Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Hinksford Hoopoe

 It has long been an ambition of mine to see a UK Hoopoe. Even before my birding took on a more serious note there were three birds I really wanted to see; Hoopoe, Dartford Warbler and a Stone Curlew. I have now achieved that long standing target, although I never expected the Hoopoe to be a December tick!

This is the third Hoopoe I have intentionally tried to “twitch,” and the third time I have set out to see this particular Hoopoe. The first visit was three weeks ago in gale force winds. I was there at first light and hung on as long as I could, a duration of about five hours. It showed, about twenty minutes after my departure.

Visit two was last weekend, it was reported at 1.00pm and I arrived at about 2.30pm. I hoped it would show quickly as only around 90 minutes of light remained on what was already a very dull and rainy afternoon. One other birder was there and we were treated to an in flight glimpse as it passed over our heads. We were unable to relocate it. I was less than satisfied with my first Hoopoe sighting and had hoped for a picture, so Monday, the first day of my Xmas holiday; I was again in a reclaimed quarry in Wall Heath, hoping this Black Country loving Hoopoe would put in an appearance.

It did! and I was able to get a few record record shots too.

As usual, I had taken my camera and my spotting scope. My intention was to use the camera if the bird was particularly mobile, but if it allowed I could attach my phone to my scope and phonescope a few record shots. I don’t know why; after all this time phonescoping, that the quality of the pictures still surprises me.

It was early morning, overcast and very very dull. The camera even with its 1’ sensor required a high ISO to achieve anything like usable shutter speeds, especially at full zoom. I also had to go into the digital zoom range because of the distance involved to the subject; this also impacts on shutter speed and picture quality.

Now obviously the scope has a much greater optical reach than the camera and with the iPhone attached it did an admirable job. I am not sure how the phone operates as well as it does with low ISO in poor light, but on this occasion it definitely out performed the camera.

Results from the iPhone and Novagrade adapter 

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Results from Camera



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Red Footed Falcon Shot.

It was sad news indeed today when I read that the rare and protected Red Footed Falcon that I and many other wildlife enthusiasts had visited and enjoyed was found dead in Cambridgeshire. It had been shot!

I paid this magnificent bird a visit when it was in Stoke and spent an enjoyable few hours watching and photographing it. Details of that memorable day in July are here.

The Young male falcon was found dead near Whittlesey,Cambridgeshire. It had been shot with a shotgun.


The RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the person who shot the bird, while Suffolk Police said it was still an active investigation.

It is sickening that someone could shoot such a rare and beautiful bird.

This type of wildlife crime is not an isolated incident and more people need to be aware of the type of wildlife crime being committed, what to look out for, and how and where to report it.

Click on here to visit their website.

Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) is an independent, volunteer-led, campaign group set up in 2014 by a group of experienced birders and conservationists who just like you are sick of the number of crimes being committed against wildlife.

Their aim is to fight back, by

1) making the processes of Recognising, Recording, and Reporting wildlife crime as easy as possible (an initiative they term ‘the Three Rs’),

2) putting ‘eyes in the field’

3) highlighting how much wildlife crime takes place and what ‘the public’ really think about it.

Visit their website and if you can, donate to their worthy campaign to bring the perpetrators of such sickening wildlife crime to justice.

I will be making my donation to BAWC and I urge anyone who finds these crimes against wildlife as abhorrent as I do to try and do the same.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Badger Reclamation

A couple of months ago one of the Badger setts I keep an eye on experienced some serious disturbance. I don’t at this point believe it was an intentional act, more collateral damage from the carrying out of routine tasks on the land. The sett in question had been collapsed and practically filled in by being ploughed over while the field itself was being cultivated ready for its winter crop.

This is a small sett containing only three badgers, a large boar and two sows. For a couple of weeks after the damage to the sett, no badger sightings or activity was recorded. The well used latrines I am aware of remained unused, grass started to grow over once well used trails, and the sett main entrance remained blocked with soil. I feared the worst.

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Then, one morning about three to four weeks after the damage, I noticed some fresh digging that had occurred at the damaged sett during my early morning walk. This gave me some hope that maybe this small colony of badgers had survived. The fresh workings had not reopened the old main entrance, but were tucked away under the hedgerow, it looked like the sett was being opened up again.

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We walked the fields around the sett early mornings, evenings, and well into darkness hoping to see the badgers in the places I used to watch them. No badgers were seen!

Then a discovery, well away from the original sett in some sandy loose soil we found a blind sett. I felt this was probably temporary accommodation for a returning badger while the old sett was reworked and reopened.

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A week later and I found another blind sett, dug in firmer soil, again, a fair way from the original sett.

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A few more weeks slipped by and one morning I noticed that the new main entrance to the original sett had bedding material airing outside.

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There were also footprints in some of the other tunnels.

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So the good news is, there is still a fighting chance this sett will carry on housing badgers, but I still have concerns.

I have now had visual contact on several occasions over the last three weeks of the inhabitants of this sett, or to be more specific, inhabitant.

I have only seen the old boar and there have been no sightings of the two females. I am hoping that they are about. Maybe they are using one of the blind setts while the old sett is being repaired. I hope so! I will be keeping my eye on this sett, as I always do and hope to report that the family group have again taken up residence in the original sett.

Visual contact now gets more difficult as we are well into November. The temperatures have dropped and winter in beginning to make its presence felt. The badgers will spend more time below ground and their activities will become less predictable. They don’t hibernate, but in extreme conditions when food is scarce they will just conserve energy and stay curled up in the sett. If there are any female badgers still resident in this sett, they will give birth in Jan/Feb. I hope this is the case.

By March the boar will also become more active and will patrol his territory looking for females. This boar has show he is a resilient old fellow, and if the original females are no more, I hope he finds more on his spring travels and hopefully, they repopulate this little sett.


Saturday, 17 October 2015

Another interesting weekend

As is usually the way, that weekend feeling began to sweep over me as soon as I left work on Friday. I am trying to photograph some badgers with normal photographic equipment rather that a trail camera. It is proving to be a bit of a challenge, but I am enjoying trying to get some results. As I drove home, my thoughts turned to which of the Setts we are aware of would give me the best chance of getting some better quality pictures. 

By 7pm I had made my decision and set off armed with my camera and a plan. I arrived at the location at about 7.45pm and straight away had mixed feelings about the success of this evenings plans. Although it was now dark, it was still light enough to make out a large badger that was already going about its business about 90 yards out in a field of stubble. I enjoyed watching it amble about, but I knew that if it spooked, it would be unlightly to return anytime soon to have its picture taken.  I attempted to set up my camera as quietly at possible, but this badger knew something was amiss and dashed back towards the sett. It stopped short of the sett and turned to face in my direction. It was very unlightly it could see me, their eyesight is pretty poor, but maybe it could smell me, and it had definitely heard me. 

It didn't go to ground, but sloped off with no sense of urgency in a direction that put distance between us until it vanished into the shadows. As it hadn't rushed to ground in panic, I hoped it may return, or maybe, hopefully, some of its sett mates, but I kind of knew an appearance this side of midnight was going to be unlightly. It never works out well when the badgers are out and about before you arrive. 

At around 8.30pm a movement caught my eye and I turned to see a Barn Owl hunting along the field edge. I was sat well back under a large Oak tree with my back to the trunk still hoping for the return of the badger. The Owl flew out into the stubble field and even in the dark my binoculars gathered enough light to allow me to watch it hunt. It dropped into the stubble and then rose up a foot of so, dropping back down hard onto the stubble. It did this twice more then stayed on the ground, its wings slightly spread. After a few seconds it flapped, took flight and rose up from the ground. It moved quickly and I soon lost it in the darkness. Imagine my surprise when it suddenly reappeared right in front of me! If silently flew under the canopy of the tree I was sitting under and perched on a branch about 6ft above my head. It stayed for a few minutes, but I feel it sensed something wasn't quite right. It took flight again and as it silhouetted against the skyline, I could see the rodent it held in its left talons. 

At around 10.30pm the Barn Owl returned and perched on a fence post about 70 yards from where I sat. I kept checking with the binoculars as I scanned the area for the hoped for approaching badgers and it stayed on this perch for at least 30 mins. At just gone 11pm while checking for badgers I noticed it had dissapered. 
As expected, no further badger activity was observed and at around midnight I quietly packed up and headed for home. 

I already had plans for Saturday morning. Pete had found a spot on one of our local patches that shows signs of feeding activity each morning. It isn't close to any sett we are aware of, but it looks like badgers are foraging in the area. We had set a trail camera up last weekend and it had been in situ for a week. We were looking forward to seeing what if anything it had captured

 Trail Camera and the peanut burying trowel. 
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Well, the trail camera had taken 160 pictures. Most of them were mice and squirrels! However, a Fox put in an appearance one night, and a solitary badger visited the area every evening. 



We were surprised to have captured a pair of Muntjac one evening too. 


So now it's back to trying to photograph a badger with my actual camera rather than my trail camera. Succeed or fail, I will no doubt enjoy trying. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Spoonbills at Middleton

A tweet came through late Saturday afternoon reporting three Spoonbills at RSPB Middleton. Further information stated they were still there at last light. So, early Sunday morning Jon and I arrived at Middleton and with a few other early birders, were lucky enough to find the Spoonbills still resident.

We all attempted to get record shots on this dull start to the day with the early morning sun refusing to put in an appearance. My best record shots came from phonescoping the birds.

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A few of my record shots.


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At around 8.20am, all three birds took flight and started to circle the Jubilee Wetlands. Slowly they started gaining height and eventually exited high, and in a North East direction.

I tried to capture this using the bridge camera.


Within minutes of the Spoonbills leaving, the sun put in an appearance and a couple of Long Horn cattle came over to check out what all the fuss had been about.

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Using the leg colour rings, the birds were relocated, arriving at Conwy RSPB, North Wales at 1.50pm.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

An interesting weekend

Friday after work, the weekend started in earnest. Pete and I set up near one of our local badger setts and hoped that one or two of the local badgers would put in an appearance. I’m trying to get a decent picture with my camera and flash, rather than just the black and white pictures from the IR trail camera. It wasn’t to be, but an interesting evening nevertheless.

Saturday morning and we had a wander about a local woodland, this is a great time of year for fungi, and I had a go at a few photographs.

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Then, Saturday afternoon and a Great White Egret was reported on one of the local nature reserves. I rushed off to try and get what would be a site tick for me. I searched the reserve and even went to another nearby lake where I felt it may have sought refuge, but no luck. I did however take an interesting picture of a Little Egret by intentionally under exposing the picture.

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I suspected the Great White Egret would put another appearance in, and it was reported again at last light. I was back at the nature reserve for first light on Sunday morning and there it was, making the effort worthwhile. It was still quite dull as it was just getting light so I put the camera on the tripod. Before I was set up, a large flock of Canadas decided to vacate the pool. They made such as racket as they left, it spooked the GWE, and it too left the pool. 

I met up with Jon and we had a good walk around the area, eventually relocating the GWE back at the original sighting area. Light had now improved, but the bird was in a poor position between us and the Sun. It was so spooky and we knew approaching closer would again cause it to take flight, so we just attempted pictures from where we were.


I couldn’t let this opportunity for a picture pass either. It shows clearly the difference in size between Little and Great White Egrets, and the Heron was just an added bonus.

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These were about the best pictures I managed, the GWE remained very skittish and left the reserve many times spooked by Geese, dog walkers, traffic, photographers and light aircraft, returning back to the reserve many times. 

Spooked again!

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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Back to Badgers

The depressing news about extending Badger culls beyond the county of Gloustershire is a sad state of affairs indeed! The constant call to “cull” is in the media with saddening regularity and conservationists need to speak out and actively oppose this nonsensical culling. 

The illogical issue of Badger culls gives much, "Food for thought.”  There is so much to read, digest and consider. This makes a decent starting point. CLICK HERE

All this talk of Badgers has made me think about the welfare of my own local Badger setts. There is one sett in particular I often check out to see everything is as it should be. This is the sett whose occupants I have often watched and at times been close enough to certain individuals, especially the large boar,  to hear them breathing. 

I have seen one of the sows a couple of times recently, just before the crops were taken in, she would often leave the sett early evening while there was still enough daylight to get decent views, and walk a path along the crop boundary, eventually disappearing into the corn.

There is another sett I have been keeping tabs on over the summer, the occupants here have been keeping very busy, almost doubling the size of the sett. There are definitely more Badgers here than in the aforementioned smaller colony, which I think only comprises of three adult badgers. 

Now, I have yet another sett I am keeping an eye on. This one was discovered by Pete, and it is a cracker. It is the biggest of four setts that I'm now aware of on patches I regularly walk by a considerable amount. I have no idea how many "denizens of the dark" reside here, but by the large amounts of digs and other signs of activity, I feel this could be an impressive group of badgers.

So, this weekend I set myself the task of trying to get some pictures of the inhabitants of this newly discovered sett. I headed out on Friday evening armed with my trail camera and a small bag of peanuts to bait a few areas up. let's see what the weekend brings?

On a misty Saturday morning, I tried to take a picture of shards of sunlight streaming through the trees. I was also pleased to discover that Friday evening had been a success with three different badgers being caught on camera. 



 I relocated the camera on Saturday evening to cover a trail that Pete felt the Badgers were using. He was right, and on Sunday morning I was pleased to see more badger activity captured on camera. 

I am very pleased with the results of a successful weekend. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Staffordshire Birding

Friday saw me heading to Harrington Airfield in Northamptonshire in search of a reported Wryneck. I have been to this airfield before for a reported Red Backed Shrike a couple of years ago, I dipped then, and I dipped this visit too. I arrived around 11am with the bird last being seen at about 10.15am. There where quite a few birders searching the area, but it was never relocated. I left at around 3pm.

Bank Holiday Monday and another Wryneck reported. Even better, it’s in Staffordshire. I set off and about an hour later arrive at Berry Hill Fields. This is a site I have never been to before and to be honest I had no idea where to go. Grabbing all my gear from the boot I ventured onto this large expanse of scrub land and horse paddocks. I hadn’t walked that far when I crossed paths with another birder and he pointed me in the general direction saying, “Just keep walking that way until you see a group of birders.” 

Berry Hil

About 10 minutes later a group of birders in a small copse of trees came into view and a few minutes later I had joined them. 
The place was alive with Spotted Flycatchers and a few Whinchat also put in an appearance.

Spot fly

Eventually the bird I was there to see put in in an appearance. This was my first Wryneck, what a great bird. I watched it flitting between bushes and Hawthorn trees, occasionally dropping out of sight onto the ground. Once I was pleased with my views of the bird, I set about trying to get some record shots.

While the Wryneck was out of sight, I set up my digiscoping kit. To be honest I didn’t think this would be of much use as the bird was very mobile and trying to follow an active bird with digiscoping gear can be a frustrating exercise. The camera was going to be my best bet of achieving a record shot, but the bird was distant, light was poor and as it was a bank holiday, it was obviously raining. 
I had to push my camera well into digital zoom to achieve these record shots due to the distance involved. As record shots go, they are OK!




Then, the Wryneck disappeared for about 15 mins, when it again appeared it landed back in the Hawthorn tree, and just sat there. The digiscoping gear was set up. I lined it up, focused and the Wryneck was most obliging. 


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I even managed to Videoscope some footage.

More than happy with my views and record shots of my first Wryneck, I started to think about packing the gear up when a Pied Flycatcher put in an appearance.
Pied Fly

One of the regulars told me that the previous evening, there had been at least 8 Common Redstarts in the same area. I was very impressed with this venue and it will be a place I will be visiting with some regularity in the future.