There are three species of Palm Squirrel in Srti Lanka and this is the most common of the 3. It is a common little mammal in the country and visually very similar to the Chipmunks of the New World. Holliday makers and tourists to Sri Lanka a convinced that it is a chipmunk and refer to them as such.
I have been planning my next trips abroad this last few days. Sri Lanka is way up there as my favourite destination, I feel that I have some real friends there and it is a lovely feeling to know that I am welcome there. I have to go in to hospital to have some dentistry work done. It's a real pain (literally and metaphorically) and getting in the way of my life for the time being. I would be on my way to Sri Lanka as we speak but for this distraction......(extraction).
I have been sorting through some of the pictures that I took in January this year, I remembered that I had taken some nice photos of a Stork-Billed Kingfisher, a truly stunning Kingfisher species and one of my favourites and I have tried to get good photographs on both my previous Sri Lankan visits. This is the largest of the kingfisher species in Sri Lanka, a good place for kingfishers and I have personally photographed 4 species there. Stork billed can be heard more often than seen but from time to time you will be lucky and get close enough for a photograph. This one was perched on a wire above a pond in a built up area which was probably the reason that it was easy to approach. The male and female are identical I believe.
I have to confess that I haven't had much success photographing birds this last week. (I haven't really had the opportunity). I went out to the caravan hide this afternoon because I had baited with a rabbit carcass yesterday and I was keen to see if one of the local Buzzards had been down to feed. The carcass had been almost stripped of meat, so it looks as though I may be able to get some photos in the next few days. It's an absolute mystery and I can't understand why but the small birds just don't seem to be using the feeding station in front of the caravan. I can't think why unless its because there is so much natural food around still? When I came home, in a bid to at least get some kind of photographs, I noticed that we had a small flock of Common Starling on the roof of the house and as they came in and then flew off, I took some photographs in the hope of getting some shots of them in flight. I am glad to say that I have not lost my touch and I was able to bring out some of the best features of this species that most people don't realise is so attractive.
Its been a sad week here since I returned from Bulgaria last Wednesday week, we had a bereavement which has been difficult to deal with and all my efforts have been directed towards supporting my wife. I have however managed a few hours to look at pictures from my trip to Gambia earlier in the year and I have been quite impressed with some of them. Here are a few that have caught my eye. The first one is a male Giant Kingfisher .The next is a Yellow Billed Kite which is a species that until recently was considered a sub-species of Black Kite but was classified as a species in its own right after DNA studies identified significant differences. I have seen this species in South Africa as well as Gambia. You can clearly see the yellow bill in this picture.
My 300 plus journey back from Madzarova yesterday was a much more simple affair but not without its dramas, but in comparison, incident free. This time I returned in a more northerly route avoiding crossing as many mountains but there were a few hairpins to navigate but was pretty much on main roads. I actually went through some quite large towns and cities which included Haskova, and Plovdiv, the latter being a pretty City that is in the running for a future European City of Culture apparently. At every large town, the main problem was finding signs for the next leg, for some reason direction signs are usually none existent. However, the strategy of stopping at a likely looking petrol station seemed to work well. Up and over the last mountain near to the town of Razlog, I neared Bansko. It was extremely interesting to see real peasant workers working their fields, turning the hay with pitch forks and loading it on to a small horse or donkey cart. I suppose making it big for some people is upgrading from a donkey to a horse!
Still in the Eastern Rhodopes I did take a few wrong turns and at one point I was in a high meadow area, very picturesque and full of small birds. I didnt want to linger too long in case I got lost later in the day and ran out of daylight again but from the car I saw Corn Bunting, Whinchat, Wheatear and a few Shrike species including this Red backed Shrike with prey, that I managed to photograph through the car window.
Red Backed Shrike female.
Of all the birds seen, for everyone I saw a Jay, a real common bird in Bulgaria it seems. Back in Simon's appartment, I spent some time in the evening having a look at the photos from the hide and liked the ones of the Kestrels that I photographed at the hide.
The female Kestrel.
From the Eagle and Vulture Hide Madzharovo, Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria
Friday 26th September.
It would be hard to put in to words and describe what today has been like. I have been through a roller coaster of emotions and experiences. I have felt real fear, trepidation and anxiety as well as feelings of self belief and satisfaction at having tested myself and come through. I left the town of Bansko this morning well before 10 and then just before 10 this evening, I arrived at my destination. The drive was more than 350 kilometres, like driving from Plymouth to Manchester but only using B roads and at times dirt tracks. Throw in a few mountains at 3000 feet with constant hairpins both up and down, and that was it. I arrived at a weird place ending in Grad at about 7 30 and I thought I was almost there, but no, there was still many miles to go but on this leg it was guesswork because by now it was dark. The road signs are in the Crillic language and they use a different alphabet, all the signs are effectively in code! For "a" read "h" etc. So the main method of direction was to stop and show a piece of paper with my next destination on it. This worked remarkably well during the day and I just ticked off the places one at a time like stepping stones. But try that in the dark with houses locked up, no street lights even in the towns and barking guard dogs everywhere, There was nobody to ask anymore. I have to honestly admit that this is one of the most extreme things that I have ever done. I have tested myself to the limit and come through it a stronger person. This might sound extreme but think about being in a foreign country, alone and lost without any way of communication and wondering if the next person you ask is going to rob or help you. My main snag was not being able to find out the distances involved, was it 5k or 45k to that village that you were looking for. A map would have helped but the names written in the Crillic language are so hard to decipher. Leaving the ttown that ended in Grad, I was seemingly totally lost and up the creek without a paddle having no idea where I was or how to pronounce the name of the place I was going to. I drove on blindly and every time I saw twinkling lights I remained hopeful that I would be able to find directions. Evenually, and more by luck than any judgement at all, thankfully in a small village whose name I have no idea and wouldn't be able to spell or pronounce it anyway, I saw the lights of a bar and I could see people! This was in a village far from nowhere and the only place I had seen with lights on for about 50k. I took my worn piece of paper inside and asked if anyone could help me. At first they were as vague as me but then it dawned........ Madzharovo......yes, yes it is just down the road they seemed to be saying. 2 klms of Tarmac and 6 kmls of brick road which turned out to be the back road to where I needed to be. How I got my little Opel Corsa to traverse this is still a mystery. My guardian angel had rescued me again! I came in to the village of Maroitsova By the back road and I saw the equivalent of the local corner shop. Quickly inside, the shop keeper contacted my guide Marin; I had his number with me. He was amazed that I was here and from that direction. Hallelujah sounds too drastic but trust me it wasn't. But if he had bothered to give me proper directions in the first instance then I would have arrived with much less difficulty. I had been give.n adequate directions to the place ending in Grad....actually called Krumvograd but from there no directions at all and my assumption was that it was very close but in fact about it was about 50k. And the reason I am here in the Eastern Rodopes district of Bulgaria? To spend 2 days in a hide where I hope to watch and photograph Griffin Vultures, Golden Eagle and even Wolves! Yes wolves, this district of Bulgaria has the largest population of wolves in Europe and only the day before yesterday, wolves were photographed from the hide I had arranged to visit. According to Marin there are around 15 breeding females in this district and a total of around 200 to 300. They are not protected but as a conservationist he said he prefers the shepherds and farmers to try to shoot them because poisoning would devastate the birds of prey as well.
Marin's Eagle and Vulture Hide
Note the two way glass which is directed at an angle so that it does not reflect like a mirrow outwards. The cameras protrude from the cloth area beneath the glass.
It is now Saturday morning.....early, very early and I am in the hide as I write. But first a bit more about yesterday, what an epic. On my journey I had stopped off at Trigrad Gorge which is one of the best places in Europe to see Wallcreeper, a spectacular grey and crimson species with a long bill that does exactly as the name implies. Unfortunately however, it rained solid for pretty much the whole of the day and did it tip down. It was torrential and unrelenting which made conditions treacherous but contributed to my long drive with the necessity to take extreme care on the poor roads which meandered up and down the mountains to the various towns and villages on my route. I never did find the Wallcreeper by the way. Once I had actually got to my lodgings which was a comfortable dormitory style room, to myself I must add, I had a meal of soup with veg and pieces of baby cow, well that's how it was described. I was picked up this morning at 5.15 in a 4x4 by the guide Marin, a big burly man with a mop of black hair and a command of broken English, Still in the rain, we made our way up in to the mountains in the pitch black along a track that seamed impossible to traverse, He discussed what I needed to do to be successful. When a vulture landed, my brief was to take no photos and wait for this "sentry" bird to signal to the circling hoards that it was safe to land. The area in front of the hide had been baited with entrails and parts of dead cow. (Those bits that weren't in my soup apparently). I was to sleep in the hide and he would pick me up at 6 tomorrow evening. That was nearly 3 hours ago, only 34 to go now! Then suddenly...... a vulture flew in and landed and wow what an amazing sight, it peered around just as he said it would, and above, a dozen or so circled. This was at 10 past 8 and then, just as suddenly, it departed along with the ravens that had already been feasting on the entrails for at least half an hour already. Then it was silent and quiet as though the whole episode had not happened, but I had proof already that my massive efforts had been worth while, it was just an incredible and thrilling moment and I am excited to see what happens next. Golden Eagle are a real possibility as well as the chance of White Tailed Eagle. Almost 2 hours later and with the Ravens back on the viscera another Vulture soared around in front of me and after a while it landed but a distance away from the food. I guess this is the sentry bird again and this time they will all come in to feed......and the rain continues. But they didn't and the wait carries on...........just 33 hours to go now! There is a dead tree quite close and Marin had said that the Eagles use this a lot. A few minutes ago a Kestrel was in the bare branches posing beautifully. 4 hours passed by, nothing came in or flew past then a pair of Ravens came to feed and were taking big chunks of meat. I guessed that at this point the vultures would take an interest and that's exactly what happened, first one and then I counted 13 in total but they didn't fly down. Then weirdly Marin the guide came back in his 4x4 with a new carcass, a dead sheep. I say weirdly because I wonder why he said it was so massively important to be in the hide well before dawn if not to disturb? I guess he thought that the presence of an actual dead animal would be worth the disturbance caused, well I hope so. He also told me that the local shepherd was around which explain why I sat here for five hours with nothing happening, trust my luck! Now there are 2 massive dogs eating the innards, I didn't know what to do about this but I decided they can only eat so much and then they will leave, now the two have been joined by one more. I don't think this going too well now. I decided to ignore the disturbance and have left the hide and chased theme off, it's very unlikely that anything will return if there is no bait to draw them in so I took the decision based on how much meat 3 big dos and maybe even more may be able to eat? A little about the hide. It's a sturdy log cabin, lined with pine inside and covered with natural stone on the outside. There are two bunks on the back wall and two-way glass to give you a good view out without wildlife being aware of your presence. There are four false camera lenses protruding with CDs stuck in the ends to replicate shiny glass. When photographers are present, the false lenses are replaced by the real thing. In this way the hide looks the same whether its occupied or not. It is carpeted and has a portable toilet which is cunningly concealed but easily accessible under one of the bunks.which lifts to conceal the user.
Darkness arrived last night at around 1900 and what else could I do than get my head down and sleep. Surprisingly my night was no better or worse than normal and my 5 layers of shirt proved to be one too many! in other words I wasn't cold! It was weird being out in the wilderness, up a mountain, totally isolated and with wolves potential only feet from me. A few bangs and bumps in the night were slightly worrying but I not too bad. When dawn arrived I just literally sat up on the bunk and began to watch. In the half light. The excitement was already here, I could see what I thought to be a wolf but quickly realised it was a red fox, oh well! (However it was very likely that there was also a wof present having spoken to Marin later). Then a massive bird flew in followed by another that landed on the rocks above the cow parts scattered around. I dived off the bunk to the camera......a Golden Eagle! Marin had told me that Eagles will grab food and leave immediately and this is exactly what happened but as it flew down the valley, I photographed it in flight with the camera doing a half decent job in the very low light.
Golden Eagle at first light.
What followed then was both amazing and equally frustrating. Griffin Vultures, 50 or more came in, they circled around and one landed but behind the ridge where dogs, foxes and whatever had dragged viscera in the night. Then it seemed that many more landed as well. Quite a big disappointment that they were now out of sight, feeding but out of my eye line. However, as one or two joined them later on, I took some lovely flight shots in the by now much better morning light. There is still 10 hours to go so who knows, I my get luckier as the day goes on. ......Well that 10 hors is almost past now and the last vulture I saw was at around 8 this morning, quite a disappointment really, but to be fair I have photographed Golden Eagle and of course the vultures but I haven't finished up with hardly as many shots as I hoped for. The feral dogs have been a menace and I am certain that they have kept other animals and birds away from the hide. In fact as I write now there is a dog chomping away at the carcasses! I spent a pleasant afternoon photographing a female Kestrel that was using the old dead tree as a base to hunt from and I have some nice photos of this bird.
Today has been a great deal of fun. I picked up the hire care this morning and immediately felt liberated, it's hard without your own transport as you can appreciate. From Simon's apartment it was just a matter of following the road that obviously continued to climb. I was on the way to Vihren Hut which is a dead end and a base for climbers to start. All the way up I passed under the cable car wires that led to the ski slopes. It was all very picturesque with hairpin bends and high forests on both sides. It was only a short while before I had my first excitement and it wasn't a bird.
A Red Squirrel ran across in front of me. I immediately stopped the car and went hurriedly to the boot for the camera because it was on a tree trunk in a typical pose. I just couldn't get the camera out quickly enough before it disappeared. Oh well, at least I had a nice view. Then later I stopped at a pull-in just to listen for birds, I could hear them all around. I was hoping for crested tit but when I caught site of one and took a photo it was a Coal Tit. But then another bird flew over and it showed itself just long enough to see that it was a Firecrest.
A light dusting of snow covers the Pirin Mountains (2914 feet) this morning after ann overnight fall, a view from my balcony.
I am in the process of arranging the use of a photographic hide to photograph Golden Eagle, White Tailed Eagle and Griffin Vulture. This is in the town of Madzharovo which is quite a drive from Bansko. There have been some magnificent photos taken from this hide by others in the past and it should be fantastic. Just need to get my hire car sorted this morning.
I have to confess to being quite surprised when I saw Dippers on the river late this afternoon. It is almost a culvert and it has been artificially contained to stop the town flooding when the snow thaws further upstream. The boulders are well polished which my very rudimentary geography tells me that in the past , glaciation has taken place. When granite is very polished this is an indication. The water is extremely clear as it has come down from the mountains. I went down with the camera later on and took some really attractive photographs with the pristine water and late sun shining on the water. There was no sign of the Black Redstart that I had see earlier but several Grey Wagtails were flying up and down as well. Considering that we have Grey Wagtails in the brook very close to my house, I hope I am going to see something a bit more exotic!
I am currently in a hotel room before a 6 am. flight to Sofia, Bulgaria tomorrow. I will be staying in an apartment that belongs to my nephew Simon, cheers Si….. I am treating this as a reccee for more birding in the spring hopefully but I am expecting to see and photograph some new species for my galleries. I haven't been to Eastern Europe before so in itself it should be a good experience. As is usual I am on my own which is good and bad, I am always a bit lonely but I do enjoy my own company as well. My apartment is in the Pirin Mountains in the town of Bansko which is in a Nation Park and in a site of SSCI at 900 feet above sea level. We are in the middle of the migration so there could be some great bird activity, I hope so. Someone asked me earlier what I may or may not see and I reeled off quite an impressive list…. who knows. Please check back as often as you can, I have no idea what the internet connection will be like, thats always a problem when I go away. When I visited Australia a year or so ago, I was forced to visit MacDonalds every day (ugh), because that was the only place that I could get connected, fingers crossed.
At last I have had success with Wryneck and here's the way it went.
The weather was still very pleasant today and after paying my respects to the friends in the Royal Marine Band that were killed by the IRA on this day in 1989, I decided to go back to try and not only see my first Wryneck but photograph one as well, perhaps today would be lucky for me, it's always a memorable day after all! I needed to do it for Mac who died on that day and was a fellow birder and we often went out birding together when we served in the Royal Marine Portsmouth Group Band in Eastney Barracks in the early 70's. I made my way towards where it had been seen regularly yesterday to be told that it had been seen only a few minutes ago and on the post just in front of us. The gathered throng assured me that I was going to be lucky today but even so, I wasn't hopeful. When I had got there yesterday, almost the same thing had been said and so far I had waited for a total of 12 hours without so much as a glimpse. I wasn't too optimistic to be honest. 30 minutes or so later it was suddenly seen on the fence at the bottom of the field and after 55 years of birding, there was my first wryneck.
It remained on the post for long enough for most to get a good view and a few record shots as well but I suspected that it would come down on to the path just in front of us, I positioned myself with a good view and began to wait even though others could still see it on the fence. It amused me because one chap doubted my strategy when I told him that it would come down to the path, he said if it did I should buy myself a lottery ticket at the weekend. I said that the difference between the lottery and bird photography was that you can't predict the lottery numbers but you can predict bird behaviour. At this, he shrugged and I am sure he thought I was stupid. Then, just as I had predicted and with everyone else 30 feet further up the path, here was the bird just in from of me. I can't tell you how smug this made me feel!!! The doubting Thomas came up to me afterwards and smiled at me apologetically! As you can see from the shot above, after such a long wait I had at last got the chance for some great close up photos. I hadn't hounded the bird, it had come to me so that made me feel especially pleased as well.
Later on I was joined by Dave Land who had seen it and photographed it on previous days and as he walked down the path he knew I had been successful. We waited a little longer and eventually it perched on the fence along side the path again and then in a bramble patch and again presented some perfect photo opportunities.
I visited the fields around Orcambe Point again today, the third time in 24 hours and spent another 4 hours waiting for the Wryneck that has been seen and photographed by just about everyone in Devon now! Except me that is!!!!. It really is my bogey bird and I just can't seem to have any luck whatsoever. My good friend Dave Land rang me to say that it was showing really well this morning and he was taking photos of it right then and from just a few feet in front of him! I got myself dressed and left almost immediately and I was there within 35 minutes. It had just disappeared after apparently posing beautifully for at least an hour! I waited and waited but again I was unfortunate. I am quite deflated about this to be honest. As I made my way down the track towards Dave who was in the spot where he had just taken some stunning photographs, I saw a lovely Wheatear on the edge of the cliff in very perfect light and of course I had to stop and photograph it. Amazingly there has been a Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parka) as well, showing really well, not too far from the Wrynecks stamping ground. I hadn't seen this species before until today so I it was a good day all in all. This species is slightly smaller than the European Robin and is an interesting little bird that does not breed the UK. It is described as a breeding bird in Eastern Europe and Asia but I note that it does breed in the west, both in Norway and Finland as well as Germany, Poland and numerous countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Countries .
I stood amongst the other birders and photographers who had all see this little rare bird before me of course! Eventually it was seen in exactly the same spot as earlier and I caught sight of it too! Success at last. The conditions for photography were just about as bad as they could be, too distant and almost shooting in to the sun with a heat shimmer to compound the problems so rubbish photographs but a I did get record shot of my 211th species photographed in Devon. Visit my gallery here. My 211 Devon Bird species.
This is a Male Red breasted Flycatcher.
I had a nice few hours at the caravan hide yesterday waiting for the Buzzard to come in and feed on the rabbit bait, I am sure that the one I photographed the other day is definitely aware of my interest and presence even though I am very quiet and well hidden when I am there. It has become very wary this last couple of days, but that's birds of prey for you, so very intelligent and always cautious. I am sure that it will overcome it's caution though if I continue to be careful, quiet and of. The young Magpie, with much alarming and chattering, came to the carcass though, but it was also very, very wary, however as you can see it's fear was overcome and I successfully managed to photograph it in flight.Later, in the evening I conducted my final concert with the band after 16 plus years as their Musical Director. A very successful, sad and rewarding evening….. now on with the rest of my life.
Heres the Buzzard imitating Jay that came in to feed on the free peanuts this evening just before dusk. Can you see how the crop of the bird is full of peanuts, I have counted as many as 20. I also had a visit from the Buzzard, the same one that I had photographed the other day but it was very wary this evening and as soon as it heard the shutter on the camera it left immediately. This is obviously not ideal and after waiting for sometimes 2 or 3 hours the last thing that you want to do is disturb the bird. The photo was taken with a high ISO hence the grainy nature of the image.
Again, one of the Magpies came to feed on the carcass which was interesting to watch just like yesterday. It suddenly departed in the opposite direction from which it had arrived which I thought was a bit odd and then the Buzzard suddenly arrived so I guess that with a bird of prey around the magpie beat a hasty retreat.
Monday morning has arrived and I am back in the caravan hide again with the cameras trained on the baited stump, a Buzzard is in the area, I saw it when I arrived, gliding over the fields half a mile away and now I can hear it, or another calling nearby. I had put out dead day old chicks ( pet trade food) when I left last night and something has taken them. They were high on a log that foxes wouldn't be able to get at. I am hoping for Jays to come in for them which they have done very regularly in previous years. When I arrived a while ago, Jays were nearby so, I would suspect that they have taken them, a good result. I am very fond of a colourful Jay.
Back at the caravan hide on Sunday morning I baited the stump with Rabbit again and began to wait. I have mentioned on numerous occasions about the cautious and intelligent behaviour of birds of prey be it Peregrines or Buzzards. As a prime example, I sat for only a short while with my cameras pointing at the prey on a stump when suddenly a Buzzard, probably the one that I photographed yesterday, came and landed near to the bait. Even though it was close and perching beautifully for a frame filling shot I couldn't move the camera to point at it because I knew with certainty that this would spook it. So I waited and remained still, feeling certain that it would just glide over to the bait just a few feet away. The very cautious buzzard surveyed the scene, probably saw the cameras protruding through the cam netting in the caravans window and then decided that there was something odd about all this and off it went! Very frustrating but not entirely unexpected. It didn't return during the morning but I went back just before dusk to find that the rabbit was just like a glove puppet, completely eaten apart from a head and skin! Obviously during the afternoon the bird or birds had been in to feed. I am looking forward to tomorrow, I am quite sure there will be some good photo opportunities.
Here's another shot from yesterday.
It's now Saturday morning and for the third visit in a row, as I approached the caravan hide I disturbed a buzzard. This one was sat in the trees above. Surely it's only a matter of a short while before one comes in to feed while I am here. When I left last night I had taken in all the bait because I wanted to keep them interested and hungry so that they come and feed only while I am here. In previous years this has worked really well and I got the impression that the buzzards began to associate my visits with food. It's like the " pavlova" effect.... when they see me, even though they are very cautious, they will think, "are, there must be food now". Also, based on my observations from previous years, I know that they sit watching the bait for ages checking that its safe before coming down to feed, quite often circling around before they take the plunge.
A vixen comes to call, sniffing the air very cautiously.
I went back to the caravan hide this evening, quite hopeful that I would be able to photograph one of the buzzards that I saw this morning and just as before, as I approached I disturbed a buzzard right in front of the hide. Surely it would come back and I would get a photograph? I sat in the hide until it was almost dark but no, it didn't return. It can be frustrating but patience is all it takes. Birds of Prey are very wery creatures and it's obvious that they are also intelligent enough not to put themselves in harms way. The same can be said of Foxes and I knew that they had bee around the hide regularly these last few days. It wasn't a big surprise when one sauntered up towards the rabbit carcass in the fading light. But what was more than interesting was the level of caution. It sniffed the air and then slowly came forward stopping and sniffing again. I saw the exact moment that it caught a whiff of me and decided that it didn't like what it could smell. It was too risky, even for a whole rabbit it wasn't worth risking it's life and so, off it scurried. A lucky, lucky fox because had I been one of those characters that likes to shoot foxes (for one reason or another, justifiably or not), then she would have been as dead as a dodo! Fortunately my shots were with a camera and not a 12 gage shotgun.
It knows there is a nice fat rabbit for the taking!
It came really close and was more interested in the smell of me rather than food.
This was the moment that it picked up my scent and decided it was time to leave, I never realised I smelt so strongly!
It's quite sad to think that when the crops are cut in a few weeks, it's quite likely that this beautiful creature will be shot and that upsets me considerably. Quite sure that this lovely fox is not doing much harm, it's not even an urban fox causing damage and nuisance, its a truly wild animal living in the countryside like wild animals are supposed to.
Another first tonight was a young Carrion Crow that came down to drink from the pool (as well as a Wood Pigeon) so it seems that the pool has at last started to attract birds. It was quite interesting that this young crow totally ignored the rabbit cracass.
I have to confess to feeling more than a little bit down in the dumps this last few days and when I got up this morning it wasn't getting any better. I am about to retire after 16 years from my role as Musical Director of Lympstone Band, now known as the SWComms Band and frankly, with one more rehearsal and 2 gigs to go, I hadn't envisaged how upset I was going to be. But the other parts of my life, my wildlife blog and photography are just as rewarding and enjoyable so after pulling myself together I left for my caravan hide where I had, over the last week been baiting the buzzards with rabbit carcasses.
The young Peregrine was on this perch, definitely a favourite.
I went over to the Peregrine site this afternoon to collect some equipment. I was pleased to see one of the young peregrines perched on a favourite perches. It was lovely to see how magnificent and "grown up" it looked as it sat there surveying everything around it in a very alert and almost arrogant way. Over at the tree hide, one of the other youngsters quickly departed as soon as it sensed my presence but then flew around in front of me giving wonderful views. It's masterful flight was very impressive and a great thrill for me to witness. So thats it now for this years Peregrine falcons and what a great season it has been with a very successful ending resulting in three healthy youngsters.
This is a Dunlin, I believe it's probably a first winter juvenile but to be honest I can't be sure. Adult Dunlin in breeding plumage have a black belly patch which is unique amongst the small waders (which US birders call "peeps" by the way). In the early Autumn when the birds start to arrive on our shores from their breeding grounds on the arctic tundra, adults may have the vestiges of their breeding plumage, but in "eclipse plumage" this is replaced by a more sombre and frankly, dull and more grey plumage. As the winter progresses they wear even more and the birds become more grey and even duller in appearance. At this time of the year they are much more photogenic. Yoing birds are described to have brown heads when they arrive on migration and have markings on the flanks so I guess that the bird in the photo above fits that description. It's not all that easy to get extremely close to Dunlin but it is possible (obviously) if you use a little bit of stealth.
What an interesting spider this is. I was shown this individual yesterday by the ranger on Dawlish Warren, I knew that this was a species seen often on the warren but I had never been able to find one for myself. This is an insect that was first discovered in the UK in 1922 in Kent and has now spread in to suitable habitat across the south of England. It feeds mainly on grasshoppers and is a large and very striking spider and its not difficult to see how it got it's name. Its not often that I see a species for the first time so it was quite exciting to see it. I have also seen a species of spider in Florida USA called the Florida Argiope which is another member of this family of spiders.
This spider is guarding her eggs which can be seen just behind it.
I would have been very pleased to get a better picture of this bird (seen today) but as it's the first I have seen in Devon (and the UK), I am more than happy. As soon as I heard about it's appearance on the Warren at Dawlish this morning, I decided to make my way out there, infact I was already planning a trip because I had also learned of the presence of my "bogey bird" a Wryneck also on the Warren this morning. As soon as I reached the area of Greenland Lake, on the Warren, the presence of the bird and its location was obvious by the small cluster of birders who had it's image in their various optics. It was pointed out to me at quite a distance on the fence line, 75yards away or so and thats about as close as most people could get to it. After lingering for a while I made my way down to the point to look for the very elusive Wryneck and failed to find it which was a bit of a disappointment, but it is my bogey bird as I said and I am still, yet to photograph one. So, I made my way back up to the area of the Woodchat Shrike to see if I could get some nicer pictures. There waas still cluster of birders but all different to the ones there 3 hours previously and it wasn't long before I could see the bird with a good indicator being the direction of the lenses. I decided on a different strategy. Realising that this young juvenile bird was described as mobile, I decided to sit myself down reasonably close to a bush that had some exposed high dead branches. I thought that if I was a Woodchat shrike, I might pick that bush to fly to. There were a lot of non-birding walkers who were oblivious to the presence of the bird and unfortunately these innocent walkers were flushing the bird on a regular basis. I guessed that it was going to be only a matter of a wait before it landed in the tree….. and it did. So, some kind of photo after all and a new species for my Devon Bird Gallery.
Well, at last I managed to get out and about today and decided to see if I could gat a glimpse of the Little Crake that had been seen at Black Hole Marsh (Seaton) from the hide. I thought that even if we didnt get a glimpse of the crake then a few other wading birds had been seen there and at last there would be something to see. That's exactly how it turned out and it wasn't long before it became obvious that seeing the Crake was going to be difficult. It had been seen only once in the morning and not since 0700 so I wasn't hopeful. We lingered on the edge of the wooden platform that leads to the hide because there are a few holes cut out of the fence there that gives a good view over the mud. It was only a few minutes before a Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea put in an appearance and as this is not a bird I have got good photos of for my Devon Gallery I enjoyed seeing it. This is a bird that breeds on the tundra of arctic Siberia and is on the migration to Africa even as far south as South Africa and one of the best places to see them in Africa is Langebaan Lagoon near to Cape Town which, interestingly, is a place that I have visited. This one was feeding in the very shallow water just in front of me but I needed to use all my experience to try and make the best of the light which was in my face. It was feeding in the very shallow water and stayed for a short while before it flew off to the other end of the water. I also took nice photos of a Ruff (which I will post later) as well Lapwing, Common Sandpiper and Little Egret.
I am in the Mediterranean Balearic Island of Menorca ths week. It's a family holiday and not at all a specific birding trip but its obvious that I am going to keep my eyes open and take a few photos when I can. We have had a lovely couple of days so far and been treated to a few really nice birds, albeit mostly as we have driven past. Telegraph wires can be so productive, but more about that later. This is the 3rd year that we have been here to Cala En Porta on the south of the Island. It's very hot and dry at this time of year and quite busy with tourists as well. Yesterday in what serves as the village square, I had seen Spotted Flycatchers in the Olive Trees. They are very common here and it wasn't a surprise that it was one of the first species seen. I had a spare hour this morning and went to get some pictures and movie. While I sat patiently waiting, well only for a minute or two really, I was very thrilled to watch and photograph Sardinian Warblers, a few juveniles and eventually an adult. This is a particular favourite species of mine. Again, a really common bird here but a real delight. We went on a road trip afterwards and on the way to the Western tip of the Island it was incredible that we saw so many exciting birds, species that back home in the UK would have the listers travelling miles to tick. The list reads like a who's who of bird species, Woodchat Shrike, Bee-eater, White Stork, Red Kite and other birds of prey that I couldn't identify from the driving seat of the car. Once we got to Callen Bosch we sat on the sand amongst the myriads of fellow Holliday makers and an Audouins Gull was doing what the Herring gulls do in the UK. This is an interesting red beaked gull which is quite large and distinctive. Even the Herring Gulls are replaced here by Yellow Legged Gulls. Oh and I forgot to mention the Blue Rock thrush seen within minutes of arriving at the apartment. This all sounds like the Island us alive with birds but like all birding, you have to keep your eyes open but when you do see a species it's generally something worth a second glance.
The young male.
am writing this from an uncomfortable stool in my hide overlooking the Peregrine nest territory that I have been assiduously, some would say obsessively watching on most days, since the eggs hatched, 10 weeks ago.
One of the young females.
It's now Wednesday the 20th and 2 days since I last visited the Peregrine site.
Now with the the youngsters in their 10th week, they have started to develop a strong suspicion of humans which is exactly what they need to do as they step towards independence and then adulthood.
I am quit sure that they are still being fed by the adults at the moment and even the other day I had a very exciting encounter when the adult tercel flew in with prey. However, the youngsters spend a lot of time just sitting quietly on a few favoured perches now but at times they are away from the vicinity totally.
The adults now are never perched here near the nest ledge which is exactly the way it has been in previous years.
I have spent a couple of hours waiting for them to come in to the tree today and one did arrive and stayed for a just a short while but since then, nothing. It's not been too tedious however, my iPod is full of my favourite music and there is something special about Beethoven and Tchaikovsky when you are in such a peaceful place, perhaps this is what heaven will be like?
I am sure that there will be more peregrine pictures to follow but I think that the opportunities are going to become less and less now. At the end of the week I am off to the island of Minorca in the med for 7 days and on my return it will be interesting to see if they are still here.
I was pleased to see today that the Blog has now exceeded 200,000 page views, with 114.000 different people reading my blog. This is an amazing statistic and I could never have imagined when I started blogging in October 2007 that it would have been so popular. There are 1800 entries. I would never have imagined that so many people would be interested in what I have to say.
I like to think that I post interesting content and here is a video of a young Peregrine Falcon that I was lucky enoughto film yesterday.
I haven't been able to get to the Peregrine territory much this last week because of family commitments but this morning I spent almost 4 hours there and for most of the time I had one or two young Peregrines in front of my lens. The youngsters are 63 days old today...... that's 9 weeks of course. Quite oddly the adults didn't come in to feed their youngsters while I was there which was just bad luck (for me). They must have been fed before I arrived. I had been worried because on my previous visits recently I hadn't seen all three youngsters together and I was a tad concerned that one of the female's had succumbed. Mortality rates in young Peregrines are known to be high especially when they are still too young to feed themselves.
I can tell the difference between the young male and his siblings. It's very easy when they are together but when just one is in front of you it's not quite so easy. Firstly, the young tercel (that's the male) came on to the branch and I could confirm that he was OK, that was good news. Then after a short while, one of the female's flew in, so now I knew that there were two. I was very thrilled that while this female was in front of me, another female came in and landed on a perch beneath. It was great to confirm the presence and safety of all three young birds! I made a point of photographing the heads of both the young male and one of the females because you can clearly see that there is a difference in beak size and shape as well as different markings on the head.
The head of the male is more rounded and the beak is slightly shorter. Compare the markings on the head on the picture of a young female below.
This is one of the females flying in to "that favourite perch". I tried very hard to get some in flight shots today but it didn't really happen as much as I would have liked.
As far as behaviour is concerned now, the youngsters spend a lot of their time just sitting around but always looking very alert. From time to time they leave the perch and fly around obviously honing their flying skills. They are not quite as vocal as they were last week but from time to time they will call to each other. At the first sight of an adult they will call and scream in a very excited way.
It's Sunday the 10th of August now and the young Peregrines are 8 weeks old, plus or minus a day.
There's definitely a change in behaviour today (Friday). It was quite a while before I even heard a Peregrine let alone saw one today. Then suddenly I heard one, then two calling close behind me. It was good to hear them because I had almost started to worry for their safety. Then just to reassure me further, one of the young females landed on the branch in front of the hide as you can see, she flew off and then came back to the same place 30 minutes later, staying then for just a short while. Occasionally I heard peregrines calling quite a distance away and then there was another calling somewhere to my left and much nearer so it seems as though everything is fine but they are definitely keeping a low profile today. I am going to have to cut short my session soon because of a dental visit but I managed some nice photographs such as the example above.
Sometimes the audio is a little subdued, this is because at times I need to speak in a quiet voice so as not to disturb the birds in front of me.
The session yesterday started with real excitment and finished up even better. I managed to get in to the hide without disturbing any birds even though there was one of the youngsters on the branch just in front of the hide when I got there. Using the tree and hide as a shield, I slid in on my back to get inside, the bird had again departed but within seconds was back and very excitingly for me, he had a small song abird in his talons. This is the first time that I have been lucky enough to be able to photograph this at close range and I was thrilled. He proceeded to eat it and after a short time one of his sisters flew in to join him. To my surprise he flew off after let his sibling take the prey from him. There was no tussle, noise or argument, he was quite content to allow his larger and stronger sister take the prey from him. This was interesting behaviour proving perhaps that right from the start of their lives, young males are sub-dominant to the larger females of the species.
I continued to watch and wait and not too much later the young male returned acting very excitedly. This time I was set up to try and catch some in flight action and I snapped off the camera as he landed. When I looked up and out I could see that beneath him the female was also in the tree and she was plucking prey. I was very excited at this because this was just the kind of behaviour that I wanted to photograph. Within minutes and with the youngster calling excitedly and expectantly, the adult flew up withthe prey.
I quickly swapped lenses being careful to be as quiet and discreet as I could be. There was a lot of noise and commotion going on and this helped to mask the sound of the shutter which is something that I am sure disturbs the adults. I managed to photograph both birds as the feeding took place. In the end, this turned out to be the highlight of 3 years work…..if you can call it work…. I had planned to be in the right place at the right time in the hope of getting the shots that I wanted and it was paying of for me. Can you image being there and having all this wild activity going on just in front of you, a real privilege.
When I looked through the viewfinder and I knew that I had photographed the female so close I was ecstatic. She continued to pick small pieces of her prey to feed the youngster. Judging by the colour the kill looked to be a Collared Dove with noticeable white underwings and the creamy buff feather colour quite evident. If you compare the image above with that of the adult male that I took last week then you can clearly see the differences in the two sexes. Here is a link to last weeks picture.
The young tercel resting on the tree.
I had a very good 7 hour session yesterday at the Peregrine territory. When I arrived it was pandemonium with a cacophony of screams and calls from the youngsters who were spread out all around me. They go mad and scream like this whenever the catch sight of an adult because they know that this will usually finish up with one or more of them being fed. As it happened the young tercel was the lucky recipient and he brought his prey to the tree and proceeded to eat it from a spot that was totally obscured by oak leaves. I could only just see what was happening through glimpses between the leaves. Then when he had finished, a Jay came in to the tree and proceeded to scream at the young peregrine. A brave bird but it was enough to disturb the peregrine who flew up to the branch right in front of me and from that moment onwards there was either, 1 then 2 and at times all 3 young peregrines right there for me to choose which one to film and photograph. When you consider that I am only 20 feet from them, then its a magnificent spectacle to say the least. I think I have mentioned that my 300 lens is out of action which is somewhat limiting because the 500 is too large and this means that I can't always get all of the birds in the frame particularly when there are two together, and then three….. well forget it. I watched the young tercel, obviously hungry again, actually eating dead decaying wood and afterwards you could see where he had been breaking it off. Then later he decided to try and see if oak leaves were edible. I suspect that this is all about investigating his environment as much as anything.
A very alert young female screaming for food but also keeping a close watch on the hide, suspecting that there is something not quite right. She has inherited the necessary cautious and alert instinct that makes them so, so hard to get close to.
The young Tercel who I have fallen in love with.....considering that I have been watching him from the moment he hatched, even seeing him as a wet nestling minutes after he emerged from the egg, I also witnessed his first flight, it's very satisfying for me to see him doing well.
Just wonderful opportunities yesterday, I am thrilled that all my patience and planning came together so well. I spent 25 hours in this particular hide without one photo opportunity and now that the young peregrines have left the nest ledge the photo opportunities have increased, not only because the youngsters are not as vigilant as their parents but there are now 5 birds flying around! When I served in the Royal Marines we talked about the 5 "Ps". Thats Planning, Preparation, Patience, Perseverance which leads to good Performance…. there is a slightly more crude version of that but you get the picture.
If you listen to the audio clip below you will be able to share in the capture of this photograph. The youngsters have been left he nest for a few days now and are already able to fly strongly. What's more, they are able to land successfully which is a real skill that doesn't come easily. I knew that as soon as they had mastered this they would be using the old oak tree as a good resting place and so it proved today with the young tercel spending 1 hour and three quarters on the branches just in front of the hide that I erected there in anticipation of just such an event. The image below is just about how it was and trimmed a little for artistic effect but not cropped. In fact the big problem at the moment is that my 300 lens is broken and I had to use the 500 which is a little large and I could hardly get all the bird in the frame and compose it nicely. I base hundreds and hundreds of shots and some great movie as well.
I have started to use audio on the blog recently and today I recorded the comings and goings from the nest territory as some interesting behaviour took place, listen above. I use the word territory because the young peregrines have now fledged the nest ledge. It has been an incredibly interesting day and I have a tale to tell. Listen to the audio and also watch the movie but here's a summary of proceedings. When I arrived it was quiet but I quickly located one of the 3 youngsters. It was exactly where it had been yesterday, beneath the nest ledge and about 10 feet to the left. All 3 youngsters had vacated the nest and finished up here, but yesterday and today, only one remained. It wasn't long before I heard the familiar sound of a calling peregrine and this went on for a while with the youngster chipping in to answer. I felt absolutely sure that prey was going to be brought to the youngster and after the calling had gone on for at least 15 minutes it rose to a deafening crescendo as the adult falcon flew in with a magpie. The screaming was very loud because accompanying the adult was the young tercel! The magpie was duly fed to both young birds and after a short while the young tercel flew away strongly. This was the first time that I had seen any of the the youngsters fly and it was brilliant to see how adept he was, flying like a skilled adult already. He is no doubt, enjoying his new found freedom to fly where he likes. After the feeding had gone on for 10 minutes or so, the falcon attempted to take the prey away from the youngster but the baby peregrine was having none of that and a tug of war ensued with the both birds pulling as hard as they could from either end of the carcass. I filmed this with much excitement. The female gave up and left the young one to it. She landed in her favourite spot in the old oak and remained there for a while. Then I saw that the other young female was also in the tree, meaning that I had located all 3 youngsters and glad to see them safe. The youngster was right next to the other hide so I waited until the adult had left the tree and then went to take up a position there in the hope of a close up of the youngster. I waited and waited, in fact for 3 hours and I could hear the youngster calling now and then. Eventually the young bird moved on to the exact spot where I had the camera focused and with very little difficulty, recorded video and took photos of the young falcon. The excitement continued as an adult arrived to feed it and they both flew off, adult and youngster. No doubt the youngster took delivery of prey, seconds later the adult tercel was on the branch again but I couldn't photograph him this time though. What an absolutely superb day.
Here's the 43 day old youngster.
Listen to the Audio-Boo above and you will have an insight in to what feels like to be at a Peregrine nest site. Incidentally I am licensed by Natural England to photograph at this Scedule 1. nest site. (It is against the law to photograph without a license).
This morning the young Pergrines had well and truly fledged the nest with two being absent completely and the third on a ledge neaby. I never did see the other two but he adult tercel came in to feed the youngster still present. I a quite certain that allthree will be seen together in the territory over the next few days adn weeks.
Here is a picture of the remaining youngster.
The following photograph was taken as a Schedule license holder for peregrine at this nest site.
Listen to audio clip above, recorded within a minute of taking the photo below. I have been planning this shot for months and since I managed to get a hide errected which is overlooking this perch, I have put in a total of more than 25 hours just waiting. The perch is a favourite of the tercel (pictured). He likes to just sit there and relax as he keeps guard over his youngsters from a distance. He also uses this perch to pluck his prey. In the 25 hours or more of sat waiting for him, this is the one and only time that he has perched there. He was in the right spot for just 4 seconds or so before flying down to the youngsters beneath him. I can't be sure of what prey he has but I suspect it is a Greater spotted Woodpecker again.
Please listen to the AudioBoo recording below. This is another way to publish to the blog, rather than in written word I tell the story….it's the way ahead, a great way to publish content to the blog.
At 40 days, the young Peregrines have now fledged the nest and they begin the next stage of their young lives. It's been a mamoth task by the adults to reproduce this year and they have been involved in nesting activity since March. They are magnificent creatures and equally magnificent parents, intelligent, dilligent and persistent. Att every step, even with a disasster they have been undaunted and their persistance has paid off in the end. There is still a long way to go. Now they have the task of teaching the youngsters to hunt for themselves. I am looking forward to watching as much of this as I can. So, please listen to the audio clip below and enjoy. Photo's of the newly fledged birds to follow.
The oldest of the two falcon eyes, (females), now left the nest ledge and on the rock face nearby.
The adult tercel with a Great-spotted Woodpecker, on his favourite perch, plucking the kill prior to delivering it to one of his youngsters.
This is the adult tercel delivering his kill to the young tercel.
The handover takes place.
Having delivered his plucked woodpecker to the young tercel, the adult tercel flies clear of the ledge.
The peregrines are now 37 and 39 days old and about to fledge the nest. Here is a short movie of them yesterday. Not the youngster with the most down is the youngest bird. The smaller bird with no down is a young tercel and other is a falcon. I expect when I return today to check, that at least one if not both the older youngsters will have fledged the nest.