Snowy weather at the start of the month had many photographers grabbing their gear & heading out into the wild. My first thoughts were to drive around, spotting hares that would undoubtedly stand out like a sore thumb against the white background. The truth could not have been more different! All the usual haunts were checked & not a single hare was seen. Could they have realised that they do indeed stand out & chosen heavier cover?
Once the wintery showers had cleared & travel to sites further away was once again an option, I decided that I ought to check up on the Short-eared owls that regularly winter at Aust wharf. A reasonably bright afternoon came & a quick dash up the M5 saw me setting up my tripod between the two Severn crossings, on the road along the edge of the salt marsh. I was not to be disappointed. Three owls quartered the marsh at various times during the afternoon, dodging each other, the local Carrion crows & a pair of feisty Kestrels. Unfortunately, they never really came close enough for decent images. I have been back several times since & managed to capture some of the shots that you can view in the galleries. However, one disturbing occurrence at this site that I witnessed, involved a pair of “birdwatchers” that intentionally flushed the roosting owls. Spreading out, they quartered the marsh until they found the birds, one shouting to the other as they rose in front of him. They then proceeded to chase them around, repeatedly flushing them. When they walked back to their car, I felt the need to tell them what I thought of them. You would have thought they would have put the bird’s welfare first & foremost & waited along the road edge like the dozen or so responsible birders & photographers. Patience eventually paid off & two owls showed well about an hour after the selfish pair had departed. Please if visiting this site in the next month or so, before the birds migrate north, do not disturb them. They will eventually start hunting & you will be rewarded with excellent views of this magnificent bird from the road. Keep an eye on http://www.severnsidebirds.co.uk/ for the up to date sightings.
It’s getting near to that time of year again........Badger time! Late march & early April are when the cubs that were born in the depths of winter, start to explore their surroundings. With this in mind, I checked out the sett, located in a private wood that I have the owner’s permission to enter. Approaching slowly & quietly, I was pleased to see paw prints & shallow holes near the sett. Badgers do not hibernate, but tend to stay underground during cold weather, so it was a bit of a surprise to see quite so much activity this early in the year. I will start putting down a little feed in an area, away from the sett, during March. They are less nervous away from the sett & become quite accustomed to a person over time, even coming up to sniff my boots in the past. If previous years are anything to go by, a week or so baiting an area will clear any vegetation that may get in the way of my lens & get them almost running to get to the treats laid out for them. This begs the question what to feed them? Well, the bulk of the feed that I put down is peanuts. I usually mix in some raisins & sugar puffs also. Peanut butter smeared onto logs is another favourite. Even custard creams, though they tend to get eaten before getting to the site! The trick is to only put down enough to hold them for a little while, to allow them to go off & search for natural food & not become dependent on handouts. Please bear in mind that badgers & there setts are protected by law. See http://www.badger.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/47_S4.pdf for details.
Due to an ongoing favour for a friend & the chance of some free firewood, I have been tied up a bit on my days off this month. Once the job was complete & a day before I was due back on shift, I decided to have a day out. The question was, where to go? I settled on a trip to the Forest of Dean. I knew from past visits that there are various places where feeders are hung & these attract a good variety of woodland birds. A friend had told me that Hawfinches are regularly seen around the feeders at New fancy view (an old coal mining slag heap used as a raptor watch point near Parkend). I arrived during constant drizzle consoled myself to the fact that it was my last day off & I was going to enjoy myself even if it was raining! I pulled the car up slowly, close to the feeders, opened the window & placed the bean bag on top of the glass. The lens already was fitted with a Wildlife watching supplies rain cover. A quick check, that I was further than the minimum focussing distance & I was ready., Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Coal, Blue & Great tit were the first visitors shortly after my arrival. These were quickly followed by Nuthatch & the bird of the day Brambling. A total of 3 males & 2 females joined the mixed flock below the feeders. Unfortunately, no Hawfinches presented themselves while I was there. 2 miles up the road towards Speech house hotel, is the Cyril Hart arboretum. The car park has as its center piece, a large fallen log. Seed is regularly spread across the top & many woodland species can be seen & photographed here. Great-spotted woodpecker, Robins, Blackbirds, Greenfinch, Nuthatch, Chaffinch, Treecreeper, Brambling & Great, Blue & Coal tits frequented the log. In a quieter corner, a pair of Jays sat in the low branches, spying on the numerous Grey squirrels. Nuts that were buried by the squirrels were promptly nicked by the jays! A little seed placed on top of a stump quickly aroused their curiosity and I managed a few shots. By now the sun had come out & a pair of Ravens annoyed the sheep, resting between the trees. A stop on the way home at Aust was the perfect end to a great chilled out day.