Saturday, 27 June 2009

Looking for LEO and the Aliens.

This week has been very warm at times and during the daytime I have spent time in the garden trying to tidy up  " the jungle ". On two of the evenings I met up with friend Paul as we renewed our quest to photograph long eared owls on the Lancashire Pennine moorland high up in the Forest of Rossendale. It has proved to be very frustrating at times with poor visibility, hordes of midges and disturbance from dog walkers etc. We persevered however and Paul had some success when I wasn't with him in getting good close up views of the long eared owl and managed a shot in the failing light. So far I haven't had a close encounter but have seen the owl on all of my visits. For the time being I will have to be content with distant views and one or two grainy flight shots. It has however been a wonderful experience to see these magnificent owls hunting over the high moorland and I can't wait to return soon and look forward to those magic moments when I will be face to face with a Long Eared Owl. The images show Paul in action with the big lens, a windfarm high up on the moors, what looks like an alien space ship coming down through the clouds, one of my grainy flight shots and Paul's close up of the long eared owl.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Catchers and Rabbits

I had decided with the improving weather on Monday p.m. to pay another visit to see the very obliging spotted flycatcher which had shown well on my last visit to the area near Abbeystead  in the Trough of Bowland. On the way there I was amazed by the huge numbers of rabbits that seemed to be everywhere in the roadside fields, they were mostly young ones and it had obviously been an excellent breeding season The fields too looked well, coloured yellow by a good crop of buttercups and adding to the splendid Bowland scenery.
The first catcher I saw was an Oystercatcher looking very colourful on guard duty close to his nest in one of the hillside pastures.  Not long after I had a glimpse of my second catcher as he flew away from his favourite little hunting spot. I needn't have worried however as the spotted flycatcher duly returned on and off for the next hour or so giving me ample opportunities to add more images of this delightful bird to my collection. By now the very warm weather was returning and I decided to head for home after yet another memorable afternoon in this delightful area of Lancashire. The images show the flycatcher and the oystercatcher, one of the hundreds of rabbits I saw and a general view of the upland pastures looking to the fells of Bowland.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Spotty and Long Ears

It has been an excellent week weatherwise and I have been out and about with the camera looking particularly for spotted flycatchers. I finally caught up with a very obliging bird near Abbeystead in the Forest of Bowland. I would  like to thank Pete Woodruff for giving me details of the location of this bird and as promised it did perform for me. It was a very hot afternoon and the bird was absent for long periods but did return to its favourite fence posts a couple of times and I was able to observe and photograph this delightful summer visitor. I understand that spotted flycatchers are not as common as they once were and it was the first one that I had seen at close quarters. Thanks again Pete.
After the sighting of the spotted flycatcher I returned home for tea and then later that evening I had an appointment with another friend Paul and a long eared owl!!!  Paul knew the area where a pair of long eared owls had been breeding for many years and where he had previously had a close encounter with one of these magnificent birds. The location was high up in the Pennine moorlands between Burnley and Rawtenstall where we duly arrived around 8.30pm.  We were in position on moorland up above the forested area where the owls have their nest site and around 9pm we had our first view of one of the long ears. It was quartering the moorland but never really came close to us. We followed its progress for a while and briefly had good but distant views of it perching on a moorland wall. The evening was spoilt by thousands of midges as there was little breeze to move them on and despite us using copious amounts of repellant the little buggers still got through our defences !!! It had however been an interesting encounter with what is normally a very difficult owl to observe during daylight hours. The only ones I have previously seen have been during the winter months  at the well known roost at Marton Mere at Blackpool and these have always been asleep deep in thickets of dense scrub. I will return soon to hopefully enjoy closer and prolonged views of these magnificent owls as they hunt over the wild moorlands of the Lancashire Hill Country. The images show the lovely little spotted flycatcher in the Forest of Bowland and the long eared owl hunting on his moorland territory.

Looking at Ingleborough

On Sunday of this week Kath and I went for our usual walk in the countryside. We parked at Chapel- le- Dale near Ingleton and did a circular walk via the farms that lie along the flank of Whernside. It was not a strenuous walk but one that provided magnificent views  of the surrounding stunning scenery, particularly Yorkshire's highest mountain, Ingleborough.
The weather had settled down and we enjoyed warm and sunny weather but it was tempered by cooling breezes and it was indeed perfect walking weather. One of the farms we passed en route, Ellerbeck, was about to shear approx 300 sheep which had just been brought down from the surrounding fellsides and we had to pick our way through the flock penned up in the farmyard. We stopped for lunch at a delightful rocky spot looking across buttercup meadows to Ingleborough and with views in another direction to the famous Ribblehead Viaduct. Another very pleasant mile or so found us back at the car having stopped for choc ices at a farmyard cafe. It had been a delightful walk with magnificent views of the limestone scenery around Ingleborough. The images show various views along the way of Ingleborough and Ribblehead Viaduct and Brian and Kath at our lunch spot.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Time for a Sandwich

It was a few years since I had visited the RSPB reserve at Hodbarrow near Millom,so with a forecast of continuing summer weather, I left with brother Dennis for a trip to the Cumbrian Coast. It was a journey of about seventy miles passing through delightful scenery with wonderful views of the Coniston range of mountains,looking impressive in the summer sun. Having negotiated the very rough access track to Hodbarrow Point we found we virtually had it to ourselves with very few people about. The tide was beginning to push in and we looked forward to action from the colony of Sandwich Terns which nest on the nearby lagoon and make frequent flights to and from the Duddon Estuary with food for their young chicks.
There was indeed plenty of action during our stay and I enjoyed myself trying for decent shots of the terns. I found it difficult to follow and focus on the birds as they passed by  and the results were passable but I know I can do better and will return. The very bright sky and white plumage of the birds seemed to fool the camera and exposure was not correct but brother and I had a very enjoyable day out and enjoyed this very quiet part of Cumbria. We even had a trip down the road to HMP HAVERIGG where the inmates have recently been in the news. A very interesting area to visit and worthy of a retun at some stage, and maybe to also have a look at another tern colony on Foulney Island on the other side of the Duddon Estuary. The images above show a couple of my best efforts with the sandwich terns,the lighthouse at Hodbarrow Point and a general view of the lagoon and nesting area for the terns at RSPB Hodbarrow.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Birds, Buttercups and Bowland

At last the weather seems to have settled down a bit, although it is still cool and windy. I have therefore managed a few afternoons up in the Forest of Bowland, which recently has become my second home. Most of the breeding birds now seem to have mated and set up territories and are busy feeding young. They have therefore been easier to observe and approach with the camera but never too close so as to upset them. The whinchat has been my primary objective and I have been pleased with the results so far. Whinchats do seem to be more numerous this year but stonechat numbers maybe down.
The whinchats and wheatears have shown well on the bracken covered and rocky hillsides of the valley of the infant River Hodder up in a wild and lonely part of Lancashire. Higher up still on the moorland and hill pastures curlews,lapwings and oystercatchers have been busy on the nesting grounds. Some of these high pastures are at the moment a sea of yellow as thousands of buttercups are in flower and along with the grasses etc provide a wonderful sight and a home for the curlews etc to raise their broods. This is certainly a great time to be out and about in the hill country as a nice surprise in the form of a peregrine falcon,hen harrier , merlin or raven may be on the wing checking the moorlands for an easy meal.
I hope some of the images above convey some of the beauty at present on show in the Forest of Bowland. Shown are a typical buttercup meadow, two images of the spledid male whinchat on territory, a wheatear showing off his fine tail feathers and a wet curlew close to his nest on the high fells of Bowland.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Quest for the Mountain Blackbird

June had arrived and with it some very warm weather, which was long overdue. It was an ideal opportunity to get back to the wilds of the Forest of Bowland and continue my search for the Ring Ouzel or Mountain Blackbird as it is sometimes known. A friend, Peter joined me on my first foray into the wilds. It was a very warm day but a little cooler up on the fells. We had an excellent session seeing some of the Bowland specialities. We saw pied flycatchers , spotted flycatchers and redstarts in the woodland and on the open fells we saw whinchat, stonechat, wheatear and a pair of nesting canada geese. Overhead a pair of peregrine falcons were patrolling the skies and we had fleeting views of a male hen harrier but didn't see or hear ring ouzel.
The Ring Ouzel is now a very scarce bird in Lancashire, Bowland is it's stronghold but it has been estimated that there may only be some twenty pairs or so now breeding. For my second excursion of the week Paul joined me and we hiked up to a remote valley where we had previously had tantalising glimpses of ring ouzel but on that visit the constant rain had definitely put a damper on things. This time the weather was very different as the very warm weather was here to stay . We had a very enjoyable afternoon and eventually we were rewarded for our efforts with views of a male ring ouzel on territory as he sang from a nearby rowan tree.We managed a few hasty shots before we had to return to civilisation.
On my third visit of the week to Bowland I was alone and decided on a return to the remote valley where Paul and I had previously seen the ring ouzel. Again the weather was very kind and it was pleasantly warm and sunny. The ring ouzels were about but I only had views of the male bird as he returned periodically with food for his family. Again I managed a few shots but the bird was wary and didn't like me being there. Satisfied with my efforts I walked down to a nearby beck where a whinchat was singing but was unable to locate it. I did however get some wonderful images of a meadow pipit with a huge moth in it's beak, food for it's hungry brood. The moth was a big one, similar to Emperor Moth, but as yet I have not identified the species. Well pleased with my afternoon's efforts I made the long walk back to the car and civilisation. The images show a female redstart returning to a nest site in a Bowland wood, a meadow pipit with a beak full of moth and the male ring ouzel on territory in the lonely valley high up in the Bowland fells.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Chats and Starts

Following my trip last week to Bempton Cliffs ,this week found me back in more familiar territory in the Bowland Fells. I revisited the woodland where redstarts are nesting and was rewarded with some excellent views of the birds as they came regularly to the nest site to feed their recently hatched chicks. The birds were not bothered by my prescence and posed nicely for me during my stay as they came in with food for their brood. Also present in the woodland were spotted flycatchers but they were flighty and not approachable but hopefully will perform for the camera on a later visit.
Later with a friend I visited a nearby fell where we knew that stonechats and whinchats were present. Eventually we caught sight of the male whinchat posing on the top of the heather a few hundred yards away . Quietly and carefully we were able to approach nearer to the birds, as we had seen that a female was also present and this area of fell is likely to be their nesting territory.The evening sunshine was now bathing the fells in good light, and it had at long last been a warm day, in a month when it had been cool and when rain seemed to fall on most days. We decided not to disturb the birds and left them to the peace and quiet of this lonely part of Bowland. As we were leaving a male stonechat posed nicely for us and friend Paul nearly stepped on an adder. It had been an eventful afternoon in Bowland, with wondeful views of some of the special birds that choose to breed in this delightful and remote part of Lancashire. The images show the males of stonechat,whinchat and redstart all seen on this wonderful afternoon in the Bowland Fells.