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Thursday 26 November 2020

Lockdown II, pt.1 - 5th to 18th November, 2020

We are currently in a Covid Lockdown situation which came into force on 5th November, one aspect of which is travel should only be local and for work, shopping or medical reasons, or to get to a local place to take exercise.  In the circumstances, with the number of cases of Covid-19 escalating exponentially, Lindsay and I have been happy to comply, This has, however, limited my birding and photographic opportunities. 

Thursday, 5th November

Strictly speaking, this first item should be recorded as being from 4th November. It was found in the overnight moth trap and photographed in the morning of 5th November, but it is moth recording covention that moths are recorded as being from the date that the trap is put out. The Green-brindled Crescent is a moth I have only ever recorded once before (on 29th September, 2019), and I was delighted to find this second one as the sole catch of the night. This one was a little less colourful than my previous catch.

Green-brindled Crescent (Allophyes oxyacanthae) - from garden on 4th November, 2020

I was busy in my study that morning, but had my camera at my side. I couldn't resist a shot of a Woodpigeon. This species always strikes me as looking less than intelligent, with a tiny head in comparison to its body. However, the moulting process on this one seems to emphasise this.

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) - garden on 5th November, 2020

This Goldfinch, also photographed through the glass of my study window, compensates for the ungainliness of the Woodpigeon with its contrastingly handsome features.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 5th November, 2020

The sun came out in the afternoon, and I made a late visit to a lake close to my home, in the hope of finding an owl. The lake usually attracts a number of Greylag Geese and Canada Geese, and as it gets towards dusk, these birds take off and head to their roosting grounds. The sound is wonderful and it is a delight to behold. The Greylags left first. 

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Longmoor Lake

As there was a different area of the site that I wanted to visit in order to check for owls, I missed the later departure of the Canada Geese. At the north end of the lake, a couple were feeding the swans - something that they said they did on a regular basis, with the swans instantly recognising them, even from the far side of the lake, as they approached!

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Longmoor Lake
I hung around until darkness fell, but didn't find any owls, so made my way homeward.

Friday, 6th November

The moth trap went out on this evening and resulted in just one moth - the wonderful fur-coated December Moth! This one is a female of the species, being much larger than a male and having 'un-feathered' antennae.

December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) (female) - from garden on 6th November, 2020
Hedgehog numbers had been rising, with five or more visiting this night. The trail cams were witnessing around twenty visits to the feeding station each night as they prepared for hibernation. The Hedgehogs seemed to have sorted themselves out quite nicely, with some favouring one of our two feeding stations and the others the second station. Furthermore, encounters seem to be relatively amicable - there are three together at 27 seconds into this clip of the night at one of our feeders. Sorry, Diane, this is going to be a bit long for your internet connection!

Saturday, 7th November

Feeling the need to photograph something (anything!), I attempted a few shots of common garden birds. Coal Tit has, thankfully, started to put in a few more appearances, but rarely gives photo opportunities. The focus on this shot is, sadly, soft  but I'm intrigued as to what it has in its bill - it looks like a leaf.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)  - garden on 7th November, 2020
There seems to have been a decline in numbers of Chaffinch this year. This one posed briefly outside my study window.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - garden on 7th November, 2020

Tuesday, 10th November

I made a late afternoon visit to nearby Hicks Lodge, noting the fabulous autumn gold as I walked to the lake.

Gold! - Hicks Lodge

Just before reaching the main lake, I usually take a devious route which allows me to stealthily approach the edge of the lake without disturbing any birds on the water. As I passed through a small thicket, I noticed a fungus that I do not remember encountering before, although it is considerd a common fungus. It was in deep shade and so my grabbed photos were not good.

Stag's Horn or Candle-snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) - Hicks Lodge
Nearer the lake, a Kestrel flew past at a distance.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Hicks Lodge
From my surveillance position I could see another birder standing outside the hide with a 'scope (the hide is currently kept closed due to the Covid crisis), and was not at all surprised to find that this was an old pal, Mick Smith. I walked over to join him (at a more-than-social distance) and we had a conversation that distracted us for a while. I did, however, take the odd chance of a photo or two in the fading evening light.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Hicks Lodge
As with the previously mentioned Longmoor Lake, Hicks Lodge usually hosts a number of Canada and Greylag Geese, which have a nearby roosting site. On this occasion at Hicks Lodge it was the Canada Geese which departed first.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge
While chatting, Mick had mentioned a rather unusual-looking goose that had flown in with the Greylag Geese, but that he'd not picked up again. We were talking when the Greylags took flight and so I quickly raised my camera and was taking a few shots when  Mick said that the odd goose was near the front of the group. By the time I found it, it was rather far away, but I subsequently found that I had a very blurred shot of it right on the very edge of a frame. It does, however, show the odd features of this bird (more sharply, but less clearly, shown in the second image below), which Mick believes is probably a leucistic Greylag. However, local guru Rhys Dandy suggests either leucism or cross-breed.
Leucistic (or cros-breed) Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Hicks Lodge

Greylag Goose, with leucistic (or cross-breed) bird (Anser anser) - Hicks Lodge
Wednesday, 11th November

No photos for this day, on which the peace was disturbed by an invasion of 32 Starlings in our garden!

Thursday, 12th November

After a long absence, we had recently seen the return of a pair of Stock Dove to the garden. Here is one of them.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 12th November, 2020
Friday, 13th November

In spite of the date, I decided on a return to Longmoor Lake. I arrived a little earlier than on my previous visit and so managed some shots of a few birds on the water.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Longmoor Lake

Teal (Anas crecca) (male) - Longmoor Lake

Coot (Fulica atra) - Longmoor Lake

Just after taking that last shot, I was accosted by a lady with a camera asking what lens I was using. We had a short chat, during which I said how veratile the Sigma 50-500 was, being able to use it for macro shots as well as long-distance shots. Little did I know that a couple of minutes later I'd be using the macro aspect on a caddis fly that I saw fly down into the grass. I have no idea of the species.

Caddis fly species - Longmoor Lake
I didn't take any more photos after this as I explored an area of the site that I'd not visited before. It did, however, show promise.

Having returned to my car I set off homeward, stopping in Normanton le Heath to photograph a Kestrel on a wire. Sadly, it seems like a long while since I photographed a Kestrel sitting on anything more natural than a wire.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Normanton le Heath
That night the moth trap went out again and, once again, yielded just one moth - another December Moth. This time it was a male - a smaller moth with 'feathered' antennae.
December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) (male) - from garden on 13th November, 2020

Monday, 16th November

Sitting in the conservatory, I watched in amazement and anticipation as a Grey Heron headed our way. Sadly, it stopped on the roof of the house behind us. I grabbed my camera and shot upstairs to get a better view. It moved from the apex of the roof to to a lower flat roof, and eventually took off again and headed in the direction whence it came.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - from our house
Unlike most birders, I only count birds that put a foot down in the garden as 'garden birds' so this one didn't make the grade!

I missed getting a shot of the Goldcrest that briefly did grace us with a visit.

Wednesday, 18th November

This day marked the end of the first fortnight of our four week lockdown period.

We had another visit from a Sparrowhawk. Yes, those eyes really are something!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - garden on 18th November, 2020

This ends this blog post. Hopefully, my next post will cover the last two weeks of Lockdown II, if I can gather enough material!

In the meantime, take good care and hang on in there - hopefully, help is on the way.

Sunday 15 November 2020

Before Lockdown No.2 - 9th October to 4th November, 2020

I did not manage to get out as much as I would have liked to during this period as I spent a whole lot of time sorting out photos and blog posts on our return from the Isles of Scilly. Furthermore, we had an extremely thin time as far as wildlife activity in the garden was concerned, with just the Hedgehogs bucking the trend. Here are a few of my observations.

Friday, 9th October

One of the probable reasons that we were not seeing as many birds as usual was that we were getting visits from Sparrowhawks, and the birds had departed to safer feeding grounds. Most of the time it was a male that visited. This one, with its dark orange (almost red) eyes, is a mature bird.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden on 9th October, 2020
Sunday, 11th October

This day, we had the female Sparrowhawk, which was not photographed. I was, however, more disappointed at missing getting a shot of the Grey Wagtail that visited for a few seconds. We used to get regular visits by this species when we had a large koi pond, and latterly an adult brought a  youngster. When we filled in the pond, more than ten years ago, we continued to get visits, which makes me wonder if something was built into their genetic code. Visits have slowly dwindled, to the point where a Grey Wagtail is now quite rare, although still annual (just!), in our garden, but not as rare as Pied Wagtail. 

Tuesday, 13th October

Sadly, Great Spotted Woodpecker has also become a rarity in our garden, and so it was very exciting to have this female visit us briefly on this day. I do not usually like to post images of birds on feeders, but this occurence was important to us, and I didn't manage a reasonable shot of the bird away from the feeder. This one is a female - males have a red patch on the back of the neck.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden on 13th October, 2020
Friday, 16th October

We had a team of three tree surgeons in to do some tree pruning work in the garden, and also lick into shape some ivy that had got out of control. This, however, did not stop a squirrel from visiting. I know there are mixed feelings about these out there, but we happen to think them rather cute and do not consider them a problem.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - our garden on 16th October, 2020

Sunday, 18th October

The next image is probably the worst that I have ever posted, but it marks one of the more interesting events seen from our conservatory. A flock of  40+ small birds flew into our next-door-neighbours' birch tree in their garden, about 25 metres away. Unfortunately, they mainly stayed on the opposite, sunny, side of the tree to our position. It took a while to get a shot, into the sun, to enable me to ID them, but they were Redpolls. This is the largest flock of this species that I have seen anywhere. We hoped that they'd visit us so that we could add them to the garden record, but they disappeared after about ten minutes. 

Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) - next door's garden on 18th October, 2020
The moth trap went out that night, and resulted in a very meagre catch of just five moths of three species - Angle Shades (1), Grey Shoulder-knot (2), Light Brown Apple Moth (2).

Angle Shades (Phlogopghora meticulosa) - garden on 18th October, 2020

Grey Shoulder-knot (Lithophane ornitopus lactipennis) - our garden on 18th October, 2020
Monday, 19th October

Little happened this day, but I did photograph a Chaffinch outside my study window - an extremely common bird with good-looks that are usually undeservedly overlooked.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - our garden on 19th October, 2020
Thursday, 22nd October

When putting the recycling bins out, I found a shieldbug on top of the garden refuse bin, so moved it to a safe place.

Birch Shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) - our garden on 22nd October, 2020
Sitting in my study, I noticed a large bird out of the corner of my eye, flying from the recently shorn ivy to behind the viburnum. I quickly grabbed my binoculars and found myself looking at a female Sparrowhawk. It then flew back onto the top of the ivy, and perched there in a most ungainly fashion. Having taken some photos, I can now see, by the yellow eyes, that this was a very young bird, which might explain its ineptitude.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - our garden on 22nd October, 2020
We also had, unusually, two Carrion Crows stop off in the garden that day, and for the first time in a few months we had a Fox show on one of the garden trail cams that night.

Friday, 30th October

Thisa autumn has been good for fungi, which is a subject I know virtually nothing about. We have had several in the garden, and I had not bothered to photograph them, which I now regret. I did, however, get the camera out to take photos of a group at the base of our Rowan tree. These had already 'gone over' but still, to my eyes anyway, look interesting.

fungi - our garden on 30th October, 2020
Tuesday, 3rd November

Feeling the need to photograph something, the only thing I found was a Robin outside my study window!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - 3rd November, 2020
Wednesday, 4th November

It had been announced at the end of the preceding week that, faced with exponentially escalating Covid infection rates, England would return to 'lockdown' conditions on Thursday 5th November. This would mean severe restrictions on my travel until, at least, 2nd December. As I'd resolved to get back to birding, with an intended emphasis on owls, I decided that I'd have an attempt while I could.

Taking a picnic lunch with me, I set off late morning on my traditional owling route. The weather was forecast to be mild with sunny intervals. 

I was soon disappointed by how busy everywhere seemed to be as I was obviously not the only one to be making the most of a last day of freedom. At one point I got held up by an incident on the road involving the local hunt, large numbers of bystanders with their vehicles, and the police.

I messed up with a brief opportunity I had with a Kestrel en route, and drew a blank at all the traditional Little Owl sites. At my favourite lunch stop I was disappointed to see that the nest hole at LO Site No.34 was now largely blocked by twigs, indicating that probably Stock Doves or Jackdaws had taken over the nest. Subsequent sites were also unproductive, so I decided on a visit to Eyebrook Reservoir. 

At one point, on a single track road, an estate vehicle was parked on the road, and only passable by driving round it on the adjacent muddy field. Fortunately, I was in our 4x4, or I don't think I'd have made it. The vehicles owner was nowhere to be seen, otherwise I'd have had words!

At Eyebrook I had a look to see if the Willow Emerald Damselflies were still around but couldn't spot any. I spent a while at Eyebrook with the only photos taken being distant shots of the scene from the bridge. In the second zoomed-in image, below, taken from the same spot as the first, there are Mallards, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Mute Swan, and Little Grebe.

Eyebrook Reservoir inflow
I was starting to get nervous about other people and social distancing, particularly in the two viewing stockades, and having had an almost total lack of photographic opportunities, I decided to set off to somewhere where I knew I had a good chance of exercising my trigger finger. I wasn't totally surprised to get there to find my old pal, John Truman, already installed. John had also decided to have a last excursion before lockdown. There was also one other person on site. The targets were Red Kites!

At first the conditions were mainly 'cloudy bright' and, although I took many shots, my efforts were not entirely to my liking. I'll show this one, however, as it shows one of the birds in moult. Like most (all?) birds of prey, feathers are shed symetrically over a period of time to reduce impact on flight capabilities.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Most of my photos of Red Kite are of them in the air against a plain sky, and so I attempted some shots against a different background. This was not successful on this occasion as the bird was too far away, but I now have a challenge to fulfill. A second challenge is to get some good shots of the fabulous markings on the upper surface of their wings.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
John had to depart after a short while as he has to care for his poorly wife. I stayed on, and tried to get some shots of a bird that was in a tree almost above the other person's position. If he'd not been there, I'd have moved to try and get a clearer shot.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
I was joined (at a safe social distance) by a gentleman who lived just across the road from the site, and we had an interesting conversation, which I had to excuse myself from when the sun came out as the opportunity was too good to miss. Here are a few of the results.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
During my conversation with the local gentleman he did entreat me not to publish the location that we were at. I assured him that it was my policy not to do so anyway for locations like this. So that is why my captions for these images are location-less!

The time came that I had to depart as I had a delivery to make to our daughter on the outskirts of Leicester and then I planned to visit a potential Short-eared Owl location just before dusk. The visit to our daughter, at a distance on the drive at the front of the house, was shorter than I'd have liked it to be in other circumstances.

At the potential Short-eared Owl location, I drew a blank, getting back to my car after dark.

The next day, we went into lockdown, with such journeys against the spirit of lockdown and probably against the rules anyway. My next blog post, therefore, if I do manage to produce sufficient material, will feature sightings much closer to home.


In the meantime, please take very good care and stay safe, for your sake and for the sake of all those around you.