The Asian palm Swift (Cypsiurus balasiensis) is a bird that you can see almost constantly in the Sri Lankan skies. They are a small fast flying bird that breeds in coconut palm trees by glueing nesting material under the leaves of the palms with saliva. In common with most, if not all swift species, most of their needs are catered for on the wing. They don't drink, getting all their moisture from their insect prey, they mate on the wing and sleep on the wing. The only time that they perch is during the breeding season.
Something a bit different today, this is an Indian or Black-naped Hare - Lepus nigricollis seen and photographed recently in Sri Lanka in the North Western province at Wilpattu National Park. This is an interesting animal and seen on a few occasions during the jeep safari. A bit about the safari, this was a frustrating affair really with distant views of animals and birds that made photography quite difficult as the jeep needed to stick rigidly to the tracks and roads through the park. For example, we sighted Mugger Crocodile in the distance and one took a bird as we watched, probably a stork or heron but we could have done with being much, much closer to record what would have been some brilliant footage and photgraphs but from the distance this was impossible.
The tropical version of the UK's Sparrowhawk - Nisus Accipiter…......this is the Shikra - Accipiter badius. This bird obviously had a territory around Ravi's garden as I saw it twice during my recent stay. This is a female, males are greyish in colour and have a red eye. The one below was photographed at Wilpattu National Park.
On my recent trip to Sri Lanka I visited Chillaw Sand Spit yet again, my third visit to this area which is good for wading birds. When I had been there before my guide had shown me both Lesser and Greater Sand Plover so when I went back again this year and saw some small 'charadrius' plovers I had a good look at the photographs afterwards hoping that again, I had been lucky enough to see this interesting and not all that common little plover. It seems to me that you could easily confuse this species with the Kentish Plover but that species always has a white collar around the back of the head and Lesser Sand Plover never does. So Lesser Sand Plover it is then!
On each of my visits to Ravis house in Kamalla, Sri Lanka, I have enjoyed seeing and photographing the Indian Rollers that live in the Coconut Grove next to the house. They definitely nested in the grove earlier this year. The nest was in an old coconut tree, in the same tree was the nest hole of a Barbet and also a Ring Necked Parakeet. All three species seemed tolerant of each other. I have read that the closely related European Roller is an aggressive species and will kill other small birds, removing them from the nest hole before taking it over but I didn't observe any aggression from these birds. I was pleased when I went earlier this month to see a pair again in the same area but obviously can't be certain if it was the same birds seen there before but probably. I have watched them feeding on numerous occasions, they always feed by sitting on a high perch and sight hunting. When they see a prey item they fly down to the ground and then take it back up to the original perch. They feed on grasshoppers, beetles and small lizards. As you can see, they are stunning in flight.
Here is a potential prey item, it's an Oriental Garden Lizard or Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor). This lizard was photographed in the territory of the Rollers and would deffinitely be on the menu.
The Brown-headed Gull - Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus is the Asian version of the well known Black-headed Gull of Europe. This is a species that I have seen on both of my November trips to Sri Lanka. It is a slightly less delicate bird than the Black-headed Gull, slightly larger and more robust. This is a first winter bird that I photographed at Chillaw Sand Spit (Sri Lanka). On the day it was incredibly hot, unbearably so in fact and I could only manage an hour before I had to get out of the sun and somehow in to the shade. If you haven't experienced 40 degrees with no shade before then you won't realise how unbearable that is.
Also on the beach that day were Caspian and Lesser-crested Tern, a few Whiskered Tern and one or two Gull-billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica (see below). All great birds for a birder from the UK. More images of these other terns and Kentish Plover will be on the blog in the next few days
I have been back home from Sri lanka since early Friday morning after a brilliant 16 days away. I really enjoy my stays in the country which for me is just about perfect. It is a safe place but somewhere really different in culture and environment than the UK. There is a a good combination of adventure and it's a place where I feel secure and safe as well. I have real friends there now who look after me and make me feel very welcome. The birdlife is always very interesting with a good variety of exotic species always easy to find and easy to photograph. Around Ravi's house there are 4 species of Kingfisher for example. There are herons, bitterns and even the occasional stork. Small birds are very common and interesting and its not hard to get good photographs. I love the Bee-eaters, the Coucal and the Koel that live in the gardens near to Ravis house. I hardly travel far from my base but I know that I have not even scratched the surface and would and could, find and photograph many more species with not a lot of effort. On this trip I have added a few new species to my life list including Brown Noddy Tern, Great Thicknee, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Plain Prinia, Blythes Reed Warbler and Jungle Fowl.
Male Purple Sunbird
I was up just after dawn this morning, hoping to get some close up photographs of Kingfishers. I have spent several sessions staking out a likely perching area but only once have I been lucky this trip. So after a couple of hours without any visits this morning I gave up and then went to an area very nearby which I have learned is good for Sunbirds. I stood alongside some lantana bushes that were absolutely covered with large exotic butterflies of several species, but mostly swallowtails. An amazing exotic sight. These flowers were a great source of nectar judging by the butterflies' interest. I was absolutely thrilled that I had made a good decision to wait near these bushes because after a short while a sunbird flew in to the bush. I took great photos of firstly a young male Loten's Sunbird and then after a minute or two, a male Purple Sunbird flew in. It chased off the Lotens and then I took my best ever pictures of this species as well. It has been a good trip for sunbirds. As well as these I also photographed a Plain Flowerpecker again, this birds interest was the tiny berries of the lantana flowers. As I hadn't even seen this species on my previous trips it was great to get some good photos of this bird as well.
As if this wasn't enough, as I sat having breakfast/brunch, Tharika noticed a large brown bird on the garden fence just a few feet away, using a palm tree as cover, I crept closer and then took frame filling photos of probably the same bird that had been in the garden the other day, a female Shikra, a type of Sparrowhawk.
This last few days have been just as hectic and fruitful as ever. Yesterday I undertook another great boat trip just off shore and it was a truly wonderful experience. We made our way back to the half sunken wreck and once there, tied ourselves to the wreckage and I photographed the terns that were using the rusty steelwork to rest upon. The light was perfect and my hundreds and hundreds of pictures need to be sorted through carefully. A job for a cold dank day back in the UK I think. We approached some traditional prawn fisging boats because Black Noddy Terns were using them as a resting place and I am glad to say that at last I took some very good shots of this nice and unusual tern species. On the way back in to the mouth of the river a small group of Caspian Tern were feeding and I was successful in getting pictures of this large tern species with a bright red bill. All in all its hard to choose which have been my best encounters but heres a se;action of pictures from the last few days. The bird above is a Pond Heron.
Lesser Whistling Duck….a new species for my galleries.
This is a female Purple-rumped Sunbird feeding by piercing the Morning Glory flower to get at the nectar.
I have had quite a problem with the internet this last few days which has been frustrating as you can imagine, I have done so much and yet not been able to put pictures on the blog. On Friday I went to Wilpattu National Park, 180 kms north of here, I went with some friends from the Dolphin Hotel and I really enjoyed their company. We took a jeep safari ad saw many interesting species both bird and mamal as well as Mugger Crocodlie and Land Iguanna, Mongoose, but looking back, perhaps Jackall was the most exciting species seen. It's not often in your life that you are going to seea truly wild jackall.
Unfortunately no Elephants nor Leopard but it was a possibility.
Wilpattu National Park
I have also seen some nice birds this weekend and taken loads of pictures and added a few new species to my galleries such as Brown-headed Bee-eater, Painted Stork, Indian Thick-knees and Blyth's Reed Warbler.
Fresh water Turtle
Today was a crazy day, in the morning I staked out Kingfishers and had some succes with Alcedo athis bengalanensis, (the Indian sub-continent Common Kingfisher). I had put a stick in the edge of the river the other day and basically I went back and sat next to it hoping that a Kingfisher would come and perch......and it did. I always love it when one of my plans works so well.
Common Kingfisher (Indian continent sub-species begalanensis)
Then this afternoon I went on the back of the motorbike to a wetland area about 50 kms north. We saw all the usuals and I managed to get a good photo, at last, of Whistling Duck. Their were several pairs of Brahminy Kite and one bird attacked a small group of Ibis. I took photos but the light was nowhere near as good as it needed to be. Then I saw and photographed Eurasian Spoonbill, a first for me in Sri Lanka but I have seen this species many times before in Europe of course.
I spent a great couple of hours out at sea this late afternoon. I was looking to photograph terns and unfortunately the weather turned a little inclement and it actually poured down with warm rain. We had made our way over teh choppy sea to a ship wreck about a mile or so out at sea off Negombo. Most people would probably have turned back but my fisherman friend was happy and so was I. When we got there the expected thousands of birds turned out to be just a few Swift Tern, at first very disappointing. Then I caught sight of yet another Brown Noddy….a bird that I had seen close to shore the other day of Negombo. This time we could manoeuvre the boat to get a good shot and that's exactly what we did but without any bright sunshine it was hard to get anything worthwhile. Out of around 100 taken only a handful were good enough to keep and heres a couple of them. The fisherman and his friends back onshore told me that they have never in their entire lives at sea here in Sri Lanka, seen this species before so you could say I have been very fortunate.
The Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus is a well known bird to UK birders and the public in general and is a bird that is doing very well incidentally. In this part of Asia, and also in West Africa as well, the Sparrowhawk is replaced by a very closely related species in the same family, Accipiter badius or Shikra and it is a common bird of prey here in Sri Lanka. This morning I sat overlooking the coconut grove with my camera trained on to the Indian Roller's favourite perching post as I wanted to improve the in-flight shots that I took on Sunday. I had been there for quite a while and my confidence in the arrival of the Roller had started to wain. A White Throated Kingfisher had just landed in one of the young coconut palms and Myna Birds and Babblers were feeding in various parts of the garden. I had my camera focused on the Kingfisher when suddenly there was much screaming and panic with all of the birds scattering in all directions. A Shikra was on the attack and made an attempt to grab one of the Myna Birds, this time the bird of prey was not successful but it was thrilling to see the attempt and to also note how vigilant and alert all the smaller potential prey species were. They saw the hawk several seconds before I did and I suppose those valuable seconds are the difference between life and death. The bird of prey lunged in for the kill, swiftly veering left and right before landing on a post not too far away. I quickly swung the camera in to action and was very pleased with the result. I think that this is a juvenile female bird.
The butterflies are incredible here at the moment, the air is literally full of them at any time of the day but during the heat of midday, particularly. I had some great fun trying to photograph them in flight today and ther results are spectacular.
Yesterday (11 Nov) I took a trip in to Negombo, just for the fun of it really but I always like the hustle and bustle of the fish market area and on the beach there is always fantastic photography opportunities and yesterday was no different. It was pandemonium with hundreds of fishermen dealing with their nets and shaking whitebait free to land on mats placed beneath. The small fish are then scooped up in large baskets to be washed clean of sand in the surf by the fishermen and women who really work hard in the very hot sun. The birds love it because the inevitable spillage of fish provides a meal for not only the terns and cormorants but obviously, larger fish that are are attracted inshore as well. The cormorants dive for these larger fish just feet from the incoming light waves. Whiskered Tern are the common birds here and I have taken loads of pictures of them on every visit. I stood, snapping away trying to get something a bit different and my 300 lens was doing very well, Suddenly, there it was a Black Noddy Tern close in to the shore, surely not a regular occurrence and I was pleased to not only see it but get a photograph. This is a large tern with slender, angled wings. It is a smokey dark brown colour with a head that looks as though it has been dipped in flour or frosting. Years ago when again in the Pacific Ocean on the Royal Yacht Britannia, a Noddy Tern landed on the focsle and I took a photo then and I have always hoped for another sighting sometime in my life. So it really was a good day for me yesterday.
This is my 3rd photographic trip to Sri Lanka and this is the first "proper" photo of a Purple-rumped Sunbird that I have been able to take. In actual fact, even though its only mid afternoon here I have already taken lots of photos and had a full day. Ravi, my host told me where there was a Bateacha nest, Bateacha seems to be Sri Lankan word for any small bird. We went quickly this morning to have a look and immediately saw the nest about 6 foot up an a sparse tree with exotic berries. Within seconds a bird arrived with a beak full of grasses, surprisingly it was a Black-headed Munia, a little finch and not a bird I have seen near to the house here so it was a big surprise. I thought it would be busy building the nest for a few more days yet and planned to go back this afternoon to have a session there. I stood next to the nest for more than an hour but it didn't turn up! Quite why that was I have no idea, perhaps, as Ravi said, they only build in the morning so I will try again then. As I walked back I noticed a small Lizard species on a post and I set up the camera to photograph it with some great success, then suddenly in flew this Sunbird and with the camera on a tripod and the bird only a few feet from me I could not fail. It just proves that luck is sometimes just as important as planning and preparation because I have tried really hard previously to photograph this species but with no real success.
I really like this last shot because of the rusty nail contrasting with the gorgeous bird.
I stood photographing butterflies at around 7.15 this morning, they were nectaring on a Lantana bush which is not only flowering at the moment but also bearing small green berries which the Myna birds are very attracted to by the way. Suddenly a tiny little bird flew in to the low bush and disappeared from view for a few seconds but I knew it wa still there by it's call. My immediate thought was that it was a Sunbird, I had seen a down curved beak and also noted that it was tiny but not in the least bit colourful. Eventually it popped up on the branches of the bush and I took a few photographs, one or two turned out OK and from those I have been able to identify it, in the end, very easily. It is a Pale-billed Flowerpecker, India's smallest bird and the Sri Lankan sub-species is even smaller so I imagine Sri Lankas smallest species also.
The shape and colour of the beak was diagnostic. It was not only thick but quite heavy and downturned and as the name suggests, pale and almost flesh coloured. It had black legs and an absence of any distinguishing marks at all.
Heres the Mynas enjoying the berries of the Lantana bush and looking very picturesque.
I spent most of the morning from 6.30 onwards staking out the Rollers on their favourite perches. Still a bit of work to do and a bit more patience will see some great shots.....but so far they are not too bad. I really like the Myna Bird feeding his fledgling as well. The light here is incredible for photography.
For those of you that know me well, you will know that I planned to throw a cross with the names of my friends killed by the IRA in 1989 in to the surf as a mark of remembrance on this Remembrance Day. Incidentally this is the first time since 1965 that I have not been on parade of some kind on Remembrance Sunday, so I went down to the beach and had my own! My hymns were The Day though Gavest Lord is Ended and Abide with Me which I hummed quietly to myself. I stuck my memorial cross in to the sand and then waited for the surf to come and claim it, it was all very nice, beautiful and serene. They are always remembered.
I didnt really have too much time yesterday evening to post some pictures from the day before my Sim card was depleted of cash, now its topped up again, here are some of yesterday's highlights.
A Giant Squirell
Indian palm Squirell
.....now some Butterflies.
Before I left the Uk I had been constantly researching the weather for this part of the world which is subject to heavy rains during the monsoon. It seemed to be saying that I could expect very wet conditions on most days while I was here, with the odd day dry. This turned out to be absolute bunkum as it's been dry, dry and dry with no hint of the forecast rain showers and thunderstorms. What is more, Ravi my friend and host here told me that the rain was finished now and it would be fine and dry. I wonder why the met office and the Sri Lankan equivalent don't just ask a local rather than consult their multi million pound computers?
I have had a quiet day today….still feeling exhausted with my heavy cold. I stayed around the house at first trying to photograph the Indian roller in flight which is going to be some kind of great shot when it comes off......(latest see below) The two Rollers in the garden have their favourite perches and I have already seen that one, the female usually, lands on a concrete post which she flies to from a higher perch some distance away. I set the camera up and focused on the post waiting for her to fly down. She didn't do it this morning for me but I am certain.....100%…. that she will, and I know I wont need to wait too long. Later I went on the motor bike to an area of waste land very close by that is destined to be a new housing development but they haven't done anything with it yet. I have always found this a great place for birds and butterflies. I photographed several species of butterfly having made a decision before I arrived to take more photos of them and other insects while I am here. I had a small macro lens on the camera which was doing a good job when close by quite a commotion suddenly kicked off. I investigated and saw that it was a Tailor Bird and a Loten's Sunbird having quite a dispute over something, probably a nest. It went on and on and all I had to capture the event was the small lens. I did manage some photographs but without the big lens any photos weren't as good as they would have been, that's Murphy's law right there. From there I returned home to get the 300 lens and went over to the Ranwelli Hotel which markets itself as an eco hotel. I knew that they have some interpretive boards and I wanted to name my Butterflies which I did, (see below), I had a stroll through their mangrove board walk…..their sole attempt to create an eco theme. Its tourism after all, the land has been taken for the building of a massive hotel very close to a river and mangrove, ruined basically and then a board walk has been put through in an attempt to justify it and appease the eco-warriors. But better than nothing at all I suppose. I had a nice encounter with a pair of Giant Squirrel that are as big as a small monkey and quite colourful as well. I have seen them on all my trips to Sri Lanka. As I sat here in my room writing the blog Ravi knocked to tell me that there was a pair of Coucal in the adjoining garden. They were purposefully walking through the grass and weeds very slowly and looking for insects and small lizards. I have seen three different species of coucal on my travels in Asia, Africa and Australia and they all look very similar and seem to behave in the same way. It looked as they were a true male and female pair, one had a bright red eye and the other was black.
Indian Roller of the subspecies bengalanensis. I am confident that this is a female as there is a pair in the garden and the other bird is bigger, bolder and more brightly coloured.
Today has been exceptional and the trip has really got underway now. I had planned to be up at first light but having had the utmost difficulty getting a good nights sleep I didn't surface until 0830, something of a rarity for me when I am on my adventures. I took breakfast immediately and hoped that the intake of some fluid and food would kick start me. I have the worst head cold that I can remember and its getting on my nerves. I can't work out whether the head ache is the cold, beer from the previous day or jet lag and its probably, to be honest, a combination of all three. I surfaced in to the most gorgeous of days, lovely bright sunshine with a clear sky and a balmy feel to the air. The birds were singing their exotic songs and my Sri Lankan friends were there to thrust coffee in to my mitt and sit me in front of a nice plate of eggs, bread and sausage. I started to formulate my plan which involved a trip up to Chilaw sand spit which is 33kms from here. I am not going to be able to hide the fact that I have the use of a Motor Bike while I am here, so I won't try. I have used a Motor Bike off and on, regularly through my life but the last time I was on a motor scooter I was hit by a bus and I finished up with a broken collar bone. So I have been a bit reluctant to do it again. So, I packed up all my stuff, camera, binoculars and lunch etc. took the bull by the horns, started the bike up and away I went. Fantastic……..!!!! The freedom was brilliant and in the hot sunshine probably the only way that you can cool down. The ride was good, I was cautious and didn't take any chances, it seems that just about everybody else is doing that so I stayed as sensible and careful as I could possibly be. I love these adventures, I can't understand why others don't try and do something adventurous now and again. I guess its fear of the unknown which you just have to try and rise above….. almost everything I have tried to do has come off with no real dramas so why should this be any different. People are usually nice wherever you go as long as you smile broadly at them, they will always smile back and that's my mantra. After a lovely ride which involved me stopping regularly to look at the flooded paddy fields and hundreds of herons I got in to the manic town of Chillaw. I knew where I was headed because I have been twice before, it involved me negotiating the small village that runs almost out to the sand spit. I wanted to photograph the gulls, terns and wading birds that would be there. I parked the bike with a family who had a little house right at the end of the village. They make their living by fishing in the estuary and they also had pigs and goats, a house devoid of anything in it, and some livestock, that was it. It never ceases to amaze me when I see how calm and relaxed these people are. They appear to spend most of their time just trying to stay out of the heat which involves just sitting in one shady spot after another. With much gesticulating and laughter they said that I should leave the bike here under the shade of a crude palm thatched open sided structure which smelt of chickens, pigs and dead fish in a strange combination. Although they didn't ask, I gave them 100 rupees…about 48p and they were well chuffed! My walk on the sand spit was in the most extreme heat that I can remember and I quickly started to feel ill. I need to add heat to my other three potential headache causes!! I have a travel umbrella with me that is the most unexpectedly useful item. It was quickly put in to use as a sunshade and then when I wanted to change lenses on my camera it served as a sand free place to put things on….and no Jenny, I haven't broken it yet, my £10er is looking safe I think. Birds were there in their thousands and included 4 species of tern including Caspian and Swift. There were some interesting little waders which looked like greater and lesser sand plover but I will need some expert help with them. After no more than an hour I was beginning to really suffer from the heat so I decided enough was enough and reluctantly departed for my return journey. I had planned to stop off at the reservoir at Madampe where Terry and I had been last year and thats exactly what I did. It was really good, much cooler than the sand spit and in the shade of the tall trees surrounding the massive expanse of fresh water, I sat and photographed some great birds including Purple Heron, Cattle Egret a Prinia species which I will have to have a real look at and then a glorious close up of a Brahminy Kite, the best shot ever of this species that I have taken.
Brahminy Kite Halastar indus
My drive home was uneventful as long as you don't include the lorries and busses on my side of the road travelling at 50 mile an hour, but lets not dwell on that too much. Back at Ravis house I tooted my horn triumphantly as I turned in to the forecourt of the shop. The girls came rushing out excitedly to see me which was really nice. All in all a great day finished off by photos of a Tailor Bird in the garden that allowed me to get within 6 feet of it and stayed there for an age as I took pictures and film.
After a rest to try and shake off my cold, I emerged from my air-con room into sweltering mid-day heat to see a beautiful Oriental Magpie Robin on the fence and feet from me. Makes the trip worthwhile!
When I am away I often overlook he common birds thinking that I will be bound to get a good shot before I leave and then forget all about it. I am determined not to do that this trip so I have been photographing the Common Mynahs every time I have seen one. Just by the house there is a family group with fledged but not yet independent youngsters. This is the male I believe. He is an ugly bird, but charmingly intelligent as well.
I was up at dawn today, due as much to jet lag as anything but it was good to be up so early. I was joined on my verandah by Ravi who was keen to give me coffee and a cake......what a nice man he is. It wasn't long, seconds in fact before we had White Throated Kingfisher and Indian Roller on the wires by the house and then a commotion occurred. Suddenly a Shikra, thats a small bird of prey showed itself as it flew from a nearby tree towards the small birds that were screaming in alarm.
I walked down to the beach and towards the area where I had very successfully photographed Bee-eaters last January but when I got there I was amazed to see that one of the fresh water lakes had been breeched and now a fast flowing river disected the beach, baring any path to get across to the bee-eater area. This had been done very recently to try and relieve flooding much further up river where houses were under 6 feet of water apparently. Its thought that once all the floodwater has had the chance to clear then access will be possible again. Terns were fishing in the fresh water and in the surf which presented some good photo opportunities. As well as that, Indian House Crows were feeding on a few dead fish that apparently died from being in polluted water according to a local man who I chatted with. It's still mornng here and I will be out later I am sure but for the time being I need to try and shake off this heavy cold which is making me feel like a tired old man!
Back at Ravis house I watched this Red-wattled Lapwing feeding on worms in the adjoining garden.
An adult Common MynahSri Lanka is one of my favourite Countries. A colourful and vibrant, bustling country with beautiful birds, beautiful people and beautiful scenery so I was full of excitement and anticipation as I made my way to Heathrow yesterday for my 11 hour flight back again, for the second time this year. Through my jet lagged eyes I can see on the inflight map that we are flying........through turbulence I might add.....at 35000 feet and about to pass over the city of Bangalore on the Indian mainland with around two hours to go to Colombo, our final destination. This trip I hope to travel a little further afield than previously with the hope of photographing wild leopard in either Yalla or Walputta National Parks. Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to photograph leopard and I feel I ought to make an effort this trip. Yalla is in the south with Walputta north of Colombo but both are several hours journey and even longer by train, an amazing experience in itself. Then of course, there are massive schools of Dolphin off shore and I had a tremendous adventure photographing them when here with Terry in January. However, the monsoon is lingering longer this year and it may not be the safest thing to do. Being out at sea in a small boat with the possibility of lightening strike is probably not a sensible option. I will be based in my usual accommodation, Ravis Dream House just north of Negombo and I am looking forward to seeing him and his family again. Please visit my blog regularly to have a look at some of the birds and other wildlife that I hope to photograph. Kingfishers......5 species in Sri Lanka, are always easy to find, well 4 of them at least and it is possible to see these 4 in just a matter of minutes right by Ravis house along with Blue Tailed Bee-eater and the exotic Indian Roller. A canal runs just behind the house which previously, as well as the Kingfishers was teeming with dozens of Pond Heron, Bittern and 3 cormorant species.
Its just brilliant to be able to say, "You know what I think I will go back to Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks".....I am in that time of my life when you can do things like that. As soon as my dental surgery healed I took advice from my friendly Spanish dentist who said "Leave it a week and you should be fine"......and here am am back at Ravis place. He has built a new bungalow with kitchen since I was last here and I have to say, its just as good as his dream house except that this house is literally feet from the canal and the kingfishers.
I only arrived here in the middle of the afternoon but already I have reacquainted myself with some of my favourites. There was a family group of Mynahs feeding young on the land next to my house which was fun to watch. I haven't seen anything particularly rare but some good sightings so far. The light had almost gone when I took this shot, its one of the youngsters.
I have been experimenting with some new equipment ready for my trip next week back to Sri Lanka. My 500 4.5 Sigma Lens is back with the manufacturer for repair so I needed to think of a way of getting good shots while I am there. I have a very good Pentax 300 prime lens which I use sometimes with a 1.4 extender, this gives me the equivalent of 420mm. This is fine for birds and wildlife when it is reasonably close but I may be struggling with distant subjects. I have been experimenting by stacking with two 1.4 extenders to get more reach for distant subjects. It has worked quite well and as long as the camera is on a tripod then it will auto focus and give me almost 600mm but I have to say that I haven't got the technical expertise to say exactly what the magnification is. You would expect there to be quite a degrading of quality in the images but I am pleased to say that this does not appear to be particularly noticeable and I am very happy with the results.
I took the lens in to the garden late this morning to do some tests and I was joined by a Robin. In the garden this can be a very confiding species that is attracted to humans to feed on any small invertebrates that are disturbed by gardeners. This is a behaviour that is thought to have evolved when they followed herds of deer and wild boar in a forest environment. Blackbirds (turdus merula) is also a species with this behaviour. Anyway, I am pleased to say that the little bird gave me the chance to put my equipment to the test with very satisfactory results.
There has been a Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) on the Otter Estuary for the last 11 days or so. Yesterday I eventually got the chance to go and have a look for myself and photograph it. I have had such a busy time this last month what with the funeral and then family to stay from South Africa, Jersey and Canada. Then we had our own trip to Huddersfield. Afterwards my 5 year old grandaughter came to stay. It's been almost impossible to find the time to do anything out and about as I normally do. I also had a general anaesthetic and surgery last week which always takes the wind out of your sails....I'm better now though. October has been quite a month to say the least.
Anyway back to Grey Phalarope. This is a fascinating species. To start with they break all the accepted norms when it comes to breeding. The females, once they have laid eggs, depart the breeding grounds leaving the less colourful and smaller male to incubate the eggs. Females wil defend their territory and her mate from rival females. The young hatchlings are precocial, this means that the newly hatched chicks are able to feed themselves and walk as soon as they hatch, in common with lots of other closely related birds, plovers for example. They spend the winters in tropical seas in the Atlantic, usually far from land and the females will spend 11 months of the year in this environment. If you look at a world map you can see that their breeding territory is high up in the arctic in a circle that encompasses Arctic Canada to the west and Arctic Norway to the East and their territory includes Greenland, Iceland and Svalbad. Their range extends over the most northern tip of the Canadian land mass to include Alaska to the far west. In the USA and Canada this species is called the Red Phalarope, a ridiculous and confusing situation that defies logic and leads to confusion with the Red-necked Phalarope. Even though this species is an ocean living species, it is not an unusual occurrence to have them turn up on the shores of GB and sometimes inland on large watercourses. In fact, this has been an annual event in Devon for the last few years. When they are here they are usually very approachable and seemingly tame which adds to their charm and attraction. For me though, I am just so fascinated by the fact that they arrive here like they do, having bred in some exotic location much further north and were on the way to who knows where in the tropical atlantic before a storm, (in this case the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo) blew them off course.
I continue to check my pictures from my last trip to Sri Lanka and I came upon, what I thought at the time, was a Palm Swift, closer inspection revealed a Crested Treeswift. This was a good surprise because I hadn't even heard of the species until I tried to identify it. A great result for me and another species for my world galleries which is up to 560 species now. With an ambition to reach a thousand species in my lifetime, every species counts! Here is a link to the galleries..... click here.
There will not be a post for a few days.... off to hospital tomorrow for dental surgery.
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.