Sunday, 29 November 2009

Brief moments

I knew it was going to be a bad week when my cars power steering failed just as I started the second section of last weeks webs count. As the week wore on even my problems developed problems and with the poor weather, not a photograph was taken. Got out briefly Friday evening and snatched a view of one Short eared Owl seeing off a Buzzard along with a Sparrowhawk gliding up one of the ditches hoping for an easy meal as seventy or so Fieldfare came in to roost and the growing Lapwing flock rose skyward but not a shot was taken in the failing light.
As I woke on Saturday morning I groaned as I realised the place was fogbound and the chance for some birding solace had been removed. Spent the morning tidying the weeks devastation when I realised the cloud had burnt off and the sun was out. Should I work or............ I needed to take some shots and Bolam Lake was on the way to my early afternoon appointment.
Arrived to find a sunlit oasis of calm punctuated by moments of motorbike revings, child screamings, dog barkings, womans chattings and idiots shouting into mobile phones. WHY? Anyway there was plenty of Nuthatch and Woodpecker calling but they were staying well up the trees out of the commotion. Even the Mallards were unusually shy and with two Canada Geese, two Goldeneye and three Tufties all staying well away from the shore I reverted to the easy target to fulfill my desires.
Achieving not remotely spectacular results I headed home and after a fruitless visit to Ponteland Park ended up you know where. Beautiful sunshine but very cold and an ominous haze on the horizon which rolled toward me as I prayed for some early hunting birds but only a pair of Buzzard and a male Stonechat provided any amusement. The fog bank eventually moved over the Carr providing a false sunset before enveloping the full disc of the sun and creating an cold and mysterious light.
No sooner had the fog arrived than it started to disperse and I noticed an Owl mobbing a Kestrel to the west. This was certainly a belligerent bird if it was the same one as the previous evening and I moved down the bumpy road to observe only to find MH set up and sketching a distant Buzzard. He too was after owls and we set off west to get a closer view. The Owl veered off overhead as a photographer warned us of its approach and getting into the open we watched as it hunted over the fields, then joined by another and another till briefly four were in the air. They split and two mobbed the Buzzard whilst the other two vanished into the ether as quickly as they came. MH quickly set up and took advantage of the remaining moments of light as a bird perched some fifty yards away. All to soon however the light faded and the bird moved off and another brief moment of pleasure had been achieved.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

G rain

With the weather the last few days that's all I'm getting in my photography, rain and grain as I never seem to be below 1600 Iso. Would help of course if the Prestwick Carr Owls would fly before 3.00pm but at least they're still there which is remarkable given that the ditches have broken their banks and the land is flooded such that its showing even in the long grass as picture below. Owl pictured badly above is perched in left had bush just below the skyline.
JSB and colleague turned up on Tuesday evening and we managed all four birds in the air together, all hunting / squabbling with themselves and passing Crows / Kestrels.
What a shot it would have been if only there was some light or I had spent a few thousand pounds, which I don't have, on better kit. Never mind, the grain and lack of quality is annoying but the fact I can achieve an image is fine by me just for interests sake when just five or so years ago there would have been little point attempting.
Another fly boy was patrolling the area on Tuesday. I wonder if City Birder can I.D. this as toadstool or mushroom?

Look you can even see the co-pilot (or more likely the trainee pilot) in the cockpit. These digital cameras amaze me. Canon 500D 70-300 zoom lens taken from 2.3km away 60th sec F5.6 & 1600 ISO in bloody awful weather for the record not that anybody would want to repeat it.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

No counts

Out before first light this morning to try and find some geese to count. These nine Greylag above were present near Horton Grange flash on Tuesday but this morning it was a no show. This flash formed after the completion of the opencast and was present for a year until this summer when Banks carried out extensive drainage works. You can see in the background that it's making an effort to reform.
Checked Banks Pond but only the call of a Tawny Owl from the copse at Curlew Cottage, then up to Prestwick Road to get a view of the whole Carr, then to the west end where the water level continues to rise. This is quite normal for the area where there is about a two day lag between the rain and the peak water level as the water backs up the ditches from the restricted outfall to the River Pont. Pied Wagtails were beginning to feed on the horse fields near Mill Farm where the owners attempts to raise the land have also shown little success.
Shame the flood is too late to bring in any waders although a small flock of Lapwing and the occasional Golden Plover overhead is nice but little chance of me adding to my current 100 for the year. Oh memories of Pec Sand, Little Stint, Wood Sand, Ruff and Greenshank from last year. I'd even settle for a Redshank to be honest.
Never mind, back up the bumpy road counting Woodpigeon as they emerged from their roost in the wood. Got up to around 430 before birds started returning and confusing the issue. Gulls started drifting inland as I checked the grassy slope where the geese used to roost. Unfortunately in this area Banks drainage has actually worked and the flash they used at the base of the slope has gone and the Blackpool drain works effectively.
No sign of any early owls but I notice that land where they have hunted for the last month is largely flooded although it still looks like fen grassland. This may explain last evening where from 2.00pm till 4.00 there was not an owl to be seen. Bit of a shame as there were at least ten people waiting for them to appear. I have two theories. Either, they have abandoned the area as the flood set in and have moved elsewhere. If this were the case I would expect to see birds near the Airport, at Havannah, Arcot or north of the wood. The alternative is that as the water rose the voles were disturbed to the higher ground and the owls gorged themselves and hence didn't need to hunt last night. This has occurred before when in a major flood there was evidence that all the small mammals were driven onto the hump back bridge on the bumpy road, it being the only dry ground for 200 m in any direction, and that the Owls and Kestrels made hay. Let's hope this is so.

Final check up the range track where Fieldfare and Redwing were much in evidence along with a Mistle Thrush trying to protect its larder as it did with gusto at the same place last year. End result.............a no count. Well they say its as important as finding birds but not as satisfying.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What, no pictures!

Turned up on Prestwick Carr in splendid sunshine at 3.00pm yesterday. Unpacked the gear and walked up the bumpy road to join a birder I recognise from many twitches at St Marys Island who was scanning for the owls. As we talked we spotted a bird hunting in the middle of the fields just south of the road, then another then another till three were circling each other and another was perched on a bush nearby. Then as I scanned right another bird was found perched on the fence line quite near us. Bill had reported five yesterday so we watched for ten minutes or so from a distance whilst the ariel dance continued. Then the crows turned up and three blokes, one quite portly in a bright red shirt, walked across the fields and started to herd the cows. Two owls did their usual corvid avoidance strategy and circled up higher and higher whilst the others came down onto the ground one perching on the fence 50 yards away. My fellow birder had run out of time so departed and I realised I had barely taken a photograph of the spectacle. Never mind the two lads usually in the hide at Big Waters were up the road and must have filled their boots. I waited for the perched bird to fly but it stayed perched for almost three quarters of an hour whilst I chatted to others present who had identified a total of six birds at one stage. I presume the new arrivals are continental birds and, given the sighting of five at Seaton, the influx seems to be quite large. The thought of approaching the 2000 record of eleven - fourteen birds would be nice but it beats me how you can count that many with certainty. Five - six is hard enough!!
The bird eventually started hunting again as the freezing mist rose up and as the cold began to grip I decided to depart without waiting for the Barn Owls to show. Couldn't see very far anyway!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Better than Fireworks

It's nice when life is predicatable with things running smoothly and this week at least, the owls of Prestwick Carr have been keeping a regular timetable. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Short eared Owls flying at 4.30 followed by Barn Owls at 5.00 with one to four of the former and two of the latter. The only problem is they're waiting till dark which I know may seem an unfair criticism for an owl but perhaps the Short-eareds be made aware that they often fly in daylight. Anyway, despite the lack of good photographs yesterday was spectacular as four SEO's mobbed a Buzzard perched in one of the bushes before disappearing after five or ten minutes as indeed they had done every other night to be replaced by two Barn owls who appear from Prestwick village and after a brief perch in the south east corner hunt their way across the field, over the bumpy track and into the wood. Not long extended views but precious moments (that could be a song!)

Tonight I turned up at 3.30 and just as I walked up the bumpy road I spotted two birds in the distance. Typical, SEOs flying early and overcast dull conditions. Perhaps that's why. Anyway persued the pair up and down the road for about half an hour getting some poor shots but some excellent views. At one stage was trying so hard to get the photo that I didn't notice a Deer that had been flushed from the centre of the field and was heading off in the other direction.

Was joined by another birdwatcher then Bill and we all got some great views as up to four birds hunted back and forth in front of us. It was coming up to five pm so Bill and I focused on the south east corner for the arrival of the Barn Owls. The other birdwatcher decided to stay for the event and he was glad he did. The first Barn Owl duly appeared on cue and hunted off to the east then moving over the field towards us it flushed a Short Eared Owl and there was a brief squabble before both birds disappeared. There was some calling and we focused in the almost total dark to see what was happening. Then, fifty yards into the field the Barn Owl appeared flying at rush top height down the fence line towards us. It kept coming, and coming, and coming and then rose up over the gate ten feet in front of us forcing the other two to drop their bins as it banked away left and with a flap was gone. The image of that pure white underside just feet away and the fact that I actually heard some sound as it flapped its wings will remain with me forever. Also that brief moment of fear when it just didn't stop coming and looking directly at us I felt the possibilty of an Eric Hosking type accident (the only way I'll get myself and the great man in the compared in the same sentence). I was transfixed and the camera was switched off so no photo but both eyes still intact!