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2. Please don't submit comments that include your own web address. For obvious reasons, they will not be published.

3. I'm now on Twitter - @RichardPegler1

Sunday 31 March 2024

Calke Unbottled Again - 22nd March, 2024

Before I dive into the meat of this blog post, I'd just like to give an update on matters in the Pegler household. My regular readers will know that Lindsay has been going through a rough time this past eighteen months. This was due to a knee replacement that didn't go according to plan, leading to a drastic failure of her other knee which was compensating for the first one. We had to have her second knee replaced privately in February as it was looking like a two year waiting list for it to be done under our National Health Service. Couple this with a painfully arthritic hip which is also booked for a replacement, she has been through a lot. However, things are very much on the up, and her mobility and comfort are increasing day by day.

You may also have noticed that there has been the occasional reference by some of my followers to my own condition. I will explain.

Early in October, I sought medical advice on some problems I was having, which turned out to be sciatica. However, during that consultation, some of my symptoms, including weight loss, raised the possibility of me having cancer. This was obviously a great worry, particularly as I was concerned about the continuity of me being able to look after Lindsay in her state of disability. It took a month for me to be given an appointment for an x-ray to investigate the situation and the results were inconclusive. It was then decided that I needed an ultrasound scan. This resulted in nearly another month of delay for an appointment that I attended, only to be told that they couldn't do the scan because someone had forgotten to tell me that I had to fast for six hours beforehand. It was another six weeks before they could give me another appointment. When the scan came through, they showed a thickening of the liver and gallbladder and I was told that cancer could still not be ruled out.  I was then advised that I needed a CT scan. The appointment came through for 12th February. After the scan I was told that it would take two to three weeks for the results to come through. By this time I was getting considerably uncomfortable - both physically and mentally. When they did come through, I was relieved to be told that I probably did not have cancer, but that I had calcification of the gallbladder and gall stones too. I was given an appointment with a surgeon on 11th March who said that there was no sign of cancer, but that I needed to have my gallbladder removed. This was, of course, great news. The operation is now scheduled for late April and, if all goes to plan, should be via keyhole surgery, with me being discharged the same day. I am now quite relaxed mentally but, because the pain had greatly increased in the past four weeks and was interfering with my sleep and making me feel quite ill, am now on painkillers and anti-inflammatories.

Because of all of the above, my excursions out have all been quite short and to places requiring the minimum of physical exertion.

This blog post concerns one of those excursions where I did a reasonable amount of walking, but all on the flat. 

Friday, 22nd March          Staunton Harold  :  Calke Park

A fine weather afternoon was forecast, and I felt the need for some bird photography, with one or both of the hides at Calk Park being my chosen destination.

Due to a long-term road closure a long diversion was in place, but I managed to short-cut this by passing through the grounds of Staunton Harold. It occurred to me that, while I did so, I could call in to see if the Cattle Egret was still here. When I got to the location, I found that the sheep had all gone and there was no sign of the Cattle Egret, which had favoured the sheep pasture.

My route then took me to a corner from which it is possible to walk into Calke Park. A few hundred metres up the lane from the gate was where I once had a Little Owl site. My last sighting of an owl here was in July 2015 when I took Canadian friends Miriam and David there, and Miriam was the first to spot an owl. Sadly, on this day, I found that the tree that had been occupied by the owls had totally decayed to nothing. The nearby wet area which sometimes hosts Mandarin Duck was also devoid of any birds.

I returned to my car and drove round to the main entrance to Calke Park, parked in the Calke Explore car park, and trotted off to the nearby hide. As I approached the hide, I found my first hoverfly of the year, on the boardwalk - a Tapered Dronefly.

Tapered Dronefly (Eristalis pertinax) (male) - Calke Park
There were just two people (a couple) in the hide when I arrived and they turned out to be amiable companions. There were plenty of birds visible from the hide - mainly of common species. I was soon exercising my shutter finger.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Calke Park

I had not been in the hide long, when one of my companions drew my attention to a Water Rail that was approaching down the watercourse that passes near to the hide. I will now be giving you a bit of an overload of Water Rail images, as this is a species that I do not often get the opportunity to photograph, and this was probably my best ever views of a Water Rail.

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - Calke Park

There is something magical and enchanting about the movement of a Water Rail, and so I was pleased to get some video from this session too.

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - Calke Park
Eventually the Water Rail departed whence it came, and I settled in to photographing the other birds.

Robin put in a few appearances.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Calke Park
I have a soft spot for Dunnocks. The markings on the face are beautiful, although they do not show so well in these images.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Calke Park
Reed Bunting (male and female) made frequent visits. My personal preference in the beauty stakes is for the female.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Calke Park

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (female) - Calke Park

Five species of tit were seen, but I failed to get shots of Coal Tit and Long-tailed Tit. 

Great Tit (Parus major) - Calke Park

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - Calke Park
I was most excited, however, to see that Marsh Tits were doing well here. This Red-listed species is considered, locally, to be an "uncommon resident breeder".

Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris) - Calke Park
It was approaching 4 p.m. and the low sun behind the hide caused a shadow to be cast in front of the hide that covered much of the area where photographs might be taken. It was now time to leave, but I did photograph one of the squirrels that was, from time to time, arriving and scattering the birds from the area.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - Calke Park

It had been a most enjoyable and rewarding afternoon out, and I came back feeling invigorated.

I believe that my next blog post will be a mop-up of some of my other March observations. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard

Sunday 24 March 2024

🎵 "Avocetta, Gentille Avocetta" 🎵 - 7th March, 2024

On this day, prompted by a report of a sighting of Avocet on the dam at Thornton Reservoir, which is about 12 miles (19 km) from our home, and it being forecast for dry, if a little misty, weather, that is where I decided to go after lunch.

I arrived at the main car park to find two birders present, including 'Mr Thornton Reservoir' Andy Smith. The water close to the car park contained a number of birds and I photographed a Great Crested Grebe before looking for the Avocet.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Thornton Reservoir
The Avocet was against the dam, and very distant, but was kindly pointed out to me and shown to me through a 'scope. I did take some record shots, one of which (very heavily cropped and enhanced to reduce the effect of the mist) is shown below.

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) - Thornton Reservoir
I had another objective for this visit, and that was to get some exercise. The path round the reservoir is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) in length and I was decided to take this in an anti-clockwise direction. Before setting off, I took a few shots of Black-headed Gull.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Thornton Reservoir
From the car park, we'd observed a photographer leaning over the wall directly opposite the Avocet. I was not at all comfortable with that, but I did want a better shot, so I continued past until I got to the control block well past the bird, and took my shots from there. The one below is still heavily cropped, but better shows the bird.

Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) - Thornton Reservoir
The first half of my circum-perambulation was very uneventful, with only a Mallard being photographed. They might be our most common duck, but there's no denying that the drake is a very handsome bird

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (male) - Thornton Reservoir
At the half-way mark, I found that someone had placed some seed on a post and fence. This was attracting birds from the adjacent woodland.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Thornton Reservoir

Great Tit (Parus major) Thornton Reservoir

Continuing my circuit, before reaching the car park, I took a few more photos.

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Thornton Reservoir

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Thornton Reservoir
On arrival back at the car park I found a gentleman who was just finishing putting food out for the waterfowl. This had attracted a whole bunch of ducks, geese, and gulls. I didn't take much notice, wanting to check on whether the Avocet was still showing. It was and, yet again, a photographer was leaning over the wall directly adjacent to the bird.

I was about to go to my car and head home when I noticed a Mandarin was amongst the throng of birds attracted to the deployed food. How did I manage to miss it until then?!

Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) (male) - Thornton Reservoir

Thus ended my visit and this blog post which is somewhat shorter than my usual offering.

Until the next time, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard


Sunday 17 March 2024

So That's The Way To Do It!! - March, 2024

This post is a bit technical and, if it is not of interest, you might just want to scroll down to the pictures - I will not be in the least offended!

It is almost exactly a year since I bought my current camera set-up. My kit was getting worn out, and in need of service, but it was also getting a little too heavy for me to carry about over long distances, so I looked into going mirrorless. Having been an avid Nikon user for about twenty years, that is where I first looked. I had been using a Nikon D7200 body with a Sigma 50-500 lens. I found that if I wanted to go down the Nikon route it would cost me a small fortune, and save me virtually nothing in weight. This caused me to look at Canon. I found that there was a suitable alternative from Canon in the form of their EOS R7 with their RF 100-400 lens. This came in at about a third of the price of the current Nikon offering! Yes, the lens was not quite as versatile as was the 50-500, but the set up came in at half the weight of my exisitng Nikon set-up. Furthermore, the 32.5 megapixel cropped sensor of the R7 versus the 24.2 megapixel cropped sensor of the Nikon, made up, somewhat, for the loss of reach of the lens.

Although I was immediately impressed by what I had bought, it took me quite some time to get used to the switch between Nikon and Canon. I now feel that I'm fairly well accustomed to it.

If there is a downside to the set-up it is that the largest aperture available with the RF 100-400 is F5.6 at 100 mm (F8 at 400 mm), meaning it's a little more difficult to use at low light levels, although the lack of noise at high ISOs is rather good, and compensates for this to some extent.

One of the features of the Canon R7 is the AI driven focus facility. This can be set to recognise animals (including birds) and focus on the eyes. In servo focus mode, once the focus has been achieved, the focus will track the item, no matter where it moves to in the frame. I found this to be very useful, but I was having difficulty in achieving that initial focus, especially when the subject was a fast-flying small bird at a distance.

We now come forward to 4th March this year. I was aware of the facility to set up the R7 with three separate custom settings (C1, C2, C3), easily accessible from the dial on the top of the body. I had briefly played with this in the early days of owning the camera, but kept putting of actually using this facility. On this day, I decided that it was time to do something about it.

I frequently take photos of birds, etc. that are in confusing backgrounds or have intervening foliage in front of them. I therefore have my camera set for 'spot focus' for most of the time. It was only when reading up about the facilities of the camera that I found a recommendation that for moving subjects in an open background (sky, for example), the thing to do is to use 'whole area' focus. The AI looks for the nearest object in frame that conforms to the target focus (animals) and locks onto it.

I then set up C3 to incorporate this focus facility together with servo focus, which takes changing distance into account.

So that I can quickly get back to my static subject in a confusing background, I set up C1 accordingly.

C2 is not yet set up but I am reserving that to potentially use in the dragonfly season with settings more suited to photographing dragonflies in flight with confusing backgrounds.

The very next day, I went out specifiacally to put the C3 custom setting to the test. This is what I found.

Tuesday, 5th March          Sence Valley Forest Park

I set off in the ealy afternoon with Sence Valley Forest Park being only ten minutes from our home. Having parked my car, I entered the site, stopping to photograph a pair of Canada Geese beside the path by Goss Water. Here's one of them.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Sence Valley FP
Out on the water, but fairly close in, were some Black-headed Gulls. This one was transitioning into summer plumage

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP

The tern rafts, installed by the excellent Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) were occupied by Cormorants. I love the punk 'hairstyle' of a Cormorant in 'courtship' plumage.

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo) - Sence Valley FP
As  I approached the northern end of Goss Water, I saw some gulls in the air in the distance. I quickly flipped the dial on my camera round to C3 and sharted shooting. To say that I was impressed by the results is an understatement. If only I had used this setting before. Here is a heavily cropped shot - not the best in the world but it will illustrate the situation.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
- and here is the image that it was cropped from. The camera has found the subject and followed it  until it was way off centre.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
Here are a couple more shots from that short session. The first is in winter plumage and the second in full summer plumage.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
I made a short diversion up to Usbourne Pool, seeing nothing of interest, and then retraced my steps a while and wandered on to the ramp that leads down to the water's edge of Horseshoe Lake. A Mute Swan was here, hoping to be fed.
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Sence Valley FP

Although the majority of gulls present were Black-headed Gulls, I am relatively positive that these two, sitting on posts out in the water, were Common Gulls - but I'm not very good at gulls! Common Gulls are not a species that I'm used to seeing in these parts.
Common Gull (Larus canus) - Sence Valley FP
Here's another shot of a Black-headed Gull, part-way through its transition to summer plumage.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP
I then headed to Stonebridge Pool and made a circuit of the pool, stopping in at the hide on the way, but seeing little of interest. The only thing I photographed was a Tufted Duck at the northern end of the pool.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (male) - Sence Valley FP

I was on my way back to my car when I heard the distinct call of a Common Buzzard somewhere. One of the problems of wearing the sort of hearing aids that I do is that I have no sense of direction of what it is that I'm hearing. However, I soon located the Buzzard as it emerged from behind trees and made some circuits high above Horseshoe Lake. I quickly turned the dial on my camera to C3 and was back in business again!

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - Sence Valley FP

Switching back to C1, I took a few more shots as I passed Goss Pool once more.
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Sence Valley FP

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Sence Valley FP

I was, of course, highly delighted with this newly-found facility on the camera - my only regret being that it took me a year to find it! I suspect that there are people out there that are astounded by my ineptitude - I'll use my age, and the many distractions I have had over the past twelve months as my excuse!

My next blog post might feature another local visit - one that did not give me the ability to exercise those new settings. Or it might not!

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

Sunday 10 March 2024

The last days of February, 2024

At times, at the end of February, it looked as if spring was on its way as, although it was officially recorded as the wettest February on record, temperatures were quite mild, occasionally reaching double figures. This is an account of some of my (mostly garden) observations during this period.

Thursday, 22nd February          Garden

I was away from home for much of the day as, in the early afternoon, I had to take Lindsay to hospital for a physiotherapy appointment following her knee operation. This was a quite hazardous journey as we were having torrential rain and encountered much flooding along the way. Fortunately, our car has a very generous ground-clearance and we were able to pass through the floods, but the journey took an hour and a quarter each way, instead of the usual 45 minutes.

I did manage some photos of birds in our garden in the morning before the rain started.

We are regularly getting three Carrion Crow visiting the garden. I think that these are a pair with an all-but-adult youngster, and this theory is strengthened by the fact that that, in recent days, two of the birds are trying to chase off the third, suggesting that they think that it's time the youngster left home and find its own way. Here is one of the birds.

Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - our garden
Greenfinch is now vying with Goldfinch for the title of 'most numerous bird species in the Pegler garden'. On the previous day to this one, we had a record total of 14 Greenfinch, which exactly matched the Goldfinch total that day. However, Greenfinch rarely stop in a useful photographic position. This is one taken from my study window.

Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) (male) - our garden
Here's a Goldfinch from that day.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - our garden
Friday, 23rd February          Garden

Fortunately, the rain stopped during the night, and the flooding had almost disappeared by the time I had to take Lindsay back to the hospital to have her sutures removed. As we arrived back home, we remarked on a fine patch of Crocus in our front garden.

Early Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) - our garden
Sunday, 25th February          Garden

In the spirit of trying to pay a little more attention to the very common birds in our garden, I offer the Woodpigeon. This always strikes me as being one of the least intelligent of bird species that visit us. To watch a pair of them trying to banish each other from the feeding tray is nothing short of commical (note to self - must try to capture this on video!). 

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) - our garden
Monday, 26th February          Garden  :  Undisclosed Site  :  Garden

This was a quite remarkable day, because of my encounter with a Kingfisher and Barn Owl, as reported in my previous blog post.

The female Blackcap was with us again this day, and has now become a daily visitor once more.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) (female) - our garden

Sorry, but I can't resist going back to the Kingfisher from that day.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (male) - undisclosed site
That night, the trail cams caught a Hedgehog visiting one of our two Hedgehog feeding stations. Hedgehogs have been visiting to feed on warmer nights, since the first one of the year was seen on 2nd January!


Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) - our garden

Tuesday, 27th February          Garden

Wren put in an appearance on this day, and this was taken from my study window, approximately 15 metres away.

Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - our garden
Wednesday, 28th February          Garden

We are still seeing a male Brambling in the garden on most days.

Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla) (male) - our garden
Thursday, 29th February          Melbourne Pool

On the last day of the month, it being a leap year, Lindsay decided that she wanted to try going out for a short walk. I took her to Melbourne (Derbyshire, not Australia!) where we had a quick visit to the charity shop in the hall courtyard before heading to the nearby Melbourne Pool. Lindsay didn't get very far before she needed to sit down on a convenient low wall, but it was significant progress. 

I continued along beside the pool for a little while, as I had my camera with me. There was little to photograph in the short time before I needed to return to Lindsay. Here are a couple of birds that I did photograph.

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Melbourne Hall
Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Melbourne Pool

Frustratingly, I thought that I could see a Red-crested Pochard in the far distance, but it would have added a good twenty minutes to half an hour to Lindsay's time on her own if I went to investigate, so I had to ignore it.

This brings me to the end of February, and this blog post. I'm hoping that my next blog post will feature a little more in the way of non-garden observations. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature. Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard