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Sunday 26 January 2020

Firecrest! - on 20th January, 2020

The day after publishing my last blog post, in which I stated that I'd been having difficulty getting out, Lindsay stated that she felt in good enough condition to be left on her own for a while if I wanted to head out for a spot of birding for a few hours. So, having sorted out after lunch, I had a quick look at Birdguides, and saw that Firecrest had been seen for the preceding few days at Whitemoor Haye, which is only about 20 minutes from my home. 

To put things in perspective, Firecrest is far from common in the English Midlands but does get increasingly more common in the southern part of England. I have had only four previous sightings of Firecrest, and only managed any sort of photos on two of those occasions. For those of you not familiar with this bird and its behaviour, it is a tiny bird (sitting in size between Wren and Goldcrest - which is UK's smallest breeding bird) and has a reputation to be constantly flitting about in hedges and is, therefore, not an easy bird to photograph. 

I arrived in the area at around 13h40 and, as I approached in my car, was told that the bird had not been seen all day! However, as I arrived at the actual location, I was informed that it had been seen a few minutes earlier but had disappeared into an inaccessible area behind the hedge.

The road is a narrow single-track road and so I had to go a few hundred metres up the road to find somewhere where I could park my car. I then started walking back towards the group, but had only gone a few metres before a fellow coming the other way said he'd just seen a small bird flitting around in the hedge. I soon spotted it, and it was the Firecrest. Waving arms brought the group to us and I enjoyed a session of just over an hour in the company of this bird.

With it flitting about incessantly, all we photographers were having a difficult time getting shots, particularly as it spent virtually all of its time working the far side of the hedge and, when it did come into view for a second or two, it was unpredictable as to whether it would be against a light or dark background. My photos are, therefore, not good. Here's the first shot I managed to fire off!

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) - Whitemoor Haye
Subsequent shots were equally mediocre, but are included here as I have never done any better with this species.

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) - Whitemoor Haye
This state of affairs continued for quite some time and the bird was starting to roam further away from us, favouring a tree probably around 20 metres behind the hedge. I was standing alone in a spot where I could observe it in the distance, when it flew into the hedge directly in front of me - and started to preen! It stayed in one spot for a full 12 seconds - I have never seen this species stay in one spot for so long -  but the other people looking for it just couldn't get there before it departed again. It wasn't ideally positioned, but here are a few from that interlude:-

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) - Whitemoor Haye
After over an hour of almost continual waving the camera around, my arms were aching and it was time to depart as I felt I was unlikely to get any better shots, with the bird getting more and more elusive.

I did stop a little way down the road at Croxall Lakes and spent some time in one of the hides there, and this might feature in a future post, although nothing outstanding was seen.

I'd had an extremely enjoyable afternoon and felt that I'd maximised my freedom with a Firecrest being a real highlight from a birding point of view, even if the photography wasn't all it might have been.

Thank you for dropping by. I'm not sure when my next blog post will be, or what the subject matter might be either. The weather forecast does not look too good for the next five days, with wind and rain featuring for much of the time.

P.S. Around the Whitemoor Haye area there are several other places named XXX Haye or XXX Hay, and I was curious to know what the meaning of Haye was. It seems that it is derived from an Old English word for hedge and means 'enclosed field'. Such enclosures were often where deer were kept over winter for the supply of venison.

Sunday 19 January 2020

Out For A Duck - on 30th December, 2019

Harking back to the end of last year, I'd been getting a bit stir-crazy and, having heard of an interesting sighting at the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's Drakelow Nature Reserve, I came to the conclusion that an after-lunch visit was required. 

I arrived at the car park  to find just one car there, with a couple just about to get into it to depart. They reassured me that my target was there, and that there was a 'young man' in the hide that would show me where to look. As there was no other vehicle present, and this place is in the back of beyond, I wondered how he'd got there. As I approached the hide, I got my answer - he'd arrived by bicycle. What was more impressive was that he'd managed to bring a 'scope and full-sized tripod with him.

He told me that my target had been showing well, but that it had currently disappeared round a distant 'headland'. Oh well! - time for a pleasant chat in good company. 

It didn't take very long, however, for my target to appear - there she was - a female Long-tailed Duck. It had been more than three years since I'd seen this species inland (at Rutland Water) and, surprisingly, nearly nine years since I'd seen one on the Scottish coast (where they are relatively common in winter). She was, however, a long way away.

Although the sun was shining, it was fairly low and giving difficult light conditions for photography because of strong contrasts between water, background, and the bird. It didn't help that the bird was actively feeding and spending most of its time underwater, only surfacing for a few seconds before disappearing and then surfacing some time later in a different location.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) (female) - Drakelow NR
After a while, the duck disappeared round the back of the headland again. I waited a while, but the only thing to come near enough to the camera to take a photo of was a Wigeon.

Wigeon (Mareca penelope) (male) - Drakelow NR
After a while, I decided that it was time to explore the rest of the site - if only to get a little exercise! Although I saw plenty, there was nothing to tempt me to use the camera but, as I headed back, a pair of Mute Swans made it quite clear that they wanted their photo taken - or maybe they thought I would feed them!

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Drakelow NR
Although it was now 15h00 and the light was failing, I thought it might be worth my while to pop into the first hide again and see if the Long-tailed Duck was showing. It wasn't at first, but it soon appeared again and I managed some more shots although the light was even more difficult.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) (female) - Drakelow NR
To my delight, it then came somewhat closer! It was, however, still spending most of its time underwater.

Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) (female) - Drakelow NR
I do think that a female Long-tailed Duck looks wonderful face-on.

The light was going and there was no point in hanging around any longer, particularly as the exit gate was nearly a mile and a half away (2.2km) down a slow track and I didn't want to be trying to read the combination lock in the dark.

I'm sorry if this post feels a bit like scraping the bottom of the barrel which, essentially, it is. I have absolutely no idea what the subject of my next post might be as, until I find the time to get out again, I will have little to offer. I'm just hoping that my wife Lindsay's back gets better soon so that I can be released from some of the household duties!

Thank you for dropping by. Please, in all your activities, think about the future of the planet and its wildlife and do what you can to protect it - or it might not have a future!

Thursday 9 January 2020

Calke Unbottled - on 3rd January, 2020

I'd settled on the title for this post before I realised that the juxtaposition in the title would be totally lost on most people (Calke is pronounced 'Cork') - nevertheless, I think I'll stick with it!

I'd not been out much lately, and the weather looked rather fine, so I set off for Calke Park, which is relatively near my home. It had been a while since I'd visited the hides in Calke Park as a major development (Calke Explore - a children's activity area) had been taking place for most of 2019 and one of the hides was in a no-go area. This was, therefore, primarily a visit to see how the development had affected the hide that was now part of Calke Explore.

I arrived and was immediately pleased to find that there was now a large well-organised car park, although somewhat apprehensive that it was all but full. The next pleasant surprise was that there were toilets near the car park. I understand that there is also also a kiosk, open at weekends and at 'busy times' selling snacks and drinks.

The aspect that pleased me most, however, was that the development had exposed more water-courses, and given access to the edge of a large pond. This could be a spot for dragonfly-watching in the summer.

The access paths to the hide have been upgraded, but the hide is still its familiar self . I arrived as people were leaving, and found I had the hide to myself for a while. 

Sadly, by the time I got there, it had clouded over, but I still had an enjoyable hour there with people coming and going and having some pleasant chats, and the constant background noise of the children playing didn't seem to disturb the birds.

Reed Buntings were very much in evidence. Although I had several sightings of a female of the species, I think it was probably the same bird each time.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - Calke Park lower hide
There were several males around, and some of them were getting well into their black-headed breeding plumage.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Calke Park lower hide
A Robin was quite busy round the hide, and had me spotted!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Park lower hide
A couple of Dunnocks and a Nuthatch were around but not photographed. The tits were well-represented with Blue, Coal, and Great Tit all present but, again, not photographed. However, it was good to see that Marsh Tit seems to be doing well in the area.

Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris) - Calke Park lower hide
On examining my photos, I found a few shots of what I had taken to be a Marsh tit, but now believe is possibly/probably a Willow Tit. They do occur occasionally here. The black bib seems to dip and be ragged, where a Marsh Tit is usually short and neat square at the bottom, and it seems to show signs of a pale panel on the wing and no visible gloss to the black on the head. The white on the neck also seems to dip towards the breast more. Any thoughts on this would be welcome - particularly as Willow Tit seem to be in dire straights in these parts. I shall be returning and keeping an eye open for diagnostic features!

possible Willow Tit? - Calke Park lower hide
It was now around 15h00 and the light was going, so I headed back to my car and decided to pay a quick visit to the upper hide to see what might be going on there.

I arrived to see several Red Deer in clear view from beside the hide, with Fallow Deer somewhat more distant and not photographable. This young male Red Deer has, I hope, an interesting life ahead of him, and already looks quite majestic.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - near Calke Park upper hide
Once I'd settled in the hide, photography was very difficult with the low light levels, and virtually all the shots I took were 'consigned to the bin'. 

The mix of birds here was somewhat different to that at the lower hide, although Blue, Coal and Great Tits were present. I did try for some shots of a Blue Tit, but only one was usable.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Calke Park upper hide
A flock of twelve Long-tailed Tits landed in bushes below the hide window in a very difficult position for photography, and they soon disappeared again. This one landed on the ground below me.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Calke Park upper hide
At one point in time, several Jackdaw arrived, accompanied by their loud 'tchack' calls. In case you're not aware of the origin of their name, in Old England, the Corvid family were named 'daws', and this particular species was the Tchack Daw. Although a common bird, I rarely get the chance to photograph one at reasonably close quarters. Their eyes are amazing!

Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula) - Calke Park upper hide
Although another common bird, for me, the presence of a Nuthatch is always a joy to behold.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Calke Park upper hide
It was starting to get dark and time I was on my way home again.

I'd been very pleasantly pleased by the situation at Calke, and am looking forward to returning. Unfortunately, it may not be for a while as Lindsay is suffering with a very painful back and is unable to get downstairs, and so my only excursions since this one have been brief ones to shops for provisions and medication! 

It may be a while before my next post!

Thank you for dropping by.