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Friday 27 November 2015

Asio Flammeus in Pole Position!

No, not an unknown driver excelling in qualifying for a race!

Following my finding of a Short-eared Owl site on Saturday, the photos from which featured in my previous post, I'd had a couple more visits to the site.  Neither of these visits resulted in any photos which improved on those taken on that first day. I did notice, however, that each time I visited, the owl spent some time on a particular tall pole. No matter which angle I looked from, it was never going to be possible to take a photo of the owl on the post with anything but a plain sky background. If I was going to make anything of this situation, I had to be closer.

The owl had appeared at 15h19 on that first day, but closer to 15h45 on the next two visits. Yesterday (Wednesday) I set up my hide and tripod at around 20 metres distance from the pole well before I expected the owl to emerge and went back to my car to wait in comfort, with the intention of getting into my hide at 15h00 to await the owl.

The owl showed at 14h52 !! It took a quick turn around the pole and my hide, and then went further away. Had it been spooked by my hide, I wondered? Fortunately it then flew over a high hedge and into the next field where it was out of sight. I ran to my hide and spent a few minutes settling myself in, attaching the cable release to the camera, and adjusting the camera on the tripod. 

About ten minutes later it came into my line of vision in the field that I was in, made a couple of attempts at catching prey and then flew up onto the top of the pole.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
I'd not had time to adjust my camera settings after taking the above images, before the owl left the pole and flew to the ground approximately 10 metres in front of me. I was sitting quite low, and the grass was very long so, unfortunately, I couldn't see the owl. By the time it popped up onto the pole again, I'd tweaked my settings - and it came back with prey! The following images are a few of the many that I took before it swallowed its prey whole. The last one in the sequence was of the 'glug' expression on its face as it went down!

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
There are only so many images that one can take of the same owl on the same pole, without things getting repetitive. I was ready to leave, but the owl thought otherwise. It seemed totally oblivious to my presence, in spite of my rather noisy camera shutter, and so I sat it out. Here's a few taken in the ever decreasing light conditions whilst I waited for the owl to go. I'm particularly fond of the third image which, possibly, should be entitled 'shall we dance'.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
Half an hour or so after first landing on the post, the owl flew off the post and departed over the hedge into the next field. I quickly packed up and hurried back to my car.

I could tell that the owl was relaxed in the presence of me in my hide as not once did it raise its 'ear tufts', it preened, and it barely ever looked in my direction. I shall, therefore, aim to have one more session here, with my hide at approximately 10 metres distance, in the hope of getting some images with more detail of that fabulous face!

Thank you for dropping by.

It's been a long while, but I'm linking this to Stewart Monkton's 'Wild Bird Wednesday', where he's got an excellent post on Red-tailed Tropicbird.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Short Interludes - on 20th & 21st November, 2013

On Friday morning I had a call from the owlmeister, Paul Riddle, wanting to meet up so that he could hand over one of his superb owl calendars that I'd ordered in support of his excellent work. It was agreed that we'd meet in the layby beside Cossington Meadows that afternoon. After the handover, Paul couldn't hang around for long as he was rather busy with work, so I set off on my own to see if I could find the Short-eared Owls that had been reported from this site.

I soon found that I was far from the only person to have this thought and by the time the owls (there were two of them) appeared at 15h08 there must have been over a dozen of us in attendance. Sadly the clouds had rolled in by then and it was quite breezy, and the owls didn't come very close, so I only got record shots. However they do, at least, portray something of the nature of these wonderful birds.

The first image shows the first bird when it first appeared.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - Cossington Meadows
The light was gone, it was threatening rain, and I was inadequately dressed for the cold, so I departed at just after 4 p.m.

Inspired by the sight of these birds, yesterday (Saturday 21st) I decided to check out a location much nearer to home which I'd recently passed and which, at first glance, seemed to have fair potential for wintering Short-eared Owl. I didn't have any great expectations, so you can probably imagine my surprise when, within a couple of minutes from getting out of my car, a Short-eared Owl appeared. For some very good reasons, I am not able to divulge the location of this site, but I'm unaware of any previous sightings here.

Fortunately the light, although not good, was a bit better than it had been the previous day at Cossington Meadows, so I did a bit better with the photography.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - undisclosed site
I can see from the metadata that this session only lasted less than 15 minutes - a short Short interlude! During this time, the light had been diminishing rapidly, and the owl had now moved further away, and so I decided to head for home. If it's not raining later today, I shall be back there again! Watch this space!

Thank you for dropping by.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Close Encounter Of The Bird Kind - on 12th November, 2015

I was out with pal John for our (not quite so) regular Thursday session (these days), and we'd had our picnic lunch in the company of a Little Owl at my Site No.34. It was our third and last owl on a rather windy day.

We'd just set off afterwards, and were heading up a rather rough single-track road when I spotted what, on first impression, looked like a clod of soil being thrown up and dropping down again on the other side of the fence about 70 metres up the road on my side (I was driving). I stopped the car to see if I could see what was going on, and a Kestrel flew up from the bottom of the fence and landed on a fence post, maybe 50 metres away. It then flew down again before landing on a nearer fence post around 30 metres away. I was just starting to open my door so I could lean out and take a photo when it flew down again. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to close my door again and it flew up and landed on a post about 4 metres from my head! I had to wind back the lens from full 500 mm to 340 mm in order to frame the bird (the header is uncropped in width). Sadly, I did not have time to adjust my settings from my last attempt at photography that day - they were totally inappropriate. However, although I could have done better, the results are not too bad. I can see from the image metadata that it stayed for just under 3 seconds before departing into the distance.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - near Somerby
I've not been out birding since then, primarily due to poor weather, but hope to put that right tomorrow.

Thank you for dropping by,

Friday 13 November 2015

I HAVE The Foggiest Idea! - on 2nd November, 2015

I woke up to a very foggy morning, looked at the weather forecast and found that it was going to stay that way all day, so resigned myself to a day indoors - but that resignation did not last too long!

I remembered that, way back in December 2010, I'd been out owling when suddenly a blanket of freezing fog descended. It was time to go home! I'd only been going for about 20 minutes. taking a route that I don't usually take when, through the fog, I noticed a familiar shape on the apex of a roof. I'd found a new Little Owl site (No.16)! An image from that encounter appears in the header to my blog whilst this post is current.

My mind was made up - today I'll go out in the fog and investigate whether the Little Owls tend to stay tucked up in their cosy nest holes when fog descends!

The first site I reached was No.22. I've only seen an owl here twice, and each time it was on the top of the same telegraph pole - today I couldn't even see the top of the pole!

Next was No.47, where we're pretty certain that the owls have gone, so no surprise that nothing was seen here either.

At No.44, where it had been seven weeks since we'd seen a bird, one was showing in the nest tree - Bingo!!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44
Next was No.46, but I couldn't even see the nest tree through the fog!

I was very lucky, however, at No. 41. Since a third bout of severe damage to the nest tree, we'd only been getting sightings in a nearby hawthorn, and we hadn't seen two birds here since mid-July. I arrived and saw a bird in the hawthorn, but didn't go for a photo as I was in the wrong car to drive into the field. I then noticed a second bird in the entrance to the old nest hole in the original nest tree!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Continuing my travels, I could vaguely see site No.23, but no birds were visible. Nothing was visible at No.40, but we've not seen a bird here since June, and I couldn't see site No.51 through the fog.

At No.34 I couldn't make up my mind whether I was seeing a bird or not, and as the bird(s?) here have only just returned after being evicted by Stock Doves, I wasn't going to risk disturbing them by getting closer. My viewing point for No.36 is at exactly the same location, but I couldn't see the nest tree at all! 

Nothing was visible a few hundred metres down the road at No.43, so I continued to No.42. Here I could vaguely see the site, but would only have seen an owl if it had sat on the apex of the roof. It didn't! It was now getting gloomier, and time to head home.

On the way back, I stopped to have another look at No.43, but nothing was visible. I was just about to set off again, when one popped its head out of a hole in the hawthorn. It was, by now, just far too gloomy for a photo, however.

I ended the day well-pleased with the results. It proved to me that, whilst fog might make things difficult for the owls, it didn't deter them from coming out. Furthermore, this was my first 4-owl day since mid-September! 

It also proved that it's worthwhile attempting to take photos in the fog. Whilst I've purposely left the above images in the 'as taken' state in order to convey the conditions, I have also done adjusted versions, below. The light was bad enough that I had to take rather a lot of images in order to get one without handshake, but the last one makes it worthwhile for me.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.44
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Maybe it's about time I became an 'all weather birder'?

Take good care if you too decide to go birding in the fog. Thank you for dropping by.

Monday 9 November 2015

Butterflies and Beetles - May to September, 2015

This summer I got to really appreciate the close-up capabilities of the Sigma 50-500 lens that I'd been given by my wife as a Christmas present at the tail-end of 2014. I've taken as many opportunities as I could to try and capture the world of small creatures, finding this particularly fascinating as it allows me to see aspects of these amazing creatures that I'd not previously observed.

Here's a selection of the butterfly and beetle (plus a nod to the moths) images that I've not previously posted on this blog, It also excludes those from my garden, as they might appear in a future post. 

Butterflies and Moths

I've had a love of butterflies and moths since the age of about 10. However, I've never made any sort of serious study of them. I did, many years ago, have a spell where my 'office' was full of 'cages' taking caterpillars through to adulthood.

This year, the butterflies have missed my attention to some degree because of my growing interest in dragonflies and damselflies.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (male) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 7th May
The Speckled Wood has a very long season in this region.

Speckled Wood (Parage aegeria) - Calke Tramway on 16th June
The Red Admiral seems to make no attempt to disguise itself.  It also is with us for quite a long period.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 18th June

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Rutland Water (Egleton) on 9th July
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Drakelow NR on 22nd September
Not quite so common in these parts, and not usually around for so long, is the Painted Lady - always a delight to see!

Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 18th June
Relatively uncommon in VC55 (Leicestershire and Rutland) is the Marbled White. This was my first ever sighting in VC55, so please excuse the 'record shots' - a flitting butterfly at around 35 metres distance is not an easy target!

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 2nd July
A relatively common butterfly, but one that I tend to overlook, in spite of its handsome appearance, is the Ringlet.

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) - Rutland Water (Egleton) on 9th July
The Comma, with its delightful and distinctive wing shape, is a relatively common butterfly. It has two broods a year (May/June and August/September), with the second brood hibernating, to reappear in the spring.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Rutland Water (Egleton) on 9th July
Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Drakelow NR on 17th September
On the same July day as the first Comma and the Ringlet shown above, I also photographed a Small Skipper.

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) (female)  - Rutland Water (Egleton) on 9th July
The next two species, photographed on 16th July, are a little less colourful. The Meadow Brown is extremely common, and the Gatekeeper seemed to have a very good year this year.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tythonus) (male) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 16th July
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) (female) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 16th July
We leave the butterflies with a couple of shots of the larvae (caterpillars) of the Peacock.

Peacock (Inachis io) (larvae) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 16th July
I now realise that I've almost totally ignored moths this year (sorry, Rhys!). My only offering is the larva of what I believe to be the Dark Arches moth.

Dark Arches (Apamea monoglypha)? (larva) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 13th May

I know even less about beetles than I do about butterflies, but here's a few from the summer. Please let me know if you can help with the I/D, especially if I get it wrong!

I think this first one might be a ground beetle of of the Pterostichus group.

Ground beetle (Pterostichus sp.?) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 4th June
I think that this one is a Click beetle of the Agriotis group.

Click Beetle (Agriotis sp.?) - Spring Wood Nature Reserve on 16th June
This next one, I'm more sure of. The colour meant it stood out like a sore thumb! I love the satin effect which can be seen on the first image!

Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) - Spring Wood Nature Reserve on 16th June
These next ones are often seen in great numbers when at least 50% of them will be engaging in their favourite pastime. Whilst usually known as Soldier Beetles, they are more colloquially known as Bonking Beetles!

Soldier Beetle (Cantharis sp.) - Rutland Water (Lyndon) on 16th July
Thank you for dropping by. I guess that it's about time I posted with an owl or two, but that's not been too easy lately with limited time and pretty dreadful weather!