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Wednesday 21 April 2021

All Change! (well, nearly all) - 5th to 18th April, 2021

Having had a period of relative drought, wildlife and photography wise, over the previous few weeks, the first of these two weeks looked as if it was going to continue in the same vein for a while. However, things started turning around in the second week of the fortnight in question. This is haw the fortnight unfolded.

Tuesday, 6th April     Garden

From having our second hottest day ever recorded at the end of March, the weather had turned very cold by spring standards, with hard frosts at night and shallow water frozen over. On this day, however, we had snow on and off throughout the day, never settling to any depth - but just enough to make a nuisance of itself.

Snow shower - garden on 6th April, 2021
Saturday, 10th April     Garden

The cold weather was still with us, and I found myself photographing the male Chaffinch that was outside my study window. It's easy to forget that the common humble male Chaffinch is actually not a bad-looking bird.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - garden on 10th April, 2021

In a comment on a previous blog post, I mentioned that the bumping of Hedgehogs tended to be a territorial thing rather than an amorous one. The lead-in to mating usually entails the male circling the female for quite some time before she eventually agrees to consummation. On this night, one of the trail cams caught this process as shown below (other than the consummation - can't risk offending people's sensibilities). The whole thing lasted a full 19 minutes - note that they both needed a drink afterwards!

Sunday, 11thApril     Garden

Sadly, I missed getting a shot of the Goldcrest that visited the garden briefly this day, but I did get a shot of a Siskin.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 11th April, 2021
Monday, 12th April     Garden ; Staunton Harold ; Bignall's Wood ; Dimminsdale area ; Staunton Harold

The trail cams show that we had a good snow shower in the early hours. However, by dawn, the snow was only left on plant foliage. One of the trail cams caught a Carrion Crow visiting before we were up and about.

There had been occasional reports of a Ring-necked Duck at Staunton Harold, which is less than 4 miles (6km) from my home, so I thought that it might be worth my while taking a look that afternoon. I spent some time by the lake, but it was not present. Not wanting to come away empty-handed, I took some shots of a drake Tufted Duck and a Great Crested Grebe.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (male) - Staunton Harold

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Staunton Harold
From here, I moved the short distance to Bignall's Wood for a look around, having not been here for over a year. The Hawthorn was in flower all around the entrance area.

Hawthorn (a.k.a May) (Crataegus sp.) blossom - Bignall's Wood
I saw little as I wandered around but I did take some photos of a bee-fly. I only became aware of bee-flies a few years ago, but find them to be delightful insects. I have only ever seen the Dark-edged Bee-fly but would love to see a Dotted Bee-fly - a species first observed in this county (just!) in 2019.  That fierce-looking proboscis looks as if it could do some damage, but it is purely for probing into flowers for nectar.

Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) (male) - Bignall's Wood
If you get a good view, males can be detected by their eyes meeting on top of the head - the eyes of females are widely separated.

From here, I got in my car and headed to a parking place near the entrance to Dimminsdale Nature Reserve. In the field adjacent to the bridge, a Carrion Crow was bumbling around.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - near Bignall's Wood
From the bridge, a distant Mute Swan appeared to be sleeping whilst incubating eggs on a nest.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) near Dimminsdale
A little closer, a Coot seemed agitated by a stray reed which spoiled her otherwise pristine nest!

Coot (Fulica atra) - near Dimminsdale
In the distance on the other side of the bridge, a Little Egret was trying to hide - it could learn a thing or two from a Bittern!

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - near Dimminsdale
Towards the far side of the field, two Egyptian Geese were seen. To me, these are one of the ugliest of goose species and I'm none too fond of them, particularly as they have a habit of taking squatting rights on Osprey nests before the Ospreys return in spring.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) - near Dimminsdale
As I was about to leave the bridge area and head into the nature reserve, a car arrived and a birdwatcher got out. We exchanged a few words and he informed me that he had just come from Staunton Harold and the Ring-necked Duck was there. I must have only missed it by less than an hour.

Shortly after entering the wood I started to try and photograph a few insects. The only shot vaguely worth showing is this one of a hoverfly.

Tapered Drone Fly (Eristalis pertinax) - Dimminsdale NR
This visit went downhill from there, with little seen, which is possibly due to the actions of one stupid woman who was thowing things into the water for her dog to retrieve and shouting at it as she did so - in a nature reserve! I then took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up a long way from where I thought I was. I did manage to get back to the original entrance in time to take some photos of the woman and her dog as they left, and also of her in the car showing its registration plate. I shall hang on to this for possible future use.

I then decided to go back to Staunton Harold, just in case the duck was still there - but it wasn't. I just managed to get a shot of an Egyptian Goose swimming. It didn't occur to me until I saw this that, although I have had many sightings of Egyptian Geese, mainly on dry land or in the air, I can't recall seeing one in the water before this!

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) -Staunton Harold
Tuesday, 13th April     Garden

Nothing remarkable this day, but I offer yet another shot of a Siskin in our garden.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 13th April, 2021
Wednesday, 14th April     Garden

The excitement this day was having two butterfly firsts for the year in our garden - Orange-tip, and Green-veined White.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (male) - garden on 14th April, 2021

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) (male) - garden on 14th April, 2021

A Carrion Crow decided to land in our Cob Nut tree.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden on 14th April, 2021
Thursday, 15th April     Garden ; Sence Valley

The same Green-veined White returned this day. I cannot usually tell one Green-veined White from another but this one has a distinctive black dot on the rear of its right fore-wing!

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) (male) - garden on 15th April, 2021
We also had a bee-fly visiting. This one was a female, with well-separated eyes.

Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) (female) -garden on 15th April, 2021

I also photographed this bee, which I believe to be Western Honey Bee - please correct me if I am wrong.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellfera) (worker) - garden on 15th April. 2021
That afternoon I ventured out to the Sence Valley Forest Park. My primary objective was to check out the ponds in the newest area of the park. These ponds are fenced off and do not have public access. However, I had been invited by Forestry England (who manage the site) to survey for dragonflies and damselflies. It  is a little too early for the odonata to emerge here, but I wanted to check the access arrangements and the state of the ponds. I found myself a little concerned at water levels in some areas.
A pair of Mallard had adopted one area of pond.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (female + male) - Sence Valley FP
In another area, a Pied Wagtail was having a wander around.
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - Sence Valley FP
I then went for a stroll along the River Sence, which is at the edge of the park. Wildflowers seemed to be predominantly yellow.
Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) - Sence Valley FP

Marsh-marigold (a.k.a. King Cup) (Caltha palustris) - Sence Valley FP
Also, by the river, I photographed an obliging Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - Sence Valley FP
For a while, the area was filled with the sound of Skylark, but my attempts to photograph one failed. I did, however, take a shot of an over-flying Raven.
Raven (Corvus corax) - Sence Valley FP
I then made my way into the older part of the park, and found myself being called by a Robin to take a photo of itself.
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Sence Valley FP
I am still very wary of the dangers of entering bird hides in these Covid times, but was pleased to find the hide on the first lake had permanently open 'windows' and doorway, and no seats - and there was not another person in sight anywhere. I spent an enjoyable quarter of an hour here and took a few photos.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Sence Valley FP

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - Sence Valley FP

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
It had been a very worthwhile visit, and I was pleased to see that there were not too many people around, and those that I did see there were behaving sensibly.
Friday, 16th April     Barlestone ; Staunton Harold - featuring the Three Ring Circus
There had been reports of up to three male Ring Ouzel in a sheep field only about 10 miles (16km) from my home and as it was nearly four years since I'd seen this species, it was time to take a look.  Following the directions given recently on social media, I made my way past the first sheep field on the left (they had been described as being in the second sheep field on the left) and ended up at what appeared to be a recently ploughed field, and wondered if this had happened in the last 24 hours as there was no second sheep field. Clearly they were not likely to be spotted in a ploughed field, so I headed back again, only to find a Ring Ouzel on the other side of the field that I was in! I suspect that this had been taken as the first field on the left, although the footpath ran along the left of this field so, tachnically, this was a field on the right!

I did manage some distant shots, and this next 'lightly cropped' shot might give some impression of the distance. 

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) (male) - Barlestone
I spent some time here, hoping for this bird to come a little closer, but it kept its distance. Eventually, it flew up into a distant tree. I waited a while in the hope that it would return, but eventually gave up and headed towards the exit from the field. Just before I reached the exit, a bird returned - and then a second bird!  I retraced my steps on the footpath and managed some better images - albeit, very heavily cropped.
Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) (male) - Barlestone
I hasten to add that the above image was not as a result of me flushing the bird - I have photographic evidence that this bird landed again only a couple of metres away! 
Here are a couple more shots - please excuse my self-indulgence here as who knows if/when I might see this species again!

Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) (male) - Barlestone
Having enjoyed the company of two Ring Ouzels, something in my head said that it was time for a third 'ring' to give me a three ring circus, so I headed to Staunton Harold to try, once more, for the Ring-necked Duck. This time I got lucky - a bit more self-indulgence here as I last saw a Ring-necked Duck in UK fourteen years ago, almost to the day (14th April 2007) at a similar short distance from my home! 

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) (male) - Staunton Harold
Thus ended a most enjoyable and rewarding day.
Saturday, 17th April 
A review of the garden trail cam footage had me instantly worried when I saw one short clip. Fortunately, subsequent clips helped allay my fears to a degree, but I still wonder whether the Hedgehog's health suffered as a result of it taking in water.
I have now stopped leaving Black Soldier Fly larvae out for the Hedgehogs at night at this location.
We'd peaked at a rather special figure of five minimum (it's often difficult to tell one hog from another!) Hedgehogs visiting on 13th April. A week later and we are down to one solitary Hedgehog visiting. I am hoping that this is not due to anything sinister.
This brings me to the end of this blog post. Thank you for visitng. Once again, I am not sure when my next post will be as I have to update my talk on the Isles of Scilly with visits from the past two years, in preparation for delivery to the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society in just over two weeks time. 

In the meantime, take great care and stay safe - it's a complicated situation out there!


Sunday 11 April 2021

Not Much Going On - 22nd March to 4th April, 2021

Not Much Going On - or, depending on one's point of view, Too Much Going On!

I'd intended to produce this blog post more than a week ago, and just cover the last week in March. However, this was not to be, for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with working on the infrastructure of our abode. In 2019, after a couple of weeks in hospital, I was rather unwell for virtually the whole of the summer and little maintenance was done on house and garden. The after-effects of this illness were still worryingly apparent through most of 2020, and so I was taking it easy as far as matters of physical exertion were concerned, for fear of a relapse during the Covid crisis.

Much of my time this spring, when we have had fair weather, has been spent trying to reclaim the garden, with the bulk of the work in the past two weeks being in taking down two huge areas of ivy that had got totally out of control.  The largest of these, which was 5 metres wide by 4 metres high had started invading the neighbours' roof. Blackbirds had attempted to nest on a regular basis, but the nests tended to fail, and there was always the danger of fledglings getting taken by visiting cats. The ivy was also attractive to bees, spiders, and Holly Blue butterflies, so it was with a sad heart that I decided it had to go - entirely. Most of the two weeks was spent trying to get the roots up. The job is now finished, but I now have to dispose of the remains! The bed in front of the wall will now be planted with invertebrate-friendly flowering plants.

Also this week we managed to get a plumber in to rectify a grand total of six plumbing issues that had been stacking up, waiting for the pandemic to quieten down a bit, but needed attention - two of them urgent (a leaking pipe in ther kitchen that tended to flood the kitchen floor, and a bath hot tap that suddenly decided it wouldn't open beyond a trickle! 

Anyway, the result of all this is that I've not been out birding except for one failed attempt, and I have not spent much time observing the birds in the garden, which have tended to stay away anyway because of the amount of time that I have spent in the garden.

So here's what little I did manage to muster during the two weeks.

Tuesday, 23rd March

We were, and still are, regularly being visited by Siskins. I'm not sure how long these will be with us for. Historically, we have visits most years and they are usually gone to their summer breeding grounds at some time between early and late April.

Siskin  (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden on 23rd March, 2021
Wednesday, 24th March

Having had a 9a.m. eye appointment, the optician sent me direct to the Eye Casualty department at Leicester General Hospital as he thought that I might have a tear (as in rip) in my eye. Here I spent most of my day while Lindsay patiently waited in the car park - I'd been unable to drive myself as I'd had drops in my eyes to dilate the pupils. I was, eventually, given the all-clear.

Because of this, little was seen in the garden but I did put the moth trap out and the trail cams were also out, as always.

One of he trail cams (I deploy four each night) caught an altercation between two Hedgehogs.

The moth trap only came up with three moths of two species, with 2 x Hebrew Character (an extremely common moth) being a first for the year.

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) - from garden on 24th March, 2021
Friday, 26th March

After being absent for several days, the female Blackcap put in a brief appearance, but was not photographed. The only shots taken were of a Long-tailed Tit. 

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - garden on 26th March.2021
Saturday, 27th March

The only remarkable aspect to this day was the arrival of five Siskin (2 male, 3 female) which were not photographed. I did, however, manage to get a shot of the two regularly visiting Stock Doves together.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 27th March, 2021
Sunday, 28th March

I think that, maybe, the person in the bungalow behind our house is trying to wind me up. Whenever I look out of our bedroom window after dark, I see an owl, faintly silhouetted against the light shining through the blinds at his window.

false owl - from our bedroom window
The first time I saw it I did a quick double-take. However, it is, in fact, the cover on their rotary washing line!  The strange thing is, it is always put on so that those 'ears' are facing our window!

Monday, 29th March

This was the only attempt at a birding walk I made in the fortnight featured in this post. My chosen destination was Saltersford Valley, and the experience was a disappointing one. My first disappointment was finding that the place seems to have suddenly become a destination for anglers, who were there with all their detritus scattered round about them. I was also disappointed by the dearth of birds to be seen, let alone photographed. The only shot I took was of an appealing clump of Marsh Marigold.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) - Saltersford Valley
Tuesday, 30th March

Disappointingly, Greenfinch had become a very scarce visitor to our garden. However, we have now started having occasional sightings once more. Although not a good shot, I cannot resist including this one 'just for the record'.

Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) (male) - garden on 30th March, 2021
That night, the moth trap went out, and I had a somewhat better catch than on previous attempts this year, with 30 months of 10 species recorded, Small Quaker being the most numerous (13). The following were new for the year (all to the same scale).
Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) from garden on 30th March, 2021

Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda) - from garden on 30th March, 2021

Leek Moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella) - from garden on 30th March,2021

Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla) - from garden on 30th March,2021

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) - from garden on 30th March, 2021
Happily, the next two were 'lifers' for me, although both classed as 'fairly common' locally. I just wish that the Satellite had been in better condition!
Satellite (Eupsilia transversa) - from garden on 30th March, 2021

Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda) - from garden on 30th March, 2021
Wednesday, 31st March
A beautiful sunny day brought four butterflies to the garden - three Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. I didn't manage any shots of the Peacock, which was in a fairly tatty condition.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - garden on 31st March, 2021
That night, the same trail cam as on my previous video clip caught another spat between Hedghogs, resulting in the water dish of one of the feeding stations getting upturned. If you have any doubt about the climbing abilities of Hedgehogs, observe the hog towards the end of the clip!
Sunday, 4th April
The last day of the week brought two Jackdaws to the garden, and three Siskin (2 male, 1 female). Only Siskin was photographed so I start and end this post with a Siskin image.

Siskin  (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden on 4th April, 2021
This brings me to the end of this blog post. Based on how little I've observed during this last week, I'm expecting to be offering an even thinner post next time, probably in about a week and a half's time. Thank you for your visit.
In the meantime, take great care and stay safe - - - Richard