neck and breast, chestnut-brown back heavily speckled with black and bold black-and-white barring on their underparts.
This one held its tail permanently upright, like a Wren.
The final joy for me at this time of year are the incredible Marshside sunsets, which give a whole new perspective on bird photography. Here is a small selection of photographs featuring Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, which I feel speak for themselves.
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