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Saturday 26 March 2016

Gwithian - on 13th March, 2016

I've been away from Bloggerland for well over two weeks now, primarily due to a visit to the Isles of Scilly. I returned on Tuesday afternoon (22nd), but was out for much of Wednesday at our daughter's house, where our granddaughter had beautifully prepared a party in honour of their cats' birthdays. On Thursday I was on Osprey duty at Rutland Water, so the first time my feet touched the ground was yesterday. I find that I took just over four thousand photos whilst away, so I've got a bit of work to do, sorting those out!

I came back from the Scillies, thinking that the birds might have deserted our garden during our absence. Nothing could be further from the truth! We returned to find that, extremely unusually, the most numerous bird in the garden was Siskin, followed by Redpoll! Numbers have steadily increased since our return and today the Redpoll firmly overtook the Siskin in numbers. Today we peaked in the early afternoon at 25 Redpoll and 13 Siskin - a truly amazing sight in a small garden, and those were just the ones we could count! This, of course, has added to the distractions which are conspiring to keep me away from photo processing and returning to Bloggerland.

To get the ball rolling again, I'm putting up a small post which covers the first day of the Scillies trip. 

Our sailing for the Scillies required us to check in at the car park near Penzance by 07h45 on Monday 14th March. The sensible option was, therefore, to travel down on the Sunday and stay nearby. The Travelodge at Hayle suited our purposes admirably, and offered accommodation at a bargain price (£28.00 for the room!).

Lindsay, my wonderful wife, is passionate about coasts and so, having checked in, we set off for the nearest bit of coast, which happens to be at Gwithian - probably only 3 miles (5 km) away. As we approached the coast, I commented to Lindsay that this looked like Stonechat country - and about 5 seconds later we saw one!

We arrived at  the car park, which was full of surfers getting ready to hit the waves, one of whom kindly tipped me off that the car park was free for the next two days. We then set off for the beach. The view as we approached was delightful.

Godrevy Light - from Gwithian
At the bottom of the steps to the beach I was impressed by the wonderful colours and contours in the rocks.

Rock on Gwithian Beach
Not being a beach lover myself, I left Lindsay sitting on a rock whilst I went to explore the sand dunes behind the beach, drawn by a map near the car park which showed inland water and a nature reserve. On the way I took a shot of a Stonechat.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Gwithian
I soon realised that the nature reserve was further away than originally envisaged, and that I'd be in trouble if I left Lindsay for that long - besides, it would be dark in less than an hour!

I did spot a distant bird wading in a shallow bit of water, which I'm relatively sure was a Rock Pipit, although this was not the sort of environment I've seen these in in the past. I did do slightly better, however, with a Skylark that I saw come in to land.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - Gwithian
It was time to rejoin Lindsay, and head back to the car as the light was failing fast. I purposely chose a path through the dunes, and managed to connect with Stonechats again. Lindsay patiently sat on a dune whilst I took photos.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Gwithian

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Gwithian

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Gwithian
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Gwithian
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Gwithian
As we neared the car park, there were a few corvids around. I'm not used to seeing Rooks with dark bills, but by the shape of the bird's head and its bill, I think that this was what this bird was - an immature? Please tell me if I'm wrong!

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) (immature?) - Gwithian
After this we went back to our hotel before heading over to dinner in the nearby Brewer's Fayre. It was then an early night for both of us.

Hopefully, I'll find time in the next day or two to visit the blogs of my friends in Bloggerland. Thank you for dropping by.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

Sprawk !!! - on 29th February, 2016

Since December, a male Sparrowhawk has been making a real nuisance of himself in our garden, visiting several times a day on many occasions. Fortunately he's not been a very adept hunter, although there have been a few casualties.

More recently I'd been convinced that a female of the species had been paying the occasional visit. A few times I'd see the birds in the garden suddenly vanish as a flash of brown passed by. 

On 29th February, I was sitting at my desk when I caught a flurry of activity in the corner of my eye. Yes, it was the female Sprawk, and she'd brought down a Collared Dove about 10 metres from where I was sitting! My first reaction was to try and get some photos through the glass of my window. Sadly, there were obstructions to the right of my view which prevented me from getting a decently composed shot. The bird was removing feathers from its prey with great rapidity.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
It's always a dilemma when such things happen - do I take the photos whilst I have the opportunity, or do I protect our garden birds by trying to frighten the predator? The answer is usually a compromise, and it was on this occasion. Having taken a few shots, I banged on the window - and it ignored me! 

I made a quick dash through the kitchen to our back door (taking my camera with me, of course!) and started to confront the Sprawk. She was in a position where I couldn't get any sensible photos, and she ignored my initial approach. She stayed her ground for a while and then retreated by about 3 metres into the corner of our garden in front of one of our hedgehog houses, taking the hapless Collared Dove with her.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
She stayed a while as I got closer, and then decided I was too much of a threat, and took flight, leaving the Collared Dove behind. Convinced that the Dove was stone-dead, I returned to my study. I can see from the camera data that this whole episode took approximately 45 seconds.

I'd been sitting at my desk for a few minutes when, to my amazement, I noticed that the Collared Dove was now upright, and moving its head a little. I hurried out to see if it could be saved, and as I approached it flew up into the Sambucus in our garden.

Twenty three minutes after the Sprawk had flown off, I was back in my study again and noticed its return. It made straight for the place where it had first struck the Collared Dove, not seeing that it was now in the Sambucus, maybe 6 metres away. I took a few photos but, again, I've had to crop them heavily because of the obstructions on the right hand side of the images.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
The Sprawk seemed most confused by the lack of Collared Dove - it must have thought that it had done enough to mortally wound it. It was then as if it had suddenly remembered taking it to the corner of the garden, as it trotted off there. Here she is, stepping towards the corner.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
She ended up searching round the Hedgehog nesting box, and then standing on top of it. Fearing for the continued safety of the Dove I again went to scare off the Sprawk, making sure I took a photo beforehand!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden
Once again, the Sprawk left empty-handed, leaving the Dove in the Sambucus. 

It was maybe an hour later, with me wondering if the Dove was going to fly off or cock its clogs and fall out of the tree, when the Sprawk returned once more. She grabbed the Dove and flew down behind our back fence. I got the ladder out so I could see over the fence, but could see no trace of it so, presumably, it had flown off at low level with the Dove.

It wasn't long before normality returned to the garden, and the regular birds returned, possibly safe in the knowledge that the local killer was well sated!

Here's one from that afternoon that the Sprawk missed. In line with recent comments received, I'm just calling this 'Redpoll' and not showing the old sub-species scientific name

Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) (female) - our garden
Both male and female Sparrowhawks have visited since then, but I don't think that either of them have caught anything in our garden.

Thank you for dropping by. At this point in time I have no idea what and when my next post will be as I seem to have little up my sleeve except, perhaps, some of my garden birds so far this year.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Longmoor Lake - 2011 to present day

Longmoor Lake is situated approximately 5 miles (8 km) by road from my home. It was once an opencast coal mining site (Long Moor), and 725,000 tons of coal was extracted from there between 2007 and 2010, when the mine was abandoned and turned over to grassland with a lake, and public access via footpaths. 

I first became aware of the site when a Snow Bunting was reported as being there in November, 2011. As it was close to my home, I went to investigate one late afternoon, and found the bird in a shallow gully that ran into the lake. It was quite confiding. It was a fine day, but the light was low so the photography was not good. Here's a couple from that session.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) - Longmoor Lake
A day or two after this visit, this bird was joined by a second bird, but I never got to see them again.

The following year (2012) it was announced that the Woodland Trust were to take over this site, and it was to be designated a flagship woodland for the trust and become The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood, in celebration of that event. There was a consultation meeting which I attended where I expressed the view that this region, having been designated 'The National Forest' had had so many trees planted in recent years that it wasn't trees that it was short of, but open grassland. The response I got was that the funding for tree planting had already been obtained and so they had a commitment to plant the said number of trees. I have subsequently discovered that I was far from alone in expressing this view!

On 1st June, 2012 I attended the opening ceremony beside the lake, where HRH The Princess Royal arrived by helicopter, and was shown round the site before planting a commemorative tree - it's just occurred to me that I'm not sure if that tree and its marker plaque is still there! I'll possibly check that out!

HRH The Princess Royal - Longmoor Lake
After this event, tree planting proceeded apace, and I tended to keep away. However, in 2014, there were occasional reports of  a sighting of Short-eared Owl and I had to investigate. There was now a network of paths, and the derelict microlight hanger, which was once the favoured roost of a Barn Owl, was now gone. I never saw the SEO but on 18th November, 2014 I photographed a Meadow Pipit that was just outside the new hide that had been built near the lake.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Longmoor Lake
The following day, 19th November, I was back again and managed some more photos of small birds. There was evidence of the SEO having been around, in the form of pellets by the hide, but the owl wasn't seen. 

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Longmoor Lake

Reed Bunting (Emberiza Schoeniclus) - Longmoor Lake

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - Longmoor Lake
It seems that every time I visited, the owl was not seen, and on those days I didn't visit, it was seen! By now I was getting thoroughly disgruntled with trying to pick my way between piles of dog mess on the paths as darkness fell each time I visited. I also had a run-in with a landscape contractor who was throwing the baking foil from his lunch out of the window as he drove from one part of the site to another, and so I gave up in disgust!

My next visit to the site was with our club (the Peter Williams Naturalist Club) on 2nd May, 2015. We were led by one of our club members, Rhys Dandy,  who is a well-respected birder, and familiar with the site. The weather was cold, for the time of year, and quite windy, and eventually turned to rain. Among the birds that Rhys found for us were Wheatears and a Whinchat. I understand that the Wheatear, shown below, was of the Greenland race.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - Longmoor Lake
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (male) - Longmoor Lake
Dog mess on the paths was still a thoroughly unpleasant problem at this time, and so it took the report of a Hen Harrier on site to tempt me back, nine months later.

On 2nd February I went to find the Hen Harrier. It was seen at a great distance when it put up a large flock of Woodpigeon - and caught one! It was too far away (over 800 metres, as measured on Google Earth!) for photography, but at least I'd seen the bird! I came away with a photo of a pair of Wigeon, taken from the hide.

Wigeon (Anas penelope) - Longmoor Lake
One thing that did strike me was that the problem of dog mess on the footpaths was not nearly as bad as previously experienced. There was, however, an unpleasant side to this in that it seems that people are now more prepared to pick up after their dog, but rather than transport this detritus home, they prefer to hang up the little black bags in trees and bushes - how pathetic is that!!! It puts me in mind of the song 'Strange Fruit' (see below) although that relates to matters infinitely more serious.

The following day (3rd February) a Barn Owl appeared at 15h38 at a distance of around 350 metres and, as this was as close as it got, the photos aren't worth showing here. I had a little more luck with the Harrier, getting a few images when it flew past very rapidly at a distance of around 170 metres at 16h26. I'll not bother you with these poor images either! I did, however, get some images of Stonechat from the hide.

Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - Longmoor Lake
Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - Longmoor Lake
I was back again the next day (4th February) at the tail-end of an afternoon out with pal John. We spent a little time on arrival trying to photograph the Skylarks (it's all good practice!).

Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - Longmoor Lake
Two Barn Owls appeared at 16h30.  I didn't do very well with photography. Here's a couple of the slightly better ones.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
My next visit was on 10th February. Happily, the Hen Harrier showed at 15h39, before the Barn Owl (15h56). I managed some slightly better images but these were, again, at a distance of around 170 metres as it hugged the hedge line.

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) - Longmoor Lake
The following afternoon (11th February) I was out with pal John again. This day featured in my last post to this blog; 'A Ten Owl, Three Species, Day'. The Harrier was not seen by us that day, but here's a few images of the Barn Owls (not previously published), both of which emerged at the same time (15h55).

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
It was another week before I returned (18th February), again with John. Whilst we awaited the Harrier and the Barn Owls, the Wigeons kept us amused.

Wigeon (Anas penelope) - Longmoor Lake
  The Hen Harrier put in an appearance at 16h21.

Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) - Longmoor Lake
Two minutes later (16h23) the Barn Owls arrived! It was quite a useful session that followed, with the following images, plus the header which is current with this post, resulting.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
We now move on to 23rd February, with both Barn Owls emerging at 16h42. I was pleased to get some relatively close-up flight images, although the light was testing - to say the least! I was also pleased to get both owls in one shot - even if at great distance!

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
The next day (24th February) I was back again. I'd pretty-much abandoned the Hen Harrier in favour of the Barn Owls by now. The owls emerged together at 16h49, and I was pleased to get a (distant) shot with both of them in flight. The other four images I hope you will find a little different to the ones above!

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
The following day (25th February) I was out for the afternoon with John again, and we ended up at Longmoor Lake. Unfortunately it had turned cold and very dull, so there was not much hope of useful photography. John had to return home early, and managed to miss most of the action. I was not sure how high I could get away with pushing the ISO and opted for 2,500. This turned out to be a reasonable compromise, although the last flight shot, taken at 1/125 sec. is, understandably, badly blurred!

I'm a bit embarrassed about the Linnets. They were pointed out to me by a couple of seasoned birders who, at a considerable range, couldn't make out whether they were Redpoll or Goldfinch, but asserted that they had to be one of the two, with Goldfinch being favourite. I got a little closer and took some photos and could see clearly that they weren't Goldfinch - and I also detected a hint of pink on the breast of some of the birds. I, stupidly, concluded that they were Redpoll and told them so, even though something didn't look quite right. It was only when I looked at my images on the computer that I realised that they were Linnet. I could also see that there were 80+ in this flock.

Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) - Longmoor Lake
The following Barn Owl images are significantly inferior to most of those posted above, particularly in the matter of sharpness, but I rather like the atmosphere conveyed by the almost monochrome background.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Longmoor Lake
I realise that I've almost certainly given you an overdose of Barn Owl images, many of which are well below par. I'll not be posting any more for a while - unless I come up with something that I consider to be a bit special! I promise!!

NOTE 1.: It is more than a little worrying to me that these two Barn Owls are both regularly coming out in daylight - albeit at the end of the day. This suggests to me that they may be in trouble and not getting enough food. It seems that they are rarely seen with prey.

NOTE 2.: I've found the Barn Owls particularly difficult to photograph at this site as it is the norm for them to come out when the sun is out, but very low. One of the main difficulties is avoiding burn-out of the whites. Whilst they are flying, sometimes they are in the sun, with a background that is totally in shade, and a moment later they can be in shade with the background in sun. One second the sun is in front of them and a few seconds later it's directly behind them. They're below the horizon and then in a flash they're above the horizon. I don't think that I've ever worked so hard changing camera settings on the fly!

NOTE 3.: I suspect that, although 'the locals' now think of this place as 'Jubilee Wood', it will forever be 'Longmoor Lake' to the birders!

Thank you for dropping by. I feel a Sparrowhawk or two coming on for my next post! 

Here's a link to 'Strange Fruit' on YouTube, mentioned above.