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Thursday, 9 January 2020

Calke Unbottled - on 3rd January, 2020

I'd settled on the title for this post before I realised that the juxtaposition in the title would be totally lost on most people (Calke is pronounced 'Cork') - nevertheless, I think I'll stick with it!

I'd not been out much lately, and the weather looked rather fine, so I set off for Calke Park, which is relatively near my home. It had been a while since I'd visited the hides in Calke Park as a major development (Calke Explore - a children's activity area) had been taking place for most of 2019 and one of the hides was in a no-go area. This was, therefore, primarily a visit to see how the development had affected the hide that was now part of Calke Explore.

I arrived and was immediately pleased to find that there was now a large well-organised car park, although somewhat apprehensive that it was all but full. The next pleasant surprise was that there were toilets near the car park. I understand that there is also also a kiosk, open at weekends and at 'busy times' selling snacks and drinks.

The aspect that pleased me most, however, was that the development had exposed more water-courses, and given access to the edge of a large pond. This could be a spot for dragonfly-watching in the summer.

The access paths to the hide have been upgraded, but the hide is still its familiar self . I arrived as people were leaving, and found I had the hide to myself for a while. 

Sadly, by the time I got there, it had clouded over, but I still had an enjoyable hour there with people coming and going and having some pleasant chats, and the constant background noise of the children playing didn't seem to disturb the birds.

Reed Buntings were very much in evidence. Although I had several sightings of a female of the species, I think it was probably the same bird each time.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - Calke Park lower hide
There were several males around, and some of them were getting well into their black-headed breeding plumage.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Calke Park lower hide
A Robin was quite busy round the hide, and had me spotted!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Park lower hide
A couple of Dunnocks and a Nuthatch were around but not photographed. The tits were well-represented with Blue, Coal, and Great Tit all present but, again, not photographed. However, it was good to see that Marsh Tit seems to be doing well in the area.

Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris) - Calke Park lower hide
On examining my photos, I found a few shots of what I had taken to be a Marsh tit, but now believe is possibly/probably a Willow Tit. They do occur occasionally here. The black bib seems to dip and be ragged, where a Marsh Tit is usually short and neat square at the bottom, and it seems to show signs of a pale panel on the wing and no visible gloss to the black on the head. The white on the neck also seems to dip towards the breast more. Any thoughts on this would be welcome - particularly as Willow Tit seem to be in dire straights in these parts. I shall be returning and keeping an eye open for diagnostic features!

possible Willow Tit? - Calke Park lower hide
It was now around 15h00 and the light was going, so I headed back to my car and decided to pay a quick visit to the upper hide to see what might be going on there.

I arrived to see several Red Deer in clear view from beside the hide, with Fallow Deer somewhat more distant and not photographable. This young male Red Deer has, I hope, an interesting life ahead of him, and already looks quite majestic.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - near Calke Park upper hide
Once I'd settled in the hide, photography was very difficult with the low light levels, and virtually all the shots I took were 'consigned to the bin'. 

The mix of birds here was somewhat different to that at the lower hide, although Blue, Coal and Great Tits were present. I did try for some shots of a Blue Tit, but only one was usable.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Calke Park upper hide
A flock of twelve Long-tailed Tits landed in bushes below the hide window in a very difficult position for photography, and they soon disappeared again. This one landed on the ground below me.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Calke Park upper hide
At one point in time, several Jackdaw arrived, accompanied by their loud 'tchack' calls. In case you're not aware of the origin of their name, in Old England, the Corvid family were named 'daws', and this particular species was the Tchack Daw. Although a common bird, I rarely get the chance to photograph one at reasonably close quarters. Their eyes are amazing!

Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) - Calke Park upper hide
Although another common bird, for me, the presence of a Nuthatch is always a joy to behold.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Calke Park upper hide
It was starting to get dark and time I was on my way home again.

I'd been very pleasantly pleased by the situation at Calke, and am looking forward to returning. Unfortunately, it may not be for a while as Lindsay is suffering with a very painful back and is unable to get downstairs, and so my only excursions since this one have been brief ones to shops for provisions and medication! 

It may be a while before my next post!

Thank you for dropping by.


  1. Hi Richard: I remember very well visiting Calke Park and I am glad that you elucidated the pronunciation. I was calling it "caulk" as in the sealing material. At the time we visited we were in one of the hides with a big, heavyset guy and we discussed the relative merits of bridge cameras. Perhaps you even remember it yourself. That male Reed Bunting is an attractive little bird (the female too) and it seems early for it to be coming into breeding plumage. You got a whole bunch of terrific shots and as you point out a nuthatch is always very appealing, but a Long-tailed Tit is overloaded with charm. Sorry to hear of Lindsay's woes. Hope she is feeling better soon. All the best from Miriam and me.

    1. Yes, David, I have a vague recollection of that discussion in the hide - happy times!

      It seems that a few things avian are happening a little early this year, including woodpeckers drumming and birds in courtship.

      Lindsay is getting better, and made it downstairs for the first time in over a week about an hour ago. She's now asleep in the armchair and I'm being careful not to disurb her as she's had little sleep for a long while. It looks as if I'm going to be head cook and bottle-washer for a while yet, however!

      Love to you both - - - Richard

    2. I meant to put something in my last comment about the pronunciation of place names, David. With reference to Calke, 'Cork' is most commonly heard, but I used to have a friend relatively local to the area who pronounced it 'Kark'. However, probably due to old Norman (French) influence (I've never looked into it) we have a few names that are pronounced oddly. In my student days I lived on Beaufort ('Beefort') Street, Derby. If I drive to Belvoir ('Beever') Castle from Ashby de la Zouch ('Zoosh'), after 20 km I pass through Zouch ('Zotch')! There are many other examples which don't immediately come to mind. One of out satnavs, which uses speech synthesis for announcements is particularly amusing - for example Beaumont Leys (which, somewhat amazingly, is pronounced as any french-speaking person might expect it to be) is 'Beemont Lies' to the satnav! I've rambled on for long enough!

  2. Good to see you are still getting the shots as the new year dawns.

    1. I'm trying, Adrian but, in the current circumstances, opportunities are a bit thin on the ground.

  3. First and foremost - take good care of Lindsay! (Which I know you will.)

    What a beautiful post, Richard! I imagine most of these birds are common for you, but they are a joy to behold for me! It seems the park renovation is acceptable to birds and at least one birder. All of that and the potential for dragons/damsels in a few months. Your calendar is likely already notated.

    It is so good you were able to get out for a bit and your photographs are simply outstanding!

    Please pass along our best wishes to Lindsay for a quick recovery! You are both in our thoughts.

    1. I've been doing my best to look after Lindsay, Wally, and it seems to be working, as she made it downstairs this morning - and promptly fell asleep in an armchair! This is good, as she's only been getting 3 or 4 hours sleep a night for the past week.

      I reckon that, other than the few that don't like the sound of kids having fun, most birders and nature lovers will be delighted with the development as it has opened up areas for observation whilst maintaining a natural feel to the area - I'd say a job extremely well done.

      Thank you for those kind words about the photography. Like many, mine is a bit of a scatter-gun technique - take many and, hopefully, one or two will make it through. I also think that the post-processing including cropping is as important as the original shot. I see a lot of people that make the mistake of cropping a shot too tightly so that the subject is in danger of banging its nose on the edge of the frame - something I used to do until someone pointed out the error of my ways some years ago. No, I'm definitely not pointing a finger at you here, as your work is exemplary.

      Thank you for your concerns for our wellbeing over the past months - your thoughtfulness has been much appreciated.

      My very best wishes to you both - take good care - - - Richard

  4. That was a very good outing after all and I love the shots that the bird is directly looking into the camera. An extra bonus seeing the deer.

    1. I find it quite interesting how some birds seem to take on a totally different character when looking directly at the camera, Margaret.

      Next time I go to Calke Park, I hope that the Fallow Deer will be in a photographable position. Many were very spotty, and there were a couple of white ones amongst them.

  5. Despite the lack of sun, those photos have turned out pretty well. You gotta love a Jackdaw eye. Always a lovely bird to see up close.

    1. Most of my shots from that afternoon went straight into the bin, Marc, as they were blurred through long exposure times. It's always a toss-up between high ISO and low speed when the light's bad. Sadly, I rarely get the opportunity to get close to a Jackdaw.

  6. I am so jealous of you having hides within distance of your home. The closest one I know of here is Arcachon which is about 220 kms away! Hardly worth the trip unless one has an overnight stay.

    Love all your photos, so sharp and clear. Love the Long-tailed tit and the nuthatch, neither of which I have seen near here. The deer are excellent, hopefully no French hunters around there!!

    Hope that Lindsay is better and that you are also well. Best wishes Diane

    1. Hi Diane. I don't know if it's a particularly British thing, but I can think of 14 hides within a 20 km radius of my home, and there may be more. So now I mention it, I'm wondering why I don't make more use of them!

      I don't hear much about deer hunting as a 'sport' (now there's a misnomer!) in England and am wondering if it's largely confined to Scotland in UK?

      Lindsay's getting better, and has now managed to get downstairs. I'm still looking after all the household chores, however, as I don't want to risk her having a set-back.

      Take good care. My best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  7. Hello Richard,
    a beautiful blog full of beautiful birds and animals.
    The reed bunting is very nicely photographed, but also the robin and the matte tit. Great to be able to photograph the red deer from so beautiful close up :-) I am jealous of your cattail tit. This is a very difficult time to fogorate, but you do have it. The jackdaw is beautiful ((The Netherlands these birds are just a scourge) The Nuthatch is fantastic to see. A compliment for your beautiful header :-))))
    I hope to see many beautiful photos and pictures of you again this year.

    Think carefully about yourself and be careful.
    Greetings, Helma

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Helma, now and during 2019 - thay are very much appreciated.

      I hope that, if you get the very strong winds that they are forecasting for UK this week, that you stay safe.

      Take good care - - - Richard

  8. You make these look easier, everyone is beautiful. Nuthatch and the Marsh Tit are my favourites.

    1. Thank you, Bob - I can promise you that most of the shots I took were absolute rubbish!

  9. Very nice set of pictures - and for once I have seen (but not photographed) some of these species in the last couple of weeks!
    I see from the first comment that you know David G - small world, as he is coming to stay with us later in the year!

    Cheers - Stewart M - (finally back in) Melbourne

    1. Hi Stewart. I'd seen that you'd been travelling in Europe. I hope that all was in order at home when you returned. We've been seeing much heartbreaking news about the loss of homes, and lives (human and wildlife). The horrific level of loss suffered by wildlife there is beyond comprehension. I hope that global steps are taken to help with recovery, but it seems that some species might never recover.

      Yes, David and Miriam came to stay with us a few years back, and I took them up to Scotland for some birdwatching. I'm sure that David is excited about being with you again as I know how much he enjoyed your company there last time he was in Oz.

      You mention 'small world' and I'll tell you of an even more amazing coincidence. A few years before David and Miriam came to stay, my Canadian cousin and her husband came to stay with us. They brought presents, including a couple of 'mug rugs' depicting owls. When D&M were here, I noticed that David had a cover on his notebook made of the same fabric, so I left the mug rugs sitting beside his notebook one night. Miriam's reaction the next morning was to ask David why he'd brought mug rugs with him - it utrns out that Miriam had made the mug rugs and my cousin had bought them on a craft stall!

      Stay safe. My best wishes to you, your wildlife and the homeless families in Australia - - - Richard

  10. Hello Richard
    great bird portraits, the robin is top and the deer are even better
    nice post
    Regards Frank

    1. I thought that you might like the deer, Frank! Maybe soon I'll have some photos of Fallow Deer.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  11. Hello Richard, That was some great outing. The restored nature reserve with the hides sound verry promising and I do hope you will get to see lots of Dragonflies in summer. The birds you encounterd from the first hide are stunning so are your photos than the Deer you saw, wow, they look fantastic. Glad you had such a succesful day.
    All the best,

    1. Thank you, Roos. I hope to return to this place soon, but will have to wait for good weather, and for my wife's back to be better so that she's not so dependent on me to bring her food and drink!

      My very best wishes - Take good care - - - Richard

  12. Hi Richard, your birds are very beautiful. Great photos. Also the red deer. I wish you a nice week. Greetings Caroline

    1. Thank you, Caroline. Living inland does have some advantages (so they tell me) but I can't think of many. I envy you being near to the coast. I hope your week is going well. Take good care - - - Richard

  13. Richard enhorabuena por este fantástico reportaje, me han encantado todas las fotos. Los escribanos palustres (Emberiza schoeniclus) absolutamente espectaculares, que envidia!!! Todo lo mejor desde España amigo mío.

    1. Gracias, Germán! ¡A veces olvido lo hermoso que es Emberiza schoeniclus! Lamentablemente, no puedo salir mucho en este momento, ya que mi esposa tiene grandes problemas con su espalda, y tengo que mantener el hogar funcionando sin problemas, ¡toda la cocina y la limpieza!

      Mis mejores deseos desde Inglaterra, donde estamos teniendo un corto período de clima frío pero soleado que no puedo aprovechar.

      Cuídate mucho, mi amigo español - - Richard


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