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Tuesday 31 August 2010

End-of-Month Owl Update - on 31st August, 2010

With the poor weather over the past week or two (until recently), I have not been out owling too much. Owls are neither fond of wind or rain, and both together doesn't make for good owling - unless your name is Paul Riddle!

On Friday 27th I popped out to my local patch for a very brief visit. Only saw the Little Owl at my site No.02. I nearly missed her as she was not on the barn roof as usual, but in a tree - however, she was dozing, as usual!

Little Owl - my site No.02

At a Farmer's Market a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a lady who told me that she had been seeing Little Owls on a post outside her lounge window. She agreed to let me visit, and so I decided to go there on Saturday (28th). On the way I called in at my site Nos.05 and 06, and then at site No.09.

No owls were visible at 05, but I did locate one of the owls at 06. I think that this one is the female.

Little Owl - my site No.06

At site No.09 I arrived to find that two Little Owls were sitting together above the nest - can you spot them in the image below? Through the bins I could see that one of them, at least, was a juvenile. There were still cows in the field here, and they gave the game away by coming to greet me as I tried a stealthy approach. I didn't get closer than about 150 metres before the owls dispersed.

Little Owls - my site No.09

I managed to re-locate one of the owls in a tree, and this turned out to be an adult bird - so one juvenile and one adult (as seen on my previous visit to this site).

Little Owl (adult) - my site No.09

After this, I headed off to the potential new site. I was shown round by the kind lady, and introduced to the farmer who confirmed that he had seen a Little Owl (juvenile, he thought) a few days previously. No owls were found during an hour's stay, but it was getting very windy by the time I got there. As I now have permission to roam the farm, I shall return to see if I can increase my tally of sites to 15!

Since finding my latest LO site (No.14) on 21st August, I have made a few return visits and not managed to re-locate an owl, until yesterday evening (30th). I eventually found an owl in the guttering on the other side of the barn (but same end) as I'd previously seen one. I reckon it lives in the gap between the end-capping and corrugated roof, and is able to get from one side to the other under cover! As soon as it saw me it ducked into this space, and so I set up my hide and waited - and waited! Eventually it popped out again and spotted me immediately, but was not in the least perturbed! Unfortunately, although the sun had been in the right direction to start with, it had long since gone down, and there was no way I could get a good image with natural light although I shot off about 50 frames. It wasn't helped by the owl totally ignoring me for most of the time, and looking away. I decided to risk using flash the next time it turned towards me. I did and the bird remained totally unfazed. I took one more shot this way, and decided that I should then leave it and go home. Unfortunately the bird had other ideas. I did not want to emerge from the hide whilst the bird was still there, but no amount of subtle sounds and gentle coughs could get it to move. Just as I was about to say to hell with it, it decided to fly down to a post in front of me - but behind a bush - Damn! It then went looking for worms in a field and I made my escape.

The results of the flash-assisted images are a little surreal in some ways, but I think maybe a little better than the handheld high ISO long exposure shots. I would welcome any feedback on this.

Also, whilst I am now confident that the owl was not startled in any way by flash photography, does anyone know if this might present any danger to the owl's eyesight? Again, comments would be appreciated - there is no way that I want to do anything detrimental to my owls!!!

Little Owl (juvenile) - at my site No.14 - taken with 'natural light'

Little Owl (juvenile) - at my site No.14 - flash-assisted image

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Books on Owls

If you read my blog from time to time, you will probably have noticed that, in the last 9 months or so, I have developed a strong interest in owls!! Whilst there is a reasonably good level of information on owls in the usual birding books, such as the Collins Guide, there are comparatively few books specifically on the subject of owls in the UK - unless you are looking for works on Barn Owls alone. After some internet searching, and a visit to Scotland, I have in the last few months found some publications that I found to be of great interest. Two of these take a bit of finding, but the third is freely available.

Owls of Britain and Europe, by A.A. Wardaugh

This book has been out of print for some time. My volume was published in 1983. I found my copy on the internet through Abe Books. The book has 128 pages, and is illustrated. Sections of the book deal with; 1. The origin of owls and their place among the birds; 2. Characteristics of owls; 3. Owls resident in Britain; 4. (a smaller section on) European owls not resident in Britain; 5. A comparison of lifestyles; 6 Owl watching. This is a really good read, and well worth the £8.30 (including shipping) that I paid for it.

Owls, by Keith Graham

This next publication is one that I was lucky enough to win (my choice) in a quiz at the Grant Arms hotel in Grantown on Spey - an establishment that I can't recommend highly enough! It is published locally by Colin Baxter Photography in Grantown on Spey and carries a price tag of £5.95. Its 48 pages cover all the UK owls, including Snowy. It is beautifully illustrated with images from some of UK's finest bird photographers, including Andy Rouse. You may be able to get it directly from the publishers, but why not try the Grant Arms or, better still, stay at the Grant Arms and buy (or win!) a copy.

Guide to British owls and owl pellets, from FSC in conjunction with the Hawk and Owl Trust

This may not sound like an interesting publication, particularly when it is described as an 8-page folded document. However, it is jam-packed full of useful information. I first saw it on the wall of the BWWC club room at the Grant Arms. As well as concise and specific information on each species of owl, the information on pellets will be a welcome addition to the fieldcraft of anyone wanting to learn more about finding owls. I got mine for £3.75 (incl. P&P) directly from the Hawk and Owl Trust.

Monday 23 August 2010

Ospreys & Owls - on 22nd August, 2010

Although I always try and keep my eyes open when out, it is a couple of months or more since I have been out specifically looking for new owl sites. As I had a turn of duty at Rutland Water yesterday evening, I decided to make an earlier start than necessary, and take a devious route there to try and find some owl sites. I was only 10 minutes from my home when I passed a gateway into a field that looked interesting. I reversed up and parked in the gateway. Surveying the posts in the field, I just saw crows, but then I looked at the large modern barn in the distance, and Hey Presto! - a Little Owl. Through the bins it looked like a juvenile.

Little Owl (juvenile) - at new site No.14

I managed to locate the farmhouse and get permission to enter the field. Closer viewing confirmed it was a juvenile and when it spotted me it ducked into the roof. Its home was the void beween the large corrugations of the roofing and the end-capping.

Shortly after this, the farmer's son came out and opened up the barn in order to get his car out. I was about to give up and come back another day. However, the farmer's wife came out and started chatting, telling me that they also see a Barn Owl there from time to time. I noticed that, in spite of all that was going on, the owl had come out again. This time I tried an approach from a different angle, but the owl soon spotted me and ducked into the roof again - time to get the hide out!

I had to wait just over half an hour before it emerged again and, having looked curiously at the hide, it took no notice of me - even when I started clicking away with the camera. Unfortunately I was looking up at 45 degrees, straight into the sun. If I tried taking a shot when the sun was out it was hopeless - the first image below was when there was just thin cloud, and you can see the problem. I had to wait until it clouded over properly, and I was still working at a compensation factor of +3.7EV! Fortunately the owl was in no hurry to go anywhere.

Having looked at my images, I am wondering if there were actually two juveniles in the roofing as the bird in the first images seems somewhat more mature than the extremely fluffy bird that emerged when I was in my hide - just look at the fluffyness in the image below the back-lit one! I shall be returning here soon.

I didn't find any more owls that afternoon (although more were to come later!). My duty at Rutland Water was at Shallow Water hide on the Lyndon Reserve, showing people the Ospreys and giving information as required. It was extremely busy due to people coming round from Birdfair on the Egleton side. I did not, therefore, have much time for photography, just grabbing a few images of the distant Ospreys. The main excitement was when one of the juvenile Ospreys caught a fish - it is relatively unusual for a juvenile to catch fish before it starts its migration. This was, as far as anyone knows, the first time one of this year's brood had caught a fish - to my mind, it bodes well for a successful migration. The two Manton Bay adults were present, plus two of their three juveniles.

Osprey (adults 5R and unringed female)

Osprey (juvenile 29(10))

Osprey (juvenile 30(10)) - the young fisherman!

My route home takes me down some real backwaters. I was just coming away from Marefield when I spotted an owl-like shape on a bit of farm machinery and stopped my car opposite it, in the middle of the road. It was about 21.30 and so very dark by now, and I had difficulty seeing what it was I was looking at. I tried some long exposures at very high ISOs but got nowhere. I then tried flash, but it was too distant - and still it didn't budge. It was only when I decided to go and park my car and see if I could approach it on foot that it took to the air and vanished as I reversed up the road. Below is the 'record shot' from my first flash attempt. This is only the third time I've seen a Tawny since I started birding about five years ago, the time before this being in July this year. At least now I've got a Tawny image - of sorts!!!

Tawny Owl - record shot

The excitement was not quite over yet. When I was about 20 minutes from home a Barny flew out from beside me and continued up the road ahead of me for a few seconds before going over the hedge to my left. I was surprised at its flying speed. I was probably only going about 40 MPH but it was going faster than this.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Boating on the River Soar - on 16th August, 2010

At long last, my wife's knee is starting to get better, and we managed a full day out on the boat on Monday - for the first time this year! Starting at Sawley Marina we set off down the Trent and up the Soar for lunch at the Rose & Crown in Zouch. The journey there was fairly uneventful with nothing much interesting on the wildlife front.

However, by the time we set off back again, the day had turned much warmer, and things started happening. This Heron had its eyes on a fish as we approached. You could almost hear it thinking as to whether it would take flight at our approach or brave it out and go for the fish. In the end, going for the fish won! It must have been very hungry!

Grey Heron

"What the hell, I'm going for it!"

a quick dunking

wings out, ready for the recovery

back to the bank with the fish speared

fished now moved ready for the swallow

We'd seen plenty of Brown Hawker dragonflies on the way out, but these were constantly on the move. On the return journey, the females were oviposting like mad. The favourite spots seemed to be where the reinforced edges of the bank met the water, as shown below.

Brown Hawker (female)

I've noted in previous postings that during our previous two shorter outings with the boat this year, we'd not seen any Kingfishers - in previous years, sightings would have been almost guaranteed. I'm pleased to say that on this day we had sightings in two different areas, although no photos as the birds sped past us heading south on both occasions.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Barn Owl! - on 15th August, 2010

I went on another of Dave Scattergood's excellent birdwalks this morning. Arriving early, I did a bit of pre-walk exploration, only finding this juvenile GS Woody to photograph.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile)

Dave's walk took us along the Trent & Mersey Canal from Claymills to Willington 'canal pit'. Dave managed to find us a number of interesting birds but, as is typical with Dave's walks, these were mainly at 'scope distance' so no usable photos taken.

After the walk, having had my sarnies in the 'round car park' at Staunton Harold (nothing very interesting seen), I decided to make a quick visit to my 'local patch'. A Little Owl was showing at my site No.2. I didn't see the Little Owl at site No.12, but as I entered the farmyard a Barn Owl was visible through the stable door. This time I did manage a photo - a distant shot from where I stood. I'm totally amazed at the result! - only one shot taken (it saw me and departed into the depths of the building). Can anyone tell me a good reason for my camera tending to give me sharper images in poor light than it does in bright sunshine. The image below is heavily cropped.

Barn Owl

I've noticed that this owl has fluffy legs. I don't know whether this indicates a juvenile that has still to shed the down from this area, or whether it's an adult that has picked up down from the nest on its legs.

On the way back home I spotted this Kestrel on one of the security lights at the sewage farm in Packington - why do they call them sewage farms?

Common Kestrel (female)

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Messing About On The River - on 10th August, 2010

We have a small boat based about 10 miles (16 Km) from our home. This year, on our first outing on the boat in April, my wife badly damaged her knee. The result was that we had not been out on the boat since. Yesterday, however, my wife decided that her knee had mended enough to give the boat a try again. In the event, she found that she still had severe limitations, but was able to enjoy our excursion on the River Trent, which lasted just an hour and a half. We were hoping to see Kingfisher, as we often get very good views from the boat, but that was not to be. As we left our berth a young Heron was sitting on a boat in the marina.

Grey Heron (juvenile)

Near to where the River Derwent runs into the Trent, we found a couple of Cygnets which reluctantly got out of our way.

Mute Swan (juvenile)

As we travelled up the start of the Trent & Mersey Canal (a favourite area for Kingfisher) I spotted a woodpecker. I got quite excited as it seemed to be very small. It flew away long before we got near, but examination of my pictures shows that it was just a GS Woody.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile)

As soon as we get a day with a promise of relatively fine weather, we will try my wife's ability to cope with a longer run on the boat, and maybe get in an overnighter before the nights get too cold. Perhaps then we will get some closer views of Kingfisher - and who knows what else!

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Local Patch - on 9th August, 2010

I made a very brief visit to my local patch yesterday. As I walked up the farm approach road, some House Sparrows and a male Yellowhammer were making a meal from the spilt grain on the road. This is the closest I've got to a Yellowhammer on my patch - not like on Cannock Chase!

Yellowhammer - male

I then went to check out the owl situation. There was a Little Owl in their favourite barn at my site No.12, even though it is nearly full with bales of straw now. This one is cunning! When he(?) sees that you've spotted him, he waits until you turn your head away (in this case, when I adjusted my camera) and then takes the opportunity to fly off unobserved!

Little Owl - in its favourite barn

This time I found where it had flown to, and managed my best image so far of a bird at this site - in a tree! My photo of the owl in the same tree the previous day was somewhat inferior (see previous post).

Little Owl - my site No.12

Sunday 8 August 2010

Local Owling - on 7th & 8th August, 2010

Visiting my local patch yesterday, I stopped off at my Little Owl site No.02 - no owl visible, but there was a juvenile Woodpigeon where I would expect to see an owl!

Woodpigeon (juvenile)

Having looked around my nearby LO site No.12 - owl briefly seen in barn before flying off as I walked by - I then decided to visit some old haunts where owls had not been seen for a while. However, as I passed site No.02 again the owl was out. As I have been worried about the owl for a while now and, I'm sorry to say, I've got a bit attached to this one (a bit like family!), I decided to sit in my car and watch it for a while (over an hour, actually!). Until recently this owl has always had a very similar appearance. However, whilst I watched it, it went through several transformations of appearance as depicted below. My observations did not ease my concerns, however. The owl kept nodding off in exposed positions and I got the feeling that it was ill or over-tired. I also noticed what appear to be two small growths on its right eyelid (can bee seen on images below with its eyes closed), and at one point it looked as if these were giving it a problem.

Preening - typical female hair-combing action!

the small-headed look

shows the eyelid growths (double-click to increase size of image)

this is more like the owl as I always used to see it

After about an hour, during which the owl coughed up a pellet (the first time I've seen an owl do this - too mesmerised to take a picture!) the owl flew into a nearby tree. I left my car, and managed to relocate it. It's not often that I see this owl anywhere but on the barn.

Little Owl - at my site No.02

From my patch, I headed for Staunton Harold, about six miles away. I have two LO sites here. At one (my site No.01) I have not seen an owl this year, but there is a crop in the access field stopping me from exploring properly. At the second LO site here (my No.08), I had not seen an owl since March. I was, therefore, delighted to see a LO on a post in the field, albeit at a great distance.

Little Owl - my site No. 08

I only got to within 150 metres before the owl flew off. I saw roughly where it had gone, and went to see if I could find it. Unfortunately, by the time that I found it I was much too close (it wasn't where I thought it had gone), and as soon at it saw that I'd seen it it was off. This time I did see where it had gone, but decided it was time to leave the bird in peace. I dropped in at the round car park overlooking the reservoir and sat in my car for a while. There were very few Tree Sparrows in evidence, but this was probably not helped by a couple sitting on the wall close to where they would normally be. However, the Nuthatches were not put off by these people - but the light was not good for photography.


Today I returned to my local patch. Just for a change I found a Little Owl in a tree at my site No.12 (a working farmyard). I usually only find it in a barn, unless it's after dark.

can you see it?

Little Owl - my site No.12

After this I took a walk past my site No.02 (no owl visible) and down to the stream to check on my site No.11. I'm still convinced that the owls here have been driven away by bees in the nest hole, but I keep checking. I'd just taken a few shots of bees on the Teasels, when a Kingfisher flew past along the stream - a first on my patch for me! It's only a few days ago that the farmer was saying that some years ago there used to be Kingfishers along the stream. He's going to be pleased when I see him next!

Teasel (with Bee)

On the way back to my car, I found that the LO was now out at my site No.02. I think this owl is getting used to me as she didn't move a muscle as I took photos!

Little Owl - my site No.02