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Sunday 25 February 2024

Soggy Situations - 15th to 21st February, 2024

It has not just been Lindsay's lack of mobility that has limited my time out in the last few weeks, but an unprecedented amount of rainfall has been a major factor too. This has rendered most of the local wildlife spots to be unpleasantly muddy and waterlogged and, in some cases, impassable. Once again, therefore, this blog post will be mainly concerned with observations from the windows of my study (which now doubles as Lindsay's bedroom, where she has an adjustable hospital bed) and our conservatory.

Thursday, 15th February          Garden

In the afternoon, I collected Lindsay from hospital, two days after her knee replacement. In the morning, however, I did note a good number of birds in the garden, including two female Siskins - we'd previously only seen one visiting this winter, although we'd seen singles of both male and female.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female x 2) + House Sparrow & Greenfinch - our garden
The female Blackcap was still visiting occasionally, and she showed up on this day. 

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden
Friday, 16th  February          Garden

The only bird I photographed this day was a Great Tit. Great Tit is a very common bird, but an irregular visitor to the garden. Of late, however, I am frequently hearing its distinctive calls.

Great Tit (Parus major) - our garden
Saturday, 17th February          Garden

The male Brambling returned on this day. It continues to avoid posing nicely for me.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - our garden
Sunday, 18th February          Garden

It's a poor shot, I know, but I include it as it does show the exquisite markings on the back of a male Brambling.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - our garden
I have recently become conscious of the fact that I tend to overlook the most common birds that visit our garden when it comes to photography. With this in mind, I took some shots of the very common Chaffinch. They are rather beautiful birds.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (female) - our garden

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (male) - our garden

Monday, 19th February          Garden  :  Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve

On this day, in the morning, we were visited by both male and female Siskin, and I managed to get a record shot of the male up in the Rowan, outside my study window.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - our garden

That afternoon, Lindsay stated that she was feeling very confident about her situation, and encouraged me to go out. I settled on a short visit to Kelham Bridge Nature Reserve as I hadn't been there for a while. I expected it to be very muddy, and so took my wellington boots. However, it was far more muddy than I anticipated. The paths were treacherous and I could see where people had skidded on the mud. In places the water on the path was quite deep and in othe places I found that the mud was deep and strong enough that, on a few occasions, I nearly lost a wellie.

I spent some time at the first hide which was devoid of people and nothing interesting was observed in the twenty minutes that I was there. The only thing I photographed was a squirrel.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Kelham Bridge NR
I then made my way, gingerly, to the second hide which was busy with people and no window seats available. However, I didn't have to wait long. There was little to see on this occasion, but it was good to chat with people. Initially, I just had distant views of Coot and Little Grebe.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Kelham Bridge NR
Eventually, one of the Little Grebes came very much closer. I do have a soft spot for this species.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) - Kelham Bridge NR
A Coot also came a little closer.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Kelham Bridge NR
Shortly before I left, a Kingfisher flashed through. I reckon that it was in view for less than two seconds. The consensus was that it had probably gone to the pool where the first hide is, but there was a less muddy route to the entrance gate available, and none of us wished to check out that possibility. It was time for me to get back to Lindsay and cook tea, so I took the less muddy route which turned out to be much quicker and safer.

Tuesday, 20th February          Garden

I was greatly excited this day as, for the first time in many years, we had two Brambling visit the garden, as can be seen in the image below, with them high up in our nut tree.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) - our garden
Sadly, one soon departed and only one came down to feed. I did not get to see whether the one on the right was male or female. The male that came to feed was a little more obliging.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - our garden

I usually find it impossible to determine the sex of a Stock Dove but, for the first time ever, on this occasion I saw the puffing up of the neck on this bird, which surely suggests that this was a displaying male.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) (male?) - our garden

Wednesday, 21st February          Garden

It's always good to see a Bullfinch and even better to see a Brambling, but to get two together is a real treat - even if they were on a feeder.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) + Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - our garden
- - and I'll end with a Bullfinch.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden
With luck, my next blog post will be in about a week's time but, at the current rate of progress, it might be a bit thin on material! In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Sunday 18 February 2024

More February Observations - 8th to 14th February, 2024

I have made the decision that, even though my free time is currently limited, I will try to make the effort to continue to output a blog post on an approximately weekly basis. With my ability to get out into the wild severely limited, my observations have, primarily, been of birds in our garden, and it is likely to continue that way for a few weeks. Here's an account of some of my sightings.

Thursday, 8th February          Garden

The weather this day was absolutely foul, with heavy rain all day, which caused local flooding. The rain on the windows of the conservatory made it difficult to identify anything but the most obviously plumaged birds. One such bird that visited was a Pied Wagtail. I tried the technique of placing the lens hard up against the glass of the window as I have found, in the past, that this can sometimes 'see through' the rain. To some extent, this technique worked, as shown below.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) (female) - our garden
Saturday, 10th February          Garden

This was the best day of the year so far, with 20 species of bird visiting the garden. There was, however, one disappointment and that was when Lindsay alerted me to a bird that she said was behaving like a Chaffinch, but looked wrong. I took a look and spotted a fine male Brambling. However, I had already put my camera in the conservatory, ready for the breakfast session and it disappeared before I could get to the camera. This resulted in rather a lot of time spent gazing out of the window, camera at ready, in the hope of its return. 

All I photographed that day was a male Bullfinch.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - our garden

Sunday, 11th February          Garden

To my absolute delight, the Brambling visited again this day, and I managed a few photos, albeit at a distance as it was approximately 15 metres away from my position in my study. These images are very heavily cropped from the original.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - our garden
We finished the week with, what for us was, a remarkable tally of twenty six species of bird landing in our garden during the seven days.
Monday, 12th February          Garden
I photographed a few birds this day. Coal Tit used to be a regular visitor to our garden some years ago, but nowadays we probably only average one or two sightings in a month. This one was photographed in poor light high in a tree at the far side of the garden, but at least it is a record of its visit.
Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - our garden

The female Blackcap is continuing to make the occasional visit. I wish she would find a mate to bring to the party.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden

Chaffinches are daily visitors to the garden, and I really should pay more attention to them with the camera. These birds often come to a part of the garden which is quite close to my study window. However, it seems to be the females that I manage to photograph. I really must try harder to get some images of the more colourful males.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (female) - our garden
Wednesday, 14th February          near Plumtree, Nottinghamshire  :  Garden
I have been backwards and forwards to a hospital near Nottingham over the past couple of weeks, in connection with Lindsay's knee replacement. On one of those journeys, I remarked to Lindsay that a group of run-down barns, close to the road in a very rurl location, looked as if they might be a place that hosted an owl. On Tuesday 13th she had her knee operation, and on the Wednesday morning I went to visit her in hospital, but decided to spend ten minutes by the barns to see if any owls might be around. I didn't spot any owls but there did seem to be a few feral pigeons.

Unlike some areas of the UK, I very rarely see a feral pigeon in our area, even in our local town. Feral pigeons are decended from Rock Dove stock which have been domesticated. This, I believe, was the first species of bird ever to domesticated - apparently over 5,000 years ago! Over the years, escapees have become naturalised and are now a regular feature of cityscapes. They are interbreeding with wild doves, and there are many variations in plumage.

Given the above, I was quite surprised to find that the only birds sighted in the vicinity of the barns were feral pigeons. I took some shots of a male making amorous advances on a female.

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia domestica) (male + female)- near Plumtree, Nottinghamshire
I got home, after visiting Lindsay, to find a Bullfinch and Siskin feeding together.

Bullfinch ( (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) + Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - our garden

This brings me to the end of this post. I am pleased to report that Lindsay is recovering nicely, although she is likely to remain totally dependent on me for support (cooking, cleaning, washing, etc.) for a week or two. She's got two return visits to the hospital, which is an hour's travel away from home, scheduled for this coming week.
Hopefully, I'll be back with another blog post in about a week's time. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Sunday 11 February 2024

The First Seven Days of February, 2024

This blog post is a relatively short one, covering just one visit out, and some garden observations.

Thursday, 1st February          Bluebell Arboretum, Smisby

The month got off to a bright start when I decided to make a visit to Bluebell Arboretum, Smisby, which is the first village you come to if you head directly north out of our home town of Ashby de la Zouch.

Bluebell Arboretum holds a sentimental attachment for me as it was the last place I visited with my mother before she died in 2004. Shortly after her death, I made a donation to the arboretum in her memory and, in return, I was offered a lifetime permit for Lindsay and I to visit the arboretum.

It had been a few years since I had last visited and, although the trees in the arboretum would be far from at their best, I thought that maybe I would find some interesting birds. I also felt the need for some quiet contemplation and was confident that the arboretum would be relatively devoid of people. This proved to be the case, but it was virtually devoid of birds too!

I resorted to photographing a bunch of Snowdrops.

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) - Bluebell Arboretum
When I had last visited, my passion for dragonflies and damselflies had not yet developed. On this visit, I was pleased to note that there were small ponds which appeared to have very good potential for the Odonata. 

At one point a Robin came to introduce itself.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Bluebell Wood
I did get a brief glimpse of a Moorhen disappearing into the undergrowth behind one of the ponds, but didn't manage any photos.

Having made a circuit of the arboretum, I found myself in need of the ablutions, so headed to the exit. Having done what needed to be done, I remembered that beyond the west end of the car park there was a lake and, in the past, it had been inhabited by a collection of ducks - clearly imported and pinioned. Out of curiosity, I started heading towards this when a voice called out "are you a tree man, or a birder" - it was the proprietor, Robert, and I stopped for a chat. He told me that, since his wife had died, he'd found that keeping the collection 'topped up' with birds had become difficult, and he'd allowed 'natural wastage' to occur. The only pinioned birds remaining were a pair of Pintail and a pair of Teal. 

I went to have a look, and found several ducks in the lake, including what were presumably the pinioned Pintail and Teal, but also included a few Shoveler and a pair of  Mandarin. Photography was difficult as there was a high chain-link fence in front of me, and other fencing intervening too in some areas.

Teal (Anas crecca) (male) - Bluebell Arboretum

Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) (male) - Bluebell Arboretum

I know that I have said this before, but I sometimes find myself surprised by how thin the heads of some species of duck are when viewed from the front - or, in this case, from the back!

Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) (female + male) - Bluebell Arboretum

Whereas the plumage of the male Mandarin is spectacular, I feel that the female Mandarin has a serene beauty.

To my mind, the drake Shoveler looked somewhat sinister as it swam away.

Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) (male) - Bluebell Arboretum
The drake Pintail is one of the most handsome of ducks.

Pintail (Anas acuta) (male) - Bluebell Arboretum
Pintail (Anas acuta) (female) - Bluebell Arboretum

I stopped to have another chat with Robert on my way back to the car and mentioned the Mandarins. Robert told me that he considered them a nuisance as he sometimes gets up to around fifty of them and they snaffle up any food that's put out before the other ducks can get to it. 

Bluebell Arboretum is now on my list of places to look for Odonata when the season comes around.

Friday, 2nd February          Garden

The visits by the female Blackcap are becoming less frequent, but we see her most days. She has a penchant for the blitzed peanut and lard mix that I make. Here she is, just about to pop into the jar (out of frame) containing that treat.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden
We are starting to get a few more sightings of Long-tailed Tits, but they are not easy to photograph as they are never still.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden

Saturday, 3rd February          Garden

Greenfinches are continuing to pay frequent visits to the garden and, currently, their numbers are second only to that of Goldfinches, with up to six being seen at a time. I think that it was fellow blogger Sonjia (blog 'BREATHTAKING') who commented that the Greenfinches where she is in Portugal can be quite posessive and aggressive at the feeders, and I responded that this was not the case in our garden in my experience. I now find that I am having to reverse that statement as they are now exhibiting that sort of behaviour to their congeners as well as to other species. Here's one  that's on its own.

Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) (male) - our garden

Sunday, 4th February          Garden

We had been seeing a female Siskin on a daily basis for some time, and I had remarked to Lindsay that I wish she'd find a mate. On this day, she brought a male with her. I was unsure at first sighting as the crown was not as dark as males of the species that I'm used to seeing.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - our garden

Here are the two together on one of our feeders.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male + female) - our garden

Tuesday, 6th February          Garden

This was one of our better days for birds visiting the garden with 17 species being observed. However, only the male Siskin was photographed. I'm not too happy about showing photos of birds on feeders, but this is a somewhat clearer shot of the male of the species than others I have managed so far this winter.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - our garden

Wednesday, 7th February          Garden

I was away for most of the afternoon on a medical visit, but still managed to record 16 bird species putting a foot down in our garden, and took a few photos too.

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

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - our garden


This brings me to the end of this post. Busy times are ahead, so I may be away from Blogger for a while. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard


Sunday 4 February 2024

The Last Ten Days of January, 2024

Much of my time so far this year, as in the latter part of 2023, has been spent on domestic duties, having to take on much of Lindsay's share, due to her relative incapacity. Towards the end of the month, I started to feel that I needed to get out more, if only for short spells, in order to regain some of my sanity. This resulted in me visting four local locations on three separate days. At no time was I away from home for more than two hours.

The first part of this period resulted in sightings of very common species. However, things warmed up a little in the last few days of January.

Monday, 22nd January          Garden

Although we had the pleasure of Siskin and Blackcap females visiting this day, the only photos I took were of a Blackbird. Although a common species, we have seen a worrying decline over the past couple of years in the numbers of this bird visiting our garden. This female is on the edge of our birdbath, before taking a drink.

Blackbird (Turdus merula) (female) - our garden
Friday, 26th January          Garden  :  Saltersford Valley Country Park  :  Oakthorpe

The Siskin and Blackcap were still with us but, again, no photos. I did, however, manage to grab a few shots of a Wren from my study window. As you can see, it had been a while since I last tidied up the garden!

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - our garden
That afternoon, I took some time out, heading to Saltersford Valley Country Park. On my previous visit, I had found the boardwalk section of the area closed off, due to flooding. I was disappointed to find this area was still closed off - with no reason visible. I did take a walk round the remainder of the area that was open and saw very little of interest, only photographing a confiding Robin, and a distant Coot.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Saltersford Valley CP
Coot (Fulica atra) - Saltersford Valley CP

Being a little dischuffed with my visit to Saltersford Valley, and having only been out for a short while, I set off to visit the nearby location, by Oakthorp, where I'd recently seen the Yellow-browed Warbler and more recently photographed Fieldfare, in the hope of getting better Fieldfare images. I only saw one Fieldfare in the distance, which fled when a couple with a dog passed by it. I did, however, spot a Goldcrest, and spent about half an hour trying to photograph it, but failing miserably. The best that I could do was get a couple of record shots of it in flight.
Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - near Oakthorpe

It was then time to head back to Lindsay, only 10 minutes away.
Saturday 27th January          Donisthorpe Woodland

The following day I paid a short visit to Donisthorpe Woodland, just down the road from home. Part of this area is alongside a now isolated section of the old Ashby Canal. I passed alongside the canal for a while, only spotting a Mallard on the far side of the canal and a Great Tit in the edge of the woodland, opposite the canal.

Great Tit (Parus major) - Donisthorpe Woodland

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male)

I then took a circuitous route which took me along the edge of the Moira Furnace site, and then back to my car. I saw disappointingly little during my walk, only stopping to photograph some teazels, a Blackbird, and another Great Tit, which I shan't bother you with here.
Teasels are the dead flowerheads of plants of the genus Dipsacus. They are still used by some people for carding wool but, for me, they are an architecturally atractive plant

Teasel (Dipsacus sp.) - Donisthorpe Woodland

Blackbird (Turdus merula) (male) -Donisithorpe Woodland

Sunday, 28th January          Garden  :  Longmoor Lake

This was a good day for visits by birds to our garden, with 18 species setting a foot down. These included 8 Long-tailed Tits - always fun to watch.
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden

Most exciting, however, was the appearance of a Reed Bunting. We last saw this species in the garden in February 2023, when a female visited. These shots were taken from my studty window.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - our garden

That afternoon, I made a quick visit to Longmoor Lake. This lake is situated in the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Wood, which is close to our home. In the early days of this wood, when the trees were mere saplings, the area was good for birds, including Barn Owl and Tawny Owl.  However, the trees have grown rapidly, and are so densely placed that it seems to have made it unattractive to the birds. I saw virtually nothing until I reached the lake, some one and a half kilometres from the car park.

I spent a few minutes in the hide and saw that Canada Geese and Greylag  Geese were there in good numbers, as were Wigeon. I took some photos from the hide but didn't stop long as my time was limited.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Longmoor Lake

Greylag Goose (Ansa ansa) - Longmoor Lake
I then walked to the far end of the lake, taking a few more photos as I went.

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

I went a little beyond the far end of the lake, before turning back. Immediately I did so, some Long-tailed Tits moved through the hedge beside me. The light was poor, but I did manage a shot that is just about useable. 

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) -by Longmoor Lake

On the way back, dusk was beginning to fall. I photographed an immature Mute Swan that looked as if it was hoping that I'd feed it, but it soon gave up.

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

It was that time of the afternoon when the geese decide that it is time to return to their night roosts. There is plenty of warning when this is going to happen as their calls build up to a very noisy crescendo before they take off in groups.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Longmoor Lake

I took a shorter route back to my car, arriving home at the expected time.

Tuesday, 30th January          Staunton Harold

It was only two days before I managed another brief trip out, prompted by a report of a Cattle Egret in a pasture with sheep, opposite the hall at Staunton Harold, and less than ten minutes from our home.
Having parked my car, I walked up the road past the sheep pasture, and a little further, before turning back without seeing the egret. Arriving at the public footpath that leaves the road and goes uo the hill through the pasture, I decided to give it a try in case the bird was skulking over the brow of the hill - it wasn't.

As I descended on this footpath, I scanned over the nearby lake, looking at the swans and gulls that were on the grass on the far side of the lake - and there, to my surprise, was the egret, at the water's edge, in a position where it would be clearly visible from the road that leads to the hall.

As I crossed the causeway between the two lakes, I took a shot of a Coot.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Staunton Harold
A little further on, the road takes a curve to the right that brings it closer to the lake, and the egret was clearly visible from there. I got in quite a few shots before it decided to return to where it had originally been seen - the sheep pasture. You may be able to detect that this bird is showing a hint of colour on the forehead - the start of breeding plumage.

Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - Staunton Harold
Given more time, I would have walked up the road to take some photos of it in the sheep pasture, but I needed to get back to base to check that all was OK with Lindsay.
No photography was attempted on the last day of the month, although we had a good number of birds visiting the garden.

Currently, I have no idea when my next blog post will be as we have a plethora of medical visits coming up in the next fortnight, culminating, if all goes to plan, with Lindsay having a second replacement knee on 12th February. I can see that I'm going to be rather busy for a while!

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