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1. I have a policy that I always reply to comments on my blog, even if it's just to say thank you.

2. Please don't submit comments that include your own web address. For obvious reasons, they will not be published.

3. I'm now on Twitter - @RichardPegler1

Saturday 31 March 2012

Rutland Ospreys - on 29th March, 2012

Many of the Ospreys at Rutland Water are already back, and on Thursday evening I did my first shift of the season (my 6th season) as a volunteer on the Osprey Project. I favour the evening shift, at Waderscrape Hide, as it gives me some time with the visitors, but also usually (but not always!) some quiet time later, after the visitors have gone - a nice mixture.

It was gloriously warm sunny weather that day, and so I set off early (it's about a 45 mile (75 km) journey from my home to Rutland Water), intending to catch up with some of my Little Owl sites that I haven't visited since last August on the way.

I found a LO at each of two of my local sites soon after leaving home, but had absolutely no luck at the other four sites I stopped at after that.

I arrived at Rutland Water with 20 minutes to spare and so, instead of going directly to Waderscrape Hide, I carried on a bit further to Shallow Water Hide. I only had five minutes to spare by the time I got there and my visit didn't reveal anything exciting and I only photographed a few Wigeon.

I arrived at Waderscrape, and was immediately disappointed to see that the channels which radiate from the hide had dried out completely. In past years these have been a source of considerable interest. However, the Water Rail that were the stars, disappeared after the harsh winter of 2010/2011. In the 2011 season the channels still provided some interest, with regular sightings of Grass Snake at close quarters being the most exciting for me.

For the past two years male Osprey 5R(04) has held the Manton Bay territory with an unringed Scottish female. They successfully raised and fledged three young last year.

This year 5R returned on March 16, but as I write this, his partner of previous years has not yet returned. Our man has not, however, been idle! He is currently enjoying a dalliance with female Osprey 5N(04) (yes, his sister!!), but another female, 00(09), has been showing interest too! For more details, please look at the Osprey Project's web site .

Female 5N was on the nest when I arrived, but we did not have to wait long before 5R appeared. He brought a tuft of dry grass, for nest lining, to the nest, and soon after was copulating with 5N.

Ospreys 5N and 5R - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
Sorry about the quality of the above image. It's a heavily-cropped distant shot, and the light on sunny evenings is in totally the wrong direction from Waderscrape (better from Shallow Water).

5R was quite active during the evening, flying around, off doing a spot of fishing, copulating with 5N and then off to do a bit more fishing - and so it continued!

At one point he flew reasonably close to the hide, allowing for some closer (would have been better if I'd not fluffed the exposure) shots.

Osprey 5R - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
On return from one of his fishing trips, he was carrying a fish which I failed to identify, but seemed to be very knobbly. He was being hounded by a young Herring Gull which was trying to relieve him of his catch. He did, however, manage to hang onto it and, after enjoying the head-end, took it to the nest for 5N to finish off.

Osprey 5R pursued by Herring Gull - - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
It seems that he'd been showing off and over-fishing, as 5N left the nest and the fish, and both birds flew off together, leaving the fish for a Crow to finish off!

With the lack of Little Owls seen on my outward journey, I'd been hoping that a Barn Owl would show up before I left (they sometimes do!), but I was out of luck. It was virtually fully dark by the time I departed, but as I left the reserve, there was a Little Owl perched on a fence. I've not seen one at Rutland Water before, so I'll call this my LO Site No.27, and keep my eyes open in the hope of more sightings and some images (when the days get longer).

Monday 26 March 2012

Nearly Out For A Duck! - on 24th March, 2012

Whilst it seems that most of UK had a good week weatherwise last week, here we had cold, damp, misty, and dark weather all week - even though 20 miles (30 km) up the road the weather was beautiful for much of the time. I was, therefore, somewhat relieved that Saturday afternoon turned fine and sunny. Time to catch up on some of my Little Owl sites that I have not visited for  while!

The first six sites yielded absolutely nothing in the way of LOs, and by 18.00 it had suddenly started getting misty and dark again. I was facing a whole afternoon without sighting an owl!  However, I was lucky at my LO Site No.06 with one of the owls spotted at 18.15. This was the one with the very bushy white eyebrows, that is easily recognisable. The light was terrible, however, and so I only got a few poor images at ISO 2000.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
After this I briefly stopped at my LO Site No.16 but nothing seen. One owl over eight sites was not good, so I came home via my trusty Site No.02. I could just see an owl on a telegraph pole (far too dark for any attempt at photography) and then set off home. Two owls over nine sites is a pretty poor score, but at least it wasn't the duck that I looked as if I was heading for until quite late!

Earlier in the afternoon I had decided to drop in at Blackbrook Reservoir as it was on my route between sites. Nothing outstanding was seen but it did yield an unusually confiding Red-legged Partridge, and my first (unidentified) warbler of the season - probably a silent Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler.

Red-legged Partridge - Thornton Reservoir

unidentified warbler - Thornton Reservoir

Great Crested Grebe - Thornton Reservoir

Friday 16 March 2012

Image Manipulation

In my last post, I asked if anyone could give me any advice as to if I could more easily edit out the twigs from the last image in the post (just leaving the bird, the post, and the wires) if I had 'Photoshop Elements' (I use Corel Photopaint). I'd like to thank the three people (Christian Thompson, Paul Riddle, and Doug Scott) who contacted me with suggestions - all of them different!! 

To save you referring back to the previous post, here's the image in question:

Original Blog Image
Christian's suggestions, based round the 'magnetic lasso tool', layers, and the 'healing tool', came first, and looked interesting. As I have similar facilities in Corel Photopaint, I gave it a try, but fell at the first hurdle as I couldn't get the 'magnetic mask' to work properly (must give it another try sometime).

Next came Paul's suggestion which, essentially, relied on using 'cloning' techniques. By the time I'd got this I was already working with Corel's 'cloning' facilities, but finding it laborious. Paul sent me his edit of my image, and I saw that he'd simplified matters by just leaving the bird and the post, and cloning out the shadow of the barbed wire. Paul had also evened-up the lighting on the face of the bird. The result is shown below (thank you Paul):

Paul Riddle's Edit
Whilst I very much appreciated Paul's efforts and input, I felt that the image needed more in it, so I continued my own edit, and came up with the following:

My First Edit Attempt
I felt that this image was still too stark, and needed more substance. It was at about this time that Doug sent in his suggestions for a method. 

Doug's method was as follows:

 .     Using the quick selection tool I selected the owl and the top of the post.  - Saved the selection (ie the shape of the selection).  - Copied the selection to a separate layer.  - Turned off the new owl layer and returned to the background.  - Loaded the saved selection.  - Deleted the selection area using content aware fill.  - Selected the spot healing tool and “painted” out the branches and twigs.

Doug also sent me his edit on my image (thank you Doug):

Doug Scott's Edit
I'll have to wait until I get Photoshop Elements before I try Doug's method, but it did make me realise what I wanted from the image.

I'm a little uncomfortable about publishing images that have had anything more than relatively minor adjustments. If this was an art blog, that would be a different matter, but this is a nature blog, and I feel that it should largely represent the reality of the situation (and if I succeed in doing that in an artistic fashion, so much the better!).

Because I'd already done fairly extreme editing on the image, I had to start again, but this time it was a lot easier as there was so much less to remove.

My final edit of this image
OK, so technically it's not brilliant, but to me the minor tweaks represent a considerable improvement, whilst still capturing the essence of the scene.

Whilst this represents about as much manipulation as I'm ever likely to do on images on this blog, I did play around a bit with my original 'hard edit' and came up with another couple of images by superimposing the edited image on different backgrounds - just for fun you understand!!

The first image shows the same owl on the same day, about to fly behind itself!

The second image shows this owl having followed me on my holidays to Colorado in 2008!

If only this last image had been real!!!!

Once again, my thanks to you all for your input - it's been a good learning experience!

Monday 12 March 2012

Hicks Lodge - on 11th March, 2012

I have a policy that I don't usually divulge the exact locations of my sightings of owls, but in this instance, the cat is well and truly out of the bag! On 1st March I was approached by someone from The Forestry Commission to see if they could use one of my Short-eared Owl images in a press release that they were about to put out about the SEOs at Hicks Lodge. I let them have a few to choose from, with certain provisos (which have been fully met so far!). I was shown a draft of the wording, and suggested some important changes, and also tried to get them to tone down their over-enthusiasm - "rare birds" and "twitchers flocking to Hicks Lodge" was just a bit too much! They'd also come up with "Owls About That Then!" as the title for the piece, but changed it to "Read Owl About It!" when I pointed out that their original idea was the title of my good friend Paul Riddle's blog, and they'd be stepping on toes.

On 2nd March I had a call to say that The Leicester Mercury was taking up the story and wanted to interview me over the phone. This happened later that day, and an article appeared in Saturday's edition and on their web site. However, the references to "rare" and "twitchers flocking" were still in there. I also didn't say that I thought they'd be there until the end of March.

Also on the Friday I had a call to arrange for me to meet up with Central Television on the Monday, but this never materialised as Port Vale were in trouble and the outside broadcast teams were sent there instead at short notice.

On 6th March I was asked if I would be willing to talk to Radio Leicester, and I had an outdoor interview with Kristina Hrywnak on Friday morning, together with the local Ranger. Kristina started by asking me to tell her about "The Red Owls"! I soon put her right, but it was only when we got back to the Centre at Hicks Lodge, that I saw where her confusion had come in - she'd got a transcript headed "Red Owl About It"!! The piece, which went out on the Breakfast Show on Saturday morning, was even more embarrassing, referring to "very rare birds".

Anyway, enough of that! On Sunday afternoon I went up to Hicks Lodge (what I used to refer to as my local SEO site). The sun was shining brightly, the Skylarks were out in force (seemed to indulging in mating rituals) and it wasn't long before a SEO arrived.

I was busy watching this owl when a lady arrived and asked if I was looking for the owls. She then told me about an article which had been in Friday's Ashby Times - yes, "rare birds" and "twitchers" again, but no interview with yours truly, although they did use my images. When she discovered that they were my images she set off home to get me a copy of the paper which she gave me a little while later  -  what a lovely lady!

Anyway, shortly after this the owl settled on a fence post, and I got my first ever image of a SEO with its 'ears' showing. These were, I believe, also amongst my best SEO images so far. Please don't forget you can click on them to see them at their best

Short-eared Owl - Hicks Lodge
I'd love to be able to take the twigs out of this last image and just leave the owl, the post and the barbed wire, but to do that with Corel Photopaint, which is what I use, would take many hours of hazardous use of the clone tool. I'd be grateful if someone can tell me if it would be a relatively easy job in Photoshop (Elements?).

I wouldn't be surprised if this was my last sighting of a SEO here (until next winter?), as I'm used to seeing two to four birds each time, but for the last two visits there's only been one bird (but not necessarily the same bird) seen.

I've already mentioned the Skylarks here, and these continue to delight (and the owls are partial to them too!).

Skylark - Hicks Lodge

Sunday 4 March 2012

I Should Go Home More Often!

Having finished a wallpapering job at home a couple of hours ago, I decided that it was about time I posted something on my blog. As far as the title of this post is concerned, you'll see why towards the end of this post!

I've been out very little over the last week or so, other than to pop out and look after friend Martin's feeding station whilt he's away. I have found time on a couple of occasions to briefly go and check on the Little Owls on my local patch. They seem to be doing fine, and whilst my Site No.02 features more than any other in images on my blog, I was pleased with the light on this one, taken last Sunday.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
On Thursday, after topping-up Martin's feeding station early in the afternoon, I popped over to my local Short-eared Owl Site to see if they were out. They weren't, but the Skylarks were in full song, and some of them were sitting on posts, and being quite confiding. I still can't make my mind up about the first back-lit image. I didn't hang around long that day as the decorating was calling!

Skylark - near Ashby de la Zouch

On Friday I was a bit later topping-up Martin's feeding station, so I went straight on to the local Short-eared Owl site again. Nothing doing at first, but then one was seen in the distance just before 16.00 and then, some time after this, an owl had a prolonged skirmish with a Kestrel. Unfortunately, this was at quite a distance from me.

Short-eared Owl and Kestrel - near Ashby de la Zouch

For a while these birds rose higher and higher. Then it seemed that they gave up and both drifted a little closer to me - and then took up the fight again!

Short-eared Owl and Kestrel - near Ashby de la Zouch
Eventually they broke off the fight and the Kestrel headed south, whilst the owl returned to its hunting grounds in the fields around my position.

I spent a happy hour watching the two SEOs that were hunting in the area, not getting any very satisfying images, but I'll include a few here for the sake of completion.

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch

The light was fading fast and, having met up with two others who had been watching the birds and had a chat, we decided that it was time for us to go to our homes. One of my companions suddenly noticed a SEO ahead of us, perched on a post beside the path that we were on, and only about a hundred metres from the exit to the site. We continued, somewhat stealthily now, trying to look nonchalant as we approached the exit. We ended up getting very close and I managed to get what I consider to be by far my best images of a SEO to date, even though they were at 1600 ISO and 1/200 second!

Short-eared Owl - near Ashby de la Zouch
I'm delighted that this happened to be the very pale bird that we see at this site.

In previous posts, I have referred to 'the going home shot' - a shot that is taken to record the departure time and which, in spite of poor light, unexpectedly turns out to be interesting. This takes that scenario to the extreme! I must go home more often!!