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Thursday 31 October 2013

That's A Bit Better !! - on Monday 28th October, 2013

It was the day of 'The Big Storm' in UK, with the south of the country being battered by high winds, which did much damage to property and, sadly, claimed a number of lives. We fared OK up in the English Midlands, although we had high winds and much rain.

By the afternoon I was getting stir-crazy and, against my better judgement, decided to go out owling for a couple of hours. My expectations were very low as owls aren't known for liking windy weather. I first called at my Little Owl Site No.17. Fortunately I had my camera set up in anticipation of a shot as, when I rounded the building, there was a LO perched just 20ft (6 metres) away - so close that, on more than half the shots, I found that I'd got part of its tail missing! It only stayed for about three seconds, but I managed a few shots before it dived into the building. Although it was sunny, this was on the shady side of the building, so I was working at ISO 800.

Little Owl - my Site No.17
I next went to LO Site No.03, but nothing doing there. Next port of call was Site No.06, where I'd not seen an owl since February. At first I though I was out of luck, but then I spotted an owl lurking out of the wind. I couldn't get an unobstructed shot and it was really in the gloom. This first image was taken at 800 ISO, 1/60 sec., lens wound back to 380mm.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
You can tell how dark it was by the size of the owls' eye pupils!

This second image, actually taken before the image above, was taken with the lens out at 500mm and at an 1/80 sec.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
I'm delighted to say that the owl was still there when I left!

With these two in the bag, it was time to go home - not too bad, I thought, for a couple of hours on a windy day.

The following day I spent six hours looking for owls and didn't find a single one, but it was a bit colder and windier than the previous day.

It's now the last day of the month and, unless a miracle happens, I'm set to have my worst month for owl sightings since December, 2011.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Red October - Missed! - mid-October, 2013

Until recently I had two very reliable Little Owl sites (sites where I stand a better than 50% chance of seeing an owl if I visit in 'sensible' weather). Sadly, one of them (my most recently found site) featured in my last post, and I'm almost certainly down to one now. By coincidence this happens to be all but my first site (No.02).

A feature of this site is that the building that the owls live in has a Virginia creeper growing over it. Since I've been monitoring the site this has spread from the southern end to the point that it now almost entirely covers the roof.

In springtime this creeper becomes covered with bright green leaves. However, in October, it turns to the brightest red, but it's only in this condition for about a week - then the leaves suddenly drop and it's back to bare branches.

I was determined to get an image of an owl against the red leaves but, for the most part, the red leaves coincided with bad weather. I spent three hours in my hide one morning, before the sun went round to the wrong side of the barn. During that time I had a Little Owl call from close behind me and then, about an hour later, a call was heard from inside the barn. The following day I was back again, but I only stayed for two hours as it got very cold and windy, and the light went. Even if the owl had appeared the shutter speed would have been too low to freeze the wildly rustling leaves. Again I heard the owl close behind me, and also off to my left, during this time.

Next time I went, the leaves had gone!

Here you can see the effect of the red leaves, when not all had turned. And, yes, there is a Little Owl visible in the picture!

Little Owl - my Site No.02
This next shot was taken just two days later, and is the shot I was set up for - but without an owl. You can see that this is a favourite perching place by the lime on the tiles.

the shot that didn't happen - my Site No.02
This next sequence, with the leaves gone, was taken a week later - I didn't even bother getting out of my car! The owl had been tucked down, but stood up more prominently soon after my arrival. Then a Buzzard was heard calling distantly - and started getting much closer, so the owl made a break for home.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
In spite of my stated intention to do better in October than I did in September, I am, in fact, doing far worse. Other than Site No.02, I've only seen Little Owl at one other location (not one of my sites), and heard them at two others. To this I can only add one sighting of Barn Owl, and two instances of Tawny Owl calling. The weather forecast looks as if the rest of the month will be barren too.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Destruction !! - mid October, 2013

On Thursday 17th October, I was out with my pal Titus on one of our owling/birding forays together. No owls were seen at the first two sites we passed, but as we approached my latest Little Owl site (No.41) we were met by a very disappointing sight.

The dark patch in the pale scar where half the trunk has split away is all that remains of the nest cavity. The entrance was through a 45 degree hole to the top left of this cavity.

Our first priority was to try and get a nest box in place to provide alternative accommodation for the owls (which bred this year). The farmer told us that this destruction had happened in high winds about five days previously, so we were concerned that they might have already departed.

We'd not got any owl boxes to hand, but we did have a redundant one that was erected in a building last year in the hope of rehousing a pair of breeding owls that had been evicted. These owls hung around the building for a few months but have not now been seen for about seven months. We made arrangements to get access to the building on Saturday afternoon and, having removed the box (we found that it had never been used), we spent time making modifications, ready to erect it on Sunday.

The box was made to a proven Paul Riddle design but with a basic difference - the people that kindly built the box had made it with a fixed front, rather than a removable one! The only removable bit was the door which was fixed by four screws. This made it extremely difficult to erect. I had the box at home, and managed to get a length of thick floorboard fixed to the back of the box. The box already had a bit of 2x2 attached to the bottom but, to aid erection, we used another bit of 2x2 to fix to the tree without the box attached, so that we could then rest the box on this whilst doing the other fixings. Titus fabricated a veranda to fit below the hole in the box, in an effort to make it look more attractive to the owl. We also drove part of an old broom handle into the tree to give a perch.

The task of erection was rather more difficult than we imagined. For a start, there was an area of thick soft mud mixed with cow manure all round the underside of the tree. The main problem, however, was that the surface of the break which looked relatively flat was anything but flat. In fact it was concave by a depth of about four inches. That doesn't sound a lot, but it presents quite a problem when you're trying to fix battens, with very little scope as to where to put the fixings. We had to resort to use of a saw, and a hammer and chisel. Three and a half hours later we got the job all but done. The light was fading and the rain starting - and we heard a Little Owl calling from the far side of the field!

We had to return again today (Thursday) to fit a packing piece to hold the top-right side of the box to the tree (I'm sure it would have been fine without, but we didn't want to take any chances). The owl was not seen or heard this time, and we can only keep our fingers crossed. It will not help, however, that building work to develop a derelict building, just a hundred metres or so from the tree, has started in earnest this week.

Newly erected Little Owl box - my Site No.41

Saturday 12 October 2013

September Bits & Bobs - 2013

As with last month, this is a post to mop up the bits that didn't feature in other posts. Many of the images are just record shots of birds that I was delighted to see.

On 5th September, whilst out owling with my pal Titus and exploring 'pastures new', we came across this Wheatear. Titus was driving and it was on his side of the car, and moved along the posts ahead of us. I got these images by hanging out of the car and shooting over the roof! Wheatears aren't too common in these parts and always warrant a 'sighting record', so I was pleased to get these shots.

Wheatear (female) - nr. Skeffington
Later that day, whilst sitting having our tea, I suddenly noticed distant birds on top of the barley in the field that we were parked beside. These turned out to be (at least) six Whinchat. That number is even more remarkable than the Wheatear sighting. We sat and watched them until it got too dark to see them, but they never came nearer than about 150 metres, so very much 'only record shots' were obtained. Four of these are just visible in the first image, and the second image shows a male

Whinchat - Burrough on the Hill
On 12th September, we visited Rutland Water. One of the first birds we saw was a Hobby, and a 'going away' record shot was obtained from the visitor centre. 

Hobby - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
We then moved to Redshank hide and a Hobby flew past at close quarters. I got a frame-filler shot with the exposure and speed just right - but I'd totally messed up on focus!! It didn't come close again, but I did manage my best ever flight shot of one of these birds - although there's a heck of a lot of room for improvement!!

Hobby - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
I even got a shot with one clutching a dragonfly - just about visible!

Hobby - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
There were large numbers of Little Egret seen that day, this one from Sandpiper hide.

Little Egret - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
On the way back to Redshank Hide a young Rabbit was by the path, ahead of us. I suspect that this might have been unwell (myxomatosis?) as it allowed us to approach closely. The first image (into the sun) is with the 150-500 lens. For the second I had to use the body with the 28-300 macro lens on! (I've been carrying two cameras of late!).

Rabbit - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
I don't usually see many Snipe outside of winter, but this was was just distantly visible between the vegetation, when we got back to Redshank hide.

Snipe - Rutland Water, Egleton reserve
Things have been very quiet, birdwise, in the garden of late, although things seem to be building up again now. Even the Sparrowhawk has, to the best of my knowledge, stayed away most of the time. This was one of his rare visits - on 14th September.

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden
Since she reared a brood earlier this year fed almost entirely (as far as we could make out) from fat balls from our garden, sightings of the female Great Spotted Woodpecker have been almost non-existent. However, we are now getting the odd visit, and I'm wondering if she is sitting on eggs for another, late brood as when she turns up (briefly), she is absolutely filthy. Here she is on 21st September.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden
That brings me to the end of September's Bits & Bobs. Time now to focus on the rest of October - weather permitting!! Thank you for dropping by.

Friday 11 October 2013

Something Strange on Blogger!!

I'm not sure what is going on! Alerted by the fact that neither of my followers (well, there may be a few more than two!) seem to be seeing my latest post (on the subject of More Messing with Macro), I started to investigate and found that none of the links that would normally show this post were showing it. Instead, they show my last post as being 'Damsels and Dragons', over a week ago!

If anyone can offer a suggestion as to why this might be, I'd be interested to hear your ideas please.

In the meantime, here is a link to that 'missing post'.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

More Messing with Macro - in September, 2013

In a previous post, entitled 'Damsels and Dragons', I showed some images of dragonflies and damselflies taken this September. Whilst trying to get to grips with macro, several other creatures became subjects of my efforts.


Not too many of these, but the bench in our back garden is a magnet for butterflies on sunny days. Small Tortoiseshells have been abundant this year. This one was taken on 1st September.

Small Tortoiseshell - our garden
- and this one on 21st September.

Small Tortoiseshell - our garden
I've only had three sightings of Painted Lady this year. The first was at Rutland Water on 30th August, and this featured in an earlier post to this blog. The second was in my garden on 7th September, and the third was the very next day - also in my garden!

Painted Lady - our garden
We've been very lucky with good numbers of Comma butterflies this year. This one was taken at a distance on 21st September - I just couldn't get close to it!

Comma - our garden

I have absolutely no idea what this very small moth was, in my garden on 21st September.

moth (unidentified) - my garden
I found this caterpillar on 27th September on a post at the place where I buy all my wild bird seed. I'm not sure, but I think it's probably of a Ruby Tiger moth.

Ruby Tiger  ? (caterpillar) - Kings Bromley

I used to think that hoverflies were just hoverflies, but I now know that there's an amazing assortment of them out there. The following are two from my garden on 21st September. I think that this first one may be a Common Drone Fly.

Common Drone Fly ? - our garden
- and this second one may be a Syrphus species. Any comments and suggestions would be very welcome

Syrphus species ? - our garden
Other Flies

On my 'local patch' there is a very distinctive species of fly that is abundant. I used to think that this was a type of horse fly, but I now understand that it isn't, but is a Noon Fly. This one was shot on 3rd September.

Noon Fly - my local patch
- and on 27th September I managed to get somewhat closer to see more detail. That gold colouration is fabulous!

Noon Fly - my local patch
I'm not sure what this next one is, but suspect that it might be Graphomya maculata - taken on my local patch on 5th September.

I think that this next one, taken in my garden on 13th September is, Calliphora vicina - a blow fly.

I think that this next one, also from our garden, on 21st September, might be Lucilia caesar.

Other Bugs

last month I posted an image of a shield bug. At that time I knew nothing about them, but I'm now pretty sure that it was a 'fresh' (teneral) adult Birch Shieldbug. On a lone Sunflower in my front garden there are a couple of 5th instar (i.e., one stage off adulthood) Common Green Shieldbugs.  The first one, taken on 26th September, is markedly smaller than the second, taken on 28th September (yes, the two do seem to spend time together!). I'm assuming that those are small red eyes?

Common Green Shieldbug (5th instar) - our garden
With the onset of autumn, I suspect that my macro efforts will be seriously diminished for about six months.  Who just said - "thank God for that?"

Thursday 3 October 2013

Damsels and Dragons - in September, 2013

After August's first forays into macro with my old Tamron 28-300, I did a bit more in September, although the opportunities weren't so good.

I'd been excited on 30th August when I photographed a Common Emerald Damselfly at Rutland Water. I was, therefore, delighted when I found several at a cattle drinking pond on my 'local patch' on 3rd September.  The images, below, show considerable differences ans I suspect that some of these are age-related. Any advice would be much appreciated! The first are, I believe of males. I should point out that the first was taken with my Sigma 150-500 (I don't usually manage as well as this with that lens on this type of subject!).

Common Emerald Damselfly (male) - my 'local patch'
This was (if I've got the identification right!) the only female of the species I saw.

Common Emerald Damselfly (female) - my 'local patch'
I'm not sure if this next one has suffered an injury or if it's still straightening itself out after emergence. As well as the bend in its abdomen, its head was permanently crooked to the left. I'm not even sure whether it was a male or female.

Common Emerald Damselfly (m or f?) - my 'local patch'
One thing I did notice was that these 'spreadwings' did not always rest with their wings spread!

Also there was a lone male Common Darter dragonfly.

Common Darter (male) - my 'local patch'
 On my 'local patch' on 27th September, the Emeralds had disappeared, but the Darter was still there. This one landed on top of my head a couple of times!!!

Common Darter (male) - my 'local patch'
Dragonflies in my garden are rare these days, since we filled in the pond. We've only had three sightings this year. The first two were of unidentified Hawkers which just passed through, but on 29th September a male Common Darter visited and stayed for about an hour. In an earlier post I commented that I'd love to have a photographic set up which would, for example, enable me to capture the compound aspect of a dragonfly's eyes. To my amazement I found I have (just!), with the D300s and the cheapo Tamron 28-300! I suspect that I'd have done even better if I'd shot at ISO200 rather than 400.

Common Darter (male) - my garden
OK, so not much variety here, but I suspect that I've shot my last damsel/dragon image of the year. With this new-found interest in macro, I'm looking forward to next year's season!