Sunday, 19 July 2015

SWALLOWS, SPARROWHAWK AND BARN OWL

Saturday didn't start off well as I awoke to the tragic news that Jules Bianchi had finally succumbed to his injuries in last year's Japanese Grand Prix. We're still waiting to see if Michael Schumacher will pull through his and if he does wether he'll have any permanent damage to his brain. Not a great day for F1.
Mr.Z sent me a text "they're mowing the hay meadows". I know it's got to be done and to be fair it was very dried out and given the crap that's happened down there of late I could see some idiot setting a match to it. 
Compare the two images, top one from the first visit and bottom from Saturdays. 

There was a sizeable meadow behind the tree line, gone. The biggest meadow adjacent to the train station, gone,  where the vintage steam rally people will be camping next weekend and I photographed the individuals shooting pigeons with a shotgun last year (more hassle to come). The owl is struggling to bring home food thanks to the Kestrel having to go some distance from the nest to catch anything going as far as the bean field at the top of the hill yet it's still bringing the food back at a fairly frequent rate (8 times in the hour I was there)  but leaving it vulnerable to the sneaky Kestrel. Whom adopted a new trick today of sitting in the field and launching it's attack. There was a massive grappling match on the nest box perch that had me squirming before the owl managed to get back in the nest, this will end in tears. Not sure how the owletts will cope when they fledge, if they fledge as the adult looks vulnerable. Sadly due to the meadow area gone no close quartering took place on my visit. 
I only managed these two shots. 

These were taken in the evening. I'm debating wether to keep visiting  due to it being harder for it to hunt having checked the owl site out in the afternoon I opted not to hang about and I cycled on up to Cottesbrooke and caught this Sparrowhawk lurking. 

Not a stupid bird, that gap in the roof behind it is where a House Sparrow nests, this scared off temporarily my main reason for coming here the Swallows and Housemartins. They've seemed to have had a bumper year in this area.
When the Swallows eventually came back I got down to photographing them, got loads but the below image was the best one, the others were either one wing up, both wings swept back like a bullet, got one snatching a hoverfly but was just too soft for even my liking. I'll go through the others later in the week.
Not my best but a dramatic pose none the less. I cycled back via Blueberry Farm/Maidwell which was a massive let down if I'm honest. Loads of Swallows (again), Linnets, Buzzard, Skylark, Whitethroat and run of the mill birds was the best I could muster.
However I felt quite smug knowing I had travelled a total of 23.37 miles and hadn't burnt a single drop of fossil fuel for my birding, something quite liberating about that if I'm completely honest. Is this the end of my love affair with cars? Quite possibly. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

PROBABLY THE FUNNIEST QUESTION EVER ASKED

Yesterday as I was stood on the bridge photographing and watching the Barn Owl hunting, waiting for Mr.Z to turn up.
 (Gutted these three were a bit soft but 'bankers' with room for improvement)

The Owl was busy both hunting and trying to avoid the ambushing Kestrel on the way back to it's nest. Now the next two images really had me wondering if I should post them a: they're crap b: kind of gives the location away c: I didn't want to mock the individual who posed the funniest question I've heard whilst birding. However I figured firstly a lot of local birders know already and more eyes watching it and hopefully not disturbing it means no more repeated incidents of idiots with air riffles. Secondly it shows exactly how bold this individual is plus if it felt threatened by people it has a massive area away from people in which to hunt, which it did to me yesterday when I took these, regular readers of this blog will remember this location it's where I found the migrating Redstart last Autumn. Exactly the same spot. Those who haven't read my blog the railway line runs vintage trains at the weekends so there's no real threat from trains unlike the 'other' Barn Owl that I found. So if you fancy visiting for a Barn Owl please do, however stay off the railway line and stay away from the nest
Just pick a spot and wait,  I mean check this out (crap image but for illustration purposes) which brings me to the funniest question posed by the woman on the right. The Barn Owl flew past within inches of her face. She joined me on the bridge and asked "have you photographed anything interesting", so I said "yeah the Barn Owl that just flew past you". She looked bemused and excited "I've never seen a Barn Owl before just on TV" so I passed her my binoculars and pointed it out as it was to far away to photograph. She was pleased and I could tell she was excited and when she asked how close it was to her I showed her the image, "I think I need glasses" she chuckled. I couldn't help laughing, sorry but I couldn't, more because of her own mocking humour at her missing it then anything else. She spotted a Song Thrush had a chat and I told her I would publish the image and she just chuckled "I deserve that", she left after another flyby and thanked me for letting her use the binoculars. Bless her.
   

BARN OWL

Not many images this time, it was busy quartering but often with me looking/watching directly into the gorgeous evening light as it spent time hunting in the wrong fields, from a photographer's point of view at least. If I am honest they're not my best efforts must be out of practice with Barn Owl's either that or used to pointing the camera at faster moving birds seriously as I was panning I kept finding myself getting ahead of the owl...if that makes sense.

The owl seems to be getting a lot of hassle from a Kestrel that keeps trying to snatch it's catch, on one occasion the owl only just made it back into the box, for the Kestrel to almost follow it in. It even waited on the box's perch for a while until it got bored and flew off. This had an impact on where it hunted. The original birder who told me about this owl was down the bottom of the lane togging from his car and had it right over his head, swine lol.


Sunday, 12 July 2015

BIRDS FROM THE 11/07/15

I've made a decision since three even the Barn Owl had some idiots using an air riffle to shoot things, but thats being dealt with, not to mention specifically the sites I'm visiting it's either paranoia or a coincidence that the three locations I've blogged about has had something go 'wrong'. It's just a self imposed censorship. I figure most Northants birders can figure out the site anyway. Any migratory/rarities will be reported but just to a select few I know etc. Sorry but not a massive issue really.
So last night I ventured out to the Barnie. I sat by the second bridge as it gives good views if the Barnie opted to show itself. But far away not to put it off, but both (there's two now) seem quite happy hunting with people present and a lot of people/walkers have seen it. The second bridge seems to attract a lot birds to, must be the bean field, river and wildflowers attracting them over.
The juvenile Swallows were feeding up, a pretty impressive flock.

If the light had been good the two above images would've been horribly backlit. Luckily it swapped to the side I prefer, it gives one plain tone for a backdrop, something I love in pictures...apart from feet.

Problem is this is the Troll of the Bridge perch and it was soon out to see what was going on.

Sadly a downside is the passing people at this location, not really an issue as such sadly it doesn't prevent people from using an air riffle on a busy footpath, instead of our government wasting time and money on repealing the Fox hunting act they should re-examine the gun laws especially air riffles that any idiot can walk in off the street, perhaps this idiot should buy one to use on idiots improperly using an air riffle, hmmm. Human hunting, more fun then blasting a giraffe.
Two very fit looking women cycled past "oh, you've got a big one too" so I quickly checked my zipper but after a quick chat another togger was on the other bridge, I guessed who it was and was correct. We had a chat about the incident, showed me his Barnie image (jealous), he told me about seeing two owls and agreed not to mention his name. Mr.X had photographed the idiots and called the police, if someone is reading this blog and is venturing to the sites it's best his name isn't in the public domain. It got dark'ish and we made our way home.
I stopped for what I think is a juvenile Sedge Warbler, never seen a juvenile it does remind me if a possible juvenile Grasshopper Warbler but the streaky chest makes me 99.9% certain it's a Sedge, figures that I've been struggling for Sedge all summer then go find a juvenile adjacent to a footpath...typical!


Talking of id of juvenile warblers I'm thinking juvenile Chiff-Chaff on this one

 The adult lurking for food.
 And finally, I think a Broad body Chaser. Maybe, with the superb 500mm macro lens.
But the best sighting was ANOTHER Barn Owl in an amazing spot.

Friday, 10 July 2015

QUARRY WALK 09/07/15

This has to be one of the most depressing weeks I've ever had as birder. I can handle seeing the Sandmartins demise at Moulton Quarry, it's natural tooth 'n' claw etc though a comment from Trevor on the previous blog made me remember I had some flight shots of the adults with serious infection on their faces/bills. So perhaps parasites were also a combining factor in the colony collapse that is the up and downs of watching nature.
However the Hobby issue at Quarry Walk has been bothering me for a while, I've had several other people who visit the site text,email or tweet they hadn't seen a single Hobby. On my last visit when I also walked up to Summer Leys and a battle re-enactment was taking place at nearby Grendon Lakes. At the same time I kept hearing a rifle shot that was 'silenced'. Not unusual as there is two lads in a blue/silver (two tone split)  Toyota Hilux though they also have a silver Japanese 4x4 too(driver Bearded, passenger older, glasses has a wildlife watching beanbag, rifle & silencer....in case you see them) who apparently shoot rabbits and at rats, apparently. Here's a map for reference
Map keys A) the actual Reed bed not mud as in the image B) nest 1 C) nest 2 D) nest 3 also worth noting the long straight line running parallel with B, C & D is referred to by locals as the "old railway line" as it once was. This unlike nearby Summer Leys is out of bounds as the gravel company has a long conveyor belt that runs from Hardwater Road to the gravel company.
Now the area shown has always been good for Hobbies. Many years ago as the Hobbies arrived in the UK I had 20 birds in the air, further back in time a Red Footed Falcon was at the nearby Mill. Sadly those Hobby numbers have never been repeated.
This year was heading for a good year I had 8 birds. They were performing their acrobatic and impressive courtship display, even passing food to each other. I saw from my position on the site(see black arrow on the image below) three pairs take over old crows nests, Hobbies for whatever reason like old crows nests. The fourth pair I knew nested but wasn't on the site.
 
The black arrow is also where you'll find me if I'm on site. I ALWAYS sit here. I can watch warblers, terns and normally Hobbies without disturbance. The Kestrel likes to hunt either side of the mound so I'm in good  cover to photograph it without it knowing I'm there.  There's an earth mound to sit on so you can imagine how much dread filled me when I arrived to find this placed under a stone.

I thought (still do) it was a Kestrel tail feather. That feather was placed under the rock EXACTLY where I sit. The guys with the silenced rifle drive past me on the mound each time they go onto the quarry (week days- late evening into the morning, weekends during the day) to gain access they have to go through locked gates, the gates belong to the quarry company and the farmer at Pasture Farm. Worth bearing in mind in case of any complicity etc I have to bear in mind and hope that this feather was a result of moulting which it is about the right time of year and someone knowing that I sit here and photograph the bird found the feather and thought I might want it and placed it there for me OR two guys drive down (hard path on the right in second image) saw the bird, wound down the window (they always shoot from inside the vehicle) shot the bird and left a feather as a sick joke/message. Today was the first site visit I didn't see the Kestrels at all. The norm would be to see the female (haven't seen the male since March) 7 to 8 times during a site visit.
I sat on the mound for two hours and not a single Hobby sighting. I would've expected to see one bird returning to Nest B. I would've also expected to see birds (just) going to C&D too. And perhaps all four hunting the field/Lakes in front of the mound. But nothing, no calling nothing. It was a perfect day for them,sunny, a slight breeze and loads of dragons in the air even the terns were successful in catching them. Personally I was worried about nest B but at the time more from disturbance, you could hear the faint calling and hardly hard to find/spot. Given the incubation period the chicks would've been about 6-7 days old about now so there should've been plenty of hunting going on. I satisfied myself there was no nesting and went for a closer look.
The tree arrowed is the site of the nest after much searching I realised the nest was actually gone, it overlooks the quarry out onto the railway line from this angle thanks to the swampy area/Reed beds it's 100% inaccessible, at this point I was thinking if I was to involve the police or even report it to the RSPB I was going to need evidence. I never took an image of it nesting a) because it's illegal and b) from the mound you can't see the actual nest, I had to stray onto private land to get the above image. I wish I had just taken one or two record shots or if you prefer evidential shots now though as I would at least have photographic evidence that they did actually nest. I did a bit of 'ducking and diving' onto the quarry site just to see if I could find any evidence, sadly despite a 45 minute search of the area below and around the nest....nothing no gun shell casings, no tyre marks, no footprints, no remains of the crows nest. I went back onto Quarry Walk and walked around the footpaths of Grendon Lakes to site D and did the same as above, did a bit more sneaking around to site C and the same thing. No nests where one had once been. If the Hobbies deserted those nests I would've thought the nests would still be there, after all I see a lot of animals reusing old crows nests. Maybe the Hobbies were disturbed by the battle re-enactment, desserted and the nests pulled apart by other birds for nesting material. But I find it odd the last time I saw all the Hobbies was the day of the reenactment and over the din I could hear THAT silenced rifle and the two men on a weekday and not as the norm arriving at dusk as they did today and what made me more suspicious they didn't stop to talk tonight , THEY ALWAYS STOP TO SAY HI. And let me know whereabouts they're shooting (safety thing) and what they've seen, they can id a Cettis call maybe it wasn't them...hmmmm. I arrived at the site at 8am and left at 21:30 in that time I saw one Hobby just the once (14:39)heading towards nest site 4. I went and checked that nest on the way home and pleased to say at least  that was still there so if disturbance from the reenactment scared off the other three pairs this pair too would've gone in my opinion too. The fact is the fourth site any foul play would've been spotted by dog walkers, walkers, cyclists and birders ie too 'public'
I'm in a bit of a pickle what to do now, I will give the RSPB a call just to log my concerns they DO have a very good and detailed reporting system in place. I have sadly used once before, very professional. Is it worth reporting it to the police? They won't find anything I didn't, probably won't put in as much effort either, there's no evidence so is it worthwhile. I have in my youth had dealings with Northamptonshire police and don't trust them and had to lodge a complaint with the IPCC a few years back whilst reporting (or trying to) an actual theft of juvenile Little Owl's taking place as I was chasing after the thieves only to be asked by the police phone operator "is it an actual crime to steal birds from the wild then" in short no faith in them.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

MOULTON QUARRY 08/07/15

So I needed to confirm the presence or lack of the Sandmartins on the site. I spent a total of 7 hours 15 minutes on the site itself.
Sadly I saw just four Sandmartins in that period. Not once did they try to fly into any of the nesting holes and only briefly flew around in front of the holes but that was because the wind blew them there. I checked all the fields etc but the short of it is they've gone. I did a quick email/tweet etc to people I knew who have active colonies, the furthest north is Northumberland and furthest south Kent. All have active colonies so have ruled out early migration. I've also rightly/wrongly ruled out deliberate or accidental disturbance. There's no 'commercial' interests now the planning application was withdrawn plus the site (parts of it) were handed over for public footpaths aths etc and trees planted etc so I personally believe the stoat came back and predated the young, possibly older birds too and not normally being a two brood species, they've moved on. I guess I will have to wait until next spring to find out, jeez! I checked every hole attaching a small torch to bamboo stick and had a look, no bodies, no eggs and no life, in all but two holes I could see the back of the hole so definately no birds. In front of some of the holes there's evidence of claw marks. As I watched the site I watched Crows settle just above on the ridge and peer over into the holes. Saw the Sparrowhawk fly in front of the colony and even the Buzzard and Kestrel flew over (ok Kestrel hovered) and checked out the colony. Not sure why the predators effected (if they have) the colony more this year then last year. After all I'm actually seeing the Kestrel and Sparrowhawk less this year.
 I sat opposite the Owl Rock contemplating if my visit to the Hobby site on Thursday will bring better news, deep down I know the answer. I almost didn't see the Little Owl spying on me.
 It should realise I'm a schedule one species and by law not be disturbed, it's fieldcraft was appalling, no attempt to hide itself.
 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A BIT OF A CONCERN

Last night I headed up to Moulton Quarry I only had late afternoon/evening to squander so went for the Sandmartins. I arrived and was the only person present for a short time. I was joined by two teachers and some students from the nearby private school at Pitsford. They were just doing that all important 'thing' of being outdoors sliding down the mounds on sheets of plastic etc. It was quite amusing to watch, something I thought schools didn't do anymore. But something wasn't right I wasn't seeing any Sandmartins at all. The students left so decided to look a bit closer at the colony. A few of the holes showed evidence of small'ish scratch marks at/near the entrance of the nest holes, maybe the stoat had a feast?
I waited a whole hour, nothing, normally you wait 2 minutes maximum before seeing the flock. I started to search their preferred hunting areas, two birds! But mostly Swallows/Swifts/House Martins. I rechecked the House Martins just in case, nope. By the time I left the site I had seen three Sandmartins 1 adult 2 juveniles. It was getting dark (10:05pm)nothing! This ain't right. Normally Sandmartins have just one brood some have two broods. But that varies within their breeding range, this is only my second season at the quarry so don't have enough notes to compare what the 'norm' is.
So given the threat from Stoats/Sparrowhawk/Crows etc and general disturbance have they taken their brood to safety? Again typically here at this site the young normally sit out on the phone wires being fed and don't normally leave until back end of August so it's either mass evacuation of the site or mass predation, weirdly currently as I type I have a flock of Swallows/Housemartins over my house, only ever see them over my house on migration, last night I had circa 30 Swifts screaming over my house which is the first Swifts sighting over my house this summer, normally we get loads so is there an early movement of these birds?
My biggest concern however are the Hobbies at Quarry Walk. I and a few others haven't seen them since my last post. I had 8 birds on site and 3 nests. On one easy to view nest at the start of June I saw a female hunkering down and start what appeared to incubating duties. Now, nest empty. I  really can't check the other two nests properly without trespassing but going from seeing 8 birds then 3 (plus 3 incubating) then zero is a genuine worry. The nest that was easy to view the bird wasn't present on my last visit (remember battle re-enactment?) Disturbance? Nest failure? Persecution? I did hear AGAIN coming from the railway line section of the quarry a "silenced riffle" being used. These guys apparently are after things on the quarry list.  From what I've seen rabbits and rats being killed. I've seen Kestrel/Sparrowhawk/Buzzard/Red Kite all successfully breed here so I'm not 100% it's persecution or it's these guys doing the nasty deed BUT we've had Cormorants killed here in 2013 so there's history. Can't blame lack of food neither plenty of it around, maybe they were immature breeders and just going through the motion. IT JUST SEEMS ODD THAT ONCE THEY STARTED TO NEST THEY VANISHED! I guess it's easier to hit a Hobby sat on a nest then in flight.....I'm hoping I'm fussing over nothing

Monday, 6 July 2015

ABINGTON MEADOWS

I've lost count the number of times I've cycled past this BCN Wildlife Trust site on the way into/back from work. The cycle path goes along the perimeter of the reserve and the side of the dual carriageway (A45). I always enjoy the cycle at this point the dawn chorus is pretty good at the start of spring before the rush hour traffic drones out the chorus.
My last visit was at the tail end of Autumn last year when most stuff had moved on. So felt I needed to make a proper visit, I could do it after work on the way home I thought, so did. I had stopped off once last week but got sidetracked by the swifts I posted last week, always the way lol.

 It's a small'ish site tucked away behind the Riverside Retail Park and adjacent to the extremely noisy and busy A45. As I entered the site there was a Kestrel hovering next to a pylon on the site, good start. Plenty of Swifts in the air, quite a few butterflies and dragonflies flitting around. I wanted to have a good look around but was very conscious were I was allowed to walk and where I shouldn't some of the site is permanent wet marsh other parts reminded me of a 'mini-fen' a few scattered pools and a stream running down to the Nene with a really nice hedgerow habitat all in a compact area circa 20 acres in size.
I was on my bike and even I realised it wasn't a good idea to have the bike with me as I walked round the pathways were brilliant but right alongside are wildflowers, mint which smelt gorgeous and grasses and it would feel like vandalism to allow my bike to roll alongside me through it so as I crossed one of the bridges over the stream I eventually padlocked the bike to a gate. I thought I saw a Water Vole that mysteriously morphed into a rat, an all to brief glimpse of a Kingfisher and some common species like Greenfinch and Bullfinch and some Starlings (loads here in the winter). But it was a real struggle to hear anything, that blasted dual carriageway this Chiff-Chaff made its presence known by shouting, I kid you not, definately the loudest Chiff-Chaff I've ever heard.

There's the allure of nearby Clifford Hill GP/Washlands providing fly overs such as various Gulls and corvids.
I was enjoying the site, I opted to latch onto a Long-tailed Tit flock and follow it, my novel approach to finding birds when you can't hear them: latch onto a Tit flock and see what they disturb/annoy as it moves along. This one destroying a web for it's content.


This one just posing

The flock stalking producded more common species, a male Sparrowhawk, Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, a 'heard but not seen' Cettis Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Reed Warbler. It's a very small pity there isn't a box up for the Kestrel or optimistically a Barn Owl box. I even saw a large green exotica flying around our local council likes rounding this species up and placing them in aviaries so will let you guess what it was.
I got these Great Crested Grebes on one of the small ponds, the fish is a young perch and not a stickleback


As I left the Kestrel was again hovering in the  field with the pylon, I only spent an hour on site but was left with more places to explore as I didn't like leaving my bike padlocked up and will visit again on foot it's an interesting site despite it's location or does that make it more special?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

WAGTAILS (Yellow & Grey)

Slightly frustrated after this evenings outing for the Barn Owl.
It's my fault I built up my expectations that the owl would hunt in the same area, rather then the reality that there's huge areas for it to hunt unobserved, aren't owls fun? The valley floor enables good uninterrupted views over large areas so was disappointed not to get even a glimpse.
Still I had company whilst I stared like a lunatic into empty fields, first a record shot, in my eyes a worthy image for airing. A Yellow Wagtail
An unusually early one for me. I'm certain/been told some still breed sporadically in the county but often only on migration do I stumble upon them.  I sadly couldn't get near it we were at opposite ends of the bridge. I only saw it once :-(
There's a Grey Wagtail under this particular bridge, it always reminds me of a grumpy ol' troll demanding monies for crossing it's bridge.


Maybe it was the brief Yellow Wag' straying onto it's bridge but I reckon these Mayflies were the real reason for it's boldness and excitement.
Taken as usual with the 500mm, great macro lens ;-) the Greywagtail changed position I don't like the direction of the light but still like them



 There were also loads of Goldfinches. This section is always good for them quite an sizeable flock.