Thursday, 26 January 2017

Edging through the winter months

Depending on the weather I can find a great deal of enjoyment during the winter months. Obviously grey and drab misty days hold little enjoyment for wildlife watchers and photographers but given the prospect of a bright day, especially with overnight frost, I can plan the evening before with some expectation of a good day ahead.

Planning is quite important for what I do, checking reports of bird sightings in nearby areas, contacting friends to find what they have seen and sharing my sightings too. Check all the gear the night before and you find you have far less of those "Oh **** I haven't got my ......" insert words as you wish!

My raptor watchpoint is a very treasured part of my wildlife watching world, some days we see little activity or the birds are only visible and identifiable through telescopes but the company is great and we do have some successful days, my personal record is nine different raptors in a day.

One of the team puts some bird food on a nearby wall for the smaller birds, chaffinches are regular visitors.

One of my friends has been visiting a site further west with some success and I had my first exploration of the site in December, light was poor on the day but plenty of fieldfares were around.

Greenfinch too

A little egret, once scarce these birds are becoming widespread now...

Nothing spectacular on my first trip but I was impressed with the habitat so it was logged as a place to return to.

Rodley Nature Reserve is a personal favourite, in a very urban location and run by volunteers, funded by grants and donations, it has reedbeds and ponds, gardens and fields, and is a splendid place to spend a few hours.

Within minutes of settling in a hide a kingfisher appeared!

This doesn't happen every time....but my first sighting from my next hide was an otter!

Some days you bless your good fortune.

Calling in at Wharfedale for one of my regular riverbank patrols something similar happened, first bird kingfisher :-)

No otters on this occasion but long tailed tits were showing well...

These tiny birds struggle badly in very cold winters but seem to be doing OK so far this time.

Dippers are none too hard to find on this river

Reed bunting male at the raptor watchpoint

And a robin

We had a spell of bad luck and weather/wind directions which limit raptor sightings so photographs of the smaller birds kept me going!

A walk on local canal towpath, another kingfisher this time a female, they seem to like me at the moment...

The red under the bill is the indicator of female, male has an all black bill.

And a payoff as later we visited the new site mentioned earlier, late in the day and iso at maximum two barn owls appeared. All I could manage was one shot of a stationary owl, flight shots are impossible at 1/10th of a second shutter speed!

Far from my best but wonderful to watch as the pair hunted the reedbeds.

A couple of days later another bonus as a hen harrier appeared at the same location, awful light and impossible to guess at age or sex.

On a better day a blue tit posed nicely before deciding to flee, I love the accidental shots I occasionally get!

That day will live in my memory forever, in the company of two great friends we saw a hen harrier initially in conflict with a corvid, then it flew so close to us but so fast I could not get focus on it! Fortunately the camera auto focus worked for plenty of shots!!

The bird is a "ringtail" harrier, a term used to describe females and juveniles which have the bands on tail, not just female as I observed on an ill informed blog recently. This one is a first year male, the white edges on the greater and primary coverts on the upperwing and a pale yellow eye are key indicators, sorry for boring you with technical detail! What a fantastic few minutes.

All my hen harrier sightings are reported to the hen harrier hotline the RSPB run, please let them know if you see any. The most persecuted bird in the United Kingdom and numbers are critical, very few adult males are being reported and obviously without them breeding pairs will be scarce.

All reports are confidential but are vital to monitor where the birds are appearing and as breeding season approaches, which areas need to be monitored.

These last photographs were the results from probably close to 50 hours observation and patience, and you know what...well spent time. If you equate that in money to time spent in commercial hides for sparrowhawks which are not really that hard to excess of £1,000 ....all it takes is patience, knowledge gained as you learn, and the last bit is the most important bit of kit...fieldcraft.

I have been walking, exploring and latterly photographing wildlife for a long time now, I appreciate it but uppermost I respect it.

Many thanks to all who read the blog, don't forget if you do comment they come to me first for moderation.

Hope you all enjoy the update, looking forward to Spring!


  1. Brilliant Dave, so enjoyed this amazing selection, even an otter swam in !Sometimes the birds look close enough to touch ! Your patience and knowledge certainly pays off.

  2. Great to see all the different birds , I might not often comment but check in to see what you are seeing in the area. I will now make a note to look out for a Hen harrier, you never know I might just get lucky...