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Friday 29 November 2013

And Better Still !! - late November, 2013

In my last post I said that things were looking up on the Little Owl front, with some encouraging news. Within two hours of publishing that post I'd seen three LOs at three different sites, two of which I'd been concerned about.

I started out at my LO Site No.02. This is 'old faithful' - my oldest site that is still active (found in December, 2009). I was pleased to find one of the owls out in a tree, rather than in one of its usual places on the roof of its home. I took some photos but, however, I was to get some better ones later.

I then walked to my LO Site No.30, pausing to investigate an area where I'd heard a Tawny Owl call at mid-day a week or so earlier. I didn't find the Tawny's location this time either, but I have my suspicions! I'd been worried about Site No.30 as on a couple of previous visits I'd found the nest tree full of Jackdaws and there was no sign of the owl, which I hadn't seen since June. As I approached this day, the Jackdaws were, again, in residence but flew off as I approached - and there was the owl sitting in its tree (I believe that this is currently a lone bird - probably one that fledged from Site No.02)! I didn't manage a photo as it dropped into the nest cavity when I was about 100 metres away.

Another ten minutes had me approaching Site No.11. The pair of owls at this site had disappeared in May, 2010 when a swarm of bees had occupied the nest cavity. However, I spotted that it had been re-occupied in January 2013 - again, probably by a bird that fledged from Site No.02. It was seen again in February and April, but I'd had no sightings since. From a couple of hundred metres away I could see an owl sitting at the entrance to the nest cavity - brilliant! Due to the twigs round the entrance I couldn't get a decent image, but the owl let me approach reasonably close.

Little Owl - my Site No.11
I left the owl where I'd found it, and set off back to my car, which was parked by Site No.02. The owl was still in the tree by Site No.02, exactly where I'd left it, so this time I took a little more time taking photos (I don't get too many shots of the owls here in a tree - they're usually on the roof). Unfortunately there was a strong contrast between light and shade, and I've managed to burn out detail on the legs.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
I'm delighted to report that the owl was still there when I left. It all goes to show that you can never tell what a safe distance is - two owls approached quite closely and left in situ and one owl disturbed when I was at a distance that I could only just identify it through my binoculars!

Four days later, I was back at Site No.02 and one of the owls was on the roof, and stayed put for me. It was a very dull day, so no burn-out this time. I managed to get some feet in this one - just for Doug and Noushka! This session is also featured in the new header image. 

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Later on I visited my LO Site No.17. One of the owls was out but flew off as I arrived, about 100 metres away. I managed to re-locate it, but it was in a very inaccessible position, and didn't allow for any reasonable photography. I'll let you see the following images, however, as the owl had obviously been in the holly, practising dressing up as Santa Claus ready for Christmas, but hadn't yet removed his beard.

Santa Claus - my LO Site No.17
Another couple of days later I was out for my usual session with my pal Titus, but did my own thing for an hour and a half before we met up. During that time I saw LOs at Sites Nos. 02 and 17 again, but no photos were taken.

Since the nest cavity was destroyed, it's been the norm for us to stop for our picnic lunch by LO Site No.41. Unfortunately, the further east we travelled, the lower the cloud descended, and it was rather misty by the time we got there, to the extent that it wasn't that easy to see the owls in the distance. They were both there and (by some extremely heavy post-processing, involving massive increase in contrast and colour boosting ) I've managed to lift the images from being a rather flat grey. At that distance, however, there was never going to be any detail showing!

Little Owls - my Site No.41
It was great to see that the owls are still hanging on there, although there's still no indication that they've been in the nest box we erected. I just hope that they are established somewhere sheltered and dry before winter really sets in. We will continue to observe from a distance. 

Friday 22 November 2013

Looking Up!! - on 19th and 21st November, 2013

By 18th November I'd already passed my abysmal record of owl sightings for October. On Tuesday 19th November the weather was beautiful, if a bit cold and breezy, and an owling session was indicated. In the morning I visited a few old sites, but nothing was seen, and I'm dubious that there are currently any owls in residence at any of them.

I decided to have my picnic lunch by Little Owl Site No.41, where the nest cavity was destroyed in a gale and pal Titus and I erected a nest box in October. We knew that the owls were still around, but it was even more encouraging this day as I first found one of the owls in the nest tree above the box, and then spotted the second owl in a nearby hawthorn bush. I sat watching them for over an hour in the hope that one would move - hopefully towards the nest box, but they both barely twitched a muscle during that time.

Until these owls are well and truly settled I will not risk disturbing them by attempting close-up photography. This next shot, of the owl in the nest tree, was taken from my car during  my lunch stop, at about 60 metres range.

Little Owl (No.1) - my Site No.41
To continue my journey I had to pass the nest tree, so attempted a drive-by shot of the owl. Unfortunately my lens had wound back to 400mm, so I didn't get as intimate a shot as I'd hoped for.

Little Owl (No.1) - my Site No.41
About 25 metres further on I had to stop to open a gate (gated road), and was abreast of the hawthorn bush with the second owl, which showed much better from this angle, and I was only about 20 metres away. Sadly my lens had, by now, crept back to 380mm, so the quickly grabbed photo (remember, I was determined not to disturb this owl) was not as good as it might have been.

Little Owl (No.2) - my Site No.41
Feeling extremely encouraged by these sightings, I continued on my way, drawing a blank at the next few sites I visited. Way back in mid-September, I'd been given a tip-off as to where Little Owls had been seen. Several visits had been made to the locality, but nothing was seen and I was far from certain that I was looking in the right area. However, on this day, I was to be rewarded. An owl was spotted as I approached in my car. This is now my new LO Site No.42 - my first since July (I've been telling you that it's not been a good year!). As public access is rather distant (50 metres at its closest), I now have to find the land owner to see if they'll let me approach a little closer.

Little Owl - my new Site No.42
Two days later I was out with my pal Titus on our regular Thursday adventure together. We lunched at LO Site No.41, where one of the two owls was seen. We almost missed it because there was a bitterly cold wind blowing and it was well tucked in, over on the far side of the field.

Back in January I'd found a new Little Owl site (No.34) and was quite excited about it as it showed a lot of potential. This excitement was enhanced by finding, in just a few weeks, a further three sites within half a mile (800 metres) - all of them, except one, having pairs of birds resident. Hopes were dashed, however, when two of the sites (including No.34) had the birds evicted by Jackdaws. A third site was disturbed by a new barn build. The sighting of the single bird at the fourth site was never repeated.

I've never given up on these sites (the Jackdaws didn't hang around for long), and only a few weeks previously Titus and I had been saying that No.34 really was a wonderful place for an owl. You can, therefore, probably imagine our excitement when, as we approached No.34 in the car, we saw a Little Owl sheltering from the wind in the cavity of the nest tree. It absolutely made our day. These next two were taken at a distance, from the road.

Little Owl - my Site No.34
OK, so this might not be a high volume of sightings, but they are some of the most heart-warming I've had for a long while. Let's hope that this continues.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Return To Cannock Chase - on 31st October, 2013

Cannock Chase, and particularly the informal feeding station there, is a favourite place to go when the spirits are a bit low. There are several aspects to the attraction of this place. (1.) The bird activity is relatively intense. (2.) The virtually non-stop action gives excellent practice in improving one's camera skills, in varied light conditions. (3.) Whilst the birds there are relatively commonplace, occasionally some gems do turn up. I'll never forget the Hawfinch that was only about 3 metres away from my car window whilst I was eating a picnic lunch one Christmas day(!), and I've also seen Waxwing there. (4.) A session here gives one a sharp reminder as to just how beautiful some of our 'everyday' birds are!

On the last day of October, my pal Titus and I made Cannock Chase our destination for our regular Thursday get-together. The weather was bright- if a bit breezy, but the birds performed well. Titus had the side of the car with the most action, but I suspect that I had the side with the better light.

The first bird to be captured in my lens was a female Bullfinch. We had several sightings of a female but, unusually, no sightings of a male.

Bullfinch (female) - Cannock Chase
The most common birds here are Coal Tit and Great Tit. They are not, however, the easiest to photograph as they rush in, take the food, and are gone again. I think of them as 'smash & grab' artists.

Coal Tit - Cannock Chase
I always find that Great Tit is particularly difficult - it's trying to get detail in the black without burning out the white. I tend to try and under-expose, and then correct in the post-processing stage. This first Great Tit was, I think, the scruffiest I've ever seen!

Great Tit - Cannock Chase
For me, the stars of the day were the Redpolls. There was some suggestion from another birder here that one of the Redpolls was an 'Arctic', rather than a 'Lesser', but I'm not convinced.

Lesser Redpoll - Cannock Chase
The Nuthatches here can be relied on to put on a good show - but you have to be quick! One seemed to be intent on burying peanuts.

Nuthatch - Cannock Chase
We had a brief appearance from a Long-tailed Tit - usually more of these are seen.

Long-tailed Tit - Cannock Chase
The same birder who reckoned on the Arctic Redpoll also said he'd got a one-legged Chaffinch. I suspect that it was this one which, on occasion, seemed to be reluctant to put its right foot down!

Chaffinch (male) - Cannock Chase
A strong contender for the most beautiful of 'commonplace' British birds has to be the Blue Tit. They also seem to have such cheerful characters too!

Blue Tit - Cannock Chase
We were about to depart, as it was starting to get dark, when this Greenfinch arrived.

Greenfinch (female) - Cannock Chase
Thus ended a very enjoyable afternoon at Cannock Chase. I suspect that we'll go back before too long!

Saturday 9 November 2013

Encouraging! - on Thursday 7th November, 2013

If you follow this blog, you may remember that, on 17th October, we found the nest tree at my Little Owl Site No.41 had suffered a catastrophe, and that the nest cavity had been destroyed. On 20th October Titus and I erected a nest box in the remains of the tree, but were not too hopeful that the owls would use it (a) because of the trauma of the tree's collapse and (b) because building work had commenced about 70 metres away at about the time of the collapse. Whilst erecting the box we'd heard an owl call, but had not seen or heard an owl on subsequent visits - until Thursday!

Whilst out with Titus for our usual day owling/general birding, we stopped at Site No.41 as being our first choice for somewhere to eat our picnic lunch and look out for the owls. I'm delighted to say that I soon picked one up on the far side of the field, about 80 metres away. It was dozing! The following is a very distant record shot as there is no way we are going to risk disturbing these birds.

Little Owl (a) - my Site No.41
A few minutes later I spotted the second owl, again on the far side of the field and also dozing.

Little Owl (b) - my Site No.41
This is about 30 days after the nest was destroyed, so it is very encouraging indeed, although we could not detect whether the box has yet been used.

It had been a very wild and wet night the night before, which might explain why the birds were dozing. That morning I had driven through floods to get to my LO Site No.02, and one of the owls was out and dozing also, although it did open one eye at the sound of my camera. This one taken from my car at about 30 metres range.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
We're still keeping our fingers crossed for Site No.41, but the prospects now look a little better than we first thought.

Monday 4 November 2013

Shield Bugs & Other Insects - October, 2013

In past posts I've shown some macro shots of shieldbugs. In our front garden, on a solitary sunflower, we had a pair of Common Green Shieldbugs. At the time of discovery, these were at the 5th instar stage - the last before adulthood. I don't know what I was expecting to happen (I guess something akin to pupation before adulthood), but I was quite surprised to find that one day they were 5th instars and the next day they were both adult.

Here's a reminder of what the fifth instar was like:-

Common Green Shieldbug (5th instar) - our garden
- and this is what they looked like the day after they were last seen as a 5th instar:-

Common Green Shieldbug (teneral adult) - our garden
I'm not sure that the transition was complete in the above two images as it rather looks as if the wings are not fully developed and free. Three days later they looked like this:-

Common Green Shieldbug (adult) - our garden
I'd read that these bugs turn darker as winter approaches and they set themselves up for hibernation. This happened, and this image was taken on 24th October. They disappeared shortly afterwards.

Common Green Shieldbug (adult prior to hibernation) - our garden
In September I'd found a teneral Birch Shieldbug down my shirt! Here's a reminder of what it looked like. ed. - Maria has pointed out that my identification of this bug is incorrect (thank you Maria!) - it is, in fact, a teneral Hawthorn Shieldbug. The subsequent image is, however, correctly identified as a Birch Shieldbug.

Birch Hawthorn Shieldbug (teneral adult) - our garden
On 5th October a mature adult Birch Shieldbug appeared on our conservatory window:-

Birch Shieldbug (mature adult) - our garden
Sorry that this is a poor image, but it was a very dull day. If it had been a brighter day, this next image might have been rather better, but I'll show it anyway as there's probably not too many images anywhere of one of these in flight! I found the colouration and body shape to be surprising.

Birch Shieldbug (mature adult) - our garden
I thought that September was going to be my last month of macro photography, but whilst showing the shieldbugs I might as well include a couple of other images.

The first is of a Drinker Moth caterpillar.

Drinker Moth caterpillar - my 'local patch'
The second is of a Caddisfly (known as a 'sedge' to fishermen) on the car windscreen.

Caddisfly - Eyebrook Reservoir
I'm not expecting any macro images for November - but then I wasn't for October, so who knows!!