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.

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Buzzard v Crow

I’ve noticed buzzards more and more in my local area recently soaring above the valley. I’d seen one yesterday just before bumbling into the fox, so I returned to the same area hoping to see both again.

It wasn’t long before I heard then saw the first buzzard as it swooped low over the trees being harassed by some crows. It seems every bird of prey attracts a mobbing wherever they are, with the feisty crow being the main antagonist.

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There’s usually a small group who will fly up and noisily chase away the buzzard but in this case one lone aggressor chased him away.

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Interestingly there were three buzzards soaring on the thermals today and it may be that this one was this years young. They feed mainly on small mammals with voles being their prefered prey but will take carrion if available._JM10232

As these birds now seem to be residents I will hopefully be able to get better shots.

Gotta Love A Ginger

Beautiful moment this afternoon when I almost bumped into this stunning fox. I had wandered off  down a new path and had just got to the top when this fox casually wandered through the grass toward me.

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As I started taking pictures the shutter noise caught her attention and her ears pricked up ( I say “her” because she was just so beautiful) .

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She didn’t seem scared by my presence and she slowly walked off about her business before stopping to just check me out one last time. She looked healthy and well fed and she certainly made my day. The fox has always been a favourite of mine and top of my list to photograph.

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A Kingfisher Day and an Ethical Question

After my last exhibition I decided to treat myself to a day photographing kingfishers with Steve Race of  Yorkshire Coast Nature.  As you know I’m a bit obsessed with them so nine hours in a hide watching and photographing them seemed like a dream day out.

Now for whatever reason I’d just assumed it would be a day in a hide beside a lake frequently visited by kingfishers, so I was a little concerned when I arrived to see an artificial perch above a large black tank full of small fish. I’d read about these set ups and how in the past birds had been injured diving into glass tanks they basically couldn’t see. Steve noticed my reticence and we had a quiet chat with the owner of the hide to put my mind at rest. He explained why they used a black tank, where the bird was nesting, how many young they’d fledged over the years and how the welfare of the birds was paramount to him and to his business. They put my mind at rest but I was quite prepared to walk away if I thought there was any threat to the safety or well being of the birds. I joined the other clients in the hide and even before we’d had time to sit down the male arrived for the first fish of the day. He’d obviously been waiting for us to stop chatting so he could start fishing.

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The male continued to come in at an amazing rates of knots grabbing a fish, bashing it on the perch and flying off to the nest. Unfortunately the female hadn’t been seen for four days and it was thought that she may have been grabbed by a sparrowhawk or another predator. However the male was doing a brilliant job of feeding the young and in one ten minute period caught seven fish which were all flown back to the nest. It was a couple of hours before he stopped and ate one himself.

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I’ve spent hundreds of hours watching and photographing kingfishers in the wild so I know about the patience, skill and luck needed to get decent images. I can also see how days like this have become established and are allowing photographers not only the chance to see these beautiful birds so close but to also capture them doing what they do naturally although in a slightly contrived atmosphere.

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Is it ethical? To start with I was very skeptical, however Mark the site owner has been managing this lake and photographing the kingfishers for a number of years now. It was obvious that this kingfisher was doing a superb job providing for its family apparently on its own. And at the end of the day how much different is this to hanging out feeders in your garden for your local birds, or an RSPB nature reserve specifically managed to attract as much wildlife as possible, or Springwatch putting out carcasses to attract predators they can film for our entertainment.

It also led to an interesting debate in the hide on my recent day photographing the ospreys fishing. One of the other visitors just couldn’t understand that there was no difference between a pond specifically stocked with fish to attract ospreys and a tank stocked with fish to attract kingfishers, even when the pond owner explained that the pond was drained and cleaned and the fish removed as soon as the ospreys migrated South.

In the end I had a fabulous day and took probably the best shots I’ll ever get of my favourite bird but it still it won’t stop me spending hours on the riverbank trying as usual to get just one more.

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Something A Bit Different

As I always seem to have my big lens when I’m out and about and although I do notice the smaller members of our wildlife I’m rarely in a position to photograph them. I managed this shot of a broad bodied chaser dragonfly whilst out recently and am now wishing I had lens more suited to these beautiful creatures. When does Santa come again?

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Little Owl

I didn’t realise the until I did a bit of reading that the Little Owl isn’t a native species but was introduced into the UK in the 19th century. They are now widespread across the country and with good eyesight and patience can be spotted almost anywhere. There are a couple of pairs I know of locally and have seen the young in past years. They feed during the day making them slightly easier to spot but when sat on a drystone wall their colouring blends them in making them almost invisible.

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They swoop down from elevated perches to feed on insects and worms as well as small mammals and fledglings and will stash extra food in caches for later use. Carefully scour the walls around fields and you may be lucky enough to spot one although their population has fallen over recent years. I think one of my local pairs has a nest so hopefully there’ll be a few more popping out soon.

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Coots

Not the most striking of our water birds the coot is often overlooked. All black apart from the the white beak and head shield they are a very common, living on almost any stretch of water. On our local boating lake there are a few pairs, one of which had hatched two chicks earlier this year. They can have up to 9 but struggle to raise a large brood and if unable to get enough food will abandon the weaker ones. The young are not the most photogenic duckling!!

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During the breeding season the coots are very territorial and will aggressively see off other coots or ducks. They will use their large lobe covered feet to attack, chasing away the intruder. However once breeding is over they congregate together in what’s known as a cover of coots. They are mainly plant eating but will grab small crustaceans and other small water animals and are regularly seen diving below the surface.

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Not the greatest of fliers they launch themselves into the air by running over the water to take off. Up close they are quite a striking bird with a vivid red eye. Keep your eye open next time you’re out and about near water and I bet you’ll see one.

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A Punk Pirate

It hasn’t taken long at all for the woodpecker chick(s) to start peering out at the world. The parents have been in and out constantly with 35 visits with beaks full of food in just an hour. Imagine preparing a meal every two minutes for your kids!!

The male seemed keen to lure this youngster out with what looked like a dead chick stolen from another birds nest.

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The chick wasn’t too keen and was firmly staying put however tempting the offering. The female however was still pushing into the nest to clear up the faecal sacks which suggests there’s more than one in the nest hole.

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I don’t think they’ll be around much longer so I hope the forecast rain stays away as it would be nice to see them fledge in the sunlight.

Return of the Dipper

One casualty of the Boxing Day floods was the actual river who’s Geography was changed in many ways by the sheer force of water which surged down the channel. One area of rapids was a great spot for sitting and watching the dippers but the flood scoured them away so the dippers moved on.

I’ve seen them flying up and down but not found where they like to dip however I did notice them this weekend flying from the main river and into a small brook which flows in close by. It’s quite near to some locks on the canal so I could stand on a bridge over the brook and watch where they went.

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It soon became clear they had a nest nearby as both parents were in and out with mouthfuls of treats for the young, ranging from small fish to grubs and crustaceans. Unfortunately the site wasn’t great for photography but brilliant for watching their feeding antics. Hopefully I’ll keep an eye on the area and see the young soon.

 

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