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Monday 31 December 2012

End of Year Mop-Up - December, 2012

It's official - 2012 has been the wettest year in England since records began (whenever that might be?)! Many people, I'm sorry to say, have been mopping up in the literal sense, having been flooded to various extents. I'm one of the lucky ones who have only suffered minor inconvenience, having had to make a few diversions to avoid flooded roads, but it has severely curtailed my bird watching activities. This is, therefore, a brief mop-up of what I have done over the past couple of weeks and not covered in my blog so far.


I've done very little in the way of owl watching in December, although I have managed to add another two new Little Owl sites to my list, and I have had a couple of sightings of Short-eared Owl at the site where I had good sightings last winter.

I've not got any more images from my LO Site No.32, but I did get some from my most recent site (No.33). These were taken under extremely difficult circumstances - it was very dull and windy, and the environment was very noisy! I won't say more than that, but my pal Titus, who introduced me to the farmer here, will know what I mean! Hopefully I will be able to return in better conditions and get some improved images!

Little Owl - my new Site No.33
Just before Christmas, I also had a bit more luck at my LO Site No.31 in Calke Park. It was cold, dull, and breezy, and I couldn't find an owl to start with. Then one flew from behind a tree which was much nearer than I'd seen the owl here before. Unfortunately it flew to the ground, doubling the distance between us. I managed a few grabbed shots from against the fence before it flew back towards me, and landed in the tree - with the trunk between me and the owl again.

Little Owl - my Site No.31
I hung around for a couple of hours in the hope that it would fly back down to the ground, but it didn't, and the only way I could see it was still there was to walk away along the fence and look back - as shown below.

Little Owl - my Site No.31
Garden Birds

On 21st December my annual Garden List reached a new record with the addition of a Brambling. I only count birds that actually land in my garden. Fly-overs do not count. My previous annual record was 31 species, and I now stand at 32 species for 2012. I'm very pleasantly surprised by this as the elimination of the garden pond 2/3 the way through 2011 means that I'm not now getting the birds that used to be attracted by the water or the fish. Missing from previous year's sightings are Grey Heron and Grey and Pied Wagtails. Also missing are Common Pheasant and Fieldfare. I only started records in 2009. 'Firsts' to the garden list this year are Goldcrest, Willow Tit, and Chiffchaff, although the first two have definitely been seen in the garden before I started records.

The recent sightings of Brambling, Blackcap, Bullfinch and Redwing have not, unfortunately, continued, with a pair of Lesser Redpoll being the only uncommon (for our garden) birds visiting us on a fairly regular basis. The weather has not been conducive to garden photography, but here is a token recent image.

Lesser Redpoll (male) - our garden
Other Birds

I've not really done much birdwatching that I've not already reported on. A couple of return visits to Calke Park (one on 17th December and one on Boxing Day) served to remind me to attempt better images of Marsh Tit ( got some, but still not better, on 17th) and gave me my first Treecreeper images from Calke on Boxing Day, when the weather was pretty grim (but, again, I need to do a lot better).

Marsh Tit - Calke Park
Treecreeper - Calke Park
So what will the New Year bring?

Tomorrow the Garden List starts again from zero - always an exciting time for me!

For Christmas I got Adobe Photoshop Elements 11. Until now, I've use Corel Photopaint for all my photo editing, but I'm looking forward to getting to grips with Photoshop. So far the results have been far from encouraging - I've not yet found a way of loading multiple images into Photoshop, other than by calling them in one by one (clicking the first, and then clicking the last with the shift key held down, only results in the first getting loaded). Any hints and tips - particularly where to find a good learning resource - would be much appreciated.

I'm hoping for a prolonged spell of dry, bright, and windless weather so that I can get in some serious owling.

Other than that, all that is left for 2012 is to wish you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2013, and to thank you for your past kind encouragement and support .

Sunday 23 December 2012

Happy Christmas & Best Wishes for 2013

At this special time of year, I'd like to thank all my readers for their kind words, encouragement, and support during 2012. This has all been very much appreciated.

My best wishes to you, and yours, for a wonderful Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Thank you again.

Richard Pegler

P.S.  :  I didn't manage any snow pictures of owls in 2012, so this is one from December 2010.

Friday 21 December 2012

Foul-weather Friends

The weather in these parts, as in virtually everywhere in the UK, has been pretty foul for some time now. Just when we think that we are in for a spell of dry sunshine it starts chucking it down with rain again. The land is soaking wet, and the new rain just isn't sinking in. In general, bird-watching (for me anyway) has taken a bit of a 'back seat' over the past few weeks. 

However, there is one place I know where a spell of bad weather really brings the birds in - my back garden ('back yard', to those of you over the other side of the pond)!! Now that the wet weather is accompanied by cold conditions (often freezing), the birds are visiting us like never before! Bird-food consumption has tripled over the past few weeks, and the garden year list has been added to with birds that we don't usually see. Today we beat all previous year counts! Incidentally, for my garden list, the bird has to actually land in our garden - fly-overs don't count.

I didn't manage an image of the Redwing that visited us recently, but I did manage record shots of Blackcap (first for the year, and two of them!), Brambling (first since the winter of 2010/2011), and Lesser Redpoll. The latter two images were taken today, when it was really dull and damp (1/60 second at ISO 1250).

Blackcap (male) - our garden
Lesser Redpoll (male) - our garden
Brambling - our garden
I'm now hoping that these birds become regular visitors and decide to visit when the weather is fine too. Then I might get some better images.

The same also applies to Bullfinch. Whilst a little more commonplace than those birds mentioned above, they are only occasional visitors to our garden, usually only during foul weather, and I need to get some better images. These are my two most recent efforts, and I am far from happy with them.

Bullfinch (male) - our garden
Bullfinch (female) - our garden
I know I've got a problem brewing. When the weather improves (if it ever does!), I shall be torn between going out and trying to connect with the owls again, or sitting at home trying to get some images of our winter garden visitors!

Tuesday 18 December 2012


It seems that the whole of the UK Midlands has been treated to a veritable Waxwing-fest this winter. I had my first brief encounter of the winter on 7th November, and was hankering after another session with them. On Saturday 8th December, after visiting my daughter's new studio on its opening day, my wife and I set off for Quorn & Woodhouse station on the Great Central Railway preservation line, where Waxwings had been reported during the previous couple of days.

We arrived to be told that a Sparrowhawk had flushed them just five minutes before we arrived. We hung around for about an hour, and then a few came back, but only stopped very briefly up in a tree, before departing very purposefully to the north-west. As we had to get home in time for a visit from our son, we departed with just a few distant shots in the bag.

Waxwings - Quorn & Woodhouse Station
On Monday 10th, encouraged by reports of a staying large flock, I set off for Loughborough. I arrived to find Waxwings everywhere! They were both sides of the main A6 road, roosting on the east side, but feeding in the blackthorns on the west side. Unfortunately, the sun was in totally the wrong direction for the feeding bushes. I then noticed a large group high up in a tree along a track, and went to investigate. I found that they were coming down to a puddle in a field to drink, but that someone had got there before me and was busy setting up sticks beside the puddle to help with photography. He then stood rather close to the puddle and the birds weren't coming - so I headed off to try the difficult shots in the feeding bush. I managed a few, in spite of the adverse light.

Waxwing - Loughborough
After a while I went back to see how the guy by the puddle was getting on. He had moved a little further away, and the birds were starting to come down. He indicated that he was happy for me to join him, so I did. The sun was a bit too low for the puddle shots, and we only had a short time before the sun dipped below the horizon. But I did manage a few more images.

Waxwing - Loughborough
I made up my mind that I'd come back early the next morning (Tuesday 11th), but before I departed I took a shot of some of the birds in the drinking-roost tree.

Waxwings - Loughborough
The next day, having set my alarm clock for an early start, and armed with hide, tripod, sticks for perches, and 8 litres of water, I scraped the ice off the windows and set off for Loughborough. I'd not travelled far from home when I realised I'd got a real problem with the clutch on the car. I continued, however, parked up as it was getting light, and found absolutely no Waxwings in sight.

I had just started to unload the car when a flock of Waxwings (possibly 50) arrived in the roost tree for the drinking puddle. They seemed to take one look at the frozen water and then departed westwards. I used this time to fill the puddle with fresh water and set up my sticks and my hide. I sat there for an hour and a half, and didn't see a single bird. Then some other people arrived and I left my hide and went over for a chat.

Whilst we were talking, a few more Waxwings (5?) arrived in the tree, and then departed again immediately. We talked for a while as other people arrived, not seeing any birds, and then my companion of the previous afternoon arrived, also armed with water and some props in the form of a bright blue pole with some clamps from what looked like jump-leads which he used to support a branch laden with berries.

To cut a long story short, only one Waxwing appeared, and it settled on the clips on the blue pole before dropping down into the water behind a large clod of earth!

Waxwing - Loughborough
Could have been a nice shot if it had settled on the berried branch! I waited for another hour or so without seeing another Waxwing, and then gave up at about 13:00, being more concerned about the car and limping it back home.

Whether I'll get any more opportunities to see Waxwings this winter remains to be seen. Most of the berries round here seem to have been stripped already - perhaps it's time to try the Scandinavian trick of placing upturned half-apples on the tops of garden canes?

Saturday 15 December 2012

More from Calke Park - early December, 2012

Readers of my blog will know that I've recently 'discovered' Calke Park, and have become rather enamoured with this place - with good reason! It's given me some great photo opportunities already. I recently posted a set of images of Great Spotted Woodpecker, taken here. I've now got  myself sorted out for Christmas and have found time to work my way through some of my other recent images from this place.

I've always had a thing about Nuthatches, and these perform quite well at Calke.

Nuthatch - Calke Park
The commonplace birds here are still delightful to watch. Blue tits are, in my opinion, greatly underrated, and not difficult to photograph.

Blue Tit - Calke Park
Also very common but delightful are the Goldfinches, although I find them to be a little more difficult to photograph because of the shiny red areas on the head.

Goldfinch - Calke Park
Much more mundane and (for me, anyway) hard to get excited about are Blackbirds.

Blackbird (female) - Calke Park
What I do get excited about here, are the Marsh Tits. Although they are not the most spectacular of birds, they are not the most common of birds either, but they do show up here on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I've yet to get a good image here. This is the best I've managed so far, but I've had to do a lot of sharpening on it, and I need to do a whole lot better!

Marsh Tit - Calke Park
And, of course, what I really get excited about here are the Little Owls. I've still not had one come close enough for a good image but, during my last visit, one of the owls was quite active.

Little Owl - my Site No.31
I'm also quite taken by the deer in the park. On my last visit I just photographed the Red Deer (although the Fallow Deer  were around). The females and juveniles are quite charming.

Red Deer (female) - Calke Park
Red Deer (juvenile) - Calke Park
However, the Red Deer stags are magnificent animals!

Red Deer (male) - Calke Park
It's usually getting dark by the time I leave the park.

sunset - Calke Park
My next posts will probably be a mop-up on the owl scene and perhaps one on Waxwings. Thank you for dropping by.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Great Spotted Woodpeckers - on 5th December, 2012

On Wednesday I paid another visit to Calke Park, with the hope of seeing Little Owl. I found one at my Site No.31, but it was very distant (as usual!), so I decided to try my luck with some of the other birds in the area. To cut a long story short, I managed what are, undoubtedly, my best ever shots of Great Spotted Woodpecker. First to arrive was a female bird.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - Calke Park
I was busy photographing some of the other birds, when a male GS Woody arrived. The light was a little more difficult by then but I did manage some 'keepers'.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - Calke Park
I'm very pleased with the results, although (as always!) there's plenty of room for improvement. Some of my images of the other birds will probably turn out to be not too bad when I've sorted through them. If this is the case, they'll feature in a future post.