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Tuesday 19 February 2019

The Draw of a Firecrest - on 28th January, 2019

I have recently been away from home for a week, visiting Speyside in Scotland. The following is a post I prepared before I departed, fully expecting to be overloaded with photo processing after my return.

It seemed that I had only been getting out birdwatching approximately once a week, and I was starting to get stir-crazy. On this day, prompted by the sighting of a Firecrest, I reckoned that it was time to go somewhere I'd not been for many years, and that was Attenborough Nature Reserve, near Nottingham (yes, the Nottingham of Robin Hood fame). This is only about half an hour from my home and, as I had things to do in the morning, I departed after an early lunch.

I expected it to be relatively quiet on a Monday, but arrived to find that the main car park was very tight for space and the overflow car park was full! I managed, however, to find a spot in an unofficial lay-by beside the access road.

My first job was to try and find the Firecrest. It had been reported as being in bushes by the approach road, just before the level crossing. I spent probably around 20 minutes looking, but there was no sign of it visually or, more importantly, audibly. I then went into the nature reserve.

Fortunately, the place was not as crowded as I thought it might be. I first made my way towards the Tower Hide, checking my camera settings by shooting a Dunnock beside the main path.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Attenborough NR
Shortly after turning off the main path, towards Tower Hide, I stopped to photograph a couple of Egyptian Geese. Although these are now very common birds in these parts, it was here that I saw my first ever Egyptian Geese on 1st January, 2006, at the start of my birdwatching interest.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) - Attenborough NR
Just before reaching the hide, three Robins were vying for my attention, perching on three consecutive fence posts. Here's one.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Attenborough Nature Reserve
I spent around 20 minutes in the hide, with nothing showing close enough for photography, and not much of interest showing at all. I then set off with the intention of visiting as much of the reserve as possible, primarily to get a feel for the place for future visits, rather than taking time to observe the birds.

It was a brightly sunny day, with low winter sun by the time I left the hide at around 14h00. As much of the water that I passed was of small areas surrounded by trees, the light for photography was quite challenging at times, and the results are not my best.

A distant Shoveler was in open water.

Shoveler (Anas clypeata) (male) - Attenborough NR
Sadly, I burned out the white on this Great Crested Grebe, otherwise it might have made a reasonable shot. I include it, however, because of the eye, shining like a jewel.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Attenborough NR
The real stars for me, however, were the Goosander. I saw one at a great distance soon after leaving the hide, but then I found that I was seeing them on almost every bit of water I came to. The drake Goosander is often said to have a green sheen to its 'black' head plumage when seen in the right light. I have never seen a purple sheen like that on the first drake I photographed.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Attenborough NR
There is no colour sheen visible on the heads of the drakes in these next three images. However, winter sun on rippling water gives some delightful effects.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) - Attenborough NR
The sheen is visible on these next images, as is (sadly) the burn-out on the whites!

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Attenborough NR
I suddenly realised that I was at the furthest point of the reserve, it was 15h30, and my car was parked on the wrong side of the gate which would be locked at 17h00. This might not sound too bad, but I was 2 km from my car as the crow flies, and twice that distance on the path I would take. I had to hurry!

Just before reaching my car I met a person coming in the opposite direction. He'd just seen the Firecrest in the area that I'd been scanning earlier. He warned me, however, that views were difficult as viewing was straight into the setting sun. I quickly moved my car to the overflow car park which is outside the gates and set off to try and find the Firecrest.

It didn't take long to find it, as it was calling continually but, to my great disappointment, my camera chose this to be the time to fail. It's a problem that hits me every two or three months, and it's an electrical disconnect between the camera body and the lens. The solution is to dismount the lens and work the connection pins (cleaning the contacts at the same time). In the circumstances, it was difficult enough to get a bead on the bird, but the difficulty was compounded by the fact that only about one in twenty presses of the shutter button actually did anything. Add that to shooting straight into the sun. and I was not expecting to have anything at all when I came to examine what I'd taken.

When I came to load my shots onto the computer, I found that around half the shutter actuations hadn't opened the iris, so the shots were virtually black, but I did have just one shot that, although awful, will just about pass as a record shot!

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) - by Attenborough NR
After a quick call to Lindsay to say I was going to be later home than expected (again!), I set off homeward, happy in the knowledge that I had, at least, seen a Firecrest for the first time in several years, even if the photographic opportunites that afternoon were below par. 

For the past few months I've been wearing one of these wrist devices, akin to a 'fit bit'. I have been trying to raise my fitness by increasing the amount I walk. For example, if I have not got a lot of heavy shopping to carry, I tend to walk into town, rather than drive. On this day, I noted that I'd walked just over 10.4 km (approximately 6½ miles) at Attenborough NR - my longest walk since getting the device. My total for the day was just over 13.0 km (8 miles). I realise that, for many, this may sound like a trivial distance, but I'm pleased to have done it.

I am not sure what my next post will feature, but there could be some snow in there somewhere!

Thank you for dropping by.

Thursday 7 February 2019

More Garden Highlights - September, 2018 to January, 2019

Continuing with the theme from two posts ago, here are some of the highlights from my garden from the past five months.

I'll start by saying a bit more about my garden, and how I attract the wildlife. This is probably best explained by use of a diagram based on an image taken from a drone by my next-door neighbour. The main provisions are for birds and hedgehogs, although used by other taxa too.


We have three hedgehog houses  - shown as HH in the image below. These are for daytime shelter in the warmer months and for hibernation in the winter.

We have two hedgehog feeding stations - shown as HFS in the image below -  comprising covered feeding trays with entrance tunnels (to keep the visiting cats out) and nearby external water dishes.


We have numerous bird feeders round our garden - shown as BF. These are of various types. That marked BF is a 'flutter butter'  feeder from Jacobi Jayne. I make my own flutter butter, however, from lard and peanuts. That marked BFx2 is a pole with two feeding trays (for sunflower hearts) attached and a 'log' mounted on top for photographic purposes. That marked BFx3 is another pole with two feeding trays attached (sunflower hearts again) and a peanut feeder on top. The two items marked BFx4 are identical poles with four hangers - the left-hand one usually has a fat-ball feeder and a mixed seed feeder (favoured by the House Sparrows) attached, and the right-hand one usually has a fat-ball feeder and a peanut feeder attached. Both these poles have additional feeders attached to give extra capacity when I go way. The item marked S is usually referred to as 'the stump'. It is an 'L' shaped length of of a thick tree branch, and has been drilled on the rear side with holes for peanuts and seed. It was put there primarily for photographic purposes, but has proven to be my most popular feeder with the birds - they wait for me to fill it, and empty it for me in no time flat! The item marked SD is a sun dial which is covered with sunflower hearts as a supplemental feeder in winter. 

The two items marked BB are bird baths. The upper one is very popular with the birds, and was created when the koi pond was filled in. The outline of the old koi pond is clearly visible to the lower left of the bird bath - it was nearly 2 metres deep and held approximately 14,000 litres (3,000 gallons). The lower one is a conventional bird bath on a plinth.


Just to complete the picture, C is the conservatory where we habitually have all our meals in the warmer months, but just breakfast and lunch in the colder months. My study is down the line that is marked S. I have a good view of most of the feeders from my desk and most of my garden bird photos are taken through the glass of my window. I have one camera constantly 'at the ready' on my desk!

Aerial view of our garden
So now that you've seen the setup, here are a few more highlights from the tail-end of 2018 and the start of 2019

1st September, 2018

The moth trap was deployed this night and 77 moths of 18 species were identified in the morning of 2nd September (it is convention to give the date of recording as the date of deployment of the trap, rather than retrieval). My favourite from the session was the Dusky Thorn.

Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria) - from our garden
2nd September, 2018

I noticed a Holly Blue spending some time in the Ivy on our boundary, and went to have a look. It was a female that was ovipositing at the back of the flower buds on the Ivy. Unfortunately, it remained quite high up when doing this so photography was difficult. I have had a few unsuccessful attempts at finding evidence of larval activity or pupae, but will look again soon.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female, ovipositing) - our garden
12th October, 2018

A male Sparrowhawk made a nuisance of itself for a while, but I didn't see it catch much. We now have the Council's new fence in place as part of the development behind us. It has a trellis on top which is most unphotogenic, as you can see, below. I have removed our lower fence. This shot was taken from my study window with it on top of the left hand feeder marked BFx4 in the first image.
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden
17th October, 2018

I have shown the Peacock butterfly in a previous post but here's another as it is, for me, one of the most spectacular of our garden butterflies.

Peacock (Aglais io) - our garden
19th October, 2018

Great Spotted Woodpecker have been a bit of a rarity in the garden in the past year.  However, this female visited us for a while in October. She was photographed on 'the stump' from my study window.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female - our garden
2nd November, 2018

In November we had a garden 'lifer' in the form of a Tree Sparrow. This red-listed species is on the decline, and is usually found in rural locations, so to find one with the House Sparrows in our garden was extremely exciting for me. It was an occasional visitor, right up to the end of the year. These were taken from our conservatory, with the bird in the vicinity of BFx3 (the bird was feeding at the left-hand BFx4)

Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - our garden
5th November, 2018

The garden moth trap was put out without any expectations for results this late in the season. Happily, however, 3 moths of 2 species were caught, including my first December Moth, of which there were two. These moths, one of which is shown below, seem to be wearing fur coats against the winter's cold! 

December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) - from our garden
18th November, 2018

I doubt if I'll ever see another Tree Sparrow in our garden again, so here are a couple more images from this day.

Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - our garden
25th November, 2018

The Goldfinch is a common bird, and one of the most reliable and numerous in our garden. There's no denying, however, that it is a spectacular little bird in its appearance. This shot was taken whilst sitting at my desk - the bird is on the feeder marked BFx2 in the top image.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
10th December, 2018

We have not done well for winter visitors to the garden this year - so far! On this day, however, we did have a Redwing visit. I only managed a record shot. I am, however, quite pleased with the shot of a male Chaffinch, although a very common garden bird, especially at this time of year - this one was on feeder BFx2 again, taken from my study.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - our garden
Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male)- our garden
17th December, 2018

We had two Redwing visit us this day, and I managed a shot that was a little better. Sadly, I missed getting any worthwhile shots two days later when we had a brief visit by 13 Redwing!

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - our garden
27th December, 2018

Prompted by the sight of a moth flitting past on one of the trail cams which record the night time activity in our garden, I put the moth trap out. I was delighted to catch a male Mottled Umber moth (the female is wingless), plus a Light Brown Apple Moth micromoth. Here's the Mottled Umber.

Mottled Umber (Ernanis defoliaria) (male) - from our garden
5th January, 2019

For a while, we had a pair of Lesser Redpoll visiting the garden. Most years we do better than just the two! Here's the male, taken through my study window.

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) (male) - our garden
6th January, 2019

For a few days we had visits from a pair of Grey Heron. They don't count on our garden list as they didn't put a foot down in our garden, but landed on adjacent roofs. They seemed to be taking fish from the ponds of two of our neighbours. I guess they eventually emptied the ponds as they haven't been seen since!

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - from our house
That same day we had other visitors to our garden, including Carrion Crow, which very rarely visits us.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - our garden

The Redpoll were with us that day too. The male is on BFx2, and the female was in the tree above it.

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) (male) - our garden
Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) (female) - our garden
A Goldfinch came down onto BFx2 while I was trying to photograph the Redpolls, and it would be rude to ignore such cooperation!

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
9th January, 2019

One of the Herons landed on the roof of the newly built bungalow just behind our garden - I'm not sure whether it compensates for the fact that there's now a building where there used to be rough grass, but it dispels some of the disappointment!

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - from our house
16th January, 2019

We don't often get Reed Bunting in the garden, but we had one visiting for much of January, and on a couple of days we had two. Here's one of them.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - our Garden
There have been many more species than those featured here, and some of them quite exciting but not suitably photographed. 

I have spent less time than usual watching the garden this winter, so far, as there have been too many distractions - not all of them happy. Hopefully, all will be sorted inside the next couple of months. 

Thank you for dropping by.