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Wednesday 28 December 2011

Christmas Is For The Little'uns - 24th & 25th December, 2011

Saturday 24th December

It was Christmas Eve and, with an hour or so free in the morning, I decided that I'd neglected my Little Owls for too long, and headed off for my local patch. At various times I've had five LO sites on my patch, but I'm currently down to two. I first went to my Site No.02 - my most photographed site (by me and the rest of the world!). To my delight, both birds were out (a rare occurrence!). The bird in the roof didn't budge as I took my photos, but the bird on the chimney was off as soon as I got out of my car.

Little Owl (A) - my Site No.02

Little Owl (B) - my Site No.02

At my nearby Site No.12 both owls were in the back of a barn where there was only just enough light to see them - so no chance of photography. Until this morning I'd only seen one Little Owl in December so it was great to see four in the course of about 20 minutes!

I had a couple of hours at my local Short-eared Owl site in the late afternoon, but the owls didn't come out until very late, so no images.

Sunday 25th December

For quite a few years now my wife and I have had a picnic Christmas Lunch, sitting in the car in some pleasant part of the English countryside not too far from home. A couple of times we have done this on Cannock Chase, and enjoyed it, so we went back this year. I did take my camera and, although it was a rather dull day weatherwise, I did manage a few images of little'uns - this time just small birds, rather than Little Owls. Nothing very special in the way of subject matter (although the Willow Tits that are here are always good to see), and no outstanding images, but it was a very enjoyable couple of hours spent here.

Bullfinch (female) - Cannock Chase

Bullfinch (male) - Cannock Chase

Coal Tit - Cannock Chase

Willow Tit - - Cannock Chase

Nuthatch - Cannock Chase

Fallow Deer - Cannock Chase
Great Tit - Cannock Chase

Blue Tit - Cannock Chase

Monday 26 December 2011

The Run-up To Christmas, 2011

I guess, for most people, the run-up to Christmas has been a busy time, with limited opportunities to get out to enjoy more natural pastimes. It's been the same for me, and the changeable weather hasn't helped much. 

Wednesday 21st December

I had to get in more supplies of wild bird food for my garden feeders. I use the excellent range available from Prince Farm Feeds just outside Kings Bromley. I get on particularly well with Johnson & Jeffs Premium which they sell for £20 for a 20 kg sack. 

I set of for Kings Bromley after a late-ish lunch, diverging briefly to look at Whitemoor Haye in the hope of seeing owls. It was a really dull day, so I didn't fancy spending much time here. There were a few hundred Mute Swans in a field of what looked like cabbages to my uneducated eyes. Further round I found a flock of possibly a couple of hundred Fieldfare (the most that I've ever seen at one sitting). On the bank between the road and the quarry there was a flock of a couple of hundred or so Starling. As I departed from the area a huge flock of Lapwing (possibly around three hundred) suddenly rose out of a crop which had been hiding their presence.

Fieldfare - Whitemoor Haye
I came away from Kings Bromley with 40 kg of birdseed which should last me until after the Christmas period! I had intended returning to Whitemoor Haye on my way home, but as I set off, it seemed that the weather was brightening up. I had to make a quick decision as to whether to stick with this intention, or rushing back towards home and the local Short-eared Owls. The decision was made on the basis that it was a bit breezy, and therefore I was not so likely to be seeing Little Owls out as I was Shorties - so homeward I went!

Unfortunately, as I approached the SEO site it got extremely dull, and I started to regret my choice. It was also a bit late when I arrived (just after 15.00). No owls were seen for a while and then I saw one which almost immediately perched on a fence post. It was very inconveniently positioned in that the fence was running directly away from me and there was no way I could position myself to view it from any other way. However, there was an up side to this in that the hedge along the fence allowed me to get a little closer without disturbing the bird. Photography through the hedge was, however, not easy in the poor light (lens at 500 mm, 1/60 sec at ISO 1600 hand held) !

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

A strange result of shooting through bushes, and the fence running away from me, is that virtually everything is out of focus except the bird, strongly emphasising the bird! I still can't make my mind up whether I like this effect. I keep hoping that, one day, I'll get the opportunity for a nicely positioned SEO in good light!

Thursday 22nd December

The day dawned bright, still, and sunny - lovely weather for owl photography - so my wife decided that she needed a break from Christmas preparations. Now, she's been really busy and more than deserved a day out so I was more then happy to oblige. Her chosen destination was Caudwell's Mill in Derbyshire, where there are craft shops, etc. Sadly the gallery, which was the main reason for going, was closed when we got there (although the web site indicated that it would be open!). However, I did get the opportunity to photograph a Little Grebe in the warm sunlight that was reflecting off the vegetation. I had to stand on tiptoe to take these photos as the grebe was up on the mill race, and I was at a lower level.

Little Grebe - Caudwell's Mill, Derbyshire
 I had been hoping that we'd be back in time for me to get my local Short-eared Owl site again, but by the time we'd had a Chinese meal in Ashbourne, and explored some of the shops there (it's a great centre for antiques), it was too late. Oh well!!

Thursday 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

Thank you to everybody who has dropped by. Your kind words, support, and encouragement, have been very much appreciated.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas, and hope that 2012 brings you all that you wish for.

Richard Pegler

Sunday 18 December 2011

Nice Weather For Shorts! - on 15th and 18th December, 2011

Was out on Thursday afternoon delivering Christmas presents to the landowners of my Little Owl sites (no LOs seen!) and had finished by about 15.00 so decided to head for my local Short-eared Owl site whilst there was still some light. There was still a little sun hitting the ground when I arrived at about 15.15, but at a very oblique angle. However, I  immediately spotted a SEO from the entrance gate. It flew and landed in the grass about 10 metres from the path, about 200 metres ahead of me. I tried a stealthy approach and got to within about 20 metres. I found that I was already having to work at 2000 ISO so there is not much detail in the image.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

It stayed for quite some time, but it did not allow me to get any closer before it departed to the far side of the field. For the next hour I watched the owls (there were two of them for some of the time) and the ISO went up from 2000 to 3200 before I gave up the photography side of things. The owls, for most of the time, were staying very low, and as the fields round here that are frequented by the owls are all rather humped in the middle I seemed to get a lot of images of owls just above the grass. However, the owls were also landing in the grass a lot more than usual.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

With the last knockings of any light I took the following image which, although poor, I include because it's not often I see the spread wings from above.

Short-eared Owl - Ashby de la Zouch
Today (Sunday 18th December) I had a plenty of free time and decided that, as it was a sunny morning after earlier rain and snow it might be worth a look to see if the owls were out again - they weren't as far as I could see!

Not to be outdone, I returned again in the afternoon, with the sun still shining brightly. No owls showed whilst the sun was out, so I set off to explore some of the other locations that they frequent. I'd almost given up, with the light getting impossibly low, and was heading back to my original location, when an owl flew out of the new plantation beside me and landed on the stump of a bush in a recently cut hedge about 25 metres away. It didn't allow me to get any closer but, miraculously, I managed some images which came out. Whilst not good, these are probably the best SEO images I have managed so far (1/50 sec. handheld at ISO 1600!!). One day I'll get there!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

Saturday 17 December 2011

Late-Breeding Barn Owl - the outcome

Back in September I posted on this blog about about some extremely late-born Barn Owl chicks (see "very late new-born owl chicks"), and said I let my reader know what the outcome was.

In that report I stated that there was no food in the nest, and that the male bird had not been seen for three days. I'm sorry to say that the male bird was never seen again, leaving the female to look after her brood by herself. Whether the male abandoned his family or met with an untimely end, we will never know. Anyway, the situation became quite desperate and, in spite of efforts by the landowner to assist by supplementing the female's efforts with the occasional supply of mice, the brood dwindled down to two surviving chicks.

The two chicks matured enough to be ringed and, eventually, both chicks made it out onto the ledge just below the nest-box entrance. However, whilst they were being observed on camera, the female returned with food and in the ensuing scrabble for a meal both chicks fell off the ledge. One was seen to return, but the second (a significantly smaller bird) didn't re-appear. 

The next day, a search revealed the second chick on a branch above the middle of a brook, clearly unable to fly back home. The landowner's son was lowered into the brook in a bucket and the owlet retrieved, and returned to the nest box.

A few days later and the turmoil on the ledge was repeated when the female returned with food. Again the smallest of the owlets fell, and was not seen to return. However, this time the outcome was not so fortunate. The bird was found dead nearby.

It was always going to be touch and go whether these chicks hatched, or survived with the eggs being laid so late. However, considering the actual circumstances with no male bird there to assist with the feeding, I think that it's a miracle that one bird was raised to fully-fledged status. It now has the rigours of the winter to contend with, and I wish it all the best of luck.

Saturday 10 December 2011

After The Rain, Shorties! - on 9th December, 2011

The day started bright and sunny, so I made up my mind to take an afternoon off and do some owling. After lunch I got the kit together, and it started throwing it down with rain as I got to the front door. In case it was just a shower, I set off for my local patch and sat opposite the barn which is home to Little Owls. I couldn't see a thing through the rain which didn't let up for half an hour. When it did let up I had a quick look round (no owls seen), and as it looked as if it was only a matter of time before it rained again I decided that I'd go to places where I was never far from the car. I set off for my nearby new LO Site No.25, where I have not managed any images yet, but before I could full y check it out there was a hailstorm which, in the strong wind which suddenly got up, came sideways and hurt like hell! Time to pack up and do some shopping!

I came out of the shops just before 15.00, and the sun was shining again. When are Short-eared Owls most likely to be active? - in fine weather after rain! So I set off to my local Shortie site. I'd just got through the gate before the half mile walk to the usual viewing point, when I spotted a shortie two fields away. I soon got there but, unfortunately, the sun was literally a few minutes away from dipping below the horizon. The first few shots were grabbed at inappropriate settings, and subsequently scrapped. I did, subsequently, manage to get set up and grab a few distant images.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

Suddenly there were two birds together, but the sun had now dipped out of sight, so photography got a bit more difficult. Regrettably the birds kept their distance.

At one point one of the owls dropped into the field nearest me, but over the horizon. When it came up, it had prey (possibly a Vole) in its talons. Unfortunately I only managed a DA shot!

Short-eared Owl - with prey
These two birds disappeared off to the north from a point about 600 metres to the east of me, but a few minutes later I had two owls approximately 400 metres to the west of me. By now, however, it was getting too dark. I'm not sure if I'd seen four owls, or whether the first two had very rapidly made their way round to a new location. I did grab a distant image in the darkened sky.

I'm used to seeing SEOs in coarse grass, but the sightings this day were with them all hunting in meadows with relatively short green grass, and with some success. They weren't the only ones having success in these meadows. At one point a Buzzard also caught something, but was 'mobbed' by one of the owls (I was concerned for the safety of the owl!). Later, a Fox also managed a kill in the same  meadow. I'm not sure what it caught but it was chomping on something small (shown in the second image below). The fox seemed rather large, so may have been a male

Fox - near Ashby de la Zouch

I gave up when it got too dark to see much, but returned again this afternoon (Saturday 10th Dec.). This time there had been no rain, and I didn't see a SEO until it was too dark for photography again. I took a small diversionary route on a path through a young plantation on my way back to the car, and was suddenly surprised by a SEO zipping between the trees towards me, only turning round when it was about 10 metres from me. If only I had been prepared, I could have taken a great shot with the in-built flash on my camera as it was so close! Oh well - you win some you lose some. I'm still trying to win a few!!

Thursday 1 December 2011

Too Few, Two Little, Two Short Too Late, Too Bad! - on 30th November, 2011

Too Few? - Well, until yesterday, this November was my worst month since October 2010 for Little Owl sightings. This was partly due to my just not getting out in the field, and partly due to me being distracted by Short-eared Owls (of which I had more sightings in the month than in the whole of my life before!).

Two Little?  - Yesterday the sun was shining and so I took a short break from the building project in my garden. At my local patch I found one Little Owl in the back of a barn - not enough light and too far away for photography. However, I did take a shot of a Pied Wagtail on the barn roof.

Pied Wagtail - my 'local patch'
 At a second site on my local patch I was talking to the farmer when I think I saw a LO depart out of the corner of my eye, but could not relocate whatever it was - so that doesn't count. I then went a mile or so up the road to investigate a possible site, uncovered after I'd seen the Snow Bunting (see earlier post). This resulted in me spotting a departing LO, and positively I/D-ing the nest cavity - my new Little Owl Site No.25! Rather than try and follow up this bird, I had another potential site to investigate and I was running out of time before lunch. However, although there was evidence of owl occupation at this location, no owl was seen. These two LOs meant that it was now only my worst month for sightings since December 2010. On the way home, I put up a Kestrel that had been at the roadside, unseen by me until it took off and landed on a distant post in the adjacent field.

Common Kestrel - near Normanton le Heath
Two Shorts Too Late? - That afternoon I took another break, but the sun went behind the clouds just as I was departing, and stayed that way. I was off to my local Short-eared Owl site. As I arrived I stopped to photograph a Fieldfare in the gathering gloom.

Fieldfare - near Ashby de la Zouch

Two Short-eared Owls did their usual trick of showing just as it was too dark for photography. I only managed just the one 'record image' before they quickly disappeared, and I'm not sure whether it was a third bird that appeared about five minutes later.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

By now it was far too dark to contemplate any sort of photography - even if a bird had perched close by. I was also quite cold having been standing in a stiff breeze, so it was time to go home.

Too Bad! - I'd seen four owls (possibly six) and only managed an (only just keepable) image of one of them, but at least I'd found a new site, and it leaves me plenty to work at another day!