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Monday 31 December 2018

Festive Bunting - on 29th December, 2018

Before I start on the subject of this post, I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of things:-

Firstly: I made a bit of a mess of publishing my previous blog post by hitting the publish button by mistake when I'd only got as far as entering the title of the post. This resulted in the post being registered on the Blogger system with the original publication date, even though I quickly did a 'revert to draft'. It seems some people saw I'd 'published' but couldn't find the post, so gave up. It was nearly a week later that I finished and published the post. I got quite paranoid about the situation when, after several days, no one seemed to have spotted the post. I realise now that it was chronologically listed with the original date, and so well down the list as soon as published. If you missed it and want to have a look, you can find it here - I think it was possibly one of my better posts, photographically.

Secondly: under my banner heading you will now find a menu. This will take you to information about the illustrated talks I offer. If you know of an organisation that might be interested in me giving a talk, please let them, or me, know. Distance is no object but I would want my expenses covered. If you do take a look, you can get directly back to the main blog from the 'Home' button.

Now to the subject of the post:

For more than two weeks there had been reports of a Snow Bunting (originally two) on the dam at Rutland Water. As I had been lucky enough to see Snow Bunting in Scotland earlier this year, I did not feel the need to dash over there. However, I have only once before seen Snow Bunting in VC55 ('my county'), and that was on 13th November, 2011, at Longmoor Lake, so eventually I gave in and took a ride over to Rutland water on Saturday. 

I arrived at Sykes Lane car park noting that the charge was £1.70 for up to one hour or £3.70 for up to three hours. I hastily made my way to the dam, having first set my camera up for the salient light conditions.

Almost immediately, I met a birder coming back over the dam who said he'd not seen the bunting and that the wind was blowing really strongly out on the dam, so he'd given up.

It was then that I made a mistake which would cost me dearly later. There was a Cormorant in the water, directly into the misty sun, and I drastically altered the settings on my camera in order to take some shots in those conditions.

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Rutland Water
By the time I'd got quarter of the way along the dam, I was starting to get worried. It was blowing a hoolie, and there was an endless stream of people walking, running, scooting, and cycling along the dam, many with children who seemed hell-bent on crossing the dam on top of the wall, rather than on the causeway. 

I was about three quarters of the way across, and had almost resigned myself to missing the bird on this occasion, when it popped over the wall and landed about 15 feet (5 metres) in front of me. I dropped to my knees and started to take photos and it immediately ran towards me, ending up less than a metre from me!

At one point I noticed another birder about 100 metres away and spent around 10 minutes trying to indicate to him that I'd got the bird - eventually he noticed! All told I had almost exactly 20 minutes with the bunting, and fired off just over 400 frames, before departing in order to keep the car park charge down - yes, I'm tight fisted!

It wasn't until I got home that I realised what a pig's ear I'd made of the photography. The biggest problem was that I'd got an EV compensation of +0.7 dialled in, rather than the -0.3 which would have been more appropriate. The next problem was that the bird was so close that I'd pulled the zoom right back and the aperture had opened to f6 - at close range I really needed to close the aperture to give a greater depth of focus. Finally, because the bird was constantly running around and not stopping, and close, I've got too many shots with the bird badly framed for a decent composition, or even partly out of frame! From the over 400 frames I've kept just 18, all of which have required much post processing, and are now just about acceptable. Here are some of the better ones.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) - Rutland Water
Maybe I'll get another chance, and make a better job of it next time!
I take this opportunity to wish you and yours a peaceful 2019, filled with joy and wonderful wildlife experiences.

Thank you for dropping by.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Kelham Bridge - on 17th December, 2018

I seem to have spent most of my birding outings this month visiting the local site which has been hosting Short-eared Owls. On Monday I was in two minds as to whether to make another visit there, or try somewhere different for a change. The fact that I was feeling physically rather battered influenced my decision and resulted in me taking the option that involved a little less walking - I set off to Kelham Bridge. It's about twice the distance by car, but only about half the distance on foot once parked.

I entered the site and, as I turned the corner, I noticed a Kestrel fly into a tree in the hedgeline over on the far side of the field.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Kelham Bridge
I looked in at the first hide, but there was little to see other than the tits on the feeders.

Walking along the path to the second hide, a confiding Robin posed for me, although it didn't position itself well for the light conditions!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Kelham Bridge
On arrival at the second hide, I found four people there (three of whom I knew), and was told that a Kingfisher had been present but had just gone out of sight at the end of the lake. There was nothing else visible at that time, so we chatted amongst ourselves. 

We didn't have to wait too long before the Kingfisher showed again at the far end of the lake. It was distant and quite mobile, and tended to land in places for which we didn't have a good viewpoint. The consensus, at the time, was that it was a male bird, but having looked at my images there is a definite reddish colouration to the base of the lower mandible, so I think it was a female.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
Bit by bit, it made its way towards us, but again often contriving to land in places with intervening foliage.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
Eventually, it broke cover and came a little closer. 

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
From this rock, it flew up into an adjacent willow tree and I accidentally got a (rather poor) flight shot. This was, however, enough to show me that, although quite bright for the time of year, the light levels were low enough that trying for further flight shots that day would probably be a waste of time - it was only about an hour before sunset.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
The bird continued to come nearer.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
Then, Bingo! It landed on a stick in front of the hide, probably less than 8 metres away!

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
From this position, it flew to a different stick.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
It then went back in the direction it had come from.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (female) - Kelham Bridge
Another birder arrived and, after chatting for a while (mainly about sources of garden bird food) the original group departed. My companion, Bas, alerted me to a Water Rail lurking in the reeds. By now the light had almost gone which, in some ways, was fortunate in that I'd have been shooting straight into the sun a little earlier in the afternoon.

It took a little while to spot it at first, although it wasn't far away - the red bill was the give-away!

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - Kelham Bridge
Eventually it came out of the reeds for a brief while, and I got some slightly better shots. I must return in the hope of getting some shots of this species in better light.

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - Kelham Bridge
It was now getting dark, and Bas and I set off back towards the reserve entrance. The Robin was in a similar place to where it was on my inward journey, and I couldn't resit another shot. Given that it is that time of year I decided to give him a festive hat, for which he seemed grateful!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula - f. santa) - Kelham Bridge
I take this opportunity to wish you all a peaceful and very Happy Christmas, and a healthy and prosperous New Year, filled with wonderful wildlife experiences.

Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Saturday 15 December 2018

In The Beginning .......... - May, 2003 !

Although my interest in dragonflies and damselflies only started blossoming around five years ago, that interest has been bubbling just below the surface since I was about 10 years old!

Over the past year or so, a few times my thoughts have returned to a short stay that Lindsay and I had on the Mediterranean island of Sardegna. On the last day of that stay, I remember visiting a lake in the north west of the island that was very rich in dragonflies, I also remembered attempting to photograph a few. This week I decided to try and find those photos - and I did! I also managed to pinpoint which lake it was that I visited.

I warn you here and now that the photography is not great! I was using a forerunner of the modern bridge camera - the Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi. This only had a 5 megapixel sensor and on a good day the batteries would allow you to take around 80 shots before they needed recharging! I was also not adept at using this on wildlife as I was mainly photographing trains at that time! I'd originally intended to just show the dragons and damsels in this post, but I decided to include a few other items too.

Sunday 11th May, 2003

We arrived at Alghero airport in Sardegna, picked up our hire car, and set off for our hotel, which was the Hotel Catalunya. We checked in to find that we'd been allocated a 'junior suit' , which was rather splendid. The view from our private lounge wasn't too bad either!

view from our 'junior suite' in the Hotel Catalunya
The day was spent exploring the town. However, I did take a photo of a dragonfly by the harbour. I didn't attempt to identify it at the time, but I'm now fairly certain that this was a Scarlet Dragonfly.

Scarlet Dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea) (male) - Alghero, Sardegna
Monday 12th May, 2003

Much of the day was spent exploring inland. One of the first things I photographed was, I believe, a Red-veined Darter, but I cannot tell you where I saw it.

Red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii) (female) - Sardegna
A quick look at a rocky outcrop revealed some lizards which I believe to be Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta).

Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) - Sardegna
The wild flowers on the island were fabulous!
wild flowers - Sardegna
Tuesday 13th May, 2003

The morning was taken up with a boat trip to visit a spectacular cave system, Grotta di Nettuno, most easily accessible from the sea. To get there, we passed round the dramatic Capo Caccia.

Capo Caccia - Sardegna
Grotta di Nettuno - Sardegna
In the afternoon we did more exploration by car and on foot. The scenery was wonderful, but the only wildlife photographed was this butterfly. I don't know what species it was, but it was clearly of the Lycaenidae family.

butterfly - Sardegna
Wednesday 14th May, 2003

This day we made further, and extensive, explorations by car, and no wildlife was photographed. Here's a coastal scene from that day, however.

coastal scene - Sardegna
Thursday 15th May, 2003

This was, effectively, our last day, as we left early the following day. I seem to remember that there'd been a storm in the night and the seas were a little heavy when we ventured out. I'm not sure what made me seek out the Lago Baratz, but it might even have been a mention of dragonflies. It certainly proved to be an interesting place. However, Lindsay didn't wish to venture into the wooded area surrounding the lake and so stayed in the car, thus limiting my time here. There were a good number of dragonflies around and I am sure that if I visited again in fine weather in summer I could probably happily spend days at this location. 

The first shot I took was (I am relatively confident) of a female Black-tailed Skimmer with a male Emperor (with left front wing not properly formed). However, the colouration of the abdomen of the Emperor was much darker than I'm used to seeing in UK and it caused me to check the European field guide - several times!

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (female) + Emperor (Anax imperator) (male) - Lago Baratz, Sardegna
Emperor (Anax imperator) (male) - Lago Baratz, Sardegna
Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male)  - Lago Baratz, Sardegna
Scarlet Dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea) (male) - Lago Baratz, Sardegna
At this time I knew little about the life-cycle of damselflies and dragonflies, and so, when I saw  a number of creatures crawling across the rocky shore of the lake, I didn't realise what it was that I was looking at. I did, however, take a couple of photos. I now realise that these were emerging damselflies. However, I find it remarkable that it seems that these were making the transition from larvae to adult whilst resting on solid ground - I have only ever witnessed emergence in UK, and then it has been from the larvae clinging to vegetation in a relatively vertical position. In the second image, you can see the damselfly is only partially emerged. It does occur to me that my original supposition may be wrong and this could be a failed emergence - I'd be happy to hear your views on this! By the way - I have absolutely no ideas as to the species of these!

emergent damselflies - Lago Baratz, Sardegna
The following morning we flew home.

I have done my best to correctly identify the species in this blog post but, if you notice any errors or omissions, please let me know.

In revisiting the images from this break, I feel a strong urge to return and, as Lindsay has fond memories of this visit too, it may happen. As someone who spent the last fifteen years of my working life travelling abroad once or twice a month, I was happy, on my retirement, to confine my travels to UK. It's now 10 years since I left British shores, and maybe the time has come to spread my wings again! 

I shall return to UK for my next blog post, but don't currently know what the subject matter will be!

Thank you for your visit - and, just in case I don't manage to squeeze in the next blog post for a week or so, I wish you all a peaceful and very Merry Christmas and a sparklingly good 2019, filled with wonderful wildlife experiences!