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Monday, 30 September 2013

September's Owls - 2013

Partly due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the owls, and partly due to a lack of application on my own part, I've had one of my worst months on record, with only ten sightings of Little Owl over a meagre three sites!

Earlier in September I posted on the owls, with some images which included sightings up until 5th September. Here are a few taken since then.

On 12th September, on my way to pick up Titus for an afternoon out, an owl was out in one of its favourite positions at my Little Owl Site No.02. Most of the time it looked as if it was about to nod off!

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Having picked up Titus, we set off for a spot of owling. One of the owls was out at my LO Site No.41. It seems that this Hawthorn bush has become its favourite roosting place as I've seen it there three times in succession.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
This time, the owl decided to move from the bush to the nearby barn roof. It then flew to a more distant location. I believe that this is the first time I've actually captured a Little Owl in flight. They're pretty poor images as I wasn't intending a flight shot, but it might actually prompt me to try and do better!


Little Owl - my Site No.41
Later we were at my LO Site No.23, and found an owl out on its favourite perch. We only viewed it from the car, at a distance.

Little Owl - my Site No.23
After this we had a most enjoyable afternoon at Rutland Water.

A week later, on 19th September, I was again out with Titus on our weekly get-together, and we found a Little Owl out at my Site No.41, again in his favourite Hawthorn bush. This time we managed to take our photos and leave him undisturbed.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
Again we spent the rest of the afternoon at Rutland Water, and there were no further sightings of owls that day.

Out with Titus again to Rutland Water, we found a Little Owl again at my Site No.23. In spite of passing by this place maybe five or six times a month in the summer over the past four years, I've only seen the owl here about seven times, so I was delighted to find him again so soon after the last sighting. This time he was enjoying the warm rays of the sun whilst sitting in the shelter of an RSJ.


Little Owl - my Site No.23
We tried a stealthy approach but he ducked between the cladding and the web of the RSJ, so we departed. Having spent some time at Rutland Water again, we found him in the same place on our return journey, but it was getting dark by now. It rather looks as if the bird picked up some rust whilst between the cladding and the RSJ!

Little Owl - my Site No.23
I have had some owling excursions without Titus, but no interesting sightings occurred. On my last attempt I heard owls at two locations, but they were hidden away in their nest trees. I'm hoping October will bring better results, especially as I'm expecting to have a bit more time on my hands.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

August Bits and Bobs - 2013

I started on this post about a week ago, and it was originally entitled "August Odds and Sods", but then Doug McFarlane (who I consider to be one of my good internet 'pals') did a post with Odds and Sods in the title so I've changed it.

I've already, in previous posts to this blog, covered owls in August, my week in Yorkshire, plus a first foray into the world of macro. These are the bits and bobs that didn't fall into any of those categories.

At the end of July/beginning of August there was a young Night Heron at Thornton Reservoir, which is quite close to my home. I made three visits in an attempt to photograph this bird, but every time I went it had moved away from its feeding ground (where close views could have been obtained) to its favoured roosting spot (where it was a long way away!). This is the best that I could get (on 1st August) - you'll possibly be hard-pressed to find the bird! I had one last-ditch attempt before I went away to Yorkshire on 3rd August, but the results were even worse!

Night Heron (immature) - Thornton Reservoir
On 15th August, whilst on duty at Rutland Water, a juvenile Green Woodpecker was seen from Waderscrape Hide. It was about 30 metres away and the light was not good, but I did get a record shot - I don't get too many photographable sightings of Green Woodpecker!

Green Woodpecker (juvenile) - Rutland Lyndon reserve
The next day (16th August) there were two frogs on the lawn in our back garden (yard). We don't see so many of these now that we've lost the pond. I believe that these are both Common Frog, but there is a marked difference in appearance. Is this sexual dimorphism?


Common Frog - our garden
On 20th August I took a trip to Calke Park to join my wife and granddaughter for a picnic lunch. The owls weren't visible, but I did get some shots of some other birds. 

I believe the first one is a young Willow Warbler (rather than a Chiffchaff). It's the first time I've seen a warbler come to the feeders here.


Willow Warbler? - Calke Park
Nuthatch - Calke Park
Greenfinch (male) - Calke Park
Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - Calke Park
Jackdaw - Calke Park
On 29th August I was on Osprey duty at Rutland Water again. I've already posted some macro images taken whilst there. However, when the system is working properly, I now have the ability to hook my tablet directly into the camera which views the Osprey nest. These next screenshot images show all three juveniles which fledged from Manton Bay this year and are now, hopefully, either safely ensconced in West Africa, or well on their way there.

Osprey (juveniles 2J & 3J - Rutland Water, Lyndon reserve
Osprey (juvenile 2J & adult female) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Osprey (juveniles 1J & 3J) - Rutland Water, Lyndon reserve
The following day (30th August) I was back at Rutland Water, with my pal Roger, who was up from Devon for a week. I've already published, on this blog, some macro images from this day, but I did take some shots of birds too, but nothing to write home about!

In their relentless spread northwards, there are now large numbers of Little Egret at Rutland Water, and it's not unusual to have ten or more in view at one time! Here's a couple of distant birds from that day.


Little Egret - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
We had sightings of Hobby that day, but very distant, so I only managed a record shot. I'm pleased to say that I managed a slightly better shot a week or so ago!

Hobby - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
One of the more exciting sightings was of a Stoat crossing the path. I totally missed getting a shot of it but, a few seconds later, a Stoat kit followed its parent. Being the dozy old git that I am, having just been trying to get shots of the Hobby in bright light, I'd forgotten to set my camera back to more appropriate 'general' settings. I completely fluffed it. Just for the record, however, here's the best of a thoroughly bad bunch!

Stoat (juvenile) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
That's it for the August bits and bobs. I'm not sure what the next post will be about, but possibly/hopefully I'll have some more owl images to share with you!?!?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Owling Again - late August and early September, 2013

In my last post, I said that it was time I got back to the owls. However, it's not been that easy finding them. It would seem that the few juveniles that I'm aware of this year have now dispersed and that the parents are now enjoying a lazy time and not coming out so much.

My latest Little Owl site (No.41) continues to be relatively reliable for sightings of a single bird. However, finding it in a photographable location is trickier. It is usually well away from the road, and it doesn't have a favourite perch so setting up the hide and waiting isn't really an option, particularly as there are sheep and cattle in the field where it's most usually found! On 15th August, on our way to Rutland Water, I found the owl in a tree on the far side of the field.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
I tried a stealthy approach, but it wasn't having it!

On our way back from Rutland Water, when it was dark, I spotted a Little Owl on a gate a couple of hundred metres from the nest tree of my Site No.29. It didn't stop there long, but flew up into a tree. I could only manage a silhouette image, but I was pleased to have this sighting as it's the first for this site since 2nd May, in spite of passing quite frequently - and it hasn't been seen since.

Little Owl - my Site No.29
The following day (August 16th) I was back at Rutland Water again. This time, not as part of my Osprey duties, but on duty on the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) stand at Birdfair. As I returned in the late afternoon a Little Owl was out at Site No.41 again - this time on the gutter of a barn.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
My attempt at a stealthy approach failed again as it flew when I was a long way away - but it flew towards me and landed in a bush! This time I wasn't going to disturb it further, and left it there.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
On 22nd August I had an evening out with my pal Titus White. Between us we managed three owls only. At my LO Site No.03 we couldn't see an owl from the road, so I went off to a position for which I've got permission to visit whenever I like. From here I could clearly see an owl in the distance. Try as I could, I could not see it when I got back to the road, so Titus missed out as the permission didn't include other persons! - Sorry pal!

Little Owl - my Site No.03
Titus got his own back a short while later. We'd stopped on the road by my LO Site No.17, again where I've got permission to roam at will. I saw the farmer three fields away making his way towards us, and went to clear it with him to show Titus around - no problem! I went back for Titus who told me that a LO had been put up by the farmer and briefly landed on the roof of the nest building! We didn't find it again!

Later, we stopped briefly by my LO Site No.16, where I've not seen an owl for almost two years. Nothing was visible but, as I moved off, Titus said "quick, go back!".  I was just in time to see a Barn Owl  fly out of the farm yard!

Even sightings of LO on my local patch have become a little sporadic with, perhaps, one in four visits resulting in a sighting. This owl was there when I arrived on 5th September, and it was still there when I left!


Little Owl - my Site No.02
In the afternoon of that same day I was out with Titus again. Only two owls were seen - a Barn Owl late in the evening (too dark for a photo), and a LO at Site No.41 again!

Little Owl - my Site No.41
It's good to be back with the owls again, even if I'm not getting too many sightings!

Monday, 2 September 2013

First Steps Towards Macro? - end of August, 2013

When I was in Yorkshire recently, I was extremely impressed with the results that a couple of the guys up there were getting with the latest Sigma macro lenses. I've also been inspired by the macro work of John and Sue Rowe in Cornwall, and Noushka (who prefers to keep her surname unpublished) in south-west France. I was, therefore, working towards getting myself a Sigma macro lens next year.

Last week I was out gardening when I found Vapourer moth caterpillars on our Tamarix bush (we get them on it every year). I went inside to get the camera (Nikon D300s) with the Sigma 150-500 on, and started taking some shots. The result was a couple of images that weren't too bad, but I had to take a lot to get these two.


Vapourer moth caterpillar - my garden - Sigma 150-500 OS
The problem is (other than issues with the capability of the photographer!) that the Sigma lens doesn't focus to less than just under three metres (although the spec says 2.2 metres), so you need to use the lens at the full 500 mm and, therefore, you tend to be struggling for speed, aperture and depth of field.

Suddenly a thought flashed through my mind (it happens occasionally!) - I remembered that somewhere I had an old Tamron 28-300 lens that I'd discarded about eight years ago which professed to have a macro capability. It was found and fitted to the spare D300s within minutes and I was back with the Vapourers in no time flat.

Now, this lens was a cheap one and I didn't expect much in the way of results, but it did focus down to just under half a metre, and a 300 at half a metre gives somewhat closer results than a 500 at three metres! Furthermore, although it didn't have OS, it's easier to hand hold a 300 than it is a 500.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the results on the Vapourers. The first image shows the widely differing sizes of these caterpillars, which emerge over quite a long period.





Vapourer moth caterpillar - my garden - Tamron 28-300
After this session I tried it out on some butterflies in the back garden. Incidentally, the Red Admiral was seen in the garden for the first time this year, only a few days previous to this.

Peacock - our garden
Small Tortoiseshell - our garden

Red Admiral - our garden
Whilst there is still much room for improvement, I was getting consistently better results than with the Sigma 150-500.

On Thursday 29th I was on duty at Rutland Water, and took the Tamron lens with me. I didn't fare quite so well as the light levels were much lower and this, as I learned, does not make for good macro - nor does a stiff breeze, causing the subject to move about! These are the only vaguely usable images that I came up with.

Garden Cross spider - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
snail (unidentified) - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
The following day my wife I met up with our good friends, Roger and Lynne Doble, who were up from north Devon for the week. Roger and I spent time at Rutland Water (Roger's a long-term bird watcher) whilst the ladies went swimming and then shopping.

We only had a short time to play with in the morning (we were meeting the ladies for lunch), and it was a bit cloudy too, so I didn't have much opportunity to practise with the Tamron. It's a pity that the Copper was so tatty as I don't see too many of these.

Small Copper - Rutland Lyndon Reserve

Bee (unidentified) - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
Speckled Wood - Rutland Lyndon Reserve
Lunch was a little frustrating as two Red Kites came into the garden of Wing Hall, where we were having lunch, with my cameras locked safely away in the car! I've never been so close to a Red Kite - even at Gigrin farm!!

In the afternoon we had a couple of hours on the Egleton side of Rutland Water. This turned out to be quite productive from the point of view of subjects for practising macro on. First to be photographed was a pristine Painted Lady. This was the first for the year for both Roger and I, and earlier in the day we'd been talking about the lack of them!

Painted Lady - Rutland Egleton Reserve
The real stars of the afternoon were, however, the dragonflies. We now had full sunshine and, although there was a bit of a breeze, there were some nice opportunities. Nothing astounding was seen, but it gave me more practice and I'm quite pleased with the results.



Southern Hawker (female) - Rutland Egleton Reserve

Common Darter (male) - Rutland Egleton Reserve

Common Emerald damselfly (male) - Rutland Egleton Reserve
I've not done much since Friday, but I did find a shield bug whilst I was gardening (it was inside my shirt when I took it off as I was getting too warm!). This is the smallest thing that I've tried to photograph (about half an inch/ 1 cm long), and the results are not too good. No, that's not the inside of my shirt - I took the bug off and put it on a low wall!!

shield bug - our garden
My ambition is to be able to take images that are detailed enough to, for example, show the individual elements in a dragonfly's eyes. I don't think that I'm ever going to do that with the Tamron. However, the Tamron does have advantages in the flexibility of its use.

Any criticisms and advice would be gratefully received.

My particular thanks to John and Sue Rowe and to Noushka for your inspirational works.

In the meantime, I must get back to the owls!!