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Thursday 22 December 2016

Find The Owl - 20th December, 2016

On Tuesday 20th December I set off in my car with a pot of bird-seed beside me with the express intention of taking an image for my blog's Christmas header. The sun was shining brightly, and I knew exactly where I was going. I took sandwiches with me so that I could have my lunch whilst waiting for the ideal shot. I'd even got it worked out that if no bird deigned to alight on my chosen item, I'd take the shot anyway, and superimpose a bird afterwards - if I could work out how!

I arrived to find utter chaos where a vehicle had left the road and smacked into the wall behind my chosen location. The whole location was covered with tape saying " Police Exclusion Site", or words to that effect. The tape was even wrapped round the object that I was hoping a bird would perch on! To cap it all, a couple of hundred metres down the road, the road was blocked by several farm vehicles. Instead of investigating, I departed to have my lunch elsewhere.

So my header image is now something different to what I intended!

For my lunch, I decided to stop at my Little Owl Site No.03. I rediscovered this site back in September after a period of 17 months with no signs of it being occupied. I'd revisited 7 times since then, and every time found the site to be occupied. I had noticed that, whenever I visited, the owl had kept an eye on me. This is behaviour that one fully expects from a Little Owl. What I found, however, is that on each visit the owl was getting progressively better at hiding from me, whilst maintaining its view of me.

At this stage, perhaps I'd better explain the situation before you start worrying that I'm overly intruding on the owl.  I observe the owl from inside my car, parked on the road some 28 metres from the nest tree (as measured on Google Earth). There is enough traffic in the village that the owl is used to it, but it must be perceiving that the behaviour from my car is different. It doesn't take fright and fly, but sits there observing me or going to sleep. I do actually have permission from the land-owner to enter the site, and did so a few times a few years ago, but I choose not to do so these days for fear of frightening the bird away.

On this day, I arrived, and didn't see the owl on my arrival. I was, however, relatively confident that he was there somewhere, and almost certainly watching me. Between bites of my sandwich I scanned the nest tree with my bins, and eventually detected a very slight movement - it was an eye, blinking. There was the owl!!!

So if you're already on holiday for the festive season and wan't something to keep you occupied for a minute or two, you can try and FIND THE OWL.

I suspect that you'll be unable to find it in this next image (taken with my lens out at 500mm) - I assure you that it's there and visible!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.03
  OK, so I'll make it easier for you. Here's the same image, more heavily cropped.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.03
Did you find it? I'll give you one last opportunity - it's right in the centre of this next tighter crop!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.03
I hope you've got it spotted now! If you haven't, you'll be able to appreciate how I sometimes miss seeing owls, even when I'm confident that they're there somewhere.

Thank you for dropping by, and thank you all for your very kind support in 2016, which was very much appreciated.

I take this opportunity to wish you a splendid Christmas, and a peaceful, healthy and prosperous New Year,  filled with wildlife.


Congratualtions to those that found the owl. For those that couldn't find it, I've now added an image, below, with the owl's features indicated. The eye and the forehead are the only things visible!

I hope that you all had a great Christmas day.


Sunday 18 December 2016

Turned Out To Be A Good Garden Week! - 5th to 11th December, 2016

My last post (which you can find here) featured a splendid Monday 5th December, when we had a garden 'lifer' in the form of Green Woodpecker, and a 'year tick' with three Mistle Thrush. with Hedgehog and Great Spotted Woodpecker adding to the photographic opportunities.

I published that post on the following Saturday evening, little knowing that within 12 hours I'd have two prophetic 'year tick' sightings - I'll explain later!

Here's an account of the rest of the week, which for the most part was dull, grey, and damp, to the extent that the outside security lamps were operating even at mid-day every day:

WARNING: Mainly because of the weather, the following photography is rubbish but the images, such as they are, are there for the record.

Tuesday 6th December

Not a particularly auspicious day, with only 15 bird species setting foot in the garden. One Mistle Thrush was still with us, and the other item of excitement was a male Sparrowhawk, which left empty-handed.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden on 6th December
Wednesday 7th December

We managed to up the number of bird species by one, to 16. Missing from the previous day was Sparrowhawk, with Great Tit (a bit elusive at the moment) and Stock Dove (a very infrequent visitor) making up the numbers. No photos from this day.

Thursday 8th December

We were out all day from 10h00 for a family meeting, so only clocked 8 species before we left. Again, no photos.

Friday 9th December

The day got off to a good start with three Goldcrest (previous life record for garden = 2) in the Rowan tree at 09h12. The light was dire that day! The fourth image, below, is there because I'm always amused by the glum face a Goldcrest shows from the front.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden on 9th December
At 10h36, a Mistle Thrush arrived. The light was a little better (but not much) by then.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) - our garden on 9th December
It didn't stay long, but returned briefly at 11h16 when the light was back to 'dire'.

We ended up with 16 species touching down in the garden that day.

Saturday 10th December

Again, the weather was extremely dull and a bit damp. The tally for the day was 18 species, including Mistle Thrush (2) and Stock Dove. The only birds I photographed, however, were Bullfinch and Goldfinch, through the glass of my study window. 

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden on 10th December
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden on 10th December
Sunday 11th December

It was late on the Saturday night that I'd published my previous post, at the end of which I'd said that we'd now matched our garden record of 38 species for the year, and "I only need a Fieldfare or a Redwing (for example) to break my garden record".

Less than 12 hours after writing that, at 08h27, a Redwing landed in the Rowan. It was only there for a few seconds, but I did have my camera with me and got a few misty record shots through the glass of  our bedroom window.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - our garden on 11th December
At 09h40, two Mistle Thrush arrived in the Rowan and started devouring what was left of the berries. Here's one.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) - our garden on 11th December
I had only just updated my last post to say we'd now had Redwing "now where's that Fieldfare?" when, less than 5 minutes later, a Fieldfare arrived!

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) - our garden on 11th December
The Fieldfare made a couple of visits but, once again, the weather was not on my side.

We ended up the day with a healthy 20 species putting a foot down in the garden. 

The Week

The weekly total amounted to 25 bird species, which equals our record (achieved on 4 previous occasions). Birds seen were:

Blackbird (10)
Bullfinch (1)
Chaffinch (9)
Dove, Collared (18)
Dove, Stock (1)
Dunnock (3)
Fieldfare (1)  (garden year tick)
Goldcrest (3)
Goldfinch (15)
Greenfinch (1)
Magpie (2)
Redwing (1)  (garden year tick)
Robin (2)
Sparrow, House (10)
Sparrowhawk (1)
Starling (8)
Thrush, Mistle (3)
Tit, Blue (2)
Tit, Coal (2)
Tit, Great (1)
Tit, Long-tailed (1)
Woodpecker, Great Spotted (1)
Woodpecker, Green (1)   (garden life tick!) 
Woodpigeon (12)
Wren (1)

Mammals seen:

Hedgehog (3) - yes, still not hibernating
Squirrel, Grey (2)

This week has been somewhat quieter with all but a few shrivelled berries gone from the Rowan. The last Fieldfare was on 12th December, and the last Mistle Thrush (3) and Redwing on 13th December. 

Today (18th December) we have, however, had the delight of our first garden Redpolls (2) of the winter.

Thank you for dropping by. Sorry about the quality of the images - unless we get some improved weather soon, there's not much prospect of any better ones in the near future!

Saturday 10 December 2016

A Good Garden Day - 5th December, 2016

Great Spotted Woodpecker is not a common bird in our garden, and rarely visits outside of the summer months. We'd had just 45 sightings this year up until the beginning of December, with 42 being in the summer and 3 in October. We were, therefore, quite excited when a G S Woody arrived briefly in our garden whilst we were having breakfast on 5th December.

I'd not got my camera, and the light was awful, anyway, so no images were obtained.

After breakfast, whilst sitting in my study, I chanced to look up into the Rowan tree outside my window and spotted a Green Woodpecker. This is a garden 'life bird' for us! I only count birds that put a foot down in the garden. Sadly, it only stayed for a few seconds after I spotted it, and then departed. I only managed some record shots in that short time - my camera is always beside me when I'm at my desk, and usually 'primed' ready for action.

Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) (female) - our garden
Needless to say, from then on, I was keeping one eye on the Rowan. About an hour after the Green Woody, I noticed activity high up in the Rowan - there were three Mistle Thrush going for the berries. These were a first for the year. I've been keeping daily records for the garden since the beginning of 2009, and this is only the third year we've had Mistle Thrush - the others being 2013 and 2015. I rushed upstairs so that I could get a better view, and some shots, and the sun started breaking through just at the right moment. Although this bird was only about 8 metres away, I was shooting through double-glazing at an acute angle of around 30°, so the results are not as good as I'd have wished.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) - our garden
Whilst shooting the thrushes from upstairs, I suddenly noticed a Hedgehog coming away from one of our hedgehog houses (we have three). A hedgehog out in daylight is usually not a good sign so, suddenly, the thrushes became of secondary interest and I went down to investigate.

It seems that the hedgehog had suddenly felt hungry as it was grubbing around under the leaves. I put out some tasty morsels for it, some of which it consumed before heading to one of the drinking bowls that I put out for the hedgehogs. After a drink it headed back to its house. I did manage a few photos - it's not often I get the chance to photograph a hedgehog.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) - our garden
The hedgehog briefly stuck his nose out of the house a couple of hours later, but then seemed to settle down again. Since then this 'hog' has been behaving normally.

We have at least three hedgehogs which visit us on a nightly basis. They are not yet hibernating, but two of the three houses are now being occupied each night. I know this, as I have three 'trail cams' which are deployed each night, and checked each morning. I get a great deal of pleasure from watching these delightful creatures on movie footage each morning. I do not, however, go out at night and try to photograph them as I try to keep disturbance to a minimum.

Later on I took more shots of Mistle Thrushes from upstairs, but the light was not as good.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) - our garden
Lindsay and I were sitting having a cup of tea in the conservatory just before 15h00 as the light was starting to fade, when a G S Woody appeared again. Fortunately, because of earlier sightings, I'd got the camera sitting beside me, and I managed a few images. I was sure that the morning GS Woody had been a female, but now I'm not so sure. This second sighting was of a bird that was male, but with only a very narrow stripe of red at the back of the neck. I suspect that the first sighting was also of this bird, but I'd missed the red on the neck because of poor light.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - our garden
What a great day it had been (even if the photography had been mediocre) - not just one species of woodpecker, but two, with one being a garden 'lifer'. The Mistle Thrushes and seeing a Hedgehog in daylight being the icing on the cake.

The Mistle Thrushes are still with us, but probably not for long as the Rowan berries are now severely depleted - so no chance of Waxwings then!

I realised a few days ago that I'd not updated my garden list for the year for many months. That has now been rectified, and the current number of species is standing at 38, which matches exactly the figures for the previous two years - although the mix of species is somewhat different. I only need a Fieldfare or a Redwing (for example) to break my garden record. UPDATE: less than 12 hours after writing this a Redwing visited early on 11th Dec. Our record has been broken, and now stands at 39 species for the year - now where's that Fieldfare? UNBELIEVABLE!: less than 5 minutes after writing that, a Fieldfare arrived - now where's that Dusky Thrush? Come on, guys!!

Thank you for dropping by.

Saturday 3 December 2016

November Little Owls - 2016

Some of my readers may recall that, in some of my previous posts this year, I've expressed concern at the plight of the Little Owls that I monitor. The year started well enough, and in February I had 27 sightings over 8 different sites. In March the number of sightings dropped to 17, over a slightly improved 9 different sites. Things continued to go downhill until the middle of the year, and I got more than a little despondent about the situation.

As autumn approached, there were signs that things were picking up, as were my spirits. I'm delighted to say that November has turned out to to be my best month so far in 2016. I've managed 32 sightings over 9 different sites.

This improvement is partly due to my renewed enthusiasm, and partly due to the leaves being off the trees! I'm sure the birds must have been there all the time - I saw virtually no evidence of breeding this year, so I'm unlikely to be seeing many 'new' birds. However, it's not all encouraging just yet. In recent months I'm only aware of pairs of birds at two of my sites.

Here's an update on November's Little Owls

LO Site No.02

The building that is the 'nest site' continues to decay at an alarming rate and I suspect that it is only a matter of time before it is vacated. Indeed, it may have already happened as, unusually, I've not seen an owl here for the last six visits (I pass by regularly). The last sighting was on 19th November.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 10th November, 2016
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 16th November, 2016
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 19th November, 2016

LO Site No.03

This site was believed to be abandoned after April, 2015, but was then found to be re-occupied during a chance visit on 30th September this year. Since then, I've visited a few times, and found it occupied on each occasion.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 6th November, 2016
How long this tenancy will last is anybody's guess as there is precious little of the Horse Chestnut tree left!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 19th November, 2016
My most recent visit, on 26th November, found an owl sitting out on a projection. Having taken some photos, I wandered down the road to see if I could find a second owl - I didn't, but when I got back the owl had moved and relocated into a nearby tree a little further from the road.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 26th November, 2016
LO Site No.12

This was a site on my 'local patch' but no Little Owl had been seen since February, 2013. I was, therefore, surprised to see one there on 15th November as darkness was falling. I suspect, however, that this was a bird that had wandered from Site No.02.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 15th November, 2016
LO Site No.17

This site is another one that is relatively remote from anywhere I usually visit, although it is not far from my Site No.03.

Sightings became very sparse after Jackdaws took over the building in which the owls nest. However, the owls (or, at least one owl) seem to have taken possession again.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 6th November, 2016
The building in which the owls live is divided by a netting partition. Sometimes, when the owls aren't visible around the building, I can just peek in through a broken window at the opposite end of the building and spot an owl there. It's a terrible photo, not helped by the chequer pattern made by the netting, but here's one of an owl at home on 26th November. The white haze on the right is caused by the window frame and the fact that I could only partially poke my camera through the hole in the window!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 26th November, 2016
LO Site No.23

This site is one where I can go for long periods without seeing an owl and then it's seen with considerable regularity. I've only seen a pair here once. John and I are currently going through a period of regular sightings here.

A previous post features an image here from 13th November. Here's one from 24th November.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 24th November, 2016
LO Site No.34

This site is up and down like a yo-yo, being frequently invaded by Jackdaws and Stock Doves. After a period of absence, I'm delighted to report that a pair are now in residence again, and can usually be seen occupying the opening to the nest cavity - although one usually has to look very carefully to spot the second bird lurking behind the first!

Here's one with the pair both being relatively visible.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 29th November, 2016
LO Site No.37

This site is a strange one. It seems to be only occupied in the winter, although it could be that the foliage is so dense in the summer that we never see a bird here - a comment that you might understand from the following images! For winter quarters, this site seems excessively exposed. The tree has the appearance of being pollarded, with the trunk being completely hollow, and open at the top. Furthermore, the 'cylinder' that is the trunk is completely open on one side - i.e. possibly 100° of the 360° circumference is missing. Having not seen a bird here since January, I'm now seeing one every time I pass!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 17th November, 2016

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 24th November, 2016
Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 27th November, 2016
LO Site No.41

I'd last seen an owl at this site, in its decaying nest tree, on 19th August. As reported in a previous post, I was, therefore, delighted to find a single owl there, in a Hawthorn near the nest tree, on 13th November. I've since had two more sightings - both in the same Hawthorn. Here's an image from 27th November.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 27th November, 2016
Two days later, I was passing that way again and, at first look, missed seeing a bird here. Then I spotted one and took my car onto the field to photograph it - although it was still not in the best of positions, being partly in shade and partly in bright sunlight.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 29th November, 2016
I was just about to depart as I did not want to unduly disturb the bird, when I caught a glimpse of something a couple of metres away, well-disguised by branches and berries. It was another owl! This, for me, was probably the highlight of the month as, up until that point in time, I was only aware of a pair of Little Owls at one other site (No.34).

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 29th November, 2016
LO Site No.43

This has always been a 'mystery site'. It is close to two other sites (34 & 36), but John and I have never been sure if the birds we were seeing here were vagrants from one of the other two sites, with 36 being the most probable. Sadly, Site No.36 was destroyed by the farmer in the summer this year, and the owls from here were never found again. However, on 10th November, as it was getting dark, an owl was seen at No.43 once more.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 10th November, 2016
Again, as it was getting dark on 17th November, an owl was seen sitting in a different hole in the same tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - 17th November, 2016
So that was the month of November - one that has raised my spirits and enthusiasm somewhat.

I have absolutely no idea what or when my next post will be. However, I shall try and make sure I have something to post before Christmas. Some images of a different owl species would be nice - if the opportunity arises. The only 'other owl' I saw in November was a Barn Owl after dark. In spite of returning a few times, I've not found it again.

Thank you for dropping by.