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Sunday, 15 November 2020

Before Lockdown No.2 - 9th October to 4th November, 2020

I did not manage to get out as much as I would have liked to during this period as I spent a whole lot of time sorting out photos and blog posts on our return from the Isles of Scilly. Furthermore, we had an extremely thin time as far as wildlife activity in the garden was concerned, with just the Hedgehogs bucking the trend. Here are a few of my observations.

Friday, 9th October

One of the probable reasons that we were not seeing as many birds as usual was that we were getting visits from Sparrowhawks, and the birds had departed to safer feeding grounds. Most of the time it was a male that visited. This one, with its dark orange (almost red) eyes, is a mature bird.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden on 9th October, 2020
Sunday, 11th October

This day, we had the female Sparrowhawk, which was not photographed. I was, however, more disappointed at missing getting a shot of the Grey Wagtail that visited for a few seconds. We used to get regular visits by this species when we had a large koi pond, and latterly an adult brought a  youngster. When we filled in the pond, more than ten years ago, we continued to get visits, which makes me wonder if something was built into their genetic code. Visits have slowly dwindled, to the point where a Grey Wagtail is now quite rare, although still annual (just!), in our garden, but not as rare as Pied Wagtail. 

Tuesday, 13th October

Sadly, Great Spotted Woodpecker has also become a rarity in our garden, and so it was very exciting to have this female visit us briefly on this day. I do not usually like to post images of birds on feeders, but this occurence was important to us, and I didn't manage a reasonable shot of the bird away from the feeder. This one is a female - males have a red patch on the back of the neck.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden on 13th October, 2020
Friday, 16th October

We had a team of three tree surgeons in to do some tree pruning work in the garden, and also lick into shape some ivy that had got out of control. This, however, did not stop a squirrel from visiting. I know there are mixed feelings about these out there, but we happen to think them rather cute and do not consider them a problem.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - our garden on 16th October, 2020

Sunday, 18th October

The next image is probably the worst that I have ever posted, but it marks one of the more interesting events seen from our conservatory. A flock of  40+ small birds flew into our next-door-neighbours' birch tree in their garden, about 25 metres away. Unfortunately, they mainly stayed on the opposite, sunny, side of the tree to our position. It took a while to get a shot, into the sun, to enable me to ID them, but they were Redpolls. This is the largest flock of this species that I have seen anywhere. We hoped that they'd visit us so that we could add them to the garden record, but they disappeared after about ten minutes. 

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) - next door's garden on 18th October, 2020
The moth trap went out that night, and resulted in a very meagre catch of just five moths of three species - Angle Shades (1), Grey Shoulder-knot (2), Light Brown Apple Moth (2).

Angle Shades (Phlogopghora meticulosa) - garden on 18th October, 2020

Grey Shoulder-knot (Lithophane ornitopus lactipennis) - our garden on 18th October, 2020
Monday, 19th October

Little happened this day, but I did photograph a Chaffinch outside my study window - an extremely common bird with good-looks that are usually undeservedly overlooked.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - our garden on 19th October, 2020
Thursday, 22nd October

When putting the recycling bins out, I found a shieldbug on top of the garden refuse bin, so moved it to a safe place.

Birch Shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) - our garden on 22nd October, 2020
Sitting in my study, I noticed a large bird out of the corner of my eye, flying from the recently shorn ivy to behind the viburnum. I quickly grabbed my binoculars and found myself looking at a female Sparrowhawk. It then flew back onto the top of the ivy, and perched there in a most ungainly fashion. Having taken some photos, I can now see, by the yellow eyes, that this was a very young bird, which might explain its ineptitude.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden on 22nd October, 2020
We also had, unusually, two Carrion Crows stop off in the garden that day, and for the first time in a few months we had a Fox show on one of the garden trail cams that night.

Friday, 30th October

Thisa autumn has been good for fungi, which is a subject I know virtually nothing about. We have had several in the garden, and I had not bothered to photograph them, which I now regret. I did, however, get the camera out to take photos of a group at the base of our Rowan tree. These had already 'gone over' but still, to my eyes anyway, look interesting.

fungi - our garden on 30th October, 2020
Tuesday, 3rd November

Feeling the need to photograph something, the only thing I found was a Robin outside my study window!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - 3rd November, 2020
Wednesday, 4th November

It had been announced at the end of the preceding week that, faced with exponentially escalating Covid infection rates, England would return to 'lockdown' conditions on Thursday 5th November. This would mean severe restrictions on my travel until, at least, 2nd December. As I'd resolved to get back to birding, with an intended emphasis on owls, I decided that I'd have an attempt while I could.

Taking a picnic lunch with me, I set off late morning on my traditional owling route. The weather was forecast to be mild with sunny intervals. 

I was soon disappointed by how busy everywhere seemed to be as I was obviously not the only one to be making the most of a last day of freedom. At one point I got held up by an incident on the road involving the local hunt, large numbers of bystanders with their vehicles, and the police.

I messed up with a brief opportunity I had with a Kestrel en route, and drew a blank at all the traditional Little Owl sites. At my favourite lunch stop I was disappointed to see that the nest hole at LO Site No.34 was now largely blocked by twigs, indicating that probably Stock Doves or Jackdaws had taken over the nest. Subsequent sites were also unproductive, so I decided on a visit to Eyebrook Reservoir. 

At one point, on a single track road, an estate vehicle was parked on the road, and only passable by driving round it on the adjacent muddy field. Fortunately, I was in our 4x4, or I don't think I'd have made it. The vehicles owner was nowhere to be seen, otherwise I'd have had words!

At Eyebrook I had a look to see if the Willow Emerald Damselflies were still around but couldn't spot any. I spent a while at Eyebrook with the only photos taken being distant shots of the scene from the bridge. In the second zoomed-in image, below, taken from the same spot as the first, there are Mallards, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Mute Swan, and Little Grebe.

Eyebrook Reservoir inflow
I was starting to get nervous about other people and social distancing, particularly in the two viewing stockades, and having had an almost total lack of photographic opportunities, I decided to set off to somewhere where I knew I had a good chance of exercising my trigger finger. I wasn't totally surprised to get there to find my old pal, John Truman, already installed. John had also decided to have a last excursion before lockdown. There was also one other person on site. The targets were Red Kites!

At first the conditions were mainly 'cloudy bright' and, although I took many shots, my efforts were not entirely to my liking. I'll show this one, however, as it shows one of the birds in moult. Like most (all?) birds of prey, feathers are shed symetrically over a period of time to reduce impact on flight capabilities.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Most of my photos of Red Kite are of them in the air against a plain sky, and so I attempted some shots against a different background. This was not successful on this occasion as the bird was too far away, but I now have a challenge to fulfill. A second challenge is to get some good shots of the fabulous markings on the upper surface of their wings.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
John had to depart after a short while as he has to care for his poorly wife. I stayed on, and tried to get some shots of a bird that was in a tree almost above the other person's position. If he'd not been there, I'd have moved to try and get a clearer shot.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
I was joined (at a safe social distance) by a gentleman who lived just across the road from the site, and we had an interesting conversation, which I had to excuse myself from when the sun came out as the opportunity was too good to miss. Here are a few of the results.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
During my conversation with the local gentleman he did entreat me not to publish the location that we were at. I assured him that it was my policy not to do so anyway for locations like this. So that is why my captions for these images are location-less!

The time came that I had to depart as I had a delivery to make to our daughter on the outskirts of Leicester and then I planned to visit a potential Short-eared Owl location just before dusk. The visit to our daughter, at a distance on the drive at the front of the house, was shorter than I'd have liked it to be in other circumstances.

At the potential Short-eared Owl location, I drew a blank, getting back to my car after dark.

The next day, we went into lockdown, with such journeys against the spirit of lockdown and probably against the rules anyway. My next blog post, therefore, if I do manage to produce sufficient material, will feature sightings much closer to home.


In the meantime, please take very good care and stay safe, for your sake and for the sake of all those around you.


  1. Beautiful post Richard. Those Red Kite shots are cracking. Take care.

    1. Thank you, Marc. It was a relief to get a short but relatively productive session at the end of a long period of 'photographic drought'. Stay safe - - - Richard

  2. A wonderful post Richard. A blow by blow account of what is happening down your way. The Kite shots are stunning as is that first image. Stay safe.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Margaret. Take good care and avoid the invisible evil. Best wishes - - - Richard

  3. That Sparrowhawk is a very handsome bird, Richard, not entirely unlike our Cooper's Hawk. I suppose there are always mixed feelings about having a raptor pay you a visit, the thrill of having such a splendid bird in your yard, tempered by a concern for the songbirds, and the fact that they all disappear. Now those wrinkly mushrooms are very appealing, reminding me of the complexion of a couple of people I can bring to mind - or have I been looking in the mirror? I thought you would have sautéed them gently in a fluffy omelette - nouvelle cuisine chez Pegler. There is always the next time! Stay well, stay safe. Covid has not finished with us yet!

    1. I will never know enough about fungi to consider foraging and eating them without expert guidance, David. If you are seeing two wrinkled people in the mirror, you may have a problem more serious than age!! Maybe you have been incautious with foraged fungi?!

      We are both being very careful here. I just wish there were not so many people out there that consider Covid as being no worse than the common cold and throw caution to the wind. I find myself having to circumnavigate them every time I go out. I'd be rejoicing about the prospect of a vaccine soon if there were not so many people declaring that they will not accept it. Utterly selfish madness.

    2. Yes, Covidiot is a well-considered term, isn't it?

  4. There are some really interesting things to photograph!

    1. Thank you, Anne. I am struggling a bit to find photographic subjects as I do not have your artistic eye for spotting interestingly unusual items.

  5. Hi Richard,
    a sparrowhawk in your garden may not be nice for many other birds, but I like to see them :-) You could take very nice pictures of it. Moths and little birds are also always beautiful to photograph and your views over the landscapes with water are very beautiful! The icing on the cake is the red kite I see in your post. Gohhhhh ... how great to see it and to be able to photograph it!

    Greetings, Helma
    and stay safe and healthy.

    1. I do like to see Sparrowhawks in the garden, Helma, but I would not want to see one every day! We had a male visit again today and I think I managed some more photos (have not checked them yet), but again it landed on a feeder pole rather than on something more natural - oh well, we cannot always have what we want.

      With the Red Kites, I really do want to get some shots of them doing something other than flying around in a plain sky. I think that they are the most graceful of flyers, but I want to get more interest into my images of them. However, it looks as if it might be some time before I get back to see them again.

      Even though there seems to be a vaccine on the horizon, take great care because it looks as if it will be some months before it is available, and even then we will still probably have to continue to be very careful.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  6. Hello Richard
    the red kite in pictures 17 to 22 is absolutely great, everything fits together, very nice aerial shots .. successful and varied post
    stay healthy
    Greetings Frank

    1. Thank you, Frank, for you kind comment. Although I am quite pleased with those Red Kite images, I need to do better! Hang on in there - this virus will not be subdued for a while. Best wishes - - - Richard

  7. Your header image certainly grabbed my attention, Richard! Beautiful raptor!

    The Sparrowhawk is another handsome raptor. To think, visiting your garden! Perhaps they heard about the dozens of Redpoll tourists in your trees?

    You and I appear to have about equal knowledge of fungi (little and very little), but your mushrooms are really interesting!

    Sorry you came up empty at your owling spots, but those Red Kite photographs are a pretty good consolation prize! Outstanding flight shots!

    Gini and I continue to be careful and are doing well. We wish all the best as you and Lindsay navigate the next few weeks.

    1. Thank you for those kind words and wishes, Wally. It's good to know that you and Gini are riding the storm so well.

      Since the start of Lockdown II, my photo opportunities have almost totally evaporated, and even the garden is giving sparse results. I'm hoping that, after December 2nd, restrictions will be relaxed somewhat so I can do some birding, although that will probably mean that part of the population will throw caution to the wind and it will be a case of 'here we go again'!

      Take great care, and avoid the idiots! My very best wishes to you both - - - Richard

  8. I just love those photos of the Sparrowhawk, those eyes are always so angry looking. I love all the birds of prey, but I also worry when I see one nearby here in our garden as I know our little birds are being scared away. Hopefully they have enough sense to keep away until the hawk gives up though I have seen it remove a Blue Tit from the garden, Love the Red Kite shots as well. Sorry that you did not find your owls. I hear them from time to time, but I have not seen them recently.

    Yes, fungi seems to be everywhere this year we have never had so much. I also will not touch any of it unless I get the chance to take it to the pharmacy where they will give me an answer as to it being edible or not.

    I will be glad when this year is over, but I am by no means sure how the beginning of 2021 will be and if the vaccine is going to be easily available or if it will work!

    Best wishes to you and the family. Take care and stay safe, Diane

    1. Yes, those eyes are amongst the most piercing of all birds, Diane. In the balance, I'd definitely settle for the occasional visit by a Sparrowhawk rather than no visits at all. I too am rather fond of birds of prey in general.

      It seems that the vaccine situation is quite promising, with our government suggesting that people in the 'vulnerable' category, through health or age, might well be all inocculated by Easter. Fingers are firmly crossed that these vaccines pass their safety assessments quickly and can be produced in good volume.

      Take great care and stay safe. Best wishes to you and Nigel - - - Richard

  9. Yet again, these are tremendous photos, Richard, you have made of a best. I love the Sparrowhawk and the Red Kites. And, fungi and the Birch Shieldbug, precious.

    1. You're so kind, Bob - thank you! My very best wishes - - - Richard

  10. Hello Richard! What beautiful pictures! you live in a dream environment and you share with us: thank you! it is exquisite. We also have hawks (Accipiter nisus) coming right outside our windows to skin an unfortunate White-fronted Redstart
    ôt. (Phoenicurus phoenicurus - Common Redstart) it is the harsh law of nature. Glad to hear you had Koi carp! I am digging a small pond (3mx4m) to put two or three accompanied by some goldfish. read you soon !

    1. It's not too bad round my home, Phil, and I always thrill to the sight of a bird of prey - even if it is in our garden! Thank you for your kind words.

      The pond that you are digging sounds as it it was approximately the same size as ours was. Our pond was 2 metres deep. We decided to fill it in because the maintenance of the filter system was taking up too much time and there was always the danger of it failing while we were away from home on vacation.

      Take greast care and stay safe - - - Richard

  11. Un reportaje espectacular, la primera foto del gavilán es asombrosa, que suerte poder hacer algo así desde casa. Enhorabuena Richard, un fuerte abrazo desde el norte de España.

    1. Gracias Germán. Poder ver aves y otros animales salvajes desde mi hogar ha sido una verdadera bendición en estos tiempos difíciles. Espero que se encuentre bien y que se mantenga a salvo. Ten mucho cuidado - - - Richard


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