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Wednesday 23 January 2013

It Was Worth It !! - on 21st January, 2013

On Monday I just couldn't face another day of staying in, just staring out of the window, in spite of all the bird activity in the snow in our garden, so I jumped into the Smart and set off for my local patch.

I started by a visit to my Little Owl Site No.12, and the farmyard. Other than a flock of twenty or so Yellowhammer which were sheltering in a barn, virtually nothing was seen. As I headed back towards the gate my right leg went from under me on the ice, and I hit the deck. Fortunately I had my camera in my hand as I fell, and managed to give it a bit of a 'flick' just before it too hit the deck. It seems that I managed to reduce the impact enough that no damage was done, and I suspect that the camouflage covers that I have on the lens helped matters as they are lightly padded - the main reason I bought the covers in the first place! I was also fortunate that I'd not fallen a few metres earlier as I'd been wading through rather smelly slurry from the cattle pens - where I fell it was bone-dry!

I gingerly picked my way along the ice-covered road to my LO Site No.02. There was no sign of an owl, and the snow round where the owls usually emerge was undisturbed - not a good sign, even a little worrying!

I then set off across the fields to view my recently re-inhabited Site No.11. There was undisturbed snow round the entrance hole here too. By now I was realising that I'd damaged my knee in the fall, and was in some discomfort, and so decided to head back for home.

As I approached Site No.02 for the second time I noticed that one of the owls was out. I must have spent a good ten minutes wandering around taking photos, and it stayed put, seemingly totally undisturbed by my presence. You can see from the strange (2nd) image which is taken from virtually underneath the owl that it wasn't even bothering to look at me. And it was still in the same place when I left.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
As my car was parked by the farm, I paid a second visit to the farmyard, but still nothing exciting seen, so I started back home in the car on the single-track road from my patch. I was taking it very slowly (probably only 5mph/8kph) and just starting to go up a rise in the road when this 4x4 pickup with 'truckman' type top came shooting round the bend at an estimated 30-40 mph (48-64 kph). He didn't stand a chance of stopping as he was on ice on a downhill slope. He missed my Smart by about six inches as he ended up in the hedge beside me! Sadly, there was no visible damage to his vehicle, and he managed to extricate himself with little bother - I hope he learnt a lesson, however! If this seems harsh, after I got under way again, I came across a walker, and then two cyclists, that he had passed just before encountering me. If either of these had been in the location that I'd been in they'd have probably slipped over in trying to get out of the way, and who knows what the outcome would have been! It reinforced my belief that, no matter how careful you are, it's the idiots out there that will get you!

Anyway, back to owls:-

I've spent little time owling this month, partly due to this bug I've had, and is still ongoing, but on 9th January I had an afternoon out with my pal Titus (the bug manifested itself later that evening). Our objective was to visit a few of my more remote Little Owl sites, and to see if we could find any more sites. To cut a long story short, we only spotted one LO at existing sites, but we did find a new site (my No.34), which I spotted as we were travelling along a gated lane. It was almost sundown by then, and I only managed a view from the car, as the bird soon ducked back into its hole, possibly disturbed by our presence a good 70 metres away. This is the best image (heavily cropped) that I could get.

Little Owl - my new Site No.34
Fortunately this site is only a small diversion from my route when I am on Osprey Watch duties in the spring/summer!

A couple of days later, on 11th January, I was passing near my Site No.15 on my way to pick up some bird seed. To my delight, both Little Owls were out - I've not seen two birds together here for a long time. However, there's currently no responsible way of approaching this site to a photographic distance, so only record shots were obtained here. You should, however, be able to spot two birds (other than the Crow!) in the first image.

Little Owl - my Site No.15

I think that I'll round up the musical interests from my schooldays (rock'n'roll days) by including a track from the legendary Eddie Cochran. There were plenty of other bands and musicians that I liked, but I think that I've covered most of my most important influences from those times by now - although perhaps Art Blakey, Miles Davis, and Charlie Mingus deserve a mention as I had a brief dalliance with the modern jazz scene!

Anyway, this is one of my favourite Eddie Cochran tracks.

Monday 21 January 2013

Bramblings - on 18th January, 2013

As mentioned in my previous post, the continuous snow on Friday brought far more birds than we are used to into our garden. Although it was great to see the Mistle Thrush, in some ways it was the Bramblings that were most rewarding.

For a while now, I have been a little concerned about my ability to tell winter plumage male Bramblings from females. I'm now thinking that I, and a few other people more knowledgeable than myself, might have been getting it wrong. The Collins Bird Guide is not too specific, but indicates two main areas of distinction in winter plumage. The first is the the sides of the head in which the black of the male is, to varying degrees, concealed by pale fringes, whereas the head of the female remains grey and buff coloured. The second is the colour of the lesser wing coverts, which is unspotted rusty-yellow in the male, whereas those of the female are shown as being more dull, and spotted. Hayman and Hume in 'Bird' describe the female as having "only a small orange patch above bend of wing". 

I have to confess that my analysis of male or female, until Friday, was done primarily on the basis of the black showing through on the side of the face of the birds. On Friday, by analysing my photos, I came to the conclusion that at least four different Bramblings visited me during the course of the day - three of them male and one female.

The differing males I distinguished by the difference in the black showing on the sides of the head. These all exhibited broad bright-orange lesser wing coverts (above bend of wing). These are shown below (apologies for the quality of the images - shown for illustration purposes, rather than for their quality!)

Brambling (1st male) - our garden
There's plenty of black showing on this face, and the bright orange of the breast extends, unbroken, into the broad area on the wings.

The next bird, shown below, exhibits the same orange colouration (even from this slightly hindward view) but has virtually no black showing through the pale face feathers, except round the eyes.

Brambling (2nd male) - our garden
This next bird, even allowing for the fact that the image is much darker (it was starting to get dark outside by now), still shows the same orange markings, but has considerably more black showing through on the head than the previous two.

Brambling (3rd male) - our garden
Now I give you what I believe to be a female. Note the distinct change of colour from breast to (narrow) marking above the wing bend, and the pale face colouration with no trace of black. This bird is strikingly different in appearance.

Brambling (female) - our garden
When I look at an image from a previous post (see below) that I, and a few others, concluded was a female, I'm starting to think that maybe that was wrong!

Brambling (previously thought to have been female?) - our garden
I'm not knowledgeable enough to know whether I've come to the right conclusion with the above, but I'd welcome some input here!

Finally (on the bird front), although I'm convinced that I saw at least four different Bramblings in my garden on Friday, under my strict rules I can only only put it down as two on my garden list because they have to be seen simultaneously. As proof I did see two together I offer this (very poor) image - which also shows a marked difference between male and female birds, even if the female is badly out of focus.

Brambling (m & f) - our garden

Another big influence on me in my schooldays was Gene Vincent. Later, in my college days, I was once privileged to meet him after a gig. He'd given us a blindingly energetic session on stage, and I was greatly saddened to see that he had to be helped back, on crutches, to his dressing room after the gig. This guy had a lot of pain (physical and mental) in his life.

Saturday 19 January 2013

A Garden 'Lifer' - on 18th January, 2013

I suspect that most places in England had snow falling pretty-much all day yesterday, and we were no exception here. Prompted by my pal Titus, I did a check and reckon we had about 6 inches (15 cm). I didn't attempt to venture out, but some did - and regretted it! In fact I had great difficulty in tearing myself away from my study window, as the birds were going mad.

During breakfast we had a garden first for the year in the form of a Redwing, which only stopped briefly in our cob nut tree.

Shortly after breakfast we had a garden 'lifer'. OK, so it's not a rare bird, but it really excited me! At first I thought we were being visited by a Song Thrush, as we sometimes see one in the garden if we have a harsh winter. However, something didn't look quite right through the falling snow, so I raised my bins to it - Mistle Thrush!! I only got rubbish images because of the low light and it being about 14 metres away through the falling snow, but I have to include it here 'for the record'.

Mistle Thrush - our garden
The day continued to be manic, with an estimated 10 to 13 lb (5 to 6 kg) of bird food being consumed, but not as manic as Doug McFarlane's by the sound of things. I spent most of the day concentrating on Bramblings - more on this subject in my next post.


I'm still not sure if I'm going to continue with appending music clips to my post. I have decided, however, that I'm dropping ensuring that each clip has a connection to the previous clip. Instead, I will concentrate on influences and favourites, mainly in a chronological order. So here goes!

One of my earliest musical likes was Ricky Nelson, so much so that I ensured that I became known as Ricky, rather than Richard. When Mr. Nelson changed his name from Ricky to Rick in 1961 I followed suite soon after. I'm still known as Rick by family and older friends, but decided around 1975 to revert to Richard in a work environment, and this then became how introduced myself to all new acquaintances - except when I had my blues band!

This is a moody ballad from Mr Nelson.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Champing At The Bit - on 17th January, 2013

I'm still a bit under the weather with a chest and throat infection, and a couple of short trips out have resulted in me regretting it! Today, therefore, with much frustration I've stayed at home. This, however, has had its compensations. It's been a truly remarkable day in or garden, in spite of the very dull cold weather or (more probably) because of it. 

Bearing in mind that we only have a postage stamp of a suburban garden (about 100 sq metres or 1,000 sq ft), to have 24 Blackbirds (just realised that that's a pie's worth!) in our garden at one time (a record for us!) was a bit Hitchcockian.

It was also a record day for the number of species seen in our garden in a day - 17.

Nothing very unusual in the way of species was seen in the garden in the morning, except that we were having our second visit of the year from a Great Spotted Woodpecker when I looked out of the bedroom window first thing in the morning.

The afternoon, however, was a bit more exciting, in spite of it staying cloudy and dull. First on the scene were a couple of Long-tailed Tits. We don't get too many of them. No photos were taken of them as they were at the far end of the garden.

Next on the scene was a Brambling. I'm pretty sure that this was a winter plumage male, as there was quite a lot of black showing on its face. This obliged by coming to within about 8 metres (8 yards) from my study window.  As we'd only seen a female Brambling this year, I was particularly pleased.

Brambling (male) - our garden
A short while later the female Bullfinch, that has been visiting us on an occasional basis, briefly came quite close to my window. Lately she's tended to stay at the other end of the garden.

Bullfinch (female) - our garden
As what little light there was was starting to go, a male Lesser Redpoll graced us with his presence. This was the sixth Redpoll visit we've had this year, but lately it's been a female that's visited us.

Lesser Redpoll (male) - our garden
 This is a female bird from the previous day.

Lesser Redpoll (female) - our garden.
I mention a couple of excursions that I'd regretted. One of them was to my favourite Calke Park. I didn't arrive until the sun was setting (if there had been any sun!), and didn't see the hoped-for owls. This stag Red Deer was quite obliging however.

Red Deer (male) - Calke Park
I have seen some owls since I last included them in a post. However, I've not managed much in the way of images, so will probably wait until I have a few more sightings before posting on them.

Hoping to get out there and do something soon!!!


In my last post, I featured a number by Cream. Two thirds of cream (Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) had once been half of The Graham Bond Organization - the other half being Graham Bond (who played a mean Hammond organ) and Dick Heckstall-Smith on saxophone. I managed to get to see this band many times as they were a great favourite of mine. Ginger Baker's 15 minute drum solos were utterly amazing (I still rate him the best drummer ever!). He put so much energy into them that it was quite normal for him to disappear off stage to throw up afterwards! This is a number that, with it's train theme, was destined to be a particular favourite for me. Yes, I have this on vinyl too!

Monday 14 January 2013

Nuthatch - on 4th January, 2013

I'm a bit under the weather at the moment, and so trying to stay out of the cold frosty or snowy air, so no images lately - not even from the garden!

Here's some more images from my last session at Calke Park which I didn't publish at the time as I'd only just done a post with Nuthatch images.

Nuthatch - Calke Park

My last post featured the music of John Mayall. Blues guitarist Eric Clapton famously had a spell with John Mayall, and was featured on probably the most famous of the Mayall LPs - "the Beano album". After Mayall, Eric Clapton became a part of the 'supergroup' Cream. I was lucky enough to see Cream live a few times. Ginger Baker's drumming was amazing, and Jack Bruce, as well as being a great bass player, was a very talented songwriter and vocalist. This is one of my favourite numbers from Cream

Friday 11 January 2013

Garden Brambling - on 9th January, 2013

We've had sightings of Brambling in the Garden just four times so far this winter - better than last winter, when we had none, but not nearly as good as the previous winter when we had up to four birds on a 'several times a day' basis. However, getting photos of them has not been easy, due to bad light, or bad positioning,

On Wednesday we had a visit from this bird, which I believe to be a female - although it might be a winter plumage male? Edit - as the general consensus of opinion is that it's a female (thank you guys), that is what it will be! It is a different bird to the one we had before Christmas as that was (I'm relatively sure) a winter plumage male, with quite a lot of black showing through the grey head plumage. I managed some slightly better images this time than I did of the previous visitor.

Brambling (female) - our garden

My last post featured a number by the Keef Hartley Band. I mentioned that Keef had a spell playing drums for John Mayall until he was famously sacked.

John Mayall was a very big influence on my early musical efforts, and I used to regularly go and see him play in London (I lived in the suburbs of London when I wasn't away at school/college). This is the first track of the first John Mayall album - Live at Klook's Kleek - one of my earliest LPs which I still have.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

A Pleasant Surprise! - on 7th January, 2013

The day was a bit dull, but it wasn't overly windy, so I made for my local patch. My main objective was to tick the box for the New Year at my Little Owl sites. Over the last four years I've had seven Little Owl sites on my local patch. However, I consider four of these to be pretty-much 'sterile' now.

I parked my car by my Site No. 02, and sat and waited for a while. Nothing happened, so I set off on foot for site No.12, where I drew a blank also. On my return to the car, I saw that one of the owls was now out at 02.

Next I was off to a relatively new site for me - No.30. This is a good half an hour walk from the nearest road (but still on the same farm). Going was tough as there was a lot of lying water in the fields that I had to cross. I'm not sure if I saw an owl or not at No.30 - out of the corner of my eye I caught a movement in the entrance to a hole. I hung around a while, but to no avail, and started sinking deeper into the mud - time to go!

In trying to find a slightly drier route back, I passed within a couple of hundred metres of my site No.11. I've not seen an owl here since the summer of 2010, when the nest cavity was taken over by bees! But, hang on!!! That's an owl sitting in the entrance to the nest cavity!!

I did my usual nonchalant approach - it's my experience that owls aren't usually too worried if they don't think you've seen them, so I walk past at some distance (not looking as I do so) then turn and walk back past, but a little closer this time, and so on. I've found that if I turn to look with my camera in front of my eyes they tend not to think you're looking at them. I got to within about 15 metres of this bird, took about 60 frames from several different positions, and left with the bird still sitting there! That always gives me the greatest satisfaction.

Little Owl - my Site No.11
Below is an image of the owl at Site No.02 that I took before I went off on my adventures. Again, I approached, on foot, to within about 15 metres, and the owl was still there when I left. 

Little Owl - my Site No.02
I'm finding that I'm currently a bit torn between: (1) trying to visit as many existing sites as possible to check on the current situation and clock up the owl count, or (2) covering new ground (or old ground that's gone 'sterile') in the hope of finding new owl sites whilst the leaves are off the trees, or (3) spending more amounts of time at a few chosen sites in the hope of some half-decent images. At the moment my inclinations are probably leaning towards option (1). But the weather will probably influence  whatever I do!!


My last post featured a number by The Artwoods. That band featured two musicians (other than Art Wood) who were to make a name for themselves - Jon Lord on keyboards and Keef Hartley on drums. John Lord was most famous for being the 'main man' in Deep Purple, whilst Keef Hartley had a spell playing for John Mayall before forming the the Keef Hartley Band

The following is my favourite track from the Keef Hartley Band album 'Halfbreed', and one of my favourite blues numbers of all time! Until recently I believed that the dramatic guitar solo was primarily the work of Miller Anderson, but I now believe that Spit James took the solo guitar work whilst Miller did the vocals.

Sunday 6 January 2013

At Last ! - A Dry Clear Day ! - on 4th January, 2013

The weather forecast for Friday was "dry and sunny", so I planned a relatively early start at Calke Park, as I'd never before been there in the early morning.

It was looking rather cloudy as I left home just after dawn, and it was still cloudy when I arrived at Calke Park.

I soon spotted the Little Owl (my Site No.31), but it was a good 80 metres away.

I spent about two and a half hours watching the other birds here, occasionally going to check on the owl but, although it was mobile, it never got closer than about 60 metres, and then it was mainly obscured by twigs. I sat and had my lunch whilst watching the owl from a convenient picnic table, and then went for a walk for a couple of hours or so before returning for some more static watching.

Here are some of the other birds seen - nothing very remarkable in the way of species, but I'm relatively pleased with some of the images obtained. The sun even started poking though in the early afternoon. It's relatively easy to get a nicely diffused background here - the danger is sometimes it's a little too plain!

Greenfinch (female) - Calke Park

Blue Tit - Calke Park
Goldfinch - Calke Park
Sadly, I've not seen the Marsh Tits during my last two visits.

I know it seems as if I'm a bit addicted to Calke Park. There's no getting away from it being a very pleasant place to visit, take photos, and chat to people. The real draw for me at the moment is the hope that one day I'll get a good LO image from Site No.31. For the most part, however, I have the frustration of a high deer fence between me and the owl. I did get some images that pretty-much duplicate ones that I 've taken before. This is a bit different however - if you can find the bird!

Little Owl - my Site No.31

In my last post I included a clip by The Birds, noting that Ron Wood was from a musical family. Ron's older brother, Arthur, had his own band, which enjoyed some success - The Artwoods. I have one single by them from 1965 (I also have quite a few by The Birds on vinyl), and I still like this number, although the lyrics are a bit dodgy!

Thursday 3 January 2013

Shaky Start To The Year - on 1st January, 2013

Armed with some bright sunshine and a pair of wellies, I went out to see if I could find some owls as I'd not seen an owl since 19th December!

I made a brief 'token' stop at my Little Owl Site No.01 where I've not seen an owl since late 2009, but then had a more detailed look around at Site No.08. The ground was so wet that I was sinking into the grass about 4 inches (100mm) with every step. Unfortunately it was also a bit breezy, and no owl was seen. I gave up after half an hour or so, and set off for Site No.32. No luck at 32 so I walked into Calke Park, where I spotted a LO at about 70 metres distance sunning itself on its favourite perching place - Site No.31.

During the next couple of hours, the only movement it made were a few brief preening efforts. Fortunately there were other birds to amuse me - see below.

Nuthatch - Calke Park
Treecreeper - Calke Park
I walked back to the car, and set off for my LO Site No.02, where I sat for an hour, having a picnic lunch and watching for an owl - with no luck. The wind was getting a bit stronger, so I went to nearby Site No.12, where the owls can often be found in a barn - again I drew a blank.

I then went a bit further afield and tried my Site No.17 (no luck) and then Site No.03 (no luck). By now the clouds had rolled in and the wind was strong and chilling - I'd had enough, and set off home! Eight sites visited and only one owl seen!

Musical Influences

As a bit of an experiment, inspired by other bloggers (primarily Bob Bushell), it's my intention to add music clips to my posts - at least for a while. My interest in music started at quite an early age (I guess at about ten years old), and my influences have been many and varied. However, I didn't get to see a live band until I was about 17. I was labouring on a building site earning some pocket money in the school holidays. Another guy of about my age, doing exactly the same thing as me, said that some friends of his were playing in Ruislip Manor (just up the road from me), and invited me to go to the gig with him. If my memory serves me correctly, the venue was the 'youff club'. The band was The Birds (a bit appropriate for this blog really!). I can remember that the music was exciting, and I was struck by the flares that one of the guys (I think it was Ron) was wearing - they were yellow ochre with large black inverted chevrons down the top part of one leg. My workmate told me that Ron's dad was also musical, and played spoons down the local boozer. Ron was, of course, Ronnie Wood who now plays guitar with the Rolling Stones! This number was written by Ron, who also does the vocals.

Soon after this gig, I went out and bought a harmonica ('blues harp' in the parlance of that time), and it wasn't very long before I was in a band myself.

If the musical addendum to my posts is received favourably, I'll continue (but with far fewer words!). I will also probably try for linked themes!