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Sunday 23 January 2022

Some Early 2022 Highlights - 1st to 15th January, 2022

I started the year with a resolve to get out more into the countryside in search of birds and other wildlife. However, I didn't reckon with avian visits to the garden getting more interesting, making it difficult for me to tear myself away from home. Thankfully, I have a vacation coming up for which I need to get myself into shape for much more walking than I am used to of late, and this helped get me back on track - to a degree!

Rather than give you a chronological account as usually do, I shall attempt to focus on subject matter. I wonder how this will turn out?!

Winter Garden Visitors


I have struggled to get good photos of our winter visitors as they are usually either on feeders or hidden behind the twigs of the garden shrubs and trees. It did not help that the first half of January was largely dull and misty. I did resort to setting my hide up in the garden a couple of times, but did not achieve significantly better results. I don't usually like to post photos of birds on feeders but will do so below in order to show more detail on the bird

Most winters we get the occasional visit from Brambling although it is far from being a 'given'. A male Brambling started visiting the garden on a daily basis in December. On 3rd January a female Brambling appeared and, since then, both have visited regularly, although not as a pair. It does seem that this winter has been an exceptionally good one for local sightings of Brambling.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (female) - garden on 8th January, 2022
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - garden on 1st January, 2022

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - garden on 2nd January, 2022
Blackcap is an extremely infrequent visitor to the garden, and I suspect that, in the period covered by this blog post, we had more sightings of Blackcap than the cumulative of sightings of past winters! 
It all started with a female Blackcap visiting daily at the end of the year.  Early in January she decided that the garden feeders were hers, and hers alone, and started seeing off all the other birds. The only small bird she didn't argue with was a Nuthatch - even the resident Robin was challenged! Collared Doves and Woodpigeons, which totally dwarfed her, did not intimidate her either. We'd originally named her Sylvia (derived from her scientific name) but she became Attila (for similar reasons) Here she is, challenging a male Brambling.

Brambling (male) + Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 2nd January, 2022
On 1st and 2nd January, we had two female Blackcap visit, but I did not successfully photograph this event.
Blackcaps frequently adopt a posture that gives them what I think of as a hunchback appearance, as shown in the second image below.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 7th January, 2022
On 14th and 15th January, a male  blackcap visited, but was not photographed.
Pied Wagtail

At one time, it was extremely unusual for a Pied Wagtail to visit our garden and if a wagtail visited at all it was usually the far less common Grey Wagtail that visited. However, over the past few years, visits by Pied Wagtail have increased to the extent that this winter, especially on cold days, a visit has been almost dependable.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - garden on 15th January, 2021

Although Nuthatch can visit the garden at any time of year, it is usually in the winter that we get visits. We have been fortunate to have the occasional visit by one this winter.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - garden on 2nd January, 2022

The UK's smallest bird has been a daily visitor so far this year, but is extremely difficult to photograph. I'm am confident, by its behaviour, that this is just one bird. It darts in, grabs a bill full from the fat balls and zooms back into cover. Sadly, this is the best shot that I managed during this period, from my study window.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - garden on 15th January, 2022
Garden All Year Round-ers

I decided to put a couple of common garden visitors in here - the first because it seems to be unusual behaviour (and is just plain cute!), and the second because they are such a spectacular small bird!

Grey Squirrel

Grey Squirrel is a daily visitor to the garden. When the nuts are ready, they rob our tree of the cob nuts. At other times they will feed on the peanuts and sunflower hearts that are put out for the birds. A few weeks back, I collected some crab-apples from a country lane as a possible source of food for winter thrushes. The only thrushes that took any interest at all were Blackbirds and their interest was short-lived. Lindsay and I were totally amazed when a Grey Squirrel decided to give one a try. The crab-apple was well and truly past its prime and may well have been alcoholic. We never observed it coming back for more!

Grey Squirrel (Scuirus carolinensis) - garden on 14th January, 2022

I cannot remember a day without a Goldfinch in the garden and this winter it has not been unusual to get days with around twenty of them present. Nevertheless, they are always a delight to observe. They are a feisty little bird, although no match for that female Blackcap!

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 7th January, 2022
Excursions to Nearby Locations

As mentioned above, I did manage to get out a few times. The results were mixed and sometimes non-existant. Visits to Cossington Meadows on 4th January and Oakthorpe Colliery on 10th January yielded virtually nothing. Here are a few of the more useful visits that I made.

Longmoor Lake - on 11th January

I went here late in the afternoon in the hope of seeing an owl. I found owl pellets, but not an owl.

The light was relatively low by the time that I reached the lake, and nothing of outstanding interest was seen but, with some extreme camera settings, I did take a few photos that I find acceptable.

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Longmoor Lake
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (immature) - Longmoor Lake

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Longmoor Lake

Wigeon (Anas penelope) (male) - Longmoor Lake
Wigeon (Anas penelope) (female) - Longmoor Lake
As I waited in the hope of seeing an owl, the sunset gave a beautiful warm glow to the sky.

Calke Park - on 12th January

This turned out to be one of my more satisfying days. Due to Covid risks, I have felt uncomfortable with the prospect of  sitting in a hide with other people present, particularly if those other people are not wearing face masks. I was, therefore, delighted to find an empty hide at Calke Explore with the door and all the windows open.  One aspect that I was not over-comfortable about was the seven Brown Rats that were in front of the hide. If asked if I have any phobias, the one that I would come up with is rats! This is one of the juveniles.

Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) (juvenile) - Calke Explore
Although only very common birds were seen, it was good to be out and getting some acceptable shots.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Calke Explore
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Explore

A couple of people arrived into the hide, so I left and set off for the hide by the main car park. Unfortunately for me, there was an endless stream of people visiting the hide, so I did not venture in. I did, thanks to a gentleman who very kindly insisted that I take his place, manage to get a few shots from over the fence beside the hide. 

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - Calke Park
The most interesting sighting for me, however, was the aberrant Chaffinch - guaranteed to make you look twice!

leucistic Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (female) - Calke Park
Nearby, a magnificent Red Deer stag was wandering. I suspect the marks on its side were from wounds collected during the rutting season.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - Calke Park
When it became apparent that I was not going to get a session in the hide, I departed to what is generally referred to as 'the round car park' and took a stroll down to Staunton Harold Reservoir and along back into Calke Park.

As I started walking alongside the reservoir, skeins of geese started flying over.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Staunton Harold Reservoir
In Calke Park, near the inflow to the reservoir, there were several Goosander.  The second image, below, shows a male that had caught a good-sized fish. The third image I believe to be of an immature male, but I am far from sure of this - it has a brown head plumage which is much darker and tidier than that of a mature female.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male + female) - Calke Park

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Calke Park

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (immature male?) - Calke Park

As I headed back alongside the reservoir, a Little Egret was on the far side of the water. The red specks that you might be able to see under the egret are the bills of Moorhens.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Staunton Harold Reservoir
Undisclosed Area - on 13th January

I now come to what was, without a doubt, the absolute highlight of this period, and that was the discovery of a new Little Owl site. I'd gone for a walk with no great expectations and happened upon my first new Little Owl for a few years. I still don't know how I managed to spot it (my eyes aren't as good as they were a year or so ago) as it was at some distance. The first shot, below, is from the closest access availble and something like a 50% crop, with the lens at its full 500mm. The second shot is from further away with more visibilty, but a much tighter crop. I am calling this my Little Owl Site No.54.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.54

Thus ends this account of the highlights from the first half of January. The future looks bright - if only this darned Covid thing would pack its bags and go!

I hope to be back in about a week. In the meantime, take good care of yourself and Nature - - - Richard

Friday 14 January 2022

The Christmas Period - 2021

This blog post, which is a little shorter than my previous post, covers the period from Christmas Day to New Year's Eve.

Saturday, 25th December

This was, of course, Christmas Day! I'm pleased to say that I did manage to finish Lindsay's Christmas present in time. It was what she requested after I'd finished a messenger bag for myself around a year ago - a leather shoulder bag in black, based on my bag, but larger and somewhat modified in design. Although Lindsay had input to the design, and saw the initial part of its construction, I managed to keep the latter part of its production from her eyes. I'm pleased to say that her reaction on the day greatly exceeded my hopes and expectations! This is a photo of it before the shoulder-strap was sewn and rivetted on - this was done on Christmas day to avoid kinking the strap.

It now seems that I have to make another one as our daughter, Melanie, has said she would like one. The design will change again to feature a cat motif and it appears that I'm going to have to make it in grey! 

Since my mother, who used to come to stay with us at Christmas, died almost exactly 18 years ago, it has been our custom for Lindsay and I to have a picnic lunch in the countryside on Christmas Day. These days we tend not wander too far from home and its facilities. This year we parked in a car park roughly two miles (3 km) from our home where there are bird feeders. Unfortunately it appeared that the feeders had not been filled lately and there were few birds around. I had taken bird food with me, and deployed some, but it didn't bring much in. The only shots I took were of a Magpie.

Magpie (Pica pica) - Oakthorpe Colliery
We had a short walk after lunch before returning home, but little was seen.

Sunday, 26th December

I did take some photos on this day, but none were kept. However this day marked the end of a fairly remarkable week in that 25 species of bird set foot in our garden. The list is as shown on the right. Please excuse my poor handwriting!

You can see that my recording sheet has a static 17 species listed. this was first used many years ago when we could have reasonable expectations of seeing those species at some time. However, two of those species, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Wren, are rare occurrences these days.  Sadly, it seems that Bullfinch might soon join them.

As noted in my previous blog post, the arrival of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker during the week was a real bonus.

The three Siskin (one male and two female) was exceptional.







Monday, 27th December

With the male Brambling and female Blackcap still being with us, I was determined to try and get some better photos. However, the weather was against me, and these were the best that I could manage on this day.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - garden on 27th December, 2021
Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - garden on 27th December, 2021

Tuesday, 28th December

Attempts to photograph the Brambling didn't fare much better than on the previous day.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - garden on 28th December, 2021
Wednesday, 29th December

Feeling the need for a change of scenery, I headed off to Swithland Reservoir. It was a bit busy with people at the south end so I continued to the north end, where I parked on the dam. It was about 15h00 when I arrived and a bit misty but with some sun trying to break through. 

There were a couple of juvenile Mute Swan out on the water, and I attempted some shots of one.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (juvenile) - Swithland Reservoir
I do like to take shots of birds, on water. Reflection shots can be interesting, but I am partial to 'splash shots' or when low light angles create a dramatic effect on the water surface. I failed with my splash shot attempts on this day, but did get some other shots that I am quite pleased with.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Swithland Reservoir
Whilst there, I heard the distant sound of a steam locomotive whistle. In due course the train arrived and passed over the viaduct that bisects the reservoir. It was the first time I'd seen a train on The Great Central Railway from this spot.

train on Great Central Railway, hauled by BR Standard Class 5 steam locomotive 73156
I'd made up my mind that I wanted to be at Cossington Meadows by sundown to see if any owls were around, so returned to my car where, looking over the dam wall, I saw a Tufted Duck at the water's edge.
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (male) - Swithland Reservoir
Having arrived at Cossington Meadows at almost exactly 16h00, I quickly made my way to an area where owls are sometimes seen. Two gentlemen kindly informed me that they had just been watching a Barn Owl but it had disappeared into another area. We didn't manage to re-locate it so I went further into the site. Here I met up with two more people who were looking for Barn Owls but had not seen one yet.
After it had got too dark for photography we all gave up and headed back towards the entrance gate. I did manage a few shots of Canada Geese as they flew over on their way to the roost for the night.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Cossington Meadows
There were two of us that were last to leave and as we neared the exit my companion noticed a distant owl. We were both of the opinion that it was too dark and too large to be a Barn Owl. We'll never know!
Friday, 31st December
The last day of the year and we had some sunshine. After lunch I got some shots of our garden Brambling that were a small improvement on previous efforts.
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - garden on 31st December, 2021
I'd recently become conscious of the fact that it was over two years since I last photographed a Barn Owl, and that I'd not even seen a Barn Owl in 2021. It was time to put that right, so I set off for Cossington Meadows once more. 
Eventually, at about 15h00, a Barn Owl showed, but kept at a distance that was beyond meaningful photography. It disappeared to the far end of the area and one of the two people that I was with took the five minute walk down the track to the next gateway to try and get nearer to  it. I stayed put for a while and eventually managed some distant shots which, although not showing the owl in detail, I feel convey the atmosphere and action quite nicely.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Cossington Meadows
When the owl disappeared, I wandered down to the other end of the area to see if it was down by the next gate. It wasn't - but it had been, and I was shown a very nice shot that had been taken with the owl on a fence post.

It was getting rather dark and it was agreed that it was time to leave. The others headed back to the entrance, but I decided to have a stop at the first gate and was rewarded by the owl returning. It didn't come very close but it did provide a little more action and, at one point, crossed over the track and into the opposite field. Unfortunately, a shot of it dropping, feet dangling, onto prey came out a bit to blurred to use

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Cossington Meadows
I'm not sure when I might see and photograph another Barn Owl, so please excuse this excess of photos. It was a joyous occasion in some respects, but my thoughts were constantly with the late John Truman who was passionate about Barn Owls and in who's company I have spent many happy hours at Cossington Meadows.
That brings me to the end of my year and the end of this blog post. I hope to be returning with a new post in a week or so's time. In the meantime, I once again wish you a Happy New Year. Please take care of yourselves and Nature - - - Richard