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Thursday, 4 March 2021

Putting A Toe In The Water - 15th - 28th February, 2021

The frustration of being in lockdown and not leaving the house came to a head on Monday 15th February. Feeling in great need of some excercise, and with further clarification on what was permissible under lockdown regulations, I decided that, provided my main activity was walking, I could legitimately go out in my car, as long as I did not venture far from my home, to reach a safe place where I could have a walk in the countryside, carrying my binoculars and camera - as long as I did not stop for any significant period of time. My mind was made up!

Monday, 15th February

A combination of factors, including weather and personal commitments, put my plans to go out on hold. The Pied Wagtail (not seen since) and female Blackcap both visited this day.

Tuesday, 16th February - Oakthorpe Colliery to Saltersford Valley, and return

With Lindsay out for a walk in the morning (she hadn't been out for even longer than me!), and me with some chores to do, I spent the morning at home, putting faith in the improved weather forecast for the afternoon. I did take a few shots of garden birds.

In the afternoon, I drove to nearby Oakthorpe Colliery - a place that is within walking distance of our home but along a road without verges that is favoured by speeding drivers, one of which nearly took me out last time I walked it - and parked in the car park.

The first part of my walk was along a broad hard-surfaced ride which gave me plenty of room to get out of the way of those persons who don't give a fig about social distancing. The second part was down a narrow track, hedged on both sides, and one of the two hazard stretches on my journey. Fortunately, however, I have never found myself crossing paths with anyone on this stretch. At the end of this, I join a farm access road known as Pastures Lane and I have had a few sightings along here - but not on this occasion. Pastures Lane brings me to a busy road where the speed limit is largely ignored, and this is the other hazard area as it has a narrow sidewalk on just one side, and this is bordered by a tall hedge. Fortunately, not many people use this footpath as stepping out of somebody's way is likely to put one into the path of a speeding car. This road then brings me to the tranquility of Saltersford Valley. 

Saltersford Valley was a favoured place for dragonflies and damselflies during the summer, but I have found that it can have some avian interest too, although I have not yet seen anything particularly exciting. Sadly, I did not do well here on this occasion, with little seen, and the only things photographed being a Blue Tit and a distant, partly obscured, Reed Bunting!

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Saltersford Valley

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Saltersford Valley
My return journey was a little less comfortable as I crossed with a number of people, the majority of whom made no effort to keep their distance and I got the impression that two parties were even going out of their way to pass close to me. I did manage to find a quiet few minutes, however, to attempt some photos of Long-tailed Tits.
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Pastures Lane
My first trip out into nature had not been encouraging, but I was determined not to be put off.

Wednesday, 17th February - Normanton le Heath area

It was a bit cloudy and breezy, but fairly warm and I went out mid morning to what I used to consider to be my 'local patch' where I once had several Little Owl sites, all of which are I believe, now defunct. This is a fairly good area for Yellowhammer and I saw some in the distance, plus a number of Fieldfare, but my photos are not worth bothering you with here.

Back home, I grabbed a few shots of the female Blackcap that seems to have become a permanent resident but almost exclusively favours two very unphotogenic areas of our garden.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 16th February, 2021

Thursday, 18th February - Babelake Street and across some fields

The day started with sunny spells and there was a strong cool breeze. In the afternoon I visited narrow dead-end lane which I had not visited for a number of years, but which is close to my 'local patch'. My outward journey was facing directly into low sun, making it difficult to see much ahead of me, so I was looking forward to the return journey. However it clouded over as I started back, and was raining before I got back to my car. It had been unproductive in terms of sightings, but it looked as if the lane might have promise in warmer, less windy, weather.

I was disappointed to see on one of the trail cams that we had another visit by Brown Rat that night - I really don't like rats!

Friday, 19th February 

We now have three Hedgehogs visiting most nights, and one of them is still up to his mountaineering tricks. On this night I forgot to remove the mealworm dish which, it appears, still had some in!

Sunday, 21st February

A mild and sunny day, and it was a delight to see bees in the garden. They mainly favoured the heather, but one was dipping into the crocuses. I have not yet attempted to ID these, and suspect that this might be difficult. - UPDATE:- With thanks to Conehead54 and Diane, these bees have been identified as Western Honey Bees.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) - garden on 21st February, 2021
We are now seeing flowers blooming in the garden. Here are a few.
Iris - garden on 21st February, 2021

Snowdrop - garden on 21st February, 2021

Crocus - garden on 21st February, 2021
This winter, one of our bird feeding facilities has started develping a number of bracket fungi. I am watching progress with interest.

Bracket fungus - garden feeding post on 21st February, 2021
Monday, 22nd February - Oakthorpe Colliery, Saltersford Valley, Thortit Lake

Having not been out for a few days, I took an afternoon trip out, revisiting my route of the previous Tuesday, but adding in another leg on the return journey. 

The water level on the lake which is visible in the distance from Pastures Lane was such that it had flooded into neighbouring fields. Some Canada Geese were enjoying puddles in the middle of the field beween the lane and the lake.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - from Pastures Lane

Further over, a Mute Swan was in the company of a pair of Coot

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) + Coot (Fulica atra) - from Pastures Lane
Hugging the far side of the lake, was a female Goosander. I spent a while here, hoping for her to come a little nearer, but this was not to be.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - from Pastures Lane
Having reached Saltersford Valley, on the first lake I found a Great Crested Grebe that looked as if it might just be starting its transition into breeding plumage. I moved to a different place where I was a little closer and managed some shots.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Saltersford Valley
At the second (main) lake, I was reminded of how some ducks have heads that seem ridiculously narrow when viewed head-on.
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (male) - Saltersford Valley
Further on in my circuit, a pair of Bullfinch were visible through the bare branches. This was as clear a shot as I could get.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male + female) - Saltersford Valley
As I arrived back at the first lake, the grebe was in a much closer position.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Saltersford Valley

Heading back along Pastures Lane, I spotted a pair of Red-legged Partridge in a field to the south of the lane.

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) - from Pastures Lane

Back near the lake on the north side, a Great Crested Grebe was in nearly full breeding plumage.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) -from Pastures Lane
The Mute Swan was now out on the water, as were the Canada Geese.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - from Pastures Lane

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - from Pastures Lane
Having returned to Oakthorpe Colliery, I decided to cut through Willesley Wood to take a look at Thortit Lake. To my delight, I found a pair of Goosander here, although they were hugging the far side of the lake.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female + male) - Thortit Lake

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Thortit Lake

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Thortit Lake
After walking to the far end of the lake, I turned round and headed back to my car, having had a slightly more productive time than on my previous visit to Saltersford Valley.
That night I put out the moth trap, and caught my first two moths of the year, both of which were March Moth - not an auspicious result.
March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) (male) - garden moth trap on 22nd February, 2021
Wednesday, 24th February - Oakthorpe Colliery, Thortit Lake, Willesley Park
Leaving the trail cams running a little after sunrise sometimes results in daylight footage, rather than monochrome IR images. On this day, one of the cams caught a Magpie exibiting that wonderful irridescence.
As, on the previous day, the only walk I'd been on was of just over a kilometre to the post box and back, I figured it was time to go a little further afield. I was also wanting to explore new routes for walking. My starting point was my well-trodden route from Oakthorpe Colliery and along the north side of Thortit Lake.
A pair of Great Crested Grebe, in breeding plumage, were already nest building. Here is one of them.
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Thortit Lake
The male Goosander was there, but there was no sign of the female. I have never noticed before that the top of a Goosander's red bill seems to be relatively flat and almost black.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Thortit Lake
At the east end of the lake there was much noise from a calling Buzzard which showed briefly.
Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - Willesley Woods
From here, I walked up Willesley Woodside to the point where it is severed by the A42 road. I then took the track that runs parallel to the A42 before cutting across to another footpath that takes a route through Willesley Park Golf Course. There are woodland sections on this path and there are many ancient trees around. I suspect that this area could do with further exploration. Currently there is no danger from flying golf balls, due to lockdown regulations. Just before I left the golf course, I could not resist a shot of a squirrel.
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Willesley Park
I then rejoined my outward route and headed back to the car.
Thursday, 25th February - Thortit Lake, Willesley Wood, Willesley Woodside

The most garden excitement this day was spotting our first butterfly of the year. This was a Small Tortoiseshell. Unfortunately, it flew before I could get out there with the camera.
With a busy day in prospect, I took a short walk this day, parking on Willesley Woodside, walking the north side of Thortit Lake before taking a walk through Willesley Wood.

In Willesley Wood I found a charming spot where a number of ornamental figures had been placed by a tree stump.

in Willesley Wood
What made this place really magical, however, was the notice that rested against the other side of the tree stump. I hope that you are looking at this on a device wiith a large enough screen to read it.

in Willesley Wood
Further along in the wood, I found myself in a sunny ride between young trees. I spent a little time here with some Long-tailed Tits and a Robin.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) -Willesley Wood

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Willesley Wood
That night, one of the trail cams caught two Hedgehogs in a couple of clips.

Friday, 26th February

A trail cam caught Starlings having a bath in the 'Duck Pond'.

That morning, I made a return visit to Babelake Street. There is some conjecture about the pronunciation of 'Babelake'. I had always thought of it as being pronounced as 'Babbellake', but I have an aquaintance who lives on the road and always pronounces it as 'Babe Lake". I must remember to ask him if this is the way it should be pronounced, or just his own little joke.
Near the inner end of the lane, I found a couple of Carrion Crows high up in a tree. Here is one of them.
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - Babelake Street
A short while later, a Buzzard appeared, and was soon being worried by a Crow.
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) + Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - Babelake Street
Little else was seen on the rest of the walk, but I still think this area has promise.
Saturday, 27th February - Normanton le Heath area
There was excitement this day as we had two different Small Tortoiseshell butterflies visit the garden at different times. At first, I assumed that these were the same individual. However, on examining my shots, I found that the first one had some minor damage to its right hind wing, which the second did not. If it was the other way round, I could not have made this assumption as it could easily have got damaged in the interim - a fact that was born out when the second one flew from its place on the wall and was immediately grabbed by a Great Tit and taken to our Viburnum, where its wings fluttered down as it was eagerly devoured!

Small Tortoiseshell #1 (Aglais urticae) - garden on 27th February, 2021
Small Tortoiseshell #2 (Aglais urticae) - garden on 27th February, 202

That afternoon, I went for a walk on my local patch, where virtually nothing was seen and the only photos I took were of a Blue Tit, purely for the purpose of exercising my shutter-button finger.  I show this photo because (and you may think I'm going crazy here!) I find that I can't look at it without thinking that the bird's head has an almost human aspect to it.
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) -my local patch
 Well that's it, Folks. I started with a Blue Tit and I've ended on one too.
That second week had given me some good clues for new places to investigate for future walks close to home, and had also given me some much needed exercise. My gizmo tells me that this was the furthest I had walked in a week since our vacation on the Isles of Scilly in March 2020. 
This week I am mainly staying in, catching up on some of the things that I should have been doing last week. I have, however, made a start on my latest leatherwork project.
Leatherwork Update
I do occasionally (i.e. roughly on an annual basis) taken to doing the odd bit of leatherwork. Until this year, this has been purely the making of decorated leather belts. If you missed my earlier blog on this, you can find it here:-

I have now started work on a small 'messenger bag', with the purpose of carrying some of my paraphernalia when I am out dragonfly hunting. The first part of the process was to make a dragonfly motif for the front of the bag. I decided that a detailed realistic representation was well beyond my capabilities, so settled for a stylised motif. The motif is now completed, as shown on the right. It's far from perfect, but I am quite happy with it. I am now working on the main fabric of the bag itself. I have cut out and stained all the leather. I now have to give it a protective coating, then add the metal hardware (I'm waiting for the brass to finish its 'antiquing' process in a pot of vinegar!) and finally screwing and sewing it all together. It will probably be a few weeks yet!

I hope to be publishing my next blog post in a week or two's time. In the meantime, take good care and stay safe.


  1. Lovely post Richard. A bit of everything for the reader there. Some lovely videos and photos, a good range of birds seen and love the Small Tortoiseshell shots. Take care.

    1. Thank you, Marc. The garden continues to deliver, with a real surprise today - to feature in my next post!

  2. Un reportaje espectacular, me ha animado la tarde. Gracias por compartir amigo Richard, un fuerte abrazo desde el norte de España.

    1. Gracias por tu visita y tus amables palabras, Germán. ¡Cálidos deseos de una Inglaterra gélida!

  3. Hi Richard.
    As Marc said a lovely post. I have a blue tit nesting in the box outside my bedroom window so you can expect afew shots from me shortly. Stay safe.

    1. Greetings, Mike

      How wonderful to have nesting Blue Tits. Many's the time I have thought about putting up nest boxes in the garden, but my wife (sensibly) warns against it due to the up to four a night cats that visit our garden. The fledgelings wouldn't stand much of a chance!

  4. Wonderful photos as ever. Just to say the bees on the Erica are all Honey Bees. The only butterfly I've seen so far has been a male Brimstone in the garden, so envious of your Small Tortoiseshells. Now it's turned colder again I'll probably have to wait a bit longer!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and the ID info on the bees. I will update this blog post accordingly - but not until tomorrow as I'm somewhat busy at the moment!

      I hope you get your Small Torts soon, but it is a bit cold!

      Best wishes - stay safe - - - Richard

  5. You always have the most amazing photos and despite lockdown you are doing very well. I love the little corner by the tree in Willesley Wood, I hope the angel looks after the other animals, I find it hard to believe that someone might have pinched the rabbit. I hope they read your post and feel guilty. I have not as yet seen a Small Tortoiseshell, only the large, but if they have been introduced you might see one soon. Wish we had the Longtail Tits in our garden they are so pretty. I have emailed you re the bee.
    Take care and keep safe, watch out for idiots that drive too fast, we have a few like that here!!
    Best wishes to you both Diane

    1. There can't be many people who have seen Large Tortoiseshell this year, but not a Small Tortoiseshell, Diane. Some people have all the luck!

      'Conehead 54', above, has confirmed my ID suspicion that I mentioned to you, and you responded to by email - thank you. I will update this post tomorrow.

      Best wishes to you and Nigel - take great care - - - - Richard

    2. Glad you got the bees sorted out ☺ D

    3. Thank you, Diane! You might be interested to know that I saw my first Little Owl of 2021 yesterday, and close to home too!

  6. Replies
    1. It WAS spring, Anne - it has now reverted to being winter!

  7. Good morning Richard: It is too bad that a pleasant walk can still be impacted by idiots who refuse to do what is right and sensible during the pandemic, to say nothing of the speeding drivers who pose an additional hazard. Better practice your diving into a hedgerow technique! A Blue Tit may be commonplace to you, but for those of us who have no chance of seeing one it is a source of constant delight. Miriam is delighted that three hedgehogs are visiting nightly (as am I) but she would be equally appalled at the rat! Your flowers make me a little envious. The snow is slowly receding here, although it is minus nine today so that will slow it down a little, and it will be at least a couple more weeks before the first croci start to appear. Glad to see CANADA Geese getting top billing on your blog! Great Crested Grebe in breeding plumage is high on the list for many North American birders visiting Europe. It is a spectacular bird. Your leatherwork is impressive; the artist in you shines through. I will look forward to seeing the finished product.

    1. Hello, David! Yep, we have more than our share of idiots in these parts. It's probably for this reason that the small area of Ashby South has a current infection rate of 261.9 per 100,000, while the average for UK is 84.4 per 100,000.

      I'm delighted to see that you stil refer to them as croci. I'm afraid that I have allowed myself to slip into the modern parlance and refer to them as crocuses. So many plurals have been corrupted, even by the BBC which used to be held as the pinacle of spoken English - stadia are now stadiums, for example, and there are others that don't immediately come to mind.

      Please tell Miriam that the Hedgehogs are currently getting through a 500 gram box of food in about six days, and I caught four altercations between hogs on the cameras last night.

  8. Hello Richard, Spring is up and down and up again. It can not be stopped. Good to read you at last went out again, you did exexly the way I do it. Go in my car to places where there are hardly people and make than short walks an than drive to other places in 'my bubble' it works perfactly and using the car as a hide to watch bids is a proven succes. Your garden shows already wonderful Spring flowers and bees. Great photos with lots of detail. Good to see your Hegdehogs are doing great. Brow rats are not realy my favorite animals. But they must have their place in nature. Your photos are stunning the different birds are wonderful. Ank you already have the female Black cap in your garden. And here in Belgium we are still waiting for our Covid vaccination. Things are nog going as they prommised.
    Oh well, we are still patienced,
    Regards, Stay well,

    1. Hi Roos. We too have gone from cold to quite warm and back to cold again, with next week forecast to be wet and windy, but a bit warmer. I wish the weather would make its mind up!

      Unfortunately, I have not got a place within regulation distance where I can sit in my car and use it as a hide to photograph the birds as it is only allowed to leave home for essential shopping, medical reasons, or to take exercise - and sitting in a car does not count as exercise!

      The Hedgehogs seem to be doing really well, and yesterday I had to put out a second feeding station for them to try and stop conflicts at the original feeding station. They are cerrently getting though about 120 grams of dry chicken kitten food a night!

      I'm really sorry to hear that you are still waiting for your Covid vaccination. It is one thing that our government does seem to have got right!

      The female Blackcap is still with us, but I suspect that she will be gone soon, and be looking for a mate.

      Best wishes- stay safe - - - Richard

  9. Another fully comprehensive report with interest for everyone. I love the videos, in particular the one with the cat having a brief nosey at the Hedgehog feeding quite unconcerned.

    Carry on Taking Care and Staying Safe. Pete.

    1. The cat and hog sequence was one of my favourite too, Pete.

      Now being extra careful as my town of Ashby de la Zouch was declared to have the worst infection rate in the whole of UK just over a week ago. At last count, we'd only dropped to sixth!

      Watch out for the idiots, and stay safe - - Richard

  10. Hello Richard
    the great crested grebe came very close to you and the partridges are not averse to the camera, very extensive post with great pictures, of course the leather work ... great
    Greetings Frank

    1. Thank you for your visit and kind words, Frank. Is the snow still with you there?

      Take great care and stay safe - - - Richard

  11. Hi Richard, great photos and videos of the birds, flowers and insects. A little spring. My favorite is the grey squirrel. Greetings Caroline

    1. Thank you, Caroline. Spring is on hold for the time being but, hopefully, it will return soon. Best wishes - - - Richard

  12. Hi Richard,
    don't do so little about yourself when it comes to making that leather bag. You say it is far from perfect but I think it is really beautiful! I am really curious what the end result will look like!
    The pictures of your birds and also of butterflies. The gray squirrel is really great and what a beautiful animal that is. Your videos of the bathing birds (especially the pair of bullfinches) and the hedgehog are really nice to watch :-))))) The merganser ducks are also so nice to see.
    The bees and the beautiful spring flowers really make me happy again.
    Greetings, Helma

    1. Maybe in a week or two that bag will be finished, Helma. It is nearly finished now, but I have some alterations to make. However, I am quite pleased with the result.

      I am looking forward to having some more sunny warm weather - maybe it will come soon.

      Thank you for your kind words. Stay safe - - - Richard

  13. More apologies for not commenting sooner.

    We were again happy to hear you have been able to get out and about. Hopefully, before the year is over your restrictions will be able to be loosened somewhat.

    The entire post held such interest it is (once again) impossible to select a "favorite" image. The Blue Tit is special for us as it is the first "non-American" bird we identified when we moved to Germany. Insects! Spring must be close ...

    The note left in Willesley Wood was very touching! With children (and teachers!) such as these, there is hope for the planet.

    Gini and I certainly expect you two to remain safe and healthy! Take good care.

    1. No apologies needed, Wally. I'm just delighted that you could drop by!

      Sadly, when I visited Willesley Wood recently, I found that all the figures had gone and the note that was with them had been thrown into a nearby ditch. I also found that the bird feeders that had been dotted around had also disappeared. What is this world coming to?!


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