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Sunday 31 December 2017

Boxing Day - 26th December, 2017

Lindsay and I usually have a picnic lunch in the countryside at some time round Christmas Day. This was, for a number of years, on Christmas Day itself. However, for the past two years we have been invited to our daughter Melanie's house for Christmas lunch, so have had our picnic on Christmas Eve. This year Melanie wanted to do things differently with the main meal on Christmas Eve, and a buffet lunch on Christmas Day. Lindsay and I, therefore, postponed our picnic to Boxing Day lunch.

Lindsay requested that we go to Cannock Chase as she hadn't been there so far this year.  It's a place we are both fond of and it can, occasionally, throw up some interesting birds. The day dawned mild and sunny and I was concerned that the place might be a little busy. However it was even busier than we feared! On arrival at the car park there was just one space available and it was furthest from the bird action. We persevered for a while, attacking our picnic lunch. Eventually a space became free near to where the birds were feeding, but we both had a very limited field of view, and that was mainly through the car windscreen, and there were so many people around that the more interesting birds were staying away. It was just the more common tits plus Dunnocks and Chaffinches, and the occasional Bullfinch and Nuthatch, to keep us amused, and a solitary sighting of a Willow Tit to cause excitement. There was only one place I could get any sort of photo if a bird landed there - and that wasn't ideal for light or background. I took shots of several species in exactly the same position, so will only offer one:-

Great Tit (Parus major) - Cannock Chase
I even tried taking some shots through the windscreen, but this is never satisfactory. I just about managed a Robin!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)  - Cannock Chase
We weren't there for long before we decided to give up and head off for a mug of tea at Springslade Lodge. Lindsay had been hoping to see some deer, but we'd come to the conclusion that there were so many people wandering around that we didn't stand a chance. However. we'd only got a couple of hundred metres from our parking spot when Lindsay spotted one in the trees beside the road.

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) (female) - Cannock Chase
When we arrived at Springslade Lodge we found the place was packed and we had to wait a while and take a seat outside on the terrace to drink our tea. It was then time to head homeward.

In the past, Whitemoor Haye has been a good place for birds, with a large swan roost each winter which regularly turns up Whoopers and Bewicks, and has also been good for Corn Bunting. I'd not been there this year so we made a small diversion to check it out. I was quite upset to see the whole area has undergone massive earthworks, but can find no information as to what these pertain. We continued a circular drive round, seeing only four Mute Swans and little in the way of passerines. We then turned a corner and I immediately spotted a Buzzard in the hedge on my side of the single-track road. I slewed the car round at around 30° across the road, turned off the engine and took a shot, expecting the bird to do the usual thing of taking off as soon as I poked my lens out of the window - it did no such thing!

I started the car again and moved a little closer and took more shots. It didn't budge!

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (juvenile) - Whitemoor Haye
I started the car once more and edged a little closer. I was probably less than 10 metres away now, and still it stayed.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (juvenile) - Whitemoor Haye
I felt sure it would go when I started the car yet again, and got the distance down to  around six metres - but it didn't!

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (juvenile) - Whitemoor Haye
Unbelievably it stayed there when I again started the car and stopped opposite it, probably at less than 4 metres distance. It was only when it saw my amazed face looking at it that it lazily took to the air and departed. I suspect that I'll never get as close to a wild Buzzard as this ever again, and that I only had this privilege because it was a juvenile. Here's a shot of it departing.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (juvenile) - Whitemoor Haye
When I came to check my camera I was worried to see that I was still set up for shooting in the shade of woodland. My shots had been taken at an unnecessarily high ISO value (800) and consequently at a rather high shutter speed (1/5000s). My set-up does not usually work well at high shutter speeds (I don't know why!), but I seem to have got away with it, and it will have helped with that last shot. I do, however, think I'd have done better shooting at ISO 200 for those static shots.

Closer to home we stopped in the car park a Oakthorpe Colliery as it was probably years since Lindsay had been there. On this occasion there were only common birds coming to the feeders, and the Willow Tits were not seen. Here's a couple from that session.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Oakthorpe Colliery
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - Oakthorpe Colliery
After this it was a five minute journey to our home. We'd had a most enjoyable day, even if only common birds had been seen, but the Buzzard had been a real bonus. We did, however, make a mental note not to go anywhere quite so 'public' on Boxing Day next year, especially if the weather is fine!

I take this opportunity to wish my readers A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR! If you are making New Year resolutions, please include a commitment to work towards making this planet a better place, particularly for its wildlife - it's time we all made amends for past abuse.

Thank you for dropping by.

Monday 18 December 2017

The Best Laid Plans - 1st to 18th December, 2017

With Mrs. P. going away with our daughter and granddaughter for six days for a stay in a 'crafting hotel' in Devon, I was looking forward to some wall-to-wall birding - but more about that later!

December tends to be a busy month for most people, and we are no exception, with the preparations for Christmas, and meeting up with family over a good lunch taking up a significant amount of time. Apart from the 3-owl day on 3rd December which was the subject of my previous post, it had been a slow start to the birding month. In fact, most of the excitement (for want of a better word!) came from the garden. Here's how the first half of the month panned out.

Friday 1st December - our garden, Oakthorpe Colliery, Packington, and home again

The month got off to a good start with a Goldcrest visiting the garden. Sadly, I only managed a record shot through the glass of my study window at a range of about 14 metres.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our Garden
Later that day I paid a quick visit to Oakthorpe Colliery. Most of the birds there were relatively common and quite numerous, but it is always a treat in these parts  to see a Willow Tit - they're becoming worryingly scarce.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Oakthorpe Colliery
Blue Tit (Cyasnistes caeruleus) - Oakthorpe Colliery
Willow Tit (Poecile montanus) - Oakthorpe Colliery
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Oakthorpe Colliery
From Oakthorpe Colliery, I moved on to a farm near Packington. Here I found a Buzzard on a fence post, and later a Kestrel.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) (juvenile) - near Packington
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (male) - near Packington
I was back at home by early afternoon, and a racket from outside caused me to look out. A Buzzard was being hassled by a Crow. I only managed a few shots before they went out of view.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - from our garden
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) + Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - from our garden
Sunday 3rd December - travelling eastward in Leicestershire

This was the previously mentioned and posted 3-owl day. However, I have one other image to share with you from that day. A small downside of heading out into the countryside in these parts at this time of year is the amount of filth on the road. It's not unusual to come back after an afternoon out to find the lower half of the car thick with mud and other detritus. Fortunately there is a car cleaning operation close to home where I can get the car washed for £6. However, I think these people will be retiring soon on the money I'm spending with them!

Just to give you a taste of what I'm faced with, this is a shot from my car window as I waited on the verge for this group to pass.

Here's a slightly different shot of one of the day's owls, given a different treatment to those in my previous post - I quite like the result!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Saturday 9th December - our garden

Nothing much happened until this day as I was very busy with other commitments and preparing for my wife's departure on holiday. However, on this day, we had Goldcrest and Grey Wagtail visit our garden, neither of which I managed to photograph - nor did I get a photo of the male Sparrowhawk that visited. Here are a couple of photos that I did manage to take.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden
Sunday 10th December - our garden, and Baggrave Hall

The original plan was for Lindsay to go over to our daughter's in her Smart car in the late morning, and then for the three girls to head on down to Devon in Melanie's car. However, heavy snow had been forecast for the Saturday/Sunday night and so we put a contingency plan in place. We woke up to a good covering of snow, and so the contingency plan was implemented - I was to drive Lindsay to Melanie's in our 4x4 Yeti.

Before we departed, we had a Fieldfare briefly stop in our garden, shortly after another visit by the Sparrowhawk. The Fieldfare only stopped for a few seconds as our berries had all now been consumed, and I only managed a record shot - we don't usually get Fieldfare visit the garden more than once or twice each winter. 

The 25 mile (40km) journey to Melanie's place took two and three quarter hours (instead of the usual 35 to 40  minutes) with very icy roads. A large part of the delay was caused by a large rig belonging to the Walkers Crisp company. The inconsiderate driver of this rig spent from 10h00 to 11h30 shunting backwards and forwards on a gradient on a dual carriageway trying to get traction, holding up all who were behind him. He could have just rolled back to the side of the road and allowed everyone through. I'm amazed that no one went and hauled him out of his cab. One comment from the bus driver two vehicles behind him was that he was probably empty and so did not have enough weight to get traction, but I suspect that a full load of crisps (potato chips to some of my non-UK readers) weighs the square root of bugger-all and would have made no difference.

Having, eventually, dropped Lindsay off at Melanie's I headed off into the countryside with the hope of finding owls in the snow and finding a nice location to enjoy my picnic lunch. I soon found some nice snowy scenery, but I was not seeing many birds at all.

Although there was far less snow here than there was at home, the road was very icy and, having stopped for that second shot,  I struggled to get traction - even with the 4x4! After about five minutes I managed to get up the hill, but decided that I'd find a place nearby for my picnic, and then head straight home again, avoiding single-track country roads!

Monday 11th December - our garden

On the Monday I'd had to go to a nearby village to post letters and parcels, and found the roads to be still quite difficult, and it was apparent that, no matter how careful one was, there were too many idiots on the road who were driving without due care (as witnessed by the ones that were already in the roadside ditches!), so I spent most of the day indoors. We had one of our occasional visits by Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - our garden
Tuesday 12th December - our garden

By the Tuesday I realised that I was going down with a cold, and that going out in the cold was probably not sensible.

This gave me another opportunity to observe the birds in my garden. As well as a second Fieldfare (missed the shot!) I had my first Garden Redwing of the winter. However, I only got 'record' shots as I was looking up at it through the double-glazing of our conservatory at an angle of 45°, though intervening branches. Here are some images from that day.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) (female) - our garden
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (female) - our garden

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - our garden
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - our garden

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - our garden
Thursday 14th December - Cropston Reservoir

On the Wednesday I'd been out in the morning to the south of my home dropping cards in to some of my owling hosts. There was still plenty of snow around. I'd taken my camera, but didn't see any owls and didn't take any photos. However, I did have the good news that a Little Owl was seen only three days previously at my site No.03. By that afternoon I was feeling decidedly off-colour so did very little.

On the Thursday, I still had a card and present to deliver to a farm some way from my home, so I set off in the morning, taking a picnic lunch. We'd had more snow in the night, and the roads close to home were worse than they'd been on the Sunday morning. On one bend I found four vehicles off the road. Fortunately, by the time I got to the outskirts of Leicester you'd never know that it had been snowing, although there was a little more snow when I neared my destination. As I was seeing virtually nothing of interest during my travels, I set off back homeward.

An enforced diversion due to a road closure sent me past the end of Cropston Reservoir. Determined not to get home with nothing in the bag, I stopped when I saw a space in the lay by.

There was little to see that was identifiable through my binoculars, but at least I took some shots, even if they were of common birds, and into the sun!

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Cropston Reservoir

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Cropston Reservoir
Since then, I haven't managed any photography, so I suspect that this will be my last blog post before Christmas. I, therefore, take this opportunity to wish my readers a peaceful and happy Christmas, and the best of luck and good health for 2018. Thank you for your kind support in 2017, which has been much appreciated. 

Saturday 9 December 2017

A Three-Owl Day - on 3rd December, 2017

Up until around a couple of years ago, a three-owl day when out owling in these parts would have been considered to be below par -  the norm was usually somewhere between four and seven Little Owls per session. Things then began to take a dive in the spring of 2016. There was a small recovery in the number of sightings early in 2017, but then the situation declined dramatically after May this year, with only two or three Little Owl sightings a month (none in September!). I was, therefore, excited to sight three Little Owls over three different sites on 3rd December. However, to achieve this, I did have to break away from my recent 'close to home' initiative.

The first sighting was at my LO Site No.37. At first I couldn't see an owl here, but then, by moving position, managed to spot one hiding in the branches. I then managed to find a better, but not great, position. It had, of course, already seen me!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.37
By changing position again, I managed a less obstructed view. It would have been nice to have had a clear view, but this was better than nothing.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.37
I didn't stay out for long and, having had a quick picnic lunch, I headed homeward again. I was delighted to see a Little Owl once more by my Site No.41. The nest tree came down earlier in the year and the owls disappeared a few weeks afterwards, having spent some time living in the fallen hollow trunk of their tree. I'd then gone from the end of May until mid-November without seeing an owl here.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
My final sighting was after dark (so no photos) at my LO Site No.02. 

OK, so three owls is nothing to write home about, but it was a wonderful day as far as I was concerned!

I'm not sure what my next post will be about. With the recent cold weather, and heavy snow forecast for tomorrow, I'm not sure what the photographic opportunities will be, but the garden birds are on the increase with 20 species dropping in so far today. However, Mrs P. is away for six days from tomorrow, so I might even spread my wings a little!

Thank you for dropping by.

Saturday 2 December 2017

Bits and Bobs - November, 2017

For a number of reasons, it has been over three weeks since my last blog post, so I thought I'd better take a grip on myself and come up with something before questions are asked!

A few weeks ago, I stated that I intended for my birding activities to change, with a return to a focus on owls, and an endeavour to stay closer to home. In some respects, I have managed to adhere to this intention. My excursions have been rather more frequent, but shorter in duration, and resulted in virtually no photography! They have not, however, been totally fruitless.


Many of my shorter excursions have been in the late afternoon specifically to try and locate owls as dusk falls. I've had a few sightings of Barn Owl over two different sites, and a couple of sightings of Tawny Owl at one site. I have not had too much success so far with Little Owls as no new sites have been found, although I have had around a dozen sightings over three of my original sites. I've also recently found what was one of my more reliable owl nest trees to be totally destroyed - it's in a location that is out of bounds in the summer. The only photos arising from these sightings were from my old LO Site No.02. All but two of these sighting were in 'night time' situations. I have, therefore, little to show for my efforts. Here's a few shots to 'put you in the picture'.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.02
With luck, I may get some half decent owl shots in the not-too-distant future.

Other Excursions

All my birding has been relatively close to home. Hawfinch are in the county (and country) in unprecedented numbers, for reasons that I'm not aware of. There's one location that they have been reported from that I have now visited four times - so far without any luck. I have, however,  taken advantage of my time there to photograph some of the winter thrushes (my Fieldfare shots were awful, so don't appear here) that are in the area - not forgetting the Robin!

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Battram
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Battram

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) - Battram
I have been to Hicks Lodge a few times. So far, the most interesting sightings have been of thirteen Goosander, and a number of Snipe (not counted but around 10) that were doing their best to look inconspicuous in the evening light. Apart from a lone female, all the Goosander kept their distance.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) - Hicks Lodge
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge

Coot (Fulica atra) - Hicks Lodge

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Hicks Lodge
I also had an evening at Longmoor Lake in the hope of seeing owls. I was surprised by how few passerines I saw - I think that the tree plantation is now too dense. There were plenty of birds on the water, however, but nothing of great interest.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Longmoor Lake
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - Longmoor Lake
Our Garden

Sadly, the building work going on behind our back garden is keeping the more timid birds from visiting us during the week, but things tend to pick up a bit at the weekend when all is quiet on the building site. We have started to see a few winter visitors in the garden. I missed the first Brambling of the winter as I was in Derbyshire photographing Kingfisher, but Lindsay (my wife) tells me it was around for about an hour. Great-spotted Woodpecker (a male) - absent for most of the summer - has started showing reasonably frequently. We're now getting occasional visits from Goldcrest (no sensible photos yet), and we've had a few visits from Mistle Thrush (but our berries have now virtually all gone!). Here are a few garden bird images from November.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - our garden

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - our garden

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) -our garden
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden
I hope that it is not another three-plus weeks before I manage to get enough time and material to share with you. 

Thank you for dropping by.