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Thursday 30 January 2014

Little Owls - My Best Month Yet !! - January, 2014

In my last post I said that I was having a good month with Little Owl sightings. Well, I've now broken all my past records in all respects bar one - number of new sites in a month.

My previous best month for new sites was in March, 2013, when the birds were quite vocal and easier to pinpoint. I managed four new sites. This month I only managed three.

March, 2013 also gave me my previous best for number of sites at which Little Owls were seen in a month. The figure was 14. This month I just managed to increase that figure to 15.

My previous best for numbers of sightings of Little Owl in a month was in the juvenile-filled days of August, 2012. The figure was 49. This month I managed to raise the figure to 52.

Before you all start commenting as to how well my Little Owls are doing, I'm afraid it's not quite as easy as that. The main reason is that, towards the end of the month when things were looking positive, I set myself a target, and I put in the effort. I'm not sure that it was a sensible thing to do, and I shall probably be taking a step back next month.

As the weather has been a bit grim since my last post, there have not been many photo opportunities, but the owls are still there. I even went out today when it was snowing, sleeting and raining all day - and, against all expectations, saw three owls!

Here's a few photos that I did (just about) manage since my last post.

A walk on my local patch in very dull weather on 21st gave me a slightly different photo opportunity, with an owl where it doesn't often perch.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
A short while later I was at a place, also on my local patch, which I don't often visit but where I have heard an owl calling twice before, and never managed to locate it. Today I was to be luckier - my new LO Site No.45 and the third for the month. I now have to work out how to get a decent photo of the owl, and determine if I have a pair here.

Little Owl - my new Site No.45
On 23rd January, on an afternoon out on a breezy day with my pal Titus, one of the owls was dozing in a sheltered position, at my recent site No.44.

Little Owl - my Site No.44
A short while later we were watching the pair of owls at my Site No.41 also sheltering in the lee of a tree in the distance.

Little Owls - my Site No.41
The last owl of the day on this 8-owl day was at my Site No.36, where I've not seen an owl since the pair were evicted by Jackdaws in early spring, 2013. This now needs investigating to see if this was the owl from nearby Site No.43. The location of this owl at 36 does seem to be rather high up in the tree for a Little Owl, which makes me wonder if this is its home.

Little Owl - my Site No.36
On 28th, I had a rare invitation to visit my Site No.33. I only managed to see one owl - lurking in the back of a very dark barn. This was taken handheld at 1/13 second (ISO 2,000) !!!

Little Owl - my Site No.33
Today (30th January), as mentioned above, we managed to see three owls in spite of the weather. These were at my sites 41, 43, and 44. The owls at 41 and 44 were sheltering in the entrance to the nest hole, but the one at 43 was braving the elements, although tucked into the trunk on the lee-side of the tree. I probably fired off around 100 frames all told today, but this is the only vaguely usable one.

Little Owl - my Site No.44
It's certainly been one of my most encouraging owling months and, yes, I know there's still another day to go, but my day is already mapped out in total tomorrow and I'm not going to see any owls!

Thank you for dropping by - there may be something a little different next month?!

Sunday 19 January 2014

Owling - A Great Beginning!! - first half of January, 2014

In my last post I said that, in spite of concerns about time availability and weather, I'd had a pretty good December for Little Owl sightings, with my third best month of the year. By half way through this January I'd overtaken the total for the whole of December, in terms of both number of sightings and number of sites that birds were seen at. I'm already at a point where only four months over the past four years have ever beaten the current total in terms of numbers of sightings - all of them months boosted by fledging juveniles! And there are still twelve days of the month left to go!

On 2nd January, a most enjoyable afternoon's owling was had with my pal Titus, with six owls seen over four different sites.

I'm now more than 95% sure that the pair of owls at my Site No.34, whose home was destroyed in gales at the back end of last year, have set up home in a tree on the opposite side of their field. However, I'm not sure how comfortable it is for them as they spend nearly all their time roosting in a Hawthorn nearby. Sometimes they can be really hard to see when they're in this bush. In this next image, however, the two of them are showing reasonably well.

Little Owls - my Site No.41
Soon after this we were at LO Site No.34 where, in November, we'd been delighted to find an owl had returned as the nest had been deserted after the pair had been evicted by Jackdaws in the spring. From our position in our car it looked as if there was a second bird tucked in behind the one at the nest hole entrance.

Little Owl - my Site No.34
As we departed, I stopped the car in a different place and we could see relatively clearly that there was, indeed, a second bird. This is excellent news - if they don't get evicted by the Jackdaws again!

Little Owls - my Site No.34
A short while later I spotted a Little Owl in a stumpy tree, where I'd never seen one before although I pass by regularly. At first I was concerned that it could have been a bird from Site No.34, but I've now determined beyond reasonable doubt (via subsequent sightings and observations) that this is a new site (my No.43, and the first new site of the year, just two days in!), although there is some suspicion that this bird may be one of the pair from nearby Site No. 36, also displaced by Jackdaws last spring. I've seen this bird several times now, but I've never managed a clearer image than the one taken at this first sighting. Looking at where it perches, it's no wonder that I never spotted it when the leaves were on the trees!

Little Owl - my new Site No.43
On 8th January I had a relatively successful owling morning. It started with seeing one bird at my LO Site No.02. In a post about six weeks ago I published a similar image to this next one. However, I prefer this one as the lighting strikes me as being a bit more moody - incidentally, this was only the third time in about five years that I've seen this bird perched in this particular spot.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Not far away from 02, but well off the beaten track, is my LO Site No.30. In my last post I said what a problem the twigs were as far as photography was concerned. However, this owl seems to be quite confiding and I managed to get closer without disturbing it, The twigs were still a problem, but this is probably as good as I've managed here to date.

Little Owl - my Site No.30
Another good day owling with Titus on 9th January, starting with acting on a tip-off, brought me a new Little Owl site. I'll not mention the name of the tipster to prevent him from being pestered, but just say thank you. As it's close to one of my regular owling routes, I shall be monitoring it, and it will be my new Site No.44. This is one where photos can be taken whilst driving by without disturbing the bird, although at the time I'm usually out this way, the light is directly behind the bird

Little Owl - my new Site No.44
A brief trip out on 11th was not so successful, although I did find one of my Little Owls at at Site No.06, just as the sun was sinking down with a beautiful golden light.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
On 14th January I had an eight-owl day over six different sites. The header image which I'll put up with this post (but probably won't be there if you are looking at this post a month later) is from this day. I also found the LO out at Site No.44 as I passed - I did mention that the light was adverse here!

Little Owl - my Site No.44
On 16th, I had a couple of hours out on my own, before meeting up with Titus for an afternoon's owling. By the time I'd picked Titus up I'd already seen four Little Owls over four different sites, including my Site No.30. Now I know I've complained at length about the twigs here, but the owl was playing even harder to get on this day - see below!

Little Owl - my Site No.30
I was also pleased to find a LO showing at my Site No.03 - the first sighting since August, in spite of several visits. I then set off for Titus's place arriving a little late because of floods barring my route.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
By the time that my day was over, I'd seen ten Little Owls over eight different sites. The real highlight, however, had  to be at my latest LO site, No.44. As we passed, there were two owls out, looking very cosy together!
Little Owls- my Site No.44
It doesn't always work out like that last day. I had a few hours out this morning (chilly, but no wind, and sunny) and only managed to turn up one owl!  However, it was at my Site No.03, so it seems it's back again.

Little Owl - my Site No.03
 I can't see my luck continuing for the rest of the month - but you never know!!

Thank you for dropping by.

Saturday 11 January 2014

Owling - The End ! - December 2013

It's well over a month since my last post featuring an owl, and that was a brief post with a single image. I also said that I was going to be busy in December and so there'd not be much owling done. This turned out to be only partially true, but what owling I did was rewarding in terms of sightings of Little Owl, ending up with my third best month of the year, only surpassed by March and July.

On 6th December, a shopping trip had me passing my LO Site No.02. Only one of the owls was out (the norm these days), and I didn't take any worthwhile photos.

On 8th December I was heading off to the east of my home, and found that the pair of Little Owls at my Site No.41, displaced from their home when half their nest tree came down, were out in their usual roosting tree, and well hidden. I've come to the conclusion that these owls have found a new home in a cavity in a tree on the opposite side of the field to their original home, but that it's not that comfortable for them as they're usually both out in all weathers! If only they'd take up residence in the box that we provided!

Way-back in March I'd been sitting in my hide photographing the Little Owls at my Site No.34, and frustratingly hearing more LOs to my right and to my left. At the end of this session, I left my hide and there was another pair of LOs in a tree less than 200 metres away. This was the pair which had been calling on my right. The proximity of this pair (now Site No.36)  seemed far too close to No.34, but both pairs stayed put until they were evicted by Jackdaws at the end of the month. As I drove away from Site No.34, I spotted the owl that had been calling on my left. This was located a more healthy 450 metres from Site No.34. I called this Site No.37, but never saw an owl there again, and was beginning to think that it was an owl just passing through - until 8th December when I saw an owl sitting there again. The light was dire! It was also there when I passed again, later in the afternoon.

Little Owl - my Site No.37
No more owls were seen that day, but on Thursday 12th December I was out owling with my pal, Titus. I went to Titus's place via my local patch, where one of the LOs was out, but dozing, in one of its favoured spots at Site No.02.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Titus and I found the owl at Site No.37 was again in exactly the same place as four days earlier, but in slightly better light.

Little Owl - my Site No.37
That day, the only other owls we saw were at the nearby Site No.34.

On 14th December, a quick run out to deliver their Christmas present had me seeing a LO at my Site No.17, but no photos were taken, but another delivery run on 15th resulted in LOs being seen at Sites Nos. 34 and 37 again! At No.37 it was in exactly the same position again and I was beginning to think that it'd been glued there, but it flew up to watch me from another position.

On 17th December, things started looking up. I saw five Little Owls over four different sites. One of these (Site No.30 on my local patch) is, I believe, inhabited by a single owl which probably once fledged from my Site No.02. This is a relatively confiding owl but is a real devil to photograph, because it favours sitting where there is a mass of small branches. You can see what I mean from the next image. The second image is the best that I could manage that day - and the bird didn't move.

Little Owl - my Site No.30
On 19th December, Titus and I had an afternoon on Cannock Chase. The results weren't that good, but we did call in at my LO Site No.15 and confirmed that all seemed well as both owls were visible. There's still no immediate prospects of a relatively close-up image due to the field being under cultivation. At least, now the leaves are off the tree, it's fairly easy to find the owls!

Little Owls - my Site No.15
On 26th December, I got my pass signed for an hour or two out, so returned to my local patch. Three Little Owls were seen at three different sites in the space of 27 minutes! As I approached Site No.30 which is a long way away from any public right of way, I was horrified, through the mist, to see a couple with two dogs (one looking to be somewhat hyperactive) approaching the nest tree. They passed within 10 metres of the trunk of the tree and I thought that my chances of finding an owl were zilch! However, I was wrong! Here's a couple more from Site No.30 - the first, again, emphasises the problem with the twigs here. I told you this owl was confiding!

Little Owl - my Site No.30
28th December brought sighting of three Little Owls at two sites. And then just over an hour and a half out on 29th raised five Little Owls at five sites, with the last one (shown below), being found a little after sundown.

Little Owl - my Site No.06
Owling wise, 2013 was a disappointing year. It got off to a good start with several new sites and plenty of sightings. Then the very late second blast of winter came, and I'm convinced that huge numbers of owls of all species were lost. Breeding was drastically reduced, and the prospects looked very bleak. However, I get the impression that things are improving and the mild weather, although windy, is OK for the owls. Hopefully, they'll get a good start with breeding in 2014, and numbers will start to pick up again. I've still not seen an owl, other than Little Owl, for a few months, however!

2014 has started well for me with, already, two new Little Owl sites, and some slightly better photographic opportunities. More on that in my next post!

Thursday 2 January 2014

End of 2013 Garden Roundup

2013 has been quite a remarkable year for us in our suburban 'postage stamp' of a garden. Each year I record the birds which visit us. To count they have to actually set a foot down in our garden or on its boundaries. Until this year our record, set in 2012, was 32 species. This year we achieved 37 species!

The hard winter at the beginning of the year probably helped this total immensely, although I'd not wish the suffering it caused on any creature.

These aren't my best garden images for the year but are the ones that are most appropriate to each month. I've also limited myself to one per month!

January, 2013

By the end of 1st January we'd had a meagre 10 species - all common garden birds. 2nd January added only two more (common ) species to the list. However, on 3rd, Lesser Redpoll was added to the list and these stayed with us for a few months. Brambling (also long-stayers) arrived on 9th. A spell of particularly bad weather brought a Mistle Thrush (a garden 'lifer') and Redwing on 18th, followed by Blackcap (20th), Reed Bunting (21st) and Fieldfare (22nd). We ended the month with 26 species under our belt.

Lesser Redpoll - our garden on 16th January, 2013
February, 2013

On 7th February we added Treecreeper (another garden 'lifer'), and Nuthatch (not a rare bird, but uncommon in our garden), followed by Siskin on 8th. Only these three species were added to the list, bringing the total up to 29.

Good numbers of Brambling and Lesser Redpoll were visiting us on a frequent basis.

Brambling (female) - our garden on 22nd February, 2013
March, 2013

March added another three species to the list - Song Thrush on 9th (very rare in our garden), Rook on 23rd (another garden 'lifer') and Goldcrest on 29th (a real rarity for us, only seen once in the previous four years).

Siskins and Redpolls were visiting us in good numbers throughout the month, and Bramblings were still visiting on an occasional basis.

Siskin (male) - our garden on 25th March, 2013
April, 2013

Only two species were added to the list, but the first was a magnificent male Redstart which briefly settled on our garden fence on 13th. This was not only a garden 'lifer' but the first recorded sighting of the year for Leicestershire & Rutland! The second, a Willow Warbler, (on 15th) was also exciting for me but pretty insignificant in the wake of the Redstart.

I didn't realise the significance at the time, but we started to get occasional visits from a female Great-spotted Woodpecker, who was feeding from our giant fat balls.

Bramblings, Siskins, and Lesser Redpolls continued to visit. The last Brambling of the winter (a female) was seen on 17th April, and the last Siskin (a male) was seen on 29th.

Redstart (male) - our garden on 13th April, 2013
May, 2013

Only one species was added to the list in June, and this was the Carrion Crow. This used to be a common visitor but, although frequently seen from the garden, it's become a rare visitor. The last Lesser Redpoll of the winter was seen on 1st of the month. Throughout the month, both male and female GS Woodpeckers were visiting on a daily basis.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) - our garden on 5th May, 2013
June, 2013

The GS Woodpecker visits to the fat balls became even more frequent and frantic, with huge amounts being taken away, and we knew that it would not be long before the juveniles fledged. The first juvenile GS Woody appeared on our fat balls on 17th. We've no idea how many juveniles there were as they tended to come singly, and when two arrived at the same time there was trouble!

Stock Dove (another garden 'lifer') was added to the list on 12th June, bringing the total number of species to 36.

Bullfinch (male) - our garden on 8th June, 2013
July, 2013

The GS Woodpecker family continued to delight us with regular visits from juveniles and adults until 6th of the month. No new species this month, but the two Stock Doves visited regularly until 22nd. I was still engaged on the garden project for most of the month, which didn't help matters. So you get two GS Woody images in this roundup!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden on 2nd July, 2013
August, 2013

No new species this month, and not a lot of activity in the garden either, the only highlight being a visit from a female GS Woodpecker. Feeling I have to put in something in the way of an image, this is the best I can manage from a month when I didn't use my camera in the garden much!

Coal Tit - our garden on 28th September, 2013
September, 2013

A Chiffchaff (only seen in one previous year), which visited on the first day of the month, and hung around for a few days, was the last (and welcome) addition to the garden year list. The most remarkable feature of the garden was the huge number of House Sparrows (by our standards - peaking at 32) which took up residence in the Clematis outside our back door, and the Honeysuckle on the adjacent fence.

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden on 14th September, 2013
October, 2013

Birds in the garden thinned out a bit, possibly because there were plentiful alternative sources of food in the wild, but certainly not helped by frequent visits from a male Sparrowhawk. I'm totally struggling for garden bird images for October and November, so you'll have to put up with bug images!

Common Green Shieldbug - our garden on 13th October, 2013
November, 2013
November was a relatively quiet month in our garden, not helped by the next door neighbours having extensive building work done adjacent to our garden, plus continuing visits from the Sprawk when the builders weren't around. Bird food consumption dropped to about a third of the norm.

Harlequin Ladybird? - our garden on 27th November, 2013
December, 2013

It's been a great end to the year with garden birds, with Fieldfare, Redwing (in unprecedented numbers), Mistle Thrush (2 - and a garden 'lifer' in January - visiting on an occasional basis), Lesser Redpoll (2, but only twice on same day), Goldcrest, and Reed Bunting visiting. We've also seen GS Woodpecker returning occasionally, after a long absence.

Due to a combination of bad weather, bad light, and bad positioning, I've not yet managed any images of these winter visitors that I'm happy with. This is the best of a bad bunch.

Mistle Thrush - our garden on 11th December, 2013.
To sum up:

For me it's been an exciting year for garden birds with the greatest variety ever, and in greater numbers, in many cases, than we're used to.

Two highlights stick out for me. for totally different reasons. The first is the April Redstart. This was mega-excitement for me, and we're unlikely to get such a comparative rarity ever again. The second was the GS Woody family which supplied us with utter delight for many days.

If there were any disappointments, it would have to be the absence of Willow Tit, that we used to have sightings of every year, and also the absence of Grey and Pied Wagtails, that we could rely on in Spring and Autumn, when we had a pond in the garden. 

I'll take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very healthy, happy, and prosperous 2014. May all your wishes come true.