Owls and Kingfishers

At first glance apart from being birds you wouldn’t think there was much these two had in common. One is a silent land based predator, the other a multi-coloured waterside assassin. But when it comes to digestion they have one thing in common, they both regurgitate pellets made up of the indigestible leftovers from their meals.

Most people know about owl pellets and may at some time have dissected one to find tiny bones or even skulls coughed out in a hard pellet. Not many people however know that kingfishers do the same but as the majority go straight into the river, lake or stream they are rarely discovered to take a closer look at. I once watched a kingfisher eject one into the grass and after it had flown off I endeavoured to find it. Nothing, it had just vanished!

Last night I managed to catch this behaviour on camera after I noticed the bird opening its beak very wide. I had an inclination as to what it was doing so fired away.

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With its beak wide open the bird starts bringing up the pellet.

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Here we can see the regurgitated pellet as it passes into the beak.

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Finally the pellet is spat out, and as usual this one disappeared into the depths!!!

We’re Going On A Snipe Hunt

Apparently in North America a snipe hunt is an elaborate practical joke where unsuspecting youngsters are sent out into the wilderness to hunt a mythical creature, the snipe. Which seems a bit odd when the snipe actually exists!

The snipe is a medium sized and very shy wetland bird which is distinctive because of the size of it’s bill, in proportion to the bird it is huge! You’ll definitely know it when you see it. There are two types of snipe the common and the jack snipe. The jack snipe is a winter visitor to the UK whereas the common snipe is a year round resident.

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A good place to spot them in the summer is perched on fence posts on the moors where they breed. Listen out for their distinctive call which isn’t created vocally but by them drumming their wings in flight as the males display for the females.

Their mottled brown plumage is superb camouflage and once they are on the ground in the heather or grass they are almost impossible to spot. They like wetland and marshes and a good place to spot them is around upland lakes, marshes and ponds where they feed close to the edge making it easy to quickly disappear if threatened into the rushes or grass.

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They nest in shallow scrapes in the ground and they usually have up to four young. When they hatch the chicks will often split between the parents, with both adults caring for two young.

They feed on worms and insects that they find by probing their incredible beak into the the mud and feeling around for prey. Their beaks have nerves at the end which allow them to sense their prey without seeing it. This picture shows how they can open the very tip of their beak while inches down in the mud.

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The term sniper comes from the hunting of these birds. Due to their erratic flight patterns it was thought to take an exceptional marksman to be able to take down one of these birds, hence the term.

I personally think there are much better terms for anyone shooting wildlife but I’m too nice to list them here!!!

 

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!

 

 

 

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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