Tawny Owls

On a recent walk in the woods a tawny owl was spooked by other birds and flew into a nearby tree. After a good few minutes trying to relocate where it had landed, as its incredible camouflage blended it in perfectly with the trees, we managed to spot it and snapped a few pictures.

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The tawny owl is about the size of a woodpigeon. with a rounded body and head and a ring of darker feathers around its face surrounding its dark eyes. They are a reddish brown colour above with paler markings underneath, and are a widespread breeding bird in England, Wales and Scotland but are not found in Ireland. Tawny owls will stay in one location with established pairs probably never leaving their territories.

We moved on and left the owl to snooze in the tree, but a couple of days later we were in the same area and began to have a look to see if it was still around. Not only was the adult perched in a tree but so were two young owlets just starting to branch from the nest. High up and almost hidden in the foliage these young owls were about half way from their downy fluff to full adult plumage.

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The two owlets were well spaced out but were in sight of the adult. Tawny owls have up to four chicks and the parents will feed them for the first 3-4 months of their life before leaving them to hunt and feed for themselves as they disperse from the nest territory during Autumn. Tawnies eat small mammals and rodents, small birds, frogs, fish, insects and worms, and as the area where they were was close to a small lake with a large frog population I would assume these figure largely in their diet.

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A subsequent visit a few days later and after a long search to track them down we discovered that there were in fact three owlets and having moved to a new tree were all in close proximity. They were becoming ever harder to spot unless you caught sight of a movement, but there was always a parent close by keeping an eye on them and on us.

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They seem now to have disappeared as we haven’t located them for over a week. They will now be more mobile in the tree tops and may well be some distance away from the original place we spotted them. The landowners have agreed to let us put up a couple of tawny owl nest boxes on the other side of the lake so hopefully we will get more of these beautiful creatures patrolling the woods and enjoying the frogs!

 

 

 

Bluebell Squirrel

I don’t normally point my camera at grey squirrels but I made an exception today. I don’t dislike them and I do enjoy watching their antics, I think it’s probably more the fact they are so common. We even have one visit the feeders in our very urban garden.

The grey squirrel was introduced to Great Britain in the mid-19th century and after a number of releases it began to increase dramatically in population at the beginning of the 20th century, mainly spreading from Woburn Park, Bedfordshire.  They came to England from North America and are now one of Britain’s most well-known and frequently seen mammals, with an estimated population of 2 million compared to the 160, 000 native red squirrels. It’s not their fault they’re here more the fault of bored rich Victorians introducing them onto their estates without any knowledge of the damage they would do to the red squirrel by passing on a disease they were immune to but which was devastating to the red.

Anyway I was in the woods to photograph the woodpeckers and was watching this squirrel and silently urging it to move into a nearby patch of bluebells for a more photogenic picture. It duly obliged and then went a step further by digging up an old acorn..

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Dirty nose and a dirt acorn, or is it a olive?.

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It quickly and deftly removed the outer casing and begin to enjoy the seed inside.

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Target Acquired

I don’t usually set off with the aim of targeting a particular bird or animal, I usually decide on a location and see what turns up. So it might be river, wood, moors or a reserve and off I go. However while watching the short eared owl I did spy a new bird  for me flying past and so I decided I would set off with the sole intent of photographing a Wheatear.

Wheatears overwinter in Sub Saharan Africa and at this time of year are just returning from an epic journey. They are small ground dwelling birds and are very much an upland bird enjoying the windswept moors above where I live.

After spending an unsuccessful half hour in the vicinity where I’d seen one a few days earlier I decided to move on and about a mile down the road was rewarded with a male perching perfectly on a rock.

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They are a very smart bird with the male having a steel blue head and back and a pale orange chest and a very distinct white eye stripe.

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They are slightly larger than a robin and tend to hop or run along the ground looking for insects. There were a couple of males about but I didn’t manage to spot a female so I guess a return trip is on the cards!

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The name Wheatear is derived from the Old English for ‘white’ (wheat) and ‘arse’ (ear), referring to their white rump of course, displayed to perfection in this shot!

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Owl Heaven

I’ve been after some decent short eared owl shots all Winter but so far have only managed long distance sightings and pictures. However recently I’ve been watching one on the moors above where I live and you can almost set your watch at the time it hunts a particular field. The field is some distance away from the road so I sit there willing the owl to venture closer toward me. Last night I watched it quartering the moor on the lookout for its evening meal and on a few occasions it plunged headfirst into the long grass, always emerging with empty talons.

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Gradually it began to get closer and I could see its stunning orange yellow eyes as I looked through my viewfinder. I had the shutter almost continually pressed and with my fingers crossed hoped that some of them would be OK.

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It’s always difficult looking at the back of the camera to see if you’ve got the shot and it always seems to take a lot longer getting home so you can review them properly.

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The owl barely seemed to notice me as it intently hunted the voles and mice which make up its diet. They are about the size of a barn owl but their wingspan is much greater at around 1 metre. These owls are unusual in that they prefer to hunt in the daytime silently dissecting the moorland for a sight or sound of their prey.

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They are resident breeding birds in the North of England but during Winter are joined by birds from Scandinavia, Iceland and Russia heading South to avoid harsher winters.

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The Short-eared Owl is mottled yellowy-brown but paler underneath and has dark circles around its stunning yellow eyes. It gets its name from its short ear tufts which to be honest I’ve not really noticed.

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This visit closer to the road and my “hide” (car) lasted about 5 minutes before the owl moved further and further down the fields until eventually disappearing. An absolute pleasure to see this bird and to finally get some pictures I’m happier with!

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When Woodpeckers Attack!!

It’s that time of year again when the great spotted woodpeckers in my local wood start pairing up and looking for nest holes. Last year I watched three nests successfully fledge and so far it looks like two of those nest sites have already been snapped up. The third though seems to have attracted the attention of two rival males who were checking it and each other out at lunchtime today.

While one perched on the hole to check out the facilities the other kept dive bombing it in an attempt to perhaps scare him away from this  high rise des res. He wasn’t taking the hint though and after an internal inspection perched higher up to consider the options while his rival looked on.

 

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The second male then suddenly swooped down, calling loudly and aggressively harrying the other in a whirl of black and white in an attempt to move him on.

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The plucky potential nest owner clung on and after a few moments returned to the hole and disappeared inside keeping a wary eye out for his rival.

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Sealed With A Fish.

So after a few near misses with the fish pass I decided to take the following day off work as I was sure it was going to happen very soon. I was all set up by 7.30am and I didn’t have long to wait before the male arrived on the perch fish in beak. There was no sign of the female so he departed after a few minutes and for the next hour or so I had to make do with a fishing cormorant, nesting long tailed tits and a bathing mallard to keep me amused._JM10714Finally the female arrived on the perch and within seconds the male arrived with a fish only to see the female head upstream. Beginning to think I was in for another fruitless day I resigned myself to some pictures of a forlorn kingfisher with his unrequited fish. But then back she came and noisily announced she was receptive to his offer.

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They moved closer and finally she took the fish!!

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Sealed with a fish.

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Our patience had finally been rewarded, he got his mate and I got my picture. But to me the best moment was just after the fish pass when he raised himself up and stretched to his full height, looking ever so proud of himself and full of the joys of life.

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He left her to her fish which was by far the biggest he’d offered so far (who says size doesn’t matter) and she eventually managed to get it down after a little bit of a struggle.

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I’ll be leaving them alone for a bit now so hopefully they can begin a family and toward the end of the month there may be some noisy and colourful new additions to the riverbank.

It Started With a Fish (Maybe)?

The male kingfisher is definitely in the mood for love at the moment. He’s been cleaning out last years nest hole in preparation for a new breeding season. There is a female about and she has visited the hole to check out his handy-work, however she seems to be playing hard to get at the moment.

When kingfishers pair up they seal the deal with the fish pass, where the male offers the female a fish he’s caught. I’ve witnessed this in the past but always at a distance so yesterday when the male sat on a perch with fish ready I was hoping to get some nice shots of the pass happening.

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If the fish is being held tail first with the head furthest from the beak, then the fish is for someone else, either the female as in this case or for the chicks when they have arrived. He sat on this perch for a good ten minutes waiting for his potential mate and seemed a little perturbed when an unexpected blind date arrived!

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I don’t think this robin was what he was expecting at all!

He was very busy looking up and down the river for the female and when she did finally turn up she just flew straight past upstream.

Today he was back again and this time he seemed to have caught a bigger fish to try and impress her and show off his skills as a potential provider for her and their offspring.

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But again she was a no show, and he flew from perch to perch upstream hoping she’d arrive and take his catch. Fingers crossed she falls for his charm soon!

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New King On The Block

On Saturday I found a new kingfisher location. I’d been there the week before photographing a heron grabbing some lunch and I thought it had the potential to be a good place for kingfishers.

_JM19383 The heron wasn’t about and as I stood watching a couple of male teal a kingfisher flew up from a small tree on the side of the pond. It whizzed off and after some mild swearing I was happy to see it return to another tree on the other side.

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He hung around for a few minutes and then disappeared toward the river. I decided to have a wander round the pond and it soon became apparent that there weren’t any perches low down. So I gathered up a few branches and started spacing them out around the pond to give him some fishing perches.

Today I went back and after a few minutes I spotted him at the far end of the pond sat on one of the perches I’d put out. And not only that he had a fish in his beak!

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It’s always rewarding to see them using these branches, I just need to get the right side for the best pictures.

 

Lesser Redpoll

A first proper trip out with the new lens this weekend and I thought I’d go to the local nature reserve just to get a feel for it and see what it could do. All the usual suspects were on show but there was one star, a lesser redpoll.

The reserve has been well known in the past as a good place to see these birds in the winter months but recently they have been a rarer sight so it was great to have one close up. There was only one but they generally are seen in small flocks at this time of year.

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Lesser Redpolls have tiny beaks that are adept at handling fine seeds so if you want them to visit your garden a niger seed feeder is a good place to start, although this one was enjoying the sunflower hearts.

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Lesser Redpolls have a red forehead (from which the name ‘red-poll’ is derived). The first time I ever saw one I thought it was a sparrow with a bloody head!! During the breeding season, a peachy-red colour extends down the throat and neck of males, and to a lesser extent in females. Both sexes have black streaking on their backs and have a small black ‘goatee beard’. The pink flush on this one suggests its a male heading toward the breeding season.

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There are three types of redpoll, Common or Mealy, Lesser and Arctic with the Common and Arctic being quite rare in the UK.

Lesser Redpolls are a sociable bird and a few pairs will often nest close together in a small colony. They nest in trees generally a young conifer which provides plenty of cover and the nest is an untidy cup of twigs, grass, and plant stems. It will then add a soft lining plant material, feathers and hair. They usually have two broods a year of between four and five eggs. The female incubates the eggs alone, but both parents feed the young.

Outside of the breeding season they form larger flocks which often include other birds such as Siskins. They are however currently a red list bird so if you live close to a wood don’t forget to put out some niger seeds or sunflower seeds and you may start to have some new visitors dropping in.

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Even Closer Up

My new lens arrived today just in time for me to be able to pop out with it at lunch time.

I thought I’d nip to the river as the kingfishers are showing well as they prepare to nest again. I’d only just sat down when I heard the distinctive mewl of a buzzard so I popped up to see where it was. Not just one but three were circling over the rugby pitch so I started snapping.

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Bearing in mind I’d had the lens less than an hour and I’d pretty much set it up for hopefully snapping kingfishers I don’t think the shots are too bad.

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Especially as the lens weighs loads more than my last one. I think I’m going to have to use the tripod a lot more or get to the gym!!