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!

 

 

 

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 dirty 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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276/365 – Green Woodpeckers and The Archers

Back in the summer I treated myself to a day at a hide where green woodpeckers are the main visitors. I’d spent most of May monitoring the three great spotted woodpecker nests in my local woods and thought it was time to photograph their green cousins. I’d only seen them a couple of times before so it would be a good opportunity to add some decent pictures to my portfolio.

I booked into a local pub the night before and was pleasantly surprised to find out on arrival that the Bull at Rippingale was the inspiration for the Archers the long running radio programme. As part of the BBC’s post-war drive to promote agriculture and farming, Henry Burtt who lived in nearby Haconby, a nationally recognised expert in seed crops and an influential figure in the NFU at the time, suggested at a national conference: “What we want is a ‘farming Dick Barton’”, Dick Barton being the most popular radio show of the time. This sparked the interest of a BBC producer who accepted an invitation to visit the area where Burtt explained the importance of farming to the economy and the country. And from this the Archers was born. If you’re ever in the area I’d recommend a visit as they have some Archers themed displays for fans.

The hide I was visiting is run by Tom Robinson, one of many he has which cover a variety of species throughout the year. Tom also ploughs back a lot of the profits into conservation work and the hides are of the highest quality. Comfortable office chairs, drink making facilities, heaters for the colder months and a loo.

I had missed the first visit of the morning, but I settled in and it wasn’t long before the male decided to make an appearance.

Male green woodpecker

Male green woodpecker

The sexes can be differentiated by the red mustache sported by the male. Outside the hide are a couple of anthills which are liberally sprinkled with mealworms which the woodpeckers love. It didn’t take him long to move from the perch to the hill and start feeding.

Male green woodpecker with mealworm

Male green woodpecker with mealworm

Green woodpeckers have a long sticky tongue which allows them to feast on ants, inserting their tongue and scooping them up from within the anthill.

After tucking in for a few minutes he departed allowing me to review my pictures and amend any settings. Tom knew they were nesting nearby and was hoping the young would soon be visiting but unfortunately not today.

On the next visit both the male and female arrived with the female taking a back seat while the male tucked in. When she did eventually get in a good position to take her photograph she was photobombed by a pheasant!

Female green woodpecker

Female green woodpecker

Photobombing pheasant

Photobombing pheasant

The woodpeckers and the pheasants provided an entertaining few hours with regular visits allowing for a range of images to be taken.

Male green woodpecker

Male green woodpecker

I can’t fault Tom’s set up and would highly recommend a visit. Hopefully I’ll be back soon for some raptor or owl action. The scaffold hide alongside a barn owl or sparrowhawk nest are certainly on the to do list.

Here’s a link to Tom’s site http://www.wildlife-photography-hides.co.uk/

 

 

Watching Treecreepers

Last year whilst watching the woodpeckers nesting I noticed lots of treecreepers flitting around and I decided that this year I would try and find a treecreeper nest to watch. It took me a little while but not only did I find an active one I also watched another being built.

When people ask me what I’m photographing and I tell them, almost everyone says they’ve never seen a treecreeper. But they’re not as rare as you think, they’re just incredibly hard to spot. About the size of a wren with a long tail and down curved bill they are perfectly camouflaged for life in a wood blending perfectly against the trunk of the trees.

Treecreeper nest building

Treecreeper nest building

When it comes to building a nest they don’t take the easy option and head for a knothole in a tree but they look for a flap of bark with room behind to build the nest. The nest is built with twigs and wood chip as in this picture and is then lined with moss, lichen, hair and feathers and takes around a week to complete.

Treecreeper with nest lining

Treecreeper with nest lining

As they can lay between 5 and 6 eggs the nest area will tend to have a seperate entrance and exit as the nest space will become crowded as the chicks hatch and grow.

A week later and it would seem the eggs have been laid as one bird was flying back with food and feeding it to the sitting bird who would emerge to take the food.

Treecreeper with food.

Treecreeper with food.

The nesting bird would open its mouth to be fed before then flying off and leaving the other bird to take over sitting on the nest.

Treecreepers feeding each other

Treecreepers feeding each other

The second nest I found obviously had chicks, as the parents were constantly in and out with beaks full of insects. They flew in at one end of the hanging bark and emerged from the other usually depositing faecal sacks before heading off to forage more food.

Treecreeper removing faecal sack

Treecreeper removing faecal sack

The faecal sack is a mucous covering around the chicks waste which allows the parents to easily remove it from the nest and keep the nest area clean. They were delivering a wide array of different insects to the chicks.

Treecreeper delivering food

Treecreeper delivering food.

This nest must have been very close to fledging as a couple of days later when I returned there was no sign of any activity, which after the constant delivery of food earlier suggests the young had successfully left the nest. The second nest is now the focus of my attention hopefully to see lots of food deliveries, and fingers crossed the fledging of the chicks.

Treecreepers at nest site

Treecreepers at nest site

130/365 – Feeding Changeover

The great spotted woodpeckers eggs have hatched and the feeding duties have begun. The parents are in and out every few minutes which can lead to some traffic backing up. When each parent lands on the tree they let out a call to notify the other that they need to get in and then they wait for the other to emerge.

Great spotted woodpeckers at nest hole

The male exits while the female waits to go into the nest to feed the chicks