Wednesday, 30 November 2011

At Last the Tophill SEOs

This morning I read yesterday's blog update by Richard Hampshire, the reserve warden at Tophill Low. For the second time he opined the lack of any photographs of his Short-eared Owls which have been present for nearly 3 weeks. I thought I would assess how hard they were to photograph at the site, so this afternoon I took my teacher-less nephew to have a look.

We had no longer arrived on the northern edge of the site when we saw 2 SEOs - a Kestrel was having an altercation with one of the owls. One owl disappeared from view, but the other came very close. Although it was just over a drain and partially obscured by a barbed wire fence, and most of the photographs had to be ditched, I was able to take some fairly decent record shots. Nice to actually photograph some locally & not to have to pay the bridge tolls for the privilege! A further advantage is that these birds hunt over a pleasant green field, much more aesthetically pleasing than the rather shrivelled brown habitat the ones I've been watching in Lincolnshire spend their time flying over!

Also at the site were a pair of Barn Owls and at least 5 Kestrels. The male Barn Owl was so much whiter than the darker - more camouflaged female. A pair of red-head Goosanders flew over, & on the way back a Hare was extremely confiding. All-in-all a very pleasant way to spend the dying hours of a winter afternoon!

At one stage a chinook helicopter flew very low over the reserve and only just missed going directly over D reservoir - needless to say it flushed the wildfowl off this stretch of water.
Short-eared Owl
The barbed wire fence shows a lot in this one!
Hare - if I crouch really low he can't see me, surely?
Barn Owl - the male?
Barn Owl - the female?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Farewell to the Autumn Term

On Thursday we made the almost annual pilgrimage into deepest Lincolnshire for our appointment with the spectacle of the Grey Seal Breeding season. We arrived at 10.20 & took the final 3 spaces in the car park. We stayed until after noon, but by that time the crowds had built and 2 coach-loads depositing even more people had arrived. The secret is obviously to avoid the weekend if you possibly can & arrive as early as possible if you want to try & take pictures without having your elbow jostled.

Some of the participants had never heard of the seal colony & they were suitably blown away by the sight waiting for them on the beach. Others tried to obtain better pictures than they had previously taken. It was also instructive attempting to decipher the behaviour among the seals being exhibited on the beach. There seemed to be heavily pregnant cows attempting to find a space on the beach to give birth only to be warned off by cows who've already given birth. There were also fights between 2 cows which had already given birth, but one had strayed too close to the territory of another. There were pups which had been finally abandoned by their mothers leaning on the fence to try 7 keep out of trouble. There was rope-neck who was rescued from fishermen's nets many years ago, and who had returned to the same stretch of beach almost every year since to look after her pup. There were bulls fighting with cows & a few bulls fighting amongst themselves, but these tended to be a bit further away from the fenced off area.

I checked out the area last Saturday & could only see a single pup casualty, but one heavily populated area on Thursday had at least 5 casualties, and Great Black-Backed gulls had gathered round one & were making short work of the remaining carcass. Apparently, there is a 10% casualty rate amongst pups born in the area every year - one of the saddest of the many statistics from the rookery.

We went on to a local large reservoir, which had held a Snow Bunting, & both White-fronted and Bean Geese the previous day, but when we visited there was a windsurfing competition, and all the unusual species had taken flight. All that remained were Goldeneye, Wigeon, Great Crested Grebes a Little Grebe. There was also what looked like a large flotilla of necks, which turned out to be Cormorants.

The Grey Seal Special was the final event in the Autumn itinerary, so we won't be meeting up again until well into the New Year. In the meantime there are a couple of winter species I would like to try & photograph, so I will add any interesting encounters on the blog if & when they are obtained.

Young Pup still showing umbilical cord
Mother & pup
Another pup
Presumably a cow warning another pup away
A cow apparently deliberately suffocating a pup
Presumably a heavily pregnant cow trespassing into another cow's territory
Another territorial dispute
2 cows confronting each other (with sand thrown up)
Attempting to rip the loose skin from the neck - a bull moving in on a cow?
Bull [left] & a Cow?
Bull & Cow fight - origin of the myth of the mermaid?
Great Black-Backed Gull Cleaning up a Casualty
Windsurfer - one of the many who cleared the reservoir of interesting birds!
Farewell (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

1st End of Term Special

We had only just left our cars when a raptor was spotted perched on a bank, as it took to the air its white rump blazed out & several participants had seen their first ever Hen Harrier. It flew near us several times throughout our visit, but the misty conditions made it difficult to obtain decent photographs.

Also during our visit at least 7 Short-eared Owls were present. These were mainly seen flying as usual, but 3 birds were also seen perched & at least 2 were viewable on posts at the same time through the telescope. A Buzzard flew across the scene & landed in a Hawthorn bush & remained there for the remaining time we were there. The only other raptor present was a Kestrel.
Female Hen Harrier
All remaining pics (c) 2011 Tony Robinson
Ringtail Hen Harrier
Short-eared Owl

Monday, 21 November 2011

Final Full Wildlife Week

Normally, we visit 4 different locations in a week of classes, but last week we only visited two. The weather was grey & misty, especially during the morning so there weren't as many chances of photography as usual.

On Tuesday & Thursday we visited Potteric Carr. There were an amazing amount of grown adults clamouring for a sighting of a Bean Goose! This is a family, which has all the charismatic appeal of watching paint dry. Anyway, these geese were too far to visit within our 2-hour time frame There were some incredibly rude photographers in the feeding station hide. They piled all their gear & clothing on the bench behind them & even though there was standing room only, they never offered to move it to allow any OAPs to sit down. Of course the OAPs were too polite to ask them to shift it!

The mild weather seemed to have prevented the usual sightings. There were only single flyovers of Redpolls & Siskins instead of the large flocks you expect at this time of year. Piper Marsh was almost completely drained, so there was no chance of Bittern here. Even the Kingfisher which can usually be guaranteed at this site, was only seen by the Tues pm session. The bird of the reserve was a drake Pintail, which was glimpsed by every class which visited.

The Wednesday & Friday sessions went to a location on the wolds. The morning groups shared cars to a water area & then on to the Red Kite Roost, whilst the pm sessions spent their whole time in the company of the Kites. Each morning was enlivened by Water Rails - 3 different individuals were heard on the Weds am - but other birds seen included Bullfinches, Grey Wagtail, Marsh Tit, Yellowhammers, Red-legged Partridges, Fieldfare, Redwing, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tits & a Coal Tit.

Birds seen at the Red Kite Roost other than the kites included: Buzzards, Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Brambling, and a local rarity - Nuthatch - first spotted by Les. A Little Owl was heard 'barking' in the distance on one of the days, and a Siskin flew over. It was a little windier on Friday & 12 Red Kites were seen in the sky at the same time, but if we had stayed after 3.30 then I'm sure we'd have seen even more.
One of the 12 Red Kites
Mistle Thrush
Sticking its Tongue Out
Female Bullfinch Stretching for a Bud
Little Grebe
Distant Water Rail
Willow Tit [left] & Great Tit
Song Thrush
Male Bullfinch
Possibly Aniseed Funnel [Clitocybe odora - thanks to Nick Cantle]
Great Spotted Woodpecker
'Brain' Fungus (?)
Fly Agaric
Dog Vomit Fungus (?)
Purple Fungus
Yellow Slime Fungus