Friday, 31 October 2014

The Titchmarsh Murmuration - Part two ..................

I returned late afternoon about twenty minutes before sunset with a more appropriate lens to see what images I could capture of the murmuration.

The build up of birds was quite quick over a fifteen minute period with small and large parties of additional birds arriving from all quarters, unlike last eve quite a large proportion of the flock went to roost fairly quickly, amazing to see them dropping into the reed beds. 

When the flock passed overhead the sound of the air flowing over the wings of so many birds was phenomenal as was the noise from the reed beds when the roost was full just before I left.

A friend of mine and Kettering based naturalist and videographer Graham Barker took some excellent video footage which can be seen via the following link.

                                                         An early gathering

                                                            Getting better
Quite a dense formation
A stream of birds dropping in ......
And a fine sunset to finish the experience

The Titchmarsh murmuration and a picture book finish to the day.

No Barn Owls again this evening, what a mild day for the end of October and the cloudless sky provided superb light. 

Never mind, there was a spectacular aerial show taking place overhead instead.

I have never seen so many starlings in the Titchmarsh reed bed roost and winter has yet to arrive.

My telephoto lens could not do the sight justice as I was only able to get images of a small segment of the action, to truly capture the kaleidoscopic nature of this event video is the only medium to portray the liquid movement of the birds as they morph into different shapes and patterns. 

p.s. I plan to go back tonight with a more appropriate lens.

To see some stunning video footage go to U-tube and punch in starling murmurations.

The final image sums up the scene, the setting sun low to the horizon reflecting off the water of the gravel pit viewed through a dense patch of reeds ...... perfect !.

A friend of mine and Kettering based naturalist and videographer Graham Barker took some excellent video footage which can be seen via the following link.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Jenny Wren .........

One of our smallest and most numerous birds in the United Kingdom the Wren is not the easiest to find out in the open for the purpose of photography. More often heard than seen.

Probably the best opportunities are presented when they perch with cocked tail to sing heir vibrant song, but they will dive for cover at a moments notice if disturbed.

Its fairly unusual to find one in reed beds, a marginal habitat that I understand tends to be used by less successful birds down at the lower end of the pecking order.

The Tom Jones of the Reed beds ...... This Guy is an accomplished singer and has great presence.

Head back and giving his all, a classic pose for the singing male Reed Bunting, normally staged from higher shrubs in and around the reed beds.

The white ruff around his neck reminds me of that worn by choristers. 

Again, I am more than happy to champion the plumage of '' common '' birds in the country,  
this guy has attitude in abundance. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Growing population at Titchmarsh .................

The Greylag goose population at Titchmarsh is I think currently the biggest since I started observing the reserve on a regular basis,  breeding is also now commonplace.

The flocks are quite mobile moving between the gravel pits and surrounding fields with some frequency.

The other evening I was out looking for Barn Owls, the early evening sky was cloudless,  sadly no Owls but it was good to see flocks of these geese coming in to roost in the fading light.

They always announce their arrival as their '' honking '' can be heard from a long way off gradually rising to a crescendo as they pass over head, quite a sound and quite a sight.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kestrels at Harrington Airfield ( disused )

We are nearly at the end of October but today the weather was balmy, we really are enjoying an '' Indian summer '' so I decided to see what was around Harrington Airfield ( disused ).

Plenty of Yellowhammers, Red Kites, Golden Plover, Meadow Pipits and Green Woodpeckers to name just a few.

The highlight of the day was the resident Kestrels who are quite tolerant of humans due in the main to the daily presence of walkers both with and without dogs.

With this image and a sun low to the horizon I feel that I have captured the intensity that these birds display when hunting.

stunning light ..........

There is in my opinion no such thing as perfection and I am the first to admit that the composition of this image and pose of this Long Tailed Tit leave a lot to be desired ..... it just would not turn its head around to face the camera, and then it was gone.

But the intensity and angle of the light on the birds breast and under its tail I really like a lot.

I also like the overall focus from the birds head to the tip of its tail.

Long Tailed Tits really are superb subjects, generally very tolerant of humans and they offer a palette of colours no matter what angle you shoot from.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A Regal character .....

This Cob Mute Swan came over to take a good look at me giving the opportunity for a more than full frame image.

They really are magnificent 

The eye contact in the image is excellent.

He has a lot of gravitas and presence that almost shouts out his confidence in his position as the dominant elder of the water residing bird population at the Gravel pits.

When nesting they are very territorial and aggressive yet outside the breeding season they seem to be far more tolerant of their peers.

A quick recent head count at the reserve came to a total of
twenty seven individuals quite densely grouped in a fairly harmonious  manner.

The landscape of our inland water bodies would not be the same without them. 


Saturday, 25 October 2014

First visit of this Autumn to the Estate woodlands at Grafton Underwood

Bad light and showers sum up the conditions, a plus side however is that wonderful autumnal smell that you get from the shed leaves beginning to gather on the woodland floor, a musty and evocative scent.

I feed up a corner of the woods in Autumn and Winter with a mix of seed and peanuts.

Yesterday I put down the first feed of the year and used the old trick of putting a mossy log down on top of the seed for the birds to land on before dropping down to feed .... it always works.

                                                    Many Marsh Tits
A confident and very territorial Robin
And a host of other birds including small parties of Long Tailed Tits, Chaffinch, Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits. 

A very  rewarding and enjoyable hour, with Red Kites overhead.

Friday, 24 October 2014

A lot of people to disappoint ....... !

I really can't believe you kind folk. 

A little less than three months ago I started this blog to feature my humble yet enthusiastic amateur images and stories of birds and nature in my local region of the United Kingdom.

The blog has today passed a grand total of over ten thousand hits from every corner of this world that we live in.

Thank you very much for your support and continued interest, it is truly appreciated and I hope that you get as much out of visiting the blog as I do running it.

I appreciate constructive criticism so please feel free to leave comments and thoughts that I can explore to make the blog better !.


24th October 2014.  

Titchmarsh Wigeon

Numbers of this winter migrant are really starting to build up at the reserve evidenced not just visually but audibly by their constant two-tone whistling call.

As is so often the case the male of the species is quite a handsome bird compared to the drabber female.

Its always a pleasure to see their return to our inland gravel pits.  

Great light quality for the shot and a high shutter speed really caught the droplets of water. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A bit of fun ......

The light conditions today were less than poor so I took this image because I love the texture of tree bark.

Here is a question for you, no, I'm not going to ask you what type of tree it is however if you are confident ....... please feel free to leave a comment.

My question is, what animate object is to be found on the bark ? ..... again, your comments much appreciated if you've got the bottle !.  

No prizes for the winner other than the satisfaction of getting it right.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Mipit ........

Sadly in decline this species is a bird of open county, moors and lowland heaths perhaps best  known for its song flight which starts on the ground and continues as the bird gains height before parachuting back down to the ground on half spread wings.

I was lucky to attend a ringing session at a local patch recently and have the opportunity to view many Meadow Pipits '' in the hand '', when viewed close up their plumage is quite striking when new following its annual moult which continues into September.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A brave Heron indeed.......

was driving to the reserve and approaching the village of Aldwincle along a country lane when I saw something ahead and couldn't believe my eyes, standing on the nearside verge was a motionless Grey Heron intently staring at the woodland edge.

I drove past no more than four feet from it at approx thirty miles an hour and it did not flinch, I braked to a halt, readied my camera and opened the nearside door window and cautiously started  to reverse along the offside carriageway, this time its nerve gave in and it was off.

Because the road at this point is surrounded by dense woodland on both sides it could not turn away nor gain altitude quickly, I was able to get out of the car pretty sharpish and just managed to fire off a few shots as it flew past.

Monday, 20 October 2014

When I saw a pair of these on the River Nene at Titchmarsh I couldn't decide if they were Geese or Ducks ........

What do you think ?

So some homework was required.

It was the second image and assistance from the ID section of Birdforum ( with thanks to Stevethehydra - Full name not known )  that finally clinched it.

The conclusion is that it is certainly a duck and close to ( if not a pure example ) of the Aylesbury breed - a "heavy" duck which is a lot larger than the wild-type Mallards that it was ultimately selectively bred from. 

People are often surprised by the size of "heavy" domestic ducks! 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Its that time of year ..... The butcher bird .......... and the Short Eared Owl.

Anticipation !

We are getting to the time of year that, hopefully, will see some passage migrant Great Grey Shrikes arriving in the country and County of Northamptonshire, even better if some remain for the winter.

Similarly Short Eared Owls are on the move with moorland birds moving down to lower elevations and migrant birds arriving for the winter.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

From the Causeway at Pitsford .........

If I am in the vicinity of Pitsford Reservoir I often take a detour to the Causeway to see whats on view and have been rewarded with good images of many birds including Snipe, Goldeneye and a host of Gulls.

This Pochard was quite close in to the causeway and very active, constantly diving for food, always preceded with that little Jump.

Pochard usually feed at night and seem to spend a lot of time in daylight asleep, it was good to see an active bird during the day.

A fine set ........ reminds me of a Jesters headwear.

The Wildlife Trust are quite active in livestock husbandry on the reserve to keep the meadows and general vegetation in check.

The sheep on the reserve at the moment are Hebridean, a species that can trace its genes back thousands of years to the Iron Age. In the eighteenth century  (then known as Scottish Dunface ) they were a great favourite with subsistence farmers in highland areas throughout the UK.

It is a small and extremely hardy breed that will eat a broad cross-section of poor vegetation and is essentially self sufficient, the black horned breeds were favoured by many because their feet were harder, grew more slowly and were therefore more resistant to rot in boggy conditions. 

As a consequent of selective breeding of sheep to improve wool and meat production the Hebridean fell out of favour and only survived as an ornamental parkland breed until 1973 when the Rare Breeds Survival Trust identified the Hebridean as  a breed in danger of extinction.

Today the future of the breed is secured and it is the hardy characteristics of the breed that are appealing to conservation bodies. 
                                                     Very Impressive.

Also on the reserve were a small herd of black Dexter cattle, again, a small, hardy breed that originally hail from the south west of Ireland.

Dexters are the smallest native breed in the British Isles.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Teasel teaser .....................

Wandering around the reserve I flushed a small charm of Goldfinches from a stand of teasels, they didn't go far and this little guy was flitting about in front of me keeping a '' comfort '' distance of about five meters.

Statistically, the species is very much on the up in the UK reflecting the increase of garden bird Niger seed feeders, they are always a joy to see and hear with their twittering calls.

However, one of their favourite natural food sources are teasels which are  widespread on the reserve and very photogenic due to their colour and texture.

The palette of colours that this bird presents is truly exceptional and if it migrated long distance it would look completely at home  in a tropical environment.  

In this image I really liked the composition and presentation of the bird, complimented by the textures of the fencing posts and galvanized wire fencing.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Drake Pintail Duck

This is a very elegant long necked species with its chocolate brown head and white breast that continues up its neck and head via a thin white vertical stripe.

Its body is finely barred grey with cream flanks ending with two elongated black tail feathers. 

Late September and October is the time of year when winter migrants start to return to the UK from their Northern moulting grounds.

A Joy to see.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Hare today ......

A bit of a wash and brush up !, make the most of it as hard times may be on the horizon. 

Its not much fun being a Hare in Winter despite the very high thermal properties of their fur coats.

When the ground is hard, vegetation above ground is thin to say the least and cover is scarce so these mammals come under a great deal of pressure.

In heavy falling snow they lie low, perhaps in a scrape to tough it out but this is also good news because as the snow builds up it creates a windbreak from chill winds and almost an Igloo like environment.

Not quite as tidy as yesterdays Blue Tit .....

This Robin has not quite finished its annual moult and is looking a  bit scruffy around its nether regions, same out building and same pan tiles as earlier in the week, they have such a lovely colour and texture.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Why don't I post more images of common birds ?

Just about a fortnight ago I was going through my archives which I file by species and noticed a glaring deficiency.

Not only no folder for House Sparrows, but no images either !. I have always taken the position that common or garden birds are as photogenic as our rarer species, I must practice what I preach.

Clearly they have a very late brood that they are feeding in a nest underneath the pan tiles of a relatives out building. Whilst they do have two or three broods annually, I hope that they haven't left this one too late.

Next target, Tree Sparrows which will prove to be a greater challenge I suspect, watch this space.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

No apolgies for being predictable ..........

..... and posting a couple more images of the Titchmarsh Barn Owls from last Friday.

Lighting wise one of the problems that I have at this location with undulating terrain is that the setting sun disappears early behind mature woodland on a hill side unlike photo opportunities in Lincolnshire and East Anglia for example which have big skies and pretty flat horizons.

Still, we have to make the most of the habitat that we have, either way, I would rather have these birds to work on than none at all ! 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A civilised time for Barn Owls .............

With the nights drawing in and sunset getting earlier, 18.18 tonight, it makes Owl photography possible at a more civilised time as was the case yesterday at the reserve.

Before now I have only once seen any of the Titchmarsh Owls since they fledged four Owlets way back in Mid July so it was a pleasure to connect with one again early evening yesterday in fairly good light conditions.

Sadly the light was behind the bird which, whilst not allowing classic Barn Owl images, are I think nevertheless quite pleasing to the eye.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling ........

Was a fictional character played by the late and great comedian Peter Cook.

Off topic I know  .....

Streeb-Greebling was a stereotype of the upper class English twit, described as "narrow-minded" and occasionally a " heartless bastard ".

John Cleese of Monty Python fame described him as one of Cook's range of " men, particularly English men, so trapped by their culture that they never knew how to live ".

The comedy duo of Cook and Dudley Moore featured Streeb-Greebling in their classic review beyond the fringe.

Every time I see a Great Crested Grebe I am reminded of this character. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Pitsford Reservoir Teal ......

What a clean and charismatic bird the Drake Teal is.

I can't remember the amount of times I have been out looking for Barn Owls in a particular location where I try to hide next to a small pond which provides good cover and hearing the '' plops '' of Teal arriving apparently from nowhere and pitching into the water in the growing dusk, 

Their vertical exit from water is also a sight to behold when they are flushed or decide to leave in their small close knit flocks.

Small and fast flying, Teal have a relatively small breeding population in the UK which explodes in winter into hundreds of thousands of migrants from Scandinavia and elsewhere.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Co-existing ......

Here in East  Northamptonshire we are blessed with goodly numbers of Common Buzzard as well as an ever growing population of Red Kites.

Given that both species have similar diets it has always surprised me that the two species co-exist so well when their territories are so close.

I have rarely seen any aggressive interaction between these birds other than during the breeding season when either species will fiercely defend their nests should the other stray too close.

Having said that, if feeding on carrion the
Buzzards tend to dominate the Kites and will not allow them to approach too closely until it has finished feeding.

Otherwise they seem to happily share their joint territories and can often be seen soaring in the same thermal systems with no element of mobbing by either species.  

Douglas McFarlane, another keen Northamptonshire based naturalist and photographer  told me the following story.

'' They work together at times too. I was travelling along the lanes at the back of Fineshades Wood and saw a Buzzard and Red Kite perched on a hedgerow. The Buzzard was watching my approach and the kite was looking in the other direction, 

The Buzzard called and another Buzzard and two further Kites took off from the ground where I later saw that there was a road kill.

I parked up and the birds returned with a Buzzard and Kite again sitting on top of the hedgerow, about ten minutes later a truck came along from the opposite direction, this time the Kite called and again they disappeared, they were acting I believe as lookouts ''.

A great story to end on.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The first day of Autumn ............

Overnight the weather here in Northamptonshire has taken quite a turn resulting in the central heating going on ( low ) for the first time this Autumn.

Having commented a couple of times that berry bearing trees and shrubs are heavily laden this year, my thoughts turned to the impending arrival of our berry eating migrants from Europe's Northern climes.

It won't be long before we start hearing the '' Chack Chack '' of the nomadic Fieldfare who start to trickle into the country in October and are in particular fond of rowan, juniper, holly, elder and hawthorn  berries.

This image was taken from my home office window last winter, the subject certainly looks rather miserable as the snow flakes fell in a very cold wind.

Close up, the colour and pattern of its plumage really is quite attractive.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A very intelligent Heron Catching Fish Using Bread As Bait ........ unbelievable !

Today has been a bit busy so I am taking the opportunity to share this video link with you .... I 'll never use the phrase '' bird brain '' ever again.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

What a web we weave ............

The rain today put paid to any outside activities so I would like to recount something that I came across on the reserve mid-year.

Wondering around I happened to look up and see the above web in a tree,  my immediate thought was what sort of tree spider would build such a strange web ? ...... I was intrigued.

I searched the web without any luck and in so doing came across the details of the Royal Entomological Society at St Albans so I sent a copy of the image to them on the off chance that they would respond and basically forgot about it.  

Several days later I received an e-mail from a Professor Jim Hardie, Director of Science at the Society and a dialogue commenced, what habitat, what tree species etc etc.

I have never been very good with tree identification although I was pretty confident it was a willow ( to the left of the Heronry Hide ) so on my next visit I got some leaves, photographed them and sent the image off to Prof. Jim.

The response was quite a surprise, the web was not a spiders  but a caterpillars !

'' Hi John, It seems very likely that your webbing was produced by caterpillars of the willow ermine moth, Yponomeuta rorrella. It’s a pretty little moth and gives some information.
Best wishes
Professor Jim Hardie,
Director of Science, Royal Entomological Society ''.

What a great end to the story, I thanked Prof. Jim profusely for his time, interest and efforts, a thoroughly rewarding exchange with a very capable academic and his team.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Just making the most of these guys before they go .....

Two posts on the same day but I just can't resist it !

3rd October and there were two Hobby's today still on the reserve, from what I understand mid-October is the time of year by which most will have already migrated, it will be interesting to see when they are last observed this year.

I am absolutely hooked on these birds, such acceleration and manouvrability on the wing to catch their target prey.

I love all raptors, OK, Peregrines in a stoop are faster, Kestrels hover, Sparrowhawks use the element of surprise but these guys are peerless, they have got the lot !

Fungi ?

I saw this Fungi today so I consulted my guide and the nearest I can get is a Polypore - Inonotus hispidus - normally associated with fruit trees, this Fungi was however on a Woodland tree.

If anyone can Identify it I would be most interested in hearing from you !.