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.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Definitely not badgers!

When someone told me about an area of woodland within a walk (or short drive) from the village where they had seen badgers it sparked my interest.  As so often around here it can be hard to find a spot where others (walkers or dog walkers) don't go, but within a few hundred yards of the described location I found a spot where there was a natural looking track between two slightly raised areas.  I scattered some peanuts around and set up the trail camera.  Next day nothing seemed to have gone, but the day after the nuts were missing, a pattern which continued over a couple more nights.  Retrieving the camera I had a pleasant surprise - no badgers but a fox family - 4 cubs, still suckling, but old enough to have fun.  They weren't there every night, but what was exciting was the fact that a couple of appearances were in the early evening.
This isn't a place you could use a hide.  In fact there was only one spot where I could lie down between some plants and get a view of the area.  However I have found that if you are low (I lie flat with a large bean bag - not so good for the neck though), draped in camo and the only real view the target will get is of the lens, then you can get often get some shots.
I had three concerns.  I knew I would do a bit of feeding to ensure the foxes came, but I had to limit this to avoid any dependency.  I wanted to avoid any habituation with people.  I wanted to avoid giving my location away to others.  There are enough people in this area who will target foxes, so I didn't want to put them at risk.
I have never seen anyone else there, so that's a start.  One night when I had put down some food a fox appeared as I was walking away.  It turned and fled, so no evidence of getting used to people yet.
The first night I staked out the venue I felt that strange mix of anticipation tempered with resignation that the chance of actually seeing let alone snapping a fox was limited.  Suddenly a small shape wandered out of the bramble patch and with barely a glance around it settled down to a few peanuts.  Bingo.  This was my first shot from the site, and even if I didn't get any more I would be content.  In fact it did stick around for a few minutes, enabling some more shots.

This isn't somewhere I can go that often, and even when I have gone then I've only seen a fox perhaps half the visits, so the next snap was a month later.  The cub had clearly grown though ........

but it was a couple of weeks later when I next saw one, then two, that I felt they were really growing up.
 They would come and browse the food, but even when I had put down a bit of dog food ( the night with the camera) they didn't go mad for it, again reassuring. 
They would react to the birds flying over, and on the night when two appeared the one there first visibly stiffened and adopted a defensive posture.  No actual fighting or growling though.

I don't think they clocked me as a person, they were too confident, but I know from looking back at the setup that the lens reflected the sky to some extent, so they would have seen something unusual.

Overall I'm quite pleased with the results so far, even though the light there isn't great and quite a few of the shots were taken at high ISO settings.
I hope the weather and my timetable allow one or two more visits, as from my reading we must be nearing the time when at least some of the cubs will move on.