Thursday, 23 September 2021

Spoonbill

 


I had a walk around Medmerry on Monday morning, from Easton Lane down to the Stilt Pool. There seemed to be a lot more bird movement than the last time I had been there but it was mostly the usual suspects, Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches, Stonechats, etc. I had been hoping to see an Osprey flying through but the closest I got to one was a Buzzard passing over.


Buzzard


It was coming up to high tide and the Stilt Pool held a lot of birds. As usual most of them were Canada Geese to the extent that perhaps the pool should be renamed in their honour! Other notables included large numbers of Egyptian Geese, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Lapwings, Black-tailed Godwits, Little Egrets and a good selection of wildfowl.


There were also some unusual geese amongst the Canadas. They were smaller, a greyer colour, had smaller beaks and appeared to have longer wing projections. They were too far away to study the detail but possibly some form of Cackling Geese and almost certainly escapees. 


Possible Cackling Geese

There was no sign of the reported Spoonbill when I arrived but returning past the pool half an hour later it had turned up and was showing well if a bit distant. The views were short lived, however, as after a few minutes of preening it adopted that favourite position of Spoonbills, of fast asleep with its bill tucked away out of sight.


Spoonbill


Butterflies were also in evidence with amongst others a Clouded Yellow and a Painted Lady busy nectaring alongside the pool.



Clouded Yellow



Painted Lady


And finally



When I arrived home I found dozens of these tiny creatures happily munching their way through the Strawberry plants. Thinking they may eventually morph into some form of moth I spent an hour online and examining the Field Guide to Caterpillars in an attempt to identify them.

I had no success but then the experts amongst you are probably already ahead of me. I came across a small passage that stated that all caterpillars have six real legs as do all insects but they also have a number of prolegs attached to the abdomen that enable them to move around. I knew that! but what I hadn't realised is that caterpillars have between two and five pairs of prolegs. My specimen above has six pairs of prolegs so it's not a caterpillar it's a Sawfly Larvae.

Why didn't I know that? It makes it so much easier. I now only have 400 different species of Sawfly to sort through in order to find out what it is. Or maybe not.



Wednesday, 22 September 2021

The British Bird of Prey Centre

 



Seeing captive and caged birds always leaves me with bad feelings. I know there are valid reasons for keeping some birds in captivity, breeding programs, injured or vulnerable birds and sometimes educational objectives but it is always difficult, seeing them behind glass or netting, staring out at the open skies.

How did we get to this point. Sue and I were in South Wales and the National Botanic Garden of Wales was on her list of places to visit. I knew before we went that it was co-located with the British Bird of Prey Centre but I wasn't really sure if I wanted to see the birds. How much was breeding for release and how much was exploitation and breeding for captivity.

In the end I did have a look around and did watch one of the flying displays. I am still not sure that I like the idea of captive birds but I have to say that the facilities were excellent and the staff obviously really committed to caring for the birds. 

The centres statement about their birds appears to be truthful........ 

All of our aviaries have been designed specifically for each individual species, so will all be slightly different. Most of our birds are captive bred and are therefore used to people. They would not survive if they had to go into the wild. We fly them all daily to give them a chance to be free, but they all like to come home and be warm and fed at the end of the day.

.......but it doesn't answer the question of could they have been released or were they bred to be kept in captivity. Further, if they were bred for captivity is it justified as a way of educating the public about the lives and beauty of the birds.

On the question of educating the public they also have a quote from David Attenborough

“No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced" - David Attenborough



Some birds from the flying display



Snowy Owl

Like so many of the birds in this blog I hope to see a Snowy Owl in the wild one day. If I do it will really be an achievement and a day to remember. Margaret as she is called was interesting and I am a bird photographer so I took pictures but there was no real feeling of success. Even calling her Margaret somehow degrades the experience.


White-tailed Eagle


This White-tailed Eagle is over 30 years old and has probably been in captivity most, if not all, of her life. However, in the wild she would be lucky to live much beyond 20 years. She is probably more than happy to have a home that is warm and a regular supply of food.


White-tailed Eagle


She may be old but she was still very impressive when flying, particularly when she came in to land with her wing passing about six inches over our heads. 


The third bird we saw flying was a Long-eared Owl but it was a forlorn sight and still crying for food like a chick in the nest. Nothing like the majestic birds I have seen in the wild.



Juvenile Goshawk


The most impressive bird was this juvenile Goshawk. There was no display flying from this bird. It was shown a prey target and it hit it within seconds. It then tried to take a chunk out of the hand of the keeper that was attempting to recover the target. I can see why they wear the gloves.

I didn't go to anymore of the flying displays  but I did walk around the show cages and took pictures of a few of the birds I was interested in. Hence the netting in front of them in the following pictures.


Goshawk

An adult Goshawk, far more frightening than all the other birds there, including the Eagles.


Great Grey Owl

I am hoping to get to Canada and Alaska next year and whilst the chances of success are small, the Great Grey Owl would be a target bird. I really didn't want to see one sitting on a wall bracket in a cage in Wales.


Honey Buzzard


The Honey Buzzard was probably my best learning opportunity of the day. It is not a bird I have seen in the wild and I was really unsure about identifying one. I feel a lot more confident having seen this bird.



Merlin


I felt sorry for the Merlin, so cleaned up his face a bit and made a hole for him to escape through - but only in the picture.



Red Kite


Had to take this one as Sue thought it looked so pretty.


Eagle Owl

This one I freed completely from the netting. It can be done but it takes a lot of work and the quality of the picture is degraded. Worst still, you may not see the cage but I will always know it was there.


There appears to be a lot of these "bird of prey experience" companies opening up around the country. Most of them will be focussed on commercial survival for the first few years and the jury must still be out on the level of contribution they can make to conservation. All I know for sure is that there are a lot of birds being held in cages that could be flying free.

However, from a purely selfish point of view -  would I go back? Possibly, a day photographing the birds both flying and with the nets removed would be an interesting challenge. I would just have to learn to deal with the guilt and shame, that would inevitably come, from joining the sad looking bunch of long lenses, that should really be out finding their own wild birds. More guilt and shame, that is, than I already have.






Sunday, 19 September 2021

Dipper and Black Tern




A few days away hill walking will always make a welcome break but if you choose the right location, you could have the added benefit of being in Dipper country. West Sussex has a lot going for it but sadly that doesn't include Dippers and with Covid restrictions in place it had been over two years since I had seen one.

People that see them regularly probably just take them for granted but for me they are a fascinating bird and I could sit and watch them for hours. The locations, the nests, the feeding techniques and most of all the walking under water, there is nothing quite like it.





This years destination was the Brecon Beacons. You have to do a quick trip up Pen-y-Fan, preferably in the morning, before the crowds start to build up. However, once you get that out of your system there are lots of quiet and remote spots where you will probably not see anyone else all day.






This bird was on one of the fast flowing streams in the waterfall country around Ystradfellte. There are probably dozens of birds holding territory around there but this was the most obliging. 






We watched it feeding for about half an hour before it moved off down river and out of sight.








When I got home I felt there was something missing from the pictures. Then I realised that this is probably the first time I have photographed them outside of the breeding season. There was no beak full of goodies to take back to the nest. It makes a difference so here is one I took a couple of years ago.





Great to see Dippers again and I think this was probably one of my most enjoyable bird watching sessions of the year.


To make up the numbers, a few shots taken a week or so ago down at Medmerry. A juvenile Black Tern, a bit distant but still worth recording.



Juvenile Black Tern



Juvenile Black Tern


also a Ruff


Ruff


and strange as it may seem my first Wheatear of the year.


 
Wheatear.