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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Very Short Trip Out - on Friday 13th January, 2017

From a photography point of view, the weather here has been somewhat dire over the past week or so. Most days have been very dull with little light, many of them wet, and it has often been very windy too. With a forecast for heavy snow, accompanied by high winds, on Thursday afternoon, John and I decided to abandon our usual afternoon out. In the event, we got the winds, but the snow didn't arrive until somewhat later in the day.
I woke up to a thin covering of snow on the Friday, but with the snow still falling quite heavily and settling well. However, mid-morning, there was a sudden change in the weather with the snow stopping and temperatures rising quite rapidly. By lunchtime there was little snow left.

Having had lunch, I decided it was time for a quick trip out as we were getting sunny intervals, with a forecast for bad weather coming in again later in the afternoon.

My chosen destination was Calke Park which is about 5 miles (8 km) from my home as the crow flies. This place is often good for Marsh Tit - a species which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in these parts. I was also hoping to find Brambling.

I arrived in sunshine and, as I left my car, encountered a couple with binoculars coming away from the area I was going to visit. A quick chat confirmed the presence of Marsh Tit, but more intriguing was his statement that there was at least one Willow Tit coming to the feeder, the difference between the Willow Tit and the Marsh Tit being clearly visible when the two were side-by-side at the feeder.  Sadly I was told that I had just missed a truly amazing sight which was four Kingfishers sitting together up in a tree. The Kingfishers had just disappeared over the trees, heading south, and they were off to try and re-locate them.

I got to the hide by the feeder, and was pleased to find I was alone and the birds were extremely active. The most numerous bird was, without doubt, Great Tit. However, I was surprised to find Reed Bunting not far behind in numbers, closely followed by Marsh/Willow Tits! The light was strange in that it was difficult so see glossy heads (indicating Marsh) on any of the Marsh/Willow Tits, making identification somewhat difficult, but I did detect the hint of a pale panel on the secondaries (indicating Willow) of at least one of the birds. I was, however, too busy trying to get photographs, rather than spending time comparing birds. Here are a few images, first of those I believe were Marsh Tits (please tell me if you disagree).

probable Marsh Tit (Parus palustris) - Calke Park
And these I think might be Willow Tit - again, please let me know if you disagree .

possible Willow Tit (Parus montanus) - Calke Park
As already mentioned, Reed Bunting were present in good numbers, with males being more visible than females. As these birds are, primarily, ground feeders in these situations, I was pleased to see that many of then were stopping off on the reeds as they made their approach - as had been the Tits.

The first image is there, only because it shows some small remnants of the earlier snow.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Calke Park
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - Calke Park
During the time I was there two of what are probably the largest Brown Rats that I have ever seen were snaffling up scraps from under the feeder. I have a bit of a phobia about rats!

Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) - Calke Park
Returning to more pleasant subjects - whilst there, although I was concentrating on the Marsh/Willow Tits, I did fire off a few on other birds.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) - Calke Park
It is a pity that the snow was not still there for this next bird - it might have made it onto next year's Christmas card!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Park
Heavy cloud started to roll in and I felt it was time to set back homeward. From my photos I can tell that I had been in the hide for exactly 30 minutes. During that time I'd fired off 280 frames - that equates to one every 6.4 seconds. It took me well over 30 minutes to process the results!

Since then the weather has returned to 'dire'. John commented on the phone yesterday that he's starting to wonder if he's ever going to get the opportunity to wield his new lens in anger!

I'm not sure as to what the subject of my next post might be or, for that matter, when it might be - I'll just pray for some good weather.

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Brilliant post Richard,looks like you have both Tits,so luck was on your side weather and birds,I would love to have seen four Kingfishers on a branch,or to see both Willow and Marsh tit
    on the same day,now that is good going,well done.
    Also to be able to get great photo results with every shot.
    That adds up to a greats birding.
    Stay safe.

    1. Thank you, John. I've now been sent a 13-page treatise on the separation of Marsh and Willow Tits, which I will digest soon and thwen try and decide how I got on with my own novice efforts!

      Best wishes to you both - - Richard

  2. Lovely birds you've seen. Did it snow there? WOW! I do not make the distinction between those two birds from each other! How to distinguish the wild, the bird sees a sudden? However, here marsh tit is a rare bird. I hate rats and mice who is eating bird food. Hopefully, in the yard of our neighbor's cats eat mice mouths;-)

    1. Thank you, Anne. Yes it did snow, but not for long and it didn't stay. It is difficult to tell the two species from each other, and I'm not sure that I got it right!

      Best wishes - - - - Richard

  3. Great shots, Richard. I remember Calke Park well and visiting the hide with you and Miriam. The activity at the feeders that day was just terrific. There was a heavy set guy sitting there and we got into a discussion about what he termed bridge cameras, a description unfamiliar to me. Happy memories! Much love to you and Lindsay.

    1. I too have very happy memories of your visit, David. I believe these were taken from a different hide to the one that we went to together. If I remember correctly we visited the hide that was in the corner of the car park, with some picnic tables outside. At that time I'd only visited the other hide a couple of times before, and with little success. Last year I tried again and it came up - no, I can't bring myself to use that word. It's now my hide of choice.

      Best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  4. Beautiful the Willow or Marsh Tit, who knows, I certainly don't. And the Reed Bunting, fantastic Richard.

    1. Thanks, Bob. They certainly are difficult to separate!

  5. I know how John feels to be honest. I'm yet to give my new toy a thorough test.
    Still it's only 5 Mondays until Spring.
    Great images but I'm rubbish at separating Marsh/Willow I'm only ever truly positive if I hear them.

    1. I must get round to reading those 13 pages on how to separate the two species, Doug. Did you mange to take advantage of the brief spell of sunshine on Friday, or were you (like me) tied up on that day? I've been hoping for bright weather since then, but no such luck!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  6. A great post Richard!
    Your Marsh tits (or Willow tit... I don't think we've got them here) are exquisite but the Reed buntings are fantastic shots! Wish I could see them that close!
    The rat is rather cool, usually they are quite wary!
    Keep warm and enjoy your day!

    1. Thank you, Noushka. It's not usually too difficult to get close to Reed Bunting in these parts, particularly in winter, when they come to feeders. We occasionally get them in our garden.

      So sorry to hear that you are still suffering from a horrible virus. Please take very good care, and keep out of this horrible cold dull weather.

  7. Hi Richard, great set of images, my book says for Willow Tit {conspicuous pale edges to the secondary feathers on the wing} which yours appear to have. Super post, shame we didn't have the sun on today's outing, seems unlikely I will have any decent images with the fog. Rat looks large enough to growl!!! All the best and see you soon. John

    1. Thank you, John. I'm pleased to hear that you got out on Friday. Was hoping for the occasional sunshine promised for today, but they got it wrong again.

      See you Thursday, if not before, all things being equal!

  8. Hi Richard,
    I saw your blog and immediately thought of my own blog. However, a new ready to psoten with also this bogtels it lol ....
    Your photos are very beautiful and the reed bunting is very successful. The brown rat is happy on the photo hahahaha ....

    Best regards, Helma

    1. Yes, Helma, if it wasn't for your bubbles I would wonder if we'd been to the same place!

      Thank you for your visit, and best wishes to you for a fine week ahead - - - Richard

    2. Chuckle ..... it would have been ;-)

  9. Wow, Marsh or Willow they look so alike. My book says that the best way to identify is the voice, now how are you supposed to do that if they are all in the same place!! Love the shots of the Reed Bunting, not sure how good I would have been on identification there either!!
    I have seen huge rats in South Africa, some are as big as cats so I wonder what 'your' rat's size would be in comparison?
    Thanks so much for all your comments. Keep well and warm. Diane

    1. They are difficuly to ID, Diane, and I couldn't pick out a call at all. My memory is terrible so I'd probably forget song differences ten minutes afrer hearing them anyway!

      Have a great trip and take good care - - - Richard


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