Tuesday, 24 January 2017

It's been a while


My first post of 2017 and its been a good start. Between birding, fox and badger watching, setting trail cameras and fishing, I haven't found the time to sit down a write any blog entries. The trail cameras have been out regularly recording what is going on in the hours of darkness. I have a lot of badger footage from a new sett that I am pleased with. The trail cameras have also been showing a lot more nocturnal fox activity than usual.

January is a busy month for foxes with last years cubs being driven off by parents if they are still hanging around. These dispersing youngsters are now looking for their own territory. This is also the height of the fox breeding season. Hearing the repeated contact calls of foxes when out in the dark this month has been interesting.

The males will stay very close to the vixens during January to make sure they are at hand when she is ready to mate. This very active month for our foxes accounts for their regular appearance on the trail cameras and also the variety of individuals recorded.




Early in the new year I also decided to spend a bit of time fishing our local rivers. In cold conditions Chub can often be tempted to feed and so are quite catchable. They are an impressive looking brassy flanked fish and a very worthy quarry. I admire and photograph them, then return them back to their watery home.




Last weekend I noticed reports of large numbers of waxwings in Brownhills town centre. I set off early on Sunday morning and arrived well before light. The illumination of the town by signs and street lights allowed me to wander about looking for the waxwings. It was pretty cold with the car thermometer showing -3⁰C. Eventually before it was light enough to take photographs, I found them. I assume that this was their roost tree for the night, the flock was around 150 individuals strong. As light levels increased the waxwings began to get restless and then, they were mobbed by a pair of magpies which sent them up and split the flock. I did manage a few pictures between my camera and iPhone through the spotting scope
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 Phonescoped



A local dog walker stopped for a chat and was interested in what the birds were. She told me that the row of trees in front of me had been laden with berries, but none were evident now. As the waxwings began to disperse I assumed that they would be very mobile today seeking a new food source. I wonder where they will turn up next?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Trail-Cam season

The best thing about late autumn early winter, is that it's time to get the trail cameras out and situate them in some interesting areas. I spend the summer months making mental notes of places I visit that I would like to put a trail camera in. Pete also has a list of places he fancies setting a trail camera at, and we also have favourite spots from previous years.

We positioned two cameras recently and left them out for 12 days. One was in an old favourite spot, a nice way to start the trail camera season off, and the other in a new location. At the end of the allotted time, we collected the cameras in, and went to the pub for the evening along with my laptop to wade through just short of 900 pictures.


The new location did produce some interesting results, but the tried and tested spot again produced the goods. Day and night visiting foxes, a pair of badgers, one being a old acquaintance from encounters involving actual observations when badger watching, and previous captures on trail camera. I have recorded this particular badger with the light stripe on its back and flank at two different setts some distance apart.

An Old Friend

I believe the current smaller sett that is located near this trail camera was probably an emergency refuge or satellite sett in the past, but as the population of the original sett increased, these badgers relocated on a more permanent basis.

Badgers in the mist

Foxes were also busy in the area, this is a natural animal highway and no pre-baiting or artificial feeding was carried out. From the pictures, it looks like three different foxes regularly pass through the area. This is one of them, the most photogenic and a real poser.





The real surprise was what looks very much like a Polecat. I will have to put a camera back in this area to try and recapture it and hopefully get some clearer images.


I'm looking forward to seeing what the trail cameras record this winter.




Saturday, 1 October 2016

A Privilege

Still trying to photograph the badgers I watch on a regular basis with my bridge camera. It poses a variety of challenges in total darkness, but it's fun trying. I have spent many enjoyable hours watching badgers and really wanted to capture some of the moments on camera.

This particular cete of badgers have allowed me some fantastic views and the opportunity to study their behaviour at relatively close quarters. 

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The only thing that should ever be fired at a badger is the shutter of a camera. It is an atrocity that this government continues to pursue a cull of healthy badgers in a misguided attempt to bring bovine TB under control. 
 
The only thing that will reduce TB in cattle herds is improvements in farming techniques, increased biosecurity and testing of cattle herds and stringent controls over the movement of cattle in conjunction with increasing use of vaccination.

I do not imagine for a moment the government believe that this cull of our badgers will eradicate or even reduce TB in the nations cattle herds. They do however believe that the rural and farming vote can be maintained by peddling this propaganda and deceit.

A quote I came across recently illustrates this well

"I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician, who said, 'Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot.  And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers"

Professor John Bourne Former Chairman, Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Keep an eye out for Brian.

Local Sett blog

 

Well unfortunately it’s that time of year again, the time when rifles are at the ready and pointed at our badgers. The cull has not only returned, it has been extended to three new counties.

The cull targets for badgers to be killed in each county is frightening, and the fact this slaughter continues, a national disgrace.

Badger cull targets for 2016

Devon: Minimum 3,358, maximum 4,558

Cornwall: Minimum 2,173, maximum 2,950 

Gloucestershire: Minimum 1,691, maximum 2,628 

Dorset: Minimum 1,672, maximum 2,350

Herefordshire: Minimum 872, maximum 1,183

Somerset: Minimum 75, maximum 544

Source: Natural England

There is no published data what-so-ever from the government to even tentatively support the Government’s stance that badgers spread Bovine TB to cattle. Not a shred of real evidence at all!

I feel it speaks volumes that the authorities involved in the cull have not tested any of the badgers already slaughtered to ascertain if they are actually infected with TB. I believe this is because they are fully aware that they are killing completely healthy badgers. If there was substantial published data to show this, I believe public opinion on the matter would significantly increase in opposition to this inhumane slaughter. The government just doesn’t want a paper trail of factual scientific data proving that the vast majority of badgers killed are perfectly healthy animals.

I heard Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU speaking on BBC Farming Today recently. When asked why there is no factual published data of any sort to substantiate claims that Badger culling is indeed reducing the spread of TB to cattle herds, he replied that the Anecdotal evidence demonstrated that the cull was indeed effective.

Anecdotal evidence! Unbelievable!  

If you care to look into a real definition of Anecdotal evidence it will highlight that such evidence is, not necessarily true and certainly not reliable. It is completely based on personal opinion and has no real factual data or scientific research to substantiate it. By its very nature, anecdotal evidence tends to be cherry picked to support a personal belief, it isn’t factual and cannot be proved or disproved. In other words, it isn’t really evidence at all.

On Tuesday evening Aug 30th, the cull again started in Gloustershire. I felt I would like to do more than make donations and sign petitions, so late afternoon on the 31st August found me joining the M5 heading towards a predetermined meeting point of the Gloustershire Against Badger Shooting (GABS) group to offer some assistance in patrolling the cull areas. A 120 mile round trip from my home here in Staffordshire.  As I left the house, my wife gave me two instructions. 

1. "Remain law abiding.". - Not a problem, as GABS is a peaceful, law abiding campaign group. who ensure that their presence during cull periods is always via public footpaths.

2. “Look out for Brian May!”  I said I’d keep an eye out for him.

 

I was made very welcome on my arrival by a group of seasoned GABS volunteers. These people really deserve our thanks. Giving up their free time and patrolling large areas of countryside at their own expense in all weathers. Staying out in the fields late into the night and still going to work in the morning. They try to be a constant presence during the cull periods, patrolling fields and monitoring setts in the cull areas every evening of the cull period in an attempt to save our badgers.

They were very well organized, and we were split into groups to cover different areas of the cull zones known to contain active setts.

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On the night in question, no shooting was seen or heard in the area we covered. Active setts were checked and we had a good walk around the fields and footpaths by torchlight. I particularly enjoyed walking in some outstanding countryside, seeing pipistrelle bats hunting around the fields and the great conversation. I also felt that I was helping in some small way.  We didn’t see any badgers and although I was very vigilant, I didn’t see Brian May either.

I would urge anyone who feels strongly against this cruel and inhuman culling policy to contact the Badger patrol and join them for an evening or two. It will be an experience you won’t forget, and you will meet some very friendly and like minded people. 

Like me, you may initially feel that turning up to assist the badger patrols for one night is an insignificant act in the grand scheme of things. However, the total sum of many small acts can bring about massive change, and that is exactly what our wildlife and specifically our badgers need. I encourage anyone with an interest in our countryside and the welfare of our badgers to take part in at least one evenings patrol in one of the  six target counties. You will I’m sure be made as welcome as I was. You will enjoy the company of like minded people while walking the countryside at night, you may even see a badger. So please give it a try and appreciate that you will be helping to save our badgers, and while you’re at it, don’t forget, keep an eye out for Brian!

 

 

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Too busy to blog!

I’ve had a lot on recently and consequently the blog has not been updated for a while. Here are a few pictures of some of my sightings. A Great White Egret has been putting in regular appearances in the Tame Valley. I caught up with it in July.

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There was also a Long Tailed Duck sighted at Alvecote nature reserve in June

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I have also been having a go at some close up photography with my Canon G3X 

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My interest in Moths has grown and i’ve started to see what is about in my back garden. My moth trap arrived at the beginning of August and it has been interesting seeing what finds its way into it. 

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One of my favorites - An Angle Shades

Angle

A pair of Yellow Shouldered Thorns (looking directly down at them)

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Saturday, 9 July 2016

Shoot out

I have been watching some Spotted Flycatchers and decided to try and get some pictures of them. I have experienced conditions from raining, dull and overcast, to brief bright sunshine. I felt that they would provide a good opportunity to test my photography equipment out and see which gave me the best results. I'm pretty sure all the equipment is capable of better pictures than I can get out of them, but my ineptitude as a photographer is a constant variable thoughout these tests.

I started with my iPhone 6S connected to my scope with the Novagrade adapter.

 
 
Flyphone
 
 These were from a batch of the best ones from my iPhone through the scope.

I revisited a few days later with my Canon G3X bridge camera. As the light was poor I mounted the camera on a lightweight tripod so I could get away with slower shutter speeds and lower ISO's. These were all taken into the digital zoom region of the bridge camera. What Canon terms "fine digital.” These pictures turned out better than I expected considering poor light under the tree canopy and the distance involved.
  
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However, the real star of this particular shoot out was the little Nikon P300 compact camera mounted to my scope. This little Digiscoping camera has long been discontinued by Nikon, but I may look for a second hand one as a spare. 
 
All these methods of capturing a picture of a distant bird have their pros and cons. However, for sheer versatility, the Canon G3X still wins hands down.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Hares, Foxes and Badgers

It’s been over a month since I last posted anything on this blog. During that time, I have been putting any free moments into catching up with the local larger mammals on the patches I regularly walk. I have thought long and hard before posting these pictures as it inevitably leads to requests of “Where did you see these? I would like to see them myself.”

I decided I would share the pictures, I will not however share the whereabouts of any of the animals pictured. I hope you enjoy the photos and ask that you don’t put me in the position of refusing to share locations with you, as the way I refuse will almost certainly offend!

Hares are a real passion of mine. It always makes my day to encounter them when I’m out on my wanders and I am getting better at creeping up on them. I was worried at the beginning of the year that I had not seen many Hares on the land I walk. This is still true of areas that had a few last year but I have seen none this year. However, a couple of areas have produced the goods and I enjoy looking for the Hares in these areas. One spot has already seen the attention of two guys with running dogs, but they have now twice vacated the area quickly on my approach. They didn’t enjoy having the camera pointed at them and I have not seen them for a while. I would like to see these amazing creatures carry on and thrive in these areas.

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The Foxes have been a little more difficult to track down. The first is a dog fox and one of a pair I have been watching. At first, he was hunting very frequently, obviously providing for the vixen while she was denning with cubs. Recently, I have found him occasionally laid out sunning himself, as it seems he in no longer the sole provider of food to his brood. What I believe to be his mate can now be relied upon to make an appearance if I am willing to be patient and wait for her. This regular vixen is in quite good condition and has obviously been suckling cubs. I have recently seen her hunting rabbits. Twice I have watched her successfully catch and carry off a rabbit I expect to her cubs. The cubs will be old enough now to be left for short periods and she will also now be hunting as she starts the process of weaning the cubs off her milk. Fresh caught prey will become rapidly more significant in the cubs diet now, so both parents hunting should provide for their needs in this rabbit rich environment. My view point for two of these foxes doesn’t allow for decent pictures. I’m facing the setting sun, there is too much undergrowth and bramble and they are a little distant. It’s not all about photographs though, that’s just I bonus if and when conditions allow.

The third fox looks quite young, probably one of last years cubs. This yearling on the face of it looked in very good condition initially, but I suspect it may have a problem. Foxes do go through a heavy summer moult and some can look pretty tatty at this time of year. This youngster is almost moulted out, but i’m a little concerned by the condition of its tail. It looks like it may be suffering from the early stages of mange. I will keep a look out for this individual and see how things progress.

• I have seen this yearling again and the tail is not looking any worse. It does have a covering of fur along its whole length, so i’m hoping this is just a moult. Mange symptoms do tend to start at the tail base, but there tends to be complete hair loss in the affected area. If it hangs around, I will keep an eye on its process.

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Most of my free time though has been spent hoping to see some badger cubs above ground. They just cannot resist being above ground playing once they are about 12 - 14 weeks old. I have been watching a few Setts I am aware of, and eventually my patience paid off. I was pleased to get some decent daytime pictures of three cubs occasionally accompanied by mom playing in the late afternoon sun.

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 To be in the close proximity of badgers as they go about their business is a real privilege and only makes my adoration of theses fascinating creatures stronger. I’m sure no-one  is under any illusion about the black cloud hanging over our nations badger population in the form of the governments badger cull. This ill thought out policy has failed on every level, including failing dismally to meet their own already low standards of what constitutes a humane death for the shooting of a free roaming badger. With absolutely no solid scientific evidence to prove badgers spread Bovine TB to cattle, and cases of Bovine TB actually rising in some cull areas, the government still seem hell bent own pursuing this abhorrent scheme.

The Badger Trust is fighting hard to change the mind of this government and bring this failing policy to an end. Any support that can be given to the Badger Trust is money being put to good use to save our badgers. 

I listened to Dominic Dyer, the CEO of the Badger Trust speak recently at a Badger Cull protest rally I attended in Leicester city centre. Of all the things he said, this one quote struck a chord with me, as it must have done with others as it appeared a lot on social media.

 

Trust

 

Check out the Badger Trust’s website for yourself and make your own mind up. If you agree with what they stand for, try and make a donation.

Click the banner to check out the Badger Trust Website.

 

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