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Friday 26 March 2021

Well, That Was Unexpected! - 15th to 21st March, 2021

Keeping going with my weekly updates, this one features a week which was, by and large, fairly routine, but with one somewhat bizarre happening! It was a week when I only managed to get out birding once, with unexceptional results, and out for a picnic lunch with Lindsay on another day, again with little sighted.

This is how the week unfolded.

Monday, 15th March

The numbers of bird species seen in the garden each day is now declining, but the female Blackcap was still with us, as were visits from the Stock Doves and Siskins. I only managed shots of a female Siskin that day. I was nearly fooled by that second shot as she'd positioned herself so that a shadow fell on the crown of her head, suggesting a male at first glance!

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 15th March, 2021
Tuesday, 16th March

It was a wet morning, and I only managed a grabbed shot of a Coal Tit that alighted briefly on a branch that the House Sparrows have stripped of its bark for nesting material.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - garden on 16th March, 2021
In the afternoon, the weather had brightened up a bit, and so I went for a walk through Willesley Wood to Thortit Lake.

If you read my post where I mentioned a magical collection of figurines in Willesley Wood, placed there by schoolchildren (you can find it with this link), you will understand my disappontment at finding all had gone and the descriptive note that was with the figurines had been cast into a nearby ditch. 

Thortit Lake and surrounding Willesley Wood were looking particularly beautiful in the sunlight.

Thortit Lake (north end) and Willesley Wood
Wildflowers were in bloom and looking attractive
Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) - Willesley Wood

Primrose (Primula vulgaris) - Willesley Wood
There was nothing unusual in the way of birds on, or around, the lake. Lindsay had been here a few days beforehand and had been warned by a passer-by that there was an ugly scene going on at the lake, with the resident pair of Mute Swans seeming to be violently trying to persuade their five youngsters to depart. When I arrived, there were two youngsters looking very relaxed near the water's edge, and the adults on the water, acting as serenely as ever!

Mute Swan (Cygnus Olor) - Thortit Lake
There were Coots and Moorhen around, as usual.
Coot (Fulica atra) - Thortit Lake
Having turned round to head back, I'd not gone far before I saw a small bird fly into some reeds. I waited patiently and eventually a Reed Bunting showed itself. However, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get a view of it without intervening foliage. This is the best I could muster.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Thortit Lake
That night, the moth trap went out, and I only managed three moths of two species!
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) - from garden on 16th March, 2021

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) - from garden on 16th March,2021
Wednesday, 17th March
Wren doesn't seem to visit us very often, but when we do get a visit, it is usually visible for a while. On this day, we first got a sighting when it landed on one of the trail cams late in the afternoon. 
Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 17th March, 2021
It spent a while wandering around, most of the time in shade, but I did manage a few shots.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 17th March, 2021
I couldn't resist a shot of the Magpie that arrived during this session.
Magpie (Pica pica) - Garden on 17th  March, 2021
Thursday, 19th March
I didn't manage to get a shot of the Sparrowhawk that momentarily put a foot down in the garden without catching anything. We did have a visit by four Siskin (2 male, 2 female). One of the females did der best to conceal herself against a branch, and a male obliged by sitting out in full view but, sadly, didn't pose side-on.
Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 18th March, 2021

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 18th March, 2021
Friday, 19th March
It was late in the morning, and I was sitting at my computer sorting out, with Lindsay's input, a click & collect shopping order for a local supermarket when I noticed something large drop down outside my study window. "What the heck was that?" said I, and Lindsay peered out of the window and pronounced 'it's a pheasant!'. I recently commented that I was surprised to get a Yellowhammer in our small suburban garden, and I was nearly as surprised to see this pheasant which, usually, would enjoy a similar sort of habitat as a Yellowhammer. However, we have had a pheasant visit the garden once before, maybe about twenty years ago after a strong gale. That was a female, and this was a male. It wandered around for a while, pecking at the spillage from the feeders, before disappearing round the corner to outside our back door from where it must have taken off and departed .

Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (male) - garden on 19th March, 2021
Saturday, 20th March
The trail cams caught a couple of altercations between hedgehogs during the night. This is, I believe, purely one hog defending a food source from another. I think that we possibly have had a reduction in numbers of hogs visiting over the past month, although I am confident that we still have at least three on a regular basis.

Sunday, 21st March
Lindsay and I decided to break the 'stay at home' monotony by taking a picnic lunch to a place we could park at by my 'local patch'. This was a totally acceptable activity under current regulations. It was a very pleasant experience, although nothing of great interest was seen, and the only photos taken were of a Blue Tit. 

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - my local patch
That evening, one of the trail cams caught a Magpie helping itself to the dried Black Soldier Fly larvae that I'd been a little premature in putting out for the Hedgehogs. Black Soldier Fly larvae are a safe high-calcium alternative to  mealworms which are very low calcium and potentially dangerous to Hedgehogs and birds if consumed in any quantity as they can cause catastrophic bone disorders. It seems that this trail cam is much better at capturing the irridescence in the plumage of these birds than my DSLR is.
This brings me to the end of my report on this past week.
Leather Dragonfly Bag
A few weeks ago I showed a leather 'patch' that I'd created to mount on a leather bag, specifically for my dragonfly hunting activities, that I was about to start making. I had some very kind remarks about this, including expressions of wanting to see the finished result. The bag is now finished and, although there is room for improvement, I am quite pleased with the result. Here are a couple of photos of it.

I now have to make a couple of straps that will enable it to attach to the front of my OP/TECH USA dual camera harness so that it sits on my front just at lower rib-cage level.
Lindsay has requested a larger version of this for a shoulder-bag, with a modified design (central clasp, rather than two side straps), as a Christmas present. I shall be happy to oblige!
This week has been a very strange week so far, and so I suspect that next week's post will be rather short. In the meantime, take great care, stay safe, and make the most of any opportunities that come your way. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Thursday 18 March 2021

That'll Do! - 8th to 14th March, 2021

With the exception of a short trip out, the week was mostly spent at home, catching up on some jobs while the weather was not overly favourable. Again, it was a relatively quiet week, but there were a couple of highlights, one of which you will have guessed from the header if you are reading this whilst this post is current.

Monday, 8th March

It was a good day for garden birds, with the highlights being the female Blackcap, four Siskin (2 male, 2 female), a Long-tailed Tit, and a female Reed Bunting. Only the last of these was caught on camera, and not with any great success.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - garden on 8th March, 2021
Tuesday, 9th March

This day was a little less exciting in the garden, but I did manage a few photos which will help put some flesh on the bones of this post.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 9th March, 2021

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - garden on 9th March, 2019
I'd been booked to meet up with our daughter, Melanie, that afternoon. She lives aproximately 50 miles away, but the visit was still within the rules as, technically, we are in a 'bubble' with her and this was a mutual support meet-up. There's a quiet place at about the half-way mark where we can park opposite each other with about 4 or 5 metres between us and have a chat whilst sitting in our cars. Lindsay was not with me, but she encouraged me to take my camera with me, just in case I decided to stop off somewhere on the way home - something that I hadn't intended to do. 

In the event, I set off after a very early lunch, taking my camera and binoculars with me. Melanie and I had a lovely chat session for nearly an hour and a half before it was time that we were on our way once more, with Melanie needing to get back to our granddaughter.

As I had not been out since 27th February, and felt in need of some exercise and a 'comfort stop', I decided, therefore, to call in at my local patch on my way home for a walk. It was an enjoyable but unproductive walk and I was within 50 metres of reaching my car when I spotted a suspicious shape which caused me to raise my binoculars to check it out - a Little Owl!!! This was at my Little Owl site No.02 and was the first time that I have found an owl here since 27th December, 2017. It is also sad to reflect on the fact that this was my first owl of 2021.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.02
Thank you, Lindsay, for persuading me to take the camera!

Wednesday, 10th March

The highlight this day was when I went into my study and spotted a Sparrowhawk with prey, on the ground about 13 metres away. I picked up my camera and fired off a few shots without time to check my settings before Lindsay, who was in the conservatory, banged on the window and sent it away, carrying its prey with it.

I went up the garden and, to my dismay, saw a mass of small grey feathers, some with red-brown ends, and immediately came to the conclusion that our female Blackcap, which had been very much in evidence a little earlier, had been taken as the spot was close to one of her two favourite haunts. I was so convinced that I mourned her demise on Twitter!

It was the next day, when I thought I'd like some of her feathers as a memento and went up the garden to get them, that I started thinking that something was not right, as there were a few wing feathers with black and white on amongst the mass of grey feathers. I then had a look at the photos I'd managed to get and found one that relatively clearly shows the head of a male Chaffinch. I'm delighted to say that the Blackcap is still visiting, but I suspect she witnessed the episode as she seems less frequent and less settled when she is here. If you look carefully to the left of the Sparrowhawk's left foot in the first photo, you can see the head of the Chaffinch.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) with Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - garden on 10th March, 2021
Saturday, 13th May

I'd not spent much time looking at the birds in the garden for a few days, but I did grab a few shots of Siskin when we had four of them (2 x male + 2 x female) visit on this day. I know recent posts from me have tended to feature Siskin quite a lot, but I do not have too much else to offer!

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on139th March, 2021
Sunday, 14th March

This day was Mothers Day in UK and, as a visit from our daughter was not possible, we'd decided on a picnic lunch for the two of us as the regulations now allowed this. In the event, we settled for a trip out to sit in the countryside with coffee and a bit of cake for a short while in the morning.

Before this, however, during breakfast in the conservatory, we had a passing visit to the garden by a male Reed Bunting, and I managed a record shot.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - garden on 14th March, 2021
For our coffee and cake we headed to my 'local patch' where there is a convenient place to park the car on a quiet country lane. We didn't stay long, and not much was seen, but it was good to see a distant male Yellowhammer which I was able to grab a shot of from the car.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) (male) - my local patch
Back at home in the afternoon, the two Stock Doves visited (as usual) and, unusually, arrived outside my study window. I'm guessing that these are a pair, but I have no idea which is the male and which is the female. The first image is of one of the birds and put in here purely to show the wonderful irridescence on the neck feathers. The second image is of the other bird and, I think, conveys the elegance of this species.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 14th March, 2021

Thus ended a week of sightings that were a little sparse, but not without excitement. I can cope with matters at this level. This week however, looks as if it is going to be rather different with family health issues (no, not Covid related) which have been causing much concern and distraction.
Until the next time, which will probably be in a week's time, take good care and stay safe. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Thursday 11 March 2021

Time Marches On, and March Is On Time! - 1st to 7th March, 2021

I have decided that I will try to publish a blog post each week, rather than once a fortnight as has become the norm for me recently. This is partly because I feel it necessary to spread the effort, and partly because I feel it might make it a little easier for the readers of my blog. How long this idea will last, however, remains to be seen. It would not be the first time that what I thought was a good idea at the time soon got abandonned!
So this is a week's worth and, as not a lot happened during the week and, in contrast to the previous week, I did not get out at all, this will be a relatively short post.
I make no apologies for the sub-standard header that is current with this post. It is there purely for what it portrays - an event that was an absolute highlight of the week and which will be described a little later. 
Monday, 1st March
We had a good selection of birds this day, but the only one photographed was a Goldfinch, which was outside my study window on the feeder arrangement which is just under 5 metres away.
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 1st March, 2021
Friday, 5th March
Sightings in the garden continued to be quite good up until this day, when something remarkable happened. We were sitting in the conservatory, having just finished lunch, and I was scanning the viburnum through my binoculars (my eyesight is not good these days and I'm in need of new specs, but unwilling to go to the opticians until this pandemic dies down somewhat) when I felt compelled to exclaim "what the!!!". At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but there was a Yellowhammer in the viburnum ! The Yellowhammer is not a rare bird, although numbers are declining noticeably in these parts, and I have even published images of them on the blog this year. However, they are usually only found in rural locations. I give you this extract from the Wildlife Trust's description of the species:- 
"The yellowhammer is a sparrow-sized, bright yellow bird of woodland edges, hedgerows, heath and farmland that feeds on seeds and invertebrates. In the winter, it will join mixed flocks of buntings, finches and sparrows to feed on seeds on farmland.".

So here was one in my small suburban garden in a location surrounded by houses. This was, of course,  a garden 'life tick' and will almost certainly not be repeated in my lifetime!

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) (female) - garden on 5th March, 2021
Although Siskin have been frequent visitors lately, I have struggled to get a decent photo of one that is not on something that looks unnatural like a feeder, for example. In past years, they have come to just outside my study window, but not this year. This is about as good as I have managed so far - still a long way to go yet!
Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 5th March, 2021
Saturday, 6th March
The female Blackcap was spending much time with us every day, but always in two very unphotogenic spots. There is now a story about this bird which will be revealed in my next blog post! In the meantime, here she is - in one of her two favoured spots where she scavenges for food dropped by the Starlings.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 6th March, 2021
We had three Siskin visit this day (one male and two female), but I only managed a record shot with two of the three.
Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male + female) - garden on 6th March, 2021
One female was a little more cooperative, but the light was dire.
Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 6th March, 2021
A pair of Stock Dove still visit on a daily basis. I am always appreciative of their serene elegance of appearance and movement. Here is one of the pair.
Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 6th March, 2021
Sunday, 7th March
We had the three Siskins visit us again this day and, although I got shots in better light and showing more detail, these were unfortunately on a feeder pole. I'll show them here anyway as they are rather special little birds that will not be with us much longer before they depart into the countryside.
Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 7th March, 2021

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 7th March, 2021
That night, the moth trap went out for the third time this year - its second outing had yielded nothing! This time, however, I got two moths of two different species, with one of them being March Moth which is what I had two of the first time the trap caught anything this year. This was a male March Moth, the female of the species being wingless!

March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) (male) - from garden on 7th March, 2021

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)- from garden on 7th March, 2021

This brings me to the end of this blog post which, as promised at the outset, is somewhat shorter than my usual output and, unfortunately, a little short on variety. I shall try and do better next time, but I do know that there should be at least two species that have not graced these pages for a while! In the meantime, take good care and stay safe - it's not over yet!