Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Raptors in cages in photos etc Pt II

I'm continuing the post that I started yesterday with three photographs of three different Crested Caracaras. The Crested Caracara is a very popular bird with wildlife parks and is frequently to be encountered at raptor displays at county fairs and the like. Why it is so popular I can only guess. Perhaps it is easy to rear and has a good track record of breeding success. It may be able to tolerate confinement better than other species or it may respond better to human handling. Either way there is a good chance that you will encounter one of these birds if you visit a wildlife park in the UK. In the wild you would need to travel to central and southern America to see one in the wild. Up until 2002 it was thought that there was just the single species of Crested Caracara but during 2002 it was split into two. The Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway and the Southern Crested Caracara Caracara plancus. I have seen both of these species: the Northern in Costa Rica and the Southern in Peru and I couldn't tell the difference. The Southern is larger but as you don't see them together you will not be able to tell! I only know they were different because of geography - their ranges do not overlap.
The three birds that I have photographed in enclosures in Britain I take to be Northern Crested Caracaras as these can be found in the south-west of the USA and I think British captive birds would originate from there The northern birds are darker too and all three of these individuals are quite dark. James Ferguson-Lees says in 'Raptors of the World' that these birds 'Walk and run easily, cruising roads for crushed corpses, joining and often dominating vultures at carcases where they may pick out the maggots.' A really nice image... I can see why they are favourites of bird-keepers!

No 2 Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway

Presumed Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway Woodland Wildlife Park, Lincs October 2014

Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway  IBPC Yorks, Sept 2014
 Note that the face is yellow on this individual and not red as in the other two. The face colour can range from pale yellow to a deep orange-red.
Northern Crested Craacara Caracara cheriway. Thorsby Hall County Fair, Notts, March 2013

Raptors in cages in photos.

Over the past few months I have visited a few wildlife centres such as the International Bird of Prey Centre at Helmsley in Yorkshire, a Wildlife Park in Lincolnshire and a local butterfly farm. My intention has been to photograph all of the species of birds that are held in captivity, especially diurnal and nocturnal birds-of-prey. I want to present them as sort of 'old school works of art'...birds out of their natural habitat as often painted by nineteenth century artists. Enclosed and entrapped they all seem to blend into the very fabric of their cages. By using textures to enhance the backgrounds of the photographs I have tried to show the birds melding into their surroundings...becoming a part of their enclosures if you will. This appearance of blending is enhanced due to the photographic requirements. The birds are nearly always behind thick metal mesh wire and this gives a cross-hatched pattern over the birds. To avoid this I find that the bird needs to be as far beyond the mesh as the back of the pen in other words. They always look a bit forlorn when they are so sited. Although I could be accused of being anthropomorphic they seem to my eye to be skulking, nervous or, at best, resigned. I expect that they are probably not as most get flown on a regular basis, are properly fed and cleaned and are moved to more suitable quarters when the weather gets bad.
As well as the birds needing to be as far from the enclosure wire as is possible I have to get as close to the cages as I can to ensure blurring of the mesh as well as focus on the bird. Long focal length lenses are not much use therefore and neither are wide angle lenses. The optimum focal length for me is 200mm.
The other issue is light. Or rather the absence of light. When the bird is at the back of the pen this area is more often than not covered and so too are the sides. It is like shooting pictures in a box! High ISO settings are often needed and this adds unwanted noise to the images, or a long exposure is required. Fortunately for me the birds are quite often very still for quite long periods of time. I don't know what this indicates about their state of mind!
I will be posting low resolution versions of some of the images on this site and higher res. images will be available to view on my website

No 1. Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus.

The Bateleur is one of my favourite birds because it was card No 1 in the Brooke Bond Picture Card album 'Tropical Birds' back in the 1960's. A fantastic painting by Tunnicliffe of a 'handsome, short-tailed, crested eagle...often it may be observed soaring in circles, watching whatever is afoot below it, and sometimes uttering a deep, jackal-like call.' Tremendous stuff. This was the bird to see. Short-tailed is a bit of an understatement as in flight it appears to have no tail at all...hence its spot on specific name of ecaudatus meaning no-tail!
A couple of years back I spent two weeks in the Gambia being the only person not to see one of these even though they can be fairly reliable. This bird was photographed at the IBPC in Yorkshire back in September.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter Flocks

Driving around the vale of Belvoir this lunchtime looking for bits of tweed I was struck by the numbers of birds beginning to form winter flocks. Rooks and Jackdaws were the most conspicuous with some Rooks apparently gathering twigs to repair and strengthen nests! Fieldfare numbers were high as were Redwings but as is usual with both of these thrushes they were very wary and I could not get close enough to get decent pictures. Blackbird numbers were quite high and one flock of a dozen birds were probably of the continental birds: long-winged and black-billed; very different to the usual Blackbirds.
Kestels were not forming flocks...but there were a couple of females working the roadside verges and unlike the thrushes they were so busy looking for food that my presence did not bother them too much and so I managed to get a few decent images of one of the birds.
We went to look for Common Buzzards on the road leading into Bingham and sure enough we found three sitting in a field and the nearest bird was carrying a large wing-tag which I think was numbered 11. All three birds skiddadled to the far side of the field and as I had no binoculars I couldn't really see the tag so I will go back tomorrow and see if I can get good images of at least one of the birds. I wasn't aware that there was any wing-tagging of Common Buzzards in this area.

Redwing Turdus iliacus feeding on Haws

Redwing Turdus iliacus feeding on Haws

Female Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hunting

Female Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hunting

Female Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hunting

Female Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hunting

Female Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hunting

Female Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hunting

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Seals at Donna Nook

The grey seal (Halichoerus grypus, meaning "hooked-nosed sea pig"- which is not very complimentary) was the target of a photography trip to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Reserve at Donna Nook this morning. The weather was pretty awful and in consequence the photographs were pretty ordinary to say the least. I had to rack up the ISO to 1600 and the resulting noise on the photographs was lousy. Still there were plenty of seals loafing about doing what seals do - which is not much.
According to the Lincolnshire Wildlife website there are slightly over 3 000 seals hauled up on the mud and salt marsh of this part of the Lincolnshire coast this week. 2 500 of these are cows and their pups, the remaing 500 or so are bulls which tend to be quite aggresive at this time. I was more surprised by the numbers of visitors. Bear in mind that it was a miserable, damp and dank Thursday morning in November yet the car park was packed to overflowing and the viewing area was busy along its entire length. There were a couple of school parties present..."What we gonna do ere for six hours." I overheard as we passed a group of enthusiastic students. What indeed.
Birds were fairly scarce. Flocks of Shelduck and Brent Geese were visible towards the shore-miles away! A few Little Egrets further down the coast at Howdon's Pullover, Redshank, Turnstone and over 30 Curlew and a few Lapwing and Skylarks flying over. The best count was of a flock of Yellow Hammers in excess of 150. A pair of Stonechats were on the grass bank but that was about it. It got even greyer, murkier and damper so we cleared off before the rain set in. Pity those school kids...they still had four hours left.
Snoozin Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus

Piece of old rope - a long-lived bull

An amorous old bull and a not too happy female!

The female seemed to be a bit happier!

All rather boring to this pup.

More snoozin'


Lollin' about in the mud.

Male Stonechat Saxicola torquatus

Male Stonechat Saxicola torquatus

Monday, November 24, 2014

Starlings and Sunsets

I'd almost forgotten I had this's been so long since I added a new post. This afternoon/early evening we visited Netherfield Lagoons in Notts, on the advice of some friends, to witness a small but nonetheless impressive Starling roost. There is always a chance of a 'murmuration' so I took along my camera. The light was tremendous and although there were only about 4 000 Starlings they performed well. Canada Geese flying in to roost added to the atmosphere as well as the general noise level. A single Barnacle Goose was noted flying with some of the Canada Geese. A Water Rail put in a brief appearance and a Bittern flew over the lagoon in the twilight. Magical!

Canada Geese and a Crescent Moon.

Starlings diving into the reeds behind this tree.

Yer murmuration!

More murmurings.

Tight flock

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Peregrine Pictures

This Peregrine was performing in Lincolnshire this morning. As fast as it was the Canon camera and lens was up to the task! I've taken a bit of a liberty with a texture in Photoshop with the last image as I wanted to punch up the sky to make it a bit more arty!
Peregrine Falo peregrinus, Lincs

Peregrine Falo peregrinus, Lincs

Peregrine Falo peregrinus, Lincs

Peregrine Falo peregrinus, Lincs. With tastefully applied texture to the sky!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Red in Tooth and Claw

I managed to get a few shots of a Sparrowhawk taking a Collared Dove as a prey item earlier today. Taken through the kitchen window on my wife's compact camera which was handily next to the sink! This is the third Collared Dove to be taken in as many days, we suspect, as there were feathers of one gone bird in the garden yesterday and a moribund bird in the garden earlier on this morning before this bird made the ultimate mistake by wandering about on the lawn.
This is a juvenile bird and can be identified by the dark brown upperparts, rufous edges to the forewing (which is just visible in the last three pictures) and the barring on the underparts which is quite strong and could indicate a male. The Spar was busily plucking away before being spooked by a Magpie which was clearly uncomfortable about the presence of the hawk.

Juvenile Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus killing a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Juvenile Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus killing a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Juvenile Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus killing a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Juvenile Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus killing a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
 The Sparrowhawk landed with its kill in another part of the garden after moving away from the Magpie but it was not to enjoy its meal as a neighbour's bloody chicken went to investigate and the Sparrowhawk thought it prudent to clear off leaving most of the dove un-eaten. There are now good sized bits of three Collared Doves scattered about the garden!
Juvenile Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus killing a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Juvenile Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus killing a Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bye Bye Wagtail!

Just been browsing the interweb and I came across this piece on the BT homepage of all places. Usually they post articles about the 'telly', 'people on the telly', and stuff about 'celebs' so it makes a change to see them posting something that is of more concern.
The three species of wagtail that breed in the UK are suffering long-term declines, a study has revealed. Yellow Wagtails, Grey Wagtails and Pied Wagtails are all in decline, according to the annual Breeding Bird Survey's latest report, though conservationists say the reasons for the reductions are not clear.
Yellow Wagtails, farmland birds which migrate to sub-Saharan Africa, have seen numbers reduce by more than two fifths (43%) between 1995 and 2012.
Changes in agriculture are thought to be to blame for the Yellow Wagtail's decline, but as it is a migrant, problems overseas cannot be ruled out, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) said.
Grey Wagtails, a species which lives by rivers, (sic) has declined by almost a third (32%) since the Breeding Bird Survey started 20 years ago, while the familiar Pied Wagtail has seen declines of 11%.
Both birds have shown rapid declines along rivers and canals, according to the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey, which focuses on river habitats, and Pied Wagtails have seen steeper declines in the river-based survey than in the general Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) which covers all habitats.
This suggests there may be issues related to rivers which are affecting both species.
The "races" of Pied and Yellow Wagtail which breed in the UK nest virtually nowhere else in the world, conservationists added. Sarah Harris, BBS organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology, said: "I find it fascinating that three seemingly similar birds, the Yellow, Grey and Pied Wagtail can lead such different lives and face such a variety of challenges.
"With the UK races of two of these species - Pied and Yellow Wagtails - being largely confined to our islands, these population changes are of global conservation significance."
The results of the survey by the BTO, Government advisers the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the RSPB, using counts made by volunteer bird watchers, also show declines for key farmland birds.
Grey partridge numbers were down by 56% between 1995 and 2012, and Skylarks have declined by nearly a quarter (24%), with increasingly intensive agriculture playing a key role in their declines, the experts said.
And the latest update reveals that some breeding birds saw a significant year-on-year decline in 2013, as a result of the bad weather conditions in 2012.
Mark Eaton, RSPB principal conservation scientist, said: "This survey is most valuable for showing us trends stretching back nearly 20 years. "However, it also provides a snapshot into changes between years, and this report reveals that 2012 was clearly a bad year for some of our breeding birds. A cold spring followed by the wettest summer on record have to be prime candidates for why many species showed a significant decline in 2013. Of the 36 species which showed a significant change in numbers between 2012 and 2013, 34 decreased."
Hey never seems to get any better!
Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea  Down by 32%

Pied Wagtail - Motacilla alba yarrellii.  Down by 11%

Yellow wagtail - Motacilla flava  Down by 43%

Friday, August 22, 2014

Colour-ringed Sanderling

Whilst bimbling around the beach at Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire yesterday (20th August) I snapped this distant moulting post-breeding adult Sanderling as it fed along the tideline. After cropping the image and magnifying it for use I saw that the bird was carrying a number of coloured leg rings. On the left leg we have green over blue over green and on the right leg it looks to be yellow over white. I'll send this info to The Wash Wader Ringing Group and the BTO and I'll update this page with any additional information on this bird as it becomes available.

Colour-ringed Sanderling, Gibraltar Point, Lincs. 20/08/2014

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wood Sandpiper at Annesley

Juvenile Wood Sandpipers can be identified by their neatly spotted upperparts and the finely streaked breast and both of these features can be seen quite clearly on this individual which turned up at Annesley Pit Top in Notts, yesterday. A passage migrant that is most likely to be seen during the autumn migration period this bird played true to form. Only a handful of these birds are normally found in Notts. during most years so this was an opportunity to see my first in Notts. for 2014. The legs on this individual were bright yellow and you can see how confusion with Lesser Yellowlegs can occur. Adult birds tend to have greener legs and confusion is less likely. Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Redshank, Greenshank - it's all in the colour of the legs! The bird was quite distant, feeding along the shore of the lower lagoon so I had to add a 2x converter to my 400mm lens. This resulted in me hand-holding the equivalent of an 800mm lens without autofocus so I was expecting a load of blurry out-of-focus shots. As it happened that's exactly what I got but I managed to rescue a dozen or so that will do as record shots. The best four or five are below.
August is a good month for passage waders so I expect a few 'goodies' over the next few weeks!

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper, Annesley, Notts

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper, Annesley, Notts

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper, Annesley, Notts

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper, Annesley, Notts

Juvenile Wood Sandpiper, Annesley, Notts

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mainly Butterflies

Still a bit quiet on the birding front. Reports of Honey Buzzards being seen almost daily now from the Welbeck Raptor Watch-point in north Notts are tempting me to visit soon. The Great Knot in Norfolk and the Lesser Yellowlegs in Lincolnshire could not tempt me away from a planned trip to Chambers Woods in Lincolnshire to look for butterflies. These woods are famous for holding a breeding population of White Admirals and Purple Hairstreaks and for having good numbers of Marsh Fritillaries and Marbled Whites in an adjacent meadow. It is too late in the year now for Marsh Fritillaries but the other species are currently on the wing.
On arrival we parked up and next to the car park is a dog-poo disposal bin. Someone had missed this obvious receptacle and left a huge dog turd on the ground. Normally this would be really annoying but for once I was pleased to locate said turd on the footpath as it was being used as a mineral source by a Purple Emperor! Great start but getting close-up shots was disgusting. Later there was a Comma using the same turd! This time I didn't get so close.
We saw at least seven White Admirals, mainly flying around the tops of the oak trees although one paid a fleeting visit to my feet but it belted off before I could focus the camera. No Marsh Fritillaries, as expected, but we did see a Silver-washed Fritillary zooming along a ride - a real bonus. Ringlets, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Small Whites were all abundant. We only located a single Marbled White but it was a good 'un.
Small Skippers were quite numerous but there were only two or three Small Tortoiseshells and Commas. I presume that these are second brood insects and are freshly on the wing. They all looked pristine. We saw a dozen species in this wood and we missed the hairstreaks. I recommend it!
Purple Emperor - on dog poo

Purple Emperor. Better shot of the turd!

Small White


Small Skipper

Small Tortoiseshell


Comma - on dog turd!

Marbled White
Purple Emperor - in tree tops.

Meadow Brown