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Saturday 26 June 2010

Devon Break - from 23rd to 25th June, 2010

My wife and I went to South Devon for a three-day break to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It was definitely not going to be a birding break - I haven't survived 38 years of marriage without learning what side my bread is buttered on.This was a break for being together, and for looking after my wife's still very poorly knee.

However, I did take the bins and camera, and we did get intimate with nature on a few occasions. The result was a few very pleasing photos, with the best coming last!

Having checked in at Teignmouth on the Wednesday afternoon we took a drive to Labrador Bay. We couldn't get far because of my wife's knee. I was first taken by this huge thistle(?) head.

Thistle species ?

Not far from where we parked the car, a flash of brown and yellow flew up from a thicket and departed. Could I have just missed a male Cirl Bunting? - it would have been a 'lifer' for me! Moments later another bird flew up - and settled for a few seconds on a nearby post! I'm relatively sure that this was a juvenile or female Cirl Bunting, but if you want to burst my bubble I'd sooner know the truth!

Cirl Bunting (?) (juvenile or female)

Having found our range limited at Labrador Bay we decided to head north, ending up at the seaward end of the Exeter Canal at the Turf Hotel for a drink overlooking the estuary. Unfortunately the tide was in so no waders were seen except those flying past in the distance. However, on the way back to the car we saw a few birds, including this Sedge Warbler that was probably gathering food for youngsters.

Sedge Warbler

We were up really early on the Thursday, and so went for a walk along the beach (the tide had been going out for a little while). It seems that the catch Sand Eels here using some sort of floating traps. It also seems that the local gulls have sussed this out, and we saw two (a Herring Gull, and this G B-b Gull) sitting on the floats and dipping down over the edge to pull out the Sand Eels.

Great Black-backed Gull - fishing for Sand Eels

I'm not very good on Gulls, and thought the one shown below might be different to the Herring Gulls round about. It was somewhat smaller and behaving differently. However, having consulted the book, I can only assume that it is a small sub-adult Herring Gull - again, any comments would be welcome.

Herring Gull(?)

After breakfast we went to Oddicombe Bay, taking the cliff railway and getting there when it was still virtually deserted. There was not too much seen except Herring Gulls, and a lone Great Black-backed Gull. I nearly got a very lucky shot as a Herring gull came in to land. The image with its wings momentarily fully spread is totally uncropped! I just got it into frame - what a pity that it's out of focus! It's still in the air on the previous shot.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

We headed south from Torquay, ending up at Torcross, where we stopped for a gentle amble and an ice cream. Here we found these young Coot. I've always found Coot's feet to be somewhat comical, but the youngsters look like cartoon characters, with legs and feet that look three times too big for their bodies!


A couple of Jackdaws were also adding to the amusement here. Just round the corner I'm sure I heard a Nightingale sing very briefly - but I couldn't locate it.


In the car park I found this moth. It's not in my (rather feeble) book but I'm sure that it must be common

Moth - unidentified

On our last day, we decided to travel home by the slow route, avoiding the motorway. We called in that the craft centre at Clevedon (Avon), in order to pick up a necklace that my wife had seen when we dropped in for a cuppa on the way down. They said that, if we called in on our way back home again, they would try and make a pair of earrings to match. We ended up with three necklaces as well as the earrings as my wife's anniversary present. I didn't do too badly myself! There is a guy here who wins Guild of Leatherworkers awards for his tooled leather pictures of wildlife. He had a ladies handbag with an absolutely fabulous picture of a Little Owl in a tree. He now has a commission to do me a similar image as a framed picture. The only problem is that I have to wait until December for it!

Those last images? They were of an obliging male Broad-bodied Chaser. I'm a bit limited with my birding lens as I do not have a macro facility on it. My nearest focal distance is 2.5 metres. I just have to rely on the magnification I get with the zoom lens at 400mm. I'm quite pleased with these particular results, however!

Broad-bodied Chaser

Friday 18 June 2010

Of Little Owls and Other Things - w/c 13th June,2010

Just lately, my birding has been largely confined to my 'local patch' near Packington. The attraction here for me is four Little Owl sites within a relatively small area, that I am monitoring. On Sunday I set off for this patch, stopping first at my LO site No.10. I saw two LOs here on 21st April but, in spite of many visits, I have not seen one here since. I then went to site No.12, and found one of the two owls in a barn, but only managed a really rubbish image with a safety shot. The owl then departed unseen by me whilst I was adjusting my camera. One thing that I have learned about Little Owls is that they are often clever enough to wait until you are not looking before they fly, so you just don't know where they went!

I then had a small chore to perform. The farmer here has had Barn Owls for many years in another building, but is concerned that they may have gone. There are hundreds of Barn Owl pellets in the building, but they all seem to be relatively old. My task was to clear the largest pile, which was under an old empty water tank (presumed to be the nest site), so that I could easily check for any fresh pellets in the future. The pile was that big that it took a while to clear it with a shovel!

Having done this, I moved a little way down the road, passing my LO site No. 02 (where I believe that the male was victim to a Sparrowhawk). No owl was seen, so I continued down the footpath to my site No. 11. I've not seen either of the owls here since the middle of May. The last couple of times that I've set up my hide and waited, I've noticed bumblebees coming and going from the nest hole. A thorough search of the area didn't reveal an owl, but the Fox cubs were still around.

I then set off back to my car by site No.02 - and the owl was out on her favourite perch! The bird was a lot more confiding than usual, and didn't fly off when I moved around to take photos from different angles

Little Owl - site No.02

By now, it was time to go home, with still no owl at site No.10 when I stopped for a while.

I decided that Tuesday would be spent trying to visit as many of my Little Owl sites as possible, taking sandwiches with me for lunch. I started with my four local patch sites, as mentioned above - and didn't see a single owl! Not a good start. I then got distracted from my mission by heading round several fields to get to a derelict barn at the very edge of the farm. I'd not been here before, and the farmer had indicated that it might be interesting, but warned me to be careful not to fall into the Badger set. When I got there I found that the set had undermined virtually the whole floor of the barn, and some of the area outside too. There were well-worn tracks leading from the set, but I did not see any evidence of recent badger occupation (no 'rubbish disposal'). It made me wonder if this had been taken over by foxes. There was also no sign of bird occupation - it had been suggested that Barn Owl might be present, but I suspect that there was now too little roof left for this. The only images I came away with were of my first Large Skippers of the season.

Large Skipper (male)

Large Skipper (female)

My next port of call was to be my LO site No.03 in Upton. However, just before I got there, I thought that it was time to call in to see a nearby farmer who has a camera in a Barn Owl box. I arrived to find him busy (as farmers always are), but during a short chat he invited me to explore the path to the Barn Owl box as he believed that there was a Little Owl on the way. This I did, but to no avail during an hour's searching due to so many trees to choose from. On returning to the farm, he called me over and invited me into the house to see, on the screen, the female Barn Owl attending the two chicks that were less than a week old. Wonderful!!

At Upton there was no sight of an owl at my site No.03 (no owl seen since February) but the foliage of the chestnut tree was dense. I then moved on to my nearby site No.09 near Sibson. I was not too hopeful here, as the farmer's kitchen window overlooks the nest tree and he has not seen the owls for a while. I last saw an owl here in mid-March, and heard one in April. I quickly checked to see if the Barn Owl was out on the perch that I'd found him on in May, but no owls were seen.

This was not good! I'd visited six sites and not seen a single owl. Time to visit a couple of 'old faithfuls'! My two sites on the same farm near Snarestone were the target. I first stopped on the road beside site No.05. I've only ever seen one owl here, but this is probably my most reliable site for sightings. He was there, but well-hidden, with just his middle visible between two branches. I then went to site No.06, and immediately I got through the gate I spotted the male on a fence post. I decided to try the slow zig-zag approach, taking safety shots as I went. I did reasonably well, but in retrospect, I think I should have gone for the slow direct approach as this has worked in the past with this bird. He did fly off before I got very close, and he flew to a tree beside the gate I had to exit from. I manage to find him and tried the direct approach - which worked. The bird did not fly at all! At last I'd seen two owls - not a good total for eight sites, but at least I got photos of one!

Little Owl - site No.06

On the Thursday, I thought that I'd better try and check on the rest of my sites, but ruled out site No.04 as being a bit distant (it was on a route that I used to travel regularly but no longer do so). I first went to site No.01 - as you might guess, my first Little Owl site. I found this site on the Staunton Harold estate, with one solitary bird seen, at the end of December, and have only seen a bird here once since. Unfortunately, the nest tree is in the centre of a large field sown with wheat, so is off-limits for close inspection. My site No.08, on the same estate, is, however, on cattle pasture, and is accessible. I spent a good hour and a half trying to find an owl, but with no success, although I'm 75% sure that a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew across in front of me. My search was not made easy as I had never established which was the nest tree, with three trees, out of several, being the most likely candidates. I did, however, take a shot of a pair of Common Blue Damselfly setting up to mate.

Common Blue Damselfly

My last site to complete the week's 'tour of inspection' was my site No.07 at Whitwick. Having seen the bird regularly in March, it seemed to disappear. I suspect that the nest was taken over by Jackdaws, but the start of building work about 50 metres away will not have helped. No bird was seen.

Just up the road from here is another likely looking site for LO, so I stopped to check it out. I didn't find a LO, but I think that I may have been near a Buzzard's nest, as one seemed to take particular interest in me, circling around, calling continually.

Common Buzzard

With no owls seen, I decided to round the day off by returning to the four 'local patch' sites. At site No.02 the female was peering over the top of the ivy on the chimney stack (not photographable), my first Cinnabar moth of the season was beside the barn, and a pair of (newly emerged?) female Black Tailed Skimmers were sunning themselves on the footpath across the field. No owls were seen at the other three sites - an enjoyable day, but a bit of a failure owl-wise.

Cinnabar moth

Black-tailed Skimmer (female)

Sorry if this has been a bit wordy - I'll try and make future postings a bit more brief!

Friday 11 June 2010

In Search of Fried Piecatchers - on 10th June, 2010

I have been trying to get to Gilfach Farm in Central Wales for some time now - the main reason being the Pied Flycatchers, which is a bird that I had yet to see (well, I am a novice!). Having done my research, and contacted the farm (pronounced 'Gilvack' - it's Welsh!), who informed me that Pip, the resident warden, was a fount of all knowledge, and having seen a relatively good weather forecast for Thursday, I made an early start. My intention was to spend the early part of the day at Gilfach, and then move on to nearby Gigrin Farm for the 15.00 Red Kite feeding session. The journey is exactly 120 miles each way, but cross-country, so about three and a half hours in duration. I was already thinking about turning back by half-way, as it was dull, with incessant drizzle. I decided, however, to continue - and how glad I am that I did!!

As usual, you can click on the images below for enlarged versions.

I arrived to find I was the only person around, and the drizzle stopped. It stayed very dull all day, with low cloud covering the hills, so photographically it was almost a washout. But what a day I had! I started by exploring the upper area by the Visitor Centre, where I found Siskin, GS Woodpecker, and either Marsh or Willow Tit by the feeders. I could not, however, find where the famed Redstart location was.

Marsh or Willow Tit

Siskin (youngster or female?)

I was getting concerned as to where I was supposed to be looking for the Redstart when a couple arrived in a car. Fortunately for me, this was Pip and his wife. Pip immediately put me right as to what the situation was, went and filled up a tray with mealworms, and left me with the words that the Redstart will be down in less than a minute if it spots the mealworms - but the Nuthatches might get them first! After more than half an hour it looked as if the Nuthatches and bad light (I was having to work at 800 ISO and 60th exposure at F5.6
- the 'fastest' my lens will go at 400mm) would win!


I was beginning to think that this was not going to be my lucky day, and then, suddenly the Redstart was there. It collected meal worms and then took them off to the nest, returning every 5 to 15 minutes. However, when it did arrive, it spent most of its time actually at the feeding tray (not at all photogenic), and very little time where a pleasing image could be taken. I guess I spent a total of about an hour and a half at this spot.

Redstart (male)

Realising that I'd not yet attempted to find my main objective of the day, I took my hide back to the car, ready to set off on foot down the lane to Otter Hide. Whilst sorting out at my car, I spotted a female Pied Fly hunting from a tree only about 15 metres away. Immediately coincident with spotting it, one of the Wildlife Trust's rangers drove a noisy vehicle out of the garage beside me, and sent it packing!! That's life! - but at least I'd seen my first Pied Fly!!

I settled in at Otter Hide, and glued my eyes to the nest hole that Pip had faultlessly described to me. Pip had also told me that a visitor on the previous day had told him that a chick was showing its head from inside the nest hole, so it looked as if they would be going very soon. I was even more concerned at light levels here - to get any sort of image I was working at 1000 ISO and 80th to 160th exposure at F5.6. It was coming up to well-over half an hour and no Pied Fly had appeared, when I realised that I was a day too late. I then started to get distracted, and noticed a Dipper in the river below. By now I was getting really cold (even though I was wearing a fleece).


At last, after over an hour of waiting, a Pied Flycatcher came into distant view - only some record shots obtained, but this was a 'lifer' for me, so better than nothing! I waited another hour and a half in the hope of closer views but, apart from a very brief showing on a post only about 20 metres away (no time even to point the camera at it), Pied Fly was not seen again. The chicks must have fledged and gone, and the adults with them. Ah well!!

Pied Flycatcher (male)

By now it was after 15.00, and too late for Gigrin Farm, so I headed back home again. My heartfelt thanks to Pip for making the day totally brilliant, in spite of the cold dull weather. I shall certainly return - soon I hope!!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Local Patch Fox Cubs - on 9th June, 2010

I'm still trying to shake off the chest and throat virus that I've had for nearly two weeks now, so have not been out except for a few quick runs in the car. Today, however, I'd had enough of staying in, so decided to check up on my most local Little Owls. My usual parking space was fully occupied by two cars (one empty, and one containing two people almost certainly engaged on an illicit liaison), so I parked at the farm, had a chat with the farmer, and tried to find the Little Owls from my latest LO site (No.12). After about an hour, I briefly located one, and grabbed one very distant shot before he/she was off again, into dense and inaccessible foliage. At this point I decided it was time to retreat. I still only have very poor record shots from this site.

Little Owl
(you'll probably need to click on the image to enlarge it in order to find the owl!)

I decided that the courting couple had had long enough, so walked down to my LO Site No.02 (no owl seen - this is where the male was predated by a Sparrowhawk), and then across the fields to my LO Site No.11. Here I set up my hide in the hope that I might get some better images of these owls. However, I gave up after an hour and a half, somewhat concerned that the owls might have moved on as there was a regular flow of Bumblebees in and out of the nest hole.

As the place where I had seen Fox Cubs, a few weeks back, was only a field away, I left my hide by the stile and as I crossed the field I saw that three cubs were out playing on the far side of the thin hedge where their den is. I slowly made my way along the footpath and over the next stile, which was abreast of the cubs, and took a few distant 'safety shots' one of which is shown below.

Having got the safety shots, I went back over the stile, and stealthily made my way up the shady side of the hedge until I came to a gap that I could get through without making a lot of noise - I must have cut the distance between me and the cubs by two thirds. I slowly emerged and, to my amazement, they did not take much notice of me for a few minutes - until I took the camera away from my face, and then they were gone! It was an absolutely magical interlude!

Fox Cub No.1

Fox Cub No.2

Fox Cub No.3