Slippery Nuts

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Peregrine Brunch

While sat in a hide recently watching ducks out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a bird of prey shoot past with its prey. I grabbed my kit and took a walk to see if it could spot where it had gone. It took me some time to track it down as it was way off and high up in a pylon so apologies for the distant shots of it tucking in to its pigeon meal.

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Return of the Berry Bandits

The trees this year don’t have anywhere near the amount of berries we had last year so I doubt we’ll have a waxwing implosion but some of our winter visitors are starting to show up. I spotted my first redwing of the season this week enjoying the few berries there are.

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Food Caching

Jays and nuthatches are two birds which will take food and store it away for a “rainy day”. This is known as caching and is a way for the birds to set up an insurance plan for when food sources are harder to come by during the winter months.

Jays have an distensible esophagus which allows them to carry a huge amount of food away from the bird feeder to hide away in the undergrowth and trees. I’ve personally counted one take 23 peanuts in one visit.

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Researchers believe that jays can bury up to 5000 items of food a year and have a 70% retrieval record. In the case of the acorns they collect and bury the ones they fail to retrieve are responsible for the spread of oak trees! I wonder if somewhere in the woods wild peanut plants are growing?

Nuthatches tend to be single item cachers and will wedge items of food into crevices in trees or into the bark for later. Both birds are also known to rob the caches of others by watching where the food is hidden and then moving in to steal it.

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The food caches will be spread out within the birds home range so they don’t put all their eggs in one basket and to also increase the chances of not being robbed. If they think they have been watched whilst caching food they may move it and re-hide it again to protect their stash.

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So the next time your watching a jay stuff its face with peanuts it’s not just being a greedy bird it’s actually planning ahead.

An Interesting Angle

This is a Bateleur Eagle endemic to Africa and some parts of Arabia. This one is a resident at the Birds of Prey Centre in North Yorkshire and was busy tucking into a dead chick for its breakfast. It refused to pose for its picture but did allow me to get this upside down, back to front shot.

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The Eyes Have It

The King Vulture is found in Central and South America and like all vultures feeds on the remains of dead animals. This one is a resident at the National centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley North Yorkshire and the first thing that struck me apart from its amazing colours were it piercing eyes.

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A large and predominantly white bird, the king vulture has a grey ruff but although the head and neck are bald, the colours on its head are amazing and vary through yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red.

Here it’s third protective eyelid can be seen almost covering its striking eye.

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The centre has an amazing collection of birds of prey and has regular flying displays by the residents during the day. Here’s a link to their website Bird of Prey Centre

 

Diving Gannets

I didn’t quite get the picture I wanted of a gannet with its beak just breaking the water as it dived for a fish, but I got close.

In this one three gannets all dived close together entering the sea like a poorly synchronised diving team.

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Here this gannet prepares to dive

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And in this picture one gannet emerges with its prize as another heads down for a fish.

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Gannet Chaos

Another day and another trip out, this time on a boat out of Bridlington to photograph diving gannets below Bempton Cliffs. I was due to go on this trip earlier in the year but the sea was too rough so it was cancelled however this time the day dawned bright and clear and the sea was like a pond.

The trip to the base of the cliffs takes about an hour so plenty of time to relax set up the camera and watch the world go slowly by. The boat is stocked with 6 or 7 cases of mackerel which are the chum to lure in the gannets. As soon as the boat is in position the first gulls arrive and greedily grab the first few fish.

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However within seconds the boat is surrounded by a cloud of wheeling gannets who rotate around the boat looking for their chance to dive and grab a fish. They can hit the water at up to 60mph to snap up the fish and it soons becomes an absolute frenzy of gannets arriving at all angles.

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As soon as one emerges fish in beak, it is assailed by others looking to steal the prize.

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It really is a scene of complete mayhem and great fun to try and photograph. No big long lens needed here as the birds are often close enough to touch and getting wet is part of the thrill. Watching the circling throng lining up their dive, then following them as they plunge into the sea is a joy to watch.

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The madness continues till all the fish have been cast over the side and a sense of calm finally returns as the gannets move off looking for another meal or just to float on the waves. If you’re ever in Yorkshire I would highly recommend the trip, 3 hours on the North Sea with an hour in the middle of just pure gannet bedlam.

The trip is run by Yorkshire Coast Nature and you can visit their website here