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Saturday 25 November 2023

The First Half of November, 2023

This post, covering the first half of the Month of November will bring me as far up-to-date as I am ever likely to get - unless I start mending my ways! It covers three short trips out, and garden observations - a few of which were cause for excitement.

Friday, 3rd November          Garden  :  Saltersford Valley Country Park  :  Thortit Lake

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly graced us with a visit this day - not a rare butterfly, but a rather late one. It seemed to be in fine condition.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - our garden
After lunch, I had a short trip out to Saltersford Valley, in the hope of finding some late dragonflies or damselflies. I had no such luck as, after the heavy rains, the boardwalk was closed due to it being under water. Other parts of the area were only just passable too without the benefit of wellington boots. The only photos I took were of a Coot, and a Black-headed Gull with Tufted Duck and Moorhen in the background.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Saltersford Valley CP
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Saltersford Valley CP

Being somewhat disgruntled by the lack of wildlife on show at Saltersford Valley, I called in at Thortit Lake on my way home. Here again, I was thwarted by flooded paths, the only bird even vaguely photographable being a distant and noisy Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - by Thortit Lake
Sunday, 5th November          Garden  :  Old Parks Farm

The weather was relatively dry this day and, having finished lunch (always taken in the conservatory), I photographed a few of the birds in the garden. These ranged from the very common Great Tit, the slightly less common Greenfinch, and the extremely infrequent, and delightful, visitors in the form of Long-tailed Tits.

Great Tit (Parus major) - our garden

Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) (female) - our garden

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden

I had seen a report of a Short-eared Owl being seen from the Ashby de la Zouch bypass the previous day and, as the weather was reasonably favourable this day, I determined to go and look for it in the area that it had disappeared into. I spent about an hour and a half until dusk approached and saw nothing more interesting than some brown sheep, which I found amusing, and some fungi, the identity of which I have no idea.

Sheep - Old Parks Farm, Ashby de la Zouch
Fungi - Old Parks Farm, Ashby de la Zouch
Monday, 6th November          Garden

Carrion Crow are now daily visitors to the garden, frequently coming as a pair. This was one of our better weather days.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - our Garden
Tuesday, 7th November          Garden

Our male Robin is getting to be rather territorial. We are quite used to seeing Robin getting aggressive towards Dunnock and other Robins, but lately he has been seeing off Chaffinches and House Sparrows too.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - our garden
Wednesday, 8th November          Garden

The Long-tailed Tits were back again on this day.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden
Friday, 10th November          Longmoor Lake, Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Woodland

It had been a long while since I last visited this place, which is only about ten minutes by car from our home.

I was a little surprised as to how much the trees had grown since I last visited, and a little disappointed at how few birds were in the area whan I visited in the late afternoon. 

A visit to the shelter, not far from the entrance, showed a lack of pellets on the floor, indicating that birds of prey, especially Barn Owl, were probably not roosting there .

Little was seen on my way down to the lake, and I only spotted common fare on the lake. Most obvious were the Canada Geese.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Longmoor Lake

Mute Swan were there - as always.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (immature) - Longmoor Lake

There were plenty of Black-headed Gulls on the water at the far side of the lake and, occasionally, one would take to the air and fly by.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Longmoor Lake
I spent most time, however, trying for shots of Wigeon. These are quite nervous birds and, even at a respectable distance, tend to swim away from any moving person. Here are some of the results.

Wigeon (Mareca penelope) (male) - Longmoor Lake

Wigeon (Mareca penelope) (male + female) - Longmoor Lake

I had been hoping to see an owl, but no such luck came my way.

Sunday, 12th November          Garden

This was an exciting day in the garden as we saw our first visit by a Pied Wagtail since February - a very smart male bird.

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

Almost as exciting was the return of a Bullfinch for the first time since early September, when a juvenile had visited us.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden

Tuesday, 14th November          Garden

A visit from a Blackcap this day was our first observed since mid-March. It was a dull day, and photography was difficult.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden

Wednesday, 15th November          Garden

The Sparrowhawk was, and still is, making things difficult for the other birds visitng our garden. Here it is on one of its visits this day.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (male) - our garden
Carrion Crow is not bothered by the Sparrowhawk, and affords some protection to the smaller birds. I think its intelligence shines through in this shot.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - our garden

I expect that my next post, in about a week's time will cover the second half of November, and will feature some more recent visitors to the garden as well as some old friends, and maybe a visit out.

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

Saturday 18 November 2023

The Second Half of October - 2023

For various reasons, I didn't get out with my camera in the second half of October, so this will just feature observations of things in our garden. The birds were either seen and photographed from my study or from our conservatory at meal times. The insects had me going into the garden to photograph them.

Monday, 16th October

A Heron landed on the roof of the bungalow behind our garden, and I couldn't resist a shot, even though it wouldn't be on the Garden List. It is many years since we had a Heron actually land IN the garden, and the garden list only includes birds that set a foot down in the garden - not even fly-throughs are recorded. 

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - behind our garden
That day, we had six Long-tailed Tits visit. These are always a delight to see, but they rarely stay still and tend not to hang around for long.
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden

Tuesday, 17th October

Stock Dove is still a regular visitor to the garden. Most of the time, we just get the one bird, but sometimes we get two together. These are strictly ground feeders. On this occasion we just had the one bird.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - our garden
Wednesday, 18th October

We had some real excitement this day in the form of our first Brambling of the winter. Sadly, I only managed record shots of it on a feeder. I kept my eyes open for its return, but it was not to be. Hopefully there will be more opportunities later in the winter.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (female) - our garden
Thursday, 19th October

Whilst enjoying breakfast in the conservatory, I noticed something that piqued my curiosity, on the pedestal of the bird-bath. I went out to have a look and found what I am pretty sure was the larva of a Ruby Tiger moth. It was very wet from the earlier rain.

Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa) (larva) - our garden
A late-visiting Red Admiral was a pleasure to see.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - our garden
I went out later to check on the Ruby Tiger. It had dried out and was changing position from time to time and my initial thoughts were that it was looking for somewhere to pupate. However, it seems that this species likes to pupate on the ground under bushes and leaf detritus. I then came to the conclusion that it was just trying to find a dry spot following the torrential rain in the night.

Ruby Tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa) (larva) - our garden

Friday, 20th October

We woke to find that the extremely heavy rain in the night was causing water to flow through our garden, and was lapping round our back door. Fortunately the rain, and water level, subsided to a safer level. It had just stopped raining when a Sparrowhawk arrived in the garden. I tried to take some photos from the conservatory, but the windows were so wet that I couldn't get focus. Something inspired me try try holding the lens hard up against the glass and this worked! 

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (immature male) - our garden
Sunday, 22nd October

Our garden Robin seems to have found a mate. I think that this one, photographed from the chair in my study, is the male.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - our garden

Wednesday, 25th October

This blog post will now get a little repetitive as the last week of the month in the garden was being dominated by visits from the immature male Sparrowhawk. Its visits, which were occuring several times a day, had a negative effect on the numbers of visits by other birds. Here's one from this day, when it had the audacity to sit on the quick-release plate on the stake that one of the three trail cams that I deploy every night gets attached to. My excuse for multiple images is that, once the majority of birds have gone elsewhere, the Sparrowhawk will seek somewhere with richer pickings and will probably not be seen for a month or so.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (immature male) - our garden

Friday, 27th October

The Sparrowhawk was busy this day. These two shots were taken at 14.12 and 16.35. 

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (immature male) - our garden

Sunday, 29th October

Yes, it's that Sparrowhawk again!

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (immature male) - our garden

That night, one of the garden trail cams recorded one of our regular Hedgehogs nest-building in one of the two houses that we have deployed. At this time, we were down to three Hedgehogs visiting,and this one is giving us a little concern as it is rather small, and possibly too small to survive hibernation. I shall be keeping an eye on it.

Thus ended the month.


I expect that my next post will cover the first half of November, and be somewhat different to this one as I managed to get out with my camera during that period.

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

Sunday 12 November 2023

The First Half of October, 2023

Having returned from our visit to the Isles of Scilly on 3rd October, I found myself with nearly two and a half thousand photos to process. This took about three weeks to complete, and limited my time out in the field. I did, however, manage three short excursions, but also found myself distracted by birds in the garden while at my desk, working on the photos. Here are some of my observations from the first half of October.

Thursday, 5th October          Garden

Stock Dove was absent for a few weeks, but is now being seen on an almost daily basis. Occasionally we get two of them.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - Garden
Carrion Crow has become a frequent visitor to the garden, and also we sometimes get two together. I think that face radiates intelligence.

Carrion Crow (Covus corone) - Garden

Woodpigeons are also frequent visitors - it's a rare day that we don't see one in the garden - but we rarely see youngsters, such as this one.

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) (immature) - Garden
Sunday, 8th October          Garden
Our over-the-back neighbour has a box hung on the dividing fence which he fills with peanuts in their shells. These seem to be exclusively attractive to the local squirrels which take great delight in burying them in our garden, although sometimes they will stop and enjoy the contents - as this one did, sitting on the wall of our mini-pond, which I photographed from my study window.
Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Garden

Monday, 9th October          Saltersford Valley Country Park
Lookking for a dragonfly fix on a fine weather day, I headed to my favourite local dragonfly location - Saltersford Valley.

I started off by spending time on the boardwalk, which is usually the best location for finding dragonflies. There were several Common Darters here, mostly landing on the boardwalk , which is not very photogenic. Occasionally, however, one would perch on some vegetaion.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

At one point, a pair of Common Darter appeared in tandem, but I was only able to photograph them on the boardwalk.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male+female in tandem) - Saltersford Valley CP
I spent quite a long while trying to photograph one of the two Migrant Hawker dragonflies that were patrolling round the boardwalk. I failed to get any flight shots and if they landed it was always away from the boardwalk and partly obscured by the Reedmace. This was, unfortunately, my best shot.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

I seemed to be getting nowhere fast, so decided to take a walk round the site.
A Western Honey Bee looked rather fine on wild Angelica.
Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) - Saltersford Valley CP

I found a few more Common Darter which, to my advantage, didn't have a boardwalk that they could settle on. 

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

The bright red berries of Guelder-rose stood out like a beacon.

Guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) - Saltersford Valley CP
A return to the boardwalk gave me an unobstructed view of a perched Migrant Hawker, but at a distance and at an awkward angle for photography.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

I came away, concious that, apart from the tandem Common Darters, I'd only seen male dragonflies. This however, is not an unusual situation, as males have a tendency to patrol near water, while females tend to come to water to primarily mate or oviposit.
I had hoped to find Willow Emerald Damselfly here, as I had not yet positively seen one this season, but I failed. 

Tuesday, 10th October          Thortit Lake Area

I'd had an eye injection in the morning, after which I was supposed to take it easy for 48 hours, and not drive for at least four hours. However, at around 16.00, the effect of the dilation drops had worn off, my eye was not feeling too uncomfortable, and so I decided on a gentle visit to my nearest dragon site, Thortit Lake, to try once more for Willow Emerald.

Having parked my car, as I entered the site, I found five Common Darter roosting on the gate. I was a little surprised to see that these were all females.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - near Thortit Lake

As I approached the lake, a Red Admiral kept landing on the path ahead of me and then flying ahead as I got nearer.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - Thortit Lake
As I approached the water's edge, a pair of Mute Swan with four youngsters in tow came towards me, obviously expecting to be fed. They soon realised that I would not oblige, and turned away again. My shots including the youngsters were not good, but here's one of one of the adults.
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (male) - Thortit Lake

I saw two or three Migrant Hawker dragonflies, but not in a position to be photographed. A Coot went swimming by as I was about to head back to base, mindful of the fact that I was supposed to be taking it easy.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Thortit Lake

As I neared the exit gate, I saw that some of the female Common Darters were still on the gate.

Wednesday, 11th October          Garden

Another shot of one of the Stock Doves that visited that day, taken through the glass of my study window.
Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - Garden

Thursday, 12th October          Garden

We had been seeing very little of Wren over the past couple of months, and so were absolutely delighted when one showed up this day - not the best of shots, taken from the conservatory, through the double-glazing at an angle.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)  - Garden

Saturday, 14th October          Garden

It has been a quite good year for Comma butterflies. This one visited us this day and sunned itself on Lindsay's nook in the garden.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Garden

Sunday, 15th October          Calke Park : Garden

Against my better judgement - it was a fine weather Sunday during the schools half-term holiday -  I set out for a visit to Calke Park. I found myself in a queue for the entrance booths when I was about 500 metres from them, and would have turned back if the road had not been 'one-way'. 

I first headed for Calke Explore, where there is a hide overlooking a bird feeding station. The car park was full, but I managed to squeeze our small Smart car into a gap in the overflow car park.
I fully expected to find the bird hide full of unruly children but, to my surprise, there were just four people in there (it has capacity for six) and they left as I arrived (I didn't think I looked that threatening!). 
I stayed for about half an hour, but not much was going on and the branches used as photographic props had all been removed, so I photographed very little.
The rats were plentiful and very busy seeking food.

Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) - Calke Park
The few photos I did take didn't turn out too well and probably the best of a bad bunch was this of a very common, but nonetheless delightful, bird - a Blue Tit.
Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Calke Park

With little going on here, I decided to try the other hide on the estate. This is by the main car park near the house. As the house came into sight, I was surprised to see that the overflow car park was full of cars, and a second (unofficial?) overflow car park was in operation. This was, by far, the busiest that I have ever seen Calke Park. Amazingly, however, I managed to find myself a vacant spot in the main car park within a few metres of the hide.
I also found that, with just two people in the hide when I got there, I had room to sit in comfort. There was more going on from this hide, although nothing very exciting was seen. The birds were zooming in to the feeders which were suspended on a tensioned wire that went from one side of the clearing to the other. The best photographic opportunities were when the birds approached but were still in the neighbouring trees. Here are a few of the shots that I took.

Nuthhatch (Sitta europaea) - Calke Park

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) (female) - Calke Park

Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) (male) - Calke Park

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - Calke Park

Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) (male) - Calke Park

Nuthhatch (Sitta europaea) - Calke Park

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male) - Calke Park

The arrival to the hide of a group of people acted as a signal for me to depart. I stopped for a while just outside the hide to view the deer in the Deer Park.
My attention was drawn to a young Fallow Deer that was bounding across the grass at a good speed.

Fallow Deer (Dama dama) - Calke Park

The reason for its haste soon became apparent!

Fallow Deer (Dama dama) - Calke Park

Over on the far side of this area there was a Fallow Deer with what I can only suggest, by the antlers, was a young male Red Deer.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) and Fallow Deer (Dama dama) - Calke Park
I then drove round to what is known as The Round Car Park and walked down to the south-west arm of Staunton Harold Reservoir and then headed westward to reach the weir that is the inflow from Calke Park. This is the view eastward from near that location. On my previous visit, the water in the reservoir was so depleted that, with wellington boots on, it would have been possible to walk across the reservoir on a right to left trajectory that approximates to that thin dark line behind the brighter blue strip.

Staunton Harold Reservoir
From near the inflow, on the far side of the water, I spotted a Heron that was looking for its afternoon tea.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Staunton Harol Reservoir

As I headed back, a Little Egret arrived, landing in the trees on the far side of the water.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Staunton Harold Reservoir

An immature Great Crested Grebe was closer as I went along the boardwalk section of the path.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Staunton Harold Reservoir
I arrived back home in time to witness the Sparrowhawk making a nuisance of itself once more. This immature male has been visiting on a 'several times a day' basis, but its hit-rate is relatively low. The visits are, however, frequent enough that many of the other birds have got wise and are staying away from our garden.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) (immature male) - our garden

As it stands at the moment, my next post will cover the second half of October, and be somewhat shorter than this one as I did not manage to get out with my camera during that period.

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