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Monday 21 December 2020

Lockdown II ends in Tiers! - 3rd to 9th December, 2020

The second English Covid lockdown period ended on 2nd December, with the country entering a 3-tier system of regulations to control the spread of the virus. Very few regions (our beloved Isles of Scilly was one) were in Tier 1, for those areas deemed to be at 'Medium' risk level. Tier 2 was for 'High' risk areas and Tier 3, which included us, was for the 'Very High' risk areas. However, the official restrictions on us were not as strict as Lindsay and I were voluntarily imposing on ourselves in order to try and stay safe.

This blog post covers just the first week of our Tier 3 experience, and will be rather short as I find myself a little short of time and energy at the moment, and I want to get a blog post out before Christmas!

So here we go:-

Friday, 4th December

We were lucky enought to have continuing visits by Bullfinch at this time, although these visits now seem to have ceased. This day we had both male and female visit us, and they were very much a pair.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 4th December, 2020

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 4th December, 2020
Monday, 7th December

This was a good day, in that we had  a female Blackcap visit and also ten Long-tailed Tits - none of which were photographed. However, I did manage a shot of Coal Tit - a species that we are always delighted to see.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - garden on 7th December, 2020
Tuesday, 8th December

Not having seen my brother, Joe, who lives in Cambridge, since December 2019, we decided on an outdoor meet-up at a mid-point between us for a chat and exchange of Christmas presents. Cambridge is about 100 miles (160 km) from my home and I suggested a good half-way point, considering distance and travel time, as the informal car park beside Eyebrook Reservoir. As my journey, being rather more cross-country than Joe's, would be less predictable than his, I allowed an extra hour for my travels and set off late morning taking a picnic lunch with me. This also allowed for some leeway should I chance upon something interesting en-route.

As it happens, little was seen during the journey, but I did stop for a Kestrel on wires along a country lane.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (male) - near Burrough on the Hill
With little to distract me, I arrived at Eyebrook Reservoir in good time and parked by the bridge at the inflow end.

A quick look over the bridge parapet revealed a female Goosander feeding in the Eye Brook which is the inflow to the reservoir. 

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
A little further towards the reservoir was a Little Egret that looked a little fed up with the cold weather.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Eyebrook Reservoir
The Goosander continued to bumble around feeding in the brook before going onto an island of weed for a rest in the company of Mallards.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
The Little Egret stood up and decided to move down towards the reservoir.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Eyebrook Reservoir
It was then time for me to go back to my car and have my sandwich of extra-mature cheddar cheese with caramelised onion chutney. 

Having finished my lunch I took a quick look over the parapet and found the Goosander was back in the water, and I got a shot with the bird in a more favourable attitude to the light.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
I then headed off to the car park where I had arranged to meet Joe. While waiting for him to arrive, I took some shots of a Cormorant. I was shooting directly into the light, but I'm quite pleased with the effect.
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Eyebrook
I didn't have to wait long for Joe to arrive, and we parked our cars with a good-sized gap between them so that we could place the folding chairs that we'd brought with us at a spacing that meant that we were well-over the recommended two metres apart.

We sat catching up with each other's news for an hour or so, but the cold started to get to us and it was time for our farewells. It had been a very welcome meeting. We were sad that our wives could not have been with us but there are practical reasons why this was not possible.

I was very glad of the heated seat in the car as I set off homeward!

Wednesday, 9th December

Nothing exciting this day, but I did take some shots of a Goldfinch from my study window.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 9th December, 2020
This ends my account of our first week in Tier 3. 

The header that is current with this blog post is from a photo that I took in December 2010, in a location that is local to me.

This past week, it has been confirmed that we now have a new virulent mutation of Covid running rampant in the population. We do not yet have the measure of the implications of this, other than the certainty that is significantly more contagious than previous strains. The result is that infection rates are escalating wildly, and we have added a fourth tier to the system. We, however, have retained our Tier 3 status.

Lindsay and I have been cautious from the very beginning, but we now feel the need to retreat into our shells even more, so my trips out may be even more limted for the foreseeable future. I do, however, have a little more material to work on from sessions between the above date and the present time. I hope to be posting again sometime between Christmas and the New Year. In the meantime please take great care, and have as enjoyable a Christmas as possible while staying safe in these difficult times.


Sunday 6 December 2020

Lockdown II, pt.2 - 19th November to 2nd December, 2020

In England, during most of November and the beginning of December, we were subjected to a four-week lockdown period, due to a serious second spike in Covid-19 infections. My last blog post covered the first two weeks, and can be found here:- This post covers the second two weeks of that period.

Thursday, 19th November

I'd had a message from our local Forestry England Community Ranger, about a Goat Moth she had found in 2019 at a local woodland site. This was an extremely rare moth in the county, the last record being in 1990 and from the other side of the county. She had recently had a message from the County Recorder to suggest that it would be interesting to have the area surveyed for evidence of its continuince presence. This is most easily achieved by looking for bore holes in tree trunks made by the larvae. This location is quite close to my home, and is one that I had not visited before. The afternoon was fine, and so I decided to visit this day.

Having parked, I set off to wards the area that the moth had been found in, which was some way away, but I was immediately struck by the beauty and potential of the area. As I neared the target area, I stopped to photograph a Grey Squirrel.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Feanedock Wood
I spent about half an hour checking tree trunks in the area, but didn't find any concrete evidence, although a couple of items had me wondering for a while. I know nothing about lichens and mosses, but this one trunk intrigued me as it looked rather attractive, and I believe that this may be lichen and moss together.

Lichen and Moss? - Feanedock Wood
I then spent an enjoyable couple of hours exploring some of the rest of the area. At one point I arrived at an elevated  open area with a view, and a Buzzard flew past in the distance.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - from Feanedock Wood
View from Feanedock Wood
Even though I saw little in the way of wildlife to photograph, I really enjoyed this place and hope to return in the not-too-distant future.

Saturday, 21st November

There was much excitement this day when, for the first time since early July, we were visited by a pair of Bullfinch. I only managed records shots, but here they are anyway!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 21st November, 2020
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 21st November, 2020
Sunday, 22nd November

Another exciting day as we were visited by a pair of Blackcap. Sadly, the male was only present for a few seconds, and I didn't get any shots. The female hung around for a while, however, but was not very cooperative photographically.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 22nd November, 2020
Starling numbers were building up, and there was one bird that decided it would stay and live in our garden when the rest of the starlings departed after each mob visit. I suspect that it was either mentally or physically impaired, and it seemed totally incautious if I approached it.

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - garden on 22nd November, 2020

We have had a lot of fungi in the garden this year, although nothing at all spectacular. A few Stink Caps have made their presence known although not in a photographable position. Here are a couple of examples of other types that I have no idea of the ID of.

fungus - our garden on 22nd November, 2020

fungus - our garden on 22nd November, 2020

Monday, 23rd November

The Bullfinches were back this day, and the male was a little more obliging.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 23rd November, 2020
They might be a very common bird but it is always a pleasure to see a Blue Tit.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - garden on 23rd November, 2020
Tuesday, 24th November

A pair of Stock Dove have recently become almost daily visitors once more. Here is one of them on this day.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 24th November, 2020
I have, above, mentioned the build-up of Starlings. These frequently congregate on the apex of the roof of a house behind our garden. I attempted a shot of these on this day. However, I am only showing this one because of the bird that snuck into the right-hand side of the photo. I just cannot work out what it might have been. We had a group of 24 Starling visit that day.

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) + ??  - from garden on 24th November, 2020
Wednesday, 25th November

I missed getting shots of the Goldcrest that came in with a mixed tit flock and briefly put a foot down in the Elder in our garden. The flock included at least six Long-tailed Tits and I missed photographing any of those too. This was partly because it was a very dull and wet day. I did get some photos, however. The first is, I believe, of the other one of the pair to that shown above.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 25th November, 2020
The female Bullfinch also obliged this day. I was sorry to see that she had a bad case of 'scaly foot', caused by parasitic mites.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 25th November, 2020
Thursday, 26th November

In the morning, I took some photos of a House Sparrow from my study window. I don't take many photos of House Sparrows but, for a reason that I cannot put my finger on, I quite like this shot.

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) (male) - garden on 26th November, 2020
I have not been getting out much (and am still not) but I came to the conclusion that I needed to do a bit of local exploring, and also to revisit some places that I'd not been to for a while. The Saltersford Valley Country Park is a place I first visited earlier this year and found it an interesting place for damselflies and dragonflies, but surprisingly short on bird life. The old Oakthorpe Colliery site used to be a great place to sit and watch birds coming to the feeders and often produced interesting birds. This, however, changed somewhat when they refurbished the car park and moved the feeders. Having looked at a detailed map, I came to the conclusion that I could park at Oakthorpe Colliery and walk through to Saltersford Valley, so this is what I did!

I didn't see much en route to Saltersford Valley, but was pleasantly surprised when I got there. Having traversed the boardwalk on the off-chance that a late-lingering dragonfly might still be around, I returned to the main path, and was soon photographing a Robin.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Saltersford Valley
My photographing this bird was cut short when a person arrived from the opposite direction. He too was carrying a camera and was here for the wildlife and we had a chat at a good 4 metres distance. While talking, I found myself being ditracted by a Goldcrest high up in a tree behind this person. In the end I had to excuse myself and attempt a few shots of this bird. With this tiny bird (UK's smallest bird species) up high in a tree at some distance I was never going to get a good result, but at least I got an identifiable shot!

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - Saltersford Valley
The bird disappeared when two other people arrived and after a further few minutes chatting we went our separate ways.

In the summer, the birds that I'd photographed here were Coot, Moorhen and Mute Swan. On this day, the golden light on the water added to this shot of a Coot.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Saltersford Valley
There was far more bird activity than I'd seen in the summer months, probably partly explained by the presence of several bird feeders dotted around the site.

I hadn't noticed the out-of-focus red berry when I was taking this shot, which is a pity as, otherwise, I rather like the light on and behind the bird.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Saltersford Valley
I spent a while waiting for a Treecreeper to head round to the sunny side of the tree. However, when it did so, the light was so strong on this contrasty-plumaged bird that the photos were unusable. With a bit of work, I did manage to just about salvage one image from when it was in deep shade.

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) - Saltersford Valley
The paths on which I had to return to my car are much used by dog-walkers. Unfortunately, too many of these are irresponsible dog owners who do not clean up after their dogs. It is for this reason that I was keen to return to my car before it got dark. I am sure that I'd see twice as many birds as I do if it was not for the fact that when I am walking on paths I am constantly having to watch my footing to avoid stepping in it. 

My way back took me along Pastures Lane. Soon after setting off a flock of birds flew past at a considerable height. While I was trying to ID these, they decided to give me a clue by forming a giant image of themselves!

Gulls - near Oakthorpe
OK, so that might have been a bit fanciful. However, they were soon pursued by another flock who had formed themselves into a shape that suggested to me that their purpose might be sinister!

Gulls - near Oakthorpe
Some crows were worrying a buzzard in a tree at the edge of a field. I tried for a stealthy approach, but it soon had me spotted and departed.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Oakthorpe
At the far end of the lane I tried for my first Fieldfare shot of the winter. There were three of them but they were typically nervous, and I could not get a clear shot.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) - near Oakthorpe
Friday, 27th November

In order to have a change of scenery, Lindsay and I decided to go out for a picnic lunch, followed by a short walk for exercise, as permitted by the rules of lockdown. As I'd seen on the previous day that there were plenty of benches in the vicinity of the Oakthorpe Colliery car park, and Lindsay needs frequently to sit down to regain her breath when out walking, this is where we went. The picnic was, intentionally, a basic one and we were soon finished and heading off into an area that I'd not visited for probably well over twenty years, although just down the road from us.

I was very pleasantly surprised as, on my previous visit, there had been informal grass paths and I'd had to turn back at one point as I could not find a way forward without stepping in dog dirt - hence my long absence. There were now all-weather paths which, although not totally dog dirt free, were relatively clean. The paths took us to an area of water variously known as Willesley Flashes (this is an old coal mining area) or Thortit Lake.

At first I just saw Mute Swan, Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, and Mallard on the lake.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (male) - Thortit Lake
Soon, however, a female Goosander came into view. She seemed quite at home here, but I could not spot a male of the species anywhere.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Thortit Lake

Back home after our short walk, I took a few more photos from my study window. If only there'd been some snow around for this next shot!

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) -garden on 27th November, 2020
We had two female Bullfinches visiting together this day, and I think that this is a different bird to that shown above as it does not seem to have the same extent of scaly-foot.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 27th November, 2020
Tuesday, 1st December

This was the penultimate day of lockdown, the weather was fair, and it was time for me to make a return visit to Saltersford Valley. On arrival, I made my way directly to the lake and had not been there long before I had the pleasure of seeing a Kingfisher flash through. 

I spent some time round by one of the areas where feeders had been set up. There were a lot of intervening trees from my postion on the path, and it seems that the birds were not used to people. I did get a few photos, however.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) -Saltersford Valley
Great Tits are usually very smart-looking birds, as in the second image below, but this first bird had something strange going on. If it had been wet, or dirty, I could have understood the situation better.

Great Tit (Parus major) - Saltersford Valley

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - Salterford Valley
True to character, the Bullfinches were the most nervous of the birds here, and were quite a challenge.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) -Saltersford Valley

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) -Saltersford Valley

I then headed off to Oakthorpe Colliery with the intention of seeing if I could find a drake Goosander on Thorpit Lake. I'd not got far from the car park when I found a tree beside the track that was being visited by a group of Redwing. These are also extremely nervous birds, so I picked my spot and stood still and waited. They were just returning, when some people came up the track and the birds were gone again. I stood my ground and about five minutes after the people had left the area the birds started coming back again - and again some people arrived and frightened them off again. This happened about five times before I decided to call it a day with just a few vaguely usable shots in the can. Here's one of them
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Oakthorpe Colliery
I carried on with my intention to circumnavigate Thorpit Lake, but I suspect that my delay with the Redwings had caused me to be a bit too late, and little was seen, and no Goosander at all were found.
This ends my report of the two weeks leading to the end of Lockdown II.
Lockdown ended on 2nd December and the whole of my home county, Leicestershire, was placed in Tier 3 (highest level of control)  of the three tier system. We will see what happens on 16th December when the situation is reviewed. Lindsay and I are quite happy to be in Tier 3 as we believe that Tier 2 is too relaxed.

I'm hoping to have enough material for another blog post in a week or so's time. In the meantime, take good care and stay safe.