Tuesday, 18 April 2017

ODD's 'n' SODS

I've been focusing my local birding in two locations of late. A secret single track lane and the lanes, bridleways and fields around Castle Ashby.
The Lane has been very productive. So far two separate and new Little Owl sites both a pain in the backside in terms of the direction of light (always looking into the sun). One of them always announces its arrival courtesy of the chorus of Long Tailed Tits mobbing it. The second one only merges from its nest cavity if it hears the scratchy call of the Grey Partridges neither Owl so it seems is paired up, unless it's hiding of course. Also caught a brief glimpse of a Tawny Owl, going by the call a female.
 A pair of  Redkites and Buzzards are 'to be' photographed. As two species have really peaked my interest. The first really left me baffled as at first I could only hear it call very briefly before it fell silent. On my third visit I caught the mystery birds in flight as they called and both male and female perched in a very distant tree, hand held my scope and got everything just in focus when one disappeared into a tree cavity, prematurely cursing my luck as I thought the second bird had already vanished into the tree cavity, I located the male bird on a branch, really, really high up, only a pair of Mandarin ducks. Now an escapee shouldn't excite many seeming as they're probable escapee's. But a personal opinion, if it breeds in the wild it no longer counts as an escapee....if only it was that simple.
Second species is a really showy female Kestrel.

Simple technique of rolling up in the car in neutral, windows down, steering with knees and camera out the window (that's how you multi-tasking) . I normally get tons of 'similar images' and a chance to apply the handbrake, switch the engine off and get more 'similar' shots before she gets bored but instead of flying straight off she'll hover and hunt and perch up again on a different post, a seriously relaxed bird and probably easiest Kestrel I've photographed in ages, I can even get out the car to change my angle and the bird just sits there (the third image is an example of changing angle) sadly flight shots have come against non favourable skies like this bunch:

Castle Ashby is a vast system of fields but has a lot to offer. Best was a Peregrine chasing down a Rook!!! Brave Peregrine, I reckon a Rook would give a good account of itself, if the Peregrine hadn't been in full stoop. Grey skies and the odd shower meant no postable images. It was a close call for the Rook, despite wiffling like a Lapwing the Peregrine only foiled by a spinney the Rook just managed to fly into, so, so, so close.
I reckon the fields around Castle Ashby must have the highest density of Skylarks in the county, I'm going to do a proper count, one day.
On going flight shot project too
You can always tell an area is underwatched, the number of species I was able to walk up to and get closer than normal, a frame filling Chiffchaff
 Not quite frame fillers but still quite close was equally big numbers of Yellowhammers

Best was to come on Friday and Sunday. Found two Wheatears. Went back on Sunday morning more in hope, as I'd found the previous two late on Friday. At first I could only find the female.
It was with the help of the Skylarks defending their nesting sites that alerted me to more Wheatears scattered across the field. Eight in total (5 males and 3 females) so I parked up as they were busy feeding and flying towards me.
The first was late on Friday evening and light was fading and is the female
 The male on Sunday (again pooh light)

Saturday, 15 April 2017



I have had a mixed bag since my last post.
I visited two reserves on one weekend down the A14 in Cambridgeshire. One ran by the Beds/Cambs/Northants (BCN) Wildlife Trust and the other a RSPB reserve. One I actually fell in love with after about 10 feet of walking into the reserve. One sadly left me feeling...well, thinking 'what the fuck'. I actually left feeling 'extremely angry'.
So the reserves were Woodwalton Fen (Wildlife Trust) and RSPB Fen Drayton. I'm actually doing a separate post later so will only say this, Woodwalton Fen is pretty special. You don't walk onto a reserve and within moments are just blown away by your surroundings. I'm actually glad I'm a member of the BCN when you walk onto a reserve like this, shame it's not in Northamptonshire lol.
But what's really pissed me off was two site visits. The first was an after work evening visit to Blueberry Farm and hopeful Barn Owl or early migrant passing through. But as I rolled up along the track I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I'd given Short Eared Owls and Barnies a miss this winter so hadn't been in the area for a while. So was shocked and angered at the butchery of the hedges, trees and the fields such a huge habitat gone, gone for probably in preparation for farming. The only camera I pointed was my phone camera.

My second site visit was my favourite local site Quarry Walk. My favourite site has been butchered too.
Now I'll settle this now the Aggregate company to my knowledge wasn't the culprits, unless they were asked to. I really want to know who actually 'managed the habitat' a lot questions remain about who owns/manages the site. There are Natural England signs attached to fence posts/gates along with other organisations of which I've no knowledge of/heard of. The land was I believed owned by Pastures Farm, not sure.
But added to the habitat management of the reed bed the aggregate company is expanding which apart from one irritation/habitat destruction was always to be expected, firstly it's called Quarry Walk for a reason it was always great seeing unique species living next to an industrial site and doing OK. The same aggregate company that left a huge Sandmartin colony in a big sand pile. Plus the expansion does not effect any species appart from Lesser Whitethroats.
As you enter the site you're greeted by this now.  In the first image the hedgerow immediately to the left hosted one pair of Lesser Whitethroat. Positive=the fence will prevent disturbance. Negative the hedge at the back,  on the companies land has been thinned given the local cat better access but generally less cover for then Lesser Whitethroat too.

 You now have to cross a conveyor belt via a brilliant bridge that just might discourage some dog owners. There's a ditch if it doesn't get polluted that could become interesting....but
Sadly a slice of the hedgerow has gone to make way for the road and conveyor belt.
It's a sizeable chunk exactly where the second pair held territory. If you look at the hedgerow in the background to the right was dense brambles and nettles that gave the Lesser Whitethroats cover. Will they return. In my opinion one pair might but not two.
But it wasn't as bad as I'd thought it might be. The real horror came at the boardwalk.
This is what it was like
And now
The section of boardwalk in the image below on the boardwalk
Looking down the section in the past on the boardwalk

OK it's Willow, yes it can clog up and dry out reed beds. It spreads so easy, blah, blah, blah.
Bollocks, the Willow on this section was multi-purpose, gone are four Long Tailed Tits nests, sure they have a chance elsewhere but let's not destroy nesting sites when we've got them, the Reed Warblers and Cetti's would venture out of the reeds into the willow (wasn't just willow either by the way) in search of food and for protection from Grass Snakes. The cuckoo would perch on the willow sometimes calling, sometimes feeding off the numerous species of catterpillars. Take another look at the first image you can see a field then the gravel company. Dog walkers come through this field but often stopped as the brambles and Willow blocked the paths a little. Now dogs can approach the reed bed and disturb the Water Rail, Reed Warblers and Cetti's Warblers, no protection from the wind (thick Willow coppice took the wind off) for the Reed dwellers. The Reed bed already shows signs of people and dogs (flattened and pooh bags) venturing too far. A selfish point from me-in the summer when it was hot I'd sit up against the fence and using the willows as shade, no longer.
 But even the section on the embankment and overlooking the embankment has been molested. A lot of brambles and more willow have been completely removed the brambles preferred by the Common Whitethroats. The Willow used by the Sedge Warblers and the Grasshopper Warbler. Sedge Warblers on this site were already a concern with me as the last four years has seen a steep drop in the numbers. I had just one solitary bird last year. My first year visiting the site 10 birds!
And the Grasshopper Warbler a recent newcomer will be in for a shock too

Instead of Reed, Willow,overgrown grasses looking from on top of the embankment you now get perfect views of the huge electricity sub power station.
Two things have possibly happened here.
Lack of birders so alternative use of land or someone with limited knowledge of the site and it's summer visitors has come along  and worked on the principle 'Willow Bad' mustn't coppice small chunks, but rid the whole site of it (appart from the massive plantation drying up the quicksand on the quarry side, so coppicing a bit pointless). I believe it to be the latter since the one big clump of Willow on front of the screen hide is gone (not sorry about that bit going lol). I honestly do get the idea Willow is bad for wetlands and Reed beds. But even the most over managed reserve leave some Willow behind but all still burn the dead trees releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, rather then using them for something else, I think how Willow was once used in the manufacturing of aspirin and nowadays fencing and screens and baskets and always think of it as waste when it's just burned away.
Is it possibly RIP Quarry Walk?

Monday, 27 March 2017


Life's been a bit hectic since my last post, but apart from saying that I got a full refund on my Audi A4, also £300 compensation from the debit card company for the length of time it took, didn't ask for it they just did it, fair play...went to a half decent garage at Sywell range called Mawsley Motors. No pushy/arrogant salesmen, pretty straight to the point and honest ie no smarmy/butt licking liars unlike those at USED CARS SALES, FENLAND BUSINESS PARK, PETERBOROUGH (incase you or friends happen upon them). Walked away, after a full AA inspection, think the engineer said "I'd buy it if you don't only the cambelt needs changing, great car", Audi A6 Estate it's been flawless.
I had Crufts with my greyhounds and Whippet
My mum was judging the next day. It was great achievement for her and I was actually really proud for her. The appreciation for her judging appointment came with the second biggest entry for the breed Japanese Chins with 187 dogs entered, it was the biggest entry for 30 years. She even got her name mentioned on the television coverage. The amount of exhibitiors that came over to her afterwards and thanked her (even those whose dogs didn't win) said it all to me, well done Mum lol.
A curious bird fact and the NEC or specifically the Marriott hotel (the Kennel Club put the judges in there the night before they judge so they don't get stuck in traffic) EVERY balcony as what are either HOUSEMARTIN nests from last year or Swifts nests, now a 'proper' birder disputed a swift would build such a nest but when we lived in East Grinstead the Swifts used to build nests on our house like a HOUSEMARTIN does. These on the hotel look to big for Housemartins, but either way obviously they don't knock them down during the breeding season easily counted 26 before having to go home. So fair play to the Marriott.
With the weather lousy of late I stretched the cars cogs and headed up to Norfolk.
Had a brilliant day, the trip up there was packed with sightings, so many Hares were darting across the road and visibly chasing each other in the fields I wasn't surprised on the journey home to see a few road kills.
My first bird of the day was a Barn Owl, of course but it wasn't the bird I came for, not my best efforts but it's fair to say that I'm a bit ring rusty with the camera.

My attended target was actually Bearded Tits. I did not really have to many images. I also planned not visit any reserve but park up in one of the villages carparks that hug the coastline and follow the costal path until either I got bored or had a heart attack. So the Barn Owl really wasn't planned for but a bonus bird.
Courtesy of Google earth I selected my planned yomp to include mixed habitats of reed bed, small pools etc.
Didn't take to long at the first reed bed section to locate some interesting birds including Bearded Tits, a lot of Bearded Tits,  for me anyway 11 birds ain't bad.
But they weren't the first bird I actually photographed here. Apart from Turnstone, Curlew, Redshank flybys against blue skies (a bit boring image wise) it was a Marsh Harrier gliding low over the reed bed that got my attention but it soon disappeared into the reed bed. I saw an uninteresting Coot at the edge of the Reed bed about 16 foot away but was trying and failing for the Meadow Pipits chasing each other around. When I heard the reed bed crashing, honestly I was expecting a muntjac or perhaps a Chinese Water deer, I wasn't expecting the Marsh Harrier attempting to snatch the Coot.
The Harrier nailed the Coot and was plucking its feathers (look in it's bill) but the Coot lived up to it's nature and fought back with it's feet and got out from underneath the Harrier and ran off in my direction as did the Harrier on foot!!
It took off and was coming my way before it notice me in my limited cover and veered off, but the closest and most breathtaking encounter I've had with a Marsh Harrier ever. I couldn't believe my luck

 So the Bearded Tits finally came to the edge of the reed bed and despite the stiff breeze some ventured to the tops of the reeds (mostly the males) whilst two of the females stayed low down, more in attempt to avoid the males who were also busy establishing dominance.
Plenty of flybys but to quick for me but the camera locked on them in the flight sadly they were either missing heads or tails, expect a poor photoshop cut 'n' paste in the upcoming odds 'n' sods lol
 The male, who says British birds are boring
And the female.

I got so many to through,  it made a pleasant change and real treat just to be able to sit on a grass bank and enjoy the company of some Bearded Tits. I watched a very distant but sizeable flock of Brent Geese head off out into the North Sea and out past the windfarm. Saw Avocets in a nearby pool but opted to not bother as I had no cover and wouldn't get near enough for a decent image without spooking them. So walked on to where the footpath branches off heading towards another nearby village there was several pools not to far off my chosen route, some were dried out,  some channels and ditches, but being a footpath had wire fencing either side and gateways, some not so natural cover. I opted for a bridge that crossed a small channel that looked favourable but unfortunately meant awkward side lighting. Sat down and waited to see what would drop in, messed up the exposure on a male Stonechat, barely got the exposure right on a Redshank.

Think this is a Meadow Pipit, that just flew up onto the fence right in front me.
I've got tons to through good, bad and ugly but my final bird is probably the least shy.
The Turnstone, I stumbled across 4 busy feeding. They looked up, I thought they were going to fly off but they slowly wandered over towards me, sadly I had no food to share. I stopped photographing due to their proximity and just watched the within centimetres of me. Up close they're so small. Not the prettiest of waders but easily the friendliest.