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Sunday 20 November 2011

Local Short-eared Owl - on 19th November, 2011

I had paid a couple of visits to a place quite close to me, in the hope of seeing Short-eared Owls. I'd been told that location hosted SEOs a couple of years back. However, I'd not yet seen any there. However, on Monday I visited the LROS website for the first time in a couple of months (most remiss of me as it is a mine of good information) and saw that this location had recent reports of SEOs. As it's only a mile and a half (2.5 km) by car and then a half mile walk, it needed further investigation.

On Tuesday afternoon I went there, arriving at about 14.30. It seemed like a long wait in a stiff cold breeze, but at least there was some sun - to start with! It then got cloudy, and quite cold, and then the sun set, and then it started getting dark. I'd almost given up as photography would be impossible, and was talking to another person, who was also here for the owls, when a single SEO showed at about 16.30. It was only just possible to see it, and definitely well-beyond photography as it didn't get close. All too soon it was gone.

I was back on Wednesday, but this time it was dull and misty from the word go. Eventually a single owl showed at 16.20 - far too dark for photography again, but at least it came a little closer as it left the area, allowing a couple of  'record' shots.

I was out there again on Thursday. This time, having been joined by my Tuesday companion, we'd pretty mush given up as nothing had been seen by 16.30, and the light was dire again. My companion suggested a walk back to the car park by a route that I'd not explored before, and from a high point we saw three SEOs together in the sky at a considerable distance.

Saturday saw me there again, and I was half expecting a crowd at the weekend, but I found myself alone for the duration. It was a continually dull day and a little misty, but this time a bird did me the favour of appearing at  15.15, whilst there was still some light (just about - I was trying to get flight shots at ISO 2500 with shutter speeds running around 1/250!)

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
 The bird stayed around for about fifteen minutes, but always keeping its distance. At one point it landed on the path that I'd walked up to get to my vantage point! After doing a dive for prey it headed off along the path, behind some trees. However, five minutes later it was back, closely followed by a couple with a dog! It was only when I looked at the photos that I noticed it had prey in its talons.

Short-eared Owl, with prey

The bird disappeared for a while again, presumably enjoying its supper. However, ten minutes later it was back, and calling loudly and persistently. The next thing I knew it was flying round above me very close, still calling loudly. By now, however, it was getting on for four o'clock and the light had gone enough that even at ISO 3200 I couldn't get a decent image, although I must admit that, given time (or more experience of these conditions!), I'm sure I could have come up with more appropriate camera settings and better results. The following is the best of a very bad bunch!

OK, so there's not a lot of detail in any of the above images due to poor light and high ISO, and I must do better, but they'll do to be going on with - just !!

Didn't manage to get out today as the weather was foggy, and I thought that my time would be better spent doing some DIY at home, so that I'm free when the weather next improves - but I'll be back there soon!

Monday 14 November 2011

Leicestershire Snow Bunting - on 13th November, 2011

Went out owling yesterday, with the intention of finding some new territories (in which I think I was partially successful). However, in one place, which turned out not to be quite right for owls (grass too short and ordered) I had a very pleasant surprise. I'd not seen much up until this point, and decided to look in a gully in case anything was lurking - and there was this Snow Bunting foraging!! Although the sun was shining, the bird stayed down in the shade, and so the following images were taken at high ISO and low speed, and I've had to post-process the colour balance as there was a strong blue cast in all the images.

Snow Bunting
 As it was now getting dark, I set off homeward, but not before I'd taken an image of the setting sun.

 I had planned to return here today to try and get some images in better light as the weather forecast was good, and a Snow Bunting is a rare occurrence in Leicestershire. However, the day has remained grey and dull. Maybe it'll pick up tomorrow and the bird will still be there.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Fungus Fest - on 6th November, 2011

Last Sunday my main objective was to see Short-eared Owls and, in some respects, I was successful in this. However, I did stop off at three of my Little Owl sites on the way. 

Nothing was seen at LO Site No.02. At the second (my Site No.16) I didn't see any owls either, but could not resist taking an image of this Blue Tit in full sun.

Blue Tit - near Snarestone
At my LO Site No.03, one of the owls was sitting out on the nest tree. Unfortunately this still has its leaves, and the only way to get a relatively unobstructed view was to directly approach the bird - a sure-fire way of disturbing it if I got too close! I thought I'd gauged my approach distance well, but I was wrong, and the bird departed. You can see how well this bird blends into its environment here, particularly in the last image.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
Anyway - to the main subject of this post! Where the Short-eared Owls were on Sunday I was struck by the number and variety of fungi. Now I know practically nothing about fungi, so have only been able to positively identify one type - the Fly Agaric, shown below.

Fly Agaric

This next one was in abundance on a large area of grass. It was growing in rings, and the young growths looked like the type of mushroom you might find in a supermarket. However, the mature ones looked very different, with flat heads and white with a hint of blue and purple in colour. Any suggestions?

Unidentified Fungus 'A'

The next one looked a bit phallic, but I can't identify it from my fungus book. Again any help would be appreciated. I only found one stand of these! They were in stony ground beside the grass area.

Unidentified Fungus 'B'
The last fungus that I photographed (I saw plenty of others, however) was close to the previous one, and again I only saw one stand of these. I suspect that these are of the Hygrocybe (Waxcap) type, but the specifics I have no idea about.

Unidentified Fungus 'C'

Any advice on these fungi - other than exhortations to try eating the first - would be much appreciated!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Short Sighted, but Distant Vision Just About OK! - on 6th November, 2011

Inspired by the fabulous images of Short-eared Owls being created by my good friend and mentor, Paul Riddle, and not having seen a Shorty myself since May, on Mull, I reckoned that it was about time that I did something about it! Not wanting to press Paul for his location - partly because I'd prefer Paul to keep it to himself, and partly because I knew that it was a long way from Paul and diametrically opposed to my position, and so much further for me - I decided that I needed to find somewhere a little closer to home.

As a relative newcomer to birdwatching I'd only seen SEOs in five places, and each of those was where there were rough meadows close to a significant amount of water. For the past week or so I've been checking out some very local locations - so far without luck, but I'm still hopeful!
I'd pretty-well decided that, in order to practise techniques and get to understand these birds better, I'd go to a place a little more distant (but considerably closer to me than Paul's are to him!) where there was a good chance of seeing SEOs. Sunday promised to be bright and sunny all day so after a bit of a late start (sometimes I don't feel like getting up early!) and armed with a picnic, I headed out, calling at three of my Little Owl sites on the way.

Having arrived at my chosen location, I spent a good three hours exploring the extensive complex of lakes for the best location. Eventually I settled on a place between two lakes (one very large and on sonewhat smaller), and hung around and waited. Apart from a family walking their dog, and a young couple out for a romantic stroll, I had the place to myself. I'd only been there just over an hour when I caught sight of a very distant SEO being mobbed by a couple of Crows. They caused it to turn back and disappear in the direction it had come from - at least I knew that there was an SEO around!

Ten minutes later, and I had an SEO much closer to me - just 200-300 yards (metres) away, over the other side of the smaller lake, with the sun behind my back!

My first attempts were pretty-much all dismal failures. The light was so strong that if I got the background right, the underside of the owl's wings burned out like a flashlight. The nearest that I got to success was when a second bird appeared, causing both birds to rise into the sky.

Short-eared Owl

Changing the settings on my camera I started getting some better results. However, at this distance, it was nigh-on impossible to maintain focus - not helped by the bird keeping low amongst lots of stuff that conspired to confuse the autofocus!

Whilst taking these images, I was hiding in some bushes. I was never going to get good images at this distance, so I contemplated moving position to the end of the smaller lake. However, I would have to walk a couple of hundred yards (metres), fully exposing my position to the birds - so I stayed put.  The only 'just about in focus' shot I got of more than one bird at a time was when the two birds started interacting with some Crows - second bird is lower left.

Shortly after this, one of the owls headed over the water of the large lake that was behind me, into the setting sun. No hope of any images over there, but I did get some as it flew across. This next one is one of my favourite from the session.

A few minutes later, the second owl departed after the first to the other side of the large lake behind me. I was ready to pack up as the light was fading fast, when a third owl appeared in the same area.

There was more interaction with a Crow from this bird before it also flew across into the sun and over to the other side of the lake behind me. I'm not sure if this next image is one of those failures that works, but I rather like the way the sun is shining through the owl's wings.

It was now time to pick my way out of my location in the gathering gloom. I am hoping to return here another day in the not-too-distant future, when the weather is 'cloudy-bright', rather than full sun. I will take up a position that will secrete me in a place much nearer to the birds - if they hunt in the same area next time - and hope to get some better images. I don't suppose that I'll ever match those from Paul, some of which you can find on his blog at, but I'll have great fun trying!