Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ring Ouzels return to the Dales and Pimpernels, Sorrells and Anemones by the brook

Having spent a very entertaining and satisfying half a day out tracking down the newly arrived Ring Ouzels in Rosedale with my good friend Rob yesterday, I'm clearly going to have to return to get some better pics! Main thing is we succeeded though and more than that got some cracking views (through the bins). For the record here's a couple of images of a nice male we watched from distance and was one of at least 4 seen at this location.

Spending the Winter in Northern Africa, Ring Ouzels are closely related to our more familiar Blackbird but prefer upland terrain and rocky screes - great birds, I'm more used to seeing them on migration in Autumn so very pleased to get to grips at last with North Yorkshire's small but stable breeding population (somewhere between 60 - 100 pairs)

Gorgeous day for it!


A couple of other birders looking for the same at a likely spot ... YWT members and we chewed the fat a while, and after a while a male and female Ring Ouzel flew across the valley and into the big Holly tree on the left ... upon which they disappeared from sight!


Luckily the Northern Wheatears, recent arrivals themselves, were a little more 'obvious'. Much territorial flight display going on with these birds, lots of calling and darting around, chasing off other males whilst the females looked on ... I reckoned on about 15 in total in the dale with all the males in tip top condition!

This cheeky Stoat provided a touch of entertainment whilst we were waiting on the Ouzels to show, eating sandwiches and discussing how best to reduce the human population for the sake of the planet (as you do when waiting on an Ouzel!)

A bit of cloud cover later on added a touch of drama to the backdrop and with Curlews warbling, Meadow Pipits whistling away and a couple of yaffling  and almost luminescent Green Woodpeckers to boot it was all very atmospheric.

Our walk back along one of the valley brooks was no less enchanting and brought some welcome floral delights .... early flowering Yellow Pimpernel I believe, its either that or Creeping Jenny

Some impressive and beautiful clumps of Wood Sorrell

..... and couple of patches of Wood Anemone

No pic (doh!) but worth a note, I had a probable Hobby dashing North up the dale early on ... long tail, slatey grey back and no Kestrel I'm sure!

All in all a cracking good day and mission accomplished as far as the Ouzels were concerned (must get back soon for some better pics though!) and, since we were on part of Wainwrights famous coast to coast walk (I know this because I met and chatted to a couple of blokes who were doing it!), what better than a pint of Thwaites to round things off and boy oh boy I needed it after the walk back up the dale edge!

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 ...