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Long Eared Owl Success

May 23, 2010 at 7:04 am

Young Long Eared Owl 2

This weeks photo is of a fledged young Long Eared Owl with a vole in its talons. If last week was all about Dotterel then this week is about Long Eared Owls.

I have spent many nights under a camouflage cloth filming two male Long Eared Owls hunting and on some occasions they were passing over my head without realising I was filming below. If you read the books they say that Long Eared Owls are the most nocturnal of all the Owls but when they have young that is far from correct. One of the males I was filming passed six voles to three young before 7.30pm. That is one and a half hours before sunset. Seven young have now fledged from these two nests but when dealing with wildlife there is always a downside. A third nest had its young taken by a predator that I can only think was human.

With good weather all week I have had some successful filming from my hide of Oyster Catcher, Curlew and a cracking Ring Ouzel. I heard my first local Cuckoo calling whilst filming the later species.

In the garden a male Greater Spotted Woodpecker has been coming most days and taking food away in its bill to feed its young. We were awakened one morning by a Whitethroat which was perched at the back of the garden, it was in full song. A new bird and great to hear but not at 4.30am! The warm nights have produced three Pipistrelle bats at dusk and they were chasing one another around the houses.

Dotterel Magic

May 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Purple Saxifrage

There are some days while watching birds that only come along once in a lifetime, Saturday 8th May was one of those days. I had been out in Bowland all day looking for nests to film in the coming weeks and was quite pleased with such things as, Redstarts, Tawny Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Oyster Catcher. However, when I arrived home at 4.00pm there was a message that there were nine Dotterel on a small hill in Rochdale called Brown Wardle. There was no time to lose so it was on with the boots and a drive up to Whitworth. A quick scan of the hill through the binos showed five people sat together near the top, so the Dotterel were still present; it was just a case of a fifteen minute dash up with my equipment and by now tired legs! When I arrived at the summit the Dotterel were asleep and had been for two hours, so I took some film of them as they roosted out of the wind behind tussock grass. It wasn’t long before some cattle approached and coupled with a too close approach by one of the photographers and the rapid fire of his camera they all flew off in a Northerly direction.

With that all five people descended the hill leaving me sat there to contemplate my next move. Thirty minutes later I was about to leave when there was a quick call as all nine birds landed only fifteen feet away. Immediately they started to feed and within a minute I was surrounded by nine Dotterel feeding up to ten feet away. This continued for nearly an hour and was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had in more than fifty years of wildlife encounters. I left them where I found them, roosting behind tussock grass, as the sun set to the West at 8.00pm. I wished them well in their long journey North.

Dippers At The Double

May 10, 2010 at 3:17 am


It is four years since I last filmed breeding Dippers so to film two breeding pairs in the last six days is especially rewarding. The good thing about Dippers is that they feed their young at less than ten minute intervals so you don’t have to wait hours in between feeds as you do with some raptors. The rewarding feature is that they bring different items of prey each time so you never know what will be in their bill on the next feed. At one site the male spent some time singing close to the hide and he had a very varied repertoire. This probably means that he is trying to impress the female again with an eye on a second clutch of eggs. Altogether the time spent on these two pairs was most satisfying especially as they are one of the Pennines most charismatic birds.

A lot of time has been put into finding nests this week and in two days I have found Kingfisher, Curlew, Grey Wagtail, Nuthatch, Willow Warbler and four pairs of Pied Flycatchers – an all time high number of Pied Flycatchers for me.

One of the best birds of the week was a male Black Redstart seen in the high hills East of Burnley. Coincidentally in the same area where I saw a female ten years ago.

There are still plenty of challenges ahead this month and I have yet to find a Golden Plover nest. The search for the Woodcock continues but flushing a roosting male the other day takes me a step closer to finding the illusive sitting female.

Hares Box At Last

May 3, 2010 at 8:53 am


Our last week on Islay and after several early mornings the Hares were boxing. There were six chasing around and sometimes would jump into the air but never caught on camera.

With the wind finally turning South West there has been a flood of birds moving through Islay. Flocks of more than five hundred Golden Plover, two hundred and eighty Brent Geese and hundreds of Black Tailed Godwits, with Whimbrel just beginning to appear. Most of the raptors have been seen but following the severe Winter many are breeding weeks later than last year with a pair of Barn Owls laying their first egg five weeks later than last year.

On the sail back to the mainland twenty eight Great Northern Divers were seen from the boat in only one hour watch.

Volcano delays Migration

April 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Black Tailed Godwit

Yes our week on Islay started with a strong Northerly wind and volcanic dust and ended with the usual South Westerly wind and the wet stuff.

Thousands of Barnacle Geese were held up with the wind when we arrived and most only left on the twenty first of April. To get to Greenland they have to fly through the volcanic dust cloud and at present no one knows what the effects might be and whether or not they will make it. Whooper Swans have also been held up and there has been a great passage of Black Tailed Godwits – all waiting to fly to Iceland. Hundreds of Brent Geese have been passing through but as their route is to the Canadian Arctic they have not been affected as much by the volcano.

Despite the North winds we saw our first Cuckoo on the seventeenth and at least one Corncrake has now arrived. Hares were boxing well one morning and we had a good view of an otter on another.

Some good flocks of Golden Plover have been filmed, one flock consisting of five hundred birds. Hen Harriers are back on their breeding sites with all the Buzzards now incubating eggs. THe highlight of the week bird wise has been watching a male Short Eared Owl giving a spectacular wing clapping display over his breeding site. It is twenty years since I last enjoyed this spectacle but I have not forgotten how dramatic it was.

Flower wise it is going to be the latest season ever with most Primroses only just appearing as a result of the severe Winter that Islay has just had.

The White Pheasant

April 17, 2010 at 4:11 am


Whilst in the Ribble valley this week I saw two different white Pheasants and managed to obtain a quick shot of this one – the other was three miles away and a complete albino. Sadly the albino Carrion Crow that has lived by the M65 for more than ten years is missing this year and must have died. Like most albino birds it was always very wary and I never got the film I wanted of it.

On the eleventh in Bowland I saw my first Redstart of the year and on the twelfth on Hopwood both Blackcap and Whitethroat were singing and a Buzzard was present. The Buzzards have been in the area now for more than five years but I have yet to see a successful breeding.

In the hills I have now seen my tenth Long Eared Owl in less than two weeks which must be a record! The first female is now brooding young and hopefully this year most will have survived Easter. Ring Ouzel and Little Ringed Plover are back on their breeding sites with a pair of Nuthatches using an old Green Woodpecker hole in a valley one thousand foot above sea level, which must surely be a Pennine altitude record!