Sunday, 12 December 2010

White-tailed sea eagle @ Amberley

White-tailed sea eagle successfully evades photographer... rats!

Wow, what a day!

After reading the reports of a White-tailed sea eagle at Amberley Wildbrooks on the Sussex Ornithological Society's sightings page, nothing was going to stop me making the short drive down to see if it would return today. It did not disappoint, and what an amazing sight. It flew in following a pair of buzzards, who looked tiny in comparison. It sat in a tree in the middle of the brooks for a couple of hours, then left the tree and dropped to the ground (possibly to eat) for a while. After a brief return to its' perch, it then left the area and was last reported flying west from Hayling Island.

The only disappointment is that the attached, heavily-processed shot was the best I could manage. But I'm not overly bothered - I'm still on a high from seeing the bird (and in Sussex!) and there was never the possibility of getting close enough to capture anything special (although missing it departing while I changed viewpoints was galling). That's on hold for a visit to Mull. There was enough to keep me entertained without the eagle... my first shots of a Stoat, Hen Harrier and observing some spectacular duelling Buzzards. There was also Kestrels, a Sparrowhawk, melanistic Fallow deer, Lapwings, Fieldfares, Redwings and various other waterfowl, passerines and a grumpy Robin - they always seem to take offence at my presence!

My first Stoat shot!

The downside to events such as this are the sheer number of people that descend on the area. I'll be going back when things are back to normal - if the incredible array of species on display today is anything other than a complete fluke, I can see it becoming one of my favourites. And of course, it's another handy stopover between home and Pagham, my preferred haunt of the moment.

Hen Harrier v Crow

Overall, a rather good morning's play at Amberley. Hopefully there will be plenty more of them like this.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Another Dog Attack at Chesworth

Yet again, following the attack on a cow a few weeks back, a dog walker has been unable to control their pet(s) at Chesworth Farm. This time a pair of rare Hebridean Sheep are the unfortunate victims. These incidents are reported because the grazing animals are owned by someone - how many wild animals are harassed, injured or killed by dogs at Chesworth? We'll never know, although I have heard of deer being killed and have personally witnessed a Staffordshire Bull Terrier chasing a fox. Fortunately, the fox escaped on that occasion. And don't get me started on the amount of s*** that I have to clean off my shoes that selfish dog owners can't be bothered to clean up, or worse still the plastic bags left hanging from hedges and posts containing mutt excrement. It's high time that Horsham District Council recognised the value of the habitat on the farm to wildlife and (at the very least) insist dogs should be kept on the lead, possibly banning them altogether from certain areas. There are many other places within the locality that dogs can be exercised (the A24 immediately springs to mind!).

Personally, I believe that dogs should be kept on SHORT leads in ANY location that they are likely to come in to contact with wildlife (in fact, save for working dogs, I don't understand the need to own one at all - pointless creatures that serve nothing except human emotions). Quite simply, if you don't have sufficient provision on your own property to exercise the animal, be prepared to keep it under close control whenever you leave the house.

Rant over!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Barn Owl Bother

You wait weeks for a blog update then two come along at once!

I paid a visit to the Barn Owl farm this afternoon. With the amount of lying snow, it's more likely that the Barn Owl (and possibly Tawny's) will be seen during daylight hours. They may even resort to taking small birds as voles and mice will be inactive and hard to find under the snow. After walking around the fields for a couple of hours, the only evident raptor was a Merlin (which was a pleasant surprise!). One interesting point to note was a nest box I've not seen before - in the trees, at the back of the field with the box I already knew about. I have one serious reservation about the placement of the box: to access it any Owl would need to get past some Power Lines - a hazard known to cause many Owl deaths. It's also unlikely to be chosen as a nesting site as there isn't a clear run into the box. Even more concerning to me was the lack of any apparent disturbance to the snow that has built up at the entrance to the two boxes over the past two days. Now maybe our Barn Owl prefers to roost away from the nest box when he doesn't have a mate in it (as appeared the case in the summer, once the Owlets approached a state of readiness to leave) - I don't know enough about his habits to verify this. But logic suggests that in conditions such as this, the nest box would be an ideal refuge. There was also very little disturbance to snow on fence posts in his usual hunting spots or on nearby ground. He will be doing the majority of his hunting from posts to save energy, so that's also worried me slightly.

Of course, my concern may be unfounded. We know what a prolific hunter he is from earlier in the year, so his prowess around the fields that usually teem with voles could mean he isn't needing to hunt for long during the day. In fact if I did spot a Barn Owl my first thought would be to establish if it were a new female - those first year birds are going to be struggling to find territory and sustain themselves, especially with such an early onslaught of cold. So any incoming young female could well be more visible than our established male.

In general, I do fear for the Barn Owl population given the sustained cold and deep snow cover all over the country. Elsewhere the situation will be even worse - a lot of broods were late and small due to prolonged rain during June in the North and West of the country. We may be counting on our Southern birds to maintain the population, I just hope enough of them can last the winter - or numbers may be decimated.

Best laid plans and all that...

Gull @ Pagham Harbour
Where does the time go? December already, snow all over and a mug of mulled wine to warm the cockles. I had a few days off work last week, so I took in a few Nature Reserves and spent time at a couple of new locations. If I'm honest, I was disappointed with what I came out with at the end. But then that's the nature (no pun intended) of wildlife photography - no creature cares what days I have off! Yes, you need the technical ability to increase your chances of nailing the shot; but luck is king with wildlife. If it doesn't show up - you don't get a shot. No matter how good you are with a camera. You can, however, increase the chances of finding your quarry with knowledge of the subject and making yourself hard to spot. I'm finding this more difficult to do in the winter with less cover - as I've learned the hard way. I need to remember at times that it's been 7 months since I took serious interest in shooting wildlife (thanks to that Owl!) and every trip out is a lesson.

l enjoy shooting wild animals - not farmed or captive. Wonderful as it is to go to Petworth and get close to the Fallow Deer there, it still feels like "cheating" somewhat. It's why I'm 100% up front with my images... You'll always know the circumstances of a shot from me. Recently, on a forum I frequent, a chap posted up some shots that he had taken on a day at the British Wildlife Centre. Fantastic images of a Short-Eared Owl and a Tawny, but he omitted to mention that they were captive birds and didn't respond to posters who asked. I was aware as I'd already seen the shots in question in the BWC's flickr group, but it isn't my place to pass that on. I feel it's down to the individual, especially if he wants his images taken seriously. It's an unwritten rule when shooting "wildlife" that you state if an animal is captive or trained. In competition, it usually is written - Jose Luis Rodriguez, winner of the 2009 WPOTY but later disqualified, knows that only too well.

So anyway - to reconcile my rueful showing over those days off, I consoled myself with a visit to Warnham LNR to shoot the "commoners" at the feeding stations. Which brings me to another little rant! Nature Reserves - the clue is in the name. Don't bloody well go to one wearing rainbow coats, bright pink Wellingtons and talk loudly to your friends when entering hides. Neither should you take young children who are incapable of keeping quiet (I know, I have one) or plaster yourself with enough perfume/aftershave to gas a badger at 500 yards, or be there at all if you are unable to turn the autofocus beep or flash off on your camera. It is a NATURE reserve - not a place for people to distress/disturb animals (or fellow observers) with their lack of common sense. I sometimes wonder who/what these places are really there to benefit...

I'll sign off with the detail behind the image. This is one of my favourite shots from Pagham Harbour last week - I think it is a Mediterranean Gull in it's winter coat. He was hovering almost Kestrel style above a pool with long grass in front and behind - I had to work the contrast and colours a bit to negate the impact of the grass in the foreground, but I think it came our pretty well.