I have got quite a lot to talk about in today's entry. A few exciting developments on the Otter study front and this lovely Dipper to talk about........ oh, and then there is the Kingfisher, quite a day really.
It started with a quick look at the Brook, hopefully signs of Otter would be found if the water had gone down enough and thankfully it had. I arrived at 1030 and had a look around but couldn't see any new tracks, probably because the water level hadn't gone down until after daylight. It was a beautiful bright day and I could see the Kingfisher working hard, but nearby, to catch his quota for the day. This was too much to resist because he was really intent on what he was doing and allowing me to get very close. At one time he perched on my hide as you can see. When he had moved off to a safe distance I sat in the hide and waited for him, hopefully to come to his favourite perch, but I had got a boot full of water and 25 minutes was all I could stand.
I emerged, wet and cold from the hide and returned to the ramp only to find a very fresh spraint which had been left there while I had been only 100 metres away!!!!!!!!!!! How frustrating is that? But do not despair if you are waiting, as I am, for an Otter photo. My Infrared Camera trap arrived today and as I type this, it is in position on the Brook. Hopefully tonight, it will catch photographs of our Otter and hopefully her cub as they emerge to mark their territory on the ramp. I am very excited and hopeful that all the technology works. I am not absolutely convinced that it is going to, the infrared sensor seems to be a little bit temperamental, but at dawn in the morning we will know! If it is unsuccessful, then I will be disappointed because there is never going to be a better chance to get Otter photographs with this type of equipment.
So what about our Dipper? One of my favourite places to visit is Stepps Bridge and Dunsford Woods, a short trip from Exeter and on the edge of Dartmnoor. It is an amazing place and in mid-week, very quiet as well. The River Teign runs through the wood and Dippers are often seen. I love Dippers. As a child my dad pointed them out to me on the River Dove in the Derbyshire Peak District. They have always been special to me. The way they feed, exclusively by walking on the bottom of fast flowing rivers and streams is amazing and they are attractive as well. I can spot them easily when they are about. I look for a white spot tucked away by the waters edge. It is always exciting when this whiteness turns out to be a Dipper's breast. I find them hard to photograph though because they are always tucked away in dark dull places.
Check back tomorrow for news and hopefully Otter photos!!!!!!
With the wet and unkind weather there is not a lot that I can do at the moment apart from look for more signs of Otter and take photos. Late last night I had been out until midnight to hopefully get a sighting by the ambient street lighting, but no luck. I sat on the bank above the ramp and I know that I was quite unobtrusive because a couple of Rabbits came out to graze and hadn't seen me until I made a movement. I gave up and came home. This morning I went back to see what I could discover. I was pleased to see that there were new tracks and new spraintings which has added to my sense of frustration. There is even a very new "sand-castle" on bank that is clearly visible, and close to my Kingfisher hide...... how frustrating is that? So, I have taken the bull by the horns and bought an infra-red camera trap which should get me some good "record" photos. This will record the time, the idea being that I record when is the most active time. I will then be able to know when I have a better chance of a really good "pro" quality photograph. I have a plan for this as well so, as my wife said, I am obsessive but to get a photo of a city otter then I guess I have to be.
This very fresh pad is very interesting because it shows even the patterns of the skin on the otter's pads.
This has to be a cub because of the size, compare it to the keys? The photo below is of a new site opposite my kingfisher hide.
We have had a couple of really wet days and last evening the Brook was flooded right up and over the concrete ramp. By lunchtime today, the flood had gone down a little and at 2 o'clock I went to have a look to see if there were any fresh otter signs. There were, some really clear and fresh, as well as a new sprainting. I can not be 100% sure, but it is my guess that the flood water had only receded off the ramp sometime in the morning meaning that the otter had sprainted during the morning and in broad daylight!
These tracks were tremendously interesting as they told a real story about what the otter had done. You could make out where it had left the water and seen that it had bounded along, the second print from the left is a hind pad and if you can imagine how these tracks were made, you can image the otter loping along with an arched body. In the next shot you can see the distance between these sets of 4 and the last one is scuffed where it pushed off in to a jump up on to the raised pile of silty mud.
This is quite a small otter, either a female or cub because if you compare the prints to my car keys you can get a really good idea of the size. This is much smaller than other tracks I have seen before, although I have seen other small prints previously amongst larger ones. Be aware that you can not always make out a 5th toe and on the picture below the 5th toe is only just visible on the right hand side.
This is a Grey Wagtail and it's a male. What is quite interesting about it and of real significance, is the pre-nuptial moult that it is undergoing. As a breeding adult it will have a black bib, this is almost showing now, as you can see there are lots of black feathers. The black bib will be retained until the beginning of Autumn when it will moult again and the black will be replaced by white. I had noticed today that the grey Wagtails on the brook, were moving around in pairs. We are almost in to March and breeding will begin soon. In the late summer and early Autumn last year I had seen both males and females together and then there had been territorial fights and the females departed the scene....... now they are back, well one at least. So, it's official, spring is on the way. It is quite interesting to me to note that birds at this time of the year go through their most stressful time. They not only need to survive the cold winter but build up enough reserves to moult in to breeding plumage in the case of males. Females need to feed well enough over the winter to produce a clutch of eggs and all the stress that this entails. I will be hoping to photograph some breeding behaviour of this species over the summer.
At the brook there were further signs of Otter and a fresh spraint mound which was not as close to the water as the others I have found.
In the garden, I am glad to say that the breeding male Collared Dove is safe and today things were starting to return to normal. I watched the pair acting normally again.
The title of today's entry is good, just shows that Exeter is a great city to live in. I was up very early this morning and by 6.30, sat in a bag hide, hoping to see the otters responsible for all the tracks I have been finding these last few days. I drew a blank and after the day had dawned and we had some light I went back to sit in my Kingfisher hide. The Kingfisher is like a drug and I just can't get enough of him. I am beginning to learn more and more about this individual. One of the things I am rapidly discovering is not to assume that you can predict with certainty when he will put in an appearance. This morning for example, it was well after 8 before I saw him. He was around the hide area and fishing and he flew past me in both directions a few times. The light was so perfect and I was really hoping that he would bring his catch to one of the hide perches. I can only assume that he wasn't successful near to the hide because the nearest I got to him was this picture which shows how good the light was and also how frustrating it can be when he is just that tiny bit too far away, about 20 mtrs in this shot.
Eventually he left and at around that time I became aware of a lady, her husband and a small child looking intently at the ground. I guessed they were looking for Otter signs so I emerged from the hide and went to chat to them. It turned out that they were doing some kind of otter survey which is really odd as it is in competition with the survey I am taking part in and yet both surveys seemed to have some Devon Wildlife Trust involvement. This is really odd and I will get to the bottom of it tomorrow. I pointed them in the right direction, showed them tracks and how to identify them and also showed them some spraint.
My lovely wife and I took a walk around Exeter Quay and Trews Weir on the River Exe this afternoon, apparently that's what normal people do! I took my camera of course and I was interested to see that the Black Headed Gulls are really coming in to breeding condition and are starting to look quite attractive. In a week or so they will look even better as the head becomes more chocolate and the eyes becomes even redder.
Incidentally, the garden is very, very quiet today with no Goldfinch flocks. The Sparrowhawk certainly spooked all the birds on Friday. I did see a pair of Collared Doves in the tree so perhaps the breeding male wasn't the predated bird on Friday and things will carry on as normal. If not, then the female has wasted no time in replacing him! A Blackcap was in the Torbay Palm and we have had a few Sparrows keeping a low profile. The Blackbird pair continue to carry nesting material around, particularly the female.
Incidentally, I have no control over the adverts on my blog and I see that we have an advert for a dating site this evening......... not my choice! Also, welcome to the visitor from Qatar I hope you found something to look at that you found interesting. You are the 113th different country to visit the blog!
My walk along thre brook this morning couldn't have been more fruitful as far as Otters are concerned. I had been on the brook for literally only 30 seconds when I discovered a brand new sprainting site. It was along the bank in an area that I rarely walk as it is on the opposite side to my usual path. I took photos and measurements.
New Site ........ Site 1.
This site is close to a regularly walked path and as the water level receded the muddy, sandy bank became exposed and this is where the otter, which I believe to be a female with a cub, chose to mark.
Spraint at site 1.
This photo shows marks made by pads and 'spraint" left on a mud pile scraped in to that shape by the otter.
Pad at Site 1.
I believe this to be the pad of a female as it appears to be under 6cm wide. It is also a hind pad.
Down at the bridge where yesterday I had seen my first spraint and the tracks leading back and forth, there was more activity. Two more mounds and lots of tracks on one side.
This print left in the mud under the bridge is about as clear as you could possibly get. It shows a right hind foot. You can clearly see the heal, the bottom of the foot and 5 clearly marked toes as well as nails.
................... and here is proof of a cub. These prints are significantly smaller than the others and if you compare them to the Little Egret tracks you can make your own assumption as to the size of the otter that made them.
What really excited me was seemingly two different sets of tracks, or perhaps even three with some very small tracks, obviously a cub. In all I found 8........ yes 8 different sprainting sites in an area of less than half a mile.
Some real drama in the garden at lunchtime today! The weather has been intermittently, cloudy, rainy and sunny and in between one of the sunny periods I sat in my office and did a bit of work on my gallery see here. There was a noisy commotion coming from the back garden and I chose to ignore it, this was a big mistake because when I eventually went to the kitchen, I immediately saw the body of a Dove on the roof of one of my wooden garden buildings. A Collared Dove...... with no head. Sitting above were two "heavy" looking Carrion Crows eyeing up the carcase. Further investigation revealed a scattering of freshly plucked feathers and skin where the Dove had been plucked by a sparrowhawk no doubt. Who carried the half eaten body to the roof I will never know.
What is for sure, I missed a big photo opportunity, unfortunate as it is that the Collared Dove was taken. In the reasonably bright weather I was hoping to get some nice photos of Goldfinches, Chaffinches and hopefully Siskins but there was not a bird to be seen, obviously spooked by the experience.
More Otter Tracks and now Spraint
Later on I went down to the brook. Now that the flood water has receded. I was hoping to see Otter signs in the fresh "virgin" mud. I did more than that. Under the bridge I discovered really fresh clear tracks made in the last few hours.
Investigations revealed a "spraint" pile. This is where the otter had scrapped the mud together in to a mound. At the top, in typical otter fashion, was a lovely little deposit of shiny,greeny dark otter spraint.
It was fresh as a daisy having been deposited even during the day. I took photos as you can see and also brought some spraint home for further investigation. Even more exciting was the loud splash I heard from behind me, I turned to see ......... nothing ......... but I am pretty confidant that I had actually disturbed the otter only yards away and the splash was him diving in to the water to escape detection........ my first Alphinbrook Otter encounter, it was a close one! I had been told that this spot is a sprainting area so it is also a good place to position a camera trap in the future. It was a very exciting end to an interesting if not, "almost" kind of a day.
All of these tracks are made by the otter, the disturbed mud is the heap prepared by the otter and the footprints are otter tracks.
Black Headed Gulls need little introduction to most people in the UK. They are a delicate Gull compared to the more familiar larger Herring Gulls. They are more often seen in land but we are not far from the coast here in Exeter. Today, with abysmal rainy weather I took a look at the Upper stretches of the river Exe almost in the city. There is always a large congregation of gulls and I was hoping to perhaps find a Mediterranean Gull amongst the flock but no such luck. The Black Heads are coming in to breeding plumage and were quite approachable however. You can make out the hint of Black head on these two individuals.
In the garden I took a nice photo of this Dunnock - Prunella modularis, not sure of the sex of this bird but they have been chasing around for a week or so now and have definitely formed a breeding pair again already.
Its been raining heavily, watching on the Alphin Brook is a bit limited when it's like this, therefore the garden always gets a bit more of my time and attention. When I get my teeth in to anything I always try and improve what I have previously done and yesterdays (posted this morning) Goldfinch needed another try in, perhaps better light. Hope you like this one? Also tried on and off, to get some nice in flight Collared Dove photos and I almost did. I'm already excited about what I might achieve tomorrow.
Notable Kingfisher Behaviour
I did walk down the Brook at 4 o'clock just to see what was what. The water level was extremely high and the water, fast flowing and milky tea coloured. I have learnt that these kind of conditions do not stop the Kingfisher from catching successfully. I hadn't seen him though for two days, but glad to say he was back again at around 4.45 this afternoon. I walked towards my hide which is again almost totally submerged. I saw my Kingfisher flying towards it and he swooped to perch on the branch that he expected to be there. It was totally submerged and he did an "about turn", with a fish still in his beak, and landed on a very small and not particularly substantial branch opposite. He tried to whack it as normal but couldn't really kill it on this flimsy perch. After a few hearty thuds, he left to fly back up to the concrete area to do the job. Two interesting points here. The first point was a confirmation of cognitive behaviour in that he was definitely seeking the familiar branches in front of my hide,proving that he remembered their presence. It wasn't until he arrived there and couldn't see them, that he turned around without landing to find something suitable. The second point is the proof of the importance of a good 'thudding" perch to kill his prey. I would like to think that I have definitely helped my Kingfisher over the winter as I have provided him with these perches that are so important. A third point, which goes against quite a lot of previously published information where it is stated that a Kingfisher can not catch his prey in either fast flowing, muddy or deep water. Not true because 'my" bird caught a fish in front of my eyes in water that was fast, muddy and deep!!! Beware when you read information on the internet. Do not blindly trust all the recycled "false" facts that are published and republished by people who have done no research of their own.
It was a good day in the garden yesterday, the 16th of February, with a variety of interesting bird visitors and activities. As you can see from the above, it was a wet and showery day with overcast conditions but this didn't deter the birds. They have to feed come rain or shine so the feeders both in my garden and my immediate neighbours were visited constantly. A Blackcap male was seen at around midday. We had a large flock of very noisy Goldfinches with us the entire day. Amongst them was a solitary male Siskin, the first sighting this year of a male and only the second Siskin this winter. I took up position in my shed and tried to get a good photo of him but although Goldfinches were constant, he didn't visit this feeder unfortunately. We also had 3 Greenfinch, one male and a female. Several Chaffinches were with us again but no elusive Brambling which is what I am always looking for......... one day I hope! A Magpie has decided that the garden is a good place to be just lately and he has been in and out of the garden for the last few days. Even when I got up this morning, he was the first bird I heard. There was the vaguest hint of Blackbird song at dusk which is a portent of spring at least, and the male was seen carrying nesting material. The Collared Doves are now well and truly "in love" ! The large group of 17 has now been thinned down to just mum and dad and yesterday, a day late for Valentines day, they were performing in the garden. I entitled this photograph "Sex in the City".
Interesting to see him actually standing on her back to copulate with her. I found a predated fresh egg last week, obviously one of hers, so they have already laid and this is what has encouraged the Magpie in to the garden I think. The promise of fresh eggs is too much to resist for him!
Talking of eggs, there is fresh frog spawn in the lower pond, more than 6 weeks later than last year.
Down on the Brook, no sign of my male Kingfisher today who hasn't been seen (by me that is) for 48 hours now......... is he off looking for a breeding territory? Probably!
Something totally different today. Having spent the last 7 days or so getting up really early to be in position for the Kingfisher, I thought I would give it a rest and see what was out and about in the garden. This is supposed to be Wildlife in a Suburban Garden after all! I experimented with some in-flight shots and differing settings on the camera using the bathroom window as a location. I pretty much came to the conclusion, if I didn't know it all ready, that light is incredibly important especially if you are trying for shutter speeds that freeze action. Well, to be honest I am amazed at these pictures. A Wood Pigeon was in the Apple Tree, a regular visitor. I set the camera at 1000 sec and waited for him to leave his perch. I froze the action on these 5 shots all taken in a split second and I am thrilled with the results. This "aint" no Kingfisher but it is a lovely bird and one that, because of it's pest status is vilified and hated.. but I love them! I also took a few Chaffinch images which were quite good too.
In common with the previous mornings, by 9 I hadn't seen him again, who knows where he goes. He is still here, roughly in the same area however without any movement to a breeding territory. I know that it is wrong to anthropomorphize but I do imagine him thinking things through and having a strategy, I always wonder how much of his behaviour is purely instinctive, probably all of it, but it's hard to believe that there is not a degree of cognisance.
I returned to the water at just after 3pm as I had a little bit of spare time. I sat and watched the late afternoon fishing session. The light is poor from this hide at this time of day but it is always interesting to watch him and I always hope to see some new behaviour. At this session he caught 4 fish and also had his usual bath which I filmed on HD digital film. With one fish, he beat it so hard from side to side that not only could I hear it slapping on the branch, the branch was also bouncing up and down. I knew when he had eventually had enough fish because I could see him flying very quickly away upstream and out of sight. The fish that he is eating is a Nine Spined Stickleback, larger than it's relative the Tree Spined. Note also the gold iris of the eye, silver in the smaller species. I mention this because this species is pretty much what he is exclusively feeding on at the moment. I did see him with a minnow once last week however. In the Autumn I saw him feeding mainly on Three Spined and Minnows as well as Loach, a Millers Thumb and a Common Newt. If you look closely at the picture you can see how I had troubles with "Depth of Field" in the dullness this late afternoon. When The bird is as close to me as he was today and I had the camera set at the highest shutter speed possible, but there has to be a compromise. I opened the shutter up to it's maximum of 2.8 which means that anything at the point of focus is sharp but areas further away, or nearer for that matter are going to be out of focus. The beak is sharp but the feet are not. If I compensated for this, then the shutter speed would consequently be too slow to "freeze" any action and the whole image would be fuzzy. if I adjusted the ISO then the image would be grainy......... photography is all about compromise. Bright conditions pretty much make theses compromises less critical.
I had another "no-show" this morning, who knows why he had temporarily stopped visiting my purposefully placed branches? I knew he was only yards upstream because I saw him several times and even though I expected him to come he still didn't. But,eh...... this is a wild bird after all! I have my 85 year old mother to entertain at the moment and to be honest it is cramping my style somewhat, but mustn't complain too much. My long suffering wife Jenny took her off shopping in the early afternoon and, finding myself free, guess where I was by 2.45? I saw him as soon as I got there, and I knew by his beviour, that he was fishing. As I scrambled over the branches I could see that he had been using them recently by the fresh bird lime in the mud.... a real give away. Then, and it happens like this sometimes, he was in front of me with a fish in less than a minute, so quickly, I had hardly finished concealing myself. I calmly photographed him in quite subdued light and got quite a few, half decent shots. Glory of glories, after he had dealt with his 9 Spine Stickleback - (Pungitius pungitius), he did his bathing thing and I almost got a really good photo(see above). But here he is eating his fish.
After he had eventually swallowed the fish, and it always happens this way, he turned his head and was stock still for a second or two, and then he opened his mouth to properly get his meal down. I snapped the shutter and got this lovely photo which is so full of character. This could be presumed to be an aggressive posture to another Kingfisher but this is not the case.
Preening, scratching and cleaning of the feet always follows on from a good meal a,d it gives a good chance for some nice photos. I think I captured one here that is really nice. You can see how he is running the wing feathers (primaries), through his beak to get everything back in place.
What a smashing bird he is and can you believe that I can get such good views of him? Just have a good look at his feet, can you see how bright they are becoming? When I first saw him last September, his feet were smoky and blackish red, a sure indication that he was in his first Autumn. Now spring is just around the corner he is coming in to breeding condition and very soon will be off to meet up with the "girl" downstream. I am seeing her constantly now but she is much more difficult to predict. I have seen her very near to the his territory so I would guess that he is more than tolerating her. It will be more than nice if I manage to see some interaction between the two of them.
On a walk down the stream, I bumped in to a lady with a nice Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Both she and her husband have always taken a big interest in what I am doing. I was able to show her and her two friends the bird. This was really nice because I also gave them some tips on how to spot him. Their reaction on then seeing him, quite closely as it happens was very satisfying. It made me realise how people love to see a Kingfisher but rarely do as they told me that it was the best views of a KF they had ever had.
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If you are reading this bog then I know you care about wildlife and birds. Despite a promise to end the hunting of migrating birds, many of which are destined for the UK and the rest of Europe. The people of Malta think it is acceptable to blast them out of the sky in the name of sport. Birds shot include, Kingfishers, Osprey, Honey Buzzard, Nightingales and even Swallows. They are not shot for food but just for the sheer joy of killing. It was/is a condition of Malta's membership of the EEc that they desist from this barbaric act and yet they continue. You can read about this here and then go on to sign a petition. Please do it.
The unusual behaviour of the Kingfisher was the notable event today. We were promised a really bright cloud free and sunny morning. I made a special effort and was tucked in to the hide at 0738 waiting for what I expected to be, the usual Kingfisher show. The light was fabulous and I was certain that I would get some great photos. The minutes ticked by and he just didn't show. Then at 0828 I caught sight of him and expected to have him in front of me within seconds as normal. But no, he didn't come my way. I waited until 9 and in that time, the Little Egret appeared right in front of me which was good and very satisfying.
To make matters worse, when I left the hide to come home, there he was, sat where I had seen him half an hour earlier. Something had definitely changed his behaviour today. Of note this morning, I saw Otter tracks and took this photo. As you can see, there are clearly 5 toes, on a dog there would only be 4.
I went for a family run-out to Exmouth sea front at around lunchtime. It was still very bright and I had my camera with me and was just experimenting with it, snapping away at the Black Headed gulls when a Buzzard appeared very, very close. The light was just perfect and the camera was set up especially for flight photography. It came even closer and I took my best ever photos of Buzzard.
A few Kingfishers from today, all male and all from Number 1 hide. After yesterday's great day I returned slightly earlier to make sure that I didn't miss anything so by 0745 I was sat ready. As I arrived I saw him already fishing and without disturbing him I managed to get myself tucked away. There was a very short wait before he was in front of me and then off he went returning a bit later with a fish and it pretty much went on like that. Eventually he had caught and eaten enough and then he had his usual bath. I tried really hard to get him splashing in and out but not really successful, but almost.
Here's one of him just a split second late.
Later in the afternoon I walked the Brook. I am the Bio Diversity recorder for this watercourse and I log all the wildlife seen. At the moment this is mainly birds but when we get in to spring obviously there will be much more to record. It is going to be very interesting to see how the year develops. This afternoon, Kingfisher wise, I saw the male at his end of the brook and he was fishing yet again. Then as I walked down the brook about a half a mile I saw him yet again. I watched him fishing from the top of a Bullrush, about 4 foot high. This is pretty much his way of fishing. He scans the water from quite a height which gives him a better vantage point. He is remarkably successful and according to my observations he catches a fish about every other attempt. When he had caught this time, he flew back past me and towards the bridge 200 yards away and didn't seem to stop. It seemed to me that he was prepared to fly a considerable distance to somewhere where he could deal with his prey before eating it.
I watched a greater Spotted Woodpecker for a short while and a few days ago I had discovered a very enticing and interesting nest hole. I am pretty certain that in the past this has been a nest hole and if it gets used again this year remains to be seen but I will certainly be keeping "tabs" on it. Will give me great photo opportunities if that turns out to be the case.
In response to "The Watcher"......... thanks for looking at the Blog and your comments, as always very much appreciated. Here is a photo of the first hide which as you can see isn't particularly hidden.
It is just a part of the scene now. It has been there for the best part of four months. The birds are really used to it and so are the local dog walkers who now, shout their dogs back when they can see that I am in. I have no idea why it has never been vandalised, perhaps it says quite a lot about the people here in Exeter. I am very pleased any way. from the path above you can hardly see it anyway.
Goosanders on the River Teign
During the day my wife and I took a trip out with my mother ............ she is staying here with us for 10 days. We walked a few hundred yards up the River Teign at Stepps Bridge. This is on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park, a popular place for the people of Exeter to get out in to the wilds. It really is a very nice attractive place with lots of wildlife including Dippers, yes I did see one today as well.... Obviously I took my camera and glad I did because I was really pleased to see these Goosanders. They were a little bit skittish but no more so than the Mallards were.
Can you see how hard it is to get good photos of black and white birds? The contrasting plumage is so difficult to deal with. If you are new to Goosanders, the male is the one in front and the "red-heads" are his harem! Must be hard wok for him, ones enough for me!
I hope you are not fed up with Kingfisher photos on the Blog, but a Blog is an online diary and a way of recording my sightings which at the moment is mainly Kingfishers. Today's photos are the best I have taken and I am thrilled with them. It was a hard job getting myself going this morning, it really was, but I am so glad that I made the tiny bit of effort needed. It was a fabulous early morning with, glory of glories.... a blue sky and a low sun that was casting an almost orange light on everything it touched. It was only a matter of minutes when I saw the Kingfisher, upstream from the hide and obviously fishing in the intent way that he does when he first gets going in the morning. As is usual and what I expected when he is hunting, he flew back towards me with a fish in his beak. Instead of landing in front of me, he went past and I wondered where he could have possibly taken it. I needn't have worried because within 30 seconds or so there he was, right in front of me with the biggest Stickleback I have ever seen and was he struggling with it! No matter how hard he tried he couldn't get it down and he bashed and bashed it on his branch so conveniently placed for the job by me, right in front of the hide. Eventually he managed it and then he took a while before he left the perch and flew downstream. I would have been happy with that, but there was so much more to come.
It took 20 minutes but he was back! I would save hard for the tickets if it were a show because to see him zooming towards me with a fish is simply thrilling. This time his fish was normal size and he dealt with it very quickly, and now he had had enough.
As is usual after he has finished hunting he takes care of his "domestics". He has a really good dunk and dip and then preens and scratches to keep his feathers in tip-top condition. This is always special because when this is taking place I know that he is going to be with me for 5 minutes or even more. I have rarely had the combination of this bathing behaviour very close and good light so I made the best of it and tried really hard to get photos of him in-flight. I managed a few and one was just about!
I thought it would be interesting for you to see my hide which immediately gave me great views of Kingfishers, Ravens, Grey Heron, Little Egret and Buzzard. As you can see it is quite inconspicuous and blends in to the local really well. It was a lot of work but really worth it, it's mine and I am proud of it! The wildlife is getting used to it and it is part of the landscape as far as they are concerned. Who knows what fantastic sights are ahead of me? Today was good, Grey Wagtails again and Kingfishers. The highlight was the Egret which has absolutely no idea that I am there and consequently gives me some great photo opportunities.
Life is sweet for me at the moment. I am free to come and go as I please, I have a lovely wife who takes care of me, I am off to the USA in a month or so to visit my sister for five weeks, can't wait. My main focus is my wildlife and my Brass Band, both equally as rewarding. If you are envious then don't be because I would swop it all to be 25 again! But here I am in my 60th year so I had better get on with things while I still can. So here is my offering for today, another couple of smashing close ups of the Little Egret.
Pretty soon I am going to get some shots of this lovely bird with a minnow or similar in his beak. I can pretty much get a portrait of him any time I like. I have become extremely fussy and any shot that is not 100% gets rejected.
Water pipit have been a bit of a bogey bird for me over the years and I always seemed to miss them whenever they were seen here in Devon. I am glad to say that I have managed to put that to rest now because I have had really good sightings and taken photos of the bird that has been with us on the River Exe Estuary at the tiny little hamlet of Exton, literally only yards from the Commando Training Centre. There is a new wooden Boardwalk which is part of the Exe Estuary way. if you are local then you really must go, it is a real asset and quite an attractive feature. Water pipits are a nice little bird that I have always had trouble with. I had imagined that they are much more like Meadow Pipits than they actually are and here at Exton was the perfect opportunity to compare 3 different closely related species of "anthus" pipits. I can pass on some of the points that I found useful and you will too. The first thing to say is that Meadow Pipit are much more "stripy" on the back than Water who's backs are only only lightly marked. it is said that water are a bigger bird and they probably are but not significantly. The one I watched had a much more upright stance than a Meadow and looked lighter in colour and as soon as I saw it I knew it was a Water Pipit. But undoubtedly the two quite significant features that were really obvious, at least in the birds here at Exton were, the Meadows had quite bright fleshy coloured legs quite a contrast to the much darker legs in the Water, but it is worth mentioning that there was a hint of colour peeking through. Meadow Pipit legs are so flesh coloured that they almost look as though they are sore and suffering from being exposed to the cold which is not the case but that gives a good impression of what they are like. Water Pipits have a totally different face pattern with a very noticeable and obvious long white, perhaps off-white, eye stripe which is never there in such an obvious way in a Meadow. So, no eye stripe.... no Water Pipit, then look at the legs are they pink or dark? Check the back pattern is it boldly or lightly marked, and that's pretty much it really. Confusion could be made with a Rock Pipit but they are a little darker and do not have such an obvious eye stripe. Much is made of wing bars in the Water Pipit but I have to say that it didn't come across that way to me.
It was a hard job when the clock told me that it was just before 7 this morning and I dragged myself out of the cosiness of my bed, still in the dark. I stumbled down to the kettle and toast. "It better be good" I thought. So what was all this sacrifice about......... bird ringing of course. There is something strange about people who want to get up and do things at first light, but that seems to be the nature of the beast. I kept reminding myself why I was doing it and if you don't know , I am trying to get myself licensed to ring and record the birds in my garden and the surrounding area. It's as though there is this really exclusive club, and the BTO require you to jump through as many hoops as they can before issuing you with a license. I can't think of any better way to control it though and good on them. The scheme is absolutely fair and you cant jump the queue and circumnavigate the requirements no matter who you are or what you background and personal experience is. It rather pleases me to see RSPB wardens, employees and volunteers all jumping through the same hoops along side me, and why shouldn't they. I have been going since a year last August and to be honest have learnt a tremendous amount from Ian who is a a mine of "very useful info". He has been ringing for 30 years and is still excited whenever he gets his nets up and starts to catch some birds. To have these birds there for you to study and observe in the hand is such a priviledge and to be honest a real joy. Today when I eventually got out to a site in East Devon, it was still quite early and a bit misty, my flask let me down and was only delivering me cold coffee.. bummer!!!!! That was the low point in an an otherwise great morning session. Birds captured, ringed, measured and recorded included 4 or 5 Marsh Tits and here is photo of a couple of them!
There is quite a lot to fit in today so without further ado, I had better get on with it. It started with a hint of disappointment and bad planning. I had arranged to go ringing as part of my training to obtain a BTO ringers license. Unfortunately when I got to the organised venue there was no sign of anyone. I hung around for ten minutes and then decided to come home. It turned out that they were there all along and I had not looked properly! Oh, never mind, it meant that I could get on with the rest of my day. I love Saturdays anyway, good sport and a nice relaxed feel to the day by everyone you meet.
I went on down to my second hide to check it out and have a "look-see". Not really a lot going on except a Grey Wagtail when I first arrived. I am pretty sure this a female and if so, the first female of the year.
As I sat there I reflected on the great pictures taken yesterday and hoped that the Kingfisher would return, it really was a special sighting. She didn't, but not to worry, if you put the time in, eventually you are rewarded. I did however, note that yet again there was no sight of the Buzzard who had been pretty much constantly here only days before. Suddenly to my left there was a noisy commotion. Crows were mobbing something in the trees to my left. After just a few seconds of this , out flew the Buzzard, followed by three crows who definitely didn't want the Buzzard in the vicinity and literally chased it away. Now I know why the Buzzard is not so noticeable.
Later in the afternoon I took up position in No1 hide hoping for the male Kingfisher. The Little Egret, resident at that end of the brook was patrolling up and down the bank sides and it wasn't long before he presented himself right in front of the camera.
It was after 4 when the male Kingfisher first showed himself. I always get a buzz whenever I see him and I pretty much know exactly what he is going to do now. I have learnt almost every aspect of his behaviour. I watched him fishing but he was just a little bit too far upstream to get photos. He was scanning the water from about 3 foot above, perched on bank-side vegetation . I saw him dive and then return to his perch with nothing. I had him fixed in my viewfinder as all this went on. Suddenly, he wqsn't there any more, then I saw him. He was flying downstream towards me, very quickly with the fish he had just caught! He zoomed in and landed on the nearest branch to me. It was getting a bit too dull for photography so I used the cameras flash and got a couple of half decent images.
This is a shot just before he disappeared back up to his favourite place to catch. I think it is quite remarkable that as soon as he is successful, he will fly back to the perches in front of the hide, 50 yards or so.
Today's Kingfisher day was one of those really special ones! Because of vehicle problems which are not worth going into, I arrived at the No 2 hide just before 11 o'clock. It was an unusually sunny day and very bright. As I walked to the area I had a feeling that things were going to be good, the sun added to the excitement because obviously, good light is such a necessary aspect of any photography. I sat and very little had happened by 1120. I sighed with disappointment fearing a repeat of yesterday's, almost birdless day. Suddenly, shooting towards me........ a Kingfisher, head- on from upstream, and then she was gone as quickly as she had appeared. My stomach complained with nervous excitement and I noted to myself how strange this felt, it's only a bird after all!!! The minutes ticked by and still, there was no sign of her. Then without a fanfare or any pre-sign, she was there, and so close!!!!! I had imagined what a spectacle and sight she would be if she ever landed on this Bullrush stem. The combination of sombre beige and the lovely background looks like an oil canvas and is such a special backdrop. It was just so, so beautiful. My senses tingled, I really do love birds and wildlife in general. Who could fail to be mesmerised by a Kingfisher. So close now and so intimate was my encounter, it felt wrong, I almost felt like a voyeur. She stayed with me for what seemed seconds, but in fact it was about 2 minutes. I witnessed some interesting behaviour as she regurgitated a pellet which she expelled. Then she flitted to a branch overlooking the water to fish. I heard voices and so did she and then she was gone and I thanked her for sharing 3 minutes of her life with me!
It was interesting that she was 'spooked" by the voices which she obviously associated with danger without seeing people. So here is a lesson for us all if we are walking....... keep quiet! I meet people who endlessly tell me of fleeting glimpses they have had of Kingfishers. They describe how all they see are flashes as the bird shoots away. Well, today was real proof to me of just how quiet you need to be if you really want to see Kingfishers, other birds and wildlife in general.
This is a really good chance for you to note the differences in male and female Kingfishers. I meet people constantly who are very keen to learn these interesting little facts to help them enjoy their wildlife experiences even more. Quite simple, Kingfishers are sexually dimorphic, that is to say, there is a difference between male and female. "Dimorphic" is a good word to learn and impress your friends with! Anyway, male kingfishers have a solid black beak and the upper and lower mandibles are both black. In the female, as you can see above, the bottom mandible is orange to one degree or another. As the bird comes more and more in to breeding condition, this is is reflected in the extent and brightness of the orange. I would guess that our 'little girl" is about to become a full adult and the male down stream will probably be her partner! I think he is a lucky boy, because she is stunning to my eyes!
So if the Kingfisher was our main course the next pictures are the dessert. Having sadly seen the Kingfisher disappear to somewhere less noisy, I sat for a while with a contented glow and a feeling of smug satisfaction, (interrupted I might say by the still annoying chatterers). I decided that I needed to rush home to have a look at my pictures on my mac. I stopped in my tracks because walking down the brook towards me was a Little Egret....... back in to the hide before it saw me. I waited for it to get nearer and nearer, and when it was almost upon me I got some crackers of him as well!
I know that Robins are lovely birds and who isn't pleased to see one. This one pretty much saved the day today. I was sat in the hide by 8.30, so much potential. 10 Species have been seen from number 2 hide and I was hoping for half of them to come and pose. For some really odd reason, today the only bird willing to even show himself was the Robin. Well, not strictly true because at exactly 1030 a Kingfisher flashed by and I was really hoping and half expecting her to return to the perches in front of me, but she didn't and even though I continued my wait for another hour.....yes a three hour session, I had nothing to show for it! But the more I look at this portrait the more I like it. I left half of the Rabbit last night and this morning it had gone. I find it hard to accept that a Fox would not take carrion and I would put my money on a fox being the culprit. Could make a good photo!
We had been promised rain for today so when I the day dawned and I could see that the Met Office (even though the national HQ is in Exeter), had got it wrong again, I quickly took the opportunity to go and see what developments there had been. Would my Buzzard have eaten his, now small pieces of Rabbit, would the seed be gone and if so would I be able to find out who is responsible?
The answers to the questions was mixed. No Rabbit missing, but all the seed and peanuts had gone. I restocked with seed and got myself sorted in the hide. Water had gathered on the roof making a precarious situation which if not dealt with would perhaps have broken through and deluged me with a few gallons of smelly water. I forced the roof up and made quite a commotion to force the water to spill out of the sides. I tell you this because basically I was making quite a noise and not being quiet in the least. Image my surprise when there right in front was a Kingfisher. I had hoped for one from this hide, and was pretty sure that eventually one would show its self. I had placed some nice enticing sticks along the waters edge and these had done the trick. It turned out to be a female, the first I have seen since last September. I don't think that she is in the original Kingfishers territory, that's the bird that I have featured on the blog so much. He is at the opposite end of the Brook about a mile away, or perhaps a little less. She was calling loudly which was different behaviour to the male, perhaps she was calling to announce her presence to a prospective mate, probably "my" male, at least I hope it would be him. So it looks as though there is going to be some breeding activity. This could turn out to be very interesting but also one fraught with difficulties and dilemmas. It is in fact against the law to photograph Kingfishers at the nest without a license so as soon as I think there is nesting activity going on I will have to vacate the area.
For those of you who haven't noticed, the difference between a female and male Kingfisher is in the beak. Females have an orange patch on the lower mandible. The light was coming from the wrong direction in the photo. This is causing me real problems from this hide. Haven't worked out what to do about that yet. As I sat there filming the Kingfisher, a heron wandered down the bank towards me and I took this great shot of him as well. So a pretty good day so far and it's only 12.30.
Now that I am back home in Devon I immediately got back to work, that is, studying the birds and wildlife on my local patch, the Alphin Brook. I arrived back at 1630 yesterday afternoon and with only a bit of daylight left, I went to have a look at my two hides to check for any vandalism. I am very glad to report that they were both still intact and in fine fettle! Number one hide..... the original, positioned for the Kingfisher, was looking promising, the water level at the moment is very low and there are a lot of exposed muddy areas again. Good for Snipe....... please come back! Hide number 2 was fine, all the seed has gone from the feeding station as well as the Sprats, put out to attract the Heron and Egret.
I got up at dawn this morning and positioned myself in the Kingfisher hide. There was a lot of bird activity all around me, Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtails, Mallard, Little Egret, Carrion Crow, Blackbirds, Black Headed Gull and a few Redwings who have turned to earth worms now that the berries have pretty much been finished up.
The Little Egret landed in front of me and I have no explanation as to why I didn't finish up with any really good shots of him, mainly I think, because I have set my self very high standards. I did take this very nice Redwing portrait, so the early morning was definitely not a waste. The Kingfisher was there but upstream, I saw him make a few dives. He didn't come close to me though. It seems that the birds are starting to form pairs now. Both the Grey and Pied Wagtails were chasing around in pairs. For the Grey Wagtails this is a nice development as mostly through the winter, up until now, they have been solitary. The Pieds however, have tended to stay in "true" pairs all winter.
Just a little about Otters - Lutra lutra. It is a known fact that they use the Alphin Brook as a route in and out of the City to connect with the River Exe. There has been a recent sighting very close to my hide. I am always half expecting to see one, or at least catch a glimpse. Also, a friend has told me of an encounter a couple of weeks ago on the Exeter Canal when a "dog" Otter emerged from the Brook a mile or so down stream, and then went across the iced up Canal to the opposite side. Today I found my first positive tracks in a newly exposed muddy bank, literally 10 feet from the hide. I can hardly image how wonderful it would be to observe the animal that made those tracks and to know that it has been there in the last 48 hours or so is very encouraging and exciting. I would expect that the tracks were made in the hours of darkness, so I am looking for a miracle to see one during the day.