Sunday, 27 November 2011

Influx of Short-eared owls

 This autumn has proven to be a great time for Short-eared owls in the county. Most years we get one or more owls & Aust, between the two Severn bridges, is a regular overwintering area. This year however has seen alot of the local moors harbouring one or more birds, with counts of up to seven seen on Aller moor! With this in mind i popped over to Aller, seeing only one (disturbed by dog walkers) the first day, but had greater success on my second visit, with three hunting in the area. The images of the perched owl below are from that session. The light was dismal so perched images were the order of the day.
The following pair of images of the owl & Kestrel were taken a few years ago at Aust & "lost" on my hard drive. I found them when loading the new images!
 Short-eared owls are commonly seen during daylight (diurnal) & feed on the same sort of creatures as Kestrels. This leads to competition for resources & inevitably fights. Corvids also give the owls are hard time, & can often be used to find owls that are perched or roosting in reeds or long grass.

This final shot was taken by my good buddy Tim Taylor, whilst on Aller moor. I was busy watching a perched owl through my lens. My phone started to vibrate with an incoming call. I ignored it as i was still locked onto the perched bird. Tim was ringing to tell me to turn around! DOH!
The final straw was when i saw the file name........Rob missing the owl

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A bit of a blow!

For a few days now, the wind off of Burnham-on-sea has been blowing fairly strongly. The recent hurricane in the US & stormy weather in the North Atlantic has pushed a fair few migrating birds into the Bristol channel & marooned them in Bridgwater bay. Skuas, Shearwaters, Grey phalarope, Leaches petrels & Sabines gulls have all been reported around the bay.
Yesterday evening I joined a few other birders on the seafront at Burnham. A juvenile Sabines gull (woo-hoo......lifer) on the beach was pointed out to me as soon as i got there, quickly followed by a Leaches petrel, battling against the wind. I have heard that a couple of exhausted Manx shearwaters were rescued from the tideline & taken to Secret world wildlife rescue Lets hope they regain there strength & can be released.
I managed record shots of both the sab's & leache's (Both are massive crops & not the sharpest).

Note the missing inner primary on the above petrel. This bird was seen quite a few times during my time at the front.

Cornish pelagic 2011.

Saturday 6th August saw myself & 2 companions boarding a small boat & heading out from St Ives at 5:00 in the morning. Fortunately the sea was relatively calm & the weather dry. The first sighting was not a bird, but a basking shark, just after we left the harbour. This was the first of two sightings during the trip, but was unfortunately about 100m of the rear of the boat. The gloomy light of dawn soon lifted to a overcast morning & after about an hour of steaming & chumming (around 8 miles out), the first Fulmars appeared. These were our constant companion's during the trip & afforded views down to a meter, both on the sea & in flight. Gannets were also fairly frequent, some diving onto the chum just off the boat. A little later on, many hundreds (possibly thousands) of Manx Shearwaters crossed our path, some circling & feeding nearby. A small group of Balearic Shearwaters were also spotted as they crossed to our rear. The bird of the day for me (and a lifer) though was the single Sooty Shearwater that flew alongside the boat & gave great binocular views, but too far for my 200mm lens & 1.7x converter combo to get anything other than a distant record shot.
After drifting for about 1 1/4 miles, we steamed back to our original position. Just after setting off, a large dark triangular fin was spotted again too our rear. This time the skipper decided to see if we could get a closer look & circled the area where it was last seen. After 10 minutes or so & no more sightings, we headed off on our original course. More Manxies joined us & a single Storm petrel flitted alongside for a brief moment.
By now the sun was out & it was time to return to St Ives for a late breakfast. A pair of Grey seals popped there heads out of the water to see if there was any titbit's & Cormorants & a few Shags were also noted.
Balearic Shearwater



Manx Shearwater

Sooty Shearwater

If you fancy a trip out next year, have a look at this website but be warned, book early as places are filled quickly.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Just unlucky? Or fewer Roe?

I have been out a few evenings during the latter part of July & early august looking for Roe deer. These charming mammals are a little bit odd in that this is the time of the rutt, not during the autumn like red or fallow.
Driving around & looking in all the old favourite places, i was struck by the lack of roe. Now, the maize is growing up nicely & no doubt hiding a few, but surely not that many?
A scout around the levels reserves, turned up a few, but not as many as i would have expected.
I have a few tricks up my sleeve to coax them out of hiding & was dismayed at the lack of response in the hotspots of the past.
When i did eventually see some, they were nearly all does or yearlings. Bucks were even more scarce & all were youngsters, the oldest was estimated at around 2-3 years old.
So the question is, where have they all gone?
Have all the mature bucks been shot out or poached? Has the overall local population suffered from a couple of hard winters? Has the good weather during the spring led to early grass cutting when newborn kids are left hiding out while mum forages?
The truth is that i just dont know the answer. Its probably a combination of all these & perhaps other reasons. Was i just unlucky? I personally believe there are not the amount of mature animals around the area that there were perhaps five years ago......but i hope i am proved wrong.
A proud buck!
Young buck 
A doe bounds through the summer growth.
Classic roe pose!
Yearling buck.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

East Anglia 2011

Our annual pilgrimage to the east of England started at 04:30 on friday 6th may When i was picked up by fellow photographer Tim Taylor. Minsmere was our first port of call & we duly arrived around 09:30. A Red kite was spotted near Reading on the way & the other party in the other car also had a Rose-ringed Parakeet near Heathrow. We had been told about a month previous that a Bittern was showing well in front of the island mere hide. No luck there, so we moved to the Bittern hide. Marsh harriers were very much in view most of the time we were there, but did not come very close. We did however strike lucky with a Bittern right in front of the hide! Now, did we get the hides wrong, I dont believe so. I think it was just our day. This particular bird was very obliging for a Bittern, occasionally coming out into full view. We witnessed it catching Sticklebacks & small invertebrates & on several occasions catching large dragonflies, even plucking them from the air. The rest of the day was abit of an anti-climax after that, so we moved on to North Norfolk. There was a few hours of daylight left so we decided to go "huntin wabbits". Choseley barns is a great area for hares & migrants. A pair of Yellow wagtails afforded close views, Yellowhammers called all around & a couple of Corn buntings were seen. There was very little spilt grain in the barns area so was relitivley devoid of the usual flocks of seed eaters.
Hares though were in most of the surrounding fields along with Partridges & Pheasant.
The following day started at again in the barns area, where we struck lucky with a pair of Grey partridge (only the second time i have seen them in England, though i have seen plenty in Scotland).
Then after breakfast, on to Titchwell & the brand new Parrinder hide. Now this really is a hide that you want to visit. Large fully opening windows, separate stools (some bolted down, others moveable) & mud banks just 25m away. Avocet, Redshank, Ruff, Ringed plover, Little-ringed plover, Dunlin, Little & Temminks stint, Grey plover & Common sandpiper were all present. A visit to the beach produced both Common Scoter & Eider. The afternoon was spent at Cley where we managed to find & photograph a party of 5 Shore lark on the shingle bank at the end of the east bank (a lifer for me). On the way back a pair of Greenshank on a small pool & 3 Whinchat allowed some record shots.
 Back to Cley on sunday morning to try & connect with a Citrine Wagtail on the West bank. This we & the dozen or so others present  failed at, but a Sedge warbler at spitting distance kept us entertained. A drive nearer the beach produced a pair of summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwits on a small splash. These were more than happy to totally ignore us as we snapped away. Then back to Titchwell for a hour to mop up before moving on to Weeting Heath. A Stone curlew was seen in flight briefly, but as usual, miles away. A walk around the woodland walk failed to produce Tree pipit & Woodlark although they had been seen there earlier in the day.
The other 4 on the trip were just birding & managed a respectable total around 125 species for the weekend.

Photos below in no particular order:

Summer plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit at Cley 

Bittern from Bittern hide, Minsmere. 

Greylag, Island mere hide, Minsmere  

Grey Partridge, Choseley area. 

 Brown hare, Choseley area.
The usual pose.......... 
 Thats better, getting used to me.......
 Then totally ignoring me!
 But sometimes they just pop out right in front of you.

Little-ringed plover, Parrinder hide, Titchwell 

 Record shot of Little Stint & Dunlin, Parrinder hide, Titchwell.

Dozing Red-legged Partridge, Choseley area. 

Redshank, Titchwell.

Redshank, Minsmere 

Shorelark, Cley, East bank. 

Ruff, Parrinder hide, Titchwell. 

Sedge Warbler, West bank, Cley. 

Yellow wagtail, Choseley barns.

Greenshank, Cley, East bank.

Water rail (& Bittern!), Minsmere, Bittern hide.

Garden warbler, Titchwell

Monday, 25 April 2011

Meare Heath waders

The second lagoon from the Ashcott corner car park is traditionally pumped down at this time of year in order to make it more attractive to passage waders. The exposed mud & shallow open water has already attracted Little ringed plover, Ruff, Common sandpiper, Redshank & Black tailed Godwit. Wood and Green sandpiper also drop in, but not so this spring yet.
Early last week a Wood sand was reported on the sos message board as being present. Birders wishing to add this species to there year list visited & the bird was subsequently correctly identified as a Lesser yellowlegs. A breeder in N America, it is a fairly regular vagrant to europe with 5-10 records annually in the UK & Ireland.
I have made 2 visits in the past week. The first resulted in very poor, long distance (150m +) record shots with the 600mm & 1.7x converter.
 This afternoon i returned & a very helpful Sparrowhawk, flushed the congregation of Godwits & Redshank, along with the yellowlegs to a much nearer point on the lagoon.
Below is a shot of one of the Black-tailed Godwits as it flew from its roost to the feeding area on the lagoon.
Two of the three Common Sandpipers present on my first visit.
Meare heath is a part of Natural Englands Shapwick heath NNR in the Avalon Marshes, Somerset.