Entries in the ‘Wildlife’

Shy Bird-The Jay

Filed in Wildlife on Mar.01, 2010

The Jay is the most striking member of the Crow family but the hardest to see/find,usually only located by its harsh scolding screech of a call -‘skaaak,skaaak’.Its shyness is its trade mark for me,this shy woodland bird only ever giving itself away while flying between the trees with its distinctive flash of white on the rump,and bright ‘blue’ flash on the wing feathers.Since a small boy when I was a member of the ‘Young Ornithologist Club’ this bird has captivated me with its mystical manner,shyness to an extreme,I’d sit for hours in my local woodland, with my cold toast,lukewarm coffee in my 1980’s ‘art decco’ style flask on the promise of seeing these birds.My fruitless attempts to track them all ending in sheer frustration,as I’d watch them jumping from tree top to tree top,with them sensing of my need to see these beautiful birds beneath them ever more frustrating for me.

Jay

 So when my good friend and fellow wildlife photographer Ken from Wales invited me over to his feeding station,set in mature woodland of Oak,Beech I jumped at the chance.He has been feeding these birds now for many years,presenting the only realistic chance of ever getting close to these incredible shy birds,enabling me to capture some close up portraits of them.I spent as much time watching them as I did taking images,amazed at the behaviour’s,displays,and dominance of the feed station,their family trademark characteristic of mobbing ever present.

Jay

 Their tyical behavoiur was to fly down,pick up as much food as possible then fly off into the surrounding woodland,bury their stash getting back to the feeding station as quick as their wings would carry them.

 Hiding Food

 They are such a beautiful looking bird up close,having their own distinctive personality,in parts cheeky and bold, but most of the time they are really jumpy,reluctant to leave the shelter of the woodland.An interesting fact is Jay’s are one of the most important natural planters of acorns and the distribution of several Oak species is quite dependent on their presence,so their behaviour of ‘grab and go’ is helping in parts to the successful survival of Oak woodlands,as not all the acorns/nuts they hide can be found to be eaten,resulting in new tree’s-‘Natures Natural Gardener!!’

Jay

 I had a great day, learned some much I didn’t no about this shy bird,thank you to Ken as without your invite these images would’nt have been possible,with full credit going to you my friend for all your hard work over the years in feeding these come rain or shine.

Jay

 He also has Great-Spotted Woodpeckers there,that come in between the visiting Jays.I managed to capture this one while he was perched on this beautiful old Oak log.

If you are visiting woodland wishing to see Jays, watch out for their white rump and black tail as it flies in their characteristic bouncy manner,listen for the call which is harsh and loud,where the Jay may afford you the briefest of chances to see its stunning colours,be warned though,don’t bother to chase it through the woodland hoping it may come down from the tree tops,it always ends in favour of the Jay!.Good luck

 GSW

 CJWP


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Barn Owl -Update

Filed in Articles, Wildlife on Feb.09, 2010

Having returned to my Barn Owl site over the last few days, where I’d previously watched and photographed this beautiful male Barn Owl hunt for food during the country’s really cold weather last month,I was delighted to see the male hunting but at the same time quite bemused as it was raining,with the rain falling as sleet,a behaviour I’ve never seen before in Barn Owls due to it’s hazardous nature.The structure of an adult Barn Owl’s feathers make them perfectly adapted for silent flight,but this makes them prone to waterlogging so consequently they are not suited to hunting in wet weather.The key to an owl’s silent flight is in its feathers, the next time you find an owl feather, turn it on its side and look at the edge — the line of fibers is scalloped, like a stretched seam. The slight alteration in shape allows the feather to cut the air without making sound,making them perfectly aerodynamic.

Barn Owl

Hunting is certainly more difficult in these testing conditions, as sound as well as sight are hindered in locating small mammals due to the rain.I watched him hunt for about two hours with little success,the wind buffeting him around like a kite ,expelling loads of energy in the process.There was no sign of the female so I presume he’s alone and may probably move on shortly.I really hope not as I have become quite fond of this very resilient Owl.I also have received a lot of ‘Fan’ emails asking if he survived the recent cold snap which I covered in my first ‘Barn Owl’ post,so thank you to those people and here is the proof that he’s alive and kicking and his plumage is in stunning conditon with the onset of the breeding season around the corner.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

And what seems to becoming customary now when I go out photographing of late is the ever presence of Stonechats,whether it be male or female they seem to always find me,and keep me company.The image below is of a female who was really intrigued by me,capturing the mood of the day with the inclusion of the weather conditions in the background.

Stonechat

 

The following is a list of useful Tips, which will help to increase your chances of successful Owl watching:

Wear dark, quiet clothes

Get to know the area during daylight, and establish the most suitable areas of habitat for the species that you are hoping to observe (i.e. where they are most likely to hunt)

If you suspect that an area is being used as a roost or nest site you must not disturb it, but watch from a safe distance

When watching a nocturnal species, arrive at your observation position before dusk – this will allow for your eyes to become gradually accustomed to the gathering darkness, and will ensure that you are ready and settled before the owls emerge

Do not disturb the birds in any way – remain hidden at all times

If you accidentally stray close to a nest, move quickly and quietly away as Barn Owls have Schedule 1 protection status

I have really enjoyed my close encounters with this tough,hardy male Barn Owl and if he remains in this area I will look forward to photographing him,even better if he attracts a mate and breeds I’ll have another long term project to concentrate on with the images being displayed on future blogs-fingers crossed.I hope you’ve enjoyed the trails,tribulations of this owl documented in my blogs as much as I have on the ground.


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Eye Contact

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.19, 2010

Revisited the Barn Owl and Short-eared Owl site yesterday,the first time since the snow had melted and what greeted me was more like the landscape of an estuary than the farmland and rough grazing habitat where these owl are spending the winter months.With the access water from the snow and the rain everywhere, the fields were saturated,with knowhere for this extra water to drain off too,the ground was just full of water.This left isolated pockets of ground scattered among the water with little chance of a meal for the owls among this sodden landscape.

SEO

This made it very difficult for the owls to hunt in,but I was really glad to see the male Barn Owl I had spent alot of time with a few weeks ago having survived the unprecedented cold spell of freezing weather we’d just endured.His two favorite stretches of land he prefers to hunt in were underwater so he was at a different spot,some distance away so I hope to catch up with him soon before both these species of owl leave and head to their summer breeding grounds around mid to late February.I was just about to pack up as an impending storm was gathering when a Short-eared Owl landed  to my right on the fence line.

SEO

He hadn’t seen me at first,so I waited for him to get relaxed as he was looking up,down and around at first,I then took a few images and proceeded forward at a snails pace,stopping as he looked my way,when he looked away or started to clean himself I carried on forward until I got about 20 foot away from him where he gave me this stare which you can see above,this was the cut off point for my advances as I read his behaviour as I entered past the ‘comfort’ zone all animals have.Not bad as I would have looked like a large bush coming towards him, he just didn’t no what I was as I moved very slowly, watching the ground where I put my lead foot down as not to tread on something that would give me away.

SEO

I have always found you must read the signs the subject will give you,interpret them quickly.eg are they going to move,or fly off,are they cleaning,feeding,resting,happy,troubled and so on, so you can get an understanding if they are agitated by you presence.This will give you valuable time to get the images you want,they may still fly off or move but its better to have done your approach this way because if things go your way you will be able to capture close up and interment moments and truly benefit from the close encounter with the subject you chose to find that day.

SEO

This Short-eared Owl went off hunting before the storm came,as it was the last I saw him,another close moment for me to treasure.If you put into place the simple techniques I have described you too will be able to get quiet close with a lot of patience,self belief and good fieldcraft, so when you get to where you’d like to be with your subject, the easy bit should be pressing your shutter button and composing your images.I will be back very soon to get some better images of both owls I hope and will update my blog.Hope the tips and advice has helped.


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Whooper Swan 2

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.14, 2010

Spent a few days again photographing our most beautiful winter visitor to the UK shores,the beautiful and elegant,’Whooper Swan’, I have been trying to get close up views of the formations they fly in, inches apart from disaster should they touch each other in flight,  I was trying to convey the organised manner in which they fly so close together as well.

Whooper Swans

I’ve been watching them feed on farmland from the outskirts of woodland on the North-West coast of the UK for the last 3 months.Once they have eaten they fly off to their overnight roost site where they spend the night,the sky is temporary a wash with white as hundreds of Whoopers taken flight.While waiting I had a Treecreeper for company,wanted to show the lovely patterns on the tree trunk and the splash of white from the snow during our coldest spell of weather in decades in the UK.I have composed the bird to give you an idea of how well these tiny birds blend into their habitat

Treecreeper

Whooper Swans spend their time here during our winter months before migrating back to their breeding areas which range from Iceland to NE Siberia, they depart from their breeding areas in September and reach wintering areas by November leaving the wintering area,ie UK, in mid-March for a May return .Whooper swans are highly vocal,with bugling calls,these are used during aggressive encounters, with softer “contact” noises used as communication between paired birds and families. Calls accompanying pre-flight head-bobbing are also important for maintaining pair and family bonds. Several types of threat display are seen in winter to establish the dominance hierarchy in the wintering flock, ranging from head-low threats and pecks to more dramatic neck-stretching and wing-flapping displays, resulting occasionally in physical combat.

Whooper Swans

There’s still quite a bit of time to see these beautiful birds that spend their winters with us in their favoured habitats of lakes, estuaries, marshes,flooded fields and farmland before they depart for their breeding grounds in March-April.They fly so effortless for a large bird and I watched amazed at how close they fly next to each other,all knowing there places without colliding into one another

Whooper Swans

The couple of photographs below of a Whooper Swan give you some ideal of their individual size and wing shape which make these formations even more remarkable

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan


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Barn Owl

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.09, 2010

As the country freezes in one of the coldest spells of weather for decades I have spent almost the last month moving from one location to another location in the hope of photographing Barn and Short-eared Owls in there habitats,and hopefully some close up shots.Over the last 7 days I have concentrated my efforts solely on alone male Barn Owl which has taken up residence over farm and marshland not to far from my home.I’d watch for hours on end some days and go home with nothing but the smile on my face as I’d laugh to myself knowing that dealing with wild animals is not always as predicable as you’d think.This laughter this week has also been tinted with sadness also as I’d watch a starving Barn Owl hunt over snow covered fields,making simple errors when diving for food,being mobbed by Rooks and Crows as they’d watch the Barn Owl do all the work and then rob him of his catch,knowing that all the energy the Owl had expended hunting was now in vain due to being mugged by the ever present,opportunist Crow family members.

Barn Owl

I have had some really beautiful and close encounters this week with this Barn Owl as he hunted for the healthy population of voles this area has with the constant rustling vegetation I’d witnessed as these rodents woke up and starting going about their daily tasks, as I lay in what for the owl to show up.The saddest thing for me was just watching the Barn Owl frantically trying to locate and hunt for prey as the ground had a small blanket of snow covering it which was made ever worse by the weather and cold conditions these and many more animals are facing during this unprecedented spell of cold weather we are having.I can say though on the few times I witnessed the Barn Owl hunting he was very successful in catching his prey and out running the Rooks,Crows that tried to take his catch,a real struggle for life and survival on all sides though,and with more snow predicted I fear for every animal that lives outdoors.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

On one occasion the Barn Owl came almost alongside me and started to hover as he’d seen something below,I couldn’t believe my luck,the sun was starting to go down and here I was looking like a bush, listening to the wing beats of one of my favorite birds that has enchanted me from childhood,he allowed my a few images until he called time and disappeared-WOW!

Barn Owl

I managed to capture the moment he was flying off with what looked like streamers attached to him but they were pieces of long grass he’d picked up with the vole he’d caught the following two images show you this funny spectacle.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

I am going back shortly once the forecasted snow has fallen to see this Barn Owl I’ve become quite fond of, hopefully he will have been able to survive the continuing cold spell which I do hope will break very soon to give everyone a break.  My aim is to continue  photographing this owl for as long as he lets me in this area.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl


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Owls

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.05, 2010

Owls have long since been one of my most favorite family of birds to watch and photograph,and I travel all over the UK to see them,their pull is that strong for me.So yesterday I visited another new site away from the failing North-West Coast where I’d spent 2-3 weeks on the run up to Christmas waiting in the freezing conditions for Barn and Short-eared Owls to turn up.This year though on the marshland and estuaries of  this area their numbers have been very low and quiet alarming.I did capture some amazing red skies there though and the ever popular ‘cheeky chappy’ male Stonechats that kept me company during the long hours spent waiting.

Barn Owl Hunting

The images included in this article are from this new site and I really was lucky to see both Barn and Short-Eared Owls on my first visit there yesterday.The conditions were perfect with no wind or rain and dry, the only difficulty for the hunting owls was that the ground was frozen rock hard and the image above shows the small pools of which their prey live and feed in and around in were all frozen.I composed the above image to try a convey this scene,with the frozen small pools and the owl small in the frame,with the setting sun just adding that warmth and wonderful colour to the photo,at full size it looks amazing.

Barn Owl

Most of the images I captured from the day were shot in near darkness at ISO 1000.,the image above was from early morning and one of the few chances I had until later on in the evening.The winter frost can be seem behind the hunting Barn Owl as I captured it quartering on this patch of farmland.I just love watching these birds I nickname the ‘Ghost’ as they are so silent and appear from nowhere then in a flash are gone

Barn Owl

In near darkness this Barn Owl seen above,  turned up and started to hunt,I managed a few shots and then a Short-Eared Owl showed up seen below,it had awoken from the area they are roosting in,sat on this fence post,had a look at what I was ,then went off hunting.You wait all day and nothing shows up then within the space of 5 minutes both owls turned up.

Short-eared Owl

Beginners luck on my first day I think!.Looking forward to going back with the aim of getting some close up shots of both owls. I watched both owls hunt and the paths they used, where they mainly hunted giving me a better idea of where to go,stand etc, so hopefully I can get lucky again the next time I go.I did manage to capture a Short-Eared Owl flying past me with a vole,taken with a slow shutter speed.

Short eared owl

Barn Owl

The last image of a wonderful day,the Barn Owl was heading back to its roost and I didn’t see him again, this image captures that as it was ‘Goodnight from Him’ and ‘Goodnight from Me’ as the famous line goes from one of my favorite comedy double acts ‘The Two Ronnies’ I hope you have the luck I had when you are out and about looking for wildlife, if you are looking for Barn and Short eared Owls remember they don’t come out in rain only in extreme circumstances ie feeding young.They like very little wind,hunt over open farmland and rough grazing,and favour dawn and dusk,good luck.


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