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Friday 29 July 2011

A Tawny I Didn't Want To See - on 26th July, 2011

A two hour stint in my hide at my Little Owl Site No.09 yielded no owls at all - only Tree Sparrows, a Whitethroat, and a probable Corn Bunting, so I moved onto my LO Site No.17, near Twycross. I arrived to find an adult bird on one of their favourite perches (as shown below) and then, just as I was contemplating setting up my hide, one of the brothers who own the farm came over for a chat.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
Whilst we leant on the gate and nattered, one of the adult birds was checking us out at a distance, but flew off after a while. After our chat, during which he told me of a nearby farm where he had seen Little Owls in the past, I had a quick look around to see if I could find an owl, but with no luck so I decided to go and follow up his tip. On the way there, I spotted something that I was not happy to see - a Tawny Owl dead in the road.

Tawny Owl (deceased) - near Bilstone

It seems to me that owls are, unfortunately, somewhat prone to road accidents. It was only four weeks prior to this that I'd found a dead Little Owl in the road by my Site No.05. It was almost exactly 12 months ago that I'd had to anchor up sharply in my car for a Tawny sitting in the road on a fine evening.

The farmer at the tip-off location seemed a little reluctant at first, but opened up somewhat after a short chat. He'd seen owls in the past, but not this year. I spent a while looking round, but to no avail. After this I set off back towards home, feeling a bit down because of the Tawny. I stopped off on my local patch to find one of the adult Little Owls at my Site No.02 up on the chimney (no photos taken). I did get a distant shot of a female Blackcap, however.

Blackcap (female) - near Packington

Monday 25 July 2011

A Tale of Two Tawnies - on 24th July, 2011

Although they are supposed to be UK's most numerous owl species, it's a very rare day when I see a Tawny Owl. This, I guess, is due to them being, primarily, nocturnal. This also resulted in this being the only UK owl species for which I have not had an image, other than one that is barely recognisable. Therefore, when last week I had a call from the partner of one of my farmers to say that she'd seen a Tawny Owl on a branch beside a road in daylight a few weeks ago, I was somewhat interested! Yesterday I'd had an unproductive afternoon owling (only one Little Owl seen - and then at a great distance) so decided to check out this location, near Sibson, with a view to going out there later in the evening. When I arrived, just before 4 p.m., I was not too hopeful of being able to spot an owl here, whatever time of day, as the woodland beside the road was dense. I was checking things out when I heard a distant Tawny call! I responded as best I could, and that was the start of a conversation! Next thing I knew, the owl was in a tree at the edge of the wood just over the road from me.

Tawny Owl - near Sibson
The owl kept fairly well covered, but I did manage a few shots before it moved to a closer, but even more impossible location for photography. Next thing that I knew it was on a branch in full view right in front of me, through the windscreen of my car. Now the windscreen of my Smart is impossible to shoot through, or even use bins through. By the time I'd hung out of the window far enough it had gone - a great shot missed! I sat for a while longer, listening to the owl calling in the distance, but as I'd planned an evening out owling, and told my wife I'd be home for tea at 5.00, I set off back home. Thank you, Diane, for the tip (Diane also tipped me off about the Little Owl site near Twycross (my Site No.17) which has been so productive for me).

That evening I visited another potential owl site where the farmer told me a week or so ago that  he has seen Barn Owl and Little Owl on an occasional basis. I had a fruitless evening, with the only excitement being seeing more Green Woodpecker than I usually see in a season! However, as it got to dusk, I was tempted by the dense woodland that was beside the very long drive up to the farm. I took my car back down the drive, opened the windows, and attempted to call up a Tawny. Within a few minutes I had a result - a Tawny in a tree ahead of me! I saw it fly in, but it landed behind dense foliage and in the bad light I couldn't spot it. As soon as I moved to try and see round the obstruction it was off again. Two Tawnies in one day - I don't usually see many more than this in a year! 

Saturday 23 July 2011

A Garden Dragonfly 'tick' - on 15th July, 2011

With a pond in our garden, although we are in a built-up area, we do still get the occasional Odonata (dragonfly & damselfly) species. However, this was the first time I've ever seen a Brown Hawker in the garden - to the best of my knowledge these usually prefer larger areas of water, and canals. This, by the body shape, was a female (males have a waisted appearance at segments 2-3). My book says that females do not have the blue spots seen on these segments on the males, but this one clearly has blue spots.

Brown Hawker (female) - our garden

A few days later, I was dismantling the summer-house in the garden. I knew that we used to have mice living under it but was still quite surprised, when I lifted the floor, to see the huge amount of debris from their occupation - mainly black sunflower husks and hazelnut shells. Also, I was not expecting to find a Frog and a Toad under here - we don't get many toads in our garden.

Common Frog - our garden

Common Toad - our garden

Sunday 17 July 2011

Spotted Sandpiper, etc. - on 14th July, 2011

Thursday found me with an evening turn of duty on Osprey Watch at Rutland Water, and reports of a Spotted Sandpiper in Manton Bay. After an early lunch, I set off on my journey eastwards. I stopped at my Little Owl Site No.21, near Hungarton, and sat in the car for a while not seeing an owl. After several scans of the nest tree and the surroundings I spotted a juvenile. Given the distance and the level of cover it had, I'd never have spotted it if it had kept its eyes closed!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.21

I sat for another hour with nothing much visible, except the LO (which didn't do much), and some distant Brown Hares on the other side of the field.

Brown Hare - near Hungarton

Feeling the call of the Spotted Sandpiper, I decided it was time to go. First, however, I got out of my car and stealthily approached the nest tree in the hope of getting a better image of the juvenile. It was off and back into the nest cavity before I could get a shot in, so I had a quick look round the tree for any indications. It was on my way back to the car that I came across some Little Owl remains only about 20 metres from the nest tree. These had chewed-off feathers, and so I expect that a fox had been at work (I understand that Sparrowhawks pull feathers out so that you find the full feathers). My guess is that a juvenile had succumbed - maybe had tried fledging too early.

Little Owl remains - my Site No.21

Somewhat heavy-hearted I set off to Rutland Water. I was greeted at the Lyndon Visitor Centre with the news that the Spotted Sandpiper had recently been in front of Shallow Water Hide. I hightailed it down there, to find that it had moved left from in front of the hide, and although I managed some identifiable record shots, they were pretty awful. I kept watching as it moved further and further away. In the meantime I enjoyed watching Osprey chick 'Blue52' which had fledged the previous day, and the antics of its sibling 'Blue32' which was 'helicoptering' like mad and giving every indication of an early fledging.

Ospreys (adult female and three juveniles) - Rutland Water
To the left of where the Spotted Sand was headed, a Green Sandpiper was sitting. Although this was even more distant, its larger size meant that I could get a record shot.

Green Sandpiper - Rutland Lyndon
Further scanning revealed the arrival of a Common Sandpiper to the right of the hide - three sandpiper species in sight at one time!

Common Sandpiper - Rutland Lyndon

As it was getting near to the time that I had to leave to start my turn on duty at Waderscrape Hide I went back to look for the Spotted Sand and it had vanished, so I returned to the Common Sand which had been getting nearer to the hide from the right. Ah, there it was, much nearer. Hang on - that's the Spotted Sand!! To my delight, it slowly came past the hide, albeit at some distance on the shoreline, but it did allow for some somewhat better images.

Spotted Sandpiper - comparison of size with Lapwing
Spotted Sandpiper - comparison of size with Pied Wagtail!!!
Spotted Sandpiper - Rutland Lyndon

I don't suppose I'll ever see a Spotted Sand again, particularly an adult in summer plumage, so I took rather a lot of shots!! I was very pleased to get some images as it took to flight. It seemed that it had climbed up onto the tussock in order to get some height to aid take-off. If the spots weren't enough, the flight shots show the diagnostic wing bar being reduced towards the inner wing.

Spotted Sandpiper - taking to flight, showing diagnostic wing bar

On duty in Waderscrape Hide, there were plenty of visitors to talk with all evening, and enough action to keep everyone happy, with a pair of Ruddy Shelduck distantly adding to the interest. The Sedge Warblers were very active and showing even better than usual.

Sedge Warbler - Rutland Lyndon

On my way home that evening I stopped again at my Little Owl Site No.21, near Hungarton. For a while, nothing was visible, then an owl appeared on the distant barn. Shortly after this a second owl appeared in the gutter of the next-door barn, and then a third was running around on the ground in front of the first barn. These were a bit too far away to identify adult from juvenile, but I think that it was one adult and two juveniles. It was definitely a juvenile that flew from in front of the barn to the nest tree, and it was definitely an adult that was calling from the barn.

Little Owls - my Site No.21

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.21

I possibly saw a fourth owl here moving around the nest tree - or it could have been one of the two from the barn that had arrived back at home, unseen by me. By now it was too dark to see much at all, and time for me to be heading for my own home. It had been a day to remember, but not entirely for the right reasons - I'm always sad to see a dead bird, but particularly when it's an owl.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Flippin Heck!! - on 7th July, 2011

Readers of my blog might remember that my most frequently visited and reported-on Little Owl site is my Site No.02 on my local patch, where one of the owls fell victim to a Sparrowhawk in May, 2010. Since then I've kept a pretty close eye on the remaining owl (believed to be female). On Thursday, as my wife was out for lunch, I decided to make myself up a picnic and eat it whilst parked opposite the barn where this owl lives. I arrived to find that the owl was out on the broken roof of the barn. Hang on - she looks a bit pale!! Flipping heck!! - it's a juvenile!!!!!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.02

It's a mystery to me what a juvenile was doing here - I'll give my theories at the end of this posting. However, I needed to record this amazing situation. I sat eating my lunch for a while, and the juv didn't move. I slowly removed myself from the car and crossed the stile to the footpath that runs by the barn - the owlet hopped up to the end wall of the barn and watched me by peeping over the wall.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.02
It was time to set up the hide, roughly halving the distance between my car and the owlet. Whilst I did this I was studiously watched by the owlet. There was absolute stalemate for an hour, with neither of us moving, then an adult was glimpsed entering the barn by a rear entrance, and shortly after that the juvenile disappeared back into the barn.

After about 40 minutes, an adult bird left by the rear entrance, and a few minutes later a juvenile arrived at the hole in the barn roof. I can't be sure, but I think that this may have been a different juv to the first one seen.

Little Owl (juvenile - possibly 2nd juv) - my Site No.02
After a while the owlet hopped up to the apex of the roof.

Little Owl (juvenile - possibly 2nd juv) - my Site No.02
After about 20 minutes another juvenile appeared in the hole in the roof. Was this a second or third juv?

Little Owl (juvenile - 2nd or 3rd juv) - my Site No.02
I now had two juveniles in view.

Little Owls (juvenile) - my Site No.02
It was not long before the lower owlet started its hissing calling to an unseen adult bird behind me. This resulted in return calls from the adult bird. I noticed that, when the owlet started its hiss, it closed its eyes, and then opened them again as the hiss tailed off (presumably to see if it had got any reaction). This is shown in the two images below.

Little Owl (juvenile) - emitting its 'hissing' call
The calls from the adult became more insistent as the frequency of calls from the juvenile increased. Suddenly the lower juv took off and settled on the nearby chimney stack. I totally missed this photographically. I also missed the second owlet going to join its sibling - but only just!

Little Owl (juvenile) - just prior to take-off

Little Owl (juvenile) - just missed the take-off shot!!
Both birds stayed on the chimney stack for a while before, apparently, flying off to join the parent.

Little Owls (juveniles) - my Site No.02
I stayed in the hide for another 20 minutes in case there were further developments but, as things had gone quiet, I then decided to leave without fuss - not attempting to re-locate the birds as I'm sure that they'd had enough disturbance for the day.

So, what are my theories about what had happened here. It was 27th May, 2010 when I found the remains of a Little Owl beside the barn at this site. Since then I have made many visits to this site, noting a single bird present on 44 occasions. There was one occasion in July, 2010, when I spotted two birds together on the chimney stack. The farmer also saw two birds together here at about that time - I assumed it was a visiting bird from my Site No.12 (only about 400 metres away). Since then, however, only one bird has been seen - or so I thought! It is possible that these juveniles were visiting from Site No.12 - when I went there after this session, I found that the farmer was using a pigeon scarer set up just 20 metres from the nest site (!), and no birds were to be seen. However, the juveniles seemed very 'at home' at Site No.02 and it is more likely that, by strange coincidence there had been two (very similar looking) birds at Site No.02 for a long while and I was only seeing one at a time. If there were two birds all the time it would explain why sometimes the bird seemed very confiding and at other times very nervous.

So where did this second bird come from? Well, it's possible that the remains found last year were not of one of the birds from this site, but of a visiting bird - the two birds from my Site No.11 (only about 600 metres away) disappeared at this time. However, I think that it's more likely that the remaining bird found another mate. It will remain one of life's mysteries, but I do feel a little daft at missing what was going on at my local patch - until this Thursday!

Tuesday 5 July 2011

More Juvenile Little Owls

From having had a pretty pathetic May for observing Little Owls, I ended up having a record-breaking June (for my own observations, that is!). My previous best had been this April, when I'd had 22 sightings of Little Owl over 9 sites. My worst month since I started keeping records was October last year (when I lost the will to live as I was without my birding lens for my camera) when I saw just one Little Owl!! June, however, resulted in the sighting of 41 Little Owls over 12 sites - OK, so it's not a lot when compared to the efforts of my mentor, Paul Riddle, but I'm pretty pleased with it - and I made more 'positve' site visits, and achieved more sightings of Little Owl in the first half of 2011 than I did in the whole of 2010!

The end of the month brought a few more LO sightings, but the beginning of July is starting quite well too.

Wednesday 29th June

I spent three hours from 6.00 a.m. camped out in my hide at my Little Owl Site No.08 at Staunton Harold. I'd seen one of the owls as I arrived, but it proved to be elusive from a photographic point of view during my stay. However, another of the adults briefly showed inside the nest hole before diving back out of sight. This was not an easy image to capture. The sun was on the face of the nest hole and the bird was at least 18 inches (0.5 metres) back in the hole where the sun wasn't shining. It was an adult - no juveniles seen.

Little Owl - my Site No.08
 Later I moved to my LO Site No.17, near Twycross. As I arrived, an adult bird was peering round a gate post.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
Another nearly three hours here didn't produce any further images although I saw two birds as I left. I next went to my Site No.18 near Oaks in Charnwood, and sat in my hide with my sandwiches. Only one adult was seen, and no images obtained. Last stop of the day was by my Site No.02, near Packington, where the solitary bird was on top of the pole beside the barn. It had not been a good day photographically, and the day was foreshortened by going to wish my son a happy birthday.

Thursday 30th June

On my way to an evening duty on Osprey watch at Rutland Water, I stopped off at my LO Site No.21, near Hungarton. An hour or so in my hide produced no sightings of a bird, but as I got out of the hide one was spotted on a distant barn. However, on my way home from Rutland Water in the evening I stopped here again and spotted an owl about 300 metres away on a post. I decided to scan the usual tree - and there was a juvenile! This is one of my latest sites and I'd only ever seen a single bird here, so confirmation that there must have been a pair was a real bonus. I couldn't get closer than about 50 metres and needed 100th of a second at 1000 ISO to get the shot - so not a good image. It didn't help that I'm not yet used to the new lens - particularly its ability to change focal length under gravity - and I subsequently found that it had shifted from 500mm to 400mm!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.21
Saturday 2nd July

I paid a quick afternoon visit to my local patch. At my LO Site No.20 an owl was out in full view on a bare branch. Before I could get my camera out, a lady on a bike stopped to chat - she was looking for a missing dog. Needless to say, the owl disappeared to a distant tree whilst we were talking.

Further on I paid a visit to the farm. After a chat with the farmer I had a look round. I can confidently say that, sadly, the Barn Owl is no longer in residence in the farmyard. However, looking in one barn where I often see Little Owl, I spotted an owl there high up in the roof - it was a juvenile (the first I've seen on my local patch!). It was very dark in there - the following images were handheld 40th second at 2000 ISO!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.12

I remembered to re-adjust my camera settings (often a problem at my age!) as I left the owlet in the barn and went round the back to see if there was anything in the favoured roosting tree - an adult bird was there, watching me, mainly obscured by leaves. This bird seems to manage a distinctly startled look! I managed to get a few shots and was pleased to leave the bird undisturbed.

Little Owl - my Site No.12
Down the road, the lone Little Owl at my Site No.02 popped up briefly onto the roof of the barn before disappearing to a distant tree. I took a walk to check out my nearby LO Site No.11, where the owls were evicted by bees just over a year ago - I keep hoping that they'll return, but still no sign of any re-occupation. However, on the way I spotted this Banded Demoiselle caught up in a spider's web. Unfortunately I could not get to it to rescue it.

Banded Demoiselle (male)
Also, near this same point, a pair of juvenile Kestrels were experimenting with flight. I watched for a while whilst one made a pigs ear of landing in a tree top before finding its feet!

Common Kestrel (juvenile)
No.11 there were a number of Banded Demoiselle. I think that both male and female of the species look fabulous but, unfortunately, the only female seen was not cooperating with the camera!

Banded Demoiselle (male)

Sunday 3rd July

Having had such a poor result at my last visit to my LO Site No.17, near Packington, I set myself up for a full morning here. The intended early start didn't happen, and it was 08.30 before I arrived to find one of the adults - out on a post, with its back to me.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
I already had in mind the shot I wanted, and quickly set up my hide and sat in it and waited. An hour later and I'd not seen hide nor hair of an owl, but amused myself with a shot of this Rabbit which never realised that I was there.


It was an hour and three quarters before an owl appeared - a juvenile in a place that was totally unexpected. Unfortunately it did nothing other than sit there for a minute before turning round and disappearing back into the roof space.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17

Nothing was seen for another three quarters of an hour before a bird suddenly flew down to a gap in the barn wall that I was not expecting to be used, as for 51 weeks in a year it is blocked up. This happened to be the one week that it was open! It was immediately followed a split second later by another bird, which stopped on the threshold. Unfortunately it didn't turn round, and so its head stayed in shadow. It was a juvenile bird, and I assume that the leading bird was an adult as I'd been hearing a calling bird at various places round my position.

Little Owl (juvenile No.2) - my Site No.17
A couple of minutes later, a third juvenile arrived, but this one did turn round and perform for the camera a little before diving into the barn. If I'd been set up in a different place I could have done better with these shots. I must try and get back before this is blocked up again.

Little Owl (juvenile No.3) - my Site No.17

I was expecting another long wait, so welcomed the distraction of a juvenile Pied Wagtail (very pale?) on the barn roof.

Pied Wagtail (juvenile)

However, the wait was not as long as I expected. Just 9 minutes after the last juvenile had dived into the barn, an adult bird emerged from the barn to check me out - this was the shot that I was set up for, but with the light as it would have been a couple of hours earlier!!

Little Owl - my Site No.17
The bird soon flew off, and then continued to check me out from various positions, out of sight. At one point, I swear it was on the roof behind my head, not two metres away! The noise was deafening!! It was while this cacophony was going on that I noticed that one of the juveniles was sitting behind a window in the barn. There was all sorts of junk between me and the juvenile, but I did manage a few images, and I am delighted with the atmosphere of the results.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.17
Twenty minutes later the adult bird dived back in through the usually closed aperture that had been so much used earlier.

Little Owl - my Site No.17

I hung around for a bit long but decided that, after three and a half hours, it was time to move in case I was unduly disturbing the birds. As I walked past the hole in the barn that I'd been set up for, an adult bird emerged again, and flew over my head! A few minutes later, and it was on a post at the edge of  a nearby paddock - time to go, but a great morning after a slow start!!

Little Owl - my Site No.17