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Friday 24 February 2023

More 'Out & About' than 'Garden' - 15th to 21st February, 2023

With Lindsay's continuing improvement, I managed to get out more during this period than I have done since early December. However, I have still not ventured to anywhere further than 20 minutes away from home, although I sense that that is likely to change soon!

Wednesday, 15th February                    Saltersford Valley ; Garden

I had a late morning visit to Saltersford Valley Country Park this morning. I was pleased to find that the boardwalk had been repaired and was now safe and open once more - which bodes well for the dragonfly season when it starts! However, nothing of interest was seen from the boardwalk on this occasion.

Round by the second 'stockade' on the first lake a Coot was photographed on the water.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Saltersford Valley CP
A little further on, I had a view of a Black-headed Gull posing nicely on a post in the rusty water area of the first lake.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Saltersford Valley CP
I then spent a pleasant time at the 'stockade' on the second (main) lake, although not much was seen. Here are a few items.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - from Saltersford Valley CP
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Saltersford Valley CP
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (female) - Saltersford Valley CP
Early that afternoon, we had a garden visit from a Treecreeper. Some years we see a Treecreeper in the garden and some years we don't, so I was delighted that I'd gone out in the morning, rather than the afternoon which is currently more normal for me. The last of the three images shows that it was duly rewrded for its visit.

Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris) - garden on 15th February, 2023
At one point, I thought I might have glimpsed a second Treecreeper, but I suspect that it was a Wren impersonating one. It was certainly a 'Wrenny sort of day' - as witness, this next shot!

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - garden on 15th February, 2023
Saturday, 18th February                    Kelham Bridge

On this day, I had a return visit to Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve. This time I arrived to find I had company in the first hide. It was a gentleman who I instantly recognised, but couldn't put a name or location to. To my embarrassment, he clearly knew who I was and even where I lived! I regret that I didn't have the courage to ask his name. We did, nevertheless, have a most enjoyable conversation, and I was given some valuable advice about cameras that I might consider, as I said that I was probably moving away from Nikon.

After he departed, I started taking a few shots, concentrating mainly on the distant pair of Green Sandpipers. Sadly, they stayed at the far side of the water.

Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) - Kelham Bridge NR
As little else was happening, after a while I went on to the second hide, where I had the place to myself.
A pair of Mute Swan were on the bank near the hide.
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Kelham Bridge NR
A pair of Gadwall eventually came near enough to photograph.
Gadwall (Mareca strepera) (male + female) - Kelham Bridge NR
Two drake Teal briefly appeared in the far corner and then retreated out of sight almost immediately before I could even get a record shot.
I then called in back at the first hide, and the only thing to come before my camera was a female pheasant.
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (female) - Kelham Bridge NR
Shadows were deepening and it was time to leave.
Sunday, 19th February                    Hicks Lodge ; Thortit Lake ; Saltersford Valley
I decided to take a chance this day, and make a morning return visit to Hicks Lodge, in the full knowledge that it would be relatively busy with dog walkers, cyclists and children. I was glad I went, however, as I met my old pal Mick Smith and his wife there, busy with a WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) Count. 
A flock of Lapwing were flying around. Mick reckoned there were about 60 of them, and I tried counting and came to the same conclusion. This is just part of the flock which was not in a particularly tight formation.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - Hicks Lodge
Canada Geese usually give an audible warning before taking to the air, so I manged a shot of this one.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Hicks Lodge
Taking the trail along the western edge of the lake, a Coot was on the grass ahead of me. It seemed quite relaxed about my gentle approach until a child ran at it from the opposite direction.
Coot (Fulica atra) - Hicks Lodge
MIck told me that he had counted 20 Goosander present - several times - that morning. He was trying to come up with a higher number as the 'round 20' looked suspicious! I found that I had a distant but clearer view of some of these while standing at the north-west corner of the lake.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (males + females) - Hicks Lodge
Driven by the thought that I might get better views of Goosander at Thortit Lake, which was only a short walk from where I'd parked my car, I set off for there.
I did find a pair of Goosander there that were somewhat closer than those at Hicks Lodge, and also a Great Crested Grebe.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female + male) -Thortit Lake
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Thortit Lake
I'd contacted Mick with a message to let him know of these birds at Thortit Lake, and Mick replied some time later to inform me that there was a Great White Egret hanging around Oakthorpe Flashes. Uncertain as to which part of this fairly extensive complex it might be on, I enquired back, and was given a good pointer. Our daughter was visiting that afternoon and as there was an extended period when she was in deep conversation with Lindsay, I took my leave and went to see if I could find the bird.
Five minutes later, I saw the bird as I drove past it in my car, turned round in Saltersford Valley CP car park, drove back up the road, parked, took some shots, and was back home again less than quarter of an hour after leaving.
The shots were straight into the late afternoon sun, but at least I saw the bird. I include the second shot because, every time I see a Great White Egret head-on with its neck fully extended, I can't help but wonder how the heck it manages to control such an appendage with any accuracy. It looks so ungainly!

Great White Egret (Ardea alba) - Saltersford Valley
Monday, 20th February                    Kelham Bridge
My main reasons for making return visits to Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve lately are twofold. Firstly, I find it very relaxing to sit in a hide and watch the world outside, even if there are not many birds or other wildlife, around. Secondly, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I am probably going to switch from being a Nikon camera user to being a mirrorless Canon user. In the past, the hides at Kelham Bridge have been busy with Canon users, most of whom seem to have gone 'mirrorless'. They're a friendly bunch of people and I have been wanting to hear their advice. However, these days, it seems that very few people are visitng Kelham Bridge.
This day I was lucky and, at the first hide, I was soon joined by the gentleman who, a a couple of weeks earlier, had given me the inspiration to go down the Canon route. He was using the exact same set-up that I was contemplating. I gleaned quite a bit more useful information and was even able to compare shots of the same subject taken with his set up and my current set up. The only aspect that I am not yet comfortable about is the image processing workflow - converting raw images to .jpg and experting them to a different folder with subject name appended to the filename. This I am currently investigating.
While I was in the first hide, an obliging Great Tit made a few appearances.
Great Tit (Parus major) - Kelham Bridge NR
The Pheasants were also keen to get in on the action.
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (male) - Kelham Bridge NR
The two Green Sandpipers were still there, and this time came quite a bit closer than on my previous visit.
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) - Kelham Bridge NR
While trying to photograph the Green Sandpipers, I noticed a Snipe had popped out of the reeds. It didn't stay long before popping back in again.
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Kelham Bridge NR
At the second hide I was, once again, on my own for the duration. There were three pairs of Gadwall there, only one pair of which came within photographic distance.
Gadwall (Mareca strepera) (female + male) - Kelham Bridge NR
There were a few brief showings of Teal in the far distance but, eventually, two males just about made it into the reach of my lens.
Teal (Anas crecca) (male) - Kelham Bridge NR
Tuesday, 21st February                    Garden
Although the Sparrowhawk has frightened away many of our garden birds, as I write this we are still, I am pleased to say, getting visits from Lesser Redpoll. We had three visit us on this day.
Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden on 21st February, 2023

I shall call a halt to this post now as it turned out to be rather longer than I originally anticipated at the start of the week.

I intend to offer another blog post in a week's time. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Friday 17 February 2023

The Second Week of February - 8th to 14th Feb. 2023

header image (while this post is current) - Sparrowhawk in our garden on 9th February, 2023

We've reached some more milestones in Lindsay's recovery this week, and things are looking up. It is beginning to look as if it might not be very long before I am able to confidently leave Lindsay on her own for a significantly longer period, and so travel further afield in the hope of finding something a bit different to point my camera at.

In the meantime, here's how the second seven days of February unfolded.

Wednesday, 8th February                    Garden

It was a good day for visiting birds, but I only managed photos of two. This was the last-but-one day that the female Pied Wagtail visited.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (female) - garden on 8th February, 2023
Carrion Crow is currently visiting on most days, but usually stays high up in the rowan or sorbus. This one could be captioned 'Corvus in the Sorbus'!

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden on 8th February, 2023
Thursday, 9th February                    Garden

I had put out some stale bread for the birds as the Magpies are rather fond of it - actually, they'll eat pretty-much anything! I was not expecting a squirrel to find it to its taste.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - garden on 9th February, 2023
The immature Sparrowhawk (it now seems it is a female), once very nervous, has now become a lot more confident - too confident really! It visited several times this day, and each time I went out to take its photo it stayed there for a while before moving a bit further down the fenceline. This was also the day that the once ever-present Pied Wagtail was last seen and, as it seemed to go about its business quite nonchalantly, I wonder if it fell victim.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (immature female?) - garden on 9th February, 2023
Friday, 10th February                    Garden ; Hicks Lodge ; Thortit Lake

We were still getting visits from Redpoll and I was taking avery opportunity to photograph them as there's no telling if or when they will visit again. Numbers had increased to the occasional four. On this day, however, we had six visit and I managed to get a record shot with all six of them in.

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden on 10th February, 2023
Here are a couple of shots without the clutter of the feeder dishes.

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden on 10th February, 2023
In the afternoon, I headed out to Hicks Lodge to have an amble around and see what might be happening on the lake there. I did my usual thing of parking at Oakthorpe Colliery and walking in. On my way in, a small flock of Redwing flew over the track and landed, well spread out, on the far side of the field to the west of the track. Here's a record shot of one of them.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Hicks Lodge
Having reached the lake, I popped into the hide for a short while. Little happened, except I got some shots of a departing swan.
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Hicks Lodge
A walk along the western edge of the lake revealed a male Goosander right over on the eastern side of the lake.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Hicks Lodge
In the north-western corner of the lake, a pair of Shoveler were engaged in their courting ritual, where the birds circle round each other.
Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) (male) - Hicks Lodge
Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) (male + female) - Hicks Lodge
As I wandered back, I spotted a distant Oystercatcher. I'm not used to seeing this species here, although it is one of the locations that this 'uncommon passage visitor' regularly shows up at at this time of year.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Hicks Lodge
While I was standing trying to get shots of the Oystercatcher, a Coot left the lake and wandered over the grass quite close to me, seeming totally unperturbed by my presence.
Coot (Fulica atra) - Hicks Lodge
Feeling that I'd seen as much as I was likely to without spending a lot of time here, I set off back to my car, stopping to photograph some of a large group of Greylag Geese that were just over the other side of the hedge between the track and the pasture to the west of the track.
Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Hicks Lodge
Having reached the car park at Oakthorpe Colliery, and prompted by the sighting of the Goosander at Hicks Lodge, rather than get into my car and drive home, I took the short walk down to Thortit Lake as this has been a reliable location for Goosander in previous winters. This proved to be the case on this occasion, with three drakes being spotted at the far side of the lake.
Photography is difficult at this location, as only the northern edge of the lake is accessible so, for much of the day, one is shooting into the light. For this reason, I tend to visit here on cloudy days. This was one such day.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) -Thortit Lake
Saturday, 11th February                    Garden ; Thortit Lake ; Garden ; Kelham Bridge
One of the Redpolls visiting the garden had a distinctly pale orange forehead, rather than a red one. I wonder if this was a juvenile? You can see this in the image below.
Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden on 11th February, 2023
Recently, I have been taking Lindsay to Oakthorpe Colliery carpark so that she can take a short walk on a level path through Willesley Woods, where there are plenty of benches for her to rest on. On this day, she was happy to let me leave her there for half an hour in the morning and go off on foot on my own down to Thortit Lake.
I was pleased to see snowdrops in full bloom in Willesley Woods
Snowdrop (Galanthus sp.) - Willesley Wood
I was even more pleased to find a female Goosander on Thortit Lake, and spent a short while trying to photograph her, ignoring the two males that were present in another area.
Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) -Thortit Lake
We came home to find that the Redpoll with the orange, rather than red, forehead was still showing well.
Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden on 11th February, 2023
That afternoon, I went out to Kelham Bridge to see what I could find.
The first hide reached at Kelham Bridge is set low into the ground so that the windows are only just above ground level. Although there are bird feeders hanging in the trees at a distance off to the right of the hide, I suspect that someone has been chucking seed out of the hide windows as, as soon as I sat down, the nearby pheasants seemed to detect my presence and approach my position. I had the strange experience of having eye to eye contact on the level with a female pheasant at less than two metres distance!

Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (female) - Kelham Bridge
Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (male) - Kelham Bridge
A heron arrived and landed in the distance.
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Kelham Bridge
I stayed for a while, having the hide to myself - which I was not expecting, this being a Saturday. However, little was happening so I set off for the second hide, which is usually more productive.
On my way to the second hide, a pair of Bullfinch were moving down the hedge ahead of me, and being very elusive. I did, eventually, manage a distant shot of the male, which was busy nibbling off new shoots on the bushes.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - Kelham Bridge
At the second hide, there was even less to see. At one point, two Canada Geese arrived, but didn't stay long. These have a habit of loudly announcing when they are about to depart and, when they did, I thought for a moment that this one was on a collision course for the hide!

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Kelham Bridge
On my way back to the first hide, I noticed these catkins which looked very bright and attractive.
Common Hazel (Corylus avellana) (catkins) - Kelham Bridge
Back at the first hide once more, there was even less activity. I was, however, quite amused when a Robin flew into the hide and landed on the edge of the next window along from me. It was off again before I could raise my camera. Not much later, it again flew into the hide and landed on the bench beside me. This time I did manage to grab a shot!
Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Kelham Bridge
I had been on site for over an hour and a half, and not seen one other person during that time - perhaps the word had got out about the lack of activity here?
Monday, 13th February                    Thortit Lake
This was another day when I took Lindsay out for a walk and made a diversion down to Thortit Lake while she stayed relatively local to the car park.

The Goosander seemed to have departed, but there was a Great Crested Grebe on the lake.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Thortit Lake
Lindsay drove the car home - her first time driving since the beginning of December! This was another milestone in her recovery.
Tuesday, 14th February                    Thortit Lake

This day was, in essence, a repeat of the previous day, with just the grebe photographed. However, Lindsay drove there and back.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Thortit Lake

This brings me to the end of the seven days. I will aim to publish my next blog post in a week's time, and currently it looks as if it will be a short one as, to date, there has been little to report and the next few days are forecast to be very windy and maybe a bit wet - not a good combination. Also, the Sparrowhawk's regular visits seem to have succeeded in frightening most of the birds away from our garden.

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