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Tuesday 28 June 2011

At Last - an Owl Chick! - plus a few other bits & bobs

I've been trying to find Little Owl chicks at my sites where I know there are pairs in residence. The hunt has not been easy, however!

Wednesday 15th June

It was a rather dull day, but an evening visit to a few of my Little Owl sites resulted in seeing single birds at three sites, no juveniles, and only two birds photographed. The first was at my Site No.05, near Snarestone.

Little Owl  - my Site No.05
The second was the lone owl on my local patch at my Site No.12. It is relatively unusual to see an owl out in the open here, but this bird was clearly visible in the late evening from one of my other Little Owl sites! I parked the car at a distance and took the first shot. It then moved to another post further on in an inaccessible place, but fortunately stayed there whilst I took some more images - yes, it's the post that's leaning, not me!

Little Owl - my Site No.12
Thursday 16th June

This day I had an evening turn of duty on the Osprey Project at Rutland Water. On the way there, I stopped for a couple of hours at one on my newer Little Owl sites - No.21, near Hungarton. The owl here (I've only ever seen one) is a master at hiding behind bunches of leaves, and always takes a lot of finding. Eventually I spotted it!

Little Owl, hiding - at my Site No.21
During the next hour and a half it continued to check out my hide. Fortunately the wind was gusting well, so there were a few split-second opportunities when the leaves were blown aside, leaving the bird partially exposed - otherwise I wouldn't have had a chance of any images at all!

Little Owl - my Site No.21
It was an interesting session at Rutland Water and, unusually, one of the Ospreys (05N) decided to settle on the tree on the Lyndon side of the water, near Tufted Duck Hide. For a change, I was not alone on duty, and my co-watcher said he was happy for me to go and try and get an image. As I got to the end of the track from Waderscrape Hide I was surprised by a Barn Owl that flew out of a tree probably only 10 metres away! Regrettably I did not get a usable image - just the following record shot.

Barn Owl  - Rutland Lyndon

At Tufted Duck Hide, as I approached the hide, the Osprey flew off, so I only got the following 'safety shot'. However, this is somewhat closer than I usually get to an Osprey!

Osprey - Rutland Lyndon
On my way home that night, just after my Little Owl Site No.18, one of the owls was out on a pole about 100 metres down the road.

Saturday 18th June

This was the day that I went to North Norfolk with LROS (see a previous posting). On the way home a Little Owl was briefly spotted at my Site No.21, but no images obtained.

Monday 20th June

The intention was to set up my hide by my Little Owl Site No.8 on the Staunton Harold Estate, and try and get some decent images with the new lens - maybe even some of juveniles. To my total surprise, yet again I was caught out by a Barn Owl - this time flying out of my Little Owl tree! I managed a distant image of it in a far tree where it sat hissing at me for a while before departing. This is the first time that I've seen a Barn Owl on the estate.

Barn Owl - Staunton Harold
I spent approximately three hours in my hide, having my cover blown at one time by the farmer who came over for a chat after tending his beasts. I saw both Little Owls, but got no images - except for one of a Green Woodpecker that settled on a post down the field.

Green Woodpecker - Staunton Harold
Tuesday 21st June

An evening visit to my Little Owl Site No.06, near Snarestone, resulted in me spotting one of the owls in a tree approximately 100 metres from the nest tree. I nearly missed the bird as it was just peering round a main branch, surrounded by foliage. I made a stealthy approach and managed the following image before I heard another owl calling from the ground near the next tree along.

Little Owl (A) - my Site No.06
I decided to divert from approaching the first bird, to try and find the second. However, it flew up from the ground and into the tree with the first bird. This one had really hidden itself away! I never did get a decent image of this one.

Little Owl (B) - my Site No.06
I resumed the stealthy approach to the first bird (the second bird was less than a metre above the first), and managed to get an image that I'm quite pleased with - and without disturbing either bird from their perches!

Little Owl (A) - my Site No.06
Thursday 23rd June

I had an early start this day, and went out to my Little Owl Site No.17, near Twycross. It was raining as I arrived, and I put up an owl from beside the nest building as I arrived. It landed on a fence on the other side of the paddock and I managed an image or two at a distance.

Little Owl (A) - my Site No.17

Little Owl (A) - my Site No. 17

Having set up my hide, I sat monitoring the place where I hoped the owls would appear. This resulted in the images on an earlier posting of a Little Owl enjoying a shower. It was only when I got home and studied the images more closely that I realised that this was a second owl. What is more, it took another shower later - on a rather less photogenic perch!

Little Owl (B) - my Site No.17
 Whilst in my hide, I was entertained by a Wren singing away loudly on the other side of the paddock.

Wren - near Twycross
Having decided it was time to move on I set off to my Little Owl Site No.09 near Sibson. I arrived to find a bird out on the nest tree, but decided to eat my sandwiches and have a chat to the guy that looks after the farm. After this, I entered the field through the gate (a good 200 metres from the tree), and the bird ducked back into the nest. This gave me the opportunity to set up my hide unobserved by the bird. This was all very well in theory, but when the bird emerged again, only about half an hour later, it did so behind a stout branch with only its backside visible. It stayed in this position for over an hour, obviously totally oblivious to my presence, and all I had to amuse me was the Tree Sparrows, one of which settled within 25 cm of the owl. 

Tree Sparrow - near Sibson
Eventually enough was enough - I got out of my hide and walked round the tree, but only managed to get a shot of an eye before the bird ducked back into the hole!

Little Owl - my Site No.09
Later that afternoon I went to my LO Site No.18, near Oaks in Charnwood. Again I spent a lot of time sitting in my hide, and had several glimpses of a bird, but it was using the second entrance hole to the nest, on the other side of the tree - so no images!

Friday 24th June

My wife and I celebrated our 39th Wedding anniversary this day, with a non-birding day out. We did, however, stop off at my LO Site No.15, near Croxall. Just one bird was distantly visible across the cultivated field. However, there was a Yellow Wagtail in the potato field, somewhat closer.

Yellow Wagtail - near Croxall

Little Owl - my Site No.15

Saturday 25th June

An evening visit in dull weather to my local patch, near Packington, only revealed my solitary Little Owl out on the barn at my Site No.02.

Little Owl - my Site No.02

Sunday 26th June

This day I made an early morning visit to my LO Site No.18, near Oaks in Charnwood. This time I set up my hide overlooking a different nest exit hole. After about an hour, a bird hopped down onto the hole from a leaf-covered branch - where did that come from?! What is more, it was a juvenile - my first juvenile!!! My disappointment with the first image is that I missed some of a talon on the left foot out of the image.

Little Owl (juvenile) - at my Site No.18

The bird stayed there for about five minutes, doing nothing much, before hopping back up onto the leaf-covered branch. I sat there for another couple of hours, but there were no further sightings. Getting out of my hide, I went to try and find out how this bird had appeared, and then disappeared, without me seeing it arrive at, or leave, the branch. The leaf-covered branch was only about a metre long, and in full view, and I still can't fathom it out.

On my way back to the car, a Buzzard passed overhead.

Common Buzzard - near Oaks in Charnwood

That evening I went out to visit some more of my Little Owl sites, starting near Snarestone, where I have two sites. At my Site No.06, I found one Little Owl but no images obtained. At my Site No.05 I had more luck - after about ten minutes of looking at the nest tree which was about 100 metres away, I found one of the owls in a tree beside the road, only about 10 metres from where I was standing! I quickly obtained a few images before it flew off into the nest tree.

Little Owl - my Site No.05

The problem with monitoring just a few sites, as I do, is that it hits you quite hard when things go wrong at one of the sites. I've still not totally got over finding one of my birds fallen victim to a Sparrowhawk at my Site No.02, more than 12 months ago. Tonight I was to have another such upset. As I drove away from Site No.05 I saw something in the side of the road which worried me. I stopped the car and walked back, to find a squashed Little Owl in the side of the road. My guess is that it had been there for about 24 hours - it still looked quite fresh, but it had been picked at, and the ants and flies were on it. It might have been a newly fledged juvenile (a likely scenario in normal circumstances) but the feathers looked adult to me. However, there was little identifiable other than the flight feathers. I'm quite upset by this. I hope I don't sound too selfish when I say that I hope that the victim was a juvenile rather than an adult. There's usually a sizable mortality rate amongst young birds and we learn to accept this, but to lose half of an adult pair is very saddening.

There was some good news later in the evening. In April I'd found a new LO site (my No.20), and I'd seen a bird here the next six times that I passed over the following fortnight - then nothing! Tonight I was lucky, and a bird was there, although too far away for images 'into the sun'.

Monday 27th June

An evening visit to my local patch didn't turn up any owls at my LO Sites No.02 & No.12, but the Little Owl was out again at Site No.20. I did take some very distant photos, but not worth publishing here.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Owl's Shower Time - on 23rd June. 2011

On Thursday I had best part of a day owling, although the weather forecast was not good. I arrived at my Little Owl Site No.17 in the hope of seeing some youngsters, and put up one of the adults from the ground beside the nest site - but more of that will be in a future posting. At one point I was sitting in my hide, concentrating on the shot I wanted, when I saw that (typically!) I could see, through a side opening in the hide, that an owl was watching my hide. I didn't bother to dismount the camera as it had brightened up and the owl was in silhouette. However, it quickly got dull, and I found that I could see the bird much more clearly. Then it started raining and something remarkable happened! The bird started to hunker down and open its wings. It gave me a look as if to say "are you getting this?", and I quickly dismounted the camera and adjusted for the new light conditions. Then it really started enjoying the rain and taking a shower.

"are you getting this?"

"oh, that feels good!"

"was that good for you too?"

I've always thought that owls and wet & windy weather don't mix, but I do remember Paul Riddle telling us through his blog of  a Little Owl enjoying a shower. This day was both wet and windy, and it was also quite cold (I had dressed for warmer weather and I was having difficulty holding the camera still through shivering!). Now I've seen it for myself!

Wednesday 22 June 2011

LROS Visit to North Norfolk - on Saturday 18th June, 2011

On Saturday I joined the Leicestershire & Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) visit to North Norfolk, led by Andrew Cliff. In fact, This meant a 5.30 a.m. start, and I had the privilege of having Andrew in the car with me on the way there. The weather forecast was not good, but we made good time and stopped about ten miles before Hunstanton for a cup of tea. This stop gave us sighting of a Muntjac, and several birds including a Green Woodpecker and a family of Jays.

Having met up with the rest of the group at Holme-next-the-Sea we set off across the golf course to the beach. I soon realised that I was going to be lost without a telescope - it had been a choice of either a scope or a camera (I can't manage both), and I'd decided on the camera. This meant that the rest of the group saw plenty that I didn't. We started to the east of the access path. I didn't keep notes, but I did see Knot, Grey Plover, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, amongst some of the more usual suspects.

Grey Plover
Whilst we were looking out over the beach, a Muntjac came scampering by in front of us.

With just binoculars and a camera, I was finding it difficult to identify much in the seaward direction, so I went off to try and find some birds in a different environment. I soon spotted a couple of Grey Partridge on the golf course, and these were disturbed by golfers and headed towards me, giving me a somewhat better view. Back with the group I remarked to Andrew that he could add Grey Partridge to the list, and caused sudden interest to the rest of the group. I'm used to seeing Grey Partridge on a fairly regular basis on my home patch, but apparently they're not so common. Soon most people had stopped looking seaward!

Grey Partridge
For the second half of our visit to Holme we set off on a walk to the east, taking an elliptical path which took us past some pools. In one, we found a pair of Avocet.


Further on I stopped to take some photos of a Meadow Pipit that was posing nicely on the vegetation - even if it was a bit distant!

Meadow Pipit
From Holme, we set off for the famous RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh. We arrived to find signs announcing that the Caspian Tern (reported earlier from Holme, but had flown east before we arrived) was present on the reserve. However, enquiries informed us that it had not been seen for some time. We therefore settled into our sandwiches before heading off into the reserve.

We'd just set off when it started lashing it down with rain. We hurried to Island Hide (the nearest hide) and arrived to find an Avocet, with its two young, near to the hide, and many more Avocets with young in view. I have to confess that, until this day, I'd only ever had really distant views of Avocet, so I spent most of my time concentrating on photographing these.

Avocet chick

With a somewhat different agenda to the rest of the group (because of my lack of scope) I then went my own way for the rest of the visit. On the way to Parrinder Hide, I realised that I'd not actually got an image of an Avocet with a chick - the adults, although aggressively defending their chicks, did not keep close to the chicks, but kept a watchful eye from a distance. I did find one reasonably close to its chick, but at a rather great distance from me!

Avocet with chick
On the approach to Parrinder Hide I stopped to photograph a Black-tailed Godwit. There were others a bit more distant when I got to the hide but all were 'into the sun' not that there was much sun at that time!

Black-tailed Godwit
From then on I just concentrated on the Avocets, allowing an hour at the end of the visit to try and find a Bearded Tit. The sun started to show a bit more, which made photography on the south-facing side (where the birds were) difficult.

 However, a visit to the smaller north-facing hide revealed some distant resting Avocets, and a solitary bird foraging right in front of the hide. The shallow muddy water meant that it was possible to capture the effect of the sweeping bill, and the bird's footfalls.

My search for Bearded Tit was unsuccessful - not surprising really as it was a windy day (!), but I did stop to photograph yet another Avocet - this time resting on one leg.

I decided to finish the day with some time at Fen Hide, stopping to photograph a male Blackcap on the way - something that I was to regret later!

Blackcap (male)
Arriving at Fen Hide, I was just taking off my rucksack when a Bittern flew up from the reeds in front of the hide. If I hadn't stopped for the Blackcap, I'd have probably been settled in and have stood a chance of a Bittern image!

Nikkor. My biggest disappointment was that not one single dragonfly was seen - I was expecting better from Titchwell!

On the way home we managed a Cuckoo and a Little Owl, plus a probable roadside Turtle Dove, and a probable Ring-necked Parakeet near Oaks in Charnwood! Thank you Andrew for a great day!