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Thursday, 16 March 2023

Spring! What Spring? - 1st to 7th March, 2023

Technically we are in metreological spring now, but with the cold weather and snow we have been getting, it doesn't seem like it at all. We have experienced the coldest March weather that the UK has had since 2010. Sadly, I have not been out as much as would have liked as I have been rather caught-up with household projects, plus sorting out the purchase of a new camera and lens with the associated accessories - hence the rather long gap between my last blog post and this one.

I now have the new camera, which has seen me switch from Nikon to Canon - something that I was disappointed to have to do. My old camera set-up was getting a bit long in the tooth, and I was finding it rather heavy to carry around. I wanted to get something more up-to-date and go mirrorless, while still retaining the same sort of reach as I have with the old set-up. To do that with Nikon was going to cost me over four thousand pounds and leave me with something that was not significantly lighter than my old set-up. To do this with Canon, I have spent around two thousand pounds and ended up with something that is less than half the weight of the old set-up and greatly superior (it would seem). However, the switch of manufacturer means that I am now embarking on a complex learning curve - something that may not come easily at my age!

For those tha might be interested, I have purchased a Canon EOS R7 and a Canon RF 100-400mm lens.

The new camera has only recently been wielded in anger, so all the images in this blog post were taken with my Nikon D7200 with a Sigma 50-500mm lens.

Thursday, 2nd March                    Garden

Although Carrion Crow is a reasonably frequent visitor to the garden they usually only drop to the ground momentarily to pick up a morsel of food. On this day one spent about quarter of an hour wandering around on the ground.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden on 2nd March, 2023
Happily for us, we are now seeing Wren in the garden far more frequently, busily probing for insects.

Not quite so welcome, was the Sparrowhawk, which now appears to be a young female.
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (female) - garden on 2nd March, 2023
Totally unwelcome, however, was the Brown Rat which decided to return this day.

Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) - garden on 2nd March, 2023

Friday, 3rd March                    Garden

We were, and still are, getting occasional visits by Redpoll. This is one of the two that visited this day.

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden on 3rd March, 2023

That night, the garden trail cams caught our first Hedgehog of the year. I was surprised, and even disappointed, that it poked its head into both our Hedgehog feeding stations but did not stop to eat.

I was even more disappointed that, having seen it put its nose into one of our Hedgehog houses, when I checked that house the following day I found a very flat and dead Hedgehog that had clearly been there for some months.

Sunday, 5th March                    Kelham Bridge ; Sence Valley Forest Park

I spent some time at Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve this day, but very little was happening and I came away again after an unproductive hour and a half. Here are a few shots of some of the things I did see.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Kelham Bridge NR
Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) - Kelham Bridge NR

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Kelham Bridge NR
Hoping for better luck, I decided to visit Sence Valley Forest Park, entering at the south-west corner. The place was quite busy with people, but there was more to be seen.

Five minutes beside Goss Water was more productive than an hour and a half at Kelham Bridge.

Teal (Anas crecca) (male) - Sence Valley FP
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) - Sence Valley FP

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Sence Valley FP
I then moved on to Horseshoe Lake where, at one point, there is a ramp that leads down into the water. Here, it would seem, the birds are used to being fed by the public, as I was accosted by Mute Swans and Canada Geese as I approached.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Sence Valley FP
I spent a little while here, attempting to photograph gulls. I was quite surprised to find a Common Gull - a species that is far from common in these parts. In fact, I believe that I have only knowingly seen this species in Scotland!
Common Gull (Larus canus) - Sence Valley FP
More common than Common Gull is Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) - Sence Valley FP
By far the most common gull in these parts is Black-headed Gull. I caught this one just coming in to land on the water.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
I decided that it was time to give up and go home when a stupid woman stood in front of me and encouraged her two dogs to enter the water and confront the two Mute Swans that were close by. One dog decided to have a go. The female swan gently backed-off, but the male stood his ground and looked game for a fight. I was hoping that it would attack the dog or, better still, the dog owner, but the dog soon retreated.
Tuesday, 7th March                    Garden
For the first time in many weeks we had a garden visit from Long-tailed Tit.  There were two of these delightful little birds, but I only got a shot of one of them.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - garden on 7th March, 2023

As the above represents the last images taken with my old camera set-up, this seems like an appropriate point to end this blog post, with the next one featuring my first efforts with the new kit. Given the long-range weather forecasts and my commitments, it will probably be at least another week before my next output.

In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature - thank you for dropping by - - - - Richard

Friday, 3 March 2023

Breaking New Ground - last week of February, 2023

header image (while this post is current):- Fisher's Mill Pool, RSPB Middleton Lakes on 23rd February, 2023

With Lindsay's situation continuing to improve, we were both confident that I could safely leave her for more than the two or three hours that I'd limited myself to lately, and go a little further afield. It also meant that I was not having to spend so much time keeping the household afloat, and could start trying to catch up with projects around the house and garden that needed attending to. The result was that, although I did get out twice in the seven days, I spent little time observing what was happening in the garden.

Wednesday, 22nd February                    Garden

This was the last day that I had recorded a Redpoll in the garden - until today (3rd March). However, we also had an unwelcome visitor in the form of a Brown Rat. I had been rather lax in sweeping up spilled seed from the feeders and this was, no doubt, the result of my failure. I quickly swept up but, unfortunately the rat was seen again yesterday (2nd March).

Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) - garden on 22nd February, 2023

Thursday, 23rd February                    RSPB Middleton Lakes

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I'd met my old pal Mick Smith at Hicks Lodge that week. Mick, and his wife Pauline, had been extolling the virtues of Miiddleton Lakes Nature Reserve. I have never been to this reserve before, although it is less than 20 miles (30 km) from my home. The reserve is just south of Tamworth on the west side of the River Tame. I have, however, in the distant past (2011), been to Dosthill on the opposite side of the river to photograph Short-eared Owls.

For the first time since Lindsay's operation in esarly December, I made myself a picnic lunch and headed off for a short 'day out'. Middleton Lakes seemed like an obvious choice.

It was a relatively easy journey there and I parked in the RSPB car park, headed into the courtyard at nearby Middleton Hall to check what might be there for a future visit by Lindsay and to avail myself of the ablutions there (none on the RSPB reserve). 

I'd armed myself with a map of the reserve that I'd downloaded from the internet and, having enjoyed a short introduction to the reserve by a volunteer at the reserves entrance, set off into the reserve. 

RSPB Middleton Lakes Map
I feel that I should point out that the signage in the reserve is not great and, without the map, I would almost certainly (1) got lost, and (2) missed a lot. 

It is approximately 1 km from the car park entrance, along the Woodland Trail, to the first lake, and I had not travelled far along the trail before I was greeted by a Dunnock. A Dunnock may not be the most colourful of birds but I think the feathering of the side of the face is wonderful.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Woodland Trail, Middleton Lakes
A very short distance further on, there is a small pond on the left with feeders beside it. I stopped to survey the area just before I got to the feeders as there were youngsters busy watching the birds on the feeders and the rats on the ground. It was all very common fare, and I didn't attempt any photography there.

Further on, on the right, there is another area with views over some water and reed beds. Here there is also a set-up which is desctibed (if I remember correctly) as a 'bird kitchen', where people put out seed on an arrangement of tree stumps to attract the birds. I spent a little while here, but nothing of interest was seen.

It was quite a bit further on that I came to what is described as 'Pooh Stick Bridge'. I stayed here a while as Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was being seen here on a virtually daily basis, but usually early in the morning. However, the best that I could manage was a shot of a busy Nuthatch.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Pooh Stick Bridge, Middleton Lakes
The trail crosses the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal at Fisher's Mill Bridge. Here, people had been leaving bird sees on the bridge parapet and this was attracting mainly Robins, and Great Tits, but some Reed Buntings were showing an interest and being quite bold.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Fisher's Mill Bridge, Middleton Lakes
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - Fisher's Mill Bridge, Middleton Lakes
It's only about 50 metres from Fisher's Mill Bridge to Fishers Mill Pool, at a point where I took the shot that is the header to this blog while this post is current. Here, although the birds were all distant, the noise being made by the gulls was tremendous!

I turned northwards here, seeing little of interest as I passed along the west side of Fisher's Mill Pool. I stopped at the West Scrape blind when I reached the area known as Jubilee Wetlands, but again saw little.

Part way along the west side of Jubilee Wetlands, a pair of Greylag Geese flew in and landed with a group of their congeners on the grass to the west of the trail. The second image, below, serves as a warning not to stand under flying geese!

Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - by Jubilee Wetlands, Middleton Lakes

As I approached the northern end of Jubilee Wetlands, I noticed a large number of swans on the far side of Jubilee Wetlands North. Through my binoculars, I was surprised to see the furthest and largest group seemed to have very yellow bills. My immediate thought was Whooper Swan. A birder was coming from the opposite direction and I asked him if I was correct in my identification. He responded that he wasn't sure, but had been looking for Bewicks Swans. While we were busy talking, the swans took to the air and I grabbed my camera and took some shots as they flew past. I commented that I thought that it was the first time that I'd seen Whooper Swans in flight. Later, I was asked by persons on a few occasions if I'd seen anything interesting, and I'd replied that the most interesting thing for me had been the Whoopers. I was, therefore, highly disappointed and extremely embarrased when, on reviewing my shots when I got home, I found that these swans were only Mute Swans! How I'd managed to see yellow bills I don't know - it must have been a trick of the light. Anyhow, I did manage to get some acceptable shots of the Mute Swans.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Jubilee Wetlands, Middleton Lakes
A little further on, I found a Coot in a small pool of water.
Coot (Fulica Atra) - Jubilee Wetlands North, Middleton Lakes
Near to the start of the track that leads to North Pool and The Lookout, I could not resist a shot of a Reed Bunting in its more natural environment.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - near The Lookout, Middleton Lakes
From the path to The Lookout, I photographed a nearby lone Great Crested Grebe.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - near The Lookout, Middleton Lakes
I spent a while in The Lookout but, although there were many birds visible, they were all beyond the reach of my camera lens, and nothing out of the ordinary was spotted.

I made my return journey down the east side of the reserve, and the trail runs alongside the River Tame for most of its length. I did not bother photographing the Mute Swan in the river, but did try, rather unsuccessfully, to photograph some Teal which, surprisingly, didn't fly off as soon as I was in sight. I only managed to salvage one shot from here. Sadly, that shot features an item of detritus, not spotted at the time of taking it.

Teal (Anas crecca) (male + female) -River Tame, Middleton Lakes
Reaching the eastern end of the seasonal trail that crosses between Fishers Mill New Reedbed and Jubilee Wetlands, I stopped at the junction, and just missed getting a shot of a Treecreeper.

Turning down the seasonal trail there was a Kestrel in the distance ahead of me. Sadly, I was shooting straight into the light, so I only got a very distant record shot, and can't tell for certain whether this was a male or female bird, but I suspect the latter.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) - from seasonal trail, Middleton Lakes
I went a short way down the seasonal trail and stopped at the East Scrape blind to see what was visible. There were several Shoveler in view, but not much else.

Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) (male + female) - by East Scrape, Middleton Lakes
Wanting to see as much of the reserve as possible, I turned back, and then took the footbridge that crosses the River Tame to Dosthill Nature Reserve. I had a quick scan about from the top of the bridge and decided that Dosthill would have to wait until another day. Coming back off the bridge, I continued round the east and south sides of Fisher's Mill Pool, seeing absolutely nothing of interest.

Back at Fisher's Mill Bridge, a squirrel was looking for a snack, and a Dunnock posed nicely in a nearby bush.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Fisher's Mill Bridge, Middleton Lakes
Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Fisher's Mill Bridge, Middleton Lakes

I stopped at the bird kitchen for a while, and spent a short while photographing a Blue Tit.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - the 'bird kitchen', Middleton Lakes
Opposite this area, there is a stream that runs beside the trail. Here, a Grey Wagtail flew past, and I failed to locate it again.

I got back to my car after just under four hours on the reserve. Although I had not seen or photographed anything outstanding, it had been a very enjoyable time. The reserve is full of promise, and I look forward to returning in the not too distant future, and taking things at a more relaxed pace. My thanks, again, to Mick and Pauline Smith for inspiring me to visit this place.

Friday, 24th February                    Garden

The numbers of birds visiting the garden have thinned out, almost certainly being put off by the frequent visits by the Sparrowhawk. I have, therefore, had limited opportunities for garden photography.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) - garden on 24th February, 2023
In our front garden, a pair of Goldfinch were canoodling in the top of our small Pink Pagoda Mountain Ash, staying stationary and just making facial contact for a least twenty minutes.
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 24th February, 2023
Saturday, 25th February                    Garden

After a long absence, the female Pied Wagtail made a brief return visit this day, but I only managed a rear-end view from the kitchen window.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) - garden on 25th February, 2023
To our delight, we are seeing Wren more frequently recently. Here's a shot of Wren in a fuchsia which, after many years, now seems to have been killed off by the extended cold spell earlier this winter.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 25th February, 2023
Sunday, 26th February                    Kelham Bridge ; Normanton le Heath

An early afternoon visit to Kelham Bridge started off quite well as I was hearing the chatter of Fieldfare as I entered the site. I only managed photos of one bird and that was with difficulty as it was in a tree with another tree in front of it and I had difficulty in finding a gap to shoot through.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) - Kelham Bridge NR
Things then went rapidly down hill as, when I got nearer to the first hide, the tranquility of the day was shattered by the sound of unsilenced trail bikes. There were two of these machines which were on a circuit and passing at high speed within about 20 metres of the hide. Unsurprisingly there were no birds seen in the vicinity.

I didn't stay long, but moved on to the second hide. Here, it was much quieter, but there was little to see. Three pairs of Gadwall stayed distant, as did a lone Little Grebe, and the only other birds on the water were Mallards. However, the sun was shining, and a drake Mallard is a truly handsome duck - especially when in sunlight.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male) - Kelham Bridge NR
After about three quarters of an hour, I gave up and was pleased to find, on returning to the first hide, that the idiots on bikes had gone and peace had returned, as had a few birds. Contrary to my principles, all I have to offer from this stop is a shot of a woodpecker on a feeder - I felt I needed to add something to the account of this visit!

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - Kelham Bridge NR
I chose to make a short diversion on my way home, taking in Redburrow Lane from Normanton le Heath. I was disappointed to see that it was likely that some poor child had lost it's favourite teddybear. I hope that it was reclaimed from its seat before the rain set in that night.
Redburrow Lane, Normanton le Heath
I took a short walk along the lane when I got to the barn, and was enchanted by the song of a Song Thrush that was atop the derelict barn which used to be home to both Little Owl and Barn Owl before half the roof collapsed. 
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Redburrow Lane, Normanton le Heath
Tuesday, 28th February                    Garden

The weather on this last day of February, was pretty grim, with rain for most of the day. It did not, however, stop us having a rare visit from a female Reed Bunting. I managed to get a few (much manipulated) shots of it through the rain-spattered window on my study by holding the lens close to the glass.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) -garden on 28th February, 2023
The Sparrowhawk was still visiting, and I got a number of shots, including this one of it having lost its composure, and looking slightly less manacing than usual. 

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) - garden on 28th February, 2023

Thus ended February. March is now upon us and I will endeavour to produce another blog post in a week or so's time. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard