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Tuesday 27 November 2012

Calke Unbottled! - late November, 2012

Yes, that's Calke - pronounced 'cork'.

For a couple of years now I've been hankering to spend time exploring Calke Park, which is quite close to my home, and looks very 'owly' from the outside. However, a visit to the park costs £2.20 per person, and I've been too mean to stump up this sum. Furthermore, the annual National Trust (who manage the property) membership of £53 for an individual or £88.50 joint doesn't make sense when we only have two NT properties in our county, and one of those is free to enter anyway. So I've stayed away, and kept my desire to visit bottled up!

Anyway - on 17th November my wife and I took the bull by the horns and paid a visit. We had a most enjoyable walk and I realised that this really was a place I wanted to spend more time at. A few images were obtained that day.

Birds seen were quite commonplace, but enjoyable to see and watch:

Goldfinch - Calke Park

Nuthatch - Calke Park
Greenfinch - Calke Park
There are deer in the park - both Red Deer and Fallow Deer. These are described as 'feral herds', but are contained behind high fencing. The Red Deer stag below was so close that I had to use my phone camera to get an image!

Red Deer (male) - Calke Park
The Fallow Deer here come in a wide range of colours, from dark brown, through 'red', to near white. I am assured that these pale ones are not as a result of albinism.

Fallow Deer - Calke Park
There are, of course, plenty of squirrels in the park.

Grey Squirrel - Calke Park
The following day (Sunday 18th Nov.) I returned (alone), and this is when I found the Little Owl mentioned in my previous post to this blog.

On Monday 19th I'd arranged to go out in the afternoon with my pal Titus. As the weather was pretty foul we headed first to Staunton Harold round car park, strewed the wall with birdseed, and sat watching the birds in the rain. Eventually the rain stopped and so we set off for Calke Park, which is close by.

The first thing of interest that we saw was this distant Green Woodpecker. Unfortunately the light was awful - don't be fooled by the relatively bright appearance - it's amazing what tweaks you can do with post-processing, and I don't know the half of it!

Green Woodpecker (male) - Calke Park
Although another common bird, this Black-headed Gull, surrounded by water in which dead leaves were floating, gave an image with an unusual effect.

Black-headed Gull - Calke Park
The Little Owl was nowhere to be seen, but nearby this Moorhen approached. I sometimes forget how ridiculous Moorhens look out of water with their big feet. They remind me of a cartoon character.

Moorhen - Calke Park
The Fallow Deer were close enough for some photos. The following give more examples of the colour variation in these. I particularly like the spotted ones!

Fallow Deer - Calke Park
Because of bad weather, it was Friday 23rd before I was back again, this time with my wife once more. The Little Owl was in exactly the same place as when I'd previously seen it (far away, behind the deer fencing), but this time it did turn its head rather more, and I got an image that was clear enough to cope with a very heavy crop!

Little Owl - my Site No.31
A couple of rather fine Red Deer stags were also around. I quite like the effect of the back-lighting in the first image.

Red Deer (male) - Calke Park
Another foul-weather day on Saturday kept me at home, but I returned to Calke on Sunday (25th). In order to get to Calke, I pass my Little Owl sites No.01 (not seen an owl here for more than three years), and No.08 (where I possibly see an owl once in five visits). This day I was lucky, as an owl was in the nest tree. I took a safety shot at a distance from on the hillside whilst I was on the same level as the owl, and then tried a stealthy approach. Although I have a little more detail in the nearer shot, this was one of those occasions when the distant shot (in my opinion) is far better as there is too much in the way of obstructions in the closer shot, taken from below with the sky in the background.

Little Owl - my Site No.08
At Calke, I didn't find the Little Owl again,but a few more images were obtained of the more common species of bird. I was, however, delighted to see a Marsh Tit. I last photographed one of these over two years ago. This time I only managed a record shot before the light became impossible, but I shall return in the hope of doing better.

Great-crested Grebe - Calke Park
Robin - Calke Park
Goldfinch - Calke Park
Marsh Tit - Calke Park
Nuthatch - Calke Park
There was also a Fallow Deer stag that was not too far away for a photo.

Fallow Deer (male) - Calke Park
The light was now too poor for photography, so I set off to try and find some owls, but didn't have any success. I'm still very hopeful however! 

Friday 23 November 2012

Little Owl Update - on 23rd November, 2012

It seems like a long while since I posted anything about the Little Owls that I monitor, so here goes!

Readers of my blog might remember that I was concerned about my LO Site No.02 after a break-in at the nest site. I am pleased to report that recently I saw both owls there so I am less concerned.

This also means that the owl that I saw on 10th November wasn't a refugee from this site, and I've now positively identified the nest location, although I haven't seen the owl again yet. The location is rather remote, and not comfortably accessed when the ground is wet, so it may be a while before I get any images from what I am now calling my new LO Site No.30.

On Sunday I had quite a good owling day, spotting one LO at my Site No.02 (plenty of photos taken, but nothing very different to those previously published). Shortly after this, I was at my LO Site No.17, where I found two LOs in a building that they don't often inhabit. No images were obtained as there were no windows and it was too dark to get a focus! I then went on to my LO Site No.03, and soon spotted a LO.

Little Owl (a) - my Site No.03
It was not possible to approach the tree in which it was sitting, and I had to observe from the road at some distance. It was constantly watching me as I observed it from various positions on the road.

Little Owl (1) - my Site No.03
The roles were suddenly reversed. I was staying still, and the owl was moving about in the tree, watching me from various vantage points. I got confused when it flew left, and immediately appeared on a branch to the right of where it had flown from. It then started to act even more strangely and also did that stretching thing that looks unbelievable on a bird that is usually so dumpy! It was only when this bird flew to a distant tree - and I saw an owl still in the tree I was facing - that I realised that I had been seeing two birds! By examining the pattern of the white spots on the head, I can see that the 'elastic owl' is different to the first one seen.

Little Owl (2) - my Site No.03
On the Saturday, my wife and I had gone for a walk at a local park. It looked very 'owly' and, chatting to some people that we met  on our walk, we were told that Little Owls had been seen recently. I decided that a return visit was called for on Sunday afternoon as the weather was superb. I arrived at the likely location to find a couple with a scope and a camera with an 800mm Canon lens on! I asked if he was looking for the owls and he told me that one had been there earlier, but had been frightened off by a group of people. I had a look around and almost immediately spotted a Little Owl. Unfortunately it was at a great distance, behind a high fence, with no public access. It didn't move, other than to preen, the whole time that I was there, but it did call a few times as the light started to go. This is the best image that I could manage. It'll take some luck to improve on it, however, because of the lack of access - unless the owl comes to me! Anyway, I'm calling this new LO Site No.31.

Little Owl - my new Site No.31
Thus the day ended on a high, with six Little Owls seen over four different sites, and my second new LO site in November, and I'm hopeful for more - if only this weather would sort itself out!

Thursday 22 November 2012

Amur Falcon - a CRISIS

Not posted anything for a while as I've been without a PC for a while (failed motherboard). Whilst I'm catching up with my most recent images, I'd like to draw your attention to the following.

Doug McFarlane, via his blog, has brought my attention to the plight of the Amur Falcon in India. Please visit this link for more information, and sign the on-line petition. If you're not sure if you want to sign the partition, just look at the video clip at the head of the page - You need to be feeling strong, but I suspect that it will make your mind up!

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Jays - on 15th November, 2012

As my wife would be out for most of the day, and the weather forecast was quite good, I'd decided that Thursday would be a birding day. I woke up to dense fog! By mid morning it had started to clear, so I eventually set off at just after 10:30. I first visited my Little Owl Sites Nos.01 and 08 - nothing was seen at either site. As I was passing relatively close and it was nice and sunny, I called in at Staunton Harold Round Car Park. I sat for a while, taking a few photos, and was pleased to see that the Tree Sparrows (which had been absent for a while) were there, but not in large numbers.

Whilst I was there, the low cloud and mist rolled in again, so I decided to head off for another favourite spot, where my wife and I had seen Jays the day before, and use this as a place to have my picnic lunch. On arrival I did something that I've not done before - draped my Smart car with camo netting! I've never really managed decent images of Jay before, and I know that they are usually extremely timid birds. Hence the camo. 

To cut a long story short, the camo worked really well (I shall use it again!), and if there had been any light I'd have probably got some good images. Two Jays appeared, and the following two images are the best that I could produce, with relatively high ISO (1000) and relatively low speed (1/200). I shall probably return here when the light is better, and possibly have a 'tidy-up' of the area and maybe set up some photo props in the hope of getting better images. However, these beat my previous efforts.

Jay - near Ashby de la Zouch
The brief Staunton Harold session did yield some images of easier-to-photograph and common birds that I'm quite pleased with.

Tree Sparrow - Staunton Harold Round Car Park
Chaffinch (male) - Staunton Harold Round Car Park
Blue Tit - Staunton Harold Round Car Park
House Sparrow (female) - Staunton Harold Round Car Park
As I was back home by 14:00, and the forecast doesn't look too bad for tomorrow, I'll see if I can get my pass signed for another session!

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Gold - on 14th November, 2012

I've seen very few Goldcrests this year, so it was quite exciting to have one flitting through our garden whilst we were having breakfast this morning. There was no way I could have photographed it, however.

Weatherwise, the day started dull and grey, but it was not windy, so I set off for my local patch to try and sort out what might have happened at my Little Owl Site No.02, where there has been an intrusion recently. I'd been there the previous evening and seen an owl when it was almost dark. This didn't behave like the male bird (the one that is most usually out), and it left me curious.

Today, immediately I stopped the car, an owl emerged from inside the barn (it was the female), and promptly flew into the adjacent tree. It then flew off a few minutes later. I got out of my car and had a walk around - and disturbed the male bird from the same tree. I'm not keen on disturbing the birds, but at least I know that they are both still there. I now have to check on the bird that I found on Saturday - if I find it, it'll be my LO Site No.30.

As I got back in my car I heard a sound that I'd not heard for a while - Goldcrest!! There were two of them flitting about along the hedgerow, then up onto the barn roof, then back to the hedgerow. I have very few images of Goldcrest - the last being in March 2009 (when I also managed Firecrest and Black Redstart on the same day!) - so I set off along the hedgerow. It was never going to be a good session, because of the light levels, and it didn't help that I didn't discover until afterwards that I was shooting with 'image stabilisation' switched off. However, I did manage a few images.

Goldcrest - my local patch
I had to leave the area earlier than I would have liked as I was on my way to the butcher's, and was due back home before 11:00 as I'd promised to go for a walk with my wife. I was late, so we delayed the walk until after lunch!

My wife and I have recently taken out an annual subscription to Conkers, as we really don't enjoy country walks on paths strewn with dog mess. We have too many irresponsible dog owners in the local area. We spend all our time watching where we are putting our feet, rather than enjoying the views and birds. Conkers has a 'no dogs' policy. We had walk here today, and didn't spot anything very exciting. There was a Yellow-legged gull perched on a man-made perch in the main lake, and I photographed a Little Grebe. The light from the yellow leaves on the trees was reflecting on the water, continuing the 'gold' theme of this post.

Little Grebe - Conkers
On the way home, we called into the car park at the site of the old Oakthorpe Colliery. There were plenty of birds around, including a Goldcrest. Four Goldcrests over three different sites in one day is something that I'll probably never match again!

Sunday 11 November 2012

Disappointment and Elation - on 10th November, 2012

It was seeming like forever since I'd seen and photographed a Little Owl, other than the one I'd seen in Morocco. In fact I'd seen very few owls since Morocco (nearly a month ago), apart from on 30th October when a visit to five sites produced one owl at each site (5 out of 5 ain't bad!), but no images worth publishing. I'd also managed to see an owl on my local patch (Site No.12) on November 6th - but that was it.

I have been feeling a little demotivated of late, so yesterday afternoon I took myself off for a walk round my local patch. I pulled up outside my Little Owl Site No.02. No owl was visible, but I did see a couple of Grey Partridge in the next field.

It was time to visit some areas on my patch that I've not been to in a long time as, for much of the year, they are to all intents and purposes, out of bounds. As I departed, I was disappointed to see that the barn that the owls reside in at Site No.02 had been broken into (the farmer has now been alerted to this). I have not seen the owls here during my last few visits, so I am concerned!

I had a long and pleasant walk, but saw little other than a Buzzard and a Hare, and had just started making my way back as it was 16:00 and the light was failing fast. I'd been keeping my eye open for Jack Snipe (didn't find any) when I suddenly noticed a familiar shape in a tree only about 15 yards (metres) away - Little Owl!! It didn't stay long after it saw that I'd spotted it, but I did manage to get a just about usable image in the poor light. 

Little Owl - my new Site No.30
This location was a good 20 minutes walk from my nearest LO site so, in normal circumstances, I would have no hesitation in calling it my new LO Site No.30. However, it does look suspiciously like one of my owls from Site No.02 so I'm concerned that it might be an owl displaced from that location by the intrusion. It could just be that it's one of the birds previously fledged from Site No.02. I shall hold fire until I can check more fully on Site No.02. If the birds are found to be still resident there, and I get a repeat sighting at this new location, I've got a new site.

UPDATE: I've now determined that both birds are still present at my LO Site No.02, and I've positively identified the nest hole at this other site - so it's LO Site No.30!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Local Waxwings - on 7th November, 2012

Woke up this morning to find that seven Waxwings had been seen by Budgens in Mountsorrel. Now Budgens is (to the best of my knowledge) the only permanent outlet anywhere (in the whole wide world!) for my favourite cider - Farmer Fears - and my stocks of this excellent tipple were running low. So off I set.

I arrived to find LROS Chairman Brian Moore skulking behind some trees trying to find the birds. We had a chat and then went off together to look. Brian spotted them first in a 'small roost' tree beside the pavement near the roundabout. The 'feed trees' were adjacent, and well laden with berries. We were looking into the sun, so we walked past on the pavement and observed them from the other side. 

Waxwing - Mountsorrel
Brian had omitted to bring his camera out of the car, so went back to get it. As soon as he had rounded the corner they departed very determinedly to the north-west. I told Brian the sad news when he returned, and we hung around for a while, hoping for their return. We both gave up in the end, and I went to stock up with cider.

If only we'd hung around for half an hour longer - we'd have seen the 24 that arrived by Budgens, reported at 11:43!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

The Scourge Of The Garden

We have a male Sparrowhawk that is currently visiting us on a regular basis. Whilst it does not seem very successful in its hunting attempts, it is wreaking havoc on my garden birds.

The real problem is that, when the Sprawk appears, the birds (understandably!) panic, and we are getting several window strikes each day. I've even had the Sprawk hit the window less than 6ft (2 metres) from my head! Unfortunately the window strikes themselves have led to some casualties, and in recent weeks we have lost a Long-tailed Tit, a Goldfinch, and a Collared Dove presumably with broken necks.

I moved some of the feeders so that (I hope!) there is less chance of them hitting windows as they flee. If this doesn't work, I might have to consider stopping feeding for a while - but I don't want the birds to desert our garden.

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden
Managed to get this image with the old Nikkor 80-400 lens, whilst the Sigma was being repaired.