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Saturday 17 May 2014

Short But Sweet - on Wednesday 14th May, 2014

I had a call from my pal, Titus, asking if I'd like to do a short spell of owling on Wednesday evening. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as you will see later!) my wife had only just told me that the meal she was cooking that evening was going to be rather late, and so I declined Titus's offer. 

In the event, we'd finished our meal by about 18:30 and so, having found that Titus was already on the road and a fair way away, I decided, as it was a really splendid evening weather-wise, I'd go and do a bit on my local patch.

A week ago I was of the opinion that of the four Little Owl sites that I had active on my local patch at the beginning of the year, only 'old faithful' (No.02) was still active as I'd not seen owls at the other three (Nos. 11, 30, 45) for a few months. As the other three only had single birds present, I was of the opinion that they'd all gone to find mates. Then on Monday I was out with Titus and went to check No.11 and saw an owl in the nest cavity - so here was one of the three that was still there!

So this night I was going to try and check on the other two. I arrived at my usual start point for visiting my local patch, and a Little Owl was out on the chimney stack at 'old faithful' (No.02). It was a bit noisy there as two Lapwing were interacting with each other.

Lapwing - my local patch
Also, beside the track in front of the barn, a male Yellowhammer was grubbing around in the grass. This area is very good for Yellowhammer, but I don't often take the time to try and photograph them. I really should do as they are super birds!

Yellowhammer (male) - my local patch
I was now feeling quite positive about the evening as I set off to investigate LO Site No.45. I don't know what made me do it, but I approached No.45 from an unusual direction. I was keeping my eyes well peeled and suddenly spotted something suspicious in a Willow tree about 120 metres from what I believe to be the nest tree for No.45. I moved my position slightly to one side, and spotted an eye looking at me! Now the only image I've ever had of an owl at No.45 was one from about 150 metres distance on a misty day - it was just a tiny silhouette! On that occasion, and also on the only other time I've ever seen it, it disappeared as soon as it saw that I'd seen it, so I had it down as a nervous bird. Today, however, (if this was the same bird) I was to be more lucky. It let me approach and take photos, and was still there when I left.

Little Owl - my Site No.45
I was now feeling even more positive and continued on my way to try and check out LO Site No. 30. I knew that the chances were that there'd be cattle in the field, and I was not wrong. A sizeable herd of cows, calves, and a bull were gathered round the nest tree. There was no way I was going in there!

I kept the right side of the gate at about 200 metres distance from the nest tree and scanned the tree (which was straight into the sun) with my binoculars - and saw an owl! Whilst watching it, a second owl flew from the area of the nest cavity to a low stump and then back again. Not only is No.30 still inhabited but there's two of them! I suspect that the second bird seen was the female which had just taken a break from incubating for toilet reasons.

Little Owl - my Site No.30
I then set off to see if the female Wheatear that I'd seen twice in a particular area of a field was still around. I didn't see the Wheatear, but there were more Lapwing in the field. Whilst watching them I briefly heard a sound which sounded a bit like a Long-eared Owl and, following a tip from owl guru Paul Riddle, I started making squeaking sounds. What I wasn't prepared for was the Fox cub that popped out of the hedge to investigate and popped back in again as soon as it saw what was making the noise - so no images!

Continuing on a circular route, I found myself back near LO Site No.45 again, and scanned the nest tree and the tree where I'd earlier seen the bird, but didn't find it. I then started scanning adjacent trees  - and immediately spotted a Barn Owl out in daylight! It's my guess that this was a male owl which was roosting away from the nest site and a female sitting on eggs.

Barn Owl (male)- my local patch
Now I've been debating whether to confess to this but I'll do so - although my main passion is owls, this was the first Barn Owl that I'd seen this year. I've not really made much of an effort to find them but usually, by this time of year, I'd have seen a few. The crazy thing is that I've discovered that Barn Owls are a bit like buses. You can wait forever, and then two come at once. The very next evening I was out and saw a second Barn Owl a good 20 miles (30km) from this first one.

It was a very short evening - all this happened within an hour and a quarter of leaving home - but the feelgood factor was really there. I'd confirmed continued occupation of two sites I'd thought I'd lost (one with a pair in residence) and found a Barn Owl on my local patch - the first seen there since 25th March, 2013.               Sweet!!!

Thank you for stopping by.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Spring is Sprung - early May, 2014

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz,
I wonder where dem boidies is.
De boid is on the wing - but dat's absoid.
I tought the wing was on the boid!                        (ANON)

In my last post, two weeks ago, I said that I was "Back in The Groove". Well I feel that I still am to a reasonable extent, although things have been a little slow between then and now - largely due to less than optimal weather, with other commitments interfering when the weather was better. However, there have been some highlights.

On the penultimate day of April, I went out onto my local patch to try and sort out what was going on with my owl sites there. I was singularly unsuccessful in this, being thwarted from visiting two of the sites due to frisky cows with calves - in one field there was a bull also, and the whole herd thundered towards me as soon as I looked over the stile into the field. I did find that the female Wheatear from more than two weeks earlier was still in the same place, so maybe it's going to stay there?

As I returned to my car with my tail between my legs (as far as owls were concerned), one of the Little Owls from my Site No.02 was out. I was trying out a new metering setup on my camera and it was only later that I found that I'd made a mess of things. The first shots were OK, but the subsequent shots, when I'd got a lot closer, were grossly over exposed. With manipulation I found that I could get the bird looking quite presentable but it was the background that looked extremely odd, so I'm only showing a couple of the more distant shots.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
On 1st May, Titus and I were on duty for an evening Osprey Watch at Rutland Water. Prospects for the afternoon and evening were not good as the weather was dull and showery.

As we passed though the village of Queniborough there was the charming sight of a whole school full of kids out in the playground dancing round the Maypole. It's a sad reflection on this modern world that, if I'd taken photos I'd probably have been arrested!

A while later, at my LO Site No.44, an owl was out in spite of the drizzling rain, but sheltered against the trunk and under a stout branch.

Little Owl - My Site No.44
 Just up the road at Site No.46 an even braver owl was out on a distant fence post!

Little Owl - my Site No.46
A few minutes later and we were looking at a LO at my Site No.41 - we were having amazing luck, considering the weather!

Little Owl - my Site No.41
Our luck continued, with sightings at Sites Nos. 36 and 42, although no sensible photography resulted. I came to the conclusion that, as we were only seeing single birds where we were recently seeing pairs, that the females were now sitting on eggs. This would also explain why the single birds were sitting out, and active in poor weather - they were now having to feed two mouths!

Titus and I have been very unlucky with the weather and light during our duties at Rutland Water this season. This was our third session, and again it was with horribly dull grey conditions and a wind that was blowing the drizzle into the hide. The situation with the Ospreys at Rutland Water is more interesting than any TV soap, with a convoluted plot and the odd side plot too. This, however, will possibly feature in a future post to this blog.

Our session here was relatively uneventful. Unusually we had a pair of Tufted Duck in front of the hide. Although a common bird, this is the first time I've seen them in front of the hide. The reason has to be that this is a diving duck and, until this year, the water in front of the hide has been too shallow for them.

Tufted Duck (female) - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
Tufted Duck (male) - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
Whilst most of the Osprey action takes place on the opposite side of Manton Bay to the hide, this year there's a new bonus to being in the hide and that is the regular and frequent appearance of Water Voles. They've not been easy to photograph so far as they tend to only come into view when they're crossing relatively narrow channels and by the time you've spotted them and got your camera on them they've gone, and the poor light hasn't helped either! I did manage some slightly better images than on my previous attempts, however. I'm really looking forward to capturing these in better light!

Water Vole - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
I'd hate to mention a turn of duty at Rutland Water without showing you an Osprey. Sadly we did not get an Osprey come very near us that day, and this is the best that I could do.

Osprey (male - 33(11)) - from Waderscrape Hide, Rutland Water
And here's one from the nestcam - female (Maya) nearest camera.

Osprey (female Maya and male 33(11)) - from nestcam
The weather continued to be relatively unpleasant on our way home, but we did pick up further sightings of Little Owl at my Sites Nos. 34 and 40, so seven owls seen over seven sites - not too bad for a poor weather afternoon/evening when the main activity was Osprey watching!!

During the week that followed this I only had a couple of owling sessions, both of which were entirely focused on trying to find new owl sites. In this I was only partially successful in that I heard a Little Owl calling briefly, but could not find it. Whilst there on the second evening, just as it started to get dark, a Fox hove into view. I shall be looking out for better views of this creature, but keeping quiet about it as they hunt foxes in these parts!

Fox - just off my local patch
Titus and I had one of our regular afternoons out this last Thursday (8th May). The weather was terrible, being wet and windy for most of the time, and our expectations were extremely low. I'd seen one owl on my way over to Titus's place which flew up onto the chimney stack at my LO Site No.02. This distant shot of it checking me out was taken from my car.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
As I lowered my camera from taking this shot, something caught my eye. There was a Mallard duck nesting half-way down the roof, just below the owl! I know that some ducks nest in trees, but I had no idea that Mallards would nest on roofs!

Mallard (nesting female) - my LO Site No.02
Unsurprisingly, Titus and I only saw two owls that afternoon (Little Owls at sites Nos. 44 and 41) and photos were only obtained at 44, although these are some of my better ones from here (where dull weather is actually a bonus). Torrential rain had us curtailing our evening out by two hours or more, with virtually no chance of finding more owls. We even found our way blocked by a large fallen tree which, we were told, had come down just minutes before our arrival, giving us a few miles of diversion to get round the obstacle.

Little Owl - my Site No.44
The weather forecast for the next few days is continuing to be rubbish (wet and windy) and so I'm not sure when my next photographic foray will be.

Thank you for stopping by.