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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Little Owls In July, Part 2. - 13th to 18th July, 2013

In my last post, I noted that I'd found a new Little Owl site (No.41) and that I'd now seen a juvenile at this site, and at my LO Site No.02, although I could do with better photos. I'd also only confirmed single juveniles at these sites.

On 13th July my wife, daughter, and granddaughter set off for a week's holiday in Devon. I had been looking forward to a week's wall-to-wall owling. However, two things messed up these plans somewhat. Firstly, I made the mistake of promising my wife that I'd have got to a specific point in a construction project in the garden. Secondly, it turned out to be one of the hottest weeks on record! This last fact spoilt my progress on the garden project - I was having to take numerous refreshment breaks! It also messed up the owling as, generally, it was too hot for the owls to be out during the day. This meant that there was double pressure on my time in the early morning and late evening and, sadly (a promise is a promise), the garden project took precedence.

However, I got off to a good start. Immediately the girls had departed, I set off with my hide to Site No.02.  I set up in a slightly different position to that on my previous session and, after a couple of hours, a juvenile Little Owl appeared pretty-much exactly where I hoped it would. If only its feet had been more visible!



Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.02
After a while, one of the adults appeared on the chimney, and the juvenile flew to join it. The adult was looking rather dishevelled, but I didn't manage any photos.

After returning home to cook my lunch, and a session with the garden project, I packed myself a picnic and headed off to do some evening owling. My main focus was my new Site No.41, but on the way I found three Red Kites at my LO Site No.21.

I stopped just short of my LO Site No.41 and put the camo netting over the roof of the car (I was in the Smart) so it obscured the driver's side window, and then continued and parked on the grass the opposite side of the road to the nest tree. Because of the netting and a relatively limited field of view it was a little while before I noticed an adult owl dozing in the branches almost above the road. This owl stayed there for well over an hour, most of the time with its eyes closed.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
It was about half an hour after the above photo was taken that a juvenile emerged from the nest hole. Unfortunately it didn't stay long as the farmer and his wife appeared on the scene in their vehicle and loudly called the sheep in. The bird dipped back into the hole. I'm never going to get a good image of a bird at this nest hole unless someone does me the favour of pruning some of the dead twigs in front of the hole!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.41
About half an hour after the juvenile emerged, a second adult bird appeared and landed on a distant telegraph pole. At first it was on one of the footholds on the far side of the pole, and I could only see the tip of its tail. Then it sat on top of the pole, but the photos included an unsightly confusion of wires. After that it favoured footholds on the near side of the pole, but it was still well concealed here, and was not easy to see through the netting in the low light which now prevailed.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
As the darkness drew in, the sleepy one in the tree flew off, directly away from me. The one on the pole was then paying visits to various parts of the field before returning to the pole. It then disappeared for a short while, and then it was suddenly on a fence beside the nest tree, feeding a juvenile. It was a very difficult shot as, although it looks 'back lit', in fact the birds were in deep shadow, but there was still some light (from behind me) on the grass behind the birds, so a record shot only.

Little Owl (juvenile and adult) - my Site No.41
I'm not sure if this was a second juvenile, particularly as I now know there are two entrances to the nest cavity! After this, it was time to go home, with no other owls seen on the way.

The  next day (14th July) I took an evening ride out to Calke Park to check on my LO Sites Nos.31 and 32. I'd all but given up, as it was getting dark, when a Little Owl flew from an area I'd not seen one in before, and landed in the tree that that I was standing under. I think that this is the closest that I've been to a Little Owl when not in some sort of hide, or in a ringing (banding) situation. Unfortunately, I was right in the corner of the area that I had access to, and there was no way I could move to a better position without trespassing onto a well-monitored property! It was frustrating, as the bird was behind a branch and leaves almost directly above me!

frustrating Little Owl ! - my Site No.31
The next day 15th July was also an evening only session, although I took a picnic meal out with me. I first called at my LO Site No.17, previously visited on 6th July. As I arrived, the farmer leaned out of his window and shouted that he'd seen three owls on the roof the previous night - this sounded promising!

A quick recce produced an adult bird on a post the other side of a paddock (which flew off as soon as it saw me) and a juvenile was seen through the window of the old Second World War hut which is their home.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
As the objective was to sit in my car and look out for owls whilst I ate my tea, I moved on to somewhere I could do this - sort of! - my Site No.03.

On arrival I didn't risk disturbing the birds by getting out of the car and looking round. Instead I just sat eating my picnic, and waited. I was half way through the first half of my ham baguette when, looking in my rear-view mirror, I saw an owl sitting on a telegraph pole. I've never seen one on a pole at this site before. My first reaction was "great - the sun's going to be perfect for a shot", and turned the car round to get a bit closer to it.  However, I'd reckoned without the tricks that can be played by a mirror image - it was on the opposite side of the road, and straight into the bright sun! I'm amazed, therefore, that I got any sort of image. It sat there quite happily whilst I sorted myself out.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
I went back to finish my picnic and, half an hour later, spotted a juvenile in a chestnut tree. Its position wasn't visible from sitting in the car, and I only got a record shot, but it was the fourth of my sites with a juvenile in evidence.


Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.03
I decided that I needed a good session at my Site No.17, so settled on an earlyish start the following day (16th July). I arrived at 06:03 to find, through a gap in the hedge, a juvenile out on the roof of the nest building about a hundred yards (metres) away. It was only seconds before it spotted me and was off.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
I went back to my car, fetched the hide and tripod, and set up in the sheep pasture opposite the hut. I only had to wait about 5 minutes before a juvenile owl (presumably the same one) appeared on the roof of the nearby tractor shed, and checked out my hide, doing the usual cute dipping and stretching thing that young owls do when assessing a new situation.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
It didn't stay long but, again, I am assuming that it was the same juvenile that appeared 5 minutes later, not far from where I hoped it would appear, and again checked out my hide from much closer quarters. This time it stayed a long while, and I got through a fair few frames! Here are a few.



Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
I had to wait another 40 minutes before my next owl arrived. This time it was an adult, but it appeared where I hoped that a juvenile would appear, as this was the 'framed' shot that I wanted.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
The owl stayed there for about a minute, before flying back into the hut. The last frame I took of it was in flight, but I'd been set up for the static shot with slow speed and small aperture to get a good depth of field. so it was unusable. This is the shot just before it took off.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
Inspired by this nearly flight shot, I altered the camera settings to give me much higher speed and the hope of another opportunity. This never happened, but resulted in my next images being of a poorer quality, due to a vary small depth of field. 

The next owl to appear was the juvenile again - this time on a different part of the roof edge.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
As you can see, this image (and the next one) would have been better if the structure of the building was more in focus. 

I heard a warning call from an adult owl and the juvenile disappeared, to be replaced almost immediately by the adult in exactly the same place!

Little Owl - my Site No.17
As soon as this owl departed I decided that, as it was now gone 08:00, it was time to pack up and go home for some breakfast.

An excursion on 17th July resulted in absolutely no owl sightings, but my pal Titus and I were on Osprey duty at Rutland Water on Thursday 18th. On the way there, the 'pole sitter' Little Owl was out at Site No.41, but in a new position. He certainly likes man-made structures!

Little Owl - my Site No.41
Titus and I got out of the car, and it was soon off to the roof of a nearby farm building.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
On the way back home, after our turn of duty, we saw juveniles at Site No.41, and at Site No.31 - the first confirmation of successful breeding at this site. However, no photos were obtained.

This was my last owling session before the girls arrived back home on the Saturday - I thought that I'd better get on with the garden project, and I actually fulfilled my promise!

Since then, I've only seen two owls, with no photos, but I hope to rectify that soon!

I still do not have any evidence that I've got more than one juvenile owl at any of my sites, although I have my suspicions!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Little Owls In July, Part 1. - 3rd to 11th July, 2013

It's been a long time since I posted anything about my favourite subject - Little Owls. In fact, it's been a fair while since I posted anything on this blog, so here we go with an owl update for the start of the month.

Traditionally July and August are my best months for seeing owls in numbers. This is due to the emergence of the fledged juveniles. This year has been a little different as it seems that the owls are mainly having smaller broods of chicks, probably due to the very difficult winter, and a late start. However, it's still been a reasonably good start to July for owl sightings!

On 3rd July, one of my 'local patch' Little Owls was out at my Site No.02 as I went to the butchers, but no photos were taken.

On 4th July, I was on evening Osprey duty at Rutland Water with my pal Titus, and his friend Derek came along for the ride. A Little Owl was out in the nest tree at my Site No.21, but with three of us there, there was no way the owl was going to hang around to have its photo taken!

On the way back, I spotted a LO at my Site No.23, hidden in a Willow tree to the west of a road junction, where we turn left. I stopped the car and got out, and the other two immediately called that the owl had just flown south - but I was still looking at it in the tree! It was directly into the low sun (there was no sensible way round it), so the photos are somewhat unusual! I quite like the golden back-lit effect, however. 


Little Owl - my Site No.23
A short while later we passed my Site No.21 again and an owl was spotted on a very distant footpath sign, so no photos.

On 6th July I had a dedicated evening owling session on my own. I first found a distant LO in a horse paddock at my Site No.17. I've never seen this post in this field before, and next time I went it had gone! I wish that the farmer had moved it a little nearer!

Little Owl - my Site No.17
The owl flew off after a while and I did a bit more exploration and, some 25 minutes later, found a LO in an Oak tree not far from where the one had been on the post, so presumably the same bird. A casual zig-zag approach allowed me to get some closer images, although not as close as I'd have liked.


Little Owl - my Site No.17
A little further up the road is my Site No.03, where I'd not seen an owl since April. This day, however, I was to have a little more luck. After looking around the owls' usual haunts, I spotted one of them in a Sycamore tree, at the far side of a small field, that I'd not seen them in before. I've not been granted access to this field (I've never found the need to request it before) so I only got a distant shot from a place where I have got permission.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
It was getting on for 19:00 now, and I needed to be home early, so that was the end of my evening.

The following day (7th July) I needed to get some wild bird food, and this gives me the opportunity for checking out one of my more distant sites - No.15. Only one bird was seen, and it took a lot of finding. All attempts at photography totally failed. This is the site in the middle of a cultivated field that I can't enter at present.

So far, unusually for July, I'd not seen a single juvenile Little Owl this year.

It was three days later (10th July), on my Wednesday run to the butchers, that I stopped at my local patch Site No.02, and saw three owls on the chimney. I'd been concerned that the owls here might disappear as there was (and still is) a swarm of bees that had taken up residence in their nest barn. I'm still not sure whether I saw two adults and one juvenile, or one adult and two juveniles, as I only had a brief very distant glimpse before all but one bird departed. The one that stayed behind, however, was definitely a juvenile - my first of the year! Not a good shot, but it needs to be recorded!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.02
I was up at 04:00 the next day, and in my hide at Site No.02 before 05:00! No owls had been seen when I arrived, and I had to wait until 07:40 before an owl appeared. It was a juvenile, and it didn't exit its home from the usual place (the one that I was set up for!) but, instead, appeared directly onto the chimney. It had either been out all the time, or it had exited its home by a different route. This was the best that I could do.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.02
I then had to wait a full hour before another owl appeared. This time it did appear in the right place for my set-up, but it was an adult! Nevertheless, I'm quite pleased with the results so here they are.


Little Owl - my Site No.02
That evening it had been arranged that I'd have an owling session with my pal Titus. Our objective was to spend a little more time at some of the sites that we are usually only able to visit briefly on our way to Rutland Water. In the event, we only saw owls at two sites - but one was quite exciting for us!

On the outward leg, we spotted an adult Little Owl at my Site No.21, in the nest tree. No usable photos resulted. Fairly recently we'd altered our route to Rutland Water, for safety reasons (blind exits turning right from single lane roads onto fast main roads - it was a 'foot down and fingers crossed' job!). This new route took us through some very owly looking countryside. The first time I passed this way, the local farmer asked my advice on putting up a Barn Owl box. On this visit, with Titus, the farmer was bemoaning the storm damage to a tree which, he said, he sees Little Owls in (no, knowing that I was interested in owls, I've no idea why he hadn't mentioned it before!). So off we went to investigate. 

We soon spotted a Little Owl, although it was well-hidden - and it was a juvenile! This is now my new Site No.41. A little careful repositioning, at a distance, allowed a less concealed view of the young owl. Although the photos are not good, I rather like the Tolkienesque atmosphere of the second image.


Little Owl (juvenile) - my new Site No.41
It was time to leave this bird in peace, and so we set off to re-examine some other sites relatively nearby, in an area where I picked up five new sites earlier this year, and where two of the pairs were evicted by Jackdaws. Seven LO sites were visited, plus a Tawny and Barnie site re-examined (evidence that a Barnie was still roosting there), but no owls were seen at any. 

Two hours later we were passing new No.41 again, and an adult LO was sitting on the edge of what was evidently the nest hole (subsequently I was to find that this nest has at least two entrance holes!).  Only a record shot was obtained, and it's not possible to view this hole from any angle without intervening twigs.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
By now, it was 21:20 and time to be thinking about heading home. As we approached Site No.21, I called for Titus to stop. A Little Owl had popped up into a roadside tree. Cameras were sorted out and the car repositioned, and we managed some shots of the owl in the half-light, not helped by the fact that we were facing west. At first I thought, from the bird's behaviour, that we were looking at a juvenile, but examination of the results show it to be an adult - an example of how the camera can see more than the eye, even through binoculars.


Little Owl - my Site No.21
I was going to bring this post right-up-to-date, but I think it's quite long enough already, so Part 2 will probably appear at the weekend, and will include a couple more hide-based sessions and more juveniles.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

GS Woodpecker Families

At the beginning of April we started getting regular visits from a female Great Spotted Woodpecker that we were convinced, because of her unusual habits, was the female that we watched develop as a juvenile the previous year between July and September before she disappeared suddenly.

By the beginning of May she was being seen on a daily basis, several times a day, and it became apparent that something was going on, as she was departing with huge amounts of fat ball in her bill.

On 22nd May, a male GSW appeared in the garden - and behaved exactly as the female had. We came to the conclusion that this was her partner and she'd 'shown him the ropes'!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden on 22nd May
By the time we came back from holiday, on 1st June, we found that she'd pressed her male to assist with the food gathering and the activity had got even more frantic! Furthermore, the female bird, who previously had looked absolutely immaculate, was now looking exceedingly tatty and grubby!

We knew this could not go on for long and that the young woodpeckers must be fledging soon and, sure enough, an unaccompanied juvenile GSW appeared in the garden just after mid-day on 17th June.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 17th June
We were a little disappointed when, shortly after this juvenile arrived, the adult female appeared and sent it packing! We didn't know whether this was normal adult/juvenile behaviour or whether there was a problem.

This was our female, later that afternoon, looking a bit the worse for wear.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 17th June
The plot thickened, as they say, when that same day at tea time our female appeared and called out for a juvenile to join her. She then fed the juvenile which was on the birch pole next to the feeders.


Great Spotted Woodpecker (female + juvenile) - our garden on 17th June
If your looking at this post soon after it was posted, the header comes from another shot in this sequence. However, if you're not quick off the mark, it may have changed to something else!

It was at about this time that I started thinking that perhaps we had two adult females visiting us. It seemed our frequent visitor was looking rather scruffy, but we'd see a female less frequently in a more clean condition. This was confirmed a few days later when a very scruffy female departed and within a few seconds a clean female arrived. This probably explained the antagonism between juvenile and adult female on that first sighting - it wasn't her offspring!!

From then on it got quite confusing as the garden was barely ever without a GSW but, most of the time, one juvenile would hold off arriving until another had departed. We did have a time when two juveniles got into a a scrap, with them both ending up falling to the ground. 

Over the next couple of weeks it was difficult to drag myself away from the window, looking at the Woodpeckers. I kept meaning to set up my hide in the garden to get some better shots (these were all taken through double glazing), but it seemed to be forever windy, and my hide flaps about in the wind.

This next one is for Doug - who likes feet!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 18th June
Sorry if that same bit of birch appears in so many of these photos - that's their favourite stopping point. My wife laughed at me when I first brought home the snapped-off Silver Birch sapling that I'd found on one of my owling forays, and stuck it into the ground beside the feeder. "Nothing will ever settle on that" she said. I'm pleased to say that she was proven wrong within just a few minutes!

Here's our male (or is it just one of our males?) again.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden on 21st June
And here's a feeding session sequence from that same day.



Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile + female) - our garden on 21st June
......... and another feeding session from even later on the same day




Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile + female) - our garden on 21st June
Very soon the juveniles were totally independent and coming by themselves to feed. By now the juvenile Starlings were causing riots at the feeders, but the juvenile Woodpeckers took the lead from mum and soon saw them off. They also started being a little more adventurous in their explorations of our garden.





Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 23rd June

Meanwhile the adult female was still taking food off to young somewhere. This was one occasion when a Starling didn't get out of the way quick enough. A youngster, somewhere, was going to be fed a mixture of fat balls and feathers!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 24th June
This was a juvenile on that same day.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 24th June
It seemed that 'in no time flat' the juveniles had lost their pot-bellies and were looking very smart indeed, even if retaining their juvenile colouration.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 25th June
We've absolutely no idea how many juvenile Woodpeckers were visiting us. The only distinction between them that I was able to make was that one (or more) had a rather more all-embracing red cap than the others - nicknamed 'the judge' because my wife said it reminded her of a judge's wig!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile - 'the judge') - our garden on 27th June
Suddenly it seemed that it was all over! On Tuesday 2nd July one of the juveniles was attacked by a male Sparrowhawk - it got away! Friday 5th July was the last day I saw a Woodpecker (one juvenile and one female), although my wife saw two in the garden at once on Saturday evening when I was out owling.

This morning, at about 6 a.m., whilst lying in bed, I thought I heard a Woodpecker's alarm call and rushed to the window. A Sparrowhawk was sitting on top of the feeder, but it hadn't caught a Woodpecker!!

I'm feeling rather sad now it seems that they have gone, but these last couple of months have been a real delight, and it's been a real privilege to be an observer. I wish them all the best for the future.

This was one of the last photos I took, and it's one of my favourites.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 2nd July
Thank you for stopping by. I suspect that you can now see why I found it hard to get up the enthusiasm for owling when there was excitement here in my own garden.

It's now back to the owls and I've already seen more owls this month than I did in the whole of June!