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Wednesday 20 April 2011

Just Ticking Over On The Owl Front - W/C 18th April, 2011

The wife is still as sick as a parrot, and I don't feel comfortable leaving her on her own for more than an hour or two, so the owling is still being very limited at this time. 

On Monday I went down to my local patch. As I approached my new Site No.20 I could see the owl again on its favourite perch. On my previous two visits I was not able to approach the bird sensibly because the tree with the visible bird was in a hedge at the edge of a sown field. However, every hedge has two sides and I discovered that the field on the other side of the hedge, with cattle and a bull in (!) belongs to my local farmer who has given me permission to roam wherever I want. Keeping an eye on the livestock, I made a stealthy approach to the owl. I got to within a reasonable distance without disturbing the bird unduly but, unfortunately the bird was badly placed for photography. Anyway, I did manage a slightly better image than my previous one.

Little Owl - my Site No.20

I didn't find owls at the other two active sites on my patch and, having had a chat to the farmer, it was time for me to return home to sort out some lunch for the two of us.

Today (Wednesday) I set off to another of my more recent sites near Oaks in Charnwood. This is the one where I've seen Mandarin, but only seen one owl here briefly, and not got any owl images.  On arrival I was chatting to the landowners when a Wheatear landed on the fence on the other side of the garden. I managed a few distant 'into the sun' images for the record - I'm beginning to rather like this place!

Northern Wheatear (male)

While we continued to chat, a couple of Swallows came and sat on the weathervane - I rather like the idea of birds riding on foxes!


It was now time to set off across the fields to try and find some owls  - or the odd Mandarin. No Mandarins were seen however, but this Wagtail was obligingly sitting on a drystone wall.

Pied Wagtail (male)

I was getting concerned that I'd been visiting this place regularly, and not seeing an owl. I was beginning to suspect that the old Oak tree, with many holes, where the owl had been seen a couple of time recently, was not actually the nest tree. In my previous visits I'd seen several other possible candidates in the area, and my earlier conversation with the landowners suggested that one of these other trees was a very likely candidate. I had my hide with me, so I set it up where I could keep an eye on this tree, and waited.

After only about fifteen minutes, an owl emerged from the tree, but not from the hole I expected to be the nest hole. Consequently I was not in a good position. I only got in one shot before the owl saw the hide and was off, flying into a distant tree where it could watch my hide.

Little Owl (A) - my Site No.18
This was somewhat frustrating as I did not want to move my hide, or get out of it, whilst the owl was watching me. An hour later I was still sitting there  - me watching the owl, and the owl watching me! Suddenly there was an owl call from behind my left shoulder! I'd no idea where it had come from, but the owl I was watching called back loudly. I just had to sit there and wait. It was half an hour before the second owl dropped into a tree beyond the nest tree, where I could see it. 

Little Owl (B) - my Site No.18
It eyed me up for a while, and then flew into the distant tree to join its mate. They were both looking at me now. I'd already had to phone the wife to check that she was OK and that it was alright for me to be an hour late back to do lunch. This hour was now nearly all gone. Damn it! I was going to have to reveal myself. I grabbed a quick shot of owl No. 2 in the distant tree and then, acting nonchalantly, got out of my hide, packed it up , and departed. I shall leave it a good while now before I attempt any more images of the owls here, but I will keep monitoring the site from a distance.

Little Owl (B) - my Site No.18

Sunday 17 April 2011

Of Mandarins, Little Owls, Rats, etc. - first part of April, 2011

The start of April has not been good for me on the birding front. A lot of time has been spent preparing our boat ready to sell it - and then my wife went down with flu' (she's still pretty poorly as I write this!). This means that I have not been able to get out much. However, in the first week, I did manage a turn of duty (on Osprey watch) at Rutland Water on 7th, followed by a meeting at Rutland Water the following day.

Thursday 7th April

On my way to Rutland Water, I called in at one of my recent Little Owl sites, near Oaks in Charnwood. Since my first sighting of a single bird here in March, I've not managed to re-locate it, and I haven't got an image of it! However, it has been seen by someone else, so I'm confident that it's around somewhere. On one of my most recent visits I put up a drake Mandarin as I approached the site. On this day, in the field with the tree in which the owl had been seen, I spotted a pair of Mandarin before they saw me. I managed a couple of quick images before they spotted me and were off. In my experience, Mandarins in these parts are EXTREMELY skittish. However, on the Thames, I've had them (admittedly nervously) come to the boat to take bread.


Mandarin (drake)
Continuing to explore this area in the hope of locating an owl, I found a second pair of mandarin in the brook. Whilst I watched at a great distance, they left the brook and entered the field. Soon they saw me and were gone - so only very distant and highly cropped images of this pair.


I failed to take any usable images at Rutland Water, although both Ospreys were in attendance during the whole of my watch.

Friday 8th April

There was an Osprey Volunteers' Meeting at Rutland Water in the evening. Again I called at my LO site near Oaks in Charnwood. Still no owl, but again I found a pair of Mandarin in the brook (no images), and a lone drake in a tree beside the brook in the distance.

Mandarin (drake)

My route to Rutland Water is a splendidly scenic one, and my favourite bit is round Marefield, although it is not particularly 'birdy'. I did stop to photograph a Hare and, further up the road, a Pheasant which crossed ahead of me.

Brown Hare

Common Pheasant (male)
I arrived early for the meeting, which was at the Egleton side at Rutland Water, so went off for a look around the reserve. Lagoon 4 held most of the interest, although most birds were too far away to photograph with my kit. A flypast by a couple of Canada Geese, and a Redshank on the shoreline gave me some photo opportunities.

Canada Goose

At about this time, my wife went down with flu', and I've been 'running the household' since then. My cats decided to help by bringing home some food.

Wednesday 13th April

One of the cats brought home a couple of young rats - about half the size of a full-grown Grey Rat, but still fully furred. Rather than put these in the bin, or bury them, I thought that I'd take them down to my local patch to see if they were of interest to my solitary Little Owl at my Site No.02. I arrived to find the owl on its favourite perching place (see image below). I placed the rats on the wall in full view of the owl, but it didn't respond. Having taken a photo, I set off home to look after the wife.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Thursday 14th April

The cat left me another young rat, and this was, again, taken to the owl. However, when I was a about 800 metres off, I noticed a suspicious-looking shape in a tree off to the right of the road. I quickly reversed back - and yes, it was a Little Owl! Having taken a distant 'safety shot' from the car, I parked up and tried to get a little closer. However, I didn't see the second owl until it flew out of the ivy in the tree before the one that the first was in. It flying off caused the first one to follow, so I'm only left with the record shot (see below). I'm amazed that I've never seen an owl here before as it caught my eye without really looking, and I must pass this way three or four times a week. My nearest Little Owl site to this is my No.10, about 400 metres back down the road, where I haven't seen an owl since April last year, and I have no images. Perhaps these birds were the relocated birds from No.10. Anyway, I'm going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and call it my new Site No.20! This means that I have had five LO sites on my local patch (although only three seem to be currently active) - three of them on the same farm!

Little Owl - my new Site No.20
When I got to site No.02, the rats from the previous day had gone, and the replacement was left.

Friday 15th April

Another day - another rat! On the way to deliver it I saw that the bird at new Site No.20 was out again, and in virtually the same place. I did have my camera with me, but the light was poor and the images were somewhat worse than those of the previous day. At Site No.02 the previous day's rat had gone from the wall.

Saturday 16th April

Having ensured that my wife was settled in bed, and would be OK for an hour or so, I set off to Staunton Harold, where I've two LO sites. There was nothing visible at my Site No.01 - not surprising really as I've not seen an owl here since January, 2010, and there were two tractors working the field that the nest tree is in the middle of!

Earlier this year I found that the pair at my Site No.08, on the same estate, had moved to a new nest tree, although I did not have full confirmation as to which of the holes in the tree was the nest hole.  Today I got that confirmation when one of the owls popped out of  a hole when I was some way off, saw me, and popped back in again, followed a few seconds later by a second bird which popped out, saw me and, after hanging around for a minute or two, flew into another tree.This second bird was the confiding one of the two, and I did manage to follow it to the tree and take a few shots before leaving it still sitting in the tree.

Little Owl (A) - my Site No.08

Little Owl (B) - my Site No.08
I'm hoping that my wife starts mending soon - she's having a really miserable time of it at the moment - and that I'll be able to get out before too long to do some serious owling.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

New Forest Break - 30th March to 1st April, 2011

Our daughter very kindly treated my wife and I to a Champagne Break at the Forest Park Hotel, on the edge of Brockenhurst, in the New Forest. This was not a birding break, and also the weather was very grey, often wet, and always windy, during our stay, so the wildlife photography was a bit thin on the ground.

We arrived in the mid afternoon of the Wednesday and, having checked in, decided to have a bit of an explore locally. We got to our car to find a pair of Willow Tits flitting around in the woodland in front of us.

Willow Tit
Not far down the road is the rather scenic Hatchet Pond - the largest expanse of fresh water in The New Forest. Here there were a couple of donkeys, various ducks and waders, and a number of Black-headed Gulls in the car park which spent most of their time shouting at each other!

Black-headed Gull

Just up the road is Hatchet Moor, where there are a couple of smaller ponds. Here, as well as a few Black-headed Gulls and numerous Chaffinches, was a lone Willow Warbler. It was getting late by now, and the light was awful!

Willow Warbler

Black-headed Gull

I was feeling rather fragile the following day, having been up half the night following a Chinese meal which disagreed with me. We started off gently with a return visit to Hatchet Pond. There was little in the vicinity of the car park, but in the distance was a Little Egret. I didn't manage to get very close - it was over rather a large expanse of water - and the light was awful again, so I didn't get any good images. A couple of New Forest ponies passed by me whilst I was photographing the Egret. I was also amazed at the size of the fresh-water mussels that were littering the banks of the pond - you can see one in the first Egret image below.

Little Egret
New Forest Ponies

Fancying a gentle drive, rather than walking, we set off for Hengistbury Head, over the border and into Dorset. Because of the weather, we had the place virtually to ourselves, although the car park indicated that, in high season the place is probably crawling with thousands of people. Here, however, I plucked up courage and we set off for the Head - what a great place this is! Blowing a gale, little in the way of bird life was around, but there was a pair of Stonechat obliging in the brambles. Photos were pretty poor - the only one I got of the female being unpublishable,

Stonechat (male)

After an excellent lunch in the café in the Hengistbury Head car park, we headed back towards base, stopping off at Keyhaven  - hoping to get the ferry to Hurst Castle. We arrived to find that the ferry was not running, due to the weather, but in the estuary were several Black-tailed Godwit in varying stages of plumage, and a Redshank (no images of the Redshank).

Black-tailed Godwit

From Keyhaven we took a scenic ride inland, passing through the centre of the New Forest. A few Stonechat were seen, plus Green Woodpecker, but little else of wildlife interest. As dusk approached, as we were getting near our hotel, we saw our first deer of the break - a lone young Fallow buck, with antlers still covered in velvet.

Fallow Deer
That night I was sufficiently well recovered from my Chinese to risk a 'kill or cure' curry in the local Indian restaurant - it was excellent, and had no adverse effects!

Thank you, Melanie, for your generosity, and a really great time!!!