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Sunday 20 February 2022

A Visit to Melbourne - on 10th February,2022

No, not THAT Melbourne, but the village of Melbourne in South Derbyshire, just 8 miles (13 km) down the road from me. In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I'd met my old pal, Doc Martin, when I visited Hicks Lodge. Martin had kindly told me of two locations that he recommended for bird photography, and one of them was Melbourne Pool. The weather was not too bad on this day, so, after lunch, I set off to check it out, not having visited this place for a few years.

Having parked by the church, I walked to the pool. There were plenty of birds on the water near to where I arrived at the pool, but I was looking straight into the sun so, having ascertained that there was nothing of particular interest in this area, I set off to visit the far side of the pool, taking a shot of a Black-headed Gull in winter plumage to check my camera settings.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Melbourne Pool
As I approached the outlet weir at the south-east corner of the pool, I spotted a Grey Wagtail on the weir. My view of it was, unfortunately, strait into the sun and so I ducked away out of sight until I got to the other side of the weir - and found that it had gone!

As I had not passed beyond this point on my previous visits, I took the path along the south side of the lake and along to the western end but saw little as I did so, and so returned towards the weir immediately.

I'd just spotted what I thought were probably two of the Red-crested Pochard (RcP) that were the target for my visit, when a gentleman with a dog asked me if I 'knew my ducks'. I said I knew a bit and was here for the Red-crested Pochards. He told me that there were originally three - all drakes - but that one had been taken by a very large fish!

I did manage to get a distant shot of the two RcPs together and it was a little frustrating that they were relatively near to where I'd first accessed the pool side.

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool
It was time to head back, taking a shot of the view across the pool as I did so.

view across the pool to Melbourne
I cautiously approached the weir, but there was no sign of the wagtail.. Just beyond the weir, a Moorhen was making its way into the water.
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Melbourne Pool
Arriving at the eastern side of the pool, I saw a lady who was feeding the gulls and ducks at the north-east corner. Feeding the ducks is one thing, but feeding gulls is definitely frowned on as it gets them into bad habits, such as stealing ice creams from children!

feeding frenzy
By the time I got there, the RcPs had already moved away and seemed to be heading towards where I had just come from, so I went back, and waited as the light would be from a much better direction. My wait was rewarded with it clouding over, a brief light fall of snow, followed by light rain, and the RcPs not arriving! Fortunately, the adverse weather didn't last long, and it did have the benefit of clearing the area of people. As I went to try and find the RcPs once more, I stopped briefly for a female Wigeon. This was the light and location that I'd hoped to get the RcPs in. However, I did not get the picture that I hoped for as I'd managed to leave my camera on settings for a totally different situation. The light and background seemed to be forever changing during this visit!

Wigeon (Anas penelope) (female) - Melbourne Pool
Back on the road which runs along the east side of the pool, I found one of the RcPs at a useful distance, and in light that was occasionally helpful when the bird presented itself at the right angle. RcPs are vegetarian, and this one was diving for weed.
Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool
Because of the changeable weather, the benches that are along this stretch were unoccupied and so I stayed for a while in relative comfort, getting more shots of the bird which seemed to have teamed up with a Coot. They were virtually inseperable, and were indulging in sychronised diving!
Coot (Fulica atra) + Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool
The sun soon disappeared, but the RcP stayed relatively close. I was pleased to get some shots of it stretching its wings.

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool
I have said it before, and I'll say it again - I always manage to find myself surprised at how narrow the heads of some ducks are compared to their side-on profle. These next two shots seem to emphasize this.

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool
While this bird stayed relatively close, its congener was far away, close to the island in the middle of the pool. At one point, it started to have a wash. I have often seen ducks creating spray when they do this, and I like to try and capture the action. I have never, however, seen a duck create such a powerful spread of spray as this one did - I'm glad that I was not standing close!

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) (male) - Melbourne Pool
It was time to take a last look to see if the Grey Wagtail had returned. It hadn't, but by the weir a Coot seemed to be building a nesting platform.
Coot (Fulica atra) - Melbourne Pool
It was time to head homeward. As I passed the massive hedge that forms a boundary of Melbourne Hall Gardens I could not help but wonder once more at the beauty of its shape, not fully captured in my photo.
hedge - Melbourne Hall Gardens
Close to the exit of the area was a very strange-looking, but quite impressive, duck. I'm guessing that it was a hybrid between a Mallard and some sort of domesticated duck, rather than a species escaped from some exotic collection. It was significantly bigger than a Mallard, however. Your views will be welcomed.

hybrid duck? - Melbourne Pool

Thank you, Martin, for pointing me in this direction. If the RcPs remain, I am hoping to return here on a day with more favourable weather and lighting.  However, lookingg at the weather forecast, that may not be for some time as it appears we might be in for a string of storms with high winds for a while. On that note, I'll close this blog post.

My next blog post will probably be in about a week, and I have little idea of what the subject matter might be.

Thank you for dropping by. In the meantime, please stay safe, and look after yourself and Nature - - - Richard

Monday 14 February 2022

Sniping! - on 3rd February, 2022

It had been several months since I last paid a visit to Hicks Lodge, although it is only about one and a half miles (2km) from my home. This was partly due to the access path that I usually use being prone to flooding in the winter months. As we had recently enjoyed a short dry spell , I decided to give it a whirl.

Having parked in the Oakthorpe Colliery car park I headed up the track towards the main lake. I was very pleased to find that the path through the areas that were often flooded had been raised and drainage pipes ran underneath it.

On my way in, I spotted a Buzzard high up over the the distant woodland.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - Hicks Lodge 
My main reason for wanting to visit this site was to see if I could find Common Snipe as they are often here in good numbers in the winter. Via a somewhat circuitous route, I stealthily approached the edge nearest the small island on the main lake only to find, to my dismay, that it had been totally cleared of vegetation and was almost certainly totally unattractive to roosting Snipe.

It was time for a wander round the edge of the lake to see what might be around. Canada Goose were there in good numbers and, as usual, gave plenty of vocal warning before taking off to depart.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge
Canada Geese, as with other geese, also like to noisily announce their arrival.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge
As I approached the western end of the main island on the lake, which was well-vegetated, I spotted a Snipe resting at the water's edge.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
The above image was heavily cropped from a shot with the lens at the full 500mm. Here's one that I have only cropped from top and bottom, just to set the scene:-

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
I was a little surprised, on further examination of the shot, to find two other Snipe in the photo. The yellow lines, below, lead to them, but you probably will still not be able to see them!

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
The same thing happened with the next Snipe that I found. This was my target bird.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
- and these two show a bird that I had not noticed to the left of my target.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge

I then had a walk round the site before returning to this island with the Snipe, taking the opportunity to photograph a Great Crested Grebe as I did so.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Hicks Lodge
Back at the island, I spotted what initially seemed to be two Snipe together, but then looked as if it could be three. Again, when studying my shots later, I found that there were at least five Snipe in frame - the one just to the right of the group of four (or maybe more?) is just visible.
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
My last Snipe find was what I thought to be a single bird, but turned out to be two when the photos were studied.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
It was now time to wend my way homeward. I took some shots of Coot and Moorhen as I passed.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Hicks Lodge
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Hicks Lodge

From by the hide, which was locked closed, I took some shots of the very distant Goosander. There was a male with six females. I also took some shots of Lapwing, which had come in to roost on the denuded island.

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (females + male) - Hicks Lodge
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - Hicks Lodge
I'd just set off on the track which would take me back to my car, when I heard my name being called from behind me. It was my old pal 'Doc Martin', who I had not seen for a long while although we had been in contact. We had a much-appreciated chat for about twenty minutes before I had to depart as I was on cooking duty that afternoon.

As I passed down the track to my exit point, there were foraging geese on either side of the track. Photographing them through the hedge was a bit of a challenge, especially as the light had nearly gone.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge
Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Hicks Lodge

It had been a highly enjoyable short visit, which included a stark reminder as to how cryptic a Common Snipe's plumage can be. With my binoculars, I thought that I'd seen six Snipe, but my camera witnessed twelve! If I'd had a 'scope, I might well have seen more.

That's it for this post. There will probably be another one from me in about a week. In the meantime, take good care of yourself and Nature - - - Richard


Tuesday 8 February 2022

The Last Knockings of January - 24th to 30th January, 2022

I did quite well during the last week in January, managing five trips out during the seven days. Here are some of the highlights from that week.

Monday, 24th January

Calke Park covers a very large area, and there are several possibilities for access other than via the main vehicular entrance. On this occasion, I decided to take a route that I had not done for a couple of years or more, and park in The Round Car Park near the south end of Staunton Harold Reservoir, walk down to the reservoir and then take the path that heads round the inflow to the west and continues into Calke Park, and then to the main car park at Calke Abbey. 

As I passed round the edge of the reservoir, I saw Coot, Tufted Duck, and a very distant Little Egret.

On entering Calke Park, the Goosander were not on the pool by the weir (Little Dogkennel Pond) where I have seen them recently.  Further into the park, I found a Red Deer stag taking a rest. 

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - Calke Park
Having taken a left turn on the track, I found Fallow Deer with a group of three demonstrating some of the extensive colour variation found in this species. I am not sure if these were females or youngsters, although I suspect the former.

Fallow Deer (Dama dama) (female or young?) - Calke Park
When I arrived at the pool (Mere Pond) below the main hide and the abbey car park, I spotted a pair of Goosander sleeping on the far side of the water, sadly somewhat obscured by branches.

I was lucky enough to arrive at the hide in the main car park and find it unoccupied. I had about fifteen minutes on my own here before someone arrived and I felt the need to leave. During that time, I managed to photograph a few birds, including a Brambling. Although drinking from a man-made trough, I show my photos, mainly because of the beauty of the bird, and those fabulous markings on its back.

Great Tit (Parus major) - Calke Park

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) - Calke Park

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - Calke Park

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Calke Park
Having departed the hide, I noticed some Redwing that were not too far away for photography. Here is one of them.
Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Calke Park
Setting off back towards my car, I found that the Goosander on Mere Pond were awake, and had been joined by another, giving me some photo opportunities, although the light was fading by now.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Calke Park
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Calke Park
As I passed oalong the shore of the reservoir, a Great Crested Grebe took my attention.
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Staunton Harold Reservoir
Tuesday, 25th January
Until this winter, it was a rare occasion when we had a visit from Pied Wagtail. However, this winter we have had almost daily visits, especially when the weather is cold when a wagtail seems to be omnipresent. This day was really special, as we had an unprecedented three birds visiting us. I did manage a record shot with all three in frame.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) - garden on 25th January, 2022
It is always a special day when we get a visit from the delightful Long-tailed Tits.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - garden on 25th January, 2022
That afternoon I returned to Calke Park, this time walking in from Staunton Lane, on a track from which, in the past, I have seen Little Owl, Mandarin, and Redstart - I had no such luck this time, however! I did see some Redwing, which were not very cooperatve.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Calke Park
My walk took me to Calke Explore where I found the nearby hide vacant. This gave me a few photo opportunities, although nothing unusual was seen.
Great Tit (Parus major) - Calke Park
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Calke Park
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Park
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Calke Park
- it's not until you get close-up and personal that you see how attractive a Dunnock's face is with those 'rays' emanating from below the eye.
I left after about quarter of an hour as the light was failing, and set off over the hill to check out how easy it was to get to the hide in the main car park on foot. It turned out to be a pleasant walk. I got to the hide by the main car park and was, once again, lucky to find it unoccupied. I only stayed about 20 minutes as the area in front of the hide was in shade and light levels very low. I did, however, manage a few photos.
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - Calke Perk
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Calke Park
Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) (immature) - Calke Park
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (female) - Calke Park
Near the hide, as I left, was a very fine Red Deer stag, having a rest.
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - Calke Park
I needed to avail myself of the 'washroom' before heading back to my car. Everything at the abbey was closing down as I arrived, and my biggest surprise of the afternoon was the Grey Wagtail by the buildings. I wish that I'd been better prepared.
Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) (1st winter) - Calke Abbey
Wednesday, 26th January
This day saw me having a short walk from the nearby village of Packington. It was not a productive walk, but an enjoyable one - until I came to go home and found I'd got a flat tyre! Our Smart doeas not have a spare and the emergency kit did not put enough into the tyre to drive on so I had to get Lindsay to come out and rescue me with a tyre inflator. It turns out that, somehow, the tyre had got split on the inside wall and a new tyre was required. 

I did get some shots of a Kestrel on a pole, and also some when it few off as I walked down the road.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - near Packington
Along this road is a property which has a very small front garden, in which I usually see a peacock. This bird seems to be totally unconstrained, and struts about freely.  On this occasion, I thought I'd take its photo. It obviously had expectatations, as it immediately strutted over to me as if to ask what reward it was going to receive for its cooperation.

Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus) (male) - near Packington
Thursday, 27thJanuary
On this day, I visited a local trail that I'd not been on for more than three years. This is the Ashby Woulds Trail which runs on the course of a disused railway line. I joined the trail at Donisthorpe and headed south towards Measham.

In an area where I had been lucky enought to see Glossy Ibis and Great Egret (together) in 2018, the most interesting thing I could find was a distant Egyptian Goose.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) - from Ashby Woulds Trail
Just beyond this area, I noticed a board describing access to Woodland Farm. Having not been aware of this before, I took this side path. The path itself didn't provide anything of interest, but I found myself arriving at Jack's Pool and the lake at the western end of Saltersford Valley Country Park. Here, at the edge of the lake, I found a female Goosander. It's not often that I spot a Goosander out of the water.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) = near Oakthorpe
On my retuirn journey, I saw what struck me as a strange sight - three Grey Heron in a field just standing there! It's a rubbish photo as there were intervening branches close to me, but I feel it is worth publishing here.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - from Ashby Woulds Trail
Friday, 28th January
This day, I had a very short excursion (but my fifth trip out in successive days!) to nearby Thortit Lake. I didn't find much to photograph, but couldn't resist this swan which had adopted what I find to be a very attractive pose with its wings arched over its back.
Mute Sawn (Cygnus olor) (male) - Thortit Lake
At one point, I was trying to track a flying heron with my camera, expecting it to land at the water's edge. I was not expecting it to fly into the relatively dense woodland of Willesley Wood and disappear from view.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Willeslety Wood
Saturday, 29th January
Sightings of Siskin in the garden this winter have, sadly, been almost as rare as hen's teeth - and that's my excuse for publishing another 'bird on feeder' shot!
Goldfinch (Carduelis cartduelis) + Siskin (Carduelis spinus) (male) - garden on 29th January, 2022
Sunday, 30th January, 2021
It had been another good week for garden birds, with 24 species visiting. The regular Goldcrest was last seen on 26th January, but we were, and still are, getting regular visits from Brambling and Blackcap. I'll end this post with a shot of a Blackcap, a species that, until this winter, has rarely graced our garden.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (male) - garden on 30th January, 2022

That's it for now. I have a suspicion that my next blog post might feature a single recent visit - but that may change. In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and Nature - something that our government seems to be incapable of doing! Best wishes - - - Richard