Ospreys Fishing

Aviemore in the heart of Scotland is a great place to see ospreys in the wild. These fish eating raptors return here from Africa each summer to breed and raise their young. Extinct in the UK until being reintroduced in Scotland in the 50’s they are now thriving and with a strong base in Scotland have spread around the country and down into Northern England.

Aviemore Ospreys allow you to get up close to these stunning birds in a couple of hides set up to allow you to watch and photograph them as they come in to fish on a small pond stocked with trout. On their website is a gallery of images and so at 3.45am I set off to try and snap something similar. The hides are located behind the main hotel in the town and during the day would be busy with guests and children on the nearby play area, but at 4am the only people about were 5 hardy photographers and Gordon the guide. Gordon settled us into the hides and explained what he hoped would happen before disappearing to the carpark with his walkie talkie to provide the running commentary. As the hides are built low down at water level it’s difficult to see the birds coming in so Gordons commentary keeps you aware of what’s in the sky and if any bird looks like diving in he lets you know.

The birds soon arrived but in the dark dawn light my pictures were quite frankly rubbish as I struggled to get the settings anywhere near what’s needed. However just seeing these birds plunge into the water and on most occasions emerge with a sizeable fish is something really special.

Eventually the light slowly improved and so did my pictures but nowhere near the quality of what the professionals get.

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It’s a tough morning photography wise and the window of opportunity is small to correct and readjust what you think the settings need to be as by 8am it was all over and the ospreys had moved on to other fishing grounds.

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The above osprey is a 7 year old male ringed locally in 2010.

I take my hat off to the photographers who take such stunning pictures of these birds and it shows me I still have lots to learn to improve my pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but was disappointed with my photo’s.

While chatting in the hide I learnt of a nearby nest which was fairly accessible so guess where I went the following day?

Sea Bird City Bempton Cliffs – Gannets

Last month I was due to go on a diving gannet photography day from Bridlington on the East Coast. Unfortunately the weather put paid to that trip so my plans got rearranged and I set off instead for a day at Bempton Cliffs.

Known locally as the Seabird City Bempton Cliffs are home to a staggering number of gannets, razorbills, fulmars, puffins, shag, herring gull, kittiwake and guillemots. In fact this year has proved to be a record year with almost 450,000 birds counted.

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The gannets are the most numerous with over 200,000 visiting the cliffs from March to October to breed or in the case of youngsters get used to being a gannet as it’ll be 5 years before they breed. These Northern Gannets return to Bempton every year from their wintering sites in West Africa and they return to the same nest site with the same partner every year.

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Although very affectionate to each other when they are crammed up close and personal on their very small nest spaces tempers can easily get frayed and some violence can ensue. They are our largest seabird with a wingspan up to 2 metres which allows them to effortlessly soar above the cliffs or travel great distances to feed. They eat larger fish such as mackerel and cod and the availability of these has been key in the recent rises in population as they successfully raise their chicks.

An onshore wind holding the birds above the cliffs offers some spectacular photo opportunities especially when they are gathering grass and plants to adorn their nests or offer as gifts to their partners. I’m not sure about nettles though as a suitable nesting material!

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Tawny Owl

As the local little owls are a lot happier to be photographed than the tawny owl I do tend to let them appear more often on my blog. Hopefully I can correct that oversight with these photo’s taken recently.

Now I know what to listen for in the woods finding the tawny owl is a lot easier. Whenever one of them is around the other birds kick up a real commotion trying to scare them off. I just tend to follow the noise and sooner or later spot where the owl is being hassled. Magpies and jays will swoop down to try and move them along while the blackbirds just set off their alarm call from nearby branches.

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They generally tend to ignore the uproar but will fly off if it gets too much. Most of the time they are just trying to sleep during the day before spending the evening hunting. There are a pair in the woods and there has been at least one owlet spotted, but unfortunately not by me.

If it wasn’t for the other birds alerting me to their presence it would be very hard to spot them as they are very well camouflaged and quite often if you look away they can be hard to re-find as they blend in so well.

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Great to know they are in my area and one I will always look out for when the blackbirds start sending up the alarm.

Little Egret v Black headed Gulls

This little egret was out for a quiet Sunday morning spot of fishing when the local hoodlums in the shape of three black headed gulls decided to spoil his day.

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At first he was ignoring them carrying on trying to feed and ducking out of the way when they got too close.

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But eventually he’d decided enough was enough and started to stick up for himself.

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As with all bully’s they eventually back down and he let them know who was in charge before wandering off and carried on looking for a spot of lunch.

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The Not So Common House Sparrow

When I was young there were literally millions of house sparrows. Every time we raced round a corner we’d disturb a flock of thirty or forty birds off the street and on to the rooftops. Nowadays they’re nowhere near common, with a 70% reduction in numbers since the Seventies and not just in the urban areas.

I’m lucky to live in an area where I see sparrows quite regularly and the local council is currently monitoring the bird to see how the population is doing. In my garden in the last week or two it’s blossomed with a pair bringing their fledglings to the feeders.

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Sparrows lay between 2 and 5 eggs and this pair seem to have hatched the maximum and Dad has been on feeding duties most of the time. He pecks away at the fat balls before passing it on to one open mouth after another. This suggests Mum is back on the nest as they can have up to four clutches in a good breeding season.

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The young are beginning to get the hang of the feeders and can be seen precariously balancing on a small twig trying to reach the seeds rather than alight on the feeders built in perch. As their confidence grows they are becoming more adept.

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These five will be added to the local survey and if the parents are as good at raising the next brood hopefully I can add their siblings. Maybe one day we’ll get used to seeing flocks again on our streets rather than the rare individual of recent years.

 

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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Many Mouths to Feed

At this time of year many birds will be starting on their second broods after having been busy raising and feeding their first family. As soon as they hatch the parents begin an endless round of food collection and feeding. When I was watching the woodpeckers raise their young I counted them flying in with food 31 times in an hour!

I sat on the river Wharfe recently and photographed some busy parents collecting a variety of insects for their offspring. This dipper was nesting under a tuft of grass halfway up the span of a bridge.

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Close by a grey wagtail was also busy hoovering up the insects to feed the family.

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And this pied wagtail was obviously trying to set a new record for the number of bugs it could fit in its beak!

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All three were totally focussed on their job, as soon as they had enough they were away to the nest but were back almost straight away to begin the hunt again.

Kingfishers Courting

Well it looks like I missed the first brood fledge as the kingfishers were getting friendly again on the river this morning.

The female was sat on her usual perch when the male arrived with a freshly caught fish.1She ignored him for a short time before finally starting to show some interest.

1cHe carefully presented the fish to her which she took , smacked on the branch to ensure it was dead and then maneuvered for swallowing.

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Hopefully his attentions paid off and the second brood will be underway soon. Fabulous to witness and great to think that if everything goes well there’ll soon be more kingfishers to enjoy watching.

 

That Time You Wish You’d Got There Earlier!

I’ve met some interesting people while out with my camera and a couple of these have become friends.

One of these is Roy, who I first met at the local nature reserve and over the years we’ve developed an easy friendship. We meet up every now again for a trip out and we constantly let each other know of good spots to visit or wildlife we’ve seen. We take the mickey out of each other and generally enjoy each others company. Roy is well known for his field craft and his ability to sneak up on not only a plastic owl but also a plastic heron!

Roy also has a fascination with kingfishers and we often sit for hours waiting to snap them. A couple of weeks ago he rang me to say they were showing well on the river so I popped down to join him. When I got there he told me I should have been a bit earlier as a deer had just come down to have a drink. He showed me a couple of the pictures on his camera which looked great. It was only later when he got home and reviewed the pics that he spotted the real surprise. She was giving birth!!!

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Roy told me she didn’t seem in any distress and calmy had a drink before wandering off. ┬áIt looks like a breech delivery with the back legs coming first but as both legs are clearly out it didn’t look like she’d have any problem delivering the fawn. Hopefully everything went well and they’re both doing well. Amazing pictures which Roy has let me share here.

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