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Monday 24 September 2012

In Need of an Owl Fix - on 22nd September, 2012

 If you've looked at this post before and think that it looks a little different this time round, you are not mistaken. I felt that the images, taken into the sun, were a little dull, so have brightened them up a bit (RP on 5th October, 2012)

For a whole raft of reasons, I had not been out owling for thirteen days and, having to go out somewhere where there was a phone signal (thank you Orange for messing it up!), I thought that it was time to re-connect with the owls. I arrived at my Little Owl Site No.02 ('old faithful'!) to find one of the owls out on the chimney. Staying put in the car, I sat there watching. After a while it flew off behind the barn, but reappeared about fifteen minutes later in a place that it doesn't usually sit. I sat watching the bird for nearly half an hour before deciding to get out of the car and take some photos. The bird was in a very confiding mood and let me take all the photos I wanted, and was still there when I sat back in my car again!

I know that I have published umpteen images from this site, but I think that these are in a different location to virtually all the others.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Closer to home, and in the pouring rain today, a male Sparrowhawk paid us an unwelcome visit. I'm amazed at how a photo taken through the rain-streaked glass of the conservatory window, and through the rain itself, can be processed to look quite reasonable, with only bad fogging to the left of the image. Incidentally, I think that this bird might have been the cause of the disappearance of our juvenile GS Woodpecker. It was sitting atop the feeder that the woodpecker used to frequent, and looking as if it was wondering if another might show up.

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden

Wednesday 19 September 2012

So Where Did They Go? - mid September, 2012

I'd not managed to do much owling/birding in September, so was looking forward to a day out with friend Roger, who we'd met in June when staying at The Grant Arms, Granton-on-Spey. My wife, Lindsay, was going to spend the day with Roger's wife, Lynne, being pampered at Barnsdale Hall, and then shopping in Oakham in the afternoon.

Roger and I spent the morning birdwatching at Rutland Water, Lagoon 4. Plenty of birds were seen, all at a distance, and nothing of any real interest. The only photo I took of any use was of a Ruddy Common Darter (thank you Noushka!) dragonfly - this one with part of a leg missing.

Common Darter (female) - Rutland Water
Having met up with the girls for lunch at the café at Wing Hall, Roger and I set off for Eyebrook Reservoir, where the most interesting thing seen was a very distant Red Kite. At Roger's suggestion we then returned to Rutland Water, heading for the North Arm, just beyond Fishponds - at last, success! The winter plumaged Black-necked Grebe was still there and let me get a record shot.

Black-necked Grebe - Rutland Water
Yep, I know that this looks as if I've taken a monochrome image and just added in a red eye, but I assure you it's in full colour! I didn't manage a shot of the Spotted Flycatcher that was also there.

Having rejoined the girls for a cup of tea before heading home, we made our 'farewells' and set off home. We'd stopped at two of my Little Owl sites on the way out, and repeated the exercise on the way home, but no owls were seen. It had been a most enjoyable day but, if it hadn't been for the grebe, it would have been sadly lacking in interesting birds.

The following day I was booked on the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) visit to Willington Gravel Pits and Foremark Reservoir - both well known for turning up good birds. As we assembled at Willington GP a cry of "Peregrine" went up from our leader - but only he saw it! From then on it just went downhill! I broke away from the main group at one point as I wanted to find the water known as 'Canal Pit'. During this time I stopped to photograph a few dragonflies. The hawkers and damselflies eluded the camera by refusing to settle, but I did manage some images of Common Darter.

Common Darter (male) - Willington Gravel Pits

Common Darter (female) - Willington Gravel Pits

Common Darter (male) - Willington Gravel Pits
As I was heading back to rejoin the group I stopped to watch a couple of Lapwing that were having a bit of an altercation.

Lapwing - Willington Gravel Pits
Just as we were about to head back to the cars for a lunch break a distant Hobby was spotted. This was to turn out to be the most exciting thing that we saw all day! I just managed a recognisable record shot.

Hobby - from Willington Gravel Pits
After lunch we headed for Foremark Reservoir, where we saw the square root of bu--er all! In a few hours here we cheered at the distant sight of a Carrion Crow and a couple of Meadow Pipits! Even the woodland was virtually devoid of birds. Determined not to end up empty handed, in desperation I took some photos of a Red Admiral!

Red Admiral - Foremark Reservoir
I didn't make a note of the time, but I guess that we decided to call it a day at around 15:30. Determined to make something of the day, one of the group joined me for a visit to the Round Car Park by Staunton Harold Reservoir. The Tree Sparrows were notable by their absence (for only the second time in all the times I've visited) and even the dragonflies were in short supply.

A long walk round the Calke Abbey estate only yielded an image of a Comma butterfly relatively high up in a tree, and some deer in the park.

Comma - Staunton Harold Reservoir

Fallow Deer - Calke Abbey Estate
It had been a very pleasant sunny day, and I felt quite righteous as my pedometer told me that I'd walked nine miles - but where had all the birds gone?? The group leader summed it up by saying "you know that there aren't birds around by the way that they're all taking football"! On Sunday I gave up and stayed at home!

Saturday 8 September 2012

Thistle Doo !! - on 6th September, 2010

Had a quick visit to my local patch on Thursday. One Little Owl was lurking up in the roof of a barn at my Site No.12, and three LOs were out at my Site No.02. For a change, two of these were sat quite closely together. I think that these are both probably well-advanced juveniles, although I'm now finding it confusing as to what is what!

Little Owl (believed juvenile) - my Site No.02
I've got four other LO sites on my local patch, all of which have gone quiet, two for more than a year, but I do still check on them from time to time. Whilst checking on one of them on Thursday I was alerted by the loud food-begging of a juvenile Goldfinch atop a clump of thistles. The adult bird was well-hidden for most of the time, but I did get occasional glimpses of a bright red crown.

Goldfinch (juvenile and adult) - my local patch
 After quietly, and patiently, standing there for a while, the adult did make itself more visible.

Goldfinch - my local patch
 Thistle doo for now!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Good News/Bad News - on 1st September, 2012

On 1st September I made mention on this blog of a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker that was visiting our garden on a regular basis, but that I'd only ever managed to get an image of its underside - unless it was on the fat ball feeder. A couple of hours later I was in our conservatory, fortunately with camera at my side, when the woodpecker arrived. This time I did manage to get an image which shows more than its underside.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile female) - our garden
The bad news is that I've not seen this bird since then. As it was visiting several times a day, I'm just hoping that it has moved on to somewhere where it can find 'natural' food a-plenty, and that it hasn't succumbed to one of the local Sparrowhawks.

Saturday 1 September 2012

So Where Did August Go ??

About a week ago I suddenly realised that, although August is usually a good month on the owl front, with juveniles swelling the numbers seen, so far this August I was not doing so well. I reckon it was due to a combination of factors including weather, a week feeling out of sorts with a cold, and (as a direct result of the summer's weather) much more foliage on the trees than is usual, making it more difficult to see the owls. I vowed to try and rectify the situation by a relatively concerted effort, and ended up with the best month I've ever had for Little Owl numbers sighted, but only over 11 different sites.

Photographically the last week has not been brilliant, but I have ended up with a few images that I'm pleased with.

My LO Site No.15 which is in the middle of an, as yet, unharvested corn field has been impossible to approach without vandalism. However, I have tried to keep an eye on it from the roadside. Sadly, I've not seen more than one bird here for a long time, and this year I've not seen a juvenile here.

Little Owl - my Site No.15
On Tuesday I went to check out my LO Site No.08, where sightings have been rather sparse of late. As I arrived I saw that I was going to have to make my way through a field of cows. As I crossed the cattle-grid the nearest cow started bellowing. Within a couple of minutes the whole herd was bellowing loudly - I've never heard cows make such a loud racket!! Worse was to come, as they decided to follow me, approaching a little too close and a little too quickly for comfort. As I reached the far electric fence I had to drive them back by appearing to run at them with arms waving, in order to buy myself some time to crawl under the electric fence.

Unfortunately the owls here tend to roost in the trees only a few metres from the fence. With the whole herd of cows standing along the far side of the fence, still bellowing, I didn't think I stood a chance of finding any owls, so I went somewhat further to investigate the nest tree - when I got there it didn't look as if it was still occupied.

I was about to take a different route back to try and avoid the cows when I noticed an owl - in the opening of a building, not 5 metres from the fence and the bellowing cows!!

As I tried to make a stealthy approach, the cows gave the game away by upping the volume, but I still managed to get close enough for some images. Unfortunately, as you can see from the first image. the sun was in totally the wrong direction, shining brightly on the roof and with the owl in deep shade. However, I'm quite pleased with the second image here, although I wish that I'd had the presence of mind to turn the camera vertically so I could get the whole of the opening in frame.

Little Owl - my Site No.08
With some cunning tactics I managed to avoid the cows on the way back to the car, and set off for my LO Site No.18. I got to the actual site somewhat later than hoped for as I had stopped for a chat with the landowner. It was nearly dark by the time I went off to scout around. As I'd not had many sightings here in the last few months, and not seen a juvenile here this year, I was pleased to see one hiding in the nest tree. This bird is actually on the edge of the nest hole, but earlier this year this area was virtually devoid of twigs. It was so dark that it wasn't worth hanging around to attempt to get anything better.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.18
The next day I had an even more disturbing encounter with cattle at my LO Site No.06. As I entered the field I couldn't see any cattle, but as I got nearer to the nest site I could see them over the far side of the field. I was quietly approaching the favoured roosting tree in the corner of the field when I heard the thunder of stampeding hooves behind me. This was dangerous!! Being in a corner I had no choice but to lift the electric fence by hand and dive through the hedge as they slithered to a halt just the other side of the electric fence. I've never had this sort of problem with cattle before, and I'm now more than a little nervous!

I did see some owls later in the evening at some other sites, but no sensible images resulted.

On Thursday, on my way to pick up my pal Titus for a turn of duty on the Osprey Project at Rutland Water, I stopped off at my much-photographed LO Site No.02. One of the adult owls popped out whilst I was sitting there in my car. This turned out to be the one that knows me best and is quite confiding - I know it sounds sad, but I sometimes find myself talking to this one! I was able to approach without it batting an eyelid. Having taken my fill of photos I gently backed off, saying goodbye as I did so!

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Only two more owls were seen that day - a Barn Owl briefly from Waderscrape Hide at Rutland Water, and a Little Owl at my Site No.21 on the way home - but no photos were taken. Whilst it's been my best month for Little Owls, the only Barn Owls I've seen were at Rutland Water (I've not even seen Titus's Barn Owls in August!), and the only Tawny Owl was a dead one close to my home, plus a 'probable' flying through a wood on Tuesday, so not such a good month for 'other owls'.

Rutland Water on Thursday did give some opportunities for some Osprey photography. The Manton Bay juvenile male (8F) has already departed on his journey to west Africa, leaving the two parents and the juvenile female (9F). The adult male (5R) was away for the whole of my shift, but we were able to see 9F attempting to fish (she was nearly successful at one point, but dropped the fish!). Unlike some places, we don't give our Ospreys names, but just refer to them by their ring details. I don't usually have a problem with this, but this year's Manton Bay birds grate on my sensibilities somewhat. To me 8F and 9F are types of heavy-duty steam locomotives built to haul freight (8F by the LMS and 9F by BR), not the fabulous birds that have started life in Manton Bay this year!

Osprey (juvenile - 9F) - Rutland Lyndon
Just before we packed up for the evening the adult female Osprey left her perch and started to interact with an Osprey that had arrived at some height. There did not seem to be any an aggression in this interaction. and I took some images as these birds passed overhead. Unfortunately, my settings and the light was such that, although overall the exposure is OK, there is some 'burn-out' on the white under the wings.

Although we were relatively happy that one of the birds was the Manton Bay unringed female, we were unsure about the second bird. The amazing John Wright (Field Officer at Rutland Water), who knows all the Rutland Ospreys by sight, was able to tell me from my images that the second bird was male bird 11(10) - a Rutland-bred bird which fledged in 2010.

Osprey (Manton Bay female (top) + male 11(10)) - Rutland Lyndon

Osprey (male 11(10)) - Rutland Lyndon
The last week or so has continued to entertain us with garden birds. The Bullfinches are now visiting on a very infrequent basis, but both male and female are still around.

Bullfinch (female) - our garden
The year continues to be our best ever, by far, for Great Spotted Woodpecker, with an adult male bird visiting on an occasional basis (I'm unlikely to get a decent image of it as he's straight onto the peanuts and then away again).

Great Spotted Woodpecker (male) - our garden
The juvenile GSW (I'm now getting more and more convinced that it's a female) is still visiting us several times a day on the fat-balls. The image below is the best that I have managed so far - I'm hoping to get one which shows more of its 'top side' sometime!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile - probably female) - our garden
We're now getting large numbers of Blue Tits, House Sparrows and Starlings, greatly swelled by numbers of juveniles. They are continuing to eat us out of house and home!

Blue Tit (juvenile) - our garden

House Sparrow (female(L) and male(R)) - our garden

Starling (juvenile) - our garden