Sunday, 23 July 2017

Little Owl in Holcombe

Following a tip off from fellow L.O.S. member Martin Loftus, I headed up the M66 to Holcombe this afternoon to have a look at his Little Owls.  I say 'his' because Martin has been monitoring these birds ever since he moved out of Salford and up to the rural idyll that is Holcombe near Ramsbottom in true Lancashire.

The pair he first spotted a year or so ago have successfully bred this year and there are now four birds present in the quarry - two adults and two fledglings.  Martin has taken some really good photos of this family and shared them on Facebook in recent weeks, so today I was hoping it was my turn.

It took me around 15 minutes to locate the one and only Little Owl I saw today, and then, as in the old Beatles song, it was a quick case of "Hello, Goodbye" because after taking only two shots the bird flew off.

I stayed for another hour and half before the weather turned for the worse but I couldn't relocate any of them, and so I'll have revisit on another day.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Another trip St. Aidan's RSPB

Readers of this blog, if there are any, may remember a post entitled 'Black Tuesday' in which I related a disastrous day for me in West Yorkshire when I broke my newly acquired 500mm lens in two after the tripod holding it fell over. Well, it was here at St. Aidan's RSPB that it happened and today I was venturing back for the first time since that fateful day due to the presence of a rare bird - a Caspian Tern.

If I ever decide to go for a rarity, it has to have been present for a day or more in the locality or else I won't bother.  This bird has apparently been on a UK-wide tour over recent weeks having been seen in South Wales, North Lancashire, Northamptonshire and now in West Yorkshire where it has been for two or three days. This is known because the bird is wearing a red leg ring.

After spending half an hour or so at the Fleet Lane bird hide which overlooks Astley Lake at St. Aidan's, I decided to head for the east end of the Main Lake where the bird was last seen today.  This was quite a trek carrying camera gear but the paths were very good in the main.  My first stop was at a viewpoint which I now know is called 'The Warren' and it was here that I had my first distant glimpses of the bird which was on a thin gravel spit.  But this place was much too far for photographs, so I headed on down the rough track which lead to a bit of headland from where much better views could be had.

Here I met Jason Higgins and a couple of other people and we had a good chat about things whilst the bird stayed on the ground on the spit at the water's edge. As well as some Common Terns with their newly fledged young, Black-headed Gulls, Mallards, a Carrion Crow and two Cormorants, there was also a Garganey present and there can't be too many times you get a Caspian Tern and a Garganey in the same shot.

The Caspian Tern took off a couple of times before returning to the same spot, but the third time it was clearly heading off back to Astley Lake. So we all left too. We popped in the Warren again briefly where there was a distant drake Scaup in amongst some Tufted Ducks, but we didn't stop for long.

The bird had returned to Astley Lake and was located on one of the gravel islands before it started a circle of the lake, staying distant all the time. It then flew back towards Main Lake but there was no way any of us were going to walk back all the way down there and so I spent the rest of my time at St. Adian's overlooking Astley Lake chatting with Jason and a friend of his called Gary Vause.

Whilst we were doing so we had several fly pasts by a Black Tern which was starting to lose its colour as well as young Peregrine Falcon which foolishly tried to grab a Black-headed Gull off the water, failing miserably and scattering the flock in every direction.

When the Caspian Tern returned and started circling the lake again I missed the best shot of the day because I was talking to Jason as it flew past fairly close - Gary got it though and it's the best shot I've seen of this bird - it's on his Flickr site.

So I'll have to make do with with what I got which aren't too bad as record shots. I've even doctored one of them to remove the Black-headed Gull behind it.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Gronant wi' tha' Lads

Recently retired G.P. and L.O.S. member Doctor Paul Richardson had been wanting to go to Gronant in North Wales to see the Little Tern colony for a while now and so I arranged a trip this week with a few of the L.O.S. Young Birder's Club crew. We met at Leigh Cricket Club car park and set of in two cars, Brian, George and Tony in one and Paul and me in the other.

I drove the lead car and after only one one wrong turn, we arrived at Gronant Dunes Nature Reserve to give it it's full title We parked on the free car park a little further down the road from the Presthaven Sands Caravan site where we used to be allowed to park.

The Little Tern colony here is the only one on mainland Wales and has been a popular breeding ground for many years. As such it is well-protected by local wardens who have erected a fence around the beach areas where they breed and who understandably police the area rigorously.

I was worried that it was a little late in the season as most of the young have fledged by now and are gathering in groups getting ready for the flight to their wintering grounds in Africa. However, there were still quite a few birds around and we had good views of both adults and fledglings in flight.

There were quite a few Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls about and we also saw a few Sandwich Terns over the sea, two Curlews, some Dunlins, an Oystercatcher carrying a crab and a few Sedge Warblers. But the main focus was always on the Little Terns, which frequently returned from the sea carrying fish.

Here's a few more of the Little Terns.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Close Encounter of the Barn Owl Kind

This evening I went out in search of one bird and came back with my best ever photos of a different bird. My original target was a family of local Peregrine Falcons which I've not visited very often this year. The birds have again bred successfully and reared three young which are now regularly being seen outside the nest box.  I got a brief glimpse of one of them perched high up on the old mill building but after returning to my car for my camera it had disappeared never to be seen again by me this evening.

So after an hour or so waiting for the Peregrines to put in an appearance, I decided to cut my losses and go home. But although the time was 7:45pm it was such a lovely sunny evening with a clear blue sky that I decided to have a look for Barn Owls instead and, as you can see, I wasn't disappointed.  In fact I had my closest ever encounter with this species when one virtually flew over my head taking me by complete surprise.  It was so close I couldn't fit the whole bird in my viewfinder - truly a magical moment.

The bird was regularly quartering the fields hunting for voles and so it was obviously feeding young.  Later, as the sun was finally going down, I did get to see it catch a vole as can be seen in this sequence from the 'Golden Hour'.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Another Trip to Lunt Meadows

Following a tip off that the Barn Owls were currently showing well at Lunt Meadows, I set off late afternoon to see if I could get some photos for myself. I've seen these birds on many occasions here and they are well-known in the area as they breed locally. However, as with the Short-eared Owls which are here in the winter, I've never yet managed a shot with which I am really pleased.

The afternoon started well with these shots of a Sedge Warbler catching insects in the reeds and Umbelliferae. The light was good and so I thought the prospects of getting some decent Barn Owl shots were high.

Well today I waited for around five hours before one even appeared and even then it was distant. My guess is that because the weather had been so good all day, the Barn Owls probably fed early in the morning and then slept until dusk.  I got a couple of record shot snaps of one with prey but nothing much to write home about.

However, when you are out and about for a few hours, it's surprising how the species count does mount up with you realising it.  Here's a few record shots of other birds I saw today including Hobby, Buzzard, Lapwings, Oystercatchers, Linnets, Black-tailed Godwits and my first ever sighting of the famous Lunt Little Owl.

Some time the graininess of shot enhances the image and turns it into an atmospheric photograph, as in this Little Owl I shot at dusk.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Nottinghamshire Bee-eaters

Here's a short video showing four of the Nottinghamshire Bee-eaters at a quarry in East Leake doing what it says on the tin!