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Sunday, 29 April 2012

'Super, Smashing, Great' – more from 'bullie'

Hours spent on my local patch have been rewarded with fleeting views of Mr and Mrs Bullfinch. Literally 3 hours a day (morning, lunch, evening time) nearly every day for the past month have resulted in perhaps two or three sightings – so I wouldn't rush over in the hope of a viewing unless you are prepared to sit and wait in the same location for six or seven hours in one session – but if you do, let me know and I'll gladly point you in the right direction.

The following images are the best I have managed so far recently (and sadly no sightings of the Grey Wagtails) ...

two bullfinch
male and female 

about the best it gets
bonding behaviour
Believe it or not there are two bullfinch in the first image (you will probably need to double-click on it to enlarge and then it isn't easy – but shows what you are up against) which surprised me*. The male bullfinch of course is a little easier to see with it's bright red front (2), the female a little more difficult (3); finding them both together is a bonus (4), but more often it is the male that is seen (5). Don't ask me how but two days later I managed to pick them up before they saw me and about the best it gets (6,7 and 8). As you can see the female was accepting Alder seed from the male and I can only surmise this is part of the bonding – it also suggests she may have popped out from her maternal duties to be fed before returning... which may suggest the possibility of greater activity and more sightings to come. Fingers crossed. Legs crossed. Everything crossed (contortionist)

*And I was surprised by the first image and included it because the male bullfinch was on the ground while the female sat close by, perched twelve inches (20cm) off the ground... I simply don't know what was going on. You'll note the adjacent footpath so it wasn't long before they were disturbed and I had no chance of better images.

and in case you were struggling with the first image –

double click to enlarge
and those of you old enough to remember the 1970's, the title is a reference to Jim Bowen and the TV programme 'Bullseye' (funnily enough a mate of mine used to work on that TV programme among others...)...and  I told you I live my life in other people's quotations!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Searchers

'ya   want   me  to   paint   ya   a   picture?' – John Wayne, 'The Searchers' a film directed by John Ford, 1956 (named the Greatest American Western of all time by the American Film Institute).

I'm afraid I live my life with quotes from films – sad.

I was off my patch and wandering aimlessley when I came across a small water course adjacent to a picnic site, public footpaths and huge public car park, not a promising site for wildlife – hence the reference to 'The Searchers' (the story of wandering 'indian country' looking for that needle in a haystack or something you may never find).

Now I'm giving away a major secret here; the 'trapper' in the web address for this blog refers to the film 'M*A*S*H' (answers on a postcard for the definition please), Trapper and Hawkeye being two of the characters and infamous in 1970 and cross-referenced by my chums for my ability, when I was younger, to find and see wildlife that others didn't and catch fish when others didn't; well that's what they thought and the nickname stuck (with some anyway). 

On this watercourse I thought there was a protruding stone in the middle of the water as there appeared to be current generated ripples either side of it. Then I realised it was actually something small moving in the water, needless to say I must have come into view and whatever it was disappeared. So much for my 'invisibility' skills. Into 'Trapper' mode.

I'm sure skulking about in the undergrowth can get you into trouble!

A blade of grass, here a blade of grass there, something was moving deep in the adjacent undergrowth alongside the watercourse. Was I sufficiently merged with the surroundings – probably not... and then suddenly no warning out of the undergrowth, adjacent to the watercourse not 8m (15ft in old money) was a stoat. THAT was the last thing I expected. Looking left and right and then disappeared again, only to keep reappearing in various locations in archetypal pose, raised on rear legs, straight stiff back looking over the vegetation. The photos really tell the story so you may as well take a look at them. (as always double clicking an image provides larger images and slideshow). 

Only of course it wasn't a stoat, it was a weasel. I spent some time with this rascal even though people were constantly walking to the car park not 30m (100ft) away and two dog walkers passed within 3m (10ft), oblivious to what was going on – hence the reference to 'Trapper'.

any ideas as to what the kill might be? ... please comment

Incredibly some of these images, full size are bigger than the weasel in life, the body being only about 7 inches long (you'll have to work out the mertic... about 18cm)!

This weasel (it isn't a stoat, my first impressions being incorrect) was in and out, shuffling the vegetation here and there and in and out until it appeared with something in it's mouth – it had made a kill. I had a pretty good idea what is was (hence the John Wayne quote – 'ya   want   me   to   paint   ya   a   picture?', a reference in the film to what happened to a white girl captured by 'red indians', or in this case the weasel 'kill'). I can't be completely sure but I have a pretty good idea the kill was a water vole – which is what had stopped me in the first place, swimming in the watercourse. So while I was out 'searching' clearly this weasel was also busy 'searching' and made it's kill. (See how I got two references in for the film! Eh!)

At one point I was stood on a small wooden bridge and I though the weasel had passed underneath, only for it to appear less than 2m (6ft) away, at the other end of the bridge – took one look at me, stared me in the eyes and disappeared under the bridge only to reappear on the public footpath a few metres away (6ft), on the grass verge where only two minutes earlier two large dogs had passed. At one point it must have realised I was there and dropped it's kill – which was to my benefit as it returned a few moments later to collect it and I managed the last few photos. The weasel repeated this once or twice, dropping the kill, looking around then returning and I don't think it was because it was too heavy – I think it was dropping it and 'recce'ing' the way ahead and around it before proceeding, making sure it was safe to move on. I was hoping it would lead me to any 'kitts' (?)

The weasel got itself onto the adjacent embankment and was covering 4m (15ft) in about two seconds flat.... hence the last image, I have a few hundred blurred pictures of it and few in focus! I headed off in front of the direction it was travelling anticipating where it may appear – and incredibly at one stage it was literally at my feet, I mean in the grass/undergrowth six inches from my feet but no chance of a photo opportunity. It disappeared into the undergrowth and I didn't see it again having decided to leave it in peace. I think it got the whiff of my feet!

Sadly unlike 'The Searchers' this story doesn't have a happy ending, well depending on your outlook. Unfortunate to lose a Water Vole, if indeed that is what it was, yet the weasel had managed to capture food for itself or more likely it's young (also a dilemma in the film The Searchers). The 'worrying' thing is this weasel may return to the same location and decimate the local population of Water Voles if it thinks it has a food source. 

I may have to make return visits but it is a bit far from home and on a traffic route I avoid like the plague normally... early mornings perhaps... then again maybe not... returning is all too often never the same... I may just leave it at this delightful encounter and continue searching (see how I did that again!).

And in another quote from John Wayne in the same film – 'That  'll   be  the   day', yep inspiration of the Buddie Holly song and another movie – but that will have to wait for another post. 

I am now off back to K-Pax.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Rolf Harris – 'can you tell what it is yet?'

it wont take you long and the third image gives it away.

(as always double clicking provides larger images as a slideshow)

It was rewarding that this Wheatear was happy to sit preening itself – at least you know you are not disturbing the bird's normal activities.

I do like Wheatears and I guess only got 'to know' them in recent years – I don't think they are daft but they do tend to be confiding birds that allow you fairly close, if you tread carefully and don't harass them in any way, especially the younger Wheatears. I think it must be a bit like Robins, they like to follow the 'forager' be it in animal or human form. I have to thank Martin Jump for these images as it was Martin who found the Wheatear on our local patch and took the time to come around and tell me about it – so I managed to find an hour and popped out for these images (and to watch this confiding individual). Must have been on passage and decided to stop briefly to feed on this manure heap's insects but sadly wasn't there the following day. We have actually been looking for Yellowhammers on this patch but although fleeting glimpses, we have yet to come to grips with them locally. We persevere. 

Thanks Martin.

I've added this video but I fear there is quite a loss in quality...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Lets get rid...

of some more bits and pieces. 

Another early Comma and another Bee – I know it sounds daft and I have been seeing the willow burst into bud and flower (can you call catkins flowers?) but it never occurred to me that they would be pollinated by insects, especially at this time of the year when it has turned quite chilly again. Look and learn (something new everyday – a message to myself). 

I caught this Blackcap in the tree where I normally find it this time of year (where I have also had a female and a juvenile) – not great and the light against me but I quite liked the light on the leaves anyway. 

On a walk along the Ribble Link (west Preston) I realised there were Moorhens about every 600m (not 400m, too close, 800m too far) and as I normally don't give them a second look, I thought I would while I could – normally secretive and disappearing out of sight. 

The chiffchaff I found in the same tree as last year, but I have been 'chasing' it down for about two weeks – drives me nuts, you can hear it but can't see it; it has been singing in a copse and here it was high, high up in the canopy. 

I was surprised to come across a glade of bluebells, but that's only because I don't get out enough and in the dappled sunlight (albeit a cold wind) I suddenly felt very English – there are too many Spaniards about! 

A female chaffinch, must be nesting somewhere nearby, was with a male in and out and about of the same location. I came across this detail of a horses head (the Godfather) on a paddock fence and thought – 'nice one', somebody has gone to that trouble (too much money!). 

And finally out of the wind this Peacock was warming itself in the rays... I shared the same enjoyment. (sad!).

...not quite finally

Now in my last post, or one of them, I made reference to 'Attenborough does Africa' when referencing Collared/Ring-necked Doves (whatever you want to call them) and driving across the Fylde as you do, I thought perhaps this may have appeared derogatory – far from it, it is all his fault and I am great admirer... so much so dear reader I feel I should bore you with; 

a long long time ago, in a dim, dark and distant past there was a thing called 'a book' – long before computers and I was fortunate to be given one and read it as a young innocent boy (nothing changed then)... it had lots of pages and lots of words and a few black and white photographs and no pictures to colour-in! It was called 'Zoo Quest for a Dragon' and was David Attenborough's first book (not that I knew that at the time) and his first venture collecting animals (!) for London Zoo (I may have the zoo wrong). 

This trip, collecting animals was focused on a trip to Bali and accompanying islands to find the infamous (then), Komodo Dragon. Hence the title! ... 1956! 

I read it many years later !!! but long before Dickie, as he likes me to call him (which is a bit strange as that's the name of his brother, darling), became the famous presenter of today. He did of course present the same as a TV series for the BBC (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/attenborough/) in 1956 but of course nobody had a TV in them days anyway, so it didn't have a big audience. See the benefits of a book! (TV, TV... Garlic bread, GARLIC BREAD!)

The book, 'Zoo Quest for a Dragon' entranced me as a child and created three elements (two to go) in me, an endearing relationship with my good friend Dickie, a fascination for wildlife and including Bali in my 'top three places to visit before I die' – but that was when I was young, before Bali became Australia's Benidorm, the population of the planet is half it is now and it took three weeks to get there – an adventure in itself. Frightening to think I could leave home now and be there in twenty four hours! Or less! I might do Bali yet. So 'Zoo Quest for a Dragon', recommended reading.

And while I am on the subject, the other great book to have on your bookshelf is Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals' – in fact I must get another copy, read so many times I split the spine and it fell apart (paperback version). Inspired me to visit Corfu and I have been three times – again in quieter times, not long after the country was still run by the Army (complete with CIA interference!). Stories perhaps for another day... or buy me a pint sometime. Mind you I went to Lesvos a long time ago too,  before anyone had heard of it... nearly stayed but what a great place that is for birding in spring.... two beers!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

More like it

(two posts in ONE day!)

My trip to Knott End on a high tide turned out to be almost a complete waste of time; I saw virtually nowt – a Red Breasted Merganser going east but too far out to photograph. As a consequence I popped down to the ferry to see if the Black Redstart was about or anything was in the estuary – fat chance! However my knowledge of Gulls is non-existent and my foray only demonstrates my complete ignorance. I think somebody had perhaps been 'chip throwing', either way a few Gulls were in front of the car park so I thought I might take some reference photos that may come in useful in years to come (are you sure?).  I also saw it as an opportunity to practice flight photography – again a complete waste of time (much to learn), out of about 50 images I think these three are the only ones in focus; they do nevertheless demonstrate the variation in plumage in the various ages.

So desperate was I that I decided to call in further down the coast; I wont say exactly where due to the time of year and the sensitivity of a schedule 1 bird – the Barn Owl. (Send me a private message if you wish and I'll let you know). It did however take me completely by surprise. You can't have too many photos of Barn Owls so here are a few more. Not great as the light was failing (any excuse... but you know the score by now).

Back on my own patch, if you have viewed this blog in the past, you will know I have a penchant for flying things (for some reason I don't understand either!)... The sun 'in the wrong place' allowed me the archetypal image of the resident Mute Swan – so here are two. And having spotted a male Orange Tip frist on 4 April I managed to capture this image in a favoured spot I frequent; the local Mallards had nine young, freshly out of the nest (no photo)