Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Barn Owl II

A good weekend of bird-watching and photography ended with these captures of our regularly visiting Barn Owl.

If you love Barn Owls, be sure to check out this live webcam of a beautiful Barn Owl in California

Root, branch & trunk

Three images from a walk in the woods this afternoon.

Monday, 29 March 2010

A return to Fowlmere

The Cambridgeshire Girls League football fixture list saw me in Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire on Saturday morning, so after the game I had the opportunity to drop in for a few hours to the RSPB Fowlmere reserve.
A gentle stroll took in a couple of hides and produced the following bird list and photos;

  • Reed bunting (male)
  • Canada Goose
  • Greylag Goose
  • Moorehen
  • Coot
  • Little Grebe
  • Long Tailed Tit
  • Great Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Bullfinch (male and female)
  • Red-legged Partridge

Greylag Goose

Little Grebe

Canada Geese


....cue Marvin Gaye soundtrack.....

Bullfinch (female)

Bullfinch (male)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The first sunny Sunday of spring

I think many of us in the UK woke to a gloriously sunny morning last Sunday. A few days warm, wet weather and grey skies preceded it, which made the contrast all the more dramatic. I rejected the draw of the duvet and headed out and was immediately aware of the air filled with birdsong, a constant backdrop in all directions and much much louder than I had heard in many a month. The sun was warm on my back as I headed down to the river to spend some time near the possible kingfisher burrows that I had come across over the winter.
Having crept into position I settled myself on the river bank by a bend in the river and by a stand of willows. The river sparkled, highlights reflecting on the gently rippling water. This was a magical hour. Eyes and ears were alert to subtle changes, the mind relaxing to the natural rhythms. A bird flew to the willow, low down, then disappeared. Again it appeared, flitting to a different trunk and showing itself to be a treecreeper. Up the trunk it hopped, rising in my view between twigs and branches on the shadowed side of the tree. After its brief stay it moved off towards the wooded side of the valley.
After an hour the time had come to move and stretch my legs. Retracing my steps back across the field, the blue flowers of Common Field Speedwell Veronica persica stood out from the brown earth, their open flower heads straining towards the sun.

Back on the lane now I descended down into Barwick. As I walked a white shape in a tree caught my eye, way to my left. A quick look with the binoculars confirmed it to be a Little Egret so I decided to stalk in and see if I could get close enough for a good shot. I followed a field edge to the hedge that screened my approach and sneeked slowly closer, using cover as much as possible.
The Egret looked terrific through my new 500mm lens, though it wasn't the clearest of shots. Eventually the snow white bird lifted from the branch and circled away, no doubt off to seek out some lunch. I decided to do the same.

With the cloud cover remaining broken I planned to await the Barn Owl in the field opposite after working on the veg patch in the back garden for a couple of hours. My plans were thwarted when a chance glance up towards the field as I was finishing off the digging revealed the sight of the owl already  quartering the meadow. A slightly comical mad dash with camera and tripod followed across the ditch, only to see the bird disappear towards the river. Back to the house to grab car keys and I was off in pursuit. A couple of brief sightings followed as did a nice view of a couple brown hares feeding in a field but I will have to wait another to have a crack again at pictures of the barn owl. 

Instead I satisfied myself with testing the new lens again, impressed to see the detail it captured of the crescent moon that had risen high in the later afternoon sky. I'd had a lovely day outside and can look forward to many more as the countryside gears up for its period of springtime frenzy. Can't wait!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Lunchtimes at Tewinbury

My journey to work takes me along the B1000 which joins the gentle valley of the River Mimram as it passes to the east of Welwyn Garden City. Over a few days in the latter part of the winter I watched the progressing construction of bird hide at the entrance to Tewin Bury Farm Hotel and as soon as it was finished I promised myself I would visit.
This last week or so I have lunched at the hide and I've immensely enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and opportunity to watch some birds as I munch my cheese ploughman's sandwiches. The hide overlooks a flooded reed bed with scrapes and channels and a willow carr surround, fed by the Mimram that tracks just to the east of the wetland. The hide has two levels, an upper deck reached by stairs and a lower level with disabled access.
The most obvious and noisy of the birds that have entertained me this week are the Canada Geese. As their name suggests they originate in North America and are another introduced species that has now spread to be resident in most of the UK with over 80,000 breeding pairs. The birds were clearly pairing up for the breeding season and were showing some mimicing behaviour as they patrolled the channels, stretching their necks forward, honking in unison. Solo birds were not tolerated and were chased away by the male of the pair. As ubiquitous as they have become it is still a special site to see a skein descend on a lake and arrive en-masse, immediately transforming a tranquil scene into one of bustle and activity.
Much more difficult to see were the Snipe who patrolled the muddy margins of the reed beds, poking and proding at the silt in search of food in the form of small invertebrates, worms and insect larvae. They are now classified as an amber status bird, having undergone a moderate decline in numbers, particularly in lowland grassland areas. Greater than 100,000 birds over-winter in the UK, with 50,000 breeding pairs estimated. They typically move to upland moors in spring, the males 'drumming' or 'bleating'on early spring mornings as a display to attract females.
Later in the week I also managed good views of a pair of Water Rails, patrolling similar zones to the Snipe, but also comfortable in the slightly deeper water margins. The Water Rail is far less common than the snipe with in the region of 1000 UK breeding pairs, though these numbers seem to have remained stable for some time. There diet is omnivorous, made up of small fish, snails and invertebrates.
The Willow carr that surrounds the reserve, interspersed with mature native trees, provides plenty of habitat for small woodland birds. The hide provided great close-up views through the week of Long-tailed Tits, who were occupied in the task of collecting nest material for their delicate suspended nests, Blue Tits, Great Tits with their strident beep beep tikidic call and tiny Wrens with their beautifully melodic singing.

The full list of birds seen over the week at  the reserve includes;
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Long-Tailed Tit
Little Egret
Canada Goose
Water Rail
Wood Pigeon

The reserve is managed by the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust who have a number of local reserves in the area across a range of wildlife habitats. The Tewinbury reserve is particularly important as habitat for one of its elusive permanent residents - the water vole, though seeing one of these enigmatic little mammals is a treat yet to be enjoyed.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Caught in a Sparrowhawk's stare

I posted a picture on twitpic last weekend taken of a Sparrowhawk flying in acrobatic fashion around our feeding station. It was, as always, an exciting and spectacular visit with the shear speed and aeronautical ability of the bird in flight a joy to behold.

The Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) is a surprisingly common bird, ranging in its habitat from woodland and country hedgerows to suburban parks and gardens. There are an estimated 40,000 breeding pairs in the UK, making it the second most common British bird of prey behind Kestrels. As their name suggests they feed on small birds, with the larger female capable of taking larger victims, up to the size of pigeons.
There are a few local names - blue hawk (Stirlingshire, East Lothian, West Yorkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire); blue merlin (Perth); gleg hawk (Renfrewshire); gold tip (Yorkshire), hedge hawk; maalin (Shetland); pigeon hawk (Yorkshire); spar hawk (Scotland, Surrey); spare hawk, spur hawk, stannin hawk (Scotland, Yorkshire); stone falcon (Sussex).
Two historic references to the bird caught my eye. The first is from John Aubrey (1626-97), the widely travelled naturalist and antiquarian who is associated with the Aubrey Stones of Stonehenge, who wrote in his Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects in 1696;
"Not long before the Death of King Charles II a Sparrow-Hawk escaped from the Perch and pitched on one of the Iron Crowns of the White Tower, and entangling its string in the Crown, hung by the heels and died. Twas considered very ominous, and so it proved"
There is also a possibly apocryphal story told of Joseph Paxton's great glass Crystal Palace built for the 1851 Great Exhibition that was supposedly plagued by sparrows. So concerned was Queen Victoria by the number of sparrows that she sent for the Duke of Wellington, possibly thinking that he would send soldiers to scare them off. Shooting them in a glass building was clearly out of the question. The Iron Duke's response - "Sparrowhawks Ma'am"
Sources: RSPB and Fauna Britanica - Stefan Buczacki

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Barn Owl!

I captured these pictures returning from an afternoon walk through the woods. This was a special event for me as these are the first pictures I've managed to capture of a barn owl in Barwick. They're not fantastic pictures and I hope to capture better, but I'm thrilled!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Another soggy weekend and an astronomical highlight

Another weekend and another football match postponed. Not due to the weather this time but because the opposition could only muster 5 players! A weekend spring cleaning the garden then, with a short walk thrown in that allowed me to document what happens to our river after a period of heavy rain.
Compare and contrast these two images taken a week apart of the tributary that passes across the front of our house and down to feed the River Rib......

The ford was also well up. Not quite enough to flood the road leading to it, but enough for the crossing to be impassable to traffic. In the past some have tried, most notable being a £100,000 Aston Martin which ended up wedged under the bridge but there were no casualties this weekend.

Further afield, Moorhens patrolled the sodden river banks whilst in the woodland behind the decaying carcass of another winter victim slowly returned to the earth.

Balancing this up, back at home I caught sight of a Muntjac and her fawn through the trees opposite the house. We have seen them together for a few weeks now and at first the youngster seemed impossibly small but now it has gained good weight and size despite being born in such a harsh winter. In a tree opposite our house a pheasant has taken up evening roosting residence for the last couple of nights and this has allowed me to capture a nice close-up of his feather patterning.

My personal highlight of the last week or so came on Monday night however, when a late night tweet post had me scurrying around for birding scope and tripod. No picture to share but I was thrilled to be able to just about pick out the rings around Saturn as it sat close to the almost full moon in a clear sky. The shivers caused by the dropping temperature were well worth the thrill of seeing the planet with, in astronomical terms, the paltry equipment I was using and rivalled the special night camping on the north Cornwall coast one August night when I picked out Jupiter and several of its moons. It was a bit warmer then too!