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Monday, 19 December 2011

Careful driving

I have been remiss in not updating the blog recently but I did mention  (a) the issues around reducing file sizes to suit and  (b) the difficulty I have had with memory, not only my own, the limits on a blog but also the old computer hard drive. It is also this time of year for archiving so I have been binning a lot of my images which aren't needed. As a consequence I'm a bit fed up of looking at images and deciding if they are worthy or not – I can no longer make a decision to save my life let alone for images worthy of the blog! (I do have quite a few in fact... later).

Anyhooo, a run across the Fylde started on a cold and forozen morning with a smattering of frozen snow making the driving conditions treacherous, certainly a day for total concentration. However it was also a day of clear blue skies, little wind – unheard of in these 'ere parts for sometime – but one of those mornings that you knew raptors would be out making the most of the conditions.

I do stay focused on my driving and check my mirrors regularly and pull off the road when safe to do so and all that, but it is difficult driving without clocking what is 'around you'. So without actually 'bird watching' I came across 3 Kestrels, 2 Buzzards, 2 Sparrowhawks, 2 Reed Buntings, a Corn Bunting, Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare, 140 odd Whooper Swans (probably from Fluke Hall area), hundreds of aerial Pink Footed Geese circling Eagland Hill area... before even arriving at Knott End. 

A walk onto 'the front' to check out what I knew would be good views of the Lakes was rewarded by a gentle breeze that cut you in half! And so a few shots for my antipodean chums. On the foreshore was this bird that had me in a double take, tall, long ('green') legged, long necked with a short straight pink bill. Wasn't a Ruff and couldn't think. Was it some strange American visitor blown in on the recent winds... don't be daft. Further closer inspection revealed the beak, far from being pink along the whole length was covered in mud towards the end that blended well with the background, leaving the beginning bit pink and it was long and curved downwards – yep a Curlew. I must get better bins or better eyesight! Mind you I'm not sure I have seen a Curlew with a pink bill before – mind you I'm not sure I've photographed a Curlew in the sun before either! The story continues below. (How do I write so much nonsense! Now you know why I don't blog too often!).

Kestrels can often by found 'pole sitting'

Whoopers feeding on left-over potatoes

a minor squabble

a straight pink bill?

maybe not

spooked pinkies fly (nearly) directly overhead

wide open blue skies... a sight not often seen hereabouts

the lakleand fells in their majesty

and lengthening shadows

a Roe Dee looks for cover

a long way off (if you can see it)

black redstart

too cold for flying insects

well hello

the black redstart

it's cold!

nearly dark... Hen Harrier

There was probably only an hour's (photography) light left as I departed but decided on Knott End esplanade to see if I could see the Twite – in a word, No, I couldn't! There was always the possibility of the Black Redstart – yeah I've been on these journeys before. The last and only Black Redstart was seen at Otmoor in Oxfordshire (what a place that is to find), December 2009. I can't even find it in my archives now but it is here on the Otmoor Birding site. 

By the jetty Brian Ogden (pleased to meet you) was stood with his 800mm on a tripod and sure enough there it was, a Black Redstart on the foreshore by the jetty. Brian was leaving so I plonked myself on the foreshore and waited. A couple of Pied Wagtails were squabbling and feeding as they do and coming within eight feet – they weren't bothered, and neither was the Black Redstart that came within about fifteen feet or so. The only issue was the ice cream munchers who disturbed the bird by coming too close at times ('what's this plonker doing?' curiosity probably) whereupon it disappeared towards the building site across the road. I stood freezing waiting for it to show, which it duly obliged but here is another bird always on the go, dipping and bobbing, flitting here and there and it would either be too far away or hidden by rubbish and the piles of detritus piled high on the foreshore, facing the wrong way or the sun in the wrong place. Nevertheless I was able to watch it for some two to three minutes (out of about 45) on and off and managed a few photos (and a lot of rubbish), the sun gradually disappearing behind some hazy clouds. I decided to leave all to their own and the last opportunity to feed in peace and made my withdrawal.

Unusually I decided to risk (weather conditions) back-tracking the way I had come, rather than choosing a slightly different route as I often do but the temperature was down to 32 degrees, i.e. freezing and the roads distinctly dodgy! Most of the Whoopers had disappeared, only 8 remaining but exactly 100 Pink Footed were in a field close by. I was able to park safely out of the way and they were some way off as I approached to see if there was anything other than pinkies – nope. Whereupon one of those fixed-winged microlights buzzed overhead and sent the lot up and away – as the microlight was approaching from afar this put them more or less directly over my head! No light though to speak of for decent photos. Anyway up they went, calling as they do and circled while I set off toward Pilling Moss. By now it was close on 3.30 plus, the sun was setting and there was no chance of more photography. A couple of parked motors and some huge lenses on tripods gave the game away on Lancaster Road, where I always have a good mooch about if I can. I wasn't going anywhere, nothing to photograph, most spaces taken but I managed to pull up and out of the way. Luckily I had a fairly wide vista so thought why not wait and see, you just never know. A Roe Deer out feeding was looking to return to some cover.

It was getting a bit chilly but sure enough after about ten minutes a long way off in the far distance I clocked a barn owl out hunting. Thankfully the dark background of some trees helped to distinguish it but it was some way off. It quartered the ground and I lost it a couple of times as it dived into the field. At one point I thought I saw something else, not a barn owl and I was hoping and anticipating a Short Eared Owl. I spent another ten minutes or so with occasional views of the distant ghostly hunter. 

Then stone the crows over the hedgerow appeared something else quartering the ground but moving away – despite the low light and terrible conditions I rattled off some shots of .... the Hen Harrier – I needed some photographic evidence I hadn't dreamed it all up! A man in my condition needs the proof nowadays. I watched it covering the ground and gradually working its way a bit closer before disappearing out of sight over a hedge-line. 

The barn owl got closer and closer while another appeared from the other direction and came within forty feet or so but by now it was damn near impossible and your eyes begin playing tricks on you. Time to go. But before doing so Richard Hardwick had been hiding a little further down the road and he too had seen what I'd seen – both incredulous at seeing the Hen Harrier we compared notes and the exhilaration of the event.

If you have a moment have a look at his blog, see Gallery, Birds and page 3 – he has an amazing pic of a Sparrowhawk taking a juvenile Dipper on the River Brock! He was taking the photo of the Dipper when this happened – talk about being in the right place at the right time... mind you we were both made up with the Hen Harrier sighting.

And sorry if the pics aren't in order, but a bit like Morecambe and Wise, they're nearly all there not necessarily in the right order!

Drive carefully – it gets slippy out there! And seasons greeting dear reader.


Richard Hardwick said...

Hi Geoff,

It was great to meet you yesterday and to share the experience of the Hen Harrier, I'm still grinning. I love the Black Restart shots above, what a lovely bird.

Thanks for the link and comments, hope to see you again.


Geoff Gradwell said...

Hi Richard
Great to see the HH... now all we need is daylight and some sun! I feel more hours standing in the cold coming on! Pleased to meet you and no doubt we'll be bumping into each other... not doubt you'll be down the boating lake photographing a duck!
best w

Martin Jump said...

Sounds like you had a great day Sunday,made all the better with the sightings of the Black Redstart,and Hen Harrier.

Brian Rafferty said...

Geoff. Great account of you day out in The Fylde...lovely shots of the Black Redstart. Hope to see you around sometime..meantime have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for 2012.

Pete Woodruff said...

An odd Curlew with a rather straight'ish bill and a pink'ish look.