Happy Birthday

The swan has been sat on her nest for some time now and the regulars to the park have been constantly asking for updates. Yesterday I was the first to see her new arrivals as three cygnets could be clearly seen in the nest and I happily passed on the news like a proud father. If I’d had cigars I would have been handing them out.

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She was constantly fidgeting though which suggests there may be more still to hatch. Last year she had eight who all survived and the year before she had six so fingers crossed there’s a few more to come.

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One of the three was clearly more confident than the others and was eager to explore its surroundings venturing out of the nest and pecking at twigs.

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It must be amazing to see the world for the first time with new sights, new smells and sunshine on their beaks. I do hope the first thing they saw wasn’t me!!

On The Moors

There are a lot of different habitats close to where I live but one I don’t visit as often as I should are the moorlands. Whenever I visit I tend to come across something new and it was the same on a recent early morning outing.

The warblers have returned and virtually all the small trees had one singing away in full voice. These were willow warblers trying to attract a partner for the breeding season after having arrived back from sub-Saharan Africa where they spend the winter.

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There were also lots of meadow pippits around, which although usually around all year may well have spent the winter at the coast or lower down the valleys.

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The star of the show though was the skylark which I watched rise to the heights singing its song before diving back down into the heather. Luckily I watched where it landed but its incredible camouflage meant it took me a good few minutes to fix on it and take a picture.

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Something A Little Different

This weekend the third Tour De Yorkshire came to town. Its a legacy cycle race which developed from the Grand Depart of the Tour De France which came to Yorkshire a few years ago.

The route came fairly close and featured a steep climb up a local cobbled hill so I staked my claim amongst the thistles and nettles and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

_X0A9533This climb was about two thirds of the way into the stage so the cyclists really began to feel the pain. The crowds were amazing cheering the leaders and the peloton up the hill and over the summit.

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All the climbs in the race are given a French name for the event and as this was the Cote de Shibden Wall it was no suprise that a certain President of the USA appeared with his wall building friends!!

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Brilliant day, superb crowds and a great advert for Yorkshire, God’s own county.

Cetti’s Warbler

A visit to Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve at the weekend threw up a first for me almost the second I got out of my car. Virtually the first bird I saw announced its presence extremely loudly but disappeared as soon as I raised my camera. I was fairly sure what it was but asked the warden who confirmed it was a Cetti’s warbler. Now if you read the Collins Guide to British Birds these should only be spotted in a couple of locations in the South of England. However over the years they have been moving steadily North and there at least two pairs on this reserve.

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The female was difficult to spot skulking in the reeds and scrub but the male was happy to sit out in the open flitting from tree to tree and blasting out its song. Its great to see a species increasing its range but is it because of an increase in numbers or are the milder winters of recent years helping it’s move North?

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Larking About

I’ve only ever seen skylarks about a mile in the air singing their hearts out, so I was very lucky to spot this one among the heather, dry grass and bilberries at the weekend.

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A Subtle Change of Dazzling Colour

After the devastating floods of Boxing Day 2015 the river banks also took a battering and were reshaped with trees and undergrowth uprooted and washed away. One tree near where I watch the kingfishers was knocked down but has survived lying on the riverbank and its turning into a perfect natural hide. I can get inside the branches with my portable chair and the new spring growth is beginning to throw up a nice leafy cover.

I’d just settled in when the first kingfisher shot past up stream and its mate surprised me by landing ten feet away in a tree above my head. I had not time to amend any settings on my camera before it flew into the next tree and then away after the female.

They entertained me most of the morning at some distance, mating, diving for fish and generally enjoying the beautiful day until scared off by some dog walkers. 

I wasn’t expecting much when I looked at my photo’s later but what leaps out is the difference in colour a small distance makes. The first is when the male was closest, the second a shorter distance further from me and that extra distance and difference in light makes an amazing difference to the colours of the bird.

Guess where I’ll be spending a lot of my time? 

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Another Returning Visitor

When I first started visiting my local nature reserve a lot of the regulars mentioned Redpolls and how they were a regular visitor in the colder months. Well I never saw any for the first two years as they seemed to forget about visiting us. When I did finally see my first one I thought for a moment it was a sparrow with a very sore head!

They are a greyish brown sparrow sized finch with a very distinctive red cap and the males often have a breast speckled though with pink and red. They are partial migrants moving South in small flocks as the colder weather takes hold, then back North as Spring arrives. I guess the one on the reserve this weekend was heading back North.

They are generally forest dwellers eating seeds and nesting low down in trees and bushes where they lay between 3 and 7 eggs. 

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Guess Who’s Back?

Spotting and photographing a Jay was very high on my to do list when I started wildlife photography. My local nature reserve soon became a favourite haunt as it was very much a hot spot for them and the feeder set up meant they could easily be snapped stuffing their beaks with peanuts.

They were regular visitors during the winter months until this year when they hadn’t been seen in the feeding area at all and people were beginning to ask where they were? We’ve had a very mild winter this year so it looks like they’ve been finding enough to eat or their stashes of peanuts and acorns hidden away for leaner times were seeing them through.

This weekend though they were very obvious by their noise and at one point on Saturday four flew over my head together but resolutely refused to drop in to the feeders. Sunday was a a different story though as two decided that this was the day to fill up on some redskins. A pleasure to see them and reassuring to know they hadn’t disappeared but had just decided to make us wait. Absence makes the heart grow fonder so they say!!

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Put Out the Bunting

During the Summer months you’d be hard pressed to see a Reed Bunting. As their name suggests they tend to prefer to breed and roost in wetland areas and their plumage is a perfect mix of browns and blacks to enable them to blend in.

About the size of a sparrow they are having to adapt to different habitats and will now nest in drier areas and fields of crops.

In Winter though you may find them in your garden as they move onto seeds as a source of food. The male has a black head and a drooping white handlebar moustache while the female is a mix of browns with a distinctive cream highlight above their eyes.

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In Spring the male will sing from the tops of bushes and trees generally close to where its bred before. The female will be responsible for building the nest low down and well hidden in the reeds or undergrowth.

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Rocking Robins

Over the last few weeks there have been 6 or 7 Robins regularly visiting the feeding area at my local nature reserve. They have been quite well behaved with very few chasing incidents. I guess they weren’t quite in territorial mode but that all seems to have changed this weekend.

The robins are much more feisty with two seeming to try and assert their authority, continually harassing and chasing the others. I guess a well stocked feeding area would be a great territory to offer a female as a potential nesting site.

A short walk away from the feeding area and you’re very likely to meet the friendliest robin on the reserve. Quite a few times he has fed from my outstretched hand, an amazing experience as he sits and pecks the proffered seeds. The weirdest thing is the lack of weight, the lightest touch on your hand  almost as if there’s nothing there. This week however he wasn’t interested in food and sat belting out an array of songs, a robins greatest hits as he staked his claim to his territory and to the passing people who he hopes will have a pocket full of seeds!

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