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Thursday 31 May 2012

It All Ended In A Blur - on 28th May, 2012

A visit to the National Memorial Arboretum for the Plant Hunters Fair on Saturday, found this Pied Wagtail sitting back-lit on a rock.

Pied Wagtail - National Memorial Arboretum

After this visit my wife and I trundled off to my nearby Little Owl site, and got a very distant view of the male owl before it decided to have a go at a Jackdaw, and then disappear behind the foliage.

On Monday I was relatively housebound during the day whilst the Smart was away for service and MoT. This meant that I was at home when a male Bullfinch arrived. Bullfinch used to be extremely rare in our garden, but we've had several sightings this year of both male and female, and a few times we've had both together. This day he was, unfortunately, in the shade whilst outside my window. I suspect, however, that this enabled me to capture some facial detail, including the eye - something that's not the easiest thing to do with a Bullfinch.

Bullfinch (male) - our garden

That evening I went to visit my friends with the Barn Owls. The male owl was even less cooperative than on previous occasions. The evening started bright and sunny and I was set up for some potential flight shots. As the evening progressed with 'no-show' from the owl the light dropped and dropped. When he eventually showed at 21:37 I was down to 1/10 second at ISO 3200. I wouldn't normally include any of the images taken as the quality is poor - even when compared to previous efforts here. However, the second of the two, when he took off, shows just how slow 1/10 second is!!!

Barn Owl (male) - nr. Ashby de la Zouch
With Barn Owls, I'm always concerned that I don't cause any sort of disturbance. I was at about 40 metres distance in my hide, and the bird spotted me immediately he emerged. However, he almost instantly relaxed, standing on one leg, and with his eyes closed for much of the time, before he decided to go hunting.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Trying To Get My Mojo Back! - mid May, 2012

It's been a bit of an odd past few weeks for me, for reasons which will be understood by some of my readers. I've been out on the odd occasion, somewhat half-heartedly, but with little success However, this week I decided that it was time to try and get back into some relatively serious (for me, that is!) owling again.

On Monday evening. I went to the house of some good friends who have a couple of Barn Owl boxes in their garden. One is currently occupied by a female owl, who is looking after four chicks. The other is the daytime roost of the male, who is having absolutely no problem in keeping his family well stocked with food.

To cut a long story short, I sat in my hide waiting for the male to emerge, which he didn't do until 21.21. By then it was so dark that I managed just four images, only one of which was vaguely usable, before he departed. I was having to work at ISO 3200, 1/13 sec, f/6.3, 500 mm focal length, at a range of about 35 metres, so it was a wonder I got anything at all!

Barn Owl (male) - nr. Ashby de la Zouch
On Tuesday evening I was off to my Little Owl site No.24, where I have yet to get a decent image of a LO. I sat there in my hide for three and a half hours, during which time I ended up with a numb backside, and only got very distant sightings of an owl. However, a couple of Red-legged Partridge were scratching around on the ground, and a Brown Hare came within two metres of me. Unfortunately the Hare came from behind me and took me by surprise (no, not like that!), and I couldn't get my camera in position for what would have been an amazing shot before he shot off round a corner. If only I'd had a decent head on my tripod!

Red-legged Partridge - nr. Shepshed

Little Owl (presumed male) - my LO Site No.24

Having been forced out of my hide by discomfort, I went off to chat to the farmer. Whilst we were chatting we had very distant views of a pair of Mandarin in a tree.

On Wednesday evening, armed with my new Manfrotto 393 gimbal head (which arrived that morning) on my tripod, and a new scrim net to keep me even better concealed in my hide, I set off for my LO site No.18. On my way there, the sun went in and it began to mist up a bit. Fortunately, when the owl popped out, there was still plenty of light and I got a few shots that I'm quite pleased with, although not as good as those from my previous visit here. I didn't really get to use the full capabilities of the new head as the owl arrived exactly where the camera was set up for! 

Little Owl (presumed male) - my LO Site No.18
The owl only stayed a few seconds and then departed, returning a short while later, when it kept itself out of view as it entered the nest hole. As it was getting more misty by the minute it was time to pack up and go home.

Thursday had me doing an evening turn of duty with the Rutland Ospreys. I was accompanied by my Barn Owl friend, who will remain nameless (he's, understandably, very cautious about not publicising that he has the owls, and the security round his garden is not to be messed with!), and we had a most enjoyable evening, although the direction of the bright sunlight and the heat haze made viewing the Ospreys difficult. Photographically I had to content myself with the nearer Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers, although they didn't get very close either.

Reed Bunting (male) - Rutland Lyndon

Sedge Warbler (presumed male) - Rutland Lyndon
That night, on the way home, we saw a Barn Owl which flew across the road in front of us and, a little further on, a Little Owl on a distant barn. I'd got all the way to 4th May without seeing a Barnie in 2012, and now I'd had my fifth sighting over three different sites in less than three weeks!

I'll finish off this post with a couple of images that I took at Rutland Water two weeks prior to this - the second is a poor quality image, but one that I was pleased to get of a female Stoat carrying her young between nests.

Stoat (female) carrying young - Rutland Lyndon
And finally, a backlit Hare at Staunton Harold a couple of days later, which was all I ended up with after three hours in my hide waiting for a Little Owl which never appeared!

Brown Hare - Staunton Harold

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Clover - 1995-2012

Clover - 1995-2012
Today we had to say goodbye to our much-loved cat, Clover (affectionately known as Crowie). She'd been with us for all but 17 years from when we collected her from the Cat's Protection League as a very young kitten. Since then she has been a most wonderful companion. Just over a month ago she had a fit, and the vet warned us that she almost certainly had a brain tumour, and this would be terminal. We took the decision that, at her time of life, we didn't want to subject her to too much trauma, and so we just monitored her condition as best we could, ensuring that her quality of life was the greatest consideration. Today she went into a fit that she did not come out of, and we were advised that her time had come. My wife and I are both desperately missing her already. We take some consolation in still having her brother (from the same litter - although you wouldn't know it) with us, but he is showing signs of missing her too.

Please excuse me posting this on my blog. I know that it has nothing to do with the blog's title, but I consider my blog a bit like a personal diary and, therefore, I do not feel that it would be true to her memory if, on these pages, I ignored her passing.

God bless you Crowie, and thank you for all you've given us over the past seventeen years. .

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Back In At No.10 - on 9th May, 2012

No, not anything to do with political aspirations, but an owl sighting. On 21st April, 2010 I saw two Little Owls in a tree at the edge of my local patch, and designated this to be my Site No.10. Since then I've passed this way several times a week and not seen an owl there again. My nearest LO site to No.10 is approximately 400 metres away, where I had ten sightings of a solitary owl between April and July, 2011 (but again, nothing since). 

Early last week I passed Site No.10 and was dismayed to see that the tree had come down in the gales of  Sunday 29th April. I commented to my wife as we passed that now I'd never see an owl again in that tree. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when today (just a few days later) I spotted a Little Owl in the tree on the opposite side of the road to the fallen tree!

I stopped the car and took a few record shots, and watched from a distance. Unfortunately, within a few minutes, it started raining and the owl, in typical LO fashion, flew off, dropping below the hedge line as it did so, so I never saw where it ended up.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to consider this a new sighting at No.10!

Little Owl - my Site No.10

So my first image from Site No.10. I hope that there are better ones to follow!

Friday 4 May 2012

Male Marauder - on 1st May. 2012

In a previous post I published an image of a Sparrowhawk in our garden, saying I was not sure whether it was an immature male or female. I didn't get any suggestions in response to this. This one that visited briefly on Tuesday is definitely a mature male, however! The image is poor as it was throwing it down with rain, and it was taken through window glass that the rain was falling on  - it's a wonder that I got any sort of focus! This has been heavily 'post-processed' - the original was far worse!!

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Twofers - on 30th April, 2012

I'd had a pretty miserable morning and start to the afternoon, so decided to go out and sample some of this strange thing called sunshine that we'd not seen for a while. My Little Owl site at Staunton Harold didn't yield anything so I set off for a farm near Shepshed where I'd put up a Little Owl box, as the farmer was trying to entice the owls from their present nest so that he could dismantle the structure that they were in (so far nothing happening). No owls were seen, possibly because it was a bit exposed and windy at the time. As there was still a bit of sun around, I decided to go to my LO site near Oaks in Charnwood, where it's a bit more sheltered. It started to rain as soon as I got there, and I nearly said 'sod it!' and turned back home. Fortunately I didn't, but set up my hide opposite the nest tree.

The nest tree on this site has three visible holes in it - one small, one medium and one large. Last year, when I first found the site, I spent time watching all three holes. It was mystifying, as I kept seeing birds coming and going, but never saw one enter or leave a hole. Then one day late last summer I watched a juvenile sitting in the entrance of the medium sized hole. Eventually it left the hole on foot - and promptly disappeared! I was getting more perplexed. It was only when the leaves were off the tree in the winter, and the landowner had pruned the tree a bit, that all was explained - there was a fourth hole in the top of a large horizontal branch.

Arriving at about 17.00, and no owls being seen, I set up at a point where I had a good view of this fourth hole, and also the larger hole, with the sun being directly behind me and on both holes. I'd made my mind up that, if nothing showed, I'd probably go at about 19.00 as the light would be gone by then - but it wasn't! Deadline extended by half an hour, and still good light at 19.30 - and, as if it had also been watching the clock, an owl emerged and sat on the edge of the fourth hole!

I banged off numerous shots, hoping that the bird would do something exciting, but it just gazed about between long periods of examining me in my hide. After what seemed like an eternity it just popped back into the hole. When I look at the data this episode was, in reality, only two minutes from start to finish.

Little Owl (probably male) - my Site No.18
I thought that I'd stick around for a while in the hope that the bird would emerge again and do something different. However, within just a few minutes, my gaze was diverted by something going on through a gap in the hedge behind the nest tree. By just dropping the angle of the camera by about 10 degrees from where it had been pointing at the owl, I had a pair of Mandarin in view! Unfortunately it was only a small gap in the hedge, and intervening twigs made it hard to focus. Knowing how easy it is to spook Mandarin, I think that I'm lucky that the hedge was between us, and that I was in a hide!

Mandarin - at my LO Site No.18

So, without moving a muscle, I achieved my best ever LO images from Site No.18, and my best image to date of a drake Mandarin (although there's a lot of room for improvement!). By 20.10, the light had gone and it was time to go.

After all this excitement, I had the wind taken out of my sails a short while later. On my way home I called into the drive-through facility of the 'Scottish Restaurant' to buy my evening meal, and was asked to park up while they cooked my meal from fresh. After ten minutes it was brought out to me, but it was only when I got my cheeseburgers back home that I noticed that the 'yoof' behind the window had identified me on the receipt by writing the last three characters of my car's registration and "old man with glasses".