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Monday 24 November 2014

The First Half of November - 2014

Whilst the first half of November was reasonably rewarding from the point of view of sightings, it didn't offer much in the way of photographic opportunities - due to distance, light, wind and rain!


I've only one owl image that is just about good enough to offer, and that was taken on 1st November whilst doing a bit of solo owling. Little Owls were seen at five different sites that afternoon.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.48
Odds and Sods

The same day that the above image was taken, I paid a visit to Launde Abbey, where I had a (distant) sighting of a Kingfisher for the first time in a few months!

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) - Launde Abbey
Soon after this, my session was interrupted by the arrival of The Hunt. I've never seen a bigger hunt gathering - there were hundreds of people involved! I understand that it's a legal loophole that is exploited which leads to a falconer accompanying the hunt wherever it goes. This one had a couple of guys in tow - one with a Golden Eagle and one with a Harris Hawk. The Golden Eagle was kept hooded but I did get a shot of the head of the Harris Hawk. I won't give scientific names for these birds as a lot of interbreeding and hybridisation takes place in these circles.

Harris Hawk (domesticated) - Launde Abbey
I gave up here and headed off to find fuel for the car. En-route I found myself being approached at great speed by a runaway horse. Fortunately, it was intercepted by some guys who came careering down the road in buggy, nearly losing control at one point! I'm surprised that the passenger didn't get spread all over the road!

Five days later, I was back at Launde with Titus. There were a couple of very skittish Teal on the fishponds there, which fled to the next pond whenever we saw them - at over a hundred metres distance. Just before we left, I spotted one asleep on the lower, very brackish-looking, fish pond at only about 50 metres distance.

Teal (Anas crecca) - Launde Abbey
Our Garden

One aspect of our garden which gives me concern is that we've lost a more-than-acceptable number of birds to window strikes this year - possibly four (I don't keep records of this). On a wet and windy 12th November this Goldfinch hit my study window. At first I thought it was dead as it lay with its wings spread, so I took a photo of an aspect of Goldfinch that is not usually seen for a long enough time for the eyes and brain to register - what a fabulous looking bird! I'm delighted to report that I picked it up, saw that it was alive, put it somewhere comfortable and that it suddenly regained consciousness about half an hour later and flew off.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
 We're starting to see the winter visitors in our garden. We'd had our first Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) in late October (exceedingly early - usually not until late December!), and then again on 14th November (and once since then), but no photos were obtained. Our main excitement has been the continuing visits by Grey Wagtail (which insists on coming only in bad weather) and regular visits by Goldcrest, with two birds on two occasions. We usually only have two or three sightings, of a single bird, each year. I've still not managed any decent shots of the Goldcrests, which favour a shady place outside my window where the leaves are still on the tree.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - our garden

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden
You can see the problems with trying for shots of the Goldrest. Those leaves really interfere with attempts at focus, by which time the bird has gone! For a bird that seems to have such a happy disposition as it flits around, it certainly has a very sad expression when viewed front-on!

That's all for this post. The next one will feature some owls!

Thank you for dropping by.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Mopping Up October - 2014

Because of the Scillies trip, and then trying to sort out all the photos, and needing to catch up on more mundane matters, October was (outside the Scillies) a rather 'slow' month on the birdwatching and photography front. Sadly, so far, November has been even slower, due to lousy weather and trying to get a few significant domestic projects under way. Here's my 'October Mop Up'.


I've very few owl images to offer for the month. Sightings were not very numerous and mainly distant and in poor light.

On 2nd October I was out with my pal, Titus. At my LO Site No.34 we'd taken some distant shots of one of the owls on a post.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
We were just photographing a second bird, a little further down the field, when this happened!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
Two seconds later, the owl was gone and the post was enveloped  in a fog of chemicals! (having just written that last sentence, bells started ringing as to why it seemed strange - I guess it's because 'the post was enveloped' rather than 'the envelope was posted'!)

A couple of weeks later, again out with Titus, we found an owl at my LO Site No.41.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
And, just a short way further on, an owl at Site No.48

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.48
A couple of days later, as I passed by my LO Site No.02, one of the owls was out. This isn't a special image, but I'd been worried about this site for a while now as they didn't breed this year, and come to the conclusion that one of the owls had perished. I was, therefore, delighted when, three days later, I saw two owls here.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02
Our Garden

Things were a little quiet in our garden at the start of the month, with much less bird food than the norm being consumed. However, things got exciting the day we returned from the Scillies when a Grey Wagtail visited the garden. This is the first recorded visit by this species since we got rid of the garden pond in 2010. It's now been visiting us on most days since our return.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - our Garden
Having made a mental note that I must do better, I did slightly better a few days later, on 26th October.  

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - our Garden
Unfortunately, this bird seems to like to visit when the light is dreadful and it's raining! I'm still hoping to do better!

On the same day as that last image was taken, the Sparrowhawk visited, and allowed me to take a shot. This is a bird that stirs up mixed emotions. I'm always excited to see it, and love to try and photograph it, but I hate it when it takes one of our birds.
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden
- and the rest of them

A visit to the Egleton side of Rutland Water on 2nd October brought some nice views of Snipe on Lagoon 3.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
 The sun suddenly decided to shine and the Black-tailed Godwit with them added to the scene.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) and Snipe - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
The usual owling route that Titus and I take on most Thursdays includes a section of country lane where hundreds of Pheasant (bred to be targets for the guns of Homo densimus) have been released. They've hung around for months now, and are so stupid that we often get held up waiting for them to get out of the way, and can imagine them standing on a wall and shouting "here I am - shoot me". There's no denying, however, that the the male birds are spectacular in their appearance!

Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (male) - near my LO Site No.48
Less than a week later, whilst out with Titus, I spotted a big white bird in the hedgerow as we passed. Titus turned the car round and we quickly realised what I'd seen - an albino Pheasant. I'm not sure how rare is the occurrence of albinism in Pheasants, but this was the third such bird I'd seen over the past (probably) ten years.

Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (albino female) - near my LO Site No.47
By my Little Owl Site No.17, these fungi are growing under the trees. I'm ashamed to say I don't recall what the tree species is (I'll try and find out when I next visit, but I think that they might be Black Poplar (Populus canescens)). If anyone can identify these fungi (or the trees!) for me I'd be very grateful. They don't have a separate cap - just a smooth transition from head to short, very fat, stem. They seem to grow to about 4 inches (10 cm) across, and the nearest I can get to an identification is that they look rather like Calvatia excipuliformis (which are edible).

Calvatia excipuliformis ?
On 27th October, whilst on my way back from visiting my garden bird-food supplier, I stopped to photograph a Buzzard that I'd seen on the outward journey. Let the third image, below, be a warning to you never to stand behind a raptor when it raises its tail in the air. I've seen Ospreys do this too many times at Rutland Water to take such threats lightly!!

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Edingale
That's all for now folks. Thank you for dropping by. It might be another long wait before my next post as I've got rather a lot going on at present!

Tuesday 4 November 2014

A Scilly Sojourn (Pt.3) - October, 2014

In this third (and final) part of my account of my October visit to the Scilly Isles, I cover the last two days of our stay. The first part of my account can be found by following the link here, and the second part here.

Sunday 12th October

We'd seen that there was to be a mini seabird trip round the islands taking place this morning, and Roger and I were interested. It was going to be led by well-known Scilly ornithologist, and the official recorder for Scilly, Will Wagstaff. I was a bit concerned that, if the boat was to be as packed as the regular boat to St. Agnes was on the previous day, it would be a fairly cramped and difficult session. In the event, there were only twelve participants in a boat, "Osprey", that has a capacity for 93 people. We had all the room in the world! The weather was glorious, and the seas quite calm, and at 10:00 we were on our way.

"Osprey" - photographed on 13th October, 2014
Will gave a very comprehensive commentary over the boat's PA system as our travels progressed. I confess to being somewhat unaware as to where we actually were for much of the time, so you'll now get a series of bird images, with little comment as to where they were actually taken.

Our first reasonably close sighting was of a group of Shag on a small rock in the sea en-route to Tresco.

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - near Tresco
 As we approached Green Island, just off Tresco, a Spoonbill was clearly visible in amongst the gulls.

Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) - Green Island
Also present were a large number of Sanderling at rest. I've only ever seen Sanderling before in relatively small groups (6-20?) and running along the beach at the waterline. To see a few hundred all at rest on the rocks was new to me. Here's a couple of images of a few of these birds.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Green Island
Also present was a female Shelduck, looking rather incongruous in this location.

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) (female) - Green Island
Will commented that there was an unprecedented number of Grey Heron on the islands at present. This is one that flew past us as we passed by Pentle Bay (I think!).

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Pentle Bay (?)
A bit further on, Will pointed out a lone Cormorant which flew to join a group of Shag. There are many Shag in the Scillies, but very few Cormorant in comparison. 

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Tresco
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) and Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Tresco

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) - Tresco
Further on, possibly by Northwethel, we found a flight of Oystercatcher. These really are spectacular when in flight! Again, I'm not used to seeing this species in such large groups. Here's a couple of images of part of the group.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Also in large numbers here were Curlew - and I'm used to only seeing them in ones and twos!

Curlew (Numenius arquata)
We called at the waters just off Round Island with its lighthouse. There was a raptor present, which Will pointed out to us!

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) - Round Island
At one point there were several Little Egret fishing from a raft of weed. To which Will piped up "Egrets, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention" to which the skipper responded by asking if anyone could drive as he was departing!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
We passed to the north of the sinister rocks of Men-a-vaur, and then headed down between Tresco and Bryher, dropping off Will at Bryher, together with the small party that he was escorting round the island. After making another stop at Tresco it was a small band, indeed, that returned to St. Mary's on the "Osprey".

I've just realised that I've not given you any scenic shots yet in this post. Here's one taken on our way back to St. Mary's. I have no idea where it is!

View from the "Osprey"
Roger and I having met up with the girls at lunch time, Lindsay and I took a stroll up to the Garrison as Lindsay had only been to the eastern entrance. As we emerged from the Sally Port, I noticed a Humming-bird Hawk-moth fly past. To my amazement it landed on a wall (I've only seen them flying/hovering before). Sadly, it landed in the shade, and I found myself regretting (once again) that I'd not taken my macro lens on holiday. My, do they look drab when at rest!

Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) - The Garrison, St. Mary's
I fared even worse when it woke up and started to visit flowers. The light was so bad I didn't stand a chance, shooting at 1/160th sec. Here's the best I could do!

Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) - The Garrison, St. Mary's
We had a very pleasant hour or so's walk round the Garrison, not seeing anything of great interest in the way of wildlife.

Several places round the walls have canon in situ.

Canon at Morning Point, the Garrison
One of the wonderful things about The Scillies is that the climate allows exotic plants to grow. Sometimes one finds the most amazing flowers in the most unlikely places. This beautiful lily (at least, I think that is what it is) was growing on a wind-swept, but south facing, cliff top location, surrounded by brambles and ferns.

Lily (?) - the Garrison, St. Mary's
That night, dinner was on us, as a 'thank you' to Lynne and Roger for their extreme generosity in inviting us to join them. We'd have returned to The Galley if it had been open on a Sunday, but instead settled for dinner at the Spirit Restaurant at the St. Mary's Hall Hotel. This proved to be an adequate substitute, although Roger's Roast Leg of Ryeland Lamb proved to be rather fatty. 

To start with, I had Pan Fried King Prawns served with garlic butter, toasted ciabatta and dressed salad leaves, followed by Roasted Cornish Hake Fillet served with seared Cornish scallops and local crab and chive risotto (is there a pattern emerging here?), and for pud. I had Sticky Toffee Pudding served with toffee sauce & Cornish clotted cream. I confess that the dessert was a step too far!

In spite of being stuffed silly, I did sleep quite well that night!

Monday 13th October

We were up early as we had to be packed and out of the property by 10:00. Lynne and Roger departed by taxi to the airport at 09:45, leaving Lindsay and I to hand over to the owners on their arrival at 10:00. I took some farewell shots of the Oystercatchers sinking their bills deep into the sand and of a thrush in the garden, and It was then a brisk 10 minute walk to the quayside with our baggage.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Little Porth

Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Little Porth
Our boat was not until 16:30 in the afternoon, but there was the ability to leave one's baggage at the boat between 10:00 and 11:00. Here they were loaded into a container, ready for shipment to the mainland in the afternoon. I was concerned that my (soft) case (in which I had my tablet, spare camera, and spare lens), would be at the bottom of a stack of cases six feet (2 metres) high. I was advised by the shipping company to leave my case in the waiting room and pick it up when I returned to board ship. This arrangement worked perfectly, and we left all our bags there!

Lindsay and I then had the rest of the day free. As we'd got a fairly long drive that evening after a sea crossing that's known for being uncomfortable, we wanted an easy day. We phoned for a taxi to take us for the short run to Old Town. Here we called at the Old Town Cafe for an ice cream and I left Lindsay to play on the beach whilst I went for another visit to Lower Moors. The main hide was busy but I did find room. 

Although a Jack Snipe was visible when I arrived, it was well hidden in the reeds, and seemed to be asleep. I bided my time and took a photo of a (Common) Snipe that was a little more obliging, although it kept its back to me.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
A Grey Wagtail was tantalisingly in plain view, but a little too distant.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - Lower Moors
Eventually the Jack Snipe woke up and started moving around. However, it never put itself in an exposed position whilst I was there.

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
Suddenly a second Jack Snipe came into view and was far more obliging in its positioning, although somewhat further away than the original bird.

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
The radios suddenly sprang into life - a Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva) was in the Memorial Gardens over the road from the northern entrance to Lower Moors. Suddenly the hide was virtually emptied. I stopped to try and get some photos of another (Common) Snipe that had appeared, before departing to the Memorial Gardens.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Lower Moors, St. Mary's
I saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher - extremely briefly, and distant, and didn't get any photos at all. At least I'd got another 'life bird', bringing the total (I believe) to five for the holiday. It was now nearly the time that I said I'd pick up Lindsay so I had to hurry away. 

After a snack lunch in the Old Town Cafe I had a quick half hour in Old Town churchyard where I only managed to find the same two stick-insects again. I'm not sure if these two images are any better than my previous efforts, but they are a bit different.

Prickly Stick-insect (Acanthoxyla geisovii) - Old Town churchyard
After this, it was back to the quayside by taxi, and then on board the ship. They say that Scillonian III does not sail well because she is virtually flat-bottomed as she needs to be able to cope with underwater hazards round the islands. Furthermore, although equipped with stabilisers, these are only ever used in absolutely dire circumstances as their deployment greatly increases the fuel consumption of the craft. Fortunately ours was quite a calm crossing back to the mainland, and it was dark long before we reached port at around 19:15.

Scillonian III - taken on 11th October, 2014
Having collected our baggage from the container which eventually arrived at the inner end of the jetty, and then gone to pick up the car, it seemed strange to be driving again after more than a week without a car. I was extremely glad that we'd changed our mind and booked a Travelodge at about the half-way point of our journey. Lindsay had taken a travel pill before boarding the boat, and couldn't keep her eyes open and was certainly incapable of driving. She was still pretty much zonked out the following morning!

I'll not 'start a new day' for our trip back on the Tuesday, but just say that it threw it down with rain almost all the way home. We'd been so very lucky with the weather whilst on The Scillies.

Our grateful thanks to Roger and Lynne for a totally wonderful holiday. Hopefully we will be able to return the favour one day.

To the readers of this blog, thank you for dropping by.