Tuesday, December 06, 2011


A few posts to come  HERE or some pictures HERE from a recent trip to Florida....

Here are a few tasters:

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Owls at Aust

A backwards day today.  The forecast sunshine didn't materialise until midday, but that at least was the only saving grace of my failed attempt to see the local snow bunting.  The sightings websites are great, but there is a major frustration in seeing reported sightings of birds at the start of the week that you know will be gone by the time you have the chance to try and see them.
When the sun did come out I had to make the decision whether to drive the long way round to Aust Warth to look for the short eared owls.  With the old Severn bridge closed for repairs a journey of 10-15 minutes becomes a trip of 30-35.  Still it looked like the sun might hold so I went.
Sometimes they appear earlier in the afternoon, but today it was the usual 4pm.  I was sitting in the car listening to the football (I'd been there about 90 mins), hanging out of the window, when I suddenly realised I was looking at an owl sitting on a log.  I never saw it fly in - for all I know it had been resting up in the long grass.  Anyway we were then treated to a show by 2 owls (a third was reported) in reasonable, but dying light.  In order to get some closer views I cranked up the ISO and hoped.
A few shots below starting with an experiment in black and white, and there are more on the website.

A lovely way to spend the last hour of the day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

While the cat's away ....... (2)

After a quick bacon and egg butty at the cycle centre I had to decide where to go next.  As I needed to visit Slimbridge it was a bit of a no-brainer, but I wasn't sure there would be too much to see.  There were the usual residents :
a curious jackdaw

and a young woodpigeon

but not too much else in the way of wildlife.  I wandered into the pond zone - from my childhood I've had a love of things aquatic, even to the extent of considering marine biology as a career.  Instead I went another way, spent many hours fishing but never did learn to scuba dive.  Still, like rockpooling, whenever I find dipping ponds, etc I find myself drawn to stare in.  There were the usual snails ....
a few sticklebacks ( a heavy crop - but I'm quite pleased with this one with the spines clearly visible) .......
and even the odd insect perhaps egg-laying?

So did you guess the clue I posted yesterday?  It's the egg shape just above the waterline.

As I walked up to this particular pool there was a distinct and frankly unmistakable 'plop'. Have you got it yet?
Go on - more 'eggs' and a tail!  Yes a water vole (and poo).

Sitting around for a while it became clear there were at least two juveniles and an adult.  I took some more shots, and had such fun I've been back a couple of times since.  The background isn't the easiest for the most picturesque shits, but they were quite unconcerned by my presence if I stayed still.  I couldn't believe they were wild, but an email exchange with a very helpful lady called Sue Porter confirmed they were wild visitors, although they had only known one was using the site.  At one time on the Slimbridge site as a whole they had just 5 breeding pairs, now numbers are estimated at 300, and they are spreading out into the local canal.
You do need to be patient - like the voles at Cromford canal feeding comes in short bursts, but I can assure you you will never get closer views.  At times I could have just scooped them out as they swam past, and the youngsters could be watched swimming underwater.  It was a a bit like watching young grebes when they first try and swim - all energy and bluster, but not too much grace.
A few of the following shots are slightly cropped to remove extraneous vegetation, but the first couple for example are full frame.  Love it.

More pictures on the website.  I hope they don't get too popular and then disturbed, but they seem quite habituated to people and the last time I was there about half a dozen other photographers appeared when I was snapping.  I'd been there about 3 hours by then though - sore knees!

From Mammals

Sunday, October 23, 2011

While the cat's away ....... (1)

I can't believe how long has passed since my last post.  A combination of the weather, a dog to walk and other commitments has meant time out with the DSLR has been quite limited.  I've got a lot of snaps taken with my little pocket digital camera on dog walks, and they will make the light of day in the end, but it was when Kay was heading north a couple of weekends ago, with the dog, that I grabbed the chance to get out and about again.
Starting on the Friday night I wandered up to Rich's field to see how his barn owls were getting on.  They've had 2 clutches this year with 5 looking likely to fledge from the second.  As usual there was nothing to see during the light, but as dusk really fell I heard the unmistakable hiss of a barnie, then a second.  Moments later I had one of those 'never forget it' moments as the two owls flitted around me, like moths to a candle and only 10 feet over my head.  I was standing in full view (nowhere near the nest box I should add), leaning on a fencepost, so they were obviously interested to see just what I was.  One landed on another fencepost, but the lack of a moon meant it was just a white shadow to my straining eyes.  Brilliant.
The next morning I was up well before the lark to go and remind myself how frustrating it is trying to watch rutting fallow deer on the Forest.  I did get a few glimpses of deer in the middle distance, but none in photo range.  At one point I saw the back of a deer a little nearer in the bracken and waited for the head to pop up.  Then another back, and another.  Still no heads - in fact not even a neck.  Slowly the penny dropped.  In my defence I haven't seen boar too often, and the bracken was quite high.  
The owl theme continued.  When I first arrived it was still too dark to try and head into the woods - no moon, remember?  Hearing a few tawny owls 'kewicking' I tried a 'twoo'.  Probably coincidence, but an owl flew overhead.  Just call me the owl whisperer!

So there we go, instalment one and not a picture in sight.  There are some, I promise in instalment 2 though.  I think this might be my first ever snapless post, so here's a clue to what's to come - I'll be impressed if you get it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Buzzard revisited

In the weeks since my last morning with the buzzards we had seen them twice feeding on dead rabbits in the same area.  Sadly there is a fair bit of myxy around at present and that morning whilst walking the dog I'd seen one of the rabbits out feeding in broad daylight, eyes fully closed.  So I had fewer reservations about looking to try the baiting out again.  Having found another fresh roadkill - very near where the other had been - I went back to the same field.  I wanted to try and get some closer shots , but to get the right angle my last vantage point wouldn't work, as it was about 6 feet above the field.  So this time I did use a hide, but my 'low level' one (home made from a cloche frame and less than 3 feet high).
The birds did seem more wary, not just the hide, but the rabbit was only about 20 paces away this time, probably half the previous distance.  Eventually though one glided down from the big oak tree, not a single flap of it's wings until it landed.  

It was a superb experience to watch this beautiful bird at such a close range - just right for full-frame shots too (although I'm frustrated that I clipped the wing in the first shot).  
One surprise though was the number of wasps down feeding on the carcass.  Never seen that before - although thinking about it you could see a few flying around on some the last set of pictures.

Friday, August 05, 2011

2 for the price of one ....

The foxes are a longer term project, but for a while now I've had another idea in mind.  Earlier in the year we put down a dead chicken in Rich's field with the trail cam on it.  Over a few days we filmed a buzzard and a fox at the carcass, and of note to me was the fact that the buzzard was feeding in good light.  The spot wasn't really ideal for photo's, although I have some thoughts about a snow or frost scene I might try for next winter. 
The idea of putting down some bait for buzzards is hardly new.  Dave Slater (see links) had some shots he'd taken from his hide, and of course at places like Gigrin Farm there are plenty of buzzards down with the red kites.  However my time for photography is quite limited so I always saw it as a gamble.  Near the village there are several fields where the short grass betrays a good rabbit population, 
and when I started to hear the unmistakable mewing of the newly fledged buzzards in the area I thought it might be worth a bash.  Then one day Kay had been walking the dog and told me about seeing several buzzards down in one field.
So there I was, up early on a Saturday morning cruising the local lanes for overnight roadkill.  All I found was a long dead and tatty cat, which didn't meet my needs!  I tried again on Sunday and there was a large and very fresh roadkill rabbit, duly scooped up into a bag.  
I seriously doubted whether a hide would be tolerated so I found a spot on the edge of some trees where I could hide and put down the rabbit a reasonable way off in the hope I wouldn't put the birds off.  For an hour or two my frustration grew, as I could hear several buzzards calling, but none too near, and none obviously moving.  The rabbits were around though.
Suddenly l heard a different type of call, and more than that it was right over my head.  Next thing I knew not one but two birds appeared on the ground in front of me.  It was apparent straight away that this wasn't a vulture 'share the carcass' scenario, but very much a case of pecking order.  The bird that won out did the classic mantling you see from raptors, 

spreading it's wings to shield even a sight of the prey from the other bird which just sat around looking a bit sorry for itself.  The single bird shots are all crops but they don't look too bad on screen, so click on them for bigger views.

After a fair while there was a sudden flurry of activity and the other bird dived in.  By now the first had eaten a fair bit so it gave way.

At the end the bird tried to carry away the remains in a cloud of flies, but it was obvious this big rabbit was too challenging, and in the end the birds flew off.  A third had appeared, but this one didn't come down to stay.  Sorry a few of these shots are a little gruesome!

I decided to leave the remains and went off for a late breakfast.  That afternoon the dog and I went back, and there was nothing at all to be seen, so obviously something had tidied up.
So in the space of a few weeks I'd achieved two planned sets of pictures -  a nice feeling of achievement.
As always better views can be seen on the web albums HERE.