Sunday, November 01, 2020

And then I looked out of the window .......

 I hadn't been down the track for weeks, but 3 discrete piles of feathers alongside a stretch of hedge told their own story.

This is a classic sparrowhawk ambush location - fly low and hard along the arrow-straight hedgeline and grab the birds that get spooked into flying the wrong way.  

The track is little used so time to pluck and feast without disturbance. Despite the time I've spent here subsequently though I only ever saw one brief glimpse of a hawk in flight.

In the summer we could hear the begging calls of young raptors from a treeline, and I'm sure these were sparrowhawks too, but again I only ever once saw an adult powering over the fields.  Second year we have heard them.  Access to the trees might be possible, at least to look for evidence of a nest, so I'll add chatting to the landowners to the list for this winter, but the chance of getting good shots of the birds is probably very low.

However one day I was washing the dishes (honest) and saw this beauty sitting in the birch tree outside the window.  I know from past experience trying to shoot through glass is pretty useless, and opening a window this close would be likely to spook the bird.  Nipped upstairs and grabbed a camera and lens, sneaked out the back door and slowly poked the lens round the corner of the house.  The bird looked over at me then went back to staring into the tree canopy for it's next meal, completely unfazed. 

I tried edging round the corner a bit more and it remained quite relaxed.  In the end I was standing in front of the kitchen window and it just didn't care.  

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Good Old days

Suddenly proper outdoors time is at a premium, and it's tricky to keep an eye on what's happening even locally. Last years woodpecker hole, on the route of one of our regular walks, shows no signs of a nuthatch using it yet, despite them having a good look last year after the woodpeckers had moved out.

When I saw the nest last year (well as usual I heard it first) I had high hopes of some good photo opportunities, but this pair were clearly spooked by my presence despite best efforts, so I rapidly decided to leave them to it.

As it turned out I did get a chance to snap another nest. Again I found it when I heard the youngsters calling.  I'd been heading to see a wood warbler that had belatedly arrived in the 'usual' spot, but decided instead to spend the session with the GSW's.  Fortunately this pair were much more accommodating and rapidly settled into a pattern of regular feeding visits to some well developed youngsters, and although the light levels were a bit low and the leaf cover lent a green colour cast to many of the pics I did get some ok shots.  If you look at the big versions you might even see some woodpecker spit!

The tree had 3 or 4 older nest holes (you can see another in these shots), so was clearly seen as a good nest site.  I only had the one session before they fledged, but I had hoped to check it again this year.  However the Forest of Dean is sadly well beyond reach during lockdown.  I have spotted a hole that I think is new and in use near another of our daily walks - now that might be do-able if things relax a little bit, but I have doubts that I will be re-retired in time to take good advantage.

Stay safe.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Forest of Dean - just a little late!

It's been months since I posted here, and I have come the conclusion that I either get back into the Blog now or just drop it altogether, so let's try again. Just forgive me for the untimely posting!

2019 was a funny year. Having retired I expected to get a lot more snapping done, but life intervened and if anything I was down on opportunities.  One principal target for the year was due to be the woodland migrants in the Forest of Dean - wood warbler, pied and spotted flycatcher and redstart.  In the end I was probably lucky to get any pics at all.  My preferred venue was very slow - none of the usual spotted flycatchers, and although I heard the odd redstart I didn't find a clear territory.

The old hawthorn didn't have any nests but another old favourite nest hole was occupied by a nuthatch family this year, just frustratingly high up.

It was satisfying a few weeks later to see a couple of the youngsters still in the vicinity, their heads more rounded than that of the adults, but otherwise the classic nuthatch poses were all there.

A couple of friends were passing through and I feared I would have nothing to show them, but in the end we stumbled across a pair of pied flycatchers establishing a territory,

and had a visit from a handsome male redstart snapped handheld through a hide window.

In the field I was pleased to see bluebells around when we were snapping the pied flycatchers, but whilst I like the flower stems with enough shape to show as bluebells I'm not sure if the blue blobs in the background detract rather than add value.

I did find one other male pied flycatcher trying to attract a female to a nest hole, but it was right at a busy public car park, and in the end I didn't get to revisit.

As for the wood warblers, again my 'traditional' sites seemed to be vacant, but more of that next time …...

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

A Hammer Made of Feathers

"Och, It's easy up here.  If you see a chiffchaff it's a willow warbler."  It's funny how things stick in your memory. I was in my teens, we were on a guided walk at Insh Marshes reserve in the Highlands and the RSPB warden was explaining to another visitor that he had never seen a chiffchaff in the Highlands, so there was no need to worry about telling them from willow warblers.  Even though we do hear them in South Wales, to this day the sound of a willow warbler triggers memories of our annual trip to Aviemore.

So that's why a trip up to see Kay's parents got me thinking about Scotland.  I've written before about the wildlife that has inhabited the old coalmine tip site, I always grab the chance to go up there with the camera' and this year the first song I heard was the falling ripple of a willow warbler.

But much as I was pleased to hear it, my real target took a little more finding.  Just as indelibly the song associated in my mind with this old coal tip in Yorkshire is that of the yellowhammer. That first afternoon all I heard were contact calls of birds flitting between the bushes. Getting up early on a misty morning the next day though the bread and cheese song reassured me the yellowhammers were still around and soon  I found some singing and feeding.  I would have loved a better sky though.

They weren't quite so  consistent in the song perches they used as I recalled so I spent a fair bit of time standing around pointing my lens at birdless branches, being barked at by various dogs (dogs don't like tripods do they?), assuring passers-by that the canary on my camera screen was a resident British bird and not a freshly arrived migrant from Africa and being repeatedly stared at by a whitethroat who obviously did have a programmed song perch route I was standing too near.

“Silence fell like a hammer made of feathers.”  Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

When is a lake not a lake?

In winter I live a 10 minute walk away from a lake.

In summer I live a 10 minute walk away from a field.

And twice a year as one shifts into the other I live a 10 minute walk away from a marsh.

The marsh time is my favourite, and the horses, which always have the choice of dry land, often favour the marsh as well.

I've taken some snaps of the wildlife of the lake/field/marsh over the years, perhaps most surprisingly the kingfishers which appeared for a week or two in two of those years, but it was only recently I thought about making more of a project out of it, now I have more time.  So here is instalment 1, spring marsh.

As you look out over the grass small (mostly) mounds stand out.  At first they are bare, a result of my appearance, but wait a minute and the occupants sneak back.

It's nice to see coots at peace for a change, but as always they can manufacture a squabble anywhere.

Interestingly when a horse walks up - much nearer than I ever am - the birds remain glued to their nests.

Other occupants of the marsh also ignore the horses.

The egrets are a bit skittish, but come in if you are still and quiet, breeding colours evident on some.

The grey herons are more nervous and tend to hold back,

and the little grebes are …… well they're like all little grebes, shy and inquisitive at the same time, popping up unpredictably and revelling in my inability to get a decent snap.

The swans built a massive mound, which like most of the nests is now vacant.

The odd coot egg seems to have been predated, probably (whisper it) by a corvid of some kind,

but I hope at least some youngsters have made it through and headed for the nearby reen which rarely dries up.  The lapwings are still chasing the crows, so I hope that's a positive sign for them

and the shelduck are paired up, but not apparently yet hidden down rabbit holes.

The rabbits watched them, but the fox was a few fields away, so they were ok for now.

A lone greylag stood on a coot mound yesterday for minutes, looking around then called a few times before wandering off, still alone.

To see larger versions just click on a picture.