Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Night Birds During the Day

Kestrel Chick
followed by Tawny Owl [adult & then 2 of young owls]
Small Tortoiseshell, Large Skipper [with mite] &

Today was the first "Introduction to Wildlife Watching" Event at Robert Fuller's Gallery - Robert took 5 participants, whilst I lead the remaining 4. We began by looking at the wild flowers in the car park, which included Orchids, Kidney Vetch, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Meadow Cranesbill, Ox-Eye Daisies, and the leaves of Greater Knapweed. We then went looking for the Tawny Owls, but as the other group had passed that way 10 minutes earlier the young had all been flushed, but we did have excellent views of one of the parents. A Kestrel was present, and we saw a yellowhammer and I heard an alarm call of a Green Woodpecker. We walked down part of the Wolds Way where we saw several species of Butterfly while it was still sunny - Small Tortoiseshell, Ringlet, Small Heath and Large Skipper. There was a Scarlet Pimpernel on the path, and great views of poppies on the hilltops, but the best plants here were the 2 spikes of Toadflax. There were fewer birds singing once the sun went in, but we obtained a close view of a Meadow Pipit, whilst a pair of Willow Warblers were in the same bush. There were plenty of Hares and Rabbits in the area, but we failed to see the Brown Rat, which ran across the road when I was arriving earlier in the morning.
On the return trip to the gallery Robert returned & showed the group the Little Owl pellet, whilst one of the attendees had found some feathers in this area earlier, and Robert confirmed that they had come from a young Little Owl. It is possible that the Tawnies had disposed of rivals in their territory. We had a fleeting view of a Marbled White and a 6-Spot Burnet Moth whilst the banks of flowering thyme amazed the 'students'. Robert led us to a spot where we could crane out necks to try & find 4 young Tawny Owls all clustered together up a sycamore tree. One attendeee had difficulty discerning the owls among all the leaves so Robert returned home for his telescope. On his return everyone enjoyed great views of the birds. As a final climax of the session Robert led us past a Kestrel box, and there was a grey chick sat in the opening - it was a fantastic conclusion of the event for everyone. This was a great occasion to see the owls without having to stay up until nearly midnight!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Nettled & Clegged


Lesser Whitethroat
Pyramidal Orchid [pale form]
[Dwarf] Poppy
Today was the final session of the standard summer term - a previous Tuesday was cancelled because of bad weather. Today several cloud systems looked threatening, but they passed over without disgorging their contents. We did get a view of a Green Woodpecker in the morning, but the Treecreeper was the star bird. There was a whole family in the car park, and another in the birch woodland - they were as confiding as always. There were also some Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Garden Warblers were still singing fitfully. The biggest surprise was a Lesser Whitethroat which was in full song in the morning - they don't often sing this late in the season. For the first time during our visits we were accompanied by a yellowhammer, which eventually included the final 'cheese' to its repetoire. A Little Grebe was seen with 2 chicks, and a Shoveler had gone into eclipse. A Lapwing appeared to be sat on a nest in a nearby field, but otherwise there weren't many other birds around. However, there were plenty of insects, and many new species of flowers had opened since last week. New species now blooming included: Meadowsweet, Evening Primrose, Mullein, Mallow, Pyramidal Orchid, Centaury & Rosebay Willowherb. The venue was new to the majority of people who were impressed with how beautiful a place had become where the Hull WWII rubble had been dumped! On the downside I was bitten by a Clegg (horsefly) on the same finger I had been nettled earlier. My finger is still tingling as I type this, but at least the Clegg bite hasn't yet swollen my finger to twice its normal size!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Creatures of the Night

Moon (not Mars!)
Tawny Owl Youngster
Tawny Owl [female]

Last night was the first of the Robert Fuller Owl Safaris. The evening started well with a Poplar Hawk Moth (above) on Robert's gate post, and several orchids nearby. Everyone then waited patiently for a Kestrel to come down to some food left on a post. We waited for quite a while, and it flew towards the food a couple of times but it was probably deterred by the presence of a large, but appreciative crowd. Later, Victoria, Robert's wife, informed us that it spent the rest of the evening on the post, and first arrived shortly after we'd gone! We set off on foot & located 3 young Tawny Owls on a single branch directly above the road, unfortunately they took flight and headed towards the final tree in the field. Someone then spotted what was probably the female owl nearby, and she remained where she was, permitting everyone to get prolonged views. We then travelled a fair distance by car to another location to look for Little Owls. This pair had fledged at least 2 chicks only 4 days previously, so hopes were high, and right away one was seen apparently sunning itself in a hawthorn bush. Robert showed us all a Little Owl pellet, which seemed to shine with iridescence as it caught the light - it was made up largely of beetle wing-cases.
Originally, we had planned to go elsewhere to an area a Barn Owl favoured, but because the weather had been so good, and the Barn Owl chicks were so well fed, and everyone had already enjoyed good views of Barn Owls we stayed with the Little Owls a little longer. The Little Owls got used to us, and after some high-pitched squawking one of them continued hunting moths & beetles in an area of pasture, occasionally running towards us on the ground. On an opposite hill a Barn Owl came into view hunting, but it was being watched. It plunged to the ground and presumably made a successful kill, because it was several seconds later before it took to the air again. The watchers then sprang into action and tried to intercept its catch - a pair of Kestrels attempted a little bit of kleptoparasatism - as far as we could see they were unsuccessful, but this would be unusual. Both Robert & myself have witnessed this behaviour before, and each time we've seen it the Kestrel always proved victorious over the Barn Owl. This time the owl went over the brow of the hill, and we failed to witness the final outcome. Also on the hillside was a Roe Deer - not a common sight on the Northern Wolds at this time of year.

We went for a walk, but failed to find the Redstarts & Tree Pipits, but what we did locate more than made up for the deficiency. Further up a hill alongside which we were walking someone spotted a running Badger, and most people managed to locate this speeding mustelid before it disappeared from view. Shortly afterwards we saw another calmly snuffling for food above its sett. This was a first for several people, so what with the Tawny & Little Owls some participants managed to see 3 "lifers" in one evening.

We walked back to our cars & then drove all the way back to the gallery for the piece de resistance! Robert had nailed several food items securely to a branch in front of his kitchen window. On the other side of the glass were 12 seats for the comfort of last night's lucky dozen. The lights were dimmed inside and then one by one the night visitors began to arrive. The adults were first, and then one well-grown chick after another arrived until some participants were able to see 7 individual Tawny Owls! When the owls were comfortable Robert slowly increased the light via a dimmer switch & the owls were illuminated so everyone could discern the adults lovely markings. I only wished I hadn't left the camera in the car! We were able to watch their comings and goings for over half-an-hour before all the food had been taken. It was after 11 o'clock, but everyone made the long journey home very well satisfied. I can hardly wait for the next one!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Evening Treats

Young Badger, followed by an adult

Pics following the Badgers: Dog Fox (scent-marking), then after hearing the camera noise, and checking again as it retreated, Tawny Owl [adult & then chick], a 'scowling' Little Owl, and finally a Chimney Sweeper.

I met up with Robert Fuller on Friday evening to have a dry run Owl Safari, and a discussion of the various events I'm running from his gallery. [For more info on Robert's events, please follow the links from the picture (currently a Kingfisher sat on a camera) on the right of this post, in the My Blog List section. Apparently, the Owl Safaris are all sold out, but there are spaces on some of the other events].
I arrived at 6.30 to witness Robert putting the finish touches to his hide, from which he was hoping to photograph Little Owls coming down to feed their chicks. Almost immediately a Little Owl flew across some pasture & disappeared into some trees. We had a walk near his farm and found at least 4 Tawny Owls in the trees, and a female Redstart with her bill stuffed with insects, and a Brown Rat ran across the road. Robert drove to a great vantage point overlooking a box full of Barn Owl chicks. On the way we heard a Tree Pipit, at an area where he threw down plenty of peanuts, and at the viewing area itself we saw displaying Curlews. Robert returned to his hide to wait for the Little Owls, while I waited for the hunting Barn Owls.
The Curlews sang as they flew through the valley again, Meadow Pipits displayed, and Goldfinches and Linnets fed nearby. An hour later and the Barn Owls had yet to appear, but this could be because the chicks were very well fed, and the long number of dry nights we've enjoyed recently mean that hunting has been very easy during the last few weeks. I climbed the hill opposite the box, and was able to see a Barn Owl chick in the entrance hole. There were plenty of Chimney Sweeper moths among the long grass as I scaled the slope. I then stalked quietly along the top of the escarpment and began to hear the call of a dog fox, and sure enough one came out from under a fence towards me & proceeded to scent mark unaware I was watching. I snatched a couple of pictures, but the fox heard the camera & stared at me for a moment or two. It didn't seem to consider biting me, but I wasn't upstairs lying in a bed, so it retreated the way it came!
I carried on and saw several Hares and plenty of Rabbits, and waited at the top of a mound on the escarpment. My scent was being blown over the escarpment behind me. At 8.45 precisely I spotted some movement below in the area where Robert had scattered the peanuts - 2 Badgers had come out into the open. It was overcast, so I had the camera on a very quick setting & tried to take some pictures. However, they were quite distant, so over the course of half-an-hour I crept closer & closer to the Badgers, which had been joined by a much smaller individual. Eventually, I must have crept within 50 feet of them, before they became aware of my presence. It was a magical experience, especially as the only previous view of a living Badger had been very distant. I walked back to my parked car, and as Robert was still waiting for the Little Owls, I drove the 35 miles back home. It was a late night for me, but well worth the experience, and everything bodes well for the Owl Safaris to be held during the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Final Friday Flamborough Visit

Pics: Gannets, Puffin, Weasel x4, Skylark x4, Meadow Pipit, Kestrel, Reed Bunting (juvenile), Guillemot, Fulmar, Herring Gull chick, Wren, Shag x2, and the Yorkshire Belle Puffin Cruise.
The final Friday class of the summer term saw the group at Flamborough - North Landing. This proved a fitting finale to the course as we had exceptional views of all the seabirds, but also unrivalled close-ups of Skylarks and Meadow Pipts, which the participants found just as interesting. One of the early highlights was a Weasel, which performed under our feet at the first viewing area - it even seemed to come closer as I tried to do an impression of Simon King imitating a vole! Another unexpected bird was an incredibly confiding juvenile Reed Bunting. It was foolishly tame, and would have easily have come a cropper to any passing Sparrowhawk! After the pm sessikon I had to rush back to snatch a meal before heading out to the North Wolds to have a rendezvous with 3 species of Owl & several species of mammal - 0ne of which I've never previously enjoyed such good views.