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.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Top dogs

No wolves on this trip, but again some great times with canids,

The best of the encounters were with coyotes, but we had one day when foxes seemed to be all around - maybe not as close as this one in 2018 ………

but with a big lens you could still get some nice shots.

One even crept into my long lens flora shot. (What do you mean mis-focus).

The coyotes though supplied the closest and longest encounters - some of them are just so accommodating.

One was exploring a small island near the road, but I felt didn't make the most of the chance.  I hadn't realised how close it was when I got out of the Bombardier and in hindsight I wish I'd grabbed the 100-400 to allow a bit more space.  Still you can feel the apprehension before it walked the log.

My favourite was the one we watched hunting in a meadow.  Being in one of the more thermal areas there were patches of vegetation peeking through the snow which added a bit of colour, and I just loved the way it systematically worked the area, listening, sniffing, poking it's nose into gaps and even catching a few rodents.

Then to top it all it came and had a closer look at us.  Just brilliant.

If you want to get a feel for what the Yellowstone experience is like check out this video by Steve Mattheis - https://youtu.be/56t6TKzqm_k  He is based one of the Parks making up the Greater Yellowstone area.

If you like this one look also at his bison in the snowstorm video - again may help you understand why this place has really captured me.  https://youtu.be/0vM7MHqQh50