Friday, 4 March 2016

A walk in the country

Hello again dear follower, I hope you are well and are beginning to feel the joys of spring that is just beginning to show its head around the corner. Of late, I have taken to going out for a good old morning country walk using the many footpaths I have found around my home. Many of the paths criss-cross the arable fields and although muddy at times, are quite pleasurable to walk along. Everyday, I get to see more and more of the wildlife that inhabits our hedgerows and surprisingly close up too. Often, I see Wrens, Robins and Yellowhammers within feet of where I am standing. On one occasion, a female Sparrowhawk whizzed passed my knee from behind and swooped up to sit on a branch 20ft in front of me. I stood watching her in all her magnificence through my binoculars, knowing that if I made a single move towards my camera that hung at my hip, she would be gone. Sure enough, as I lowered the binoculars, she was gone, leaving in her wake a chorus of alarm calls from the various small birds around that had spotted her presence.

Although I didn't get a photo, I'm not bothered. As I often tell visitors to Lackford Lakes, where I work, who have seen something but failed to get a photo, just being able to sit and watch the creature can be rewarding enough and makes the moment even more special. All too often we can easily get caught up in getting the photo and not actually just taking time to sit and observe and admire the beauty that is siting in front of you.

One of these moments came not so long ago when I had to go on an errand to Stradbroke for the wifey who was at work. Usually, I would jump in the car and be there and back in about 20-30mins, but I looked at my OS Map app on my phone and realised that it wasn't that far to walk, about 2 miles each way. So I donned my walking boots and set off. 

Part of my root takes me down what once used to be a railway line. The line was dismantled many decades ago though, possibly part of Mr Beecham's cuts, who knows? and is now a bridleway. 

Once a railway line.
There are no signs that it used to be a railway, now tall tress swaying in the wind on either side. Anyway, it was on this walk that something most unusual happened. A Barn Owl flew out in front of me, it was most unexpected for her as it was me, but the reason I did not expect it was because it was 10:30am, well past dawn and there was this beautiful creature flying down the path ahead of me. I did think of chasing her to try and get some shots, however, I didn't have the right lens on, I only had a 90mm macro on for some close-up work should the situation arise. My 200mm lens was sitting on the desk at home (no good there I hear you cry). So I just walked and watched as she flew off ahead of me and then over the next hedgerow. About 5 mins later I passed a small meadow enclosed by high hedgerows on all sides and saw the owl quartering the field in search of food. Barn owls can often be forced to feed late into the morning by the weather. If it's been raining the night before or has been a particularly cold night, food can be hard to come by.

I walked into the field and crouched low to watch her hunt. I did manage to grab a couple of shots but she didn't come close enough for anything spectacular.

Barn owl at Stradbroke.
I seem to be seeing rather a lot of Barn owls of late, including a pair at work, whilst driving to work and even in the field outside my front door. I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing them either, such a beautiful bird, such an iconic figure of the British countryside.

One thing I've noticed on my walks are the amount of deer footprints I come across. One for thing for certain is there are lots of Muntjacs around.

Muntjac prints
Occasionally, I come across the odd Roe deer print, which as you can see, is much bigger.

Roe deer print
And one morning I was very lucky. On a walk and less than ½ mile from my house, I saw in the golden morning light what at first I thought was a large dog. But as I peered through my bins, I could see they were deer, Roe deer in fact!

Roe deer.
It was the one on the left that I had first spotted, she was standing up with the sun shining off of her side and when I first looked through the bins the three to the right (a stag and 2 does) were laying down and I would've not known they were there. They heard and saw me from a long way off despite the fact I'm not a noisy walker, you see so much more by being quiet, and they watched me warily as I walked the path that was perpendicular to theirs. Even though I wasn't walking directly towards them, the were taking no chances and decided to head off across the fields.

Heading off to safety

I started a petition 

I know, the world is full of petitions. Everywhere you look there is a petition against some thing or other. But recently, I got chatting to a bloke who claimed to be an ex-gamekeeper, he seemed a nice enough fellow and told me how he had his little quiet hideaway in the woods where he would sit and admire nature. He then went on to tell me how it was his duty to set up the pheasant and grouse shoots for his employer and how he always aimed to miss when given the opportunity to shoot because he thought wildlife "was amazing, except for badgers" he went on. 'Sorry" said I. "There bas*^@$" he went on, "used to set snares for them to protect the pheasants and grouse against them and foxes. Set one snare tied to a fence post once, went to check it and the snare and fence post were gone. Eventually found it much later 500yds away with a dead badger attached to it." I was horrified to say the least, I politely made my excuses and went on my way, I really did not want to listen to another word this man told me. When I got home, I got onto the internet to check whether snare trapping is a legal practice and I was amazed to find that this was true. This barbaric way of animal control can quite legally be carried out. For this of you who do not know what snare trapping is, I will tell you, but don't worry, I won't post any horrific pictures as I feel the description is usually enough.

It involves tying a stiff wire in the form of a crude noose and then attaching that to a stake or fence post. The snare is usually placed on a well worn animal track, which are easy to see to the trained eye, and are totally indiscriminate. The animal whether it is fox, rabbit, hare, badger or even otter or household pets will usually run along the track and its head will go through the noose. The noose is designed in such a way that it only tightens and will not loosen, so as the animal struggles the noose tightens even more, cutting into the skin and eventually (sometimes it may take hours) strangling the poor creature within.

I think that is descriptive enough to warrant not posting a photo of the outcome and to think that this practice is still legal in this day and age I find mind boggling. So I decided to set up a government petition to outlaw the use of these traps. You can sign the petition here and please pass this link onto your friends and family using social media or any other way you see fit. I thank you greatly in advance.

Camera gremlins everywhere!

I seem to be having some problems with my cameras on the home front at the moment. Two cameras I have, suddenly without warning ceased to work within two weeks of each other. Why I have no idea, but thankfully the nice guys at have looked at them and found one was faulty and replaced it, but found the other one to be working fine, strangely. So hopefully, over the weekend I'll get these back in to position and I'll get some nesting activity on the camera. Bizarrely, whilst the two cameras were away being looked at, another camera of mine in a nest box stopped working, yet, 3 days later, it's back to normal with no problems at all. 

Right, I better be off, gotta get ready for my radio piece with the wonderful Lesley Dolphin on BBC Radio Suffolk. We're talking bumblebees today.

Till next time dear follower, keep safe, keep smiling.

Monday, 8 February 2016

It's a bit late, but Happy new year!

Yes, amazingly, I'm still here. Unfortunately, I just haven't had much time to do the blog. So as this is the first post since April last year, the first thing I must say to you my poor followers is Happy New Year and all the other holiday celebrations I've missed out on, sorry.

So where do I begin? Lets time shift back to April 2015 where I was having trouble with some unwelcome visitors in the shape of a rat or two and a Heron. I'm happy to say that since then, they really haven't been much trouble and I've only ever caught two more since, which have been released into the middle of nowhere to continue their lives in peace. I made the pond unaccessible for the heron for a few months and it hasn't been back since, fingers crossed.

We often hear mice scurrying back and forth in the roof of the workshop, but they're not a big issue as yet. Again, I catch these in humane mouse traps and take them to the hedgerow a few hundred metres outside our house and release them there. Unlike rats, which have to be taken a couple of miles from a property to be effectively lost, mice only need a few hundred metres.

Although recently, I caught not one, but two mice in the trap. One was a baby and the other was its mother. I took them down the road and released them into the deep grass. However, next day, Trousers our cat popped into the workshop where the metes were caught and he strangely sat next to my wifey's kiln, which had been running in the night, so was nice and warm. I laid down on the floor to see why he was sitting next to the kiln, but behind it and saw that beneath the kiln were 3 baby mice.
3 baby mice close to death huddle together whilst Trousers stands next to them to alert me to their presence.
These obviously belonged to the mother that I released the day before and they were not in a good way. I could release them in the same place as their mother, but mother would not return as she would be busy looking after her one remaining baby. So, I gently picked them up, placed them into one of my old bat care containers and brought them in. I hand fed them some lactose free milk and got them to lick some crushed suet pellets, lots of high energy. I then tore up some J-cloths for bedding and placed them near a radiator, but not too close. I felt that my actions were going to be futile as they were so weak and that they would be dead by the end of the day. I felt very guilty that I had took their mother away from them.
Crushed peanuts and suet pellets...

...and some lactose free milk.

However, by the next morning, they were scurrying around and full of energy having ate all the crushed suet pellets and peanuts I had left for them. Despite all of this energy, they were still to young to be released into the wild. I would have to rear them on a bit so they would have some chance at least of survival when the time came.

Looking much perkier the next day.
A few weeks down the line and they began to get big and were quite ready to be released, much to the disappointment of my wifey who had become rather attached to them as she would watch them scurry around their little tank.

We're ready to leave now thanks.
So, the time came and I knew a nice little area where there were bramble bushes about with plenty of food and hide holes for them. I out their tank in my car and all three of them looked out of the window as we sped down the road (honestly) and when we got to the new location, they sat y the entrance to their tank and just peered out. I was in the area for the day, so left them be, knowing that when I returned, they would be gone and sure enough, when it was time to leave, they were. It was a pleasure raising these little ones and made me feel less guilty about taking their mother away from them, albeit, unknowingly.

People might think I'm a bit mad for rescuing 'vermin', but I don't see them as that. They are another creature that play an important role in our fragile ecosystems. Yes, when they intrude into our living space they can be a problem, but can you really blame them? They have found a weakness, flaw in your cosy nest and whether it's a nest site or food or both that they have found in your home, you have to ask yourself, if you were them, wouldn't you do the same? Every creature will utilise whatever it can to benefit its survival, if you don't want these creatures getting into your home, then you need to find out how they're getting in and stop them by repairing the weakness in your defences.  Yes, we have them in our workshop, we hear them scurrying around the roof area, which is corrugated iron on top of thick polystyrene then plywood. We have now put ultrasonic devices in the workshop area that have now stopped the mice coming down to visit us, yet they still run around above the polystyrene and we're OK with that. We live in the countryside and we expect the wildlife to be just that bit closer than when we lived in the town.

Among many other things, me and the wifey made a new bird feeder for the front garden. We wanted something a little different than your average feeder and using some wood I recycled from an old cable drum and an old tree trunk we came up with this feeder.

The box holds a huge amount of seed.
The box on top holds a bucket full of seed and each side has a design representing each of the four elements air, fire, water and earth. Thankfully, the birds love it, so much so, I was getting so many Goldfinches coming to the feeders, we had to buy a bigger nyger seed feeder that measure just under a metre long.

Just some of the 25+ Goldfinches visiting the new nyger feeder.
Visits were getting more and more frequent with over 40 House Sparrows visiting every day. Then we started getting a female woodpecker turning up a couple of times a day, which was a real treat.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker, a daily visitor.

House sparrows a plenty.
Some of you may remember me telling you about Flash, our leucistic male Blackbird. Leucistic birds have a lack of pigmentation in their feathers that in some cases, covers the whole bird. But Flash just has a patch on his left underside. Well he is still a regular visitor here to our garden and is often seen chasing off other males from his patch.

Flash, our leucistic Blackbird.
Another visitor that was a surprise for us, were Yellowhammers. We often hear them calling in the summer from the hedgerows and trees around, but we've never had them come to our feeders before.

Male Yellowhammer in the garden.
Now I'm not a birder, but I do feel I should have a bird species list for the garden, so here it goes:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Dunnock
  3. Chaffinch
  4. Goldfinch
  5. Greenfinch
  6. Bullfinch
  7. Blue tit
  8. Great tit
  9. Coal tit
  10. Long-tailed tit
  11. Wren
  12. Robin
  13. Yellowhammer
  14. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  15. Green Woodpecker
  16. Wood pigeon
  17. Stock Dove
  18. Collared Dove
  19. Turtle Dove (oh yes)
  20. Blackbird
  21. Redwing
  22. Fieldfare
  23. Sparrowhawk
  24. Goldcrest
  25. Starling
  26. Jay
  27. Pheasant
  28. Heron (not wanted)
  29. Pied wagtail
  30. Tawny owl
  31. Little owl
  32. Buzzard (fly over)
  33. Kestrel
  34. Blackcap
  35. Chiffchaff
So there you have it, a rather impressive list if I do say so myself. Despite all these wonderful birds, I still do miss the Siskins. Thankfully, I do get to see these at work, but it would be lovely to have them back in the garden again. Who knows what the future may bring though? I recently done a little count of how many visits I get to my feeders and it works out on average, I get 2,000 visits per hour! 

On the radio!

Yes, I am now on the radio believe it or not! Working for Suffolk Wildlife Trust and being their main bug person, any bug related queries usually get pointed in my direction and after a recent radio interview about some bugs for the trust, Lesley Dolphin of BBC Radio Suffolk asked me if I would like to do a once a month slot on Insect of the Month. This is where I pick a particular insect and tell the listeners lots about it, of course I was more than happy to oblige. Strangely, we started this just before Xmas when there isn't many bugs about and we've covered overwintering moths and butterflies, harlequin ladybirds and silverfish. Next week I'm talking about that much hated creepy crawly earwigs. Is it true they like to burrow into your ear and nibble your brains? You'll just have to wait and see next Thursday 11th at 4:10pm on the Lesley Dolphin show.

A chance encounter!

Last Xmas, I was a very lucky boy who got a lovely new camera from his wifey. I was planning to buy a new camera as my much loved D2x was getting on a bit and coupled with my back injury from 2013 (which is not spondylitis, as some idiots seem to think), was quite a weight to lug about. The body alone weighed over 1kg. One of the benefits of my job being front of house at Lackford is that many photographers want to show me their photos from the backs of their cameras, so I can ID what they've seen. Doing this I noticed and was surprised to find just how light camera bodies had become as well as the increase in pixels they have obtained. So I decided to sell my camera and buy a new one, which thanks to my wifey, I didn't have to as she bought one for me as a Xmas present.

So my new camera weighs less than half of my old D2x and has twice as many pixels and my photography has become a joy again that I'm now taking my camera to work with me every time I go. This paid off for me last weekend when I decided to get into work an hour early. I chose to do this, as it is really the only time I get to get out onto the reserve. It might sound a bit strange that I don't get to get out onto the reserve I work on, but as soon as I arrive at work, I'm usually busy getting the place ready to open, then my main job is to greet and welcome the visitors, which kind of means I'm in the centre all day. By the time I've finished and the centre is closed up I'm either too tired to go wandering around the reserve or it's too dark, especially in winter. So, with the mornings getting brighter earlier, I decided to get in an hour early. As I drove through the country lanes, I just turned onto the A143 at Wortham when I noticed something white flying over the common by the side of the road. At first I thought it was a gull (the word seagull is frowned upon by birders apparently), but then I looked again and I saw it was actually a Barn Owl out hunting. It was a Sunday morning, just gone 7am and very little traffic on the road, I immediately swung my car into a turning grabbed my camera, which was sitting on the seat next to me with the right lens on (for a change), and jumped out of the car to get some shots. 

The bird began to fly away from me at first, but I know how Barn Owls hunt and they usually zig-zag back and forth across an area of grassland listening for that squeak of a vole or shrew from the grass below. So I knew I just had to bide my time and then she turned and began coming back towards me but further up the road from which I had come. I watched and walked slowly in her direction, so as not to scare her. I then saw her turn and swoop up to land on the pitched roof of the bus shelter 400yds ahead of me. She was now out of sight on the roof and as quietly as I could, I sprinted up the road towards to bus shelter. Reaching the shelter, I crept slowly around it, camera poised to get a grab shot of her on the roof. I swung round the corner camera pointed to the roof only to see her not on the roof, but 4 foot in front of my face hovering above the long grass behind the shelter. All too quickly before I could re-adjust my camera, she saw me and was off.

I persevered however and she was not too perturbed by my presence as she carried on with her hunting moving further back up the road. Suddenly, she hovered then dived, feet outstretched. I could just see the top of her head in the long grass and using this as cover again, I sprinted as fast as I could towards her. I came across a large stone structure that holds the Wortham village sign aloft and crept up behind this, again out of sight of the owl. Here I managed to get some good shots without it bothering her too much.

Take off with captured Shrew.
When a Barn Owl lands on its prey, the very first thing it usually does is dispatch it by breaking its neck with its beak. I know this sounds rather gruesome, but it's quick for the captured animal and it ensures the food does not escape leaving the owl hungry nor is the prey likely to bite the owl leaving a cut that could get infected leading to the death of the owl. I knew she had caught something because when I got a view of her she was 'mantling'. This is where a bird of prey will stretch its wings out to hide the fact that it has caught something from other predators such as kestrels and the like who might swoop down and try to steal her prize.

Suddenly, she picked the prey (a shrew in this case) and launched into the air to fly to a nearby signpost, where she could position the food into a better carrying position. Again, owls don't want to spend to long on the ground as this leaves them vulnerable to attack too from foxes, stoats etc.

A nearby signpost makes an ideal perch.
It felt really good to get these shots and made for a lovely start to the day. It was only after I had processed the photos on my computer that I thought I should actually be putting these on my blog, not just social media and the like. So here they are and it makes me wonder, did this happen for me to reawaken the blog? I haven't heard too many (if any in fact) complaints to the absence of the blog, so we will see. Of late, I have been extremely busy with not only work work, but also DIY work and there is still a lot of that to do, however, I have learnt of late that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So I intend to make more time for myself away from all the work occasionally, at least once a week if possible, and enjoy the things I like doing. Hopefully, this will lead to a blog from me at least once a month.

So till next time dear followers, keep happy, keep smiling.

P.S. It's good to be back!