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Tuesday 30 November 2010

Waxwings - Why Leave Home? - on 30th November, 2010

Not having seen a Waxwing since February, I have recently been wistfully looking at reports on Birdguides, waiting for the right moment to take a trip out to see some. Today was not to be the day, however, as I was confined to home, with a builder starting some work for us. Nevertheless, the day soon got exciting when I spotted a Brambling in the garden. OK, so not that rare a bird, but this is the first one seen in our garden for about 20 years!!


Shortly after this, I went to chat to my wife in the lounge, and noticed a flock of birds in the top of a bare tree about 100 metres down the road. I don't know what made me go and get the bins (must have been the jiz), but I'm glad I did. Amazingly it was Waxwings. I went to get the camera, set foot outside the front door - and they'd gone! Went round the corner, where I knew of a tree laden with berries, but no sign of them. Came back into our short cul-de-sac, and they arrived back at the same time as me. In my few previous encounters with Waxwings, they have been very confiding birds, but not these! These were very nervous birds. They were attracted to some very small pink berries on an ornamental tree (do not know what it is), but only descended for a few seconds to feed before dashing back to the roost tree. There were 39 of them, and just walking down the road set them off. I did manage a few shots from below the roost tree (underneath shots of Waxwing are never very satisfying), but only a couple of them down in the food tree. The light was awful too, so nothing much photographically.

Waxwing - on my street!

The Waxies were there for an hour or so, with one longish break when they were spooked by a passing female Sparrowhawk. They then disappeared for a couple of hours, coming back in the afternoon. However, they were very unsettled and looking to move on, even though the food tree was still full of berries. A couple of times they flew over our house and, with a Rowan in our garden, I was hoping for a garden 'tick' but, alas, it was not to be! They disappeared finally in the mid-afternoon. I will, however, be looking out for them tomorrow.

Whilst I was photographing the Waxwings, a Woodpecker landed in the roost tree. It's not often we see one of these on the Close, either!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male)

Thursday 25 November 2010

Little Owl Site No.15 Revisited - on 25th November, 2010

On Sunday I found my 15th Little Owl site (I started with my first site just under a year ago), but the weather was dull, grey, and drizzly. The following day, I was out that way again, buying garden bird food, so dropped in once more. It had been bright and sunny when I set off, but it suddenly got dull again as I approached. The Owl was there again, but no photos were taken. Today, the memsahib decided that we'd go to a garden centre to buy some Christmas gifts, etc. It was another bright and sunny day so off we went to a place just beyond the new LO site. Having done the shopping we headed for the Owl - and it greyed over! However, the light was not as bad as the previous two visits. The Owl was soon located near to where it had been on the previous visits - in its nest hole!! I took a few photos and then decided to leave it in peace, and come back another day when there was some sunshine.

Little Owl - my site No.15

Having got back to the car, where my wife was patiently waiting we set off to go home. We'd only got about 400 metres when the sun came out. I quickly found a place to turn round and go back. The Owl had moved out of the hole and was on a branch just above the nest hole (the hole to the left is a red herring!).

Little Owl - my site No.15

I don't feel the need to return for an acceptable image any more - so now to find my next new site!

Sunday 21 November 2010

New Little Owl Site - on 21st November, 2010

This morning, I went on one of Dave Scattergood's excellent birdwalks for East Staffordshire Council. Dave showed us many birds of interest but, as usual, very little was photographed. However, after Dave's walk, on my way home I decided to do a bit of birding on my own. I dipped out on Waxwing in Tatenhill seen earlier in the day, but later in the afternoon I found a new Little Owl site - my No.15. Although the day had started reasonably bright, with even a little sunshine at times, by now it was really dull and drizzly, so I did not manage a very good image before the bird departed. No, this bird is not in Leicestershire. However, as my house is right in the north-west corner of Leicestershire, and very close to Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire (there used to be a pub called The Four Counties just down the road - now a curry house!), I have recently decided that I will extend my owling territories outside Leics. This latest one, however, is just about at the limit of my new territory, being about 10 miles (as the crow flies) from my home.

Little Owl - my site No.15

I've already spotted some other potential sites between there and home, so I shall be returning when we get the next fine day, and I'm free.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Back to Owls - on 16th November, 2010

My owling record over the last couple of months has been pretty abysmal, so what better way to get to know the new camera body than to do a bit of owling. My first stop was at my 'local patch' site No.2. This is my most reliable site, although my previous three visits had yielded no sightings. The owl was not in its usual place, but a walk round to the west side of the barn revealed her sitting there taking in the afternoon sun. I've only ever seen her on this side of the barn once before. I took a few shots before she got nervous and ducked back into the barn.

Little Owl - site No.02

I then took a walk across the fields to see if I could turn up anything else of interest. As I approached my site No. 11 (where I've not seen an owl for six months), I found the adjacent field being harvested,with numerous tractors, etc. in operation. I then did a traverse of field margins on my patch, and all the while I was doing so, I could see in the distance that my owl was out again on the chimney stack of the 'barn'.

The only thing to raise the camera to was a pair of Buzzards in a distant tree.

Common Buzzard - two in first image

The second image above is not from any closer than the first, but is just much more heavily cropped than the first - I'm already beginning to appreciate the new camera/body combination.

Time to return to the barn to get some shots of the owl on the chimney stack. However, when I was just a field away I saw that she'd gone - almost certainly disturbed by the person that was messing about in the field about a hundred metres from the barn. Luckily I managed to locate the owl in a nearby tree - not often that I see this owl in a tree! The sun was going down by now, giving a lovely golden light. I'm really pleased with the results as, again, these (apart from the first image below) are heavily cropped (I didn't get that close!), but they would still happily blow up to A3 size!

Little Owl - site No.02

Having taken a few shots, I left the owl sitting there and headed off to a nearby farm where I'd heard tales of owls being present, but not yet found one. Having had a walk around in the fading light, I returned to my car and sat there with the window open as darkness fell. At 17.45 I was just about to leave when a Tawny called from the distance. For some reason, I tried 'calling' back to it, and then listened - no audible response! I was, therefore, totally surprised and unprepared for the Tawny when it flew into the tree beside me! Unfortunately it flew off again as I started to raise my camera. Next time I hope to be better prepared - I've still not got an acceptable shot of a Tawny!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Return of the Lens - on 13th November, 2010

Having damaged my lens in a silly accident, it took almost a month, and a lot of communication with my insurance company, before I eventually got it back - on Saturday. I set off to Kelham Bridge to try it out. The only problem was that, other than a Kestrel as I approached the first hide, very little was seen that was photographable. Anyway, the Kestrel images proved that the lens was working to a reasonable standard. So to the next step - see below!

Common Kestrel - male

My wife very kindly offered to buy me a new camera body for combined Christmas and next birthday (when I will at long last draw a pension, even though I have been retired for five years already!). She's bought me a Nikon D300s, and I hadn't used it until this day, as my lens had been away.

Having satisfied myself earlier that the lens was OK, I attached it to the new body, and headed off to Oakthorpe Colliery. I sat for nearly an hour, with virtually no birds showing at all, so I moved to another point close by, and a few birds showed up at the feeding tray. The problem was that the sun was low by now and the scope for a bird to settle in the sunlight on anything other than the feeding tray was small. I did manage a few of Blue Tit. The excitement came when a Siskin arrived (never seen one here before). Unfortunately it stayed for only a second or two, before disappearing completely. The results, in spite of this being a camera I'm not used to, were much better than I'd have got with the D200.

Blue Tit

Siskin - male

Thursday 11 November 2010

Leather Little Owl

Way back in June, my wife commissioned a picture of a Little Owl for me as a wedding anniversary present. The artist was a Mr. A.C.A (Arnold) Smith of Clevedon. He is a prize-winning leather worker, and I have been admiring his tooled leather pictures for many years. It was late October before the picture arrived, but it was worth the wait. My image below does not do the picture justice, as the flash has flattened the detail somewhat, but my study is too dark to take a photo with natural light. The picture itself (not including the frame) is 32 cm x 38 cm (12.5 in x 15 in), and the price charged for the framed picture was, in my opinion, amazingly good value for money - just think of the thousands upon thousands of hammer blows that must have gone into it!

If you would like to see some more examples of Mr. Smith's work, please visit his web site at - if you do nothing else, look at the 'Western Saddle' on the 'commissions' page (I saw that in the flesh before its owner came to collect it)! Better still - go and visit him at the Clevedon Craft Centre! If you do, don't take the wife as there is a jewellers there who makes fabulous creations with semi-precious stones at a fraction of the price you'd pay in a shop (if you could find anything like it!) - guess what my wife had for her anniversary present!

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Killer In My Garden!! - on 29th October & 2nd November, 2010

On Friday, in the corner of my eye, I caught a movement outside my study window, in the buddleia bush. I looked, and could barely believe my eyes when I saw a Sprawk sitting there. I only managed to get a couple of shots (only one vaguely usable) before it flew off - fortunately without having caught anything.

Sparrowhawk (juvenile male?) - on 29th October

Sitting at my desk again yesterday (2nd November), I spotted a Sprawk again, this time on my back fence. After banging off a few safety shots from my study window (rubbish results), I was able to stealthily creep into the conservatory and take a few more shots before it again flew off empty-handed. From the point of view of composition, the results are none-too-good, but I did manage the clearest images that I have ever taken of a Sprawk. I'd never realized before this how ridiculously long and thin a Sprawk's toes are!!

Sparrowhawk (juvenile male?) - on 2nd November

I originally thought that this bird was a female, based on the relatively dark banding on the breast, rather than the orange of a a male. I now think it is probably a juvenile - maybe a male. It doesn't strike me as being a very large bird, it seems to go for the smaller birds (a magpie just looked at it with contempt!), and the juvenile aspect would explain its low success rate in hunting.

Much as I am quite thrilled at the sight of these birds, I'm hoping that visits to my garden don't come too frequently. Now that the land at the back of my garden is no longer a construction depot, birds on my feeders are at a record level - particularly Goldfinches & House Sparrows.