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Saturday 28 December 2019

Christmas Day Picnic Lunch - 25th December, 2019

For many years, Lindsay and I celebrated Christmas with a Christmas Day picnic lunch in the countryside. However, for the past three years we have, at their request, enjoyed Christmas Day lunch with our daughter and granddaughter in their house. Developments in the effects of our granddaughter's autism have now resulted in Christmas having to be a non-event for our daughter and granddaughter, and so Lindsay and I decided that we'd revert to the Christmas Day picnic.

We'd decided to revisit a local nature reserve for the event - until a friend told us seven days beforehand that the area was inaccessible because of floods! We therefore started looking for alternatives.

Things got more complicated when Lindsay started a heavy cold on 23rd December. She did feel well enough, however, to visit our favourite Thai restaurant, 'Thai Marina' at Barton Marina, for lunch on Christmas Eve, and a very fine lunch it was too. On the way back, our route took us close to the flooded nature reserve and Lindsay agreed to us checking it out as a possibility.

The nature reserve has a private drive of around three quarters of a mile (1 km) length, accessible through a secure gate. Part-way along this drive we found the problem, with considerable lengths of the approach road under water. If I had not known the road well, and if we had not been in our 4x4 with good ground clearance, I would not have attempted it. However, we managed to get through with caution and, having arrived in the car park and checked out the state of the hides, we decided that, given that the weather forecast was very good for the following day, we'd go for it!

Lindsay was feeling rather worse when we woke up on Christmas Day, but was determined to carry on as planned, although we did simplify the picnic somewhat. We chose and prepared our own fare, with Lindsay opting for crackers, a dip, crisps, Christmas cake, and a flask of coffee, and me making up a turkey and mayo baguette, and packing a sloe gin mince tart, and a bottle of elderflower tonic water. 

By the time we left home, the forecast of unbroken sunshine had moderated to unbroken cloud cover! The journey there was pleasant and the roads weren't too busy, and the floods were negotiated once more without difficulty. We settled in the first hide and, having unpacked our lunch, enjoyed the view whilst eating.

the view during Christmas Lunch
Although the view was splendid, nothing was seen of any great interest, and the birds stayed very distant for most of the time. The grey day also made photography difficult.

Ducks were there in the form of Gadwall, Mallard, Wigeon, and Goldeneye. I did attempt a few shots of a very distant drake Goldeneye but failed, with the best I could do shown below

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) (male)
At one point, I tried to photograph a duck that flew past and had me mystified at the time. I can see now that it was a female Goldeneye.

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) (female)
I didn't attempt any photos of the Cormorants, but now wish I had as one was in rather fine plumage exhibiting much white. However, it was a very long way away. There were a few Grey Heron and a couple flew a bit closer.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
At one point, a heron flew in and made a most inelegant landing, although it soon regained its composure!

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
The real stars of our visit were, however, the delightful Long-tailed Tits. A flock of 12 birds was almost constantly in attendance and, on occasion, came much closer to us than any of the other birds, keeping us entertained during our stay.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
After about half an hour, the cold was getting to Lindsay, and it was time to head home and finish our picnic in the warmth.  The heated seats in the car were put to good use during the journey!

It had been a most enjoyable interlude, in spite of not seeing anything outstanding, and the change of scenery had been most welcome.

You may have noticed that I have refrained from stating the location of our picnic. I have to confess that this is entirely for selfish reasons. Both times that we have been here on Christmas Day, ours has been the only car on the reserve, and not one other soul has been seen - we quite like it that way!

I wish all my readers a happy and healthy New Year. My 2020 vision is that it should be a better year for the planet, and the wildlife that the planet belongs to. Please do all you can to further this objective.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Season's Greetings! - December, 2019

My apologies for being absent from Blogger for a while. A planned maintenance on my PC had an unexpected result when a hard drive failed during the process. I now have two new 2 TB drives in my PC and a whole lot of data to reinstall from back-ups. I hope to catch up with everyone soon.

Photographically, it has been a quiet end-of-year for me. We've had relatively poor weather, with lots of rain and plenty of wind and it seems that, every time we've had a spot of good weather, I've had commitments that have prevented me taking advantage of it. Herewith, therefore, a few shots of wildlife in the garden ('back yard' to those on the western side of the Atlantic), taken through the window glass from my study, or from the conservatory, during November and December.

Nuthatch is an infrequent visitor to our garden and has been noticeable by its absence for most of the year - hence it was exciting to have a brief visit on this day. The weather was dull and the bird was at the far end of the garden.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - our garden on 2nd November, 2019
As the camera was out, I took a few shots of a Blue Tit that was close to the window.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - our garden on 2nd November, 2019
We then went away to Dorset for a dew days. On our return, we were delighted to find that the Brambling that had been visiting before we left was still around - again, the light was dire for this shot.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) - our garden on 10th November, 2019
A couple of days later, I managed a few shots of a Sparrowhawk. This juvenile is an occasional visitor and, whilst I would not wish it any harm, I'm rather glad that it doesn't seem to have much success in catching the birds in our garden.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (juvenile) - our garden on 12th November, 2019
Three days later, I got some more Bramblings shots - at a much greater distance and still in poor light. I think that this is the same bird as that on 10th November.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) - our garden on 15th November, 2019
We now wind forward a week. I'm a bit fond of woodpeckers, and disappointed that we rarely see one in our garden these days. However, one (a female) showed up on 30th October. She has been an occasional visitor since then, showing maybe twice in three weeks on average. I managed to catch her on camera on 15th November. This is a sequence of her spotting something she was unhappy with, instantly dropping round to a position under the 'branch' that she was on, then coming back up when she was happy that all was OK.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden on 22nd November, 2019
The moth trap has been out a few times but, since 22nd October, this was the only time I've caught a moth. This is the splendid December Moth - just look at its 'warm winter coat'!

December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) - from our garden on 26th November, 2019
The female Great Spotted Woodpecker was back on 28th November - in the rain.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden on 28th November, 2019
We had some excitement on 3rd December, with the arrival of two birds that we had not seen in the garden since last winter - Blackcap and Redwing. We managed some sunshine that day!

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden on 3rd December 2019
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - our garden on 3rd December 2019
During the summer, we had two Hedgehog feeding stations in the garden, as well as three hedgehog houses. A few weeks ago, one of the feeding stations was dismantled as it was now only being used by mice, and was attracting cats. We currently have four trail cams deployed in our garden - three of them are pointing at the hog houses (one of which also covers the remaining feeding station) and another is pointing at a bush, under which a Hedgehog has built himself a nest of leaves. 

At one point we were worried about both the hogs that were visiting our garden. One (a very large hog) appeared one night dragging its rear right leg which seemed twisted at a strange angle. At that time we did not know where the hog was coming from, and I was not up to staying up all night in the cold in the hope of catching it to get its leg attended to. Instead I kept monitoring it on a trail cam in case it got worse. Soon after this, it started building its leaf nest at a place that I just happened to be observing with a trail cam. I helped it by piling dry leaves outside the nest, so that it had less distance to travel on its poorly leg. Over a period of a few weeks I was delighted to see the leg improving, and it got to the point that I could not detect that there'd been a problem.

The second hog that was a cause for concern was a rather small one that was running round the garden at night at great speed and only sniffing at the food and water in the feeding stations. This was probably going to be too small to survive the winter.

On 6th December, the hog in the self-built nest had already hibernated (he's since been waking up and repairing his nest after wind-damage), and the small hog, which had suddenly started using the feeding station and was visibly putting on weight, was busy supplementing the bedding that I'd put in one of the hog houses (a Hogitat - the other two houses are wooden constructions, purchased from Leicester Hedgehog Rescue, but currently 'vacant'). Here is some video of the small hog using some of the extra leaves I'd supplied to cosy-up its 'hogitat'.

In the summer, we had two pairs of Bullfinch that regularly visited the garden - then we had the youngsters. By the end of October, the garden was, sadly, devoid of Bullfinch. There was, therefore, some excitement when a female Bullfinch appeared on 1st December. This female has continued with occasional visits since then and even brought a male with her on one occasion. I have only once managed a photograph, and this was not very good!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - our garden on 8th December, 2019
This will almost certainly be my last blog post until after Christmas, so I take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Happy Christmas and all the best for 2020. 

The header, which is current as I write this, harks back to what is probably going to be the lifetime highlight of my birdwatching interest – a Snowy Owl on Tresco, Isles of Scilly, on 17th March, 2018 – a rare bird for UK, but snow on the Scillies is even rarer!

Thank you for dropping by.