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Monday 20 August 2012

Incidentals to Rutland Water - on 16th and 17th August, 2012

My journey between home and Rutland Water, where I am one of the many volunteers on the Osprey Project, is mainly on country lanes and passes through some of England's finest countryside. 

On Thursday (16th August) I set off for Rutland Water, calling in at one of my 'local patch' Little Owl sites en-route. One of the adult owls was out, sitting up in the roof.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Almost immediately I arrived, it started to rain. I half expected the owl to pop back inside. Instead it took the other alternative - shower time!!

It moved down a level to catch the rain and, as the rain became absolutely torrential, it puffed up its feathers to get better penetration of the water, and flattened itself, wings outspread, on the roof.

I was hoping that, when the rain stopped (as it did in only a few minutes), the owl would stay and shake itself dry. However, instead it just flew up into the roof space.

Further down the road I found a dead Tawny Owl in the road. It was a bit of a mess and I didn't look very hard, and first took it to be a Little Owl as I only saw the top of a wing and it had typical Little Owl colouration. However, the wing looked a bit large to me, so I went back later and found it - I'd been thrown by the total lack of any orange-brown in the bird's plumage.

Having picked up friend Titus a short while later, we set off for Rutland Water in Titus's car. On our way back from an evening shift on 2nd August Titus had spotted a Little Owl on a fence. The result was the images which appeared at the end of a previous post. We stopped again by this location and soon found the nest tree, accidentally flushing the owl as we did so. It settled in a Horse Chestnut tree next to where we had parked the car. Having taken the safety shot, shown below, we headed back to the car.

Little Owl - my Site No.29
Amazingly the owl stayed put as we both approached it, and the car, on foot. This was probably the most confiding Little Owl that I've encountered!

Little Owl - my Site No.29
A very pleasant evening was spent at Rutland Water, but I missed the emerging Barn Owls.

On the way home we spotted a distant LO at my Site No.21, and the same LO as seen in the early afternoon was out on a fence post at Site No.29 - confirmed by pale head markings up from 'nose' towards the bird's right crown.

Little Owl - my Site No.29
The following day was the opening day of the International Birdfair at Rutland Water. I had an early start from home so that I could be there before it opened, as I had to be finished in time to get round to the other side of Rutland Water for another shift at 17.00, and so needed to make the most of the day. As it happened, I'd finished what I wanted to do by 15.00, so decided to beat the rush out of the car park and head for a much-needed sit down with a pot of Earl Grey and a cake in the Veranda Cafe/Bar in Wing Hall - highly recommended, and a good outlet for the Grainstore Brewery. 

I arrived at Lyndon still with time to spare, so put in half an hour at Shallow Water hide - a bit of a misnomer at present as the water is at a greater height than it's ever been, and lapping at the base of the hide. I was very sad to see that the GC Grebe's nest that we'd been admiring with eggs in two weeks earlier (see below), was now under water with the female bird still trying to incubate the eggs, and 'mantling' against the surrounding water.

Great Crested Grebe - Rutland Lyndon on 2nd August, 2012
It was good to see a Brown Hawker oviposting on a floating branch, although just how successful the outcome might be, I'm not sure of!

Brown Hawker (oviposting) - Rutland Lyndon
More disturbing than the Grebe, however, was the adult Mute Swan attacking an immature swan. At first we wondered whether this was some sort of miss-placed mating attempt, but it soon became apparent that the adult meant business and was trying to drown the youngster. I had to leave for my shift before this came to its conclusion, but the youngster was visibly tiring in its struggle and I fear for the worst. 

Mute Swan - Rutland Lyndon
Also here was what I'm fairly confident was a Common Tern, but was trying to fool us that it was an Arctic by having no dark tip to its bill.

Common Tern - Rutland Lyndon
I have really neglected the dragonflies/damselflies this year - and the butterflies also! As penance, here is another - only a Common Darter I'm afraid.

Common Darter (female) - Rutland Lyndon
With it being a Birdfair evening, Waderscrape hide was jammed solid with people for much of the evening. Whilst three of the Ospreys were present for most of the time, male adult 5R didn't put in an appearance. Additional excitement was provided by one of the Barn Owls showing in the doorway of the nest box between Waderscrape and Shallow Water hides at around 18.00, closely followed by the emergence of one of the birds (unseen by myself). I did, however, manage to grab some shots of one of the owls peeping out.

Barn Owl - Rutland Lyndon
Owls were seen, but no photos taken, at my LO Sites Nos.21 and 29 on my way home. I'm looking forward to my next turn of duty at Rutland Water - if the Ospreys are still there?

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Early Owls - on 9th August, 2012

This summer I've only had a couple of dedicated photographic sessions with the Little Owls that I monitor, and only one of these sessions came up with the goods. Most of the time I've just travelled around from site to site, grabbing the odd image when it came to hand.

I've been getting the impression, during this recent spell of warm weather, that the owls are favouring being out in the morning before the day heats up too much. Now these days, I'm not an early riser, but on Friday I made an exception, getting up just before 5.00 a.m., and arriving at my Little Owl Site No. 17 just after 6.00. As I arrived, an owl was out on the roof of the hut in which they nest, but it flew off as I walked up the drive to the farm. I set up my hide in a sheep paddock, with no owls in sight (although I wouldn't mind betting that they were watching me!). These days I'm more and more using a tripod with gimbal head (all Manfrotto) to mount my camera on.

I only had to wait about half an hour before the first owl (an adult - I believe female) arrived, and landed on the apex of the hut roof.

Little Owl (female?) - my Site No.17
Shortly after its arrival it gave me the first of a whole raft of interesting poses that it struck up over the next couple of hours.

Little Owl (female?) - my Site No.17

It then moved over to the other side of the roof - fortunately still in sight.

Little Owl (female?) - my Site No.17

So here are some of the strange poses - but I will sling in the odd 'normal' pose just so we don't lose track of what we expect these birds to look like. I'll also diversify with some possible captions - please let me have any suggestions for alternatives!

the Disapproving Schoolmaster

the 'Dizzy Blonde'

"my God, that tasted sour!"
"you ain't seen me - right!"
"keep the noise down up there!"
This next one is possibly my favourite of the lot!

"young Oswald - you get back here this minute!"

'the Speedskater'

Little Owl (female?) - my Site No.17

Finally, from this particular sequence, I don't have a clues as to what is going on in this next image - note the position of the talons to the left of the bird!

Little Owl (female?) - my Site No.17

Shortly after this, the adult owl disappeared, but one of the juveniles flew in only 3 minutes later - and landed on the roof just like the adult.

Little Owl (juvenile No.1) - my Site No.17
It then moved to the right hand side of the roof - just like the adult!

Little Owl (juvenile No.1) - my Site No.17
And just like the adult, it then moved into the opening in the end of the hut! However, adult No.1 was back on the roof within 7 minutes.

Little Owl (female? + juvenile No.1) - my Site No.17
This time the adult was looking like a regular Little Owl.

Little Owl (female?) - my Site No.17

The juvenile also decided to put on a show, but nothing like as good as its parent had done. Here are a few images.

Little Owl (juvenile No.1) - my Site No.17

This juvenile entered the hut at 9.00 a.m., followed by the adult at 9.07. At 9.34 the second juvenile appeared, this time landing directly on the right hand side of the roof of the hut.

Little Owl (juvenile No.2) - my Site No.17

This one soon went round to the opening in the end of the hut, but didn't stay long before ducking into the hut.

Little Owl (juvenile No.2) - my Site No.17

I hung around for another twenty minutes, hoping that the second adult and/or a third juvenile would appear. However, it was getting rather warm in my hide by now, and I was starting to nod off after my early start, so I packed up at 10.15 - well-satisfied with the 350 frames that I had taken!

As I left, I found the second adult on a distant post. It didn't stay around long enough for me to compose a shot, but here's one for the record.

Little Owl (adult No.2 - male?) - my Site No.17

Memo to self - must sort out another dedicated photographic session somewhere, soon!

Monday 13 August 2012

Notes From A Small Garden

After disposing of the large (12,000 litre) pond in our garden last year, and replacing it with a flower bed and vegetable patch, I was expecting some change in the birds coming to our garden. Gone would be the Herons (thankfully!), and Wagtails (Grey and Pied). What other influence it might have, I was unsure of.

We have seen some changes, some of them very welcome, and some not so welcome. Which, if any, of these changes might be due to the lack of pond I don't know.

For a start, we've had a pair of Bullfinches visiting us on a regular basis. In previous years we were lucky if we even saw one in the garden. We were hoping that they'd bring their young to see us, but that didn't happen and we're seeing them much less frequently now. I've published much better images of these before, and I really don't like images which show feeders in them, but here are a couple of my more recent efforts.

Bullfinch (male) - our garden

Bullfinch (female) - our garden
We've been getting up to five Magpies at a time (2 adults and 3 juveniles). I find that I tend to think of these as black & white birds, but they can be anything but this when the light catches them right.

Magpie (juvenile) - our garden
We're not seeing much of the adult Robins at the moment, but we do have three juveniles, in varying stages of development, visiting us regularly. Currently they're getting on fine with each other - I guess that won't last long!

Robin (juvenile) - our garden
The Starlings are now starting to outgrow their welcome.  We sometimes get more than thirty at once, and they are eating us out of house and home! We're currently getting through approximately 3lb (1.5 kg) of bird food a day. They are also extremely noisy and quarrelsome, and tend to put off the other birds. We'll be glad when they join up into larger groups and leave (he said with fingers crossed!). However, they are quite photogenic - if you can get them to stay still for a second!

Starling - our garden

Starling (juvenile) - our garden
We're not seeing as many adult Blue Tits as usual, but again the juveniles are visiting us frequently.

Blue Tit (juvenile)  - our garden
Recently we saw a Nuthatch in the garden for the first time in two years. It has paid us a couple of very brief visits since, seeming to prefer the seed to the peanuts.

Nuthatch - our garden
Our star bird at the moment is a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker. He's not very easy to photograph unless you get him on the fat-ball feeder (he doesn't go for peanuts either).

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden
The above image was taken through the double-glazing of the conservatory. I've put a stick up beside the feeder, and the bird usually lands on this first, but only for a second or two. A couple of times I've set my hide up in the garden to try and get a better image. Only once have I managed to get any sort of image, and the bird was spooked by the noise of the camera shutter.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden
Three times now I've seen the woodpecker on the peanuts. It was only on the second occasion that I realised that this was not our 'woody' but an adult male. My excuse is that the peanut feeder is well shaded under a dogwood.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden
Our juvenile woodpecker has strongly protected the fat-balls from the garrulous Starlings - a quick peck and they go. However, a few days ago, one Starling fought back, and then the others followed suit. There was quite a scrap and the woodpecker departed in defeat. The following was through the glazing of the conservatory again.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) + Starling (juvenile) - our garden
Fortunately 'woody' has not been put off by this encounter, and is still visiting us. I'm starting to think that this bird is, in fact, a juvenile female as the red 'cap' is starting to blacken, but there's no sign yet of red on the back of the neck - so 'woody' may become 'woodina'.

Finally, although not really a 'garden bird' a racing pigeon dropped by last Monday. It's been with us ever since! After a considerable amount of investigation (some of the numeric information on the rings was missing) I found its owner. It was released in Coventry on the Saturday, and its home is between Halifax and Bradford. I've instruction to catch it, put it in a box, and phone the owner to arrange collection. So far the bird won't let me get closer than 2 ft (0.6 metres) away. If I do ever catch it, I've visions of him taking it away, and it turning up here again a couple of days later!

racing pigeon - our garden