Monday, 30 January 2017

The foxes are getting closer

There was enough snow a couple of weeks ago to see fox tracks all over the garden.  I could see that the fox had jumped over the wall into the walled garden and wandered around, coming right up to the house.  Last autumn it twice climbed onto a barrel of flowers by the house and ran off with a feeder full of peanuts (which I still haven't found).  This time I put the peanuts on the patio.  Unlike most of the others this fox has no white on the tip of its tail.  Unlike one of the others it also has two good lower canine teeth.  The height of the bird bath is 54cm (21").

On another night there was this photo - the fox is too close but it does have white on its tail.

So I started putting food out regularly but it often wasn't taken.  One morning I heard the magpie scolding outside the window and assumed it had found the peanuts.

When I looked I saw this time it was scolding a fox

and not only that, there were two of them.  The only camera I could grab was the iPhone but I managed a few blurry photos and some very amateur video.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Bird of the week - Cormorant

I enjoyed watching a couple of cormorants fishing this week.  One of them in particular caught several fish while a heron just stood and watched.

I think the fish were mostly rudd or roach. 

The bird seemed quite happy to dive under the ice.  Here it has surfaced with a piece of ice on its back.

When it was full it hopped onto the bank for a rest.

Unlike many water birds, cormorants don't have waterproof feathers so they have to dry them in the sun.

After a rest this one jumped back in but didn't catch anything else while I was watching.

The cormorant, or more precisely the great cormorant, Phalocrocorax carbo, is found on every continent apart from South America and Antarctica.
By Imagesincommons - Own work, CC0,

Until fairly recently cormorants were exclusively coastal nesting birds in the British Isles.  In the past 35 years they have spread to inland lakes and rivers.  It is interesting that most of the inland birds are of the continental subspecies P. c. chinensis.  Our native subspecies P. c. carbo remains a coastal breeder.  The BTO Bird Atlas maps show the relative abundance and change in distribution.

This is Thomas Bewick's engraving for A History of British Birds Vol II (1832).

John James Audubon painted the great cormorant.

This is Archibald Thorburn's painting.

You can watch a BTO video on cormorant and shag identification here.  Listen to the BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on cormorants here.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Glaucous gull

Unusual or rare gulls are not something I have taken much interest in so far.  I was down at the fish quay mainly to photograph reflections but this gull was there, so why not?  It is a first winter glaucous gull.

Here it is flanked by two juvenile herring gulls.

I think it is something I need to learn more about and take more photos of.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Tawny owl

I took a lot of photos when I went on a bird of prey photo shoot last year and have only so far posted a few of them on this blog.  This tawny owl was unimpressed with being awake in the daytime and kept nodding off, which at least did mean it kept very still.  Here are a few more photos.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Roosting wrens

This is a short video I made seven years ago, long before I started this blog.  In a very cold winter this gang of wrens (I think herd is the correct group name) was roosting in a nest box in the porch.  The colder it got, the more there were, with a peak of 16 in one box.  On this night there were probably 10 or so.  At the end of the video they are disturbed by me going out to work the next morning and they all bale out of the box like paratroopers.  I think I'll have to do more video recording and editing.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bird of the week - Hen harrier

This is a bird that came back from extinction.  Hen harriers became extinct in mainland Britain in the nineteenth century, mainly as a result of human persecution.  They recolonised the mainland after the Second World War from populations in the Hebrides and Orkney Islands.  The male hen harrier is a beautiful silvery grey bird, known as the grey ghost.  Females and juveniles are similar in appearance, both having a very distinctive white rump giving the nickname of ringtail.  This bird is a juvenile which is overwintering near Druridge Bay.

The hen harrier flies low and slow along field margins and over rough grass searching for its prey.

The hen harrier feeds mainly on small birds.  Once they spot it they provide an escort, calling alarms to warn birds still on the ground.  Here the harrier is flanked by a squadron of goldfinches.

The harrier's move to the marshes for the winter doesn't always go unchallenged.  Here is a very distant shot of the harrier being chased by a female kestrel.

In Thomas Bewick's day there was still uncertainty about classification about some birds, particularly birds of prey.  He listed the Ringtail separately from the Hen-Harrier but then noted that a ringtail was a female hen harrier.  The engravings are from A History of British Birds (1797).

200 years ago hen harriers were nesting not far from here, at Craglake (now Crag Lough) on the Roman Wall.

The hen harrier is now Circus cyaneus.  Circus comes from the Greek word Kirkos meaning circle, perhaps as in ringtail(?) although Wikipedia says it refers to its circling flight.

This is Archibald Thorburn's painting of male and female hen harriers.

The same bird is known in North America as the northern harrier.  It was painted by John James Audubon, who knew it as the marsh hawk (not to be confused with our marsh harrier).

The hen harrier is a rare bird and is the most persecuted bird in Britain.  It is on the red list but still suffers from illegal persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors.  The breeding population is tiny, and mostly on upland areas in Scotland and Wales.  The birds are more widely distributed in winter with the population boosted by winter visitors.

You can read more about influences on the hen harrier population here.  The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project is a 10-year programme designed to show whether and how it is possible to manage the moor in such a way as to produce a combination of good habitat, a population of breeding hen harriers in line with its SPA status, and economically viable driven red grouse shooting.  You can re
ad about it here.  And watch a BTO video on grey harrier identification here.  Listen to Chris Packham's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on hen harrier here.