Blood, Sweat and Deers

Each year when deer grow their new antlers they are covered in a downy velvet which supplies nutrients and blood flow to the growing antlers below. Come the Autumn the antlers are fully grown and the deer will scratch or rub them against trees and rocks to remove the velvet and reveal the antlers ready for the rutting season.

This young Sika deer was probably showing off his first set of antlers this week and although it does look painful it’s probably little more than an itch he needed to scratch.

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Between March and May next year he will cast these antlers and begin to grow a new pair. Cast antlers are a great source of calcium and minerals for other animals.

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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!!!

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/