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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Longmoor Lake - 2011 to present day

Longmoor Lake is situated approximately 5 miles (8 km) by road from my home. It was once an opencast coal mining site (Long Moor), and 725,000 tons of coal was extracted from there between 2007 and 2010, when the mine was abandoned and turned over to grassland with a lake, and public access via footpaths. 

I first became aware of the site when a Snow Bunting was reported as being there in November, 2011. As it was close to my home, I went to investigate one late afternoon, and found the bird in a shallow gully that ran into the lake. It was quite confiding. It was a fine day, but the light was low so the photography was not good. Here's a couple from that session.


Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) - Longmoor Lake
A day or two after this visit, this bird was joined by a second bird, but I never got to see them again.

The following year (2012) it was announced that the Woodland Trust were to take over this site, and it was to be designated a flagship woodland for the trust and become The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood, in celebration of that event. There was a consultation meeting which I attended where I expressed the view that this region, having been designated 'The National Forest' had had so many trees planted in recent years that it wasn't trees that it was short of, but open grassland. The response I got was that the funding for tree planting had already been obtained and so they had a commitment to plant the said number of trees. I have subsequently discovered that I was far from alone in expressing this view!

On 1st June, 2012 I attended the opening ceremony beside the lake, where HRH The Princess Royal arrived by helicopter, and was shown round the site before planting a commemorative tree - it's just occurred to me that I'm not sure if that tree and its marker plaque is still there! I'll possibly check that out!

HRH The Princess Royal - Longmoor Lake
After this event, tree planting proceeded apace, and I tended to keep away. However, in 2014, there were occasional reports of  a sighting of Short-eared Owl and I had to investigate. There was now a network of paths, and the derelict microlight hanger, which was once the favoured roost of a Barn Owl, was now gone. I never saw the SEO but on 18th November, 2014 I photographed a Meadow Pipit that was just outside the new hide that had been built near the lake.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Longmoor Lake
The following day, 19th November, I was back again and managed some more photos of small birds. There was evidence of the SEO having been around, in the form of pellets by the hide, but the owl wasn't seen. 

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Longmoor Lake

Reed Bunting (Emberiza Schoeniclus) - Longmoor Lake


Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - Longmoor Lake
It seems that every time I visited, the owl was not seen, and on those days I didn't visit, it was seen! By now I was getting thoroughly disgruntled with trying to pick my way between piles of dog mess on the paths as darkness fell each time I visited. I also had a run-in with a landscape contractor who was throwing the baking foil from his lunch out of the window as he drove from one part of the site to another, and so I gave up in disgust!

My next visit to the site was with our club (the Peter Williams Naturalist Club) on 2nd May, 2015. We were led by one of our club members, Rhys Dandy,  who is a well-respected birder, and familiar with the site. The weather was cold, for the time of year, and quite windy, and eventually turned to rain. Among the birds that Rhys found for us were Wheatears and a Whinchat. I understand that the Wheatear, shown below, was of the Greenland race.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - Longmoor Lake
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (male) - Longmoor Lake
Dog mess on the paths was still a thoroughly unpleasant problem at this time, and so it took the report of a Hen Harrier on site to tempt me back, nine months later.

On 2nd February I went to find the Hen Harrier. It was seen at a great distance when it put up a large flock of Woodpigeon - and caught one! It was too far away (over 800 metres, as measured on Google Earth!) for photography, but at least I'd seen the bird! I came away with a photo of a pair of Wigeon, taken from the hide.

Wigeon (Anas penelope) - Longmoor Lake
One thing that did strike me was that the problem of dog mess on the footpaths was not nearly as bad as previously experienced. There was, however, an unpleasant side to this in that it seems that people are now more prepared to pick up after their dog, but rather than transport this detritus home, they prefer to hang up the little black bags in trees and bushes - how pathetic is that!!! It puts me in mind of the song 'Strange Fruit' (see below) although that relates to matters infinitely more serious.

The following day (3rd February) a Barn Owl appeared at 15h38 at a distance of around 350 metres and, as this was as close as it got, the photos aren't worth showing here. I had a little more luck with the Harrier, getting a few images when it flew past very rapidly at a distance of around 170 metres at 16h26. I'll not bother you with these poor images either! I did, however, get some images of Stonechat from the hide.


Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Longmoor Lake
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Longmoor Lake
I was back again the next day (4th February) at the tail-end of an afternoon out with pal John. We spent a little time on arrival trying to photograph the Skylarks (it's all good practice!).

Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - Longmoor Lake
Two Barn Owls appeared at 16h30.  I didn't do very well with photography. Here's a couple of the slightly better ones.


Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
My next visit was on 10th February. Happily, the Hen Harrier showed at 15h39, before the Barn Owl (15h56). I managed some slightly better images but these were, again, at a distance of around 170 metres as it hugged the hedge line.




Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) - Longmoor Lake
The following afternoon (11th February) I was out with pal John again. This day featured in my last post to this blog; 'A Ten Owl, Three Species, Day'. The Harrier was not seen by us that day, but here's a few images of the Barn Owls (not previously published), both of which emerged at the same time (15h55).





Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
It was another week before I returned (18th February), again with John. Whilst we awaited the Harrier and the Barn Owls, the Wigeons kept us amused.

Wigeon (Anas penelope) - Longmoor Lake
  The Hen Harrier put in an appearance at 16h21.


Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) - Longmoor Lake
Two minutes later (16h23) the Barn Owls arrived! It was quite a useful session that followed, with the following images, plus the header which is current with this post, resulting.






Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
We now move on to 23rd February, with both Barn Owls emerging at 16h42. I was pleased to get some relatively close-up flight images, although the light was testing - to say the least! I was also pleased to get both owls in one shot - even if at great distance!










Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
The next day (24th February) I was back again. I'd pretty-much abandoned the Hen Harrier in favour of the Barn Owls by now. The owls emerged together at 16h49, and I was pleased to get a (distant) shot with both of them in flight. The other four images I hope you will find a little different to the ones above!





Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
The following day (25th February) I was out for the afternoon with John again, and we ended up at Longmoor Lake. Unfortunately it had turned cold and very dull, so there was not much hope of useful photography. John had to return home early, and managed to miss most of the action. I was not sure how high I could get away with pushing the ISO and opted for 2,500. This turned out to be a reasonable compromise, although the last flight shot, taken at 1/125 sec. is, understandably, badly blurred!

I'm a bit embarrassed about the Linnets. They were pointed out to me by a couple of seasoned birders who, at a considerable range, couldn't make out whether they were Redpoll or Goldfinch, but asserted that they had to be one of the two, with Goldfinch being favourite. I got a little closer and took some photos and could see clearly that they weren't Goldfinch - and I also detected a hint of pink on the breast of some of the birds. I, stupidly, concluded that they were Redpoll and told them so, even though something didn't look quite right. It was only when I looked at my images on the computer that I realised that they were Linnet. I could also see that there were 80+ in this flock.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - Longmoor Lake
The following Barn Owl images are significantly inferior to most of those posted above, particularly in the matter of sharpness, but I rather like the atmosphere conveyed by the almost monochrome background.





Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
I realise that I've almost certainly given you an overdose of Barn Owl images, many of which are well below par. I'll not be posting any more for a while - unless I come up with something that I consider to be a bit special! I promise!!

NOTE 1.: It is more than a little worrying to me that these two Barn Owls are both regularly coming out in daylight - albeit at the end of the day. This suggests to me that they may be in trouble and not getting enough food. It seems that they are rarely seen with prey.

NOTE 2.: I've found the Barn Owls particularly difficult to photograph at this site as it is the norm for them to come out when the sun is out, but very low. One of the main difficulties is avoiding burn-out of the whites. Whilst they are flying, sometimes they are in the sun, with a background that is totally in shade, and a moment later they can be in shade with the background in sun. One second the sun is in front of them and a few seconds later it's directly behind them. They're below the horizon and then in a flash they're above the horizon. I don't think that I've ever worked so hard changing camera settings on the fly!

NOTE 3.: I suspect that, although 'the locals' now think of this place as 'Jubilee Wood', it will forever be 'Longmoor Lake' to the birders!

Thank you for dropping by. I feel a Sparrowhawk or two coming on for my next post! 

Here's a link to 'Strange Fruit' on YouTube, mentioned above.



28 comments:

  1. Dog walkers seem to be a problem the world over; somehow they seem to assume that rules and regulations implemented for the benefit of all don't apply to them. Seems like a wonderful place to keep visiting nonetheless, Richard, and perhaps stricter enforcement can be applied to the jerks who hang their little packages in trees and bushes. It's too bad someone couldn't follow them home and throw the poop on their lawn, although I guess that form of vigilante justice doesn't really benefit anyone. Congratulations on some fine Barn Owl shots - always a great bird to see.

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    1. I do tend to have a rant about (some) dog owners from time to time. There's another issue, apart from dog mess, that affects us and that is that Lindsay has a fear of dogs. It's surprising how many people let their dogs loose, and then say "it won't hurt you" when it leaps up at Lindsay. Usually I manage to put myself between the dog and Lindsay, but not always! In my view, dogs should be kept to heal on a short lead.

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  2. Another amazing post,resulting in superb captures,love the Barn Owl and Hen Harrier shots,but,the Snow Bunting is my favourite.
    It's a sad world,when Dog Owners can't pick up after there Dog,I always Bag it,and Bin it.
    John.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, John. It's a sad business when all dog owners get tarred by the irresponsibility of the few. Best wishes to you both - - Richard

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  3. Yes, I love the first one, and I do so love in the Barn Owl, fabulous images Richard. And, not to mention the song, fantastic.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Bob. I'm pleased you liked the song too. I've been a fan of Joe Bonamassa for years now, but only recently caught on to the talents of Beth Hart. Together, they're superb.

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  4. Some super images of numerous birds, I have been with you when you have had a rant at the couple with two labradors. If people cannot pick up and put the mess into the provided bins they should not be allowed to visit these wonderful places. Again well done with the images, we both have suffered with the barn owl burn out. John

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    1. Thank you, John. Some of those dog owners at Longmoor Lake are starting to get right up my nose. I recently saw a couple who let their terrier loose up one of the gullies, flushing out a couple of ducks and two Skylarks. Come the nesting season I shall be getting very angry if I see this sort of behaviour!

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  5. An excellent and comprehensive account as always by you Richard. I also have to latch on to the 'dog issue',how remarkably disgusting is it that some owners will stoop so low as to collect the the 'waste' dumped by their mutts, then hang it from a tree or bush.

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    1. Thank you, Pete. It seems that the hanging-up of dirt bags is a common problem. I suspect that it's done by people who only pick up when they think that they're being watched, and then dispose of when they're not being watched. I also have an issue with people that think it's only necessary to pick up if their dog does it on the path, and not if it's on the grass beside the path.

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  6. Super series of shots Richard. Love the Barn Owl photos.

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    1. Thank you, Marc. I enjoyed watching those wonderful birds in action, and was pleased to be able to capture some of it on camera.

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  7. I always enjoy your outings and all the images.
    It is incomprehensible that people will collect dog crap and hand it on fences and hedges. I never see them doing it but it is a country wide practice.

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    1. Thank you, Adrian. If I do see someone not picking up after their dog, I nearly always take photographs - pointedly! I take photos of them first and their dog second! When asked why I'm taking photos I tell them. When asked what I'm going to do with them, I tend to say that I've not decided yet as there are several options.

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  8. That is fantastic to see old mining places go back to the wild life.
    Considering the difficulties encountered to take these pics, they are great and I would have loved to be their author :)
    The presence of the Hen Harrier is great news considering they are so much in decline in the British islands in general.
    About dog owners, I totally agree with you, they are such a disturbance in nature, especially in wild life sanctuaries and shores.

    About my Little egrets with "black" feet, I am not sure you read my answer to David:, yes they do have yellow feet, the one I photographed in flight had dirty feet! LOL! The yellow shows a bit on the last picture (4).

    Hugs to the both of you, and keep well :)

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    1. I agrre, Noushka, that it's good to see mines, and other industrial sites, restore to nature, but I'm concerned that, in this case, the 'restoration' may have been misguided. Given a few years, when the trees have grown, this could well have become a wildlife wilderness again. Certainly it will have become uninhabitable to many of the species currently being seen, including the Owls, Harriers, Skylarks, Stonechats, etc.

      Fortunately, most dog owners act in a responsible manner. However, for some reason, those that visit the best birding places near me seem to let their dogs off the leash to run amok, disturbing the birds, and other visitors.

      Yes, after I'd left a comment on your blog, I had seen your comment on David's blog explaining about the Little Egrets.

      Our very best wishes to you - - - Richard and Lindsay

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  9. Exciting days with lots of birds Richard. I can understand your frustration about the dog litter people leave behind for more than once I had to clean my shoes before getting in the car after looking up for birds and not looking down to avoid the mess. Hanging it on branches is new to me. Who do they expect to take it of again? The photos and your observations of BO are wonderful to see and read. The Hen Harrier is stunning. Great you were able to spot this bird as well besides all the smaller birds.
    Take care,
    Regards,
    Roos

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    1. Thank you, Roos. I'm sure that I miss seeing many birds because I have to spend too much time watching where I'm putting my feet. I'll mention here that one of my worst experiences with dog mess was in your own country. We had a family break based in Namen. I've never seen town pavements so badly soiled! It was virutually impossible to avoid stepping in it! This was, maybe, thirty years ago - I hope that things have improved since then!

      I'm delighted to see that you've recovered from your recent illness. Take good care of yourself - - - - Richard

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  10. I truly hate fellow dog owners who hang their rubbish in trees. Glad you caught up with the Harrier such a rare treat to see. As for the Barnies I wouldn't mind seeing more posts featuring them. I never get bored of seeing them.

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    1. I do find it difficult to understand the mentality of people hanging dog litter in trees and bushes, Doug. I think that it's probably part of the issue of people becoming more and more selfish, and adopting the attitude that everything should be convenient for them without having to strive to achieve it. The world owes them a living and all the materialistic trappings they desire, and they couldn't give a sh1t about other occupants of the planet.

      Oh dear! I've become an Angry Old Man!!! Time to stop my rantings!

      Thanks for your encouragement re. the Barnies. I'll perhaps post a few more images sometime if I get better ones!

      We're well overdue a post from you, Doug! I hope that all is OK? Best wishes - - - - Richard

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  11. Lovely captures of the Barn owls in flight. Love dogs but dislike dog owners. We often see 'strange fruit' hanging on the fence at Morden Bog, the farmer has asked people not to pick up the dog poos, just leave them, they decompose quicker without the plastic bags.

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    1. Thank you, Linda. We should be careful not to tar all dog owners with the same brush. I'm sure that most of them act in a responsible manner. I agree that it's better for the environment to leave the mess, rather than hang it up in black bags, but the ideal solution is to dispose of it at home or in designated 'dog litter bins'.

      Take good care - - - - Richard

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  12. Hello Richard,
    What an enjoyment to see all your pictures. They are very wonderful.
    Great to see that flying owl and what a wonderful shot on picture 4.

    Many greetings,
    Marco

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Marco.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  13. A great insight to this wonderful site Richard, shame the few morons spoil for the masses. A wonderful set of Barnie images, I'll have to make an effort and get up there one evening?

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    1. Thanks for your kind comment, Paul.

      I'd not been back there for several days until last evening. In spite of the beautiful weather, they'd not shown by 18h15. Looks like they've changed their habits - or perhaps they were birds from further north that have moved on?

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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