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Tuesday 21 May 2013

Slow Owling!! - 1st to 20th May, 2013

So far this month, I've had a fairly abysmal month for owling, partly due to poor health and even worse weather, but also due to the fact that this is not the easiest time of year to see owls. The leaves are on the trees and lush, the female owls are (hopefully!) sitting on eggs or tending young, and the males are keeping out of the way, bracing themselves for some frantic feeding duties soon.

On 2nd May I was out with my pal Titus. Little Owls were seen at three sites, but not a single photo resulted! The first was a surprise find (the actual nest hole of my Site No.40) with the owl departing as soon as our eyes met, and the second two were at known sites by the light of my headlamps as we passed.

At my Little Owl Site No.18, I set up my hide in the evening of 5th May and waited for the male owl to appear. It didn't do so until 20:07, after the light had gone, and at a slightly different position from where my camera was pointing (I use a tripod in my hide). It was not even there for a second before departing - before I'd time to move the camera. Knowing it would be watching the hide I sat there, and it returned 15 minutes later, by which time the light was worse. however, I did manage to move the camera and get off a few images before it flew to the nest hole and disappeared inside. The second image shows it about to depart.

Little Owl - my Site No.18
I returned here on 19th May, but the owl didn't show until 21.10, when it was starting to get quite dark. This time my lens was pointing at its emergence point but I failed to activate the shutter in time - its departure was instant! However, it was exactly 15 minutes again before it returned, having spent some time calling from a nearby tree. This time, however, it flew back to the nest aperture, and stayed for about four seconds before diving into the nest hole. Sadly, at this time, the light was hopeless. The following were taken at 1/25th second at ISO 1,250, with a -1.0 step compensation to stop the camera trying to over-compensate for the lack of light. The first of the next two images is pretty much as taken (just a bit of noise reduction and sharpening), and reflects the scene much as it was. The second has been lightened and the white-balance adjusted dramatically, but probably gives a better image (although both are 'soft' focussed and greatly inferior to the first two images). I'm not sure which I prefer.

Little Owl - my Site No.18
You can tell how dark it was by the size of the owl's pupils!

My local patch is continuing to be difficult due to the cattle which the farmer gives a wide range of freedom to - up to three interconnecting fields with gates left open. I have had several messages of encouragement with regard to the safety of cattle, but only last week there was another report of a person being trampled to death whilst out walking with a friend. My Site No.02 presents no problems as it is located in arable land, but my sites Nos. 11 and 30 are a bit hazardous. On 16th May one of the owls was out on the roof at Site No.02.

Little Owl - my site No.02
No cattle were in sight when I came to cross the field to get to Site No.11, but no owl was seen there. I then set off for site No.30 and was about to go through the open gate and enter the field with the nest tree in when I found the herd just a few metres from the tree! I did a quick passage through a nearby closed gate into an arable field and managed to get to a position where I could just about detect an owl through the bins. It is (just) visible in the following image, but you might not spot it (I suspect my mate Paul Riddle will see it instantly, however!).

Little Owl (it is visible- just!) - my Site No.30
Before anyone tries to find this site, I should point out that it is nowhere near public access and the farmer is not beyond taking drastic action against trespassers - yes, I do have permission!

There have been a few other owl sightings, but none have resulted in any usable photos, other than on 9th May, when Titus and I were on our way to a turn of duty on the Rutland Osprey Project on a dull and windy day, and I found a Little Owl sheltering from the wind in the ivy at my Site No.21.

Little Owl - my Site No.21
Due to other commitments, I'm unlikely to get much more owling in this month, so I might be a bit quiet for a while. Here's hoping June brings better fortunes!

Sunday 12 May 2013

Great Spotted Woodpecker - May, 2013

Last year, for a month or so, we had a juvenile female Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting our garden on a 'several times a day' basis. We don't see woodpeckers very often in our garden, so this was quite exciting for us. Suddenly she was gone, and we feared the worst.

I can now say, with absolute confidence, that she is back! This is based on behaviour and preferred food. Unlike most GS Woodpeckers, which have a preference for peanuts, this bird (as good as exclusively) likes to feed from the fat balls - only once have we seen her briefly try the offerings of the sunflower heart tray. Also, her approach to the fat balls is virtually always the same. She lands on a particular section of our back fence, surveys the scene, flies to the base of a silver birch branch (dead, and inserted as a photographic prop near the feeder pole), climbs the birch until level with the fat ball holder, and then hops across. After feeding she flies directly up into the nut tree, cleans her bill, and then flies off southwards.

A week or so ago, she was visiting even more frequently - one day she came five times before mid-day(!) - and we came to the conclusion that she was probably feeding young. In the warmer dry weather she started deviating from her usual behaviour, and coming to our bird bath and 'mini-pond' for a drink. This gave me a few slightly different opportunities for photography, although I was having to shoot through the double glazing of my study or the conservatory. Note the long probing tongue in the first image.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden
I'm not sure how long she will continue to visit us for - her visits have thinned out a bit in the last three days - but we're hoping, if she does have youngsters, that she will bring them to visit us too!

Whilst on the subject of the garden, on Friday we lifted the garden annual total of species visiting to 35 - not with anything as spectacular as April's Redstart, but with a Carrion Crow. It was about time, as we see a Crow round our garden virtually every day, but this was the first day this year that we've actually seen it put a foot down in the garden (the criterion that we use for counting a garden bird). We're not halfway through the year yet, but we've already beaten our previous annual record (last year's) by three species!

Carrion Crow - our garden (bringing the garden year-list up to 35 species)

Sunday 5 May 2013

End of April Round Up - 2013

My posts have been a little thin on the ground lately, but I haven't been totally idle on the bird watching and photography front.


Other than those photos already published, there have been a few other sightings during April.

I'd not seen a Little Owl at my Site No.17 for several visits, so I was delighted to find both owls out and about when I visited on 13th, even though they did not present themselves for decent photography!

Little Owl (believed to be female) - my Site No.17
Little Owl (believed to be male) - my Site No.17
My second-ever Little Owl site, No.02, continues to be one of my most faithful, and my concerns after finding a Barn Owl in the nest building have proven to be unfounded. On 17th April one of the owls was out on the edge of one of the holes in the roof.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
On 30th April, as I arrived at my local patch, one of the owls at No.02 flew from a point unseen into a nearby tree. It was quite well hidden, but I spotted it!

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Whilst I checked to see whether I'd got the camera settings OK the owl disappeared, unseen by me! I set off down the public footpath, turning to look into the opening in the end of the barn as I passed, and spotted an owl up on a beam inside the roof. Now I always have difficulty telling the two owls apart at this site as they are extremely similar in appearance. I'm not sure if this was the owl originally seen or whether this was the second owl (although I suspect the latter, as the original owl was more likely to have flown off down the lane when it saw I wasn't looking). I usually compare head markings but the photographic evidence is inconclusive in this case!

Little Owl - my Site No.02
One of the hazards that I'm running into at the moment is cattle in fields. I used to be quite blasé about being in a field with them, but I've heard so many stories of late about people (even farmers) coming to a sticky end, that I'm now quite cautious. Access to two of the sites on my local patch was impeded for some time as it meant crossing a field containing cows with calves. On 21st April I just managed to get into the field containing my LO Site No.30 before the stampeding cows arrived at the gate behind me!! In the event, it was barely worth the risk as the owl was (as it usually is!) in a dreadful position for photography, and I had to make one heck of a long deviation to get back to my car without encountering the cattle again. One day I'll get a decent shot from this site!

Little Owl - my Site No.30
I was up this way again on Thursday, and the field that had the cows in was empty, giving me free access to my LO Site No.11. However, they are now in the actual field which has my Site No.30!

Also, on that last day of the month, I was delighted to spot a Little Owl at my Site No.03. This was the first sighting since November last year. This owl was also hiding quite well.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
Since my previous post, I have now (unfortunately) confirmed that both my Little Owl Sites Nos. 34 & 36 have been taken over by Jackdaws. However, I did also manage to find the nest site for my new LO Site No.40, but just missed getting a photo - fingers are now crossed!!


One of the reasons why I've not got so much birding in during the past few weeks is that I've been busy in our garden. I'd been conscious that some of my images showed the garden fence in a deplorable state, and the garden absolutely full of weeds. The birds didn't mind these things, but it was a little embarrassing for me!

Things have now got much quieter in the garden with, it appears, all the winter visitors now having left.

The last sightings of Brambling were on 16th (when we had a pair) and 17th April (just a female), before the weeding had been done!

Brambling (pair) - our garden
Brambling (male) - our garden

Brambling (female) - our garden
The last Lesser Redpoll was seen on 1st May, and the last Siskin on 29th April. We did have this male Reed Bunting visit us on 18th April.

Reed Bunting (male) - our garden
Last year we had a juvenile female Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting us on a 'several times a day' basis, and I got quite worried when she suddenly stopped visiting us. I'm delighted to say that she's back. I'm confident that it's the same bird as she had a particular way of approaching, and then fed exclusively on the fat balls (most woodpeckers will go for the peanuts). This time she started in this exact same way. However, she is now getting a little more adventurous and, in the last couple of days, has been drinking from both of our water supplies. Today she tried some sunflower hearts (but still no peanuts!). Here's a photo to be going on with. I'm hoping for better!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden
It's a bit of a blessing that we've not seen a Sparrowhawk on our garden since the beginning of April. The male with the aberrant spotting on the wings visited us on 1st April - you can see what I mean about the fence having been in need of some attention!.

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden
If I'm to continue with garden photography, I'll probably need to focus on getting better images of some of the more usual birds. Here's a couple of some of the more colourful of our visitors, but with plenty of room for improvement with the images!!

Bullfinch (male) - our garden
Goldfinch - our garden
Well, that's it for now. Off to do a bit of ironing, and then hope to get out tonight to do some owling! Thanks for dropping by.