Friday, 22 January 2010

A Welcome Return

It had been another frustrating week when I hadn't got out to do any serious bird photography. The weather was still very cool and it has been depressingly dull and I couldn't work up much enthusiasm for a trip out.
I have managed to photograph some birds today in the back garden two of which haven't been seen for some time and it was good to see them back again. The jay suddenly appeared and I had to quickly put peanuts out for it as they had all been taken by a visiting grey squirrel. My next visitor was a goldcrest, a bird I hadn't seen for a few months and I was sure it had probably fallen victim to the recent wintry weather. Somehow it had managed to survive and it was busily searching for food in one of my conifers.
I have never had much luck photographing goldcrests, they are so active that it is almost impossible to get a decent shot and they always seem to turn up when the light is poor. So it was today when I spotted it, it was extremely gloomy and the few images I did manage are very grainy. However it was heartwarming to see it back in the garden and hopefully it's next visit will be in much more favourable conditions for some better images. My best efforts are shown above.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Stonechats On Ice ......Conclusion

This is a follow up to the  two previous posts about the stonechats and their remakable strategy for survival during the recent spell of severe wintry weather. I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and to record on camera what may be unique behaviour by stonechats.
This behaviour and the images I obtained have produced considerable interest from friends and colleagues who are very knowledgeable in the fields of bird behaviour and identification of freshwater invertebrates.First and foremost I would like to thank Pete Woodruff, a very keen local birdwatcher, whose passion for keeping records of sightings and observations has in Pete's words   "become a strict religion ". Pete's favourite bird is the stonechat and he has recently spent a lot of time researching the feeding behaviour of the stonechat and is currently ensuring that my observations and images don't go unnoticed at both local and national level.... PETE THANK YOU.
Mention must also be made of Tony Riden,Countryside Officer with the Arnside and Silverdale AONB ,who identified what the stonechats were catching from the hole in the ice. This was also confirmed by Jonathan Latimer, a local Wildlife Artist and Illustrator, whose magnificent work can be seen at  Jonathan has on his website a painting of the freshwater invertebrate being caught by the stonechats ( Notonecta glauca ) . Thanks to you both.
In summary therefore it has been established that the stonechats were catching and feeding on a freshwater invertebrate commonly known as a common backswimmer, a type of water boatman. This may prove to be unique behaviour and I feel priveledged to have witnessed and recorded the event. I have added a few more images from the day and hope that you will enjoy looking at them as much as I did taking them.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Stonechats On Ice......Beetle Feast

As promised in my last post I will now reveal what the stonechats were catching from the hole in the ice on a local lake. When I first saw the male bird catch something from the water I thought it was a small fish and as I didn't have my binoculars with me it wasn't obvious what it had caught. As time went on however and the birds caught more I realised that they were catching Great Diving Beetles .
These large beetles are common inhabitants of still water and are fierce predators  attacking anything that moves including frogs and fish.They carry air supplies with them but when this has been used up they have to return to the surface to replenish supplies. So this is what was happening at this hole in the ice and the stonechats had been quick to seize an opportunity to obtain food in the very difficult conditions for survival during the current spell of Arctic weather.
It did in fact remind me of tactics employed by polar bears as they lie in wait for seals at their breathing holes in the Arctic ice. It was a tactic that paid off and during my stay both male and female stonechats must have caught around nine or ten of these large beetles. It was fascinating to watch and I hope some of the images I obtained and shown above convey what was very interesting behaviour. I am not sure if this has ever been observed before. At least one of my followers is very knowledgeable about stonechats and will no doubt enlighten me.
I can only hope that this clever behaviour has managed to help the stonechats to survive the recent severe weather. It is now very slowly improving and hopefully the worst is over but no doubt many creatures will have perished.As always however survival of the fittest ensures that many will survive to look forward to times of plenty in the months ahead.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Stonechats On Ice

Last week I revisited a local area where I had previously seen  stonechats and I was determined to obtain some decent images of these beautiful little birds. The severe wintry weather was still with us  and I hoped the birds had survived the Arctic conditions. I know that stonechat are very likely not to survive in prolonged cold spells such as we are currently experiencing. The birds were indeed still around and I was able to obtain some wonderful images of both male and female stonechat as they perched and posed on the vegetation surrounding a largely frozen over lake.
I spent the next hour and a half with the birds as I realised that both birds were visiting a hole in the ice to obtain food. What I observed was amazing behaviour as both birds fed from this hole in the ice. What they were feeding on was a revelation as they extracted their prey from the water and I will keep my readers in suspense until my next posting when I will post more details and images from this memorable visit to my local patch. Meanwhile I am posting a few images of the birds on the ice and posing in the afternoon sun on bankside vegetation.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Going For Gold

Access to the countryside has been severely restricted owing to the Arctic weather we are currently experiencing. Anywhere away from main roads is like a skating rink and to take the car to the usual birding areas would be foolhardy. I have therefore this week been exploring local areas  on foot and have enjoyed some great opportunities to capture some nice winter landscapes as the snow and severe frosts have made for a winter wonderland.
It has also been excellent for bird photography with brilliant light and birds searching for food in the extreme conditions. I had noticed on a New Year's Day walk that a patch of teasels was attracting a trio of goldfinches eager to extract the seeds and allowing a close approach. However on this occasion I was only armed with a small compact camera which wasn't suitable for bird photography so I vowed to return after the holiday to see if they were still around.
Yesterday I returned on a fabulous sunny and very frosty afternoon and after walking through woodlands I arrived at the open area near to the River Ribble where I had seen the goldfinches. They were not there but I enjoyed myself photographing a stonechat which was enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Later I returned to the teasel patch to find three goldfinches greedily feeding and extracting seeds from the teasel heads. I spent the next half hour or so taking hundreds of images of these beautiful birds as they posed for me atop the teasel heads.
It was a wonderful experience as the birds allowed a close approach and were completely unconcerned by my presence. I had only previously photographed goldfinches on or around bird feeders and always thought that one day a better opportunity would occur. This was that day and I enjoyed it to the full. I was reluctant to leave but the frost was beginning to bite and I had a long trek back through the woods with cameras and tripod etc. I will probably return soon  and hope to post more images of the resident stonechat. Both the goldfinches and the stonechat had really brightened up my day and proved that you don't have to go too far to enjoy the beauty of our winter countryside. I have posted a few images from the day but hopefully more may follow if the birds remain in the area.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy New Year.......Nice and Icy

It was nice to return to normality after the lengthy Christmas and New Year Festivities. Kath and I decided on a walk from Scorton despite the very icy conditions underfoot. After a coffe at The Barn we set off to find that the side roads and pavements out of Scorton were treacherous with sheet ice.
We eventually managed to find our way along the top lanes towards Nicky Nook and joined the other walkers determined to enjoy what was a fabulous sunny winter's day. Once we got off the lanes and onto the open fell the going became easier and we made the short climb to the summit of Nicky Nook pausing briefly to enjoy a warming flask of hot soup. Family groups were out enjoying the winter conditions and some children were on the ice of the pools on the moorland tarns which we thought unwise but they survived and along with a number of dogs were having a wonderful time.
Towards the top it resembled an Alpine scene with blue skies and snow and the views as always were magnificent, north towards the snow covered Lake District Mountains and towards the east the Bowland Fells also snow covered. The scene westwards was much greener looking across the Fylde towards the sea and Morecambe Bay. We turned round at the trig point and headed back down the same route to the icy lanes again and eventually made our way back safely to Scorton. We passed one motorist who had become stuck on the icy road and had to be pulled to safety by a Land Rover. It was nice to get out again and enjoy a walk in such beautiful surroundings and not very far from home. It looks like the very cold weather is here to stay so I may not be able to venture too far in the early part of the New Year.
A Very Happy and Healthy New Year to all my readers and I look forward to reading of your various exploits. I have posted a few images from yesterday showing the wintry landscape above Scorton and Kath and I enjoying our nice and icy walk.