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Saturday, 1 September 2012

So Where Did August Go ??

About a week ago I suddenly realised that, although August is usually a good month on the owl front, with juveniles swelling the numbers seen, so far this August I was not doing so well. I reckon it was due to a combination of factors including weather, a week feeling out of sorts with a cold, and (as a direct result of the summer's weather) much more foliage on the trees than is usual, making it more difficult to see the owls. I vowed to try and rectify the situation by a relatively concerted effort, and ended up with the best month I've ever had for Little Owl numbers sighted, but only over 11 different sites.

Photographically the last week has not been brilliant, but I have ended up with a few images that I'm pleased with.

My LO Site No.15 which is in the middle of an, as yet, unharvested corn field has been impossible to approach without vandalism. However, I have tried to keep an eye on it from the roadside. Sadly, I've not seen more than one bird here for a long time, and this year I've not seen a juvenile here.

Little Owl - my Site No.15
On Tuesday I went to check out my LO Site No.08, where sightings have been rather sparse of late. As I arrived I saw that I was going to have to make my way through a field of cows. As I crossed the cattle-grid the nearest cow started bellowing. Within a couple of minutes the whole herd was bellowing loudly - I've never heard cows make such a loud racket!! Worse was to come, as they decided to follow me, approaching a little too close and a little too quickly for comfort. As I reached the far electric fence I had to drive them back by appearing to run at them with arms waving, in order to buy myself some time to crawl under the electric fence.

Unfortunately the owls here tend to roost in the trees only a few metres from the fence. With the whole herd of cows standing along the far side of the fence, still bellowing, I didn't think I stood a chance of finding any owls, so I went somewhat further to investigate the nest tree - when I got there it didn't look as if it was still occupied.

I was about to take a different route back to try and avoid the cows when I noticed an owl - in the opening of a building, not 5 metres from the fence and the bellowing cows!!

As I tried to make a stealthy approach, the cows gave the game away by upping the volume, but I still managed to get close enough for some images. Unfortunately, as you can see from the first image. the sun was in totally the wrong direction, shining brightly on the roof and with the owl in deep shade. However, I'm quite pleased with the second image here, although I wish that I'd had the presence of mind to turn the camera vertically so I could get the whole of the opening in frame.

Little Owl - my Site No.08
With some cunning tactics I managed to avoid the cows on the way back to the car, and set off for my LO Site No.18. I got to the actual site somewhat later than hoped for as I had stopped for a chat with the landowner. It was nearly dark by the time I went off to scout around. As I'd not had many sightings here in the last few months, and not seen a juvenile here this year, I was pleased to see one hiding in the nest tree. This bird is actually on the edge of the nest hole, but earlier this year this area was virtually devoid of twigs. It was so dark that it wasn't worth hanging around to attempt to get anything better.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.18
The next day I had an even more disturbing encounter with cattle at my LO Site No.06. As I entered the field I couldn't see any cattle, but as I got nearer to the nest site I could see them over the far side of the field. I was quietly approaching the favoured roosting tree in the corner of the field when I heard the thunder of stampeding hooves behind me. This was dangerous!! Being in a corner I had no choice but to lift the electric fence by hand and dive through the hedge as they slithered to a halt just the other side of the electric fence. I've never had this sort of problem with cattle before, and I'm now more than a little nervous!

I did see some owls later in the evening at some other sites, but no sensible images resulted.

On Thursday, on my way to pick up my pal Titus for a turn of duty on the Osprey Project at Rutland Water, I stopped off at my much-photographed LO Site No.02. One of the adult owls popped out whilst I was sitting there in my car. This turned out to be the one that knows me best and is quite confiding - I know it sounds sad, but I sometimes find myself talking to this one! I was able to approach without it batting an eyelid. Having taken my fill of photos I gently backed off, saying goodbye as I did so!

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Only two more owls were seen that day - a Barn Owl briefly from Waderscrape Hide at Rutland Water, and a Little Owl at my Site No.21 on the way home - but no photos were taken. Whilst it's been my best month for Little Owls, the only Barn Owls I've seen were at Rutland Water (I've not even seen Titus's Barn Owls in August!), and the only Tawny Owl was a dead one close to my home, plus a 'probable' flying through a wood on Tuesday, so not such a good month for 'other owls'.

Rutland Water on Thursday did give some opportunities for some Osprey photography. The Manton Bay juvenile male (8F) has already departed on his journey to west Africa, leaving the two parents and the juvenile female (9F). The adult male (5R) was away for the whole of my shift, but we were able to see 9F attempting to fish (she was nearly successful at one point, but dropped the fish!). Unlike some places, we don't give our Ospreys names, but just refer to them by their ring details. I don't usually have a problem with this, but this year's Manton Bay birds grate on my sensibilities somewhat. To me 8F and 9F are types of heavy-duty steam locomotives built to haul freight (8F by the LMS and 9F by BR), not the fabulous birds that have started life in Manton Bay this year!

Osprey (juvenile - 9F) - Rutland Lyndon
Just before we packed up for the evening the adult female Osprey left her perch and started to interact with an Osprey that had arrived at some height. There did not seem to be any an aggression in this interaction. and I took some images as these birds passed overhead. Unfortunately, my settings and the light was such that, although overall the exposure is OK, there is some 'burn-out' on the white under the wings.

Although we were relatively happy that one of the birds was the Manton Bay unringed female, we were unsure about the second bird. The amazing John Wright (Field Officer at Rutland Water), who knows all the Rutland Ospreys by sight, was able to tell me from my images that the second bird was male bird 11(10) - a Rutland-bred bird which fledged in 2010.

Osprey (Manton Bay female (top) + male 11(10)) - Rutland Lyndon

Osprey (male 11(10)) - Rutland Lyndon
The last week or so has continued to entertain us with garden birds. The Bullfinches are now visiting on a very infrequent basis, but both male and female are still around.

Bullfinch (female) - our garden
The year continues to be our best ever, by far, for Great Spotted Woodpecker, with an adult male bird visiting on an occasional basis (I'm unlikely to get a decent image of it as he's straight onto the peanuts and then away again).

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden
The juvenile GSW (I'm now getting more and more convinced that it's a female) is still visiting us several times a day on the fat-balls. The image below is the best that I have managed so far - I'm hoping to get one which shows more of its 'top side' sometime!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile - probably female) - our garden
We're now getting large numbers of Blue Tits, House Sparrows and Starlings, greatly swelled by numbers of juveniles. They are continuing to eat us out of house and home!

Blue Tit (juvenile) - our garden

House Sparrow (female(L) and male(R)) - our garden

Starling (juvenile) - our garden


  1. I completely agree Richard; where on earth has August gone! I was told by a friend yesterday that this has been the wettest summer for 300 years! Not checked it out for myself but I could definitely believe it!
    Lovely portraits of the LO Richard, but I must commend your superb Starling image, illustrating the transition from juvenile to adulthood superbly.

    1. Thank you Christian. I'm not going to argue about it being the wettest summer for 300 years - probably the worst since Noah's Flood!

  2. Lovely set of pictures of the Little Owls and the Ospreys. I reckon your cattle were probably young ones, they were inquisitive, wondering what on earth you were doing in their field.

    1. Thank you Linda. You could be right about inquisitive youngsters - there were certainly plenty of young ones in the herd.


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