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Monday, March 24, 2014

The first few days of Spring - first returning Chiff Chaffs, Sandmartins and well turned out drakes!

Off birding this week for a few days in the Humber Head levels and then hopefully across to the coast  - maybe Gibralter Point or Spurn.... such an exciting time of the year I think; there's already a handful of migrant species knocking about and I aim to photograph every one and stick them on here as I see 'em (Turtle Dove is gonna be a real challenge!)....... so, in anticipation of a shed-load of images next week here's a photo round up of the past couple of weeks as we crossed from Winter to Spring ....

Lapwing, Idle Valley

March 7th and very gratifying to see so many Lapwings in the fields looking resplendent as ever, especially when the sun catches the green in their wing feathers. Many northern Lapwings winter here in the UK and now most of them have dispersed and are looking for fields to breed in.

Likewise birds like Shelduck and Curlew leave our sheltered and food rich estuaries and move inland to breed.

Little Ringed Plover, Idle Valley

Always good to see any waders around Hatfield
and I guess you could call this a migrant - a lone Ringed Plover which we took to be its closely related Little Ringed Plover. Almost more interesting in a way to see these normally tidal waders crop up amongst the crops in flooded fields in South Yorkshire.

Male Kestrel, Idle Valley

Not a migrant of course but looking resplendently lovely - albeit at some distance away, here's a male Kestrel looking to attract some female attention.

.... and can anyone enlighten me with the name of this shrub / plant? Stacks of it coming up in Barrowhills Wood ( Nth Notts) like some kind of asteroid borne Triffid!

What is this stuff?

Ok, this is no migrant, its a resident tit but he (or she) is in the mood for something .... tricky from such an angle I know but I reckon this is a Willow Tit rather than the commoner Marsh Tit and he (or she) was hammering and pecking away at this bit of branch for a full 5 mins just above my Yorkshire Wildlife recruiting spot at Askham Bog .... food source? nesting material? Or just a tit doing a woodpecker impression? Either way .... marsh or willow, nesting or feeding ... there was a descent of tiny wood shavings for a moment there!
Willow Tit, Askham Bog

Willow Tit, Askham Bog
Singing Wren, Askham Bog

No debate about the nature of this pic ... my Askham Bog Wrens are just sooo chirpy!!

Great aspect and always good to get a good singing shot.

First Sand Martin, Tophill Low - 21/3/14

So I've photographed my first Little Ringed Plover (tick!) and moving swiftly on to last Friday - the 21st March here's a record pic of my first Sand Martin, one of 11 at Tophill Low nature reserve nr Beverley, East Yorks.

Another true migrant and always a magic moment ... like your first Swallow, first Cuckoo, first Swift, its like a welcome back and these days more than any other I'm just glad to see things returning numbers.

Yeah I know, Chiff Chaff's have been back for a couple of weeks now and I've heard 'em around (my first was at Wheldrake Ings on the 15th March) but my first sighting was today and a good 100 metres away so  I wasn't gonna snap that! Here's a good un from Spain last December ... who knows, this may have been one of Yorkshire's first back!

Back at Tophill Low and migrant wise there were at least 5 Chiff Chaffs there plus 4 Little Egrets (not sure if these can be counted as migrants ... once rare they're almost common UK residents now!), precious few other waders though - 1 Curlew, 1 Redshank and 2 Oystercatchers to be precise!

The morning light was superb, crisp, clear and great reflective light off the water
Lagoon side reeds, Tophill Low

.....and for me its only the light that makes this Pheasant pic so stunning.
Pheasant on the reservoir wall, Tophill

Sun dazzled Little Grebe, Tophill
.....too bright here though for this Little Grebe but ok with a bit of 'doctoring'

Little Grebe, Tophill

One of the great things about this time of year for me is seeing the many thousands of birds that have wintered here gradually acquire their breeding 'costumes' as they begin to depart ... Tophill is famed for it's winter duck population and there's nowhere better in my book for photographing one of my favourites - Goldeneyes

Here's a couple of my first efforts from one of the hides looking out onto the mighgty 'O' reservoir
Drake Goldeneye, Tophill
Drake Goldeneye, Tophill

.... not bad, I really wanted to capture that greenish sheen on their heads when in breeding plumage. Later on from the wall on 'D res' I got some sharper images. The brisk wind that sprung up in the afternoon was producing a sizeable swell out there, creating a mini seascape on which the Goldeneye were happily bobbing up and down on. Quite like the slightly bizarre head & neck shot ... up periscope!

Drake Goldeneye, Tophill Low

Head Shot!! Drake Goldeneye, Tophill Low
Impressive head gear! Male Tufted Duck, Tophill

There were maybe 150 Goldeneyes on both reservoirs ... impressive numbers, can't remember the last time I saw so many. Sticking with the duck theme and sharing the same water there were even more Tufted Ducks and some of the head plumes on the males were verging on flamboyant!

...... bit distant and a tad 'glary' but thought I'd capture these 3 male Shovellers charging about together, surely some kind of territorial / display type behaviour and something I'd never seen before.
Shovellers charging about, Tophill.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Barn Owl gores and swallows Field Vole - a photographic account

Now it's not often that I devote an entire post to just one bird, but after a magnificent encounter with one of the Barn Owls along the Pocklington Canal last week, and with many good shots in the can, I see no reason not to indulge ... not least because I managed to capture one of the locals not only catching, but also skinning and then devouring a whole Field Vole!

Here's said bird then, ringed I see, and a probable male because of its white throat.

The barbed wire fence is I think a bit of a detractor from that 'natural' feel, and a few close range twigs spoiling the image on one or two of these is a definite bummer but overall most of these are A ok. See what you think .....

I've seen this pale ghost of a bird a couple of times over the past year or so at the same location but the light has never been good enough to take photographs ... touch and go at 4.00pm on this day but whilst the sun shines!
nice swooping shot as he veered away from me at the last minute ... real shame about that smudgy twig!! (photoshop job methinks)

As I waited and ate a sandwich on the canal side yon Barn Owl was having a spot of bother with a local crow.....

Not sure about these  ... panning from light to shade as he came back down to earth after the crow mobbing and the auto focus struggling to keep up, nonetheless revealed a couple of 'interesting' captures!

liking the way the sun is catching those flight feathers with dark trees in the background ... more I look, the more I like this pic!

I was in my element again ... just waiting, camera poised .... sandwich within arms reach, enjoying the moment and the late afternoon sun. And then he was back and this time perched a bit closer on a good looking gate (not that I have a random gate fetish ... just a composition thing!)

.........having a look at me maybe but more likely scanning for brown furry creatures in the grass. Now it got really interesting ... he flew off but perched on a fence about 60 yards away, then he swooped into the grass


All a bit blurry I know but just think 'action pic on u tube' and you'll get the picture!

I reckon that's a Field Vole he's caught and I was really thrilled to be capturing this - times like these I often think of switching to video but hey hindsight eh?

So I keep on snapping and glory be - me old 'Barny' carried the Vole up on to a fence post and proceeded to partially skin the poor (and hopefully expired!) creature.
Ok here's the public health warning - if you don't want to see a bird eat a mammal scroll up now!

Knew you'd wanna see! So here's all decent shots in sequence ... not the sharpest with fading light but given my almost total leaning towards hand held picture taking, these are a good advert for what can be achieved 'sans tripod' with my trusty and irreplaceable 400 Canon. Let the feast commence ......




..... and I reckon that's a Barn Owl burp!

Some pretty weird facial contortions going on there I must say, but always tricky swallowing a whole rodent in one ... so fair do's! Can't help thinking though that the 'skinning' of the fur was part n parcel of making the prey easier to swallow? Anyone who's got any first hand experience of this and would like to share your thoughts then please do!

So that was a truly epic photographic encounter with surely the most haunting of our breeding British owls and I was totally enthralled .... struggling a bit of late are our Barn Owls due to loss of breeding habitat so if you want to do a simple thing to help them out you could do no worse than join your local Wildlife Trust ... here in the Yorkshire branch we are taking active steps to preserve the habitats they need to keep on thriving.

So good looking was this bird that he even gets a photo of him going ... surreal references to 1980's chick flicks featuring Susan Sarondan not withstanding, check out the margination on his flight and tail feathers ....

... and then he was gone to hunt in pastures new but not before a parting fly away shot ...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Northern ducks fill the skies in the Lower Derwent, early Spring flowers along the Foss and handsome Fieldfares pulling up worms!

Hallelujah, bright skies and normal weather makes a return! This Monday in my part of the world was just the most perfect early Spring-like day, so good that I even submitted my first ever pic to Paul the Weatherman (local tv news station) ... it didn't get selected but for your delectation here it is... some lovely Hazel Catkins hanging in the sun.

Hazel Catkins, River Foss

Should've shot some Daffodill pics! More images from that glorious day later but hey we've been a bit spoilt with nice weather days lately and so I took full advantage of a few spare hours last week to pop into Wheldrake Ings now the floods have receded.

One of Northern England's finest wetland areas, I've posted about this place and the Lower Derwent Valley several times in the past so no need to dwell on it's qualities, and on day of my trip out the place certainly delivered, nothing spectacular in terms of species, just the normal throng of wildfowl, wader and gull mayhem!

Black Tailed Godwits, Wheldrake Ings.

Dodgy pic out of the way first and a rubbish image it is too but the birds aren't ... a couple of Black Tailed Godwits on the last day of Feb potentially and surely scouting out the nesting possibilities.

Northern Shoveller, Wigeon (front) & Teal (back)

It was as thrilling as ever to see plenty of northern ducks still filling the skies and feeding up on the flood plains of the Derwent. I'm typically slapdash about recording flocks of birds at places like Wheldrake but made an effort with the Wigeon on that day (Feb 28th) and reckoned on about 2700. They were the most numerous I guess, along with Teal (c 2000), Mallard (c1500), Shoveller (c400), Pintail (c250), Tufted Duck (c250), Shelduck (25), Pochard (c40) and Goldeneye just 4 ... bored with the numbers yet? I am a bit too so here's a few pics ...
Mainly Northern Shoveller, plus a Wigeon (bottom left)


Loved the way these 3 Gadwall came out. Not sure I've ever got a better image of these grey cousins of our familiar 'quack quack', the ubiquitous Mallard.

Male & Female Northern Shoveller

My attempt at a similar close up of Shovellers by way of some heavy post shoot 'cropping' produced a much less sharper image (looks like a digi scope pic!) but I like the way the lens has caught the diametrically opposite wing beats of male and female ...

Male Northern Pintail, Wheldrake Ings

The Pintails, though plentiful, were not flying anywhere near my camera so, as usual, had to make do with a long range effort ... I must get to grips with these beauties before they depart!

Nothing of else of note on the Ings, a cursory glance at the 1000s of gulls coming into roost revealed no white winged species. Precious few waders about apart from Lapwings, 10ish Curlew, the odd Golden Plover and a couple of Oystercatchers.

A smattering of Redwings and Fieldfares occupied the riverside trees and a couple of  calling Willow Tits was a good record.

The light was great for most of the afternoon and even at 4.00pm this Grey Heron flying over was looking splendid!
Grey Heron, Wheldrake Ings

As were these wonderfully turned out Mute Swans
Pair of Mute Swans, Wheldrake Ings

So that was February then, now back to that glorious Monday morning start to the week .....I'm so lucky to be able to take advantage of the relative quiet out in the countryside during the week and it would have been a crime not to be out on such a day so I ditched my planned chores, enjoyed a few moments of smugness as I drove and watched a few late commuters rush into work, and headed off for a stroll down the River Foss nr Strensall Common and ended up finding a previously undiscovered (to me) back way onto the Common itself. Look it was such a lovely Spring day that I'm gonna stop blabbing and let my pictures do the talking.
River Foss at Strensal

Red Dead Nettle, River Foss

Lesser Celandines, River Foss

Particularly like the composition on these Celandines ... some flowers just seem to arrange themselves so nicely!!
Alder Tree catkins

Small Tortoiseshell, River Foss

... and with the flowers come the butterflies again, like this rather ragged looking Small Tortoiseshell, one of three I saw along the bank and my first of the year.

Crossing the river and skirting the edge of Strensall Common I came across a big flock of Fieldfares and was totally bewitched to hear one singing in the sunshine from the top of a tree. Took a shed load of pictures some good, a couple really good ...great light and it really showed some of them off! .... here's 6 of the best.
Fieldfares at Strensall

Fieldfares at Strensall

Fieldfares at Strensall
Fieldfares at Strensall

Wow a Fieldfare in flight, exploding from a tree and just about in focus!! All these winter thrushes ... Redwings, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes are gathering in fields now, feeding up before they head back up to Northern Europe. This particular flock of maybe 250 strong were pulling up and devouring worms like their lives depended on it .... which of course is the truth of the matter!
Fieldfares at Strensall
Fieldfares at Strensall

Long Tailed Tit with nesting material

Making my way back the same way there was yet more evidence of the changing seasons .... Long Tailed Tits in the hedgerows, already paired up and gathering nesting material for their intricate ball shaped houses, and Great Spotted Woodpeckers doing their courtship drumming and occasionally resting a while for the purpose of getting their faces on some blog!

Great Spotted Woodpecker, River Foss
Shelduck breezing in
It may not be officially Spring yet but my oh my it's felt like it on 2 or 3 days recently and that day by the sheltered River Foss, feeling the heat on the back of my legs,  I was reminded of warmer climes and far away places .... such a dreamer!!