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Tuesday 24 January 2017

51 Shades of Grey - on 19th January, 2017

The weather forecast for Thursday 19th was not good, with another very dull drizzly misty day in prospect. John and I were both feeling a little stir-crazy, having missed our previous Thursday afternoon out, due to a forecast for heavy snow (which didn't materialise). We decided, therefore, to go for it, despite having little confidence in actually seeing anything of interest - in fact, I commented to John on the phone before we met up that the prospect for seeing any owls was not good. Wrong!!

On my way to John's I had a brief sighting of a Little Owl at my Site No.02.

We drew a total blank at the first few sites we passed, but then found an owl out in the drizzle at my Site No.37. Fortunately the mist was not too dense at that point.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.37
We stopped for our picnic lunch by my LO Site No.34, and one owl was spotted through the gloom, sitting back in the nest opening and keeping dry.

We continued to Eyebrook Reservoir, making a diversion because of a road closure. This resulted in us arriving from the Stockerston direction. We noted a Little Owl in the usual tree between Stockerston and Eyebrook reservoir. My Little Owl sites are all ones that I feel I am able to monitor throughout the year and, as my visits to this area had been somewhat rare, I'd never added this nest location to my list. However, as I now seem to visit Eyebrook a couple of times a month, I took the decision to add this location to my list - it's now my LO Site No.53 ! However, don't expect any photos of any quality as there is no access to anywhere near the tree, and I'm usually looking into the sun when I visit.

As we arrived at the bridge near the inflow, John saw a Kingfisher fly upstream. We didn't have to wait too long for a Kingfisher to appear in the tree downstream, 100 metres away. I was expecting the bird to look almost black in the gloom, but the blue shone like a jewel, even in the poor light. Fortunately, this coincided with a thinning of the mist. I've still had to perform quite a lot of tweaking to get my images to this state.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) - Eyebrook
Hopefully, one day we'll get a Kingfisher land somewhat closer and get some better images.

From the bridge we saw the occasional disturbance of the numerous Lapwings on the nearest edge of the reservoir. By now it was getting murkier again.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - Eyebrook
Due to the failing light, we left this point and headed round the west side of the reservoir to the second viewing stockade.

Opposite us was a spit sticking out into the water with an assortment of birds - mainly Lapwing. There was an occasional fly-past by Greylag Geese - if they'd have been Pinklag Geese, they'd still have looked grey!

Greylag Geese (Anser anser) - Eyebrook
A noise attracted our attention to a drake Goldeneye which was displaying for his mate who was lagging behind by about ten metres, apparently unimpressed.

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) - Eyebrook
Here are a couple of images of the birds on the spit in front of us. There were possibly some interesting birds in there but the light didn't permit identification. The Lapwings and Cormorants were, however, relatively easy to pick out.

In the gloom - Eyebrook

We didn't stop long at Eyebrook before heading homeward again. A pair of Little Owls was seen at my Site No.41, but it was far too dark for photography.

Having dropped off John at his home I headed back via my local patch and saw the silhouette of a Little Owl at my Site No.12.  This brought my total for the day up to 7 Little Owls over 6 different sites - my best day for sightings for several months, and not bad for a day that I thought would probably not yield a single sighting! OK, so it was a rubbish day photographically (although I quite like the reminders of the misty scenes), but a very worthwhile and spirit-lifting one.

Thank you for dropping by.


Tuesday 17 January 2017

A Very Short Trip Out - on Friday 13th January, 2017

From a photography point of view, the weather here has been somewhat dire over the past week or so. Most days have been very dull with little light, many of them wet, and it has often been very windy too. With a forecast for heavy snow, accompanied by high winds, on Thursday afternoon, John and I decided to abandon our usual afternoon out. In the event, we got the winds, but the snow didn't arrive until somewhat later in the day.
I woke up to a thin covering of snow on the Friday, but with the snow still falling quite heavily and settling well. However, mid-morning, there was a sudden change in the weather with the snow stopping and temperatures rising quite rapidly. By lunchtime there was little snow left.

Having had lunch, I decided it was time for a quick trip out as we were getting sunny intervals, with a forecast for bad weather coming in again later in the afternoon.

My chosen destination was Calke Park which is about 5 miles (8 km) from my home as the crow flies. This place is often good for Marsh Tit - a species which is becoming increasingly difficult to find in these parts. I was also hoping to find Brambling.

I arrived in sunshine and, as I left my car, encountered a couple with binoculars coming away from the area I was going to visit. A quick chat confirmed the presence of Marsh Tit, but more intriguing was his statement that there was at least one Willow Tit coming to the feeder, the difference between the Willow Tit and the Marsh Tit being clearly visible when the two were side-by-side at the feeder.  Sadly I was told that I had just missed a truly amazing sight which was four Kingfishers sitting together up in a tree. The Kingfishers had just disappeared over the trees, heading south, and they were off to try and re-locate them.

I got to the hide by the feeder, and was pleased to find I was alone and the birds were extremely active. The most numerous bird was, without doubt, Great Tit. However, I was surprised to find Reed Bunting not far behind in numbers, closely followed by Marsh/Willow Tits! The light was strange in that it was difficult so see glossy heads (indicating Marsh) on any of the Marsh/Willow Tits, making identification somewhat difficult, but I did detect the hint of a pale panel on the secondaries (indicating Willow) of at least one of the birds. I was, however, too busy trying to get photographs, rather than spending time comparing birds. Here are a few images, first of those I believe were Marsh Tits (please tell me if you disagree).

probable Marsh Tit (Parus palustris) - Calke Park
And these I think might be Willow Tit - again, please let me know if you disagree .

possible Willow Tit (Parus montanus) - Calke Park
As already mentioned, Reed Bunting were present in good numbers, with males being more visible than females. As these birds are, primarily, ground feeders in these situations, I was pleased to see that many of then were stopping off on the reeds as they made their approach - as had been the Tits.

The first image is there, only because it shows some small remnants of the earlier snow.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Calke Park
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - Calke Park
During the time I was there two of what are probably the largest Brown Rats that I have ever seen were snaffling up scraps from under the feeder. I have a bit of a phobia about rats!

Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) - Calke Park
Returning to more pleasant subjects - whilst there, although I was concentrating on the Marsh/Willow Tits, I did fire off a few on other birds.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) - Calke Park
It is a pity that the snow was not still there for this next bird - it might have made it onto next year's Christmas card!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Park
Heavy cloud started to roll in and I felt it was time to set back homeward. From my photos I can tell that I had been in the hide for exactly 30 minutes. During that time I'd fired off 280 frames - that equates to one every 6.4 seconds. It took me well over 30 minutes to process the results!

Since then the weather has returned to 'dire'. John commented on the phone yesterday that he's starting to wonder if he's ever going to get the opportunity to wield his new lens in anger!

I'm not sure as to what the subject of my next post might be or, for that matter, when it might be - I'll just pray for some good weather.

Thank you for dropping by.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

A Mixed Bag Afternoon - on 5th January, 2017

Thursday brought around my regular afternoon out with pal, John. It was John's turn to drive so he had the choice of destination, but I had a pretty fair idea as to where we would be going!

We started off by heading to Loughborough, where the Waxwings were still being seen, although the numbers had dropped. We arrived to find plenty of people there watching them. They were spread out through the area, as the birds were visiting several bushes. However, by the bush that I wanted to be by, there was a small mini-line of photographers rather closer to the bush than I was happy with. The choice was join them, or stand further back with the potential for them obscuring the shot. We chose to join them. I set up for flight shots, but soon realised that this was too close to the flight action to give the result I wanted. We didn't stay long. Here are a few from the five minutes we had here with these birds.

(Bohemian) Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) - Loughborough, Leicestershire
We then set off towards Rutland, on our usual owling route. Little Owls were seen at my Sites Nos. 41, 37, and 34. Here's one from No.37.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.37
 And here's one from No.34

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
The outermost part of our excursion was spent at Eyebrook Reservoir, where we spent some time trying to photograph the two Kingfishers that are being seen there. Frustratingly they were both spending time in a tree that is as good as exactly 100 metres from the nearest accessible viewpoint.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
We were standing on the inflow bridge and we did have a couple of occasions when one of the birds flew directly towards us or directly away from us. I tried for a shot, but failed miserably. The best that I can say for this next one is that at least it's identifiable!

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir
There was a moment when a Kingfisher appeared from under the bridge and flew into a bush only 35 metres away, but there was a mass of branches from a nearer bush obscuring our shot and it only stayed there for a couple of seconds. One day I'll get a sensible shot of a Kingfisher here (he said with fingers crossed!). In the meantime I'll just have to spur myself on by offering a few record shots taken at 100 metres. At least I managed to find some blue in the wings, unlike on my previous visit!

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
The pager of the gentleman standing with John and I went off, and he announced "five Whooper Swans at the inflow" which was, essentially, directly in front of us. I instantly picked them up with my bins. John pointed out that we'd get better views from the first corral on the west side of the reservoir, so off we set. Having taken a few shots there, we moved further on to a fence from which we got even closer views. It was pleasing to see drake Pintail here too, a couple of which got in on the action.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) - Eyebrook Reservoir
On our return journey we saw Little Owls at Sites Nos.23 and 41. This one, from No.41, was taken after the light was nearly gone, and the temperature was -1°c. My shots were taken at ISO 1000, 1/13s, lens at 500mm and handheld! This was a lucky shot - you should see some of the other frames!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
All in all, we'd had a splendid afternoon in brilliantly sunny conditions (perhaps too sunny?) with a small, but somewhat mixed and rewarding, bag of birds.

My next post might feature some garden birds - but who knows?!

Thank you for dropping by.

Thursday 5 January 2017

Waxwing Fest - on 2nd January, 2017

I'll open by taking the opportunity to wish you all a healthy and happy New Year.

In mid-November, I'd attempted to photograph Waxwings at Lyddinton in Rutland, but only got very distant, and very brief, views. Since then I've been waiting for another opportunity to photograph these birds. I passed up on a couple of opportunities, as I was either otherwise indisposed or didn't fancy the location.

On Saturday 31st December, in spite of very dull weather, I went to Loughborough, where there had been recent sightings of Waxwings. I spent some time there, and there were a few other people looking for them, but none were seen.

I noticed that they were reported as sighted again at this location, this time in larger numbers, on the Sunday. Monday 2nd January was forecast as being sunny and so I set off back to Loughborough, which is about 15 miles (24 km) from my home, taking a picnic lunch with me.

I arrived to be told that 26 Waxwings had been there, but they'd departed northward about five minutes before my arrival. Having had a walk in that direction and found nothing, I went back to bide my time in waiting. I kept myself amused with chatting with other people, and attempting a few photos of the Mistle Thrushes, Redwings, and Fieldfares that were in the area.

After nearly an hour, the birds returned! The sun was quite strong, and, of course, low at this time of year, so it was very necessary to manoeuvre oneself to a suitable photographic viewpoint. There was a disadvantage to this being a relatively large flock compared to what is usually seen in these parts on the rare occasions that these birds visit, and this is that it is difficult to get photos of a bird in focus without the image being spoilt by neighbouring birds which are out of focus.  They do tend to stay close together! The difficulty was compounded by the trees that they were feeding in being relatively densely branched. The first image, below, will illustrate this point.

(Bohemian) Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) - Loughborough, Leicestershire
I usually restate the species in my captions to images, but will, for the following Waxwing images, just caption them with notes as appropriate.

Male Waxwings have a thicker yellow band to the end of the tail than females do. They also usually have more prominent red 'candles' on the secondaries.

male bird on left, female on right
It was not until I got home and started looking through the more than 400 frames that I had fired off that I realised that I had taken almost zero photos that showed the fabulous markings on the top side of the wings.


The following two images also show the upper wing markings.

female on the left, male on the right
male bird
with Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

I'd been there a while, and had observed that the Waxwings were very much drawn to a relatively small tree with orange berries (almost certainly a Sorbus cultivar) which was further up the road, and somewhat closer to the road than the other trees that they were visiting. The problem was that the road was busy with traffic, and the birds only stopped on the tree for a few seconds before they were frightened off by passing cars. After a while, I realised that this location might give me opportunities for some different shots, so I made my way over there and awaited their arrival.

Again I ran into the problem of the birds being crowded together and getting out-of-focus birds spoiling an image in which the main subject was in focus. They were also tending to feed in the far (shaded) side of the tree as the traffic was approaching them from the sunny side. Here's a couple of images with the birds in the tree - at least I managed to get one shot with a single bird!

As the birds were only alighting on the tree for a few seconds before flying off again, It gave some opportunity to try for flight shots. Again, the crowding together of the birds posed a problem - and they do fly rather swiftly and erratically! Here are a few with them landing in the tree.

I tried for some flight shots, but I didn't do as well as I might have done as I made the mistake of trying to compromise with my camera settings to allow me to make both static shots of the birds in the tree and flight shots - this was very tempting to do as the birds were back and forth almost continually at one point. As they were flying around, the birds stayed in relatively close formation, with all pointing in the same direction. Just before they landed, the neat formation broke up and I rather like the semi-chaos that resulted! Here are a few flight shots which didn't come out too badly.

This last Waxwing image is, I confess, a cheat. I rather like the shape made by the right hand bird, although I wish that I'd got them a bit sharper, and with better light. However, there was a third bird which was badly out of focus, which I have digitally removed!

The Supporting Cast

Whilst the Waxwings were away between visits, I occupied myself by photographing some of the thrushes that were around.

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)

Redwing (Turdus iliacus)
As I departed the area, some of the Waxwings were high up in a distant conifer.

(Bohemian) Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) - Loughborough
I'd had a most enjoyable session, even if I didn't get THE SHOT that I'd hoped for.

I returned to the site briefly today (Thursday 5th January) with pal John. This time I didn't compromise in trying to get the flight shots in the short time we were there but, until I get them up on the computer, I have no idea whether I got it right this time.

Thank you for dropping by.