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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Farne Islands Northumberland.

Ringed Plover
Lying on my belly I got some good views.

Eider duck out at sea.

Lovely drake Eider...

I`d been promising myself a trip to Northumberland to visit the magnificent Farne islands, so I decided to make the 200 mile journey north to coincide with the brilliant weather we`d been having and also to call in and see my brother Stephen,who had recently moved up there!
He`d been telling me for ages to come up and enjoy the fantastic scenery of the rugged north eastern coastline and surrounding areas.It really is another world up there and I could see the reason he`d upped sticks from Lancashire to go and live in that quiet,unspoilt area.He spent a good few hours showing me around his local patch, where every other bird seemed to be a Yellowhammer
blasting out its repetitive tune.The cottage he lived at was attached to a farm,and Swallows were numerous around the outbuildings.There must have been 12 pairs breeding there along with a pair of Barn Owls which afforded good views towards dusk!However it was the Farnes that excited me the most, and the following morning found me on the harbour at Seahouses.It was only 6.30 a.m so I had plenty time to wander around. The first boat didn`t leave till 9.45,so I made my way around to the headland where I hoped to see some Eider duck.I was told it was a good place to search for them and scanning the bay,I soon located a small group out to sea, bobing about on the waves.A bit distant really but it was a start anyway.I came across a pair of Ringed Plover, one of which came to within 20 metres of where I was sat.Some decent images were obtained before I concentrated on finding more Eider, hopefully within camera range.A few birds flew in off the sea and settled behind another headland,although a bit exposed I decided to take my chance with them and carefully manoeuvered myself into a position where I could observe them at close range.The Drake is a beautiful looking bird with its black and white plummage interspersed with the limey green colours around its head.The female being a plain brown bird,not so eyecatching.I noticed too, plenty of newly hatched ducklings accompanying their mothers in the shallow bay.
Luckily a few drake Eider came and settled on the edge of the shoreline not to far away and again I was happy with the images I obtained!Time was getting on now, so a quick call into the cafe was made, for a bacon sandwich and coffee before I proceeded to the harbour to board Billy Shiels` boat `Glad Tidings`.
His charter had been recommended to me, and I was excited at what lay ahead. It surely is a mecca for birdwatchers and photographers.I`ll tell you all about it in my next blog.I wasn`t to be dissapointed!!!!

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Silent Hunter

Face to face.
Quartering the moor.

A successful foray!
On the hunt.

A close encounter as it landed nearby.

A lasting impression.

For the last few years,I`ve been very fortunate to have a few pair of Long Eared Owls breeding locally.I have spent many a pleasent hour watching them quatering the open moorland on silent wings, then suddenly cartwheel into the tussocky grass onto some unsuspecting prey.The Long Eared Owl is without doubt Britains most secretive bird of prey as it is strictly nocturnal,However when they have youngsters to feed they sometimes start hunting the last hour of daylight,no doubt prompted by the `squeaky gate` like call of their offspring!
This particular year has been really good for voles and shrews and the owls have capitalised on this by not only taking food straight back to the youngsters, but actually stashing food on the drystone walls and in the long grasses, I have witnessed this on more than a few occasions.Having spent considerable time observing the owls, I can almost predict the areas in which the hunt,and with this knowledge I set myself up hidden behind a drystone wall.On one special occasion one of the adults flew directly over my head carrying a vole, allowing me to capture some fantastic images on the camera.Another time one alighted close by on a fence post looking straight at me with its big orange eyes,unperturbed by my prescence!
I am certainly blessed having these marvellous birds of prey so close to my home, and am looking forward to the time the 3 young owlets have to leave the confines of the pine wood and fend for themselves.I believe the parents will allow them to stay close to the nest site for up to 3 months before they disperse to find territories of their own.I`ll keep you informed and hope you have enjoyed my account of the Long Eared Owls...

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Thursday, 24 June 2010

Black Grouse spectacle!!

Fighting Blackcocks.

Trying to gain an advantage.

Traces of frost still evident !

A trully fine individuall!

A threating posture.

Full display mode.
Last month I was very fortunate to accompany a couple of friends to a Black Grouse lek in the north Pennines!It gave me the chance to get `up close and personal` with these enigmatic birds!Unfortunately the last two winters and wet Springs, had really decimated the numbers of these moorland birds.In fact recent surveys showed there being only 425 out of 750 birds left from the Pennine range!
At 3.00am we were walking down the moorland towards the hide that had previously been set up.The temp was a mere -5 degree celsius, but with clear cold nights usually comes glorious dawns,perfect for photography!
Literally within minutes of settling in,the first of the Black Grouse made its self known by its hissing wheezing battlecry.The light was nowhere near good enough for taking pictures, so we just sat there taking in the atmosphere and dawn chorus of the moorland birds.Everything was beginning to wake up,Redshank piped,Curlews called all around,Snipe were beginning to drum and call, but most of all the Black Grouse numbers were increasing all around us.The noise coming from these birds as they began their courtship was absolutely captivating.The drama was beginning to unfold less than 10 metres away,some birds walked to within 4 metres giving us awesome views.They would square up to one another and front each other out,each trying to get the upper hand,their heads down,wings outstretched and beautiful tails fanned out wide.Actually there was only minimal contact made between the waring birds,but I put that down to there not being any females present .It was quite late in the season really and I think they were merely going through the the motions.
The light was beginning to appear now and I noticed some birds were actually covered in a thin layer of frost on their backs,such was the severity of the temps up on this bleak moorland.It all added to the splendour of the occasion and made for some fantastic close up shots.The small red eyebrows contrasting with the irridescent purple sheen on the neck and finishing off with the erect fanned out tail,black on one side ,white on the other.If any females or Greyhen, as they are more commonly called,would have been present, they couldn`t have failed to have been impressed by the display!
We observed this courtship for a good few hours before the birds gradually decided to disperse out onto the moorland to feed. We had been priveleged to witness this fantastic spectacle and although I cant convey the atmosphere,I will leave you with a few of my images taken on that glorious May morning high up on the moors in the North Pennines!!!!!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Day three at Lakenheath

Elusive Golden Oriole Preening!
Very difficult to see!

Returning back to the youngsters!

Bearded Tit!!

Tree Pipit!

Beautiful Yellowhammer!!!
So my final day in the Fens again began early with another 4.00 am start.I decided to split my day into two halves.Morning would be a walk around Lakenheath reserve and later in the day I`d spend some time wandering around the Brecks,an area that produces different species of birds.
Every morning the call of the Golden Oriole would echo through the Poplars,search as I might, he was extremely difficult to pin down.Today being my last day I would give it my best shot.He usually flitted between the two plantations, a distance of say 100 yds,thats where I decided to position myself in the hope of a flight shot.Standing in the clearing all was quiet, then he made himself known,about 3oo yds further down the track,ah well a few mins later and I was directly underneath him.Scanning the foilage without binoculars there was a sudden movement,is it,yes, black and yellow.Just had to get the camera on him now before he moves.Eventually he came into the viewfinder,he was on an exposed branch preening.A few rushed shots, then he was gone!At last I`d obtained a few images of the Oriole!!
Feeling pleased with myself,I moved down to the bottom viewpoint where I knew of another pair of Barn Owls.These had chicks too and I watched an adult quarter the meadow catch a vole and return to its nest in the small half moon shaped building.Soon he was out again heading up the river this time to a new feeding area!
I located a male Bearded Tit flitting across the reeds,ping ping it called as it landed on a reed stem,giving me good views.These are pretty local to the reserve with over 70 breeding pairs.A beautiful bird with its black and chestnut markings to blend into the reeds with!With that I walked slowly back to the carpark for a cup of coffee and sandwich.The reserve had given up some wonderful species to me and I hoped to return in a few months time to see the common Cranes which also breed there.
Now it was onto the Brecklands,only a few miles down the road with its varied habitat.With it being midday the temps were into the 70`s.not ideal birding conditions but none the less, I managed to watch a Tree Pipit soar up into the blue sky then transcend down to a clump of bracken,singing its flutey song.A few minutes rest and it was on the up again to descend spirally on to the top of an Alder tree.The Brecks are perfect for these birds as well as Wood Larks which also abound here.A bird I kept hearing was the Yellowhammer, constantly calling its distinctive high pitched song.I located it sitting on a dead tree branch right by the car and it stayed long enough for me to get one or two nice images.
The sun was beating down now and I was flagging rapidly.Eight hours of lugging the big lens about was taking its toll,so I reluctantly returned to base to pack away the tent and start the 4 hour journey North!I`d had an amazing last 3 days down here and to capture a few moments with the camera, was an added bonus.I do hope that you`ve enjoyed my ramblings and I`ll leave you with some of the images I captured!!!!!!!!!!