My Garden Birds

My small flock of sparrows which visits the garden feeders has blossomed from 6 to over 20 regularly coming in for a feed. This is good news for a bird which has been in decline over recent years and they are regularly joined now by up to ten starlings another bird which has been suffering falls in numbers.

_X0A5284The sparrow flock was also joined recently by a summer visitor who seemed to have joined the wrong crowd. This juvenile willow warbler has been a regular visitor and always arrived with the sparrows. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in the area as they are_X0A5263usually more of a woodland bird and we are a mile away from the nearest wood. Beautiful to see, but I do hope it remembers its not a sparrow and manages to migrate before the weather changes. The tits are starting to re-visit the feeders with coal, great and blue tits all enjoying the nuts and fat balls. Hopefully they’ll keep me entertained throughout the colder months.

 

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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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A Gannet Fact

Juvenile gannets will make a leap of faith from their nest site to the sea below before they can fly! At Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire this can be a leap of up to 300 feet. Usually they are able to glide down to the water and they will then float on the surface bobbing around for up to three weeks before they can fly!

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Living on the fat they have built up while high on the cliff edge they will naturally start to swim South, their instinct for the long flight ahead to West Africa where they will spend the next 18 months to 2 years kicking in and sending them off in the right direction.

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Osprey Breakfast

Just a couple of shots from Loch Insh of one of the osprey eating a trout delivered by Dad. Interesting to see that the fish is delivered without the head which apparently the male will eat first, maybe his reward for catching the meal and to keep him going while he goes off to fetch more?

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Some Sticky Family History

Ever tried Sticky Toffee Pudding? Well if you have you have my wife’s Uncle to thank.

Francis Coulson is my wife’s Uncle and despite the many claims and counter-claims, the original Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe was created by Francis Coulson at Sharrow Bay in the 1970s, and it is said that the featherlight sweet figgy sponge drenched in toffee sauce is ‘still the finest you will find anywhere in the world’.

Francis Coulson’s original, secret recipe is the stuff of culinary legend, anecdotally inspired by Brian Sack’s time as an RAF Spitfire pilot, where he saw Canadian RAF Pilots use Maple Syrup. This was pre Food Air Miles, so necessity became the mother of invention!

Staff at Sharrow Bay have signed a secrecy agreement to not disclose the secret recipe that is held in the hotel’s vaults, nor must ex-staff ever use the recipe at any other business.

I only met Francis once and he was an extremely nice man but unfortunately he never told us the recipe! Just think if we had a £1 for every toffee pudding ever eaten I’d be writing this from a beach somewhere!!

In 2007, an anonymous bidder paid £32,000 to the Children in Need charity in order to stay at Sharrow Bay and be allowed to make the pudding alongside the pastry chef.

C’est la vie as the French would say, life wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy.

So next time you fancy a really sweet delicious pudding grab yourself a sticky toffee one and quietly thank Uncle Francis for creating this superbly sweet treat. And don’t worry I really don’t want to live on an idyllic beach honest!!!!

https://www.sharrowbay.co.uk/

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