Monday, 27 September 2010

Woods Mill Roe Deer

WMRoe03, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.
I stopped in at Woods Mill on the way home from work tonight - I needed my fix, even if it was just carrying the gear around for a while! Luckily, a pair of rather juvenile-looking Roe Deer turned up to keep me entertained. They were startled by a dog walker (my pet hate - get a big enough garden or lose the mutt) but appeared again a few minutes later. The light was against me from the start - despite the BBC's earlier claim of sunny intervals there was nothing of the sort - and I struggled to get to the DOF / ISO / Shutter combo that I needed. Lots of RAW files straight in the Trash, but a few were just about acceptable to put up.

It's the first time I've seen deer at Woods Mill. I hope it isn't the last.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Fingers Crossed For a New "Mum"

It's been confirmed that there is no sign of the female Barn Owl, so it appears Dad raised the five himself (certainly from late May, when the female was last seen). What happened to her is unknown, although the pile of soft, white feathers I remember finding under the power lines around that time seems too much of a coincidence now.

I'm keeping everything crossed that another female comes in for next year. Given the hunting is excellent in the immediate area, I think the chances are good. A lot depends on the success of other nests in area. Incidentally, I spotted a dead Owl on the A281 near Lower Beeding recently, I didn't have time to stop and check it for a ring - by the time I'd made the return journey the carcass had been carried off (probably by a fox or similar). We seem to have had winds from the North and West of late, so it is possible it was one of the Horsham owlets.

If we are not lucky enough to be blessed with the presence of a pair at the Horsham site, I'll need some more Barn Owls to follow next year - I've fallen in love with these birds and I'm not prepared to go without keeping a record of them! Obviously there may not be the advantage of a public footpath at another site, in which case a Schedule 1 licence would be needed for photography; I'm half expecting to need to apply for one for the Kestrels given their drop in numbers. While I have Woods Mill in mind, there are a couple of empty Owl boxes that I'm keeping tabs on (it would probably be easier to talk to the wardens, but I'm never there before 5pm!) and of late the larger box has had signs of droppings nearby - that's enough to get me excited. I'll be keeping an eye on this over the winter.

November through to March is going to be so depressing, I can't wait for the clocks to go forward - and it's still a month until they go back!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Fame at last?

Ruddy Darter, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.

This shot of a Ruddy Darter has appeared in the "your photos" section of the BBC's Nature Site. Let's hope they appreciate me making it available for free... hopefully there will come a time (the sooner the better!) that I'll be making a living out of it - or at least supplementing my existing earnings. The contrast between being stuck on my backside in the office all day and being out there with my camera couldn't be greater.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Busy... but managed to fit in a visit to WNR

Swanfoolery, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.

Work is keeping me on my toes at the moment, so not much time for Photography. I did get a day off on Monday and dropped in to Warnham Reserve for a few hours - there wasn't much going on but just as I was leaving (without any say in the matter, unfortunately - 6pm is kick out) there was an almighty commotion, as a pair of swans arrived unannounced. The resident pair still have juveniles tagging along, and were in no mood for entertaining. They certainly let the visitors know they weren't particularly welcome!

I am regularly putting my head in on Barn Owl territory on the off chance - no sightings though.

Monday, 13 September 2010

There's Still Plenty Out There...

Common Hawker, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.

It may be quieter than spring, but warm Autumn days can still provide interesting subjects. And with cooler temps, cold blooded creatures are that little bit slower to get going in the morning. Even so, it took an hour or so of trying to get a shot I was happy with of this Common Hawker (I think - I'm not too clued up on Dragonflys) at Warnham on Sunday.

The Quiet Time

September is a strange month. No longer blessed with light until 9pm, the struggle starts to find the time to get out and use the camera. To compound this, subjects are harder to come by. Most nests are now empty (save for a few late broods), migratory birds are well on their way to warmer climes and activity dwindles. Reports of activity are also harder to come by. When the weather turns, so does the desire for walking and other outdoor pursuits that bring people close to wildlife. Things may pick up as winter approaches and food becomes more hard to come by.

I've been scouring t'net for blogs and news about Barn Owls. In particular, I've been trying to get a feel for how successful this year has been for breeding. From what I can gather, it's a bit of a North/South split. Whilst down here we enjoyed a fine June and start to July, the North of the UK experienced something of a mixed weather bag this summer. There are reports of up to 25% of young Barn Owls dying of starvation in the North East during July. The middle of summer is a crucial time for the young - they're learning to fly and then hunt. Rain is bad news - for quiet, efficient flight their feathers are very light and not at all weather proof. Consequently a wise Barn Owl stays out of the rain, but will be forced to venture out if it lasts too long. The effect of bad weather is two-fold; adults can not provide food and the owlets cannot develop their own means of sustaining themselves; it seems many perished as a result.

In the South, however, the buzz is more positive. Plenty of reports of 2+ broods, few failures and good weather that lasted toward the end of July. We've had fewer periods of prolonged rain and hopefully that's given the class of 2010 a head start as they disperse from their nest sites. More circumstantial evidence from the roads - I've been keeping an eye out on the A24, A27, M23 and other main roads I use frequently - just the one squashed object that vaguely resembled what could have been a Barn Owl so far. And as road kill goes, it's pretty distinctive. Of course major roads aren't the only roads they die on; minor rural routes are also a big threat and casualties are less likely to be seen or reported.

The real test for the young 'uns starts in the coming months. It'll be interesting to see if and where any of the "Horsham five" ringed birds turn up. The other concern is whether our missing adult female is replaced (I'm assuming the worst) - if she is it more likely to be an inbound dispersal from another nest rather than one staying around. Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Ozzie2, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.

I've finally found (and got a picture of!) one of my favourite Raptors. The Osprey is a magnificent bird, specialised in catching fish and therefore most likely to be seen near the coast or large inland lakes. It is quite often referred to as a hawk - but this is incorrect. The Osprey is, in fact, the only member of the Osprey family. It is vaguely similar to a Buzzard (particularly the Honey Buzzard, with a lighter underside than it's Common cousin) in size and appearance.

This was a fleeting encounter at Weir Wood near East Grinstead. She circled over the West End of the Reservoir a couple of times before diving and pulling out a rather large trout, which she then carried off over the trees and into the distance. I could have done with a little more light - this was taken at around 7am with the sun still to rise above the trees - and have had to increase the exposure and lighten shadows in Photoshop somewhat. But it's an Osprey - so who cares! I don't know how long she'll hang around before she heads for the continent, hopefully another couple of weeks or so. If not, it's another one to look out for next year...