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Monday 30 June 2014

BE WARNED !!!!!! - on 30th June, 2014

Another blogger has fallen into the omnipotent Picasa trap. I'm sure that many of you will be aware of this already, but just in case you are not here's the basics (for basics is all that I can offer).

I you use Blogger for your blog - and I guess that both my readers probably do - you will probably be uploading your images to Picasa (even if you don't know it, you probably are!). This is where the images that appear on your blog are stored, and if you delete the images on Picasa, you'll also irretrievably remove them from your blog posts - past and present.

OK, so so far that doesn't sound too dramatic, but here's the rub. The chances are that you possibly also use a smartphone and/or a tablet. I can only offer advice from an Android point of view (I'm talking O/S here, and not suggesting that I'm not a biological product!), but if you look at the 'Gallery' app. on your device, you'll probably notice that all your blog images are neatly stored here. WELL, THEY'RE NOT !!!! These are only links to the the images stored in the clouds with Picasa. Delete these from your device and you can say goodbye to them forever - everywhere! If you see that the folder with the images has a depiction of a rainbow-coloured camera iris, leave it alone!!! That's the Picasa logo. I'm not sure about this next suggestion, and I'm not about to take any chances by trying it, but it may be that it only happens if you are a Google + user.

I was fortunate enough to hear of this problem before I joined the smartphone/tablet set so, thankfully haven't fallen into the trap - yet! - No telling what I'll do as I advance further into my dotage!

Whilst on the subject of warnings, the week before last I bought one of the the Wildlife Cameras that Aldi were selling for GBP 69.99. To match the spec. of this camera you'd probably have to pay three times this, or more, elsewhere. The offer was so good that they'd sold out in the first day. Sadly, mine was faulty and has had to be sent away. However, whilst trying it out I did capture (nearly) this (shown below) with the camera at 00.55 one morning. Until now I'd been totally unaware that a Fox had entered our garden, or even could enter our garden. I wonder what visits your garden/back yard, without you knowing about it!

Fox - our garden
It'll probably be back to the owls with the next post .

Thank you for dropping by.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

June - The Results So Far - up to 25th June, 2014

No, I've not been watching the football - I wouldn't know one end of a football from the other - but just busy catching up with things after a week away at the end of May.

The Garden

Other than a minor re-modelling project taking up some my time - limited because I don't want to be disturbing the birds (it's an excuse that my wife will accept!) - I'd not done too much in the garden and not  'garden ticked' a new species for the year since the end of March. Then, at the beginning of June, I got three garden ticks in a week, two of which were 'lifers'! OK, so none of them were at all spectacular, or even remotely rare (except in my garden), but they were exciting for me.

The two 'lifers', both of which only put their feet down in the garden for a matter of seconds, were Jay and Jackdaw. I only managed (record) shots of the Jay.

Jay - our garden
The first for the year during that week was Stock Dove . At times there were a pair, and we're still getting the occasional visit from one of them. I love the iridescent colours on the neck

Stock Dove - our garden
Whilst we are not getting as much variety as we do in the winter, food consumption is probably at its highest ever. We're currently getting through in excess of 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of bird seed per day, and that doesn't include the fat balls and peanuts, although consumption of these is relatively insignificant in comparison. Woodpigeons, collared Doves, and Magpies are responsible for much of the consumption, although we do have plenty of parents of other species bringing their juveniles to the feast. Water consumption is also high - probably about half a gallon (2 litres) per day, not all of which is drunk!

Starling - our garden
Out and About - Mainly During Dedicated Owling Excursions

On 5th June, which happened to be my birthday, my wife and I went out to an antiques centre to have a look around after a spot of lunch in their café. I managed to engineer it so that I saw two Little Owls on the way there, and a further LO on the way back. However, no owl photos were taken but this Red-legged Partridge was up on a low roof at one place and, very unusually, did not seem disturbed by my presence!

Red-legged Partridge - at my LO Site No.17
The following day I was out with Titus doing a spot of owling. We only saw six Little Owls over five sites that afternoon and evening, and no owl images worth sharing resulted. However, at my LO Site No.46 a Red Kit passed by, and a minuscule spider was spotted in the foot well of my car. This latter item was carefully removed and placed on the ground, where it kept being blown by the breeze. You can possibly gauge how small it was by the fact that you are looking at it on a regular (if somewhat dirty - it was a country lane!) Tarmac road surface - I hope that I've got the I/D correctly.

Red Kite - by my LO Site No.46
Green Orb Arianella - by my LO Site No.46
At my LO site No.42, we didn't see any owls but this historic aircraft flew past at about 5 mph (8 kph)  - thankfully there wasn't a head-wind! OK, so it might have been a bit faster than that. It's a 1935-built Aeronca C-3 with a 40-45 hp engine. It seems that it's usually locked-up somewhere in North Yorkshire and rarely given an airing!

Aeronca C-3 (built  1935) - seen in Leicestershire
On 12th June, Titus and I were on Osprey Project duty at Rutland Water. I saw one Little Owl on my way to pick up Titus and we saw a further five Little Owls at five different sites on our was there - not too bad a tally! I was particularly pleased to see an owl at my latest LO site (No.47) as the owl is rather elusive here (I've only seen one at a time) and the only image I had previously was of it peeking round a branch. These aren't brilliant but they're my best yet.

Little Owl - my Site No.47
A few minutes after this, I got some images at my LO Site No. 44 which I'm quite pleased with as photography here is usually difficult.

Little Owl - my Site No.44
At Rutland Water, we had a rather uneventful shift, although the weather was fine. Here's a couple from that evening.

Reed Bunting - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Mute Swan - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
On the way home we added another Little Owl to the daily tally.

On Tuesday 17th June, Titus and I had an evening out. The weather had looked promising, but it came over extremely dull as we were on our way, and it didn't look as if it would be a good evening for photography. We only saw three owls over three different sites and, amazingly, managed some images. 

I was particularly pleased to get an image from my LO Site No.40. I first found this site in April, 2013 and had only had three sightings here since then, and not managed a single image. I'm glad to have managed one on this occasion, even if it is only a record shot. I'm also particularly pleased with the image from my Site No.41 as, in my opinion, the very low light levels have added to the atmosphere of the image.

Little Owl - the first image from my Site No.40
Little Owl - my site No.41
On Wednesday 18th, my wife and I met up with my brother and his wife at Elton, in Cambridgeshire. We had a very good lunch at the Loch Fyne fish restaurant there, and followed up with a visit to the gardens at Elton Hall. I'd only taken my D300s with the Tamron 28-300 lens on it. It's not a good lens, but it does have a basic macro ability. The gardens were splendid, and I did take a little time photographing the male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly that was patrolling an ornamental pond. Several times it coupled with a female in mid-flight performing the 'wheel', but it all happened so quickly that I was unable to get an image of this. When the female broke off the mating she went to roost under the eaves of a two-storey building, so I never did get any photos of her.

Broad-bodied Chaser (male) - Elton Hall, Cambridgeshire
I also photographed a damselfly here. I'm not an expert on the Odonata and, at first, this one had me stumped, but I now believe that this was an immature female of our most common damselfly - the Common Blue Damselfly (or Common Bluet).

Common Blue Damselfly (immature female) - Elton Hall, Cambridgeshire
I also took some shots of this very common bee.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee - Elton Hall, Cambridgeshire
Two Little Owls had been seen on our way to Cambridgeshire, and one on the way back, but no usable photos were taken.

On Thursday 19th, Titus and I had one our regular Thursday afternoons/evenings out. I did my usual trick of picking up an owl on my way to Titus's place. 

We drew a complete blank at the first two LO sites  (Nos. 47 and 44), but had a distant sighting of one at No.46. Just round the corner, at No.41, one of the LOs was roosting on a telegraph pole and another was seen when it delivered a meal to the nest cavity!

Our biggest excitement of the day was on arrival at LO Site No.34. We arrived to find two juveniles out of the nest cavity and in the tree. This was, for both of us, the first sighting for of juvenile LOs in 2014. Our excitement was enhanced by this being one of two adjacent sites where we had high hopes for breeding in 2013, but then both pairs were evicted by Jackdaws. 

The nest tree is some distance from the road, and I only got record shots of one of the juveniles. 

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.34
In the last image, the owl has just started an attempt to return to the nest cavity. I was horrified when, a few seconds later, it made its way down the slope and lost its footing as it did so, plunging at least 4 metres into the hedgerow and ditch below and out of sight from our position. concerned that we might have contributed to this situation (we'd been standing beside the car) we got back into the car and waited. It must have been a good hour before I saw a juvenile appear just below the nest cavity. I can't be sure it was the one that had fallen but the odds are that it was.

We next went to my Site No.40 (where sightings are very occasional) and were delighted, for the first time, to see two adult birds here.

We really wanted to return to No.34 to observe the juveniles, and I'm so pleased that we did so because, whilst there, a juvenile appeared out on a limb at No.36 and was fed by an adult bird - a site where, recently, we'd feared that the Jackdaws had done the dastardly deed again! So, where we'd had such a disappointment in 2013 gave us our first juveniles of 2014 - BRILLIANT!!

On our way back home, in the low evening  sunlight, an owl was still out at No.41, and not in the tangle of branches that it usually is.

Little Owl - my Site No.41
My LO site No.44 is one of the most reliable that I have, and it's very near a road so we shoot from the car. We usually call by here on the outward journey and the light is always behind the birds. We don't call on the return journey to minimise disturbance (although there are cars and people passing by all the time). As there'd been no sign of the owls on the outward, we decided on a late return visit - and were surprised to find that, at this time of year, the sun gets round to a better position just before it dips below the horizon. I got my first ever images of a LO here in sun!

Little Owl - my Site No.44
It was a pretty good tally for the day, with 12 Little Owls (3 of which were juveniles) being seen over 7 different sites.

On Sunday 22nd I had a morning visit to my local patch. I bumped into the farmer as I arrived and he told me that later he'd be releasing some cattle into the field that I intended to pass through. They'd be a herd of cows with young calves - and a bull! This is not a good combination! To give me a head start he unlocked a gate for me so that I could get to my destination more quickly. Unfortunately I got distracted at the cattle's drinking pond and started taking photos of damselflies - I'd never seen Large Red Damselfly here before.

Large Red Damselfly - my local patch
Realising that time was marching on I quickly continued and drew a blank at my LO site No.20. As I got back to the stile into the cattle field the cattle came thundering into it. As my only alternative was roughly a four mile (6 km) deviation I decided to risk it. I was a bit worried at first when they continued towards me but I stood my ground waving my arms and they stopped about 10 metres from me and then turned tail!

On my way back I took some photos of a model flying machine - it's good practice for flight shots. I stopped to talk to 'the pilot' and had my second narrow escape of the day when one of the other 'pilots' with an extremely fast model with about a two metre wingspan suddenly found his controls locked out and the plane missed my face (so I'm told) by about 6 inches (15 cm)! I was told, in no uncertain terms, how lucky my escape had been!

My walk continued, and I photographed the female of a family of Whitethroat, a Brown Hare, and an evil-looking fly which I believe to be a Scorpion Fly.

Whitethroat (female) - my local patch

Brown Hare - my local patch

Scorpion Fly? - my local patch
Although I observed four Little Owl sites that morning, no owls were seen. My luck, or lack of it, continued that evening when I sat in my hide at another site hoping to see owls, particularly juveniles, but to no avail. Seven hours were spent that day looking for owls and not a single one seen. It doesn't always work out as one hopes!

This has been a long post as I'm catching up, following my report on my Scottish trip. I promise to try and make the next post somewhat shorter!

Thank you for dropping by.

Friday 20 June 2014

Scottish Highland Break, Part 3 - 29th & 30th May, 2014

Thursday 29th May

This was to be my last full day in Scotland and, feeling well-recovered from my earlier ills, I was determined to make the most of it, although mindful that it shouldn't be too strenuous as I was facing a 450 mile (720 km) drive home the following day.

I was waiting at the door when the dining room opened for breakfast, and was soon on my way back to the owl location near Nethybridge that I'd already spent quite a lot of time at.

About 5 miles (8 km) from my destination a Short-eared Owl flew across the road in front of me. By the time I'd stopped it was rather a long way away and I could only grab a distant shot. I then watched with frustration as it flew further away, put up two further SEOs which quickly settled down into the grass again, and then continued on it way.

Short-eared Owl - from road to Nethybridge
Having set up at my destination, taking care to position the car so I had a better view of things approaching from behind than I'd had the previous day, I sat and waited.

The pattern started to repeat itself once more, with birds from the south-west flying high and carrying prey as shown below.

Short-eared Owl (with prey) - near Nethybridge
Suddenly, however, things changed, and an owl started to hunt at the roadside only about 90 metres from my position. This gave some better photo opportunities.

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
I mentioned, above, that I'd positioned myself somewhat better to see birds coming from behind me. This paid off just a few minutes after the last sequence was taken, when a bird did the low north-east to south-west passage in front of the woods towards the hunting grounds - this again at a distance of about 90 metres.

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
Things then went extremely quiet for well-over two hours, until I was awakened from my reveries by a bird making the south-west to north-east passage, empty handed but a little closer than had been the norm. From past observations, it does seem that SEOs tend to fly high when carrying prey. I wonder if this helps them avoid conflict with competition for their spoils?

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
Less than two minutes later, I was extremely glad that this owl had left me set up for shooting against the sky when I saw a very distant, very large, bird in the sky behind the woodland. My first reaction was Raven. As I was taking the photos I realised what I was looking at - a White-tailed Sea Eagle with wings like barn doors! It was extremely distant, so I've pasted together two images of the same bird. you can just detect the bird's wing tags. Incidentally, this location must have been at least 30 miles (50 km) from the nearest sea.

White-tailed Sea Eagle (photo-montage of 2 images of single bird) - near Nethybridge
I sat there for about another 40 minutes, and it was now approaching 13:00 and entering what I expected to be a quiet time for the owls. Furthermore, I needed a 'comfort stop', so prepared to move off. I had just started my car when an owl landed on a post beside the road about 60 metres away. I took the safety shot from where I was.

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
As the car was already started, I thought 'what the heck' and halved the distance. The owl took no notice of me, and I had to make squeaking sounds like a mouse before it would turn to face my direction, but even then it didn't take any notice of me.

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
I halved the distance yet again, and this time it was so intent on looking for prey that I couldn't get it to turn its head at all - a pity as it would probably have resulted in by far my best SEO image ever. Here's one of its back! Can you sense my frustration?

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
After what seemed like ages but was, in fact, less than 10 seconds, the bird dropped down into the grass, missed its prey, and then flew to a fence on the adjacent edge of the field.

Short-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
Having done the necessary, I returned to my post and waited another couple of hours, but little was happening and so I decided to depart and 'say goodby' to some of my other haunts in the region. The disappointment at not seeing a Long-eared Owl during this session was more than compensated for by the sight of the WTSE and the knowledge that I'd almost certainly got some of my best SEO images in the can.

I don't know what inspired me to return to the small lochan above Dava where I'd previously seen Red-throated Diver, but I'm glad I went. The Divers were there, a little closer to the road, and in better light, so some slightly better images were obtained than my previous efforts.

Red-throated Diver - above Dava
I'd never seen Snipe in this part of Scotland before, so I was particularly saddened to find a dead one beside the road here - presumably through collision with a vehicle.

Snipe - above Dava
I'd not visited my favourite Lochindorb yet that day and this is where I went next. Nothing spectacular was seen, but I had felt that it was necessary to say farewell. I took some photos of Meadow Pipit and Lapwing, and observed a swan fly past, thinking nothing of it at the time.

Lapwing - Lochindorb

Meadow Pipit - Lochindorb
As I headed back towards the hotel for dinner, I noticed a swan (presumably the same one I'd seen flying north-east up Lochindorb) was on the tiny lochan by the old owl-watching lay-by at Dava, but didn't give it a second glance.

Over dinner that night, Jim told us of the Whooper Swan that was on the lochan by Dava. I'd just assumed it was a Mute Swan as Whooper Swans should all be in their Iceland breeding grounds at this time. I don't know why this one hadn't made the journey.

It was a genuinely difficult choice as to where I went after dinner, but I decided on a quick visit to the small lochan below Dava before heading back to the owl grounds near Nethybridge. The lochan is away from the road, but I managed some shots of the Whooper Swan from high ground. The swan looked healthy enough.

Whooper Swan - below Dava
I then quickly headed south to the owling grounds. The owls weren't very evident during the evening, with no SEOs seen but, at around 20:30, a Long-eared owl landed on a fence post against the woodland about 100 metres away. There was no way I could get a decent shot in this light and at this range without getting out of the car as there was long grass in the foreground obscuring my line of sight, plus intervening fencing. The next image will give you an idea of the problem.

Long-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
Not wishing to disturb this owl I contented myself with staying in the car, and observing. At least I got a clearly identifiable record shot.

Long-eared Owl - near Nethybridge
After the owl had departed I think I got another view of a LEO, but I'm not sure. I did, however, witness something that seemed quite bizarre. A female pheasant came down the road carrying what seemed to be an egg with a feather attached to it!

Pheasant (female - with egg) - near Nethybridge
With no owls seen for a while, and a long day ahead of me the next day, at 21:30 I decided it was time to head back to the hotel. As I departed the area, there was a female Roe Deer near the road.

Roe Deer (female) - near Nethybridge
I felt that I'd made the most of this last day, and that I was ending my stay on a high! I also felt that my photographic efforts were better this day than on previous days. I suspect that the intense photographic activity was improving my technique, but I also think that lucky opportunities and helpful weather played a significant part too.

Friday 30th May

I was all packed, checked-out, and ready to leave Grantown-on-Spey by 09:20. The day started with bright sunshine and a cloudless sky, promising to be the best weather of the week - shucks! Rather than the cross-country route of my outward journey I took the nominally quicker route via the A9, stopping very briefly at Avielochan just in case I could get some better images of the Slavonian Grebes. I didn't, but I offer the following two images as they show how their eyes shine like red jewels in the sunlight - something I'd not captured before.

Slavonian Grebe - Avielochan
I can see why the A9 has the reputation of being the most accident-prone road in the UK. It's just fine where there is dual-carriageway although there is, understandably, a lot of speeding. However, there's a lot of frustratingly slow traffic on the rest of the road, with a lack of safe overtaking places. I'd have probably been quicker taking my outward route!

I stopped for my picnic lunch break, over the border into England, just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed at Cocklawburn Beach. I'd been here before with my wife, daughter, and granddaughter a couple of years previously and it's a beautiful unspoiled spot. It's a bit off the the A1 that I was travelling on but I fancied a tranquil place for my picnic. It's also quite a 'birdy' place, and I managed a few photos.

Skylark - Cocklawburn Beach
Stonechat - Cocklawburn Beach
It was only after I got home that I found out that this was a place that I could have indulged one of my other interests as there are some remarkable fossil beds here!

The rest of the journey home was distinctly unpleasant. I hit heavy slow traffic round Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and later hit stop-start traffic on the A1. This went on for some hours. It seems that there'd been an accident with a crane in the 25 mile (40 km) section of continuous roadworks on the M1 between Sheffield and Nottingham, backing up traffic on the M1, M18, and A1, and the radio was speaking of impending closure of the M1. I couldn't face much more of this slow traffic, so continued well south on the A1 rather than my usual route of cutting across to the M1 on the M18. I arrived home almost exactly 12 hours to the minute after leaving Grantown, of which approximately 11 hours had been driving time.

It'd been a superb holiday - my first ever that was purely focused on birdwatching. I stayed at The Grant Arms in Grantown-on-Spey, where I have stayed several times before - but always with my wife. The Grant Arms is a wonderful base for a holiday in this fabulous part of the world - at any time of year. The food is excellent, the rooms are very comfortable, the whole of the team of staff is very friendly, helpful and efficient, and the facilities for the wildlife enthusiast are superb. The Birdwatching and Wildlife Club is part of the hotel's amenities and a stay at the hotel gives automatic membership. The club offers regular free events, but can also arrange focused guided tours if you're looking for something extra special. The club has impressive premises on site, including a lecture theatre, excellent wildlife library, and a clubroom which is full of useful data and information sheets that can be taken away. Daily breakfast-time briefings are offered where you can catch up with the latest sightings or seek advice from the club staff. Thus it's possible to have a wildlife experience as intense or relaxed as you wish - and you can decide on a daily basis! My wife, who is no birdwatcher, loves the place, but the place also came up trumps for this solo visit. My thanks to all at The Grant Arms for a wonderful stay.

I've already booked for the same period next year, where I'm expecting to team up with Roger and Lynne, and probably Jim Almond, again, and (hopefully) my wife will be with me this time - although it'll be a very different holiday if she's not - I might not venture far from the location near Nethybridge!!!

Thank you for stopping by.