Newsletter 2012

December 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Last year’s newsletter started with the problems caused by rain. As we are all by now aware this year has even surpassed that by producing the wettest year ever recorded. However, despite all the odds I have had an exceptional years filming.

It started back in January by finally getting to grips with the Pennine bird that has eluded me for more than forty years, the Hawfinch. They really are spectacular birds with that amazing bill and all the early mornings in the frost waiting patiently for them under their favourite Hornbeam trees were worth while when the film was viewed.

I always enjoy my February lecture tour for the Scottish Ornithologist club and this year it was the penultimate one. After thirty years of wandering around the hills of Galloway I finally had good views of a Great Grey Shrike. It was a good Winter up there for Crossbills and I had some rewarding encounters with them as they drank in roadside pools. How I am going to miss this tour in the future and all the friends I have made and stayed with over those thirty years. There are not many places in Britain where you can have your evening meal as you watch a Hen Harrier and Peregrine go to roost and a Barn Owl commences hunting!

A non birding trip to Speyside in March produced a close encounter with Ptarmigan as we walked up Cairngorm and by the time we arrived at the top we had one very tired Golden Retriever. As usual the Grants Arms was excellent and we are due back there next March when some birds will be on the menu (not literally)!

While England sank under the deluge our trips to Islay produced fantastic weather and lots of filming. I took time out to inspect the seabirds on the West coast and was pleased to see that all the Kittiwakes had healthy young, indicating a good food supply. As usual Islay’s orchids were outstanding and we even returned in late July to admire the Marsh Helleborines.

The later part of the year has been livened up by the arrival of my favourite bird the Waxwing. I had forgotten how good it was to watch a flock of over a hundred descend on a Rowan tree, only feet in front of you to devour the berries. The flight shot on my blog on December 16th is one of my favourite shots of all time.

The undoubted highlight of the Pennine year was the finding and filming of a female Barn Owl who had laid her eggs on the ground in a corner of a barn. Daily filming was taken of her as her eggs hatched and the young even climbed out on to her back and inter acted with a singing Swallow on a beam above. It was one of the most exceptional events I have ever seen in more than forty years of filming Raptors and highlights our latest DVD ‘A Bird for all Seasons’. This will be our last DVD and incorporates seven years of filming as it follows the lives of eighty species of birds through the seasons of the year. It is proving very popular and one purchaser informed me that he had already watched it thirteen times since he had purchased it twenty days ago!!! My DVD can be purchased through my website or telephoning me on 01706 631770.

I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year for 2013.

New Garden Records

December 23, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Whenever we have wet and windy conditions birds flock to the garden feeders and this last week has been the best in the forty four years that we have lived in Castleton with two new records and one equaled. Firstly we had a minimum of twenty two species per day and on three days twenty three species. On the 20th we had a record twenty Blue Tits feeding together, plus on the same day five Jays, which equaled our previous best. Today, the 23rd, at dawn a record fifteen Long Tailed Tits fed on the feeders before the male Sparrowhawk appeared and missed my head by inches!

Along the canal at dawn ,on the 19th, two Waxwings were feeding on Hawthorne berries but had gone ten minutes later. At Rhodes Lodges on the same day four male Goosanders were feeding.

Winter’s First Grand Slam

December 16, 2012 at 8:20 am

In has taken up to now this Winter to locate my first Jack Snipe in the Thornham fields, coupled with two Woodcock at Unsworth and twenty five Waxwings in Ramsbottom. I was able to chalk up my first grand slam of the Winter on a perfect day on the 13th. Added to this was a roosting Long Eared Owl but I missed the Short Eared Owl that had been hunting the moors the previous evening. The Waxwings were a classic example of perseverance for only one bird was feeding on a tiny Rowan up to noon and then from nowhere twenty four others joined it to give a bit of sparkle to a perfect Winters day. None of them provided a photo like this one on the blog this week. This photo was only one out of more than two hundred that I took in Hulme two weeks ago. It begs the question is there a better one out there waiting to be taken?

On another sparkling day this week I visited Leighton Moss to look for Bitterns. It is my bogey bird and none were visible on the ice. At least seven Water Rails were squealing in the reeds but even these failed to show well enough for a photo. However, I did make a call on one of the major rivers on my return journey and was rewarded with my first ever Pennine sighting of an Otter with two young. Unfortunately they were only distant views and by the time I had approached closer, in true Otter fashion, they had disappeared.

In the cold weather our garden continues to star with more than twenty species of birds seen on every day this month. On the 9th we had a new species as a superb male Kestrel descended on a Blue Tit in the Hawthorne at the rear of the garden. Fortunately the Blue Tit escaped to live another day. Overnight on the 10th a Tawny Owl was calling – the first we have heard for several years.

Hedgerow Surprise

December 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm

While searching for Waxwings along the hawthorne hedges last week I came across this roosting Long Eared Owl. It is always a wonderful moment to encounter such a bird that has almost certainly come to us for Winter from Scandinavia and may have crossed the North Sea with the Waxwings. Ironically this Owl was only yards from the spot where , in 1975, I caught and ringed a dozen roosting Long Eared Owls. It was the largest number ever caught in Britain at one time and was even more special when one was re-captured the following Spring, brooding young, in a forest just outside Oslo proving exactly where they had all come from.

For the first time ever we have had more than twenty species in the garden on each of the last seven days. The Willow Tit has been joined by Song Thrush, Reed Buntings and now up to three Bullfinches. Numerous apples have been spread around the garden in the hope of attracting Waxwings but unfortunately they all seem to have moved on. However, I did obtain last week the flight shot of a Waxwing I have always dreamt of and this will highlight next week’s blog.

Killer Magpie

December 2, 2012 at 9:28 pm

This Magpie was seen to take a Waxwing from the flock at Hulme this week. Always an opportunist feeder it made a quick move and sadly there was one less of my favourite birds to savour. Having said that at 8.15am on the 28th November there was an incredible 230 Waxwings present in one tree. Whilst spending hours during the week in Hulme I was amazed at the other birds that inhabit the estate. A female Sparrowhawk was always a threat, fourteen Long Tailed Tits fed in the gardens plus a wintering male Blackcap that was devouring the heavy crop of berries of a privet.

The highlight of the week was the return to the garden of the Willow Tit for the sixth Winter in a row. Where it goes for the rest of the year is a mystery. In addition on five days we had more than twenty species feeding,, peaking at a near record of twenty three species on the 2nd December, thanks to the re-appearing Willow Tit. On the canal nearby we also had a pair of Goosanders at dawn.

A drive to Wetherby on 2nd December produced sightings of five, Kestrels, four Buzzards and a Kite. Good to see the Kestrel was back on top.