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Wednesday 30 July 2014

To Rutland Water - on 17th and 24th July, 2014

This post covers two visits to Rutland Water with my pal, Titus - the first purely for pleasure, and the second  when we were on Osprey Watch (also a pleasure!).

Thursday 17th July

Only one owl was seen on our way over to Rutland Water - a juvenile Little Owl at my Site No.34. Our main objective at Rutland Water was to try and find some dragons and damsels, and for this we went to the Egleton Reserve, rather than our usual destination of the Lyndon Reserve.

We first stopped at the rather formal 'dipping pond' near the visitor centre. Here we found a male Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata). I'm not very happy with the images - it only settled at a great distance and I had to use the 150-500, rather than the 28--300 (macro) - but it's a long while since I photographed one of these so I'll include a couple of images.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male) - Rutland Egleton reserve
Travelling south-west from the Visitor Centre, we came to the small informal pond. A couple of large dragonflies were briefly spotted but not identified, but there were, of course, several Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum) around. The immature males, one of which is shown below, are quite pale in colour.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (immature male) - Rutland Egleton reserve
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Rutland Egleton reserve
Continuing on the broad section of track, we found another Four-spotted Chaser and then, further on a female Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea). These images were also taken with the 150-500, but at a somewhat closer distance than with the Chaser.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (female) - Rutland Egleton reserve
On the way back, I failed to get a usable image of a male Ruddy Darter, but did find a male Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa). Again, not an image I'm happy with, but the first for the year of this species.

Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - Rutland Egleton reserve
On the way back home four Little Owls (Athene noctua), one of which was a juvenile, were seen. I managed this shot of an adult with prey (a decent sized meal for the family - his, not mine!) at my Site No.34.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
Thursday 24th July

As previously mentioned, this was an Osprey Duty day at Rutland Water. On the way, we only saw three Little Owls (Athene noctua). Fortunately one of these, at my Site No.34 again, was very obliging. I think that I can confidently say that this is not the same owl as that depicted in the previous image

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
At Rutland Water we arrived early, allowing us time for the walk between Waderscrape Hide and Shallow Water Hide. There were a few Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum) around, and plenty of butterflies. Although it was hot and sunny, it was very breezy, making macro photography very difficult. The following is all I could manage.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata) (male) - Rutland Lyndon reserve
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Rutland Lyndon reserve
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (immature male) - Rutland Lyndon reserve
We wondered if we'd see the Little Egrets again, and were beginning to think we wouldn't when one showed up in front of the hide. It didn't stop very long, and I concentrated on 'splash' shots whilst it was there.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Rutland Lyndon reserve
Whilst Titus managed to get some pretty fair images of the Ospreys, I failed miserably again.!

Thank you for dropping by. I believe that my next post will feature a splendid three hours that I had on Saturday 26th July, in which the two Green Woodpeckers featured in my current header showed up.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - on 10th July, 2014

Other than with Little Owls, I don't think that I've ever done a post on this blog which features only one species.

Twenty years ago, Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) were relatively uncommon in UK, the first confirmed breeding pair being in Dorset in 1996. By ten years ago they had started to spread northwards but were still mainly being seen in the south of England. Quite quickly they have spread even further and today are now far from uncommon in most parts of England, although still comparatively uncommon in Scotland, central Wales, and away from the coast in the north of England and Northern Ireland.

Rutland Water, where I am a volunteer on the Osprey Project, now has a good population of Little Egret, but they are usually seen at a great distance, and in my experience are rather nervous birds. I was, therefore, quite pleased to get a distant flight shot of one of a pair of these birds at the start of my turn of duty on Thursday 10th July.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
I was, however, somewhat unprepared when, a little while later, a pair of Little Egret came into land in the water right in front of Waderscrape Hide, where we were on duty. They started to fish, and there seemed to be some territorial competition going on between the two birds as meetings between them were antagonistic! 

Little Egret - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
They hung around for about ten minutes before departing. I've been a volunteer on the Osprey Project for eight years now, and I've seen quite a few interesting things (to say the least!) whilst on duty, but I've never seen Little Egret in front of the hide before. I was more than a little delighted, therefore, when they returned again (I'm assuming it was the same pair!) about ten minutes later.

Fortunately the light, which was behind them, was not too bright, and I managed some images that I was rather pleased with. I'd not had much success with Little Egret before, and I particularly like the images showing the water splash.

- and out again!
We were treated to the presence of these birds, on and off, over the next two and a half hours, until nearly the end of our shift. I wasn't going to miss the opportunity and fired off nearly 300 frames!

Little Egret - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
They seemed to be having no difficulty catching the fish, although their catch just seemed to be tiny fry. For much of the time they employed a foot-waggling technique to locate the fish, and their accuracy in then catching them was amazing to behold! The first image, below, shows a catch.

Little Egret - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Titus and I are back on duty this coming Thursday, and we will be interested to see whether the Egrets are there again, or whether they've managed to over-fish this bit of water.

 - bye !!
Thank you for dropping by. I'm not sure what my next post will feature, but I guess there'll be a Little Owl in there somewhere!

Saturday 19 July 2014

Yes, It's Owls Again! - on 7th & 10th July, 2014

Titus and I had an evening out on Monday 7th July. We saw a few Little Owls, and even a Barn Owl (not successfully photographed), but it was the juveniles at my Little Owl Site No.41 which entertained us once more. One juvenile was already out when we arrived. This one succeeds in looking quite stern!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (1st juvenile) - my Site No.41
A while later, a second juvenile appeared from one of the nest holes. To me, this one just looks a little bewildered - and cute!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (2nd juvenile) - my Site No.41
Shortly after this, we moved on to our next port of call, which is where we saw the Barn Owl (Tito alba) from a distance.

Thursday 10th July was a day for a turn of duty at Rutland Water, and it was a particularly entertaining one for us - which will feature in my next post (there's a hint in the current header!). As usual, however, Titus and I did a bit of owling on the way there (and back!).

As we passed LO Site No.41 (again!), we spotted an adult and a juvenile (unfortunately not side-by-side) in the nest tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua)  - my Site No.41
Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.41
Further on, at my LO Site No.36, an owl was spotted near the nest tree, and close to the rarely used footpath. I thought it was an adult owl when I looked at it from a distance. It had the identical pose to that usually adopted by the male owl at this site, and shared the same eyebrow configuration. I decided to risk a stealthy approach, and obtained the following image. Now one of the key factors in a stealthy approach is to avoid eye contact. Furthermore, when taking the photos I was more intent of getting settings right than observing the owl in the three or four seconds that I faced it. It was only when I put the images up on the screen at home that I realised that I'd got a juvenile - that promises to be the spitting image of its dad!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.36
Yes, the owl was still there when I left, and was still there when I got back to the car. 

More Little Owl were seen in the late evening, on the way home from Rutland but, as we entered one village, a Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) flew past us in the opposite direction. We turned round, and soon picked the owl up by sound. There was at least one juvenile, plus the adult we'd seen. One of the juveniles was spotted, and I only managed a record shot as it was all but dark by then.

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) (juvenile) - undisclosed site
This was a very satisfying end to a grand day

Thank you for dropping by.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

More Little Owl Juveniles - on 3rd July, 2014

On an afternoon and evening out with pal Titus, our main objective was to try and get photos of juvenile Little Owls (Athene noctua). Although we saw owls, including juveniles, at several sites, it was at my LO Site No.41 where we came up trumps. Two juveniles performed quite nicely for us.

The first to show was one that seemed very much paler in colouration, and fluffier, than the two we'd previously seen this season at this site, and we were convinced that this was a third juvenile.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.41
After this juvenile had popped into the hole, we had a short while to wait before another juvenile flew up from the hedge line into the nest tree. The area behind the owl, shown in the first image below, is what was the inside of the original nest cavity before the tree split last August!

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.41
Not wanting to outstay our welcome, we moved off to view some other sites. As we passed No.41 on our way back home, only one juvenile was visible (just!). It was lying down and had us worried at first, but we saw it move a few times and came to the conclusion that it had found somewhere it wasn't going to fall out of in its sleep!. 

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.41
I will offer a couple of other images from that afternoon, taken of an adult LO at my Site No.44. The 'safety shot' was taken through the foliage, before we moved on to find a point where there was a 'clear shot'. I think I prefer the 'safety shot', with its frame of foliage.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44
I've been wondering, for a little while now, about whether to give scientific names of species as well as 'common names', primarily for the benefit of any overseas visitors to this blog that might know species by different names to those commonly used in UK. I've decided to give it a go, so if you have any views on this matter, I'd be pleased to hear them.

Thank you for dropping by. The hint about the probable next post content is in the current header image!

Sunday 13 July 2014

Casper - 1995 to 2014

Today, our beloved cat Casper (affectionately known as Capsie) passed away whilst lying in the garden. He'd been 'going downhill' for a few months and was losing weight rapidly, but the vet said that his quality of life was still good and we should cherish him while we can. He was, therefore, a very pampered cat. The header image that will be briefly featured on this blog was taken just 9 days before he died - I guess I knew his time was nearly up.

We'd had him since September 1995 when we collected him and his sister from The Cats Protection League. We were told that, at that time, he was approximately 8 weeks old. If he was exactly 8 weeks old, he missed his 19th birthday by 6 days.

He was great company and he considered himself to be one of the family (as did we), always sitting between us in the evenings when we were together. He is already being very sadly missed, particularly as my wife is away on holiday with my daughter and granddaughter at this time, with me staying at home to look after him.

Please excuse me posting this on my blog. I know that it has nothing to do with the blog's title, but I consider my blog a bit like a personal diary and, therefore, I do not feel that it would be true to his memory if, on these pages, I ignored his passing.

God bless you Capsie, and thank you for the delight of your company for the past 19 years.

CASPER - 1995 to 2014         (taken in November, 2013)

Dragons, Damsels, and the Lady-in-Waiting - on 1st July, 2014

Wanting to check out my local patch for Little Owls, and being sunny weather, off I went. I knew that I was likely to have problems, due to the deployment of cattle - and if that makes me sound like a wuss, at this time of year the herds are a combination of cows with good-sized calves and a bull. These have a habit of stampeding towards you en-mass when they spot you and, although there is no malice in their action, accidents can happen!

To cut a long story short, I totally (well, almost - see later) failed in finding owls, but did find some excuses to use the Tamron 28-300.

In one of the fields there used to be a permanently wet bit of land, a bit like a muddy puddle with a fence round it. About three years ago, the farmer had a directive that he was not allowed to let his cattle drink from the nearby brook any more in order to safeguard the population of crayfish. Now I'm all for conservation, but this seemed a bit crazy to me as the crayfish and cattle had lived side by side for decades, if not longer. Nevertheless, the farmer had to make alternative provision for his cattle to drink, involving laying in a 600 metre long pipeline, excavating the puddle to be a bit deeper, and putting in additional fencing. This has resulted in an area approximately 15x10m, divided into three roughly 5x10 metre sections, the outside two of which are closed off by fencing and are full of wetland vegetation and the odd small tree. The centre section is open for access by the cattle and has muddy edges, and water which is full of plants and wildlife.

Before the modifications I used to notice the odd dragonfly and damselfly round this area, but it's only in the last 12 months that I've started paying closer attention. On 22nd June I was photographing Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), and a male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) there.

On this day I arrived to find Azure Damselfly, including several in the mating 'wheel'.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (male) - my local patch
Azure Damselfly (mating) - my local patch
Wearing a shade of blue that was noticeably different were a couple of male Blue-tailed Damselfly. I've included the second image to show the wing pattern.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male) - my local patch
Representing the dragons was a solitary male Broad-bodied Chaser, with a tatty left forewing.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (male) - my local patch
Suddenly a second male appeared on the scene followed, shortly after, by a female. One of the males was seen off by the other, which then mated with the female. Between bouts of mating, the female was oviposting. I'd never seen female Chasers oviposting before, and was surprised to find them doing it on the wing in what seemed to be a haphazard fashion. They just seemed to drop the eggs into the weedy water. The second image, below, shows the female oviposting. Sorry about the quality of the images - I find that fast-moving Chasers are difficult to capture!

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (female) - my local patch
So, what about that "Lady-in-Waiting"? Well, also at this drinking pond were many Seven-spot Ladybirds. It was only comparatively recently in my life that I realised that the strange creature depicted below (from my visit that day), and that I'd seen so many times before, was the larva of a ladybird - a 'lady' in waiting!

Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempuntata) (larva) - my local patch
My photographic efforts at the drinking pond were abruptly terminated by the appearance of a herd of cattle that spotted me immediately and came thundering my way. I soon realised that they would reach me before I reached the stile that would allow me to cross to safety. There was nothing for it but to call their bluff and run towards them shouting and waving my arms. Fortunately it stopped them dead in their tracks about 10 metres from me, and I beat a hasty retreat. 

Somewhat warm and out of breath I crossed the safe barley field and found a Little Owl at my LO Site No.02 at the far side. It's always good to have an excuse for a post with an owl in it!

Little Owl (Athena noctua) - my Site No.02
I'm not a 'list keeper' but over the past 12 months at the drinking pond I know I've seen at least representatives of the following Odonata.

- Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) - a vagrant from the nearby brook
- Common Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
- Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)
- Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)
- Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
- Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
- Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)
- Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) 

Nothing rare about any of these, but not a bad number for a very small pond and only very occasional vists. I wish that access to this pond was easier as I feel that there could be one or two surprises here if I could watch it regularly. It's easy for me to get to - it's just the threat of being trampled under hoof that's the problem.

Thank you for dropping by - more owls in the next post, with the current header giving you a taster.