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Sunday 31 December 2023

December, Pt.1 - 1st to 14th December, 2023

I hope you had a great Christmas, and take this opportunity to wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year.

I'm ending the year with an account of my wildlife sightings and photography in the first part of December. This almost exclusively consists of sightings of birds in our garden! I hope that you don't find the lack of variety too boring!

Friday, 1st December          Garden

This was a frosty day starting at -3°C and only rising to 0°C, but sunny for most of the day.

During most winters, we get a little fed up with the Starlings that tend to arrive in great numbers, consume all the bird food,  and noisily frighten away the smaller birds. It is a relief when, eventually, they depart to somewhere else. However, this year we are seeing very few and are now getting excited when they do appear.

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - our garden

We were still getting regular visits from Pied Wagtail.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden
The above photos might make it look as if the weather was pleasantly warm and sunny but, where the sun wasn't shining, it looked a little different. Below, in photos taken in the afternoon, you can see the depth of the frost.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (female) - our garden

Saturday, 2nd December          Garden

It was frosty again, with -3°C rising to 0°C, but freezing fog and mist for much of day. We were out visiting our son for much of the afternoon. I did manage to get some shots through my study window of a male Pied Wagtail on a frost-free perch only about 7 metres from my seat.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden

Sunday, 3rd December          Garden

We awoke to a light covering of snow. The birds were impatient for me to go out and feed them. It warmed a little during the rather dull day, through which it drizzled with rain for most of the time, although some of the snow remained until the end.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - our garden

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden

Wednesday, 6th December

There was a very heavy frost in the morning, but the day was sunny, which raised temperature from -5°C to 1°C.

We had two Stock Doves visit on this day. Here is one of them.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - our garden
A male Bullfinch was still a regular visitor.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden
That night, the temperature was forecast to rise to 5°C during the night

Saturday, 9th December

After two very wet days, the day again started wet, but a few degrees warmer than it had been, rising to 8°C by mid day, when we had some sun. I photographed the Sparrowhawk that alighted briefly in our Rowan.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden
However it soon turned windy, with wind speeds up to 45 mph (72 kph).

Sunday, 10th December

The day started quite bright.  In the late afternoon I went to the location of my most recently found Little Owl site, which I had not visited since the spring, and was disappointed to see that the nest tree, and all the other trees on that particular edge of the field, had been completely removed. I had hoped to see some winter thrushes here too, but I only saw about half a dozen Fieldfare as they noisily flew across the road in the far distance.

The only thing I photographed was a heron that had been behind a fence on the far side of a horse paddock, but took flight.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - near Normanton le Heath
Tuesday, 12th December          Garden

A very dull damp day, but having three male Bullfinches visit was exciting. We've had five Bullfinches before (male, female, and three juveniles), but three adult males together was a first. I managed just one record shot with all three in it!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden

Wednesday, 13th December          Garden

A dull, but mild day. The Sparrowhawk was back.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden
We get visits from Greenfinch most days at the moment - usually just one or two, but we have had up to four. This is a species that seems to be recovering. having been devastated by a virus a few decades ago.

Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) (female) - our garden
Just the one Bullfinch was spotted this day, but it did pose for a photo. It is a long while since we last saw a female Bullfinch in the garden, but fingers are crossed.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden
Thursday, 14th December          Garden

Dull and wet weather removed any incentive to go out, and I was glad that I stayed at home as we had four wagtails visit that day. The first item that I photographed, however, was a heron on the back neighbours' roof, while we were having breakfast.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) -from our house
Later in the morning, a Bullfinch visited. Without a shadow of doubt, Bullfinch is the most messy eater of all the garden birds!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden
A few minutes later, the Bullfinch was still here when what I originally thought was a White Wagtail arrived, but my local birding expert, Rhys Dandy reckons it was a female Pied Wagtail. Assuming this is the case, it would appear to be a 1st winter bird. White Wagtail is the nominate bird of this species, with Pied Wagtail being a race of the species, largely common to the UK.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (female) - our garden
Almost immediately, it was joined by a Grey Wagtail, and this time I got a few more shots than I managed on its previous visit. This one seemed to have a much darker breast than I'm used to seeing. I think that it is a 1st winter bird.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) (1st winter) - our garden
Later in the day, a pair of Pied Wagtail arrived, with the female being a different bird to the earlier bird as it had a black (rather than pale grey) crown. However, I only got shots of the male on this occasion.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden
We also had a Stock Dove pay us a visit.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - our garden

This brings me to the end of what (for us) was a rather special special day, even if the weather was lousy.

It also brings me to the end of this blog post, which I hope has not bored you with too many images of Wagtails and Bullfinch (both of which are rather special for us) and it just remains for me to wish you all the very best in health and happiness for 2024. Please take good care of yourselves and Nature - - - Richard

Thursday 21 December 2023

Merry Christmas!

I take this opportunity to thank my readers for your visits and your much-appreciated support during 2023, and wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year.

This year has been a bit difficult for us, with Lindsay struggling with her mobility. Recently it was looking as if things were improving and then, on 17th December,  she woke up in the morning, unable to straighten her left leg - not the one she had a replacement knee in a year ago. An x-ray has shown that she's had a serious deterioration of the arthritis in her 'old' knee, and until she can get that one replaced, she will have very limited mobility. This effectively means that it looks as if I'm going to be responsible for virtually all household duties for an extended period. As a result of this, you may find that the scope of my output on this blog is rather limited in the New Year - time will tell!

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (female) - Tresco, 27th March, 2018
The Snowy Owl that features above, and on the header while this post is current, represents what, for me, is the greatest highlight of my wildlife photography so far. The photos were taken on Tresco, in the Isles of Scilly, where snow is even more rare than Snowy Owls!

I look forward to visiting your blogs during the coming year. 

My very best wishes - - - Richard

Thursday 14 December 2023

The Second Half of November, 2023 - Pt.2

This blog post will be a little shorter than my previous one, and only feature observations of birds in our garden.

Saturday, 25th November          Garden

A cold dull start to the morning brought us the exciting experience of three wagtails visiting together. The most remarkable aspect of this was that one of them was a Grey Wagtail. Sadly, the pair of Pied Wagtails saw off the Grey Wagtail before I had a chance to get a decent shot of it. This was taken looking down to the ground through my study window.

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) (1st winter) - our garden
Here are the two Pied Wagtails.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (female) - our garden
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden

Robin also entered into the mix.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - our garden
Later in the morning, the sun came out. The Pied Wagtails were still with us.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden
Blue Tit is, thankfully, a regular colourful visitor.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - our garden
We are sure the Wren is present much more frequently than the occasions that we see one on.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - our garden
Sunday, 26th November          Garden
The Pied Wagtails were back again and I'll ask you to excuse more images of them, please, as their visits are far less frequent as I write this, and I'll make the most of them while I can.
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (male) - our garden

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (female) - our garden

A male Bullfinch has been visiting us for a while now, but has been far more difficult to photograph as it usually makes straight for the feeder trays.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden

The Sparrowhawk is still visiting, but its visits are a little less frequent than they were. In the second image, taken from my study window, it is on the neighbours' garage roof.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
I also managed another shot of a Goldcrest, slightly better than my previous recent efforts.
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden
Tuesday, 28th November          Garden
Our over-the-back neighbour has a feeding box attached to the back of our back fence which he fills with monkey-nuts. This is a great favourite with the squirrels, but seems to be totally ignored by anything else. Here's a squirrel enjoying a free meal.
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - our garden

Wednesday, 29th November          Hicks Lodge

The report of a Short-eared Owl being seen roosting at Hicks Lodge in the morning had me visiting in the late afternoon. I spent a while there, in the company of a very experienced birder, but no owl was seen, and we left as darkness fell. No photographs were taken, other than of a military transport aircraft which I will not bother you with here.

Thursday, 30th November           Garden

This was a relatively good day for sightings in the garden, but only a couple of common items were photographed.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - our garden

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) - our garden

This brings me to the end of November. My next post will probably be, as usual, in about a week's time. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Friday 8 December 2023

The Second Half of November, 2023 - Pt.1

I had, originally, intended to make this blog post cover the whole of the second half of November, but have come to the conclusion that it would be far too long for the comfort of my readers! This post, therefore, features my observations from 16th to 24th November inclusive.

Thursday, 16th November          Garden  :  Sence Valley Forest Park

In the morning we had the pleasure of visits from Goldcrest (UK's smallest, and least dangerous, garden bird), and the male Sparrowhawk (the most dangerous!).

I am still struggling to get a good shot of the Goldcrest. This, at that time, was the best of a bad bunch.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden
This day, the Sparrowhawk took one of our visiting Goldfinch. This may sound heartless, but I'd sooner the Sparrowhawk took a Goldfinch than any other species, as Goldfinch is by far the most numerous of our garden visitors. I am now doubting my original assessment of the sex of this Sparrowhawk. I thought it was an immature male, due to the rufous marking on the throat and white patches at the nape. However, the brown underside striping is showing no signs of turning rufous, and the bird seems rather large, and even attempted to take a Collared Dove, so I think that it's possibly a female.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) - our garden
Lindsay wanted to try out her new three-wheeled walking assistance on sloping terrain and asked if I would like to accompany her - which, of course, I was delighted to do. We decided on a visit to Sence Valley Forest Park as it is well-supplied with benches for her to rest on. I took my camera with me 'just in case', but only found Black-headed Gull to photograph, which was a little unusual for this location. Two other birders on site also commented on this aspect.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
In the afternoon we had our next-door neighbour arrive at our front door, carrying a trug with a hedgehog in it. He'd found it wandering around the garden in daylight, and being worried by their dog. It was a small hog, and looked very much like the hog that I'd been keeping my eye on in our garden. I placed it in the hedgehog house that I was confident was not occupied - we have two in our garden, one of which was definitely being used - but it did not stay in there for long. It came out, and wandered across the back of our garden, disappearing into a corner where it had access into the garden of one of the properties at the rear.

That evening, I stepped into the gap when the speaker (Alan Cann) booked to talk to the Blackfordby Wildlife Group was unable to attend, due to catching Covid for the second time in three months! I was given enough time to revise my talk 'Speyside - a Place for All Seasons'. I'm pleased to report that it was well-received.

Friday, 17th November          Donisthorpe Woodland  :  Garden

My first-thing-in-the-morning trip into the garden to top up the bird and hedgehog feeders revealed a Hedgehog sleeping in one of the feeding stations, on top of the tray of Black Soldier-fly larvae. This is something that has never happened before. I had to assume that this was the hog that our neighbour had brought round the previous day. The garden cameras had revealed it feeding well in the other feeding station that night and moving around, seemingly OK, but maybe a little slower than usual. As it was a sunny day, I decided to leave it there as the feeding station is made from a large clear plastic storage box which would warm up a bit like a greenhouse would.

Lindsay is making good efforts to try and rehabilitate herself and, in the morning, I was pleased to accompany her to an area that she was not familiar with, and that was Donisthorpe Woodland. Little was seen, except by the isolated section of the old Ashby Canal.

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) -Ashby Canal, Donisthorpe Woodland
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) -Ashby Canal, Donisthorpe Woodland

That afternoon, I kept a relatively close watch on the garden in case the Hedgehog appeared, and even took a few shots while I did so.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - our garden

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
Towards dusk, the Hedgehog emerged from the feeding station and, with an exceedingly unsteady gait, made its way to the hedghog house that it had so industriously built a nest in over the past few weeks. I could see no damage to the Hedgehog, but I was extremely worried, and made up my mind the I would seek help and advice the next day. Here is the hog at the entrance to its nest, just before it turned in.
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) - our garden

Saturday, 18th November          Garden
The garden cameras revealed that the worrying Hedgehog had not left its nest in the night. A call to The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, who were wonderfully helpful, had me removing the Hedgehog from its nest, and weighing it. I cannot remember what the weight was but it confirmed my suspicions that its weight was less than that required for it to safely survive hibernation. I was advised to take it to my nearest Hedgehog Rescue Centre for which contact details were given and, fortunately, was only 20 minutes away. It was received there by Shannen who kindly reassured me that it would be taken care of and I would be updated with its progress.

That afternoon I photographed some of the avian visitors to our garden, still, frustratingly, not managing to get a good shot of Goldcrest. One day, one will visit when it's not dull weather. I do love the glum appearance of a Goldcrest head-on.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - our garden
Early the following day, I had a message from Shannon to say "Sadly the hedgehog didn't make it over night, I was very shocked this morning". She had fully expected it to be OK.

Monday, 20th November          Donisthorpe Woodland

I returned to Donisthorpe Woodland, accompanying Lindsay on another of her short walks. At one point, I found myself needing to sneak off into the trees to answer the call of nature. This resulted in me finding two Treecreepers. Some of my best finds, including a Long-eared Owl, have been due to me having to disappear off the beaten track to answer the call - age does have some benefits!
Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) - Donisthorpe Woodland

Thursday, 23rd November          Hicks Lodge
Prompted by reports of Mealy Redpoll, amongst larger numbers of Lesser Redpoll, I set off for Hicks Lodge, which is only about 2 miles (3 km) from our home. I parked at Oakthorpe Colliery and walked in from the south of the site. 

I didn't find any redpolls, but there were other birds to be seen, although nothing of great note.

From the trail in, there were Canada Geese in their usual foraging/roosting field to the west of the trail. 

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge

As I reached the lake, a group of Canada Geese headed towards the lake from their foraging/roosting field.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge
The birds on the lake were mainly quite distant, and the weather was dull, so photography was a challenge. This is the best I could manage of a drake Pochard.

Pochard (Aythya ferina) (male) - Hicks Lodge
There were a few Great Crested Grebe around, but they stayed very distant.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Hicks Lodge

A group of four Little Grebe were somewhat closer, staying close to the near side of the northern island.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) - Hicks Lodge
I thought that I could see something on the near bank of the island, and wondered if it was a lurking Snipe as they have favoured this location in the past. However, I could not make it out properly with my binoculars, so took some shots with the camera that I could zoom in on. I soon saw that it was just a bit of pale shrub. I don't know what made me scan along these photos, rather than discard them, when I got home but I did, and found a Snipe!

The photo, below, is an uncropped in width (but resampled to fit on the blog page) image with the lens at 400 mm, so you can see that it was a distance away. Can you see the Snipe?
Here's a cropped image, so you can probably find it now.
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Hicks Lodge
As I started back towards my car, I took some shots of a Mute Swan.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Hicks Lodge

I was a little disappointed by the lack of Redpoll sightings and the dull weather, but I'd still had an enjoyable time.

Friday, 24th November          Garden

In the morning, I had another attempt to photograph Goldcrest in the garden. Although it turned out to be a sunny day, the sun had not yet got round to being on the bushes favoured the Goldcrest. Nevertheless, I did manage some slightly better images than those that had resulted from my previous recent efforts.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - our garden

That afternoon, I made a visit to Rutland Water - an event which was covered by my previous blog post.

If all goes according to plan, my next post will feature garden observations from the last few days of November.

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