Wednesday, 9 July 2014


I have lost count the number of times I have driven past this site in my truck and wished I could have a snoop around. Often I have seen Buzzards circling low over the site and wished I could get in to photograph them.
This site isn't that new I had just never realised a footpath was adjacent to another road that was around the back of the site hidden by bushes, the charm of cycling is you have bit more time to peer over hedges as you cycle along roads and be a bit of nosy sod. I also got a tip off about a Barn Owl on the site so went and explored it yesterday and today (8th and 9th) didn't care about the football.
The initial signs was promising....
 Entrance to the site is via the Moulton Road, just outside the village of Pitsford as you head towards Moulton village, as you pass the gateway check out the possible Wren's nest in the gate post, I believe it to be a Wren as that gap can only be about 5-6 inches maybe smaller and the nest is tiny.
 The site used to be the Bernie's Gravel Pit and hasn't that long been closed, they have opened up some footpaths, the Forest Commissary have planted a few trees and there is quite a nice wildflower meadow starting to take shape, as you enter the site you can follow the footpath down to some farmers field (turning left), a few Blackcaps and Yellowhammers plenty of Butterflies and moths, a Hobby and Buzzard was also seen, on some of the gravel pit site there is a few ditches overgrown with willow and some reeds here I got a Reed Warbler, beaware the gravel pit is not public access etc....take your chances, I did on Tuesday night came across a couple a quad bikers, friendly enough but a nuisance noise wise and dust.
If at the footpath you turn right and follow the path you'll soon come across this meadow.
 In the sun (missing yesterday) from this angle it has a purple like haze to the grass. There is a small "pond" with a Green Woodpecker nesting in the trees carry along the path to the left and you get this view of the meadow (image below)....looked ripe for a Barn Owl but I was struggling to locate either a suitable building or tree for it, but more on that later. The footpaths carry on from some way with new Oak and other tree's planted, loads of butterflies along here to. There was several paths that lead to either the main road that links Northampton to Brixworth and Pitsford and another footpath that leads to the playing fields at the edge of Pitsford village I didn't explore these too much sticking to the "gravel" pit area.
Today in the sun this small section in the image above was heaving with Butterflies I had both Small Tortoiseshells landing on me, it was the sun tan lotion lol and grashoppers all over the place I even saw some bloke in a silver Vauxhall Vectra who had been let in at the front entrance swishing a butterfly net around, probably doing some sort of survey. I managed a few ropey shots of what would sit still long enough on the camera phone.



As usual my butterfly and moth id's is no good any help would be nice. There was plenty more but my lack of id skills and lack of capturing them on the phone camera let me down.
It is really interesting watching a brownfield site something quite ugly be reclaimed by nature with a helpful shove of a human hand kind of cheers me up and gives me a weird feeling of hope.
I saw another Hobby and a few Swifts on site today, the weirdest sight was watching a distant Buzzard doing a Kestrel impression and hovering plenty of common birds and a Sparrowhawk too, I checked some old buildings out but no sign of any Barn Owl activity. I was beginning to wonder if the tip was from a hoax, the lady in question was from Pitsford and the gravel pit has applied for permission (some time ago now) to be a landfill site, which would tally up with the new meadow and footpaths a sort of "compensation" so maybe I was thinking she was saying a Barn Owl was on site in a bid to get support to stop the planning application. On Tuesday I didn't leave the sight until 10:30pm and no sign it was dark by the time I was cycling home, very dark. I was back up and suitably hidden with a vantage point of the whole site at 4am today, the only owl heard was a Little Owl late pm and at about 8:30am today from the farmers field down the other section of the site. There is a barn on the farm next to the meadow but it's one of those big metal tin shed style ones, a barn on the other side of the road looks good but all out of bounds so couldn't check properly

From the image above this is the part of the gravel pit itself, in the left of the frame is where the Little Owl was calling from on the right of the frame the steep banks got me excited as did the Sandmartins above, not many but enough.
Yesterday the clouds weren't to friendly (check the image above) but got a few shots

All up against a grey sky plus all with food in their mouths blocking their eyes, how do they see? But they had good reason for food.
This is what got me excited when I saw the steep and very high bank.....
 The steep bank was a perfect for nesting and there was nesting holes, not many, I counted 18 of which I only saw 8 being used but giving what this site WAS it's a start and if it remains as is for next year who knows maybe more next summer.
The image below reminds me of a face!
PLEASE note I was using my 500mm lens and these are heavy cropped i.e. I was standing/staying away from the actual nest holes by some distance...leave them to get on with breeding and feeding is always the way to go. Sandmartins leaving or entering the nest doesn't "do it" for me image wise. Just a quick record shot or two then move further away. Sandmartins if left alone are curious buggers and will come and fly over you, human watching I guess.
I would rather struggle like today with high clouds/sometimes blue unbelievably hot yet windy conditions and get these scrappy images....better to come I hope.

 The last one being my favourite from today but room for improvement.
I did find this pellet yesterday so perhaps there is a Barn Owl but to me it's too dark, perhaps a Kestrel? When I was sat next to the meadow apart from the sounds of grasshoppers I did hear the odd squelch and squeak from mammals but being such long grass could not see what exactly was making the noise. So there is food around and to be fair apart from no obvious tree (all obvious were checked for pellets and any entrances) it does scream Barn Owl friendly habitat.....of course I will keep checking and explore the site more for birds next time. It did leave me thinking with the various ditches, meadows,ponds two things 1)would the local wildlife trust look into buying the site and 2)why gravel pits make such a good place for nature.


  1. Hi Douglas your butterflies are a Marbled White and a Gatekeeper.
    Great Martin shots.
    Can't help with the moth. Trevor will know.

    1. Thanks for the id help I am truly useless with butterflies id's. It is a really good site for them, despite the wind couldn't believe the quantity of them flying around.

  2. Hi Doug. Your 'moth' is a Large Skipper (butterfly).

    Barn Owl pelletsare usually pretty black when fresh, but fade with time. They're usually fairly smooth on the outside and don't usually show so much bone debris, etc. externally. My guess would still be a Barnie, however.

    Those butterfly images are pretty amazing for a phone camera job! Looks like you've found yourself an interesting place there - I hope no one 'develops' it out of all recognition!

    Lokking forward to seeing more Sand Martin images!

    1. Thanks for the id help Richard. I felt I had to have a go at documenting the butterflies on the site as there were so many the phone camera is pretty good sadly the number holding it isn't as good :-)
      The pellet did seem quite fresh, very soft and pliable in my hand you can see a stone which I was using to scrape it to reveal what had been eaten this will account for why bones are slightly exposed the pellet was as described by yourself, that's got me excited now.
      I too hope the site remains more natural it has so much potential.

  3. Hi Doug, 100% Barn Owl pellet, kestrel pellets are much smaller (little owl size), usually more brown in colouration and have a curly twist at one end. Nice post buddy, love the martin images!

    1. Thanks Paul, I knew both yourself and Richard would be able to help me out with the pellet, much appreciated. Just got to find/see the culprit now lol

  4. Great post Douglas, looks like you may have found a little Gem !

    ( Influenced by your blog I have recently started my own
    my efforts are humble compared to your work, we all strive to improve our art ! ).

  5. Thanks John, great to hear another Northamptonshire birder on blogging duties. I have added your blog to my list and will come and check it out when I get home from work tonight.

  6. John I got your last comment and even though the vast majority of the blogs readers are good people there are some dubious types lurking in the shadows and because it had your number attached I decided not to publish it for safety, I have stored your number though. Thank you.

  7. I understand Douglas, good thinking !