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Monday 28 September 2015

Little Owls - Cause for Concern - the start of Autumn, 2015

I confess to being more than a little demotivated over the past couple of months. There's one major factor behind this-state-of-mind and that's the state of the owl population - particularly  where the Little Owls are concerned. It seems that I'm losing Little Owl sites at an alarming rate.

LO Site No.02

When I came back from holiday in Scotland at the end of May, I found that the roof of the building in which the owls were resident had suffered a major catastrophe. Approximately 50% of one side had disappeared, and approximately 10% of the other side. For a while, no owls were seen, but one is currently showing from time to time. I feel that it's only a matter of time before the whole roof collapses and this site becomes unusable by the owls. Part of the problem is the dead weight of the Russian Vine, which covers the east side of the roof, on the rotten timbers.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02, on 27th August, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02, on 3rd September, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02, on 26th September, 2015
LO Site No.03

No images to offer here, as no owls have been seen since April. A visit at the beginning of August revealed the the nest tree had suffered severe damage, rendering the nest cavity unusable. It's my experience that Little Owls often sense when their home is soon to collapse, and depart before the damage occurs.

LO Site No.11

No owl seen since April. A visit yesterday to a point a couple of hundred metres away indicated that the nest cavity opening is now covered by new growth - a visit with the secateurs is probably indicated, but I suspect that it's too late.

LO Site No.17

This is one of my most remote sites, and I confess to it being under-observed this year. I last saw an owl here in April. However, the farmer says that sightings are only sporadic these days, the roof and wooden walls of the building that is their home are starting to fall apart, and Jackdaws have occupied the building. Further investigation is needed, but it doesn't look good!

LO Site No.23

A strange site that is on the route that John and I regularly take to Rutland Water, so we probably pass it twice a week on average. We can go for months without seeing an owl here and then we suddenly start seeing one (two, on only one occasion) nearly every time we pass! We suspect that this is owls taking refuge from the confines of a breeding site after the breeding season finishes. Most times we see the owl on the same bit of RSJ.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23, on 27th August, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23, on 3rd September, 2015
LO Site No.30

This site, on my local patch, is difficult to get to during the summer months, due to the presence of cattle - not docile dairy cows but young beasts that tend to stampede towards you as soon as they see you. I've not seen an owl here since April, and the tree has been full of corvids on subsequent visits. I'm not giving up on this one yet!

LO Site No.34

This was one of our most reliable sites for sightings. However, having seen a single juvenile at the end of July, there were no sightings at this site in August - other than Stock Doves emerging on two occasions. On 3rd September, one of the owls was seen in the next tree down from the nest site, then on 9th September we had another sighting in a tree at the bottom of the field. We've had no further sightings since then, other than a pair of Jackdaws emerging from the nest hole on 24th September. This looks like bad news!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34, on 2nd July, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34, on 3rd September, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34, on 9th September, 2015
LO Site No.36

This site is very close to No.34. An owl was last seen here in late July. Since then the nest tree seems to be perpetually full of corvids. We're not unduly worried, however, as the birds seem to have migrated to Site No.43. The next image was taken when two birds were present in early July

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.36, on 16th July, 2015
LO Site No.40

This is another site that is on the regular 'owling route' taken by John and I. We thought we'd possibly lost the owls when the coppice in which they resided was cleared out and several of the trees cut down. However, this proved not to be the case, and we were enjoying enhanced viewing capabilities. Sadly, in June, further 'tidying up' of the coppice took place, and no owls have been seen here since early June.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.40, on 4th June, 2015
LO Site No.41

This was another reliable site, but not without a worrying history. Two years ago, the nest cavity was destroyed when a major part of the tree collapsed. The owls migrated to the far side of the field. John and I erected a nest box that has never been occupied. However, the owls returned to the tree and found an alternative cavity to nest in, and raised three young in 2014.

This year the owls didn't breed and a huge crack appeared in the main trunk of the tree in July. It appears that the tree could come down at any time and all that would be left is a stump with our nest box attached to it! The owls are still being seen occasionally, but never in the old nest tree. It seems that they might have relocated to one of the farm buildings. The second image shows debris from the first trauma suffered by the tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41, on 9th July, 2015
The next images are from when we last saw two owls at this site, and we last saw an owl in the nest tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41, on 16th July, 2015
Since then, if we've seen an owl, it's been in its now-usual place in a hawthorn bush near to the old nest tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41, on 9th September, 2015
LO Site No.42

Sightings at this site have always been sporadic, with the owls dividing their time between the nest tree and an old building. In summer, because of the dense foliage, it is virtually impossible to see the owls when they are in the nest tree.

This year, the owls have bred again, but we've only seen one juvenile. The site presents no great concerns at present - just frustration at not getting more sightings!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.42, on 27th August, 2015
LO Site No.43

This site is almost certainly an 'overflow site' from Site No.36. As previously noted, we are not currently seeing birds at No.36, but we are seeing birds at No.43 with some regularity.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.43, on 9th September, 2015
LO Site No.44

This has been a 'good news story' so far this year. In 2014, the owls disappeared in August. In mid-February this year, an owl was seen back at the site. It then went quiet until early March, but then we had occasional sightings throughout the month. On 2nd April, two birds were present. 

In summer, the foliage on their nest tree (which is an Oak) becomes very dense and makes it extremely hard to find the owls sometimes. We've seen two juveniles there this year, but a birding friend, who passes the site on a daily basis, says he's seen three!

The first image was taken when the leaves were just coming into bud.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44, on 7th May, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44, on 4th June, 2015
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44, on 18th June, 2015
 We've now come to the point where the situation starts looking even more bleak:-

LO Site No.46

An owl was last seen at this site on 9th August, when there were also two Sparrowhawks present in the same tree.

LO Site No.47

Sightings at this site were always sporadic. However, having seen two owls here at the end of April , we've only seen a single owl since then, and the last sighting was on 9th July. We think that they've gone!

LO Site No.48

This site failed in April when the tree split, and a large part of it fell across the nest opening. There was no way that we could safely move the fallen part, and we believe that the owls could have escaped if they were in there at the time. We haven't seen them since.

LO Site No.49

The birds seem to have abandoned their original nest tree, and were last seen in early August in a tree about 130 metres away. They've not been seen on a couple of subsequent visits.

LO Site No.50

This site was relatively close to No.49, with a single bird being seen twice in April, but not since. I'm hoping that its absence means that it has moved on to find a mate.

LO Site No.51

We've only seen an owl here once, in June this year. We think that there's a good possibility that this site is shared with No.23, which is only 350 metres away.

In Summary

My feeling is that it's been a disastrous year for Little Owl breeding. This is possibly due to a shortage of small rodents, but I also believe that the weather has a lot to do with it. We've had a much colder and windier summer than normal, although there has not been a lot of rain. Owls do not like the wind, and the soil has dried out quickly in the wind, making it as hard as iron and difficult for Little Owls to get their other favourite food - worms!

I also believe that the food shortage has led to the demise of a number of adult owls.

Furthermore, the number of raptors, particularly Buzzards and Sparrowhawks, seems to be increasing and these present a real threat to the Little Owls.

The strong winds have led to a greater than normal destruction of nest sites. Sadly, Little Owls tend to nest in decaying trees or decaying buildings, so they're at a disadvantage from the word go.

You can probably see now why it's not been a happy couple of months for me. I shan't give up, although it has been more than a little demotivating.

I'm hoping that the owls will bounce back next year - in which case, I shall follow suit!

Thank you for dropping by!

Monday 21 September 2015

An Utterly Amazing Coincidence !!!

I've been pretty-much totally distracted from blogging lately, and have not been out and about much either, so sorry if I've neglected your blogs.

I thought I'd better do a quick fill in post to my blog.

In April, 2012, one of my Canadian cousins, who I'd never met before, came to visit with us for a few days. We had a splendid time! Carol (my cousin), knowing my interest in owls, brought me a pair of what I now know to be called Mug Rugs. These were beautifully crafted fabric pads featuring images of owls - one of which is shown below.

Wind the clock forward by 37 months and we had Canadian friends David and Miriam to stay with us. Towards the end of their stay, after they had gone to bed, I noticed that David had brought out his copy of the Collins Bird Guide, for which Miriam had created a fabric cover. I recognised the fabric - it was identical to that on one of the Mug Rugs that my cousin had given me!!!

I placed the Mug Rug and David's book side-by-side on the dining table and when Miriam came down for breakfast the coincidence became 'amazing squared'. Miriam's reaction was 'David, why have you brought a Mug Rug with you?" - or words to that effect! Miriam identified my Mug Rugs as ones that she had made!!!!

Miriam is a very talented needlewoman, and you can see some of her work here. An e-mail to my cousin confirmed that she'd bought the Mug Rugs in a shop, near to David and Miriam's home, which Miriam was using as an outlet for her work at that time.

I'd known long before David and Miriam's visit that my cousin lived only about an hour's drive from them which, considering the vastness of Canada is quite a coincidence in itself, but nobody could have dreamed up the magnitude of the coincidence described above!

Footnote: If all goes according to plan Lindsay and I will be visiting with my cousin, and David and Miriam, in 2017. I've got an amazing trip to look forward to!

Thank you for dropping by - There'll probably be owls next time! 

Friday 11 September 2015

A Visit To Croxall Lakes - on 10th September, 2015

Yesterday, I went over to Kings Bromley in Staffordshire to get some sunflower hearts and Hedgehog food. It's a journey I make pretty-much on a monthly basis, and my route takes me past the entrance to Croxall Lakes nature reserve. Occasionally I call in and make a visit.

The reserve is managed by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, and has been developed from old gravel workings at the confluence of the Tame and Trent rivers. The reserve really comes into its own in the winter months, and when I took a group from my local naturalists club here at the end of June, it was very quiet from a wildlife point of view.

Nevertheless, as Lindsay (my wife) wasn't going to be home for lunch, I thought that I'd enjoy a picnic here after collecting the bird food. Having finished the picnic, I took a wander, not expecting to see much in the way of birds, but hoping for some dragonflies. I saw little other than a Migrant Hawker dragonfly as I wandered down to the first hide, and there was little to be seen from the first hide, so I set off under the railway and across the fields to the second hide.

There was even less to see from the second hide, and I made up my mind that if nothing showed in fifteen minutes I'd wander back and set off home where there were plenty of chores awaiting me! 

I won't say that I was bored - more contemplative - but I did start taking photos of the passing trains as there was not much else to point the camera at!

There was some interest when a hunting Kestrel started coming towards the hide, but I think it saw something off to its right and veered away, to the railway, approximately 250 metres away. 

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Croxall Lakes
The Kestrel disappeared and I set off back towards the car, trying (totally unsuccessfully!) to get photos of some Migrant Hawkers, and a Brown Hawker, that I encountered on the way.

Suddenly a Kestrel appeared above the railway which was running on an embankment, only 30 metres to my left. Sadly, I was still set up for dragonflies, but kept banging away taking photos for the fourteen seconds it was around.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Croxall Lakes
Now it's confession time! When I first looked at my somewhat under-exposed images on my camera and saw the bold longitudinal stripes on the dark underside, I thought I'd been mistaken in my first assessment, and that I'd been photographing a Hobby. In fact, I even told my pal John on the phone that I'd photographed a young Hobby! It's only when I came to work on the photos that I realised that I'd got a female Kestrel with very bold markings on the underside! I'm really disappointed!

After this, I did manage to find a settled Common Darter and got a few photos of that too. If you're looking at the second image on a high-resolution screen you should be able to see the individual elements in the eyes.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Croxall Lakes
So there we are! I'd got really excited and, on the way home, had planned to write this post, which would feature my best-ever photos of a Hobby, and all I end up with is a post which shows me up as a real chump! 

Thank you for dropping by. I'm off to find a real Hobby - or perhaps a change of hobby!

Tuesday 8 September 2015

A Canadian Visitation - Pt.4 - 4th to 9th August, 2015

This is the fourth, and final, part of my account of our travels when Canadian friends, David and Miriam, came to stay. You can find the previous instalments here, here, and here.

Tuesday, 4th August

On this day, we left Grantown on Spey and headed back south into England (just!). In some ways I was sad to be leaving the Grant Arms - this hotel is a wonderful base for a wildlife holiday. However, we were heading towards home and, as I hadn't seen much of my wife for the past fortnight, I was looking forward to it.

I'd had a phone call the previous day to say that the weather forecast was not good and so our pre-arranged boat charter to Bass Rock and Craigleith was cancelled. This was particularly disappointing as our Farne Island visit on our travels to Scotland had also been cancelled due to weather.

We set off south soon after breakfast. As we were now in no hurry, we made a diversion from our route at Braemar in order to check for Dipper on the scenic run up to the Linn of Dee. It was an enjoyable run but no Dipper was seen.

After stop for coffee and cake at the 'taste' café in  Braemar, our next stop was at Glenshee in the hope of finding Ring Ouzel again so that David could get photos. He was unlucky, but it was not surprising as the weather was not good at all, and David returned to the car lightly frozen and damp!

We had another stop at the Macmillan Coffee Shop at Quarrymill, near Scone Palace, just outside Perth, for a very enjoyable light lunch. This place is run by volunteers in support of the Macmillan Cancer charity, and they do a wonderful job The food is delicious, and it seems that the ladies compete with each other to produce the best cakes!

After lunch, we took a walk beside the burn that runs through the Quarrymill park. This has been a good place for Dipper on past visits, but not on this occasion. This was our last opportunity, so David and Miriam dipped on Dipper in Scotland!

We were settled into our B&B at the excellent Tweed View House in Berwick upon Tweed by 17h00. Miriam was feeling a little under the weather, so it was just David and I that went out to the local chippy for a fish & chip supper. The weather had picked up a bit by now so, after fish & chips, we returned to the B&B, picked up our birding kit, and set off for Cocklawburn Beach. 

Cocklawburn Beach is a favourite place for me. The birds are plentiful, and usually somewhat different to those I find at home, and I found out earlier this year that fossils can be found here too. Having found a suitable place to park, we made our way down to the beach, noting that the Meadow Pipits seemed to have followed us down from Scotland!

From the beach we saw Gannets and Sandwich Terns flying past, a few distant Eider, and a group of three ducks that we were unable to identify at the time. On looking at my photos I found that they were Common Scoter, the ID being clinched by the bird on the right.

Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) - off Cocklawburn Beach
Soon after our arrival, a small group of Turnstone flew in. Photography was getting a little more difficult by now as the light levels were low.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - off Cocklawburn Beach
I tried for a few flight shots in the failing light - an exercise that was doomed to failure, but I did manage one identifiable shot of a Sandwich Tern.

Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) - off Cocklawburn Beach
Just before we left, a group of Ringed Plover arrived on the rocks exposed by the falling tide.
Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) - off Cocklawburn Beach
Tiredness had set in so we returned to Tweed View House for an early night, and a much-needed good night's sleep.

Wednesday, 5th August

We had an excellent breakfast served in our rooms, packed the car, and set off on our travels again. 

Miriam had wanted to see Hadrian's Wall on the basis that she was probably not going to see the Great Wall of China in her lifetime, and this would be second best! So we set off towards the outskirts of Newcastle and then headed off west. We soon connected with visible signs of the wall, and found that every man and his dog seemed to have decided to 'walk the wall'. Not wanting to spend a fortune on a car park ticket that allowed parking for a day at any of the official 'wall car parks' when we were only looking for a brief visit, I took David and Miriam to an extensive part of the wall I'd found on a previous occasion, with just enough space to park a vehicle at the roadside. It seems that they were more than happy with this arrangement as this episode is a feature of David's own trip report.  

We then cut across country to Alston, where we made a stop for lunch at a place Lindsay and I had stopped at a couple of times before. It was an entertaining, if a little long-winded, experience, but we eventually set off again, suitably replete.

The Bowlees Visitor Centre, near Middleton in Teesdale (just corrected a Freudian typo there - wrote 'Middleton in Teasdale'!) was nominated by me as a suitable place for a comfort stop with, perhaps, the possibility of finding the elusive Dipper. This place had changed out of all recognition since my previous visit, and it's now a superb facility. I asked the lady behind the Information Desk about recent Dipper sightings, and she recommended a short walk from the Centre to the Tees above Low Force - a place I'd not been to before - rather than the stream virtually next to the Centre. As the rain had departed and it had turned bright and sunny, we took her advice. 

Low Force is a very pretty spot, and there were quite a few people around taking advantage of this fact, but I did manage a person-free image.

Low Force - near Middleton in Teesdale
By crossing the suspension bridge, we left most of the people behind and had a pleasant walk beside the water. Eventually I spotted a very distant Dipper and this time David and Miriam saw it!

Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) - near Low Force
I tried to find a position where we could get a better view of this bird but, sadly, it was on the far side of an island in the river. Whilst looking I did find a beetle that I don't believe I have ever seen before, although I understand that they are not rare. At first I thought that it had orange spots on its thorax and head, but when I looked at my images I found that it was host to some orange bugs. Initially I thought these were ticks, but I now know different.

Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides) - near Low Force
The beetle is a Sexton Beetle, sometimes also known as a Burying Beetle. It serves a useful purpose in that it buries carrion so that its larval offspring have a well-stocked larder on hand. It is not unusual for these beetles to carry Gamasid mites. These are not parasitic on the beetles, but are just hitching a ride from one meal to the next - sharing the beetle's food source! However, some Gamasid mites are not that innocuous. They can carry disease! Indeed, those living on rats were, it seems, responsible for The Black Death!

We returned to the Bowlees Centre and I thanked the lady behind the desk for her pointer to the Dipper. David bought us an excellent locally-produced ice cream, and then we were on our way.

We arrived home in Ashby shortly before 7 p.m. and had a relaxing evening chatting, eating, and topping it off with 'Le Colonel' (for those that didn't see my previous mention of this, it's lemon sorbet drowned in vodka).

Thursday, 6th August

At David's request, after breakfast we set off to make a return visit to Rutland Water, leaving Miriam to stay and spend some time with Lindsay. This time we visited the Egleton side. It's now that I confess to having a sense of guilt as I look at my images and realise that I must have spent more than a little time along the way photographing damsels and dragons. My apologies, David. Here are some of the guilty spoils of that session.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Rutland Egleton

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Rutland Egleton
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Rutland Egleton
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (female) - Rutland Egleton

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (female) - Rutland Egleton
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (female - dark form) - Rutland Egleton
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (immature female) - Rutland Egleton
I did also photograph this bee. I've not been able to find any reference to a bee with a white tail AND a white front. Any help with ID would be much appreciated.

Bee species - Rutland Egleton
Although not represented by my photos, we did spend quite a time in the hides, enjoying the birds, particularly at Shoveler Hide. I took this photo of a Curlew from there, although the light had gone by then.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) - Rutland Egleton
We'd seen a juvenile Little Owl at my Site No.44 on the way out (no photos), and managed to pick up a further two (both adults) at my Site No.41 and a single bird at No.46 (worryingly with a pair of Sparrowhawks sitting on a branch above it).

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
We agreed that it had been a pleasant day, even if not particularly exciting, and it had been great to enjoy some sunshine for a change!

A short vigil in the garden with Miriam, looking for Hedgehogs, didn't come up with the goods. Until a couple of weeks before their visit, we'd had one Hedgehog that you could almost set your clock by at 22h00. Visits had, however, become somewhat more sporadic since then.

Friday, 7th August

The general consensus of opinion was that a relatively gentle day was needed. We started off with Miriam, David, and I driving to the edge of Calke Park, and walking in.

Soon after we set off on foot, we found juvenile Goldfinch on the thistle heads.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) (juvenile) - Calke Park
Further up the way, I stopped to scan for owls at my Site No.49. Suddenly I saw what I thought was a female Redstart, and then there was a male Redstart! Apparently it's a while since a Redstart was seen in the park! I only managed distant record shots of the male, and didn't manage to positively ID the female.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) (male) - Calke Park
We were continuing up the road when Miriam said "there's a Little Owl". She'd spotted one in a distant tree near Site No.49! It was close enough that there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to Site No.49.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.49
We carried on until we got the the hide beside the car park at Calke. Here we spent a while watching the birds. Nothing exciting to me was seen, but David was pleased to get close views of species that he was not overly familiar with.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Calke Park
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) (juvenile) - Calke Park
Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Calke Park
As we left the hide, some of the park's Red Deer stags were nearby.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - Calke Park
We made our way back to the car, checking the tree where we'd seen the Little Owl. It wasn't there, but I spotted one on a bit of fallen tree beside the tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.49
We'd assumed that this was probably the same owl as we saw on the outward - that was until a couple of weeks ago when, whilst checking my photos from that day, I saw that the owl on the ground had just snuck into one of my images (bottom right) of the owl in the tree! It was reassuring to see that there were two owls still around as I'd not seen an owl here for a while.

Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.49
We checked for the Redstart on our return, but didn't see it. 

After a light lunch at home, David and I set off for a local lake. Hicks Lodge has turned up some good sightings in the past, but I'd not been there for a long while - I think that this might have been my first visit this year!

There were a few Common Blue butterflies around, but they were not very cooperative! I didn't do too badly, however. I was extremely pleased to get this one as it was exhibiting the orange lunules on the upper wings, commonly associated with the female of the species, but was extremely blue as for a male, also! This seems to be more in keeping with the Scottish and Irish races of the females of the species!

Common Blue (Polyomatus icarus) (female?) - Hicks Lodge
I don't know my moths well enough to decide whether this is a Five-spot or Six-spot Burnet. I'm pretty sure, however, that it's a Six-spot with the outer two of the six spots merging! I think that a Five-spot would be a bit unusual in these parts!

(probable) Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) - Hicks Lodge
A Migrant Hawker was flying in the same area, and kindly settled to enable its photo to be taken.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (immature male) - Hicks Lodge
David was feeling in need of a rest, and sat down on a bench beside one of the lakes whilst I went on a further dragonfly hunt. I wasn't too successful, only managing the following.

Common Emerald (Lestes sponsa) - Hicks Lodge
I returned to David, and took some photos of a Tufted Duck that was keeping a watchful eye on a chick from a distance.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) - Hicks Lodge
We had to set back relatively early as I'd been called to an extraordinary meeting of a club, of which I am a member, that evening. As we were departing, I saw a Brown Hawker flying around, and it looked as if it wanted to settle - something that they don't often do in my experience! It did, but I only managed a relatively poor image before it was off again.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (female) - Hicks Lodge
I'm pleased to say that the meeting that night didn't last too long and we were able to take up my pal John's invitation for David to sit out at his place with a chance of seeing a Barn Owl - John had been with me at the meeting. We sat David down in my chair-hide in John's garden, but without the cover over. John went indoors and I went and sat quietly in my car with the intention of having a doze. I didn't get much of a chance, however, as about half an hour later, David appeared having had a delightful period of watching the female Barn Owl which had emerged and had a stretching session before departing.

We got back in time to join the girls in a gin and tonic before bed.

Saturday, 8th August

After breakfast, I took David back to John's house, this time with Miriam too. Two birds on David's target list were Tree Sparrow and Jay, and John has these regularly on feeders in his garden (lucky beggar!)

I left David and Miriam sitting with mugs of tea watching the feeders whilst I went off to scout for dragonflies at a nearby fishing lake. It seemed that, round the edge of the lake, there were frogs everywhere. This one hopped out of my way onto an old pile of blanket weed that had been hauled out of the lake.

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) - Ibstock
The weather wasn't ideal for dragonflies, and the photography was even less ideal!

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (immature female) - Ibstock
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Ibstock
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) - Ibstock
I spent around an hour here before returning to pick up David and Miriam. They'd seen Tree Sparrow, but the Jays hadn't shown up.

We returned home for lunch and, in the afternoon David and I set off to check up on some Little Owls and to see what else we could find. There was disappointment at my LO Site No.03 when I discovered that the tree had suffered badly since my last visit and was almost certainly not still a viable nest site. We found Little Owls at my Sites Nos.02 and 17, but little else of interest, so it ended up being rather a flat afternoon for sightings. We had to be back in good time as David and Miriam had requested that we book a table at a hostelry of our recommendation as they wished to buy us dinner.

We had a splendid dinner at The Coopers Arms in Weston on Trent and a thoroughly enjoyable time - thank you, David and Miriam - after which we returned to base and sat chatting whilst enjoying 'Le Colonel' once more!

Months before their arrival, Miriam had expressed a wish to see a Hedgehog, knowing that we have them visit our garden. Miriam had another attempt to see them that night, and did not have to wait long before a Hedgehog walked right past where she was sitting and started to feed in the nearby feeding station. Mission accomplished!!!

Miriam's Hedgehog - our garden
Sunday, 9th August

The girls were off to a international quilting show with our daughter, Melanie, at the NEC this day, and David and I went off to Rutland Water with Hobby being the target bird for David. Our first call was at Swithland Reservoir, where local birders told us that Hobby had not been seen there for a few weeks. We didn't stay long, as we felt that we'd get a better chance by going to Rutland Water.

En route we passed my Little Owl Site No.44 and one of the adults was showing quite well.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44
A little further on, we enjoyed the graceful flight of a Red Kite. This one seemed to have a deformity in that its lower mandible looked to be significantly shorter than the upper one.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - north-east Leicestershire
I had several attempts a photographing dragonflies at Rutland Water, whilst David spent more time in the hides. I don't think either of us saw anything of great moment, however. My shutter almost certainly got less activations than at any time during the 17 previous days!

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) -Rutland Egleton
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male + female) -Rutland Egleton
We needed to return relatively early that day as I was cooking the evening meal and David and Miriam needed to get packed up ready to depart for home the next morning.

Sadly, my tiredness was beginning to catch up with me and I made a bit of a pig's ear of dinner that night - although it seemed to go down quite well, it should have been so much better! 

I don't know about anyone else but I felt in a decidedly sombre mood that night as we enjoyed a farewell 'Le Colonel' together. Tomorrow, my new-found friends would be departing.

I'll not report on the last day, when I drove David and Miriam to Manchester Airport, and said a quick 'farewell' to them both at the drop-off parking area. It wasn't my happiest moment!

In Conclusion

This visit by David and Miriam was arranged on the basis of a friendship formed between David and I as fellow bloggers on the internet. Some may say that that's a recipe for disaster, but I believe that David and I both had total confidence that all would work out just fine, even if we were to uncover unforeseen differences.  I'm not sure that our wives, however, had the same confidence, as they hadn't been party to all the communication that passed between David and myself.

I'd done quite a lot of work in the preparations for David and Miriam's visit, but this was not, I confess, for altruistic reasons. In my most recent working past, I had a tour business, providing tours for a different kind of enthusiast. I've been retired for just under ten years now, and I got a real kick out of revitalising the old skills and organising the arrangements for this visit.

As far as the actual visit was concerned, David and Miriam turned out to be charming and delightful company. Yes, I did push myself a little harder than I would normally have done, with driving nearly 3,000 miles (4,500 km) during their visit, and indulging in wall-to-wall birding for 18 days, but I got so much more out of the experience, which was fully enhanced by their company! I wouldn't have missed it for the world!!

Given the opportunity, would I do it any differently? Yes, I possibly would! Towards the end of the Scottish leg of the visit I started to get the impression that we'd been pushing Miriam too hard. Miriam has a real interest in wildlife and has superb powers of observation (visual and hearing), but David is the dyed-in-the-wool birder, driven by a wish to see everything possible. I feel that, in trying to provide David with as much from his wish list that I could, I deprived Miriam of some of the things that she'd have liked to have done. If this is the case, Miriam, I apologise and promise to redress the balance next time! If I've got it wrong, I apologise to you both for misreading the signs.

Do I look forward to getting together with David and Miriam again? I'd be darned upset if I thought that it wasn't going to happen!

My thanks to all at the Grant Arms for making our stay there so highly enjoyable. My thanks also to Liz and Graham for a truly enjoyable, if brief, stay at Tweed View House.

My thanks to David and Miriam for the life-enriching pleasure of your company.

Last, but not least, my thanks to my wonderful wife, Lindsay, for looking after us all so well - you're a star!

Thank you for dropping by. The next post from me will probably be a brief one! Sighs of relief all round!!