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 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.

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 s says on the tin!

Thursday, 22 June 2017


Keep watching for a report on my wonderful trip to the amazing Farne Islands ...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

I'm a Nocturnal, Placental, Flying Mammal ....... Yo, The Name is Batty!

I've just come inside from having another go at photographing the bats which fly around my back garden and  although there's still a very long way to but at least this time I've actually got something!
My technique was to set the camera to Aperture Priority mode with and aperture of f/6.3 and flash. I tried a number of ISO settings up to ISO 3200 but it didn't really seem to make much different to just using ISO 800.

I sat down and focused on a garden fence post over which the bats were often flying and tracked the bats across a light part of the sky as the came towards me. I didn't bother looking through the viewfinder, I just pointed the camera in the direction of the bat and pressed the shutter.  With a wide enough zoom on my 18-105mm lens, I managed to catch the bat nearly every time, although none of the photos are sharp.

All these shots were taken with my trusty old Nikon D90 camera simply because that's the body the lens was attached to when I went for it.  Although you might think my D500 would be a better choice, there are two reasons why I couldn't use it. Firstly it's still away for repair following Black Tuesday, and secondly, it doesn't have a flash.

After asking around it seems that these bats are most likely to be Pipistrelles. And if you're wondering about the title of this post, it's a line in a rap song that Robin Williams sings as Batty Koda in the animated film Ferngully - we used to love watching this with the kids when they were younger. Here's the song lyrics and a link to the video:

"The Batty Rap" Lyrics

Yo, the name is Batty,
The logic is erratic,
Potato in a jacket,
Toys in the attic,
I rock and I ramble,
My brain is scrambled,
Rap like an animal but I'm a mammal.

I been brain-fried, electrified, infected and injectified,
Vivosectified and fed pesticides,
My face is all cut up 'cos
My radar's all shut up,
Nurse I need a check-up from the neck up,
I'm Batty.

They used and abused me,
Battered and bruised me,
Red wires, green wires, stuck em' right through me,
So hear my Batty word,
And excersise a little prudence,
When dealing with ...... humans!

Friday, 2 June 2017

One Good Tern Deserves Another

I was going to Preston today to have a look at Charlotte Ball's photographic exhibition. Charlotte has been accompanying the L.O.S. on a number of fieldtrips this year as part of her degree project at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. As is usual with type of arts course, the students create an exhibition of their work in the third year and so I went to have a look.

As I was going to be in the area I thought I'd also tie it in with my first visit to see the Terns at Preston Marina this year. Common Terns and sometimes Arctic Terns breed at the Marina in gravel boxes created by local school children, but I wasn't quite sure at what stage they'd be in terms of eggs and chicks. Today I could only see one Arctic Tern which seemed to be nesting on one of the platforms.

As soon as I arrived I realised that the birds were on eggs, but that no chicks had hatched yet and so I'd have be content with flight shots hopefully carrying fish back to their partners.  I love the green water colour here, but mainly when the sun is shining. When it's not sunny the water is quite a dull murky greyish colour and today it was like that most of the time.

However, I did mange a few closeup shots and saw some interesting behaviour when a Lesser Black-backed Gull passed too close - all the Terns started calling and eventually a few of them took off in a coordinated attack on the gull, successfully chasing it away.  A similar thing happened when a Carrion Crow pass by as well.

There were also a pair of Mute Swans with five cygnets swimming around the Marina.  They'd nested in their usual place amongst the Terns on one of the platforms and unfortunately a couple of eggs were lying unhatched still in the nest. It is far too late for these to hatch now as the adult Swans were busy looking after the mobile cygnets.

It was probably a little early for good shots and I might return in two or three weeks time when the eggs will have hatched and the adults will be actively feeding the young so there will be lots of great photo opportunities for fish and feeding shots.