Wow, 3 months since I last posted on here - feel pretty bad about that as it is something I wanted to keep going, if not just for my own records...

It doesn't mean that I've stopped though... I've got some good air show shots, some 'work in progress' astro-photography, an unexpected Nightjar, but sadly no owls whatsoever. More recently I've been taking a weekly trip out to Lavell's Lake.

So, my prompt to get me back, and the appropriate name for this blog entry is trying to capture (photographically!) a Hobby! I only got distant shots last year, so this years task to make sure I got to see them... and closer!!

On my way to the bittern hide I glanced across the meadow field and just caught sight of this little Muntjac deer, first time I've seen one down there (though did see both a fox and a mink there over the last couple of weeks too!).

Out on the lake there was a late breeding pair of Great Crested Grebes - I remember seeing them last year too, but it is very late in the season for them.

Just in front of the hide, I've had some success over the past couple of weeks getting the Dragonflies from the front of the hide - they're quite obliging!

I believe it's a Southern Hawker Dragonfly, but happy to be corrected on that one.

Of course, it's not just me that was watching the Dragonflies.... the primary food of the Hobby is the Dragonfly, which they watch from a perch, swoop down and catch them 'on the wing'.... Over the last few weeks I've had a few glimpses of the Hobbies, but today I managed to get a couple of 'feeding' shots.

A bit of a personal success and I'm happy with these first shots, obviously there is room for improvement, but I felt I should at least document it on here!!

And just to finish the day off, a quick glimpse of a Kingfisher - always a joy to see!!

 

Bit late with posting this one up, but last week we decided to 'get out and about'.

We've got the regular locations but spurred on by a post on our local 'facebook' group, we decided to head out to a local lake. It's actually part of the Reading University campus in the middle of the town, but it covers quite a large area.

After abandoning the car miles from the entrance (there isn't anywhere to park), we got to the lake and started on a simple tour around the edge of the lake - probably a couple of miles walk in total.

There is a huge amount of wildlife there, which was lovely to see and lots of young around too.

I'll cut straight to it with some of the wildlife we saw (quite picture heavy, sorry!)....

This Heron was keeping a very close eye on the various chicks floating around the lake - I'm pretty sure as an easy meal!

The Heron above was actually watching the moorhen chicks...

Canada Geese Goslings...

 Swan Cygnets...

And with a face only a mother could love... Coot chicks...

Obligatory, and friendly bushy-tailed rat (aka squirrel)...

An actual rat, one of a couple which were quite happy to sit in the open on the bank...

 We were lucky, and I was really happy, to see this beautiful male Mandarin duck...

And finally, we came across this chap (or chapess), actually 3 of these, I'd never seen them before, and size wise were about twice the size of our Mallard ducks. They weren't worried about me and I'd guessed that they weren't native.

After a bit of research I believe these to be "Cayuga" ducks, which are from North America.... nice looking though!

Ok, I'm not going to break out into some form of Kylie Minogue based tribute...

Last weekend I heard that Reading had a visit from the 'Flying Scotsman'. In typical style I found out too late, so set about doing some research to see if I could get a heads up on it's next visit.

Armed with my new camera (1DX2) to go out on it's maiden voyage, I engaged a friends advice (he's an avid train spotter), who gave me a good starting point and highlighted that actually the Flying Scotsman was indeed going via Reading again this weekend.

After a bit more research I managed to get the route established, so set about looking for locations that would be, 'less busy' than the usual mainline stations.

We did a recce and found a small bridge down a dead-end road just outside Reading which is bound to be empty (yeah, right!!!).

Anyway, I managed to then get hold of the timings of the train, only 1 day in advance, but it did mean a prompt start in the morning to get to the train on time. We did have a little mishap whilst leaving, which meant we had to turn around and lost 20 minutes of time, but we did managed to get back to the bridge (with 5 mins to spare).

Sadly we weren't alone, there were at least 50 other people, with dogs, and kids - and of course because were late they'd all taken the key spaces next to the wall.

Nevertheless, I managed to shoe-horn myself in a small self-made gap and with moments to spare managed to grab some shots as 'she' went past.

Unfortunately for Sam, I had already noted the return journey time!, but having had a semi-disappointing experience with our 'exclusive' bridge, I set to work on google maps looking for another alternative.

This time I found a spot just outside Mortimer where there was a public footpath crossing over the tracks, meaning that I could get up close to the train as it goes by.

So... after successfully completing our recce, we went back and waited (only 5 other people here, so thats 'acceptable!!).

The train was 30 minutes late so wasn't taking a gentle saunter through the countryside, instead it was going full-steam-ahead and shot past us at 70+mph - giving us about 15 seconds of viewing time (literally :( ).

Never mind, it was a cracking location so we'll use that again.

As a final note - I am really impressed with the new camera!! really looking forward to getting to grips with it :)

With such an unseasonable weekend I decided to spend time in the garden - just sitting there and relaxing.

Of course, my 'relaxing' consists of being on full alert staring at anything that moves or catches my eye!

I suspect the sight of me was putting a lot of the wildlife off!, but we did have the usual staunch visitors, which whilst often overlooked, they do make good subjects for practice etc.

So I give you, the humble wood pigeon... eating all of the peanuts I put out for the smaller birds.

 

 And another taking liberties in the free washing facilities I provide...

There is though, a lot of general activity, with House Sparrows picking bugs from our plants, to Starlings feeding their young (already!)...

Pretty sure I can get my whole head in there...!!!

We've got our very own family of BlueTits (7 chicks) in our camera nest box (I'll do an update on that one a bit later), but in the meanwhile, the parents are starting to look a little bedraggled with the constant search for chick-friendly food!

With the warm weather, it only seemed fair to let our pet Tortoises loose in the garden, they love it, charging round all over the place, occasionally meeting up for a quick scrap, then they're off again looking for more random flowers to eat!

And then, I can only assume was the regular visitors in search of a hard-shelled crispy sandwich!! (No, they wouldn't really go for the Tortoises! - well, I hope not!)

These pictures probably look like all of my other Red Kite shots - I have thousands of the damned things!

Finally, and I'm really happy with this one!!... about 3 years ago I had a spare bird box - it wasn't very substantial, it was made of like Natural Grass reed-weave type thing, I never really thought anything would take up residence and thought it was actually more ornamental.

Nevertheless I screwed it to the fence behind the holly tree - originally because the neighbours had cats that were always hunting in our garden, but since they moved out last year we've had a lot more garden birds around.

Anyway, I was just watering some plants and I happened to glance at the entrance to the bird house and saw it was full of moss?!! Very odd I thought, I lightly poked it, but the moss was solid.

So, I set up one of my Trail cameras on the nest to see what was in there - well, it took a couple of days, but after "Photobombing" the camera, it seems we have a Wrens nest!! Really excited about this, will continue to use the trail cam, as they seem a bit nervous, I'm really looking forward to see if we get young Wrens!

(The clock was wrong on the camera, sorry!)

After the rather inclement British springtime, varying between 12 degrees and 4 degrees in an instant! Today was one of the first decent days in a while.

I took the opportunity to head out to see my Little Owls. Unfortunately they were not there, and on speaking to the local dog walkers they haven't been around for the last couple of weeks. I can only hope that they have hunkered down for the spell of snow/hail we've had recently.

Nevertheless, I thought I'd give it a couple of hours to see if they might appear! They didn't, but it did give me the chance to have a look around the area and look out for other things instead....

I was treated with a close-up of a Treecreeper, I've seen them in the distance, but this one was no further than 6ft from me - which made it a bit of a challenge moving the 'sigmonster' lens into place.

He (or she) had some fluff in his beak, before flying off and 'sticking' to the underside of a branch a bit further away.

Lovely little birds!

 

You can see just how camouflaged they are against the tree trunks. 

I stood there silently waiting for 'anything' and I heard a rustle of leaves behind me, not a loud rustle so I really had to stare in the general direction to see what was stirring.

After a while of looking at what seemed to be 'nothing', I spotted a pair of eyes staring back at me!!

Once I'd found him, I stood back for a bit until he was comfortable enough to move free of the leaves - still "Mr Toad" didn't give me a clear shot, but I wasn't about to disturb him to make him jump.

Just behind where I was standing, there was a beautiful patch of Bluebells, I'd not seen them here before and they were really localised, to about a 6ft square - very odd!!

Nevertheless, lovely to see and they smell great too!

And one with my phone:

After my little excursion, it was back home to do some gardening whilst the weather was good... ably assisted by our little hound

I did make a last minute dash out tonight, together with Sam, to once again head to one of my Barn Owl sites, I had seen one there a few nights back - the first time in 17 visits!, but after that had not been successful for another couple of nights - so fingers crossed we headed out, and within 2 minutes the Owl flew out. Didn't see which direction it went after the hedges, but at least we have confirmation that he's back there!.

Might bring myself to a 'morning' effort, will see how I feel!.

I've not posted for a little while, but thats not for want nor trying.

I've had a couple of visits to my Little Owls, who are still going well, but I have invested well over 50 hours (so far) in what seems to be a fruitless task of trying to get back on board with my Barn Owls.

I've been multiple times to every one of my "known" sites, each time spending a good 2 or 3 hours waiting and often until it is dark, to just even confirm the owls are there, but no luck whatsoever.

I went out tonight to a prospective new site (again with no luck!), but it was a far more stressful visit than I'd have liked!

It started off well enough, with a lot of commotion overhead as I got out the car, and it was an odd-looking Buzzard being mobbed by Gulls, I still don't really know whats up with the buzzard (body shape) but if I find out, I'll report back!

As I entered into the 'new' Fobney Island wetland area, I saw a Heron fishing on the waters edge, he (or she) then took off and casually flew past me.

Now this is where it started to go a bit wrong... so stop reading if you're sensitive to less-than pleasant news.

Not everyone likes animals, it's the way of the world, I get that... but what I don't get is when you have an animal (pet) and then treat them with contempt - these people do not deserve to have the love and attention that animals give.

I won't post the details (although have notified the police), but I was heading towards a hide when I heard some shouting, some rather 'sharp' shouting, so I continued on to see what was up and across the far side of the river I saw a bloke there with his dog.... what he did I won't go into, but I was absolutely shocked, I sat across the river as he lit a fire, then continued with his low-life behaviour. I fired off some pictures so I had something to show the police if they wanted it (but didn't seem to want them), they did however say they'd send a unit out to see if he was still there, but the dog treatment was more a matter for the RSPCA.

Anyway, I will post a picture of the chap here, and you can make up your own mind :(

 

After the shocking 'human' behaviour, it seems my trauma was not over for the evening, as I headed back to my car, I found my way blocked by some over exuberant Swans... my initial thoughts were 'oh wow, they're mating', but it started to get a bit brutal and it was quite evident this was not a happy encounter.

I watched for 20 mins as these swans beat the daylights out of each other before the dominant one got the upper hand, pinned the other to the floor, then started biting the neck, feathers, legs, and then standing on him not allowing him to move.

The 'beaten one' clearly just wanted to escape, but each time was chased down and attacked again, I thought I was about to witness the rather graphic demise of this beautiful animal, so I decided to do exactly what you should NOT do, and try to break them up.

I can't say I was especially happy with trying to 'shoo' a bird that has a 10ft wingspan and can break human limbs, but I couldn't watch the other swan get beaten any more, 'natural behaviour' or not... they were not in the slightest bit intimidated by me, but after 'lunging' at them a couple of times, the weak one managed to break free and started running (quickly pursued) then managed to take flight and escape off to the river, whereby the other swans gave up and stayed on the lake.

I have a video of it too, but it probably should come with some parental guidance :|

After all that 'excitement', I did at least get a lovely sunset tonight!!

A long weekend (at last), today is "Good Friday", and as it turned out, a very Good Friday!

I woke up at the usual time to a glorious sunny day, so thought I'd make the most of it, and shoot out to my Peregrine site again.

To my amazement, I saw the 'Hen' Peregrine perched up high at the top of the tower immediately, and then on one of the lower braces - and in fact the closest it's ever been to me, was the male.

When I say 'closest', it's all relative, in real distance it was probably 50yards or so, but even so absolutely perfect!

I spent about 2 hours watching them whilst they just sat there, preening, looking, sleeping and pooing! :|

The Hen took off in one of my have a look in the opposite direction moments (doh!), so I concentrated on the male...

 

After flexing his wings, he 'walked' to the far side of the girder, so I had to lift my stuff over the bridge to the far side of the river where these guys were and set up to get a better view.

Once he was bored, he took off and flew in the opposite direction (sadly) so I didn't get any flight shots this time.

 With both of the Peregrines now flown off, I thought I'd shoot down to the Little Owl site - when I got there one was asleep in full view (I can't tell the male from the female!)...

In yet another "kit-kat" moment, I did a quick cursory look around the woodland around me, and when I looked back, the blasted thing had gone!

I stayed for about another 30 mins, but other than a somewhat cross-eyed peek out of the hole, they didn't come back out, so I left them too it.

... In reality, I was probably out the house longer today than I am during work!

First stop, to check on my Little Owls...

They certainly didn't disappoint, both the Owls were up and sitting snoozing on the entrance to their tree. I had a good half an hour of time watching them sleep (hopefully not as creepy as it sounds!!).

Only when dog walkers came past to talk to me did one of them retreat back into the hole...

As nice and friendly (and useful sometimes) dog walkers are - another came to talk to me as I was watching the last remaining Owl, after his dogs started barking the Owl retreated back into his hole - I waited for a further 30 mins just in case he reappeared, but no joy - whilst waiting I just watched the squirrels & garden birds flying around before I called it a morning and moved on.

 

The aforementioned bushy-tailed rat.

 The friendly Robin

I moved on from my Little Owl site, but it was a lovely day today (relatively), so I continued up to see if "my" Peregrines were about...

Looks like luck was on my side today, I looked up and he was sat there already... "Perfect" I thought.

I took my "Bank" shots (a couple of photo's with whatever lens is attached, just in case it moves/disappears), then set up the big lens - of course when I looked back up he'd bloody gone.

Having unpacked all my stuff I wasn't about to just leave again so I hung on in the hope he'd return, but I had no idea which direction it flew off.... well, not immediately.

I tend to draw quite a lot of attention with my lens set up, but one of the many people I spoke to today was a local. He started talking to me about how he sees it about etc, and as I point up to where he was sat, the blasted thing took off from behind a girder on the far side, it was there all along! It then proceeded to do a gentle soar over my head and off into the distance.... of course I completely missed this as the bloke was still talking and I didn't want to be rude... I really should have just excused myself and gone for the shot!!

Never mind, there will always be another chance!

I headed home for a pit-stop and took the opportunity to grab a shot of the circling kites - I only had the 'sigmonster' lens to hand, so this shot was taken "hand held", which is no mean feat when the lens weighs 12kg and I've got arms like a 15yr old girl.

I did head back out to try to get the barn owls again tonight, but for the 7th time in a row, I came home empty handed.

I won't be deterred though! watch this space!

 

Here we are, well into 2016 and it's about time I got back into my hobby again.... it's been months since I'd been able to make an concerted effort to get out and about.

It's made easier by the evenings getting lighter, but as much as I'd like to 'blame' the failing light, I'm sure that's not the only reason!

Anyway... moving on! - A few pictures in this one to get me started!!

We've had some nice clear (but cold) days recently so I thought I'd wrap up warm and head out.

Easiest place to start was at the local reserve - Lavell's Lake, as it happens it was a rather 'quiet' day, not much out and about, so I spent time watching the feeder-tree they have there. Usually quite a good assortment of birds (usually garden birds) turn up.

There were a few Reed Buntings around, and also a few Dunnocks hopping around the floor...

...And a couple of Bullfinches put in an appearance, but if you look at the one on the left it appears to have diseased legs?

Finally whilst waiting, a Great Spotted Woodpecker decided to put in an appearance for a free meal!

Back at our house, there was an unusual level of activity in the local Red Kites, maybe half a dozen all flying really low over the area for a good few hours.... that doesn't mean I had any luck with my pictures(!), partly because it was a bit overcast so it made really poor light, but also because they saw me first!

Rather unexpectedly I caught wind of a 'new' Barn Owl site not too far from us, with apparently some good sightings over the past few days... usually this then means they don't turn up when I'm around! But I set off to have a look anyway.

As it happens, I was in luck... I'd only been there about 10 minutes and this one flew out of a woodland I was walking down the side of, he (or she?!) landed on the ground before taking flight and disappearing over the treeline.

My reactions weren't great, but was so happy I could confirm they were here!

To top it all off, whilst waiting for the Owl to re-emerge (too dark for more pictures), I also spotted a Peregrine perched on a pylon, apparently a regular to the area... so I shall definitely be heading back there... probably tomorrow!

Finally another bit of good news, is that "my" little owls have returned to last years nest site - I am so happy as I'd heard rumours they were predated last year and hadn't been seen for about 9 months now - it might actually be that these are the returning young? but again I'll head back there as soon as I can...

Sorry Sam, I think I'll be AWOL quite a lot over the nest few weeks! 

 

 

I find it ironic that the previous blog post was entitled "Never a quiet day", because for the past 3 weeks since that post I've not been able to get out for any dedicated photography time!

Well, that's not entirely true, I ventured outside on a cold early Sunday morning (about 3.30am) to witness the "amazing" celestial event that was the "Blood-Super-Moon".

The "Super" part comes because it is at its closes point to the Earth in its orbit, but in reality it makes very little difference to its appearance in the sky!!

The "Blood" part comes in because it was in fact a total eclipse of the moon. It results in a blood red colour as the shadow is cast.

The downside from a photography perspective is that the light needed for the picture also disappears, so the result is a little bit noisier than I'd have liked (was using ISO 6400).

As the eclipse started to pass and the light came back I was able to grab a little more definition on the image.

The above early morning was rather inappropriately timed on the first morning of the start of a new job, so I really shouldn't have got up at 3.30am for it!

That aforementioned new job has somewhat hindered my ability to get out "with nature"... I know, how rude?!! But one event that I didn't want to miss was the farewell flight of the cold-war era Vulcan bomber "XH558".

It was conducting 2 circuits, one in the north of the country, then one in the south. Sadly it wasn't going to fly over our house so we headed off to Farnborough airport, which was a pre-arranged waypoint on its tour.

It seems that us, and about 10,000 other people had the same idea, luckily though we were there in good time and able to 'dump' our car on a 45 degree bank to keep us close to the action!

Well, it most certainly was worth the wait! I was tracking the progress of the flight on twitter so knew where and when to look, although the noisy (and smoky) old engines meant it wasn't the stealthiest of approaches!

There was a bit of haze over the airport, but it swung wide in a big loop and headed down the runway directly for us...

As it approached, it gave it a burst on the power to give a nice loud smokey approach...

I really wish I had set up a camera to record it, as it was very low, nice and slow and straight over our heads, absolutely stunning.

As you can see in the settings, I had pretty much backed off my lens as far as I could, so as it passed overhead I couldn't get the whole plane in view!

Just took a couple more shots as it passed off out of our view for quite possibly the last time we'll ever see this plane flying.

 

Slim pickings recently, my Barn Owls seem to be getting more scarce, and the Little Owls will be setting off to set up their own new territory soon.

I took a trip back to my original Little Owl site, they've been absent from there for a good few months now, but I live in hope they return as the viewing opportunities are absolutely superb. Alas after an hour of waiting there was no sign at all. I'll give it another few weeks and try again!

I took a trip back to Lavell's Lake again, but it was another quiet day... there was a single Grey Wagtail out on the pontoon in the lake. They're now 'Amber' listed as their numbers have decreased over the last few years. So although I wouldn't normally pay much attention, they are nice bird to see.

I gave it another hour of watching and waiting... it was a nice day so I'm a bit unsure why there wasn't more about.

Anyway, I spotted out off to the edge of the hide a small bird, which I had assume was a chick of some form, but it appears that it was an Adult Little Grebe, in full winter plumage. Either way, it was quite sweet and happy swimming amongst the weed and sunning itself!

Back at "casa de Turner" our bird feeder was as busy as usual, but we've had a increase in probably my favourite garden bird... on this occasion we had 6 Long Tailed Tits on the feeders at once! There is something about them, they're like tiny balls of fluff! with a beak and a long tail.

If watching and looking for local wildlife wasn't enough, it appears we also apparently run a pseudo-hospital/release site. A week ago we picked up "Holly", a large female hedgehog who was attacked by a dog. She was taken to "Hedgehog Bottom" hedgehog hospital where she made a superb recovery, but sadly the person who brought Holly in didn't want her back, so she needed a release site - and thats where we came in.

We took her in and released her in our back garden in our hedgehog house, but she wasn't one to be kept contained and managed to smash her way through our barrier and out to freedom. That's fine because we keep them fed out the front of the house too.

On returning the carrier back to the hospital, we came away this time with "Shaun"!

Shaun was found lying outside dehydrated and covered in fly-eggs, and again the person who brought them in didn't want him back either :(

Now back to full health and up to 500g (minimum 'release' weight), he given to us to release back.

So he is currently outside in the hedgehog house with fresh food and fresh water... and I've reinforced the fences this time to better contain him!

 

It's been a couple of weeks now since I've had the time (or the weather!) to get out and about.

I have also decided, from now on, I am increasing the size of the photo's on here by about 25%, this hopefully should give a little more detail, but might mean the pages are a tad slower to load.... sorry!

I headed over to Lavell's Lake to see what was out and about, ideally hoping for a day like I had a few weeks back. It wasn't quite as active, but there were a few things out and about.

The Great-Crested Grebe chicks are growing up fast and starting to loose their grey on their backs and fishing for themselves. This one however was feeling decidedly lazy, so whilst I was watching it, it shot across to one of the parents and took (or was given) a fish from her mouth - sadly I missed pretty much all of the action! but you can see the tail of the fish going down.

I'd waited maybe 30 minutes with little activity, when I heard the characteristic whistle of a Kingfisher! It flew in from my left and sat on a perch, but I could barely even pick up my camera before another flew past and the first took off after it... I'm pretty sure they're a pair rather than rivals. I really didn't get much of a chance for pictures though, one as it fleeted around the reed beds and another as it flew across the lake.... so nothing like the close-up I had previously.

Also still on the lake, and doing very well are the Swan family, their adult feathers are all developing well and all the young seem to be practising their flights and take offs... None actually took to the air completely but all gave a good 'run' across the surface of the water, so if they're not flying already it will be very soon I'm sure.

That was really the total of the main visit, though I did find this little chap at the side of the path, I have tried with little success to get ID, so for now it is a "Red striped caterpillar"
***UPDATE*** OK, according to @wildlife_id on twitter, it seems it is a "White Ermine Moth" Caterpillar, which looks like a very pretty moth too!

Not Barn Owls today, though I did go out looking again (as I do every night!), but Little Owls.

I headed back over to my new Little Owl site today, I had a quick check to make sure I could see them from a distance, and then headed over for a longer stakeout.

Well, it really didn't take long... I parked up and setup the sigmonster to go 'hand-held'... No, that's not a euphemism, but seriously that lens weighs near-on 10kg on it's own so trying to hold that up to my eye whilst keeping it steady is not easy (especially if you have arms like a 15year old girl).

Anyway I heard a Little Owl 'contact call', which is what they do to get their partners or their parents attention. I walked the long way round the site to approach the barn on the far side, but I noticed fairly early on that in fact there was not just the one owl, but there were two! Absolutely fantastic news as for months now only 1 owl has been seen. I walked a bit closer and again took another hand-held shot, but both scarpered once I walked around another corner, so I didn't even see where they went!

Since they both flew off I headed back to the car to set up the tripod.

I walked up to the former slurry pit, which sounds lovely doesn't it?! but it's now just a reed bed and there is no sign of, or smell of slurry anywhere.

As I stood at the top I noticed now on the other side of the barn just the top of a head and the slightest peeping eyes watching me!

I continued to watch this Little one for about half an hour - he didn't do much, just sat there, looked around and basically sat there sunbathing!

After the 30 minutes he got a bit more alert and kept looking behind, I looked in that direction but couldn't see or hear anything so I'm not sure what caught it's attention? But shortly after looking around he jumped up onto the edge of the guttering and took flight into the trees behind me.

I hung around for maybe another 20 mins or so, but he didn't seem to come back.

I sat back in the car, checked my phone, then went for a little walk around the site, couldn't find the owl again.

Then, as is always the way I went for 'one last check' up on the slurry pit, and spotted a small head back in the far guttering again. I hadn't been spotted so I decided to get the smaller lens and walk round right up to the guttering to see him.

Well, when I got there it was the same as before, just a head and eyes watching me, only this one seemed TINY, smaller than the others, so I actually think there are (at least) three of the owls at this site.

I cannot stress though, just how cute this owl was, it was really small, I'd liken it's size to about a coffee mug! I think the weather is going to worsen for the next few days so probably won't get out to see these guys again for a while.

 Adopting my "lookout" position looking out the patio door I always have that hope that something new will turn up.

This time round in amongst the usual garden birds we had a new visitor (which I've not seen since actually!), but a Nuthatch turned up and started feeding on the sunflower hearts.

But not only 1, we had 2 at one point. I've never seen these on our feeder, in fact I've only ever seen them at a distance.

 They probably hung around for about 15 mins or so before a flock of starlings turned up and they left!.

In amongst the rabble was this rather bedraggled looking Robin - clearly one of this years young losing its juvenile feathers and growing the adult plumage.

I took a trip out to Lavell's Lake to see what was around. I'm not usually very lucky there, it's one of those places where people always report seeing good stuff, but nothing ever happens when I'm there!!

This time though, made a welcome change!

Just outside the lake there was a spot where a Spotted Flycatcher had been regularly reported... well, I'm not going to know what one looked like (shame on me!), but I was with another chap that pointed one out for me. Unfortunately they're quite jumpy, so the only picture I managed to get was into the sun, so the colours became a bit washed out.

Heading round to the usual hide - the only one I use because it is close to the car park! - I had a quick glance into the Owl box as I usually do.

This time, I was absolutely amazed to see some legs through the doorway! I spent probably about 30 minutes waiting for something to move, and was absolutely over the moon to see we have a Barn Owl returned to the box. It seems I was first to report this return and has now been seen a couple of times since.

I continued to sit in the hide for a while and was joined by some other 'birders' - I'm a bit oblivious to some of the things on the lake sometimes... there were a pair of Red-crested Pochards (No, I didn't know what they were either), but there was a small group of 5 'Pintails', didn't mean much to me, but it was a season first for the lake and the chap sat in the hide with me was very excited to see them, and got on the phone to other birders. On that basis I felt obliged to snap a picture. As it happens, after I took this, they flew off, so my picture is the only record there is at the moment!

Just to finish off my afternoon, we were treated to a fantastic aerial display from a Hobby - unfortunately it was probably 200m away at the far end of the lake. Great to watch, but quite rubbish for photo's (and I didn't have the sigmonster with me).

I did grab a photo when it settled in a tree, but it's quite a strong crop so the detail is not great.

I never claim to be some form of Chris Packham when it comes to bird calls, but I do know a Woodpecker when I hear it.

And no, not because of the characteristic 'tapping'! Green Woodpeckers have a distinctive call. I've heard them a few times around our house, but rarely see them.

This time though, the call seemed louder than usual. I picked up my camera (which to be fair, is usually at arms reach anyway), and headed outside the front of our house.

We have a playing field out the front which is bordered by trees where I assume this Woodpecker usually sits, not today though!

He (or she?!) was sitting on the ground feeding for worms (I assume). The beak was covered in mud and it was probably only 20ft from me/my front door. They obviously are a bit camera shy so flew up into the trees once I'd got a couple of shots off, probably the best ones I've managed of a Green Woodpecker, but here is hoping for more opportunities!

Back in our front room (it feels a bit like SpringWatch HQ sometimes), I was watching some junk on TV, sat in a position where I can keep an eye on the bird feeder - just in case anything unusual turns up.

Then all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I spot something which fitted that bill perfectly! A juvenile Sparrowhawk with (sadly) prey. It had just plucked one of our house Sparrows off our feeder.

My camera (as always) was by my side, sadly though on this occasion I was just too slow, it obviously caught some movement from behind the patio door and took off. In desperation I just pointed and clicked*. Whilst not the best (far from it), it does demonstrate the action! (My Dad managed a far better action shot of a SparrowHawk and a starling last year).

*This is not a recognised or recommended photographic technique!

Enough of the action at home though, I shot off to Lavell's Lake for a quick check to see whats out and about.... as it happens on that day, not much.

I headed back to my car and thought the car park seems unusually full? at which point 3 more cars arrived in quick succession (a bit too quick if I'm honest!!), the chaps jumped out and shot off across to the middle of the car park field.

Well, curiosity got the better of me, so I took myself & the sigmonster over to see what's going on. I was expecting a bird of prey or something like that, but I was a bit far from the truth.

Luckily I knew one of the chaps who was watching so I asked him what we were looking at... "A Redstart, first of the season". Ok then, it's something I'm sure I've not seen before, so I'll give it a go!!

As it happens there were actually 2 of them, one a juvenile, identified because of the lack of colour on the tips of the wings?! I don't ever expect to know that, but some people do!... but there was also a full adult flitting out of the bushes and back.

The Redstart seems to have set up a regular base in the same hawthorn, so has been become a bit of a local celebrity, a somewhat controversial celebrity as some photographers have been pushing their luck with distances and getting too close (meaning the bird never comes out at all).

In the meanwhile I'll continue back at the hide to see what turns up... still hoping for another Kingfisher opportunity! On this occasion there was nothing about, I was *just* about to pack up (as is always the way) and I spotted the characteristic wing shape of a Peregrine... but this time was much smaller. I watched this bird circle above the lake. I used my lens to identify it, and it seems I managed to spot my first Hobby!

Really happy with this as I've done a lot of chasing this summer trying to see one with no luck (despite being fairly numerous). Anyway I watched it circle over the far end of the lake before disappearing.

Great to tick off my virtual list, but definitely one I want to get better shots off in the future - I am conscious I had spare 'zoom' available, but not enough time to use it!

I was hoping that the above Hobby was looking for some food... their main food is dragonflies, which they catch and eat on the wing (in the air). There is no shortage of Dragonflies at the lake which does make it an ideal place to feed.

This one I think is some form of Darner Dragonfly. One of many hovering in front of the hide.

 

 

Down at Lavell's Lake one of the young had been spotted in the doorway to the box a number of times over the past few weeks, but less so recently.

I've made a number of trips to try to see the Adult hunting, but I had no luck so made the assumption that they hunted after dark (once I had left!).

This week I was taking a walk through the car park field behind the owl box, and with rather sad news I came across the obvious remains of my adult Barn Owl.

I can only assume was feeding on the ground and preyed upon by a fox, purely on the basis that not much will take on a Barn Owl.

Of course, this now also brings in the very real possibility (and in fact is highly likely), that the young owlets (thought to be 2 of them) will also not have survived. They were not believed to have fledged (I certainly had not seen them), and therefore would be unable to feed themselves.

I reported this to the appropriate personnel who manage the site, but fundamentally there is nothing they can (or will) do.

It does also appear that the Owlets in my other site are also 'missing', however at least one of those adults is still flying around. I have absolutely no idea where they have gone as I have been to that site every day, or every other day at the absolute latest, but even so, it appears I have missed them!

After the distress of finding the remains of the Barn Owl, I headed over to the fence looking at the barn where I saw the Little Owl in the guttering.

He wasn't there on this occasion, but I met a chap in the woods (oo-er!!!!) who works at the farm/chocolate factory. I was talking to him about the Little Owls and asked if he could speak to the owner to see if I could have access to get some closer photo's.

True to his word, he did indeed speak to the boss who said that'd be fine! I'm keen not to abuse the access to his farm so I've agreed to stick to their operational hours, and when they ramp up their chocolate production (sadly quite soon!) then I'll back off.

In the meanwhile the chance should hopefully allow me to get some closer shots of the Little Owls.

I did manage to grab this shot of him (it's a juvenile), but as I started to change to the 'big' lens, he flew off, and I couldn't find him again.

The farm is actually a haven for all sorts of wildlife, and quite frankly is exactly the sort of place I'd aspire to own! (sure that won't happen though!).

Aside from a plethora of wild birds, I spotted this fox crossing over the landfill... not welcome as foxes have destroyed all of the owners chickens (and of course quite possibly the Barn Owl).

Whilst there, it appears that the House Martins are collecting again, the owner was telling me last year they had over 200 gathering around the Barns waiting for the migration. He said they all left in one go and was a very special sight. It's unlikely I'll get to see that, but still nice to see them gathering together.

 

I'm still a bit behind on my posts, so please bear with me!

I've got a mixture of locations I go to now, so depending on the weather, the time of day, or how much time I have will dictate where I head.

The nearest to me it Lavell's Lake, which has a good mixture of all sorts of wildlife. There are the usual residents which include the Swans (as in previous blog entries), Common Terns, various ducks etc.

This chap is one of the resident Moorhens, decided he was bored of swimming and jumped up on a raft for a rest.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my constant struggles to get pictures of the Great Crested Grebe chicks, the parents have done well to keep the checks alive, but finally I've managed to get a half decent picture of them.

Out the back of the lake is a former landfill, it's now a fenced off 'hill' with various methane vents.

A little bit of history of the area now... before it was a landfill it was a gravel pit in the late 90's, one of the major productions of the area... but prior to that it was (rather predictably) farm land. In particular it was cattle farm land with an attached Dairy called "Lea Farm".

The Farm still exists, but ceased milk production during mid 90's purely due to costs. It was the same issue back then as is happening today, whereby it costs the farmers more to produce the milk than it is sold for. So, the land was sold off and the farm closed down.

Now, it is a Chocolate Factory (of all things!), so still has a fair amount of movement around the site.

Anyway, the reason for that brief bit of local knowledge is because over the landfill, and bordering the remaining farm are usually a good selection of wildlife and birds in various forms.

Earlier in the year I saw a pair of little owls in the Oak Tree on the farm, but according to google maps, the distance from the fence to the tree was a third of a mile, so even using the sigmonster I was struggling. The owls had not been seen since spring (as the leaves covered their roost and they were no longer visible).

Now it appears one of the young fledged Little Owls is getting adventurous, I spotted him sitting in the guttering of the main barn of the farm!

Unfortunately  it was still a long distance to see, but great to have confirmation they're still around.

In the meanwhile, my ongoing Barn Owl obsession continues.

I happened to be well placed this time round, and the Owl came into the field for a quick bit of hunting before perching up on a dead tree (ironically I usually stand under that tree), he happily sat there fore a good few minutes before flying down for another could of circuits and moving on. Sadly (as always) light was against me, I did manage to recover this one shot of him on the branch though which I'm quite happy with.

 

 

I returned to one of my sites to find the female (I think), stood in the doorway of their box continuously calling. This was quite early on, perhaps about 6.30pm.

It's not unusual to be up and about at that time, especially if there are young about as invariably they'll need feeding multiple times a day.... much like any other youngster!

Whilst watching the box it appears my location was given away, and the Owl craned her neck out of the box and took a long look at me! It didn't scare her off, she just went back to calling again.

This was a great way to start the evening!

But after only another 20 minutes or so, this Buzzard appeared from the tree above where I was sitting. I'm now not sure if the Owl was warning the Buzzard as I didn't see it arrive, so can only assume it had been sat in the tree the whole time.

Sadly, because I wasn't expecting it! I couldn't get the camera focussed until he'd flown a few meters away.

I tried to follow the buzzard (without success), across one of the fields where it perched back in another tree, the shots I took from there were no good, but on looking around I spotted this Roe Deer stood up, seemingly asleep!! In reality I'm sure it was just resting his eyes, but didn't seem overly concerned about me being stood there.

I did see the male Barn Owl out, but the light was fading and the pictures really came out too dark - such is the permanent issue with trying to photograph animals which only come out at dusk!

The following night I did spot one of my other favourite birds, which I have imaginatively called "Kes", the female Kestrel. She seems to have a regular perching spot on the edge of the woods and appears quite content to have her photo taken.

I'm pretty sure she is one of the young which fledged a couple of months ago, so really glad to see they're still around.

Earlier in the Month I took a rare break in the clouds to get back to Lavell's lake for a few hours, it seems that 'today' (the 6th) was the day for fishing!

There are always a few Common Terns flying around, constantly on the lookout for fish, although I've never seen them make a successful catch. Just purely down to timing I guess.

Looks like I was in luck today, as one swooped down right in front of me and plucked a small fish out of the water.

Also resident on the lake are a family of Great Crested Grebes, they have successfully raised 4 young which I'm constantly trying to get pictures of! In the meanwhile I did spot one of the parents also fishing.

Continuing with the theme of young, the resident swan family are coming along very well. Credit where credit is due, these swans have been very successful keeping their 6 cygnets alive through to sub-adult.

They do still very much travel around as a family though, which is really nice to see.

Here they all gathered on the scrape to have a collective sleep - although it's difficult to see where one swan ends and the next begins!

An unusual visitor to the lake, (well I thought it was unusual anyway), was this Terrapin - a Red-Eared Slider Turtle, to be specific.

This is considered an invasive species in the country, and it's actually illegal to release them into the wild. On that basis I'm surprised this one has lasted (ie, hasn't been caught and killed), it is so I am told, one of 4 in the lake - quite how they know that I have no idea!!

After the fairly productive hide visit at the lake, I stumbled across this friendly chap just walking down the path towards me.

There are actually quite a few Pheasants around the area, as such I get quite complacent and tend not to take their pictures - but I should do really as they do have great colours to them - and of course this one even posed for me!

I've spent a lot more time over at Lavell's Lake with the hope of seeing the local Barn Owl, but they've been very shy (unlike my other site!), it's believed that they're nesting albeit they're very late in the season. Hopefully I'll get to see some fledglings... I live in hope!

In a rare foray out of wildlife (and aircraft!), I ventured outside to see the "Blue Moon" - it's not actually blue, and I don't know why it's called that, but in essence it is a second full moon in a single month - again, I'm not sure which this is special!!

I used my Sigmonster lens and the new "Canon Extender 2x III", which doubles the focal length, this obviously will sacrifice some quality for the extra reach but that is the trade off.

 

In the meanwhile I'll still try to add to my list - it's not an official list, it's not a "birdspotter" list, it's just a list of wildlife I wanted to see this year...

A few years ago, on a visit to see some family in Norfolk my Dad spotted a Marsh Harrier, it was probably about half a mile away and therefore with the kit I had at the time it appeared as a vague dot in the distance!

I didn't make the assumption that today, with my camera and monster lens it would be any different, but worth a shot!.

So on another visit up this weekend we headed out to a local reserve "RSPB Titchwell", as well as a general array of waders and seabirds it has some resident Marsh Harriers too.

This is a quick shot of a Snipe I saw whilst looking around the skies for the Harriers.

We headed out but it only took a few minutes before we saw a pair flying (funnily enough) over the Marsh, unfortunately this was probably half a mile from our location on the path, so I set up using the extender for the extra reach.

I tracked the bird (with difficulty!) until it landed in the top of a tree - barely visible to the eye, but I set up the lens and took this shot at 1600mm! Of course it's not going to win any National Geographic prizes, but for a record shot at that sort of distance I'd say it was pretty good!

From the photo you can see this is a Female Marsh harrier, as it's darker with the brown shape on the face.

Obviously take the Sigmonster anywhere attracts attention, and one such interest was from a chap who told us that if we head to a different spot on the reserve (and guided us to it), we'd get closer shots - So we duly headed off in that direction.

Almost as soon as we got to the site it was apparent that he was indeed correct, and even the first shot I fired off was much clearer, showing the top of the feathers as she banked around.

Of course just to top it off, a third Marsh Harrier came in and started an aerial fight with the first one, great to watch their 'tumbling' in the sky, just wish I could have stayed longer to watch them! - Not least to get closer shots still.

The Marsh Harriers were a real treat for me this weekend, and unfortunately for me, sets another target of 'getting better shots next time', which is becoming a bit of a mantra! I don't have Harriers on our doorstep, otherwise I'd get lots of practice just like I do with our Red Kites.

They are so frequent over our house that often I tend to ignore them!, but the light was good yesterday so I thought I'd take some close-ups as they eyed up our barbeque!

This one looks like it might be a juvenile as it seems to have a lot more white feathers down the head and neck than usual.