Into November already, not that I'm upset to see the back of October. I never really like the month as it sees the end of summer time, meaning I rarely see the daylight, aside from the office window, or a brief stroll to the sandwich shop at lunch, and usually means weekends are wet, windy, cold or foggy, or a mixture of some of the above.
Combine that with the 18th being Mum's Birthday and just over a week later, the anniversary of her death, and I'm not one for smiling much in October. So November might start to bring some more cheer, maybe.
October wasn't bad as far as birding went though, with the red kites recently, I actually managed to see a kingfisher for a few moments at Marsh Lane of all places, and then this last weekend, which yielded a couple of gems.
There seems to be a decent influx of short-eared owls currently, with many familiar places reporting them. One of the closer spots is in Northants, and as Ian lives local to it, I arranged to meet with him in the afternoon.
Before heading to the spot, I opted to divert to take a look around Harrington Airfield, which also has a couple of SEOs apparently, and a great grey shrike. Last time we'd been there, I'd made the mistake of carrying my huge camera bag (which weighs a tonne alone) and the walk to and from the car nearly killed me. I swear I was about an inch shorter in height when I got home. Add to that the weather - freezing and blowing a gale, and with no birds seen, it was one to forget.
Airfields tend to be breezy, so that wasn't a surprise this time, but it was a southwesterly, so warm for the time of year. And I'd found somewhere closer to park, so getting to the bunkers was less tiresome too. Finding something point the camera at wasn't so easy. No sign of the shrike, and it was too late / too early to see any owls.
A lone kestrel and a few yellowhammers were all that I saw, until a small flock of golden plover caught my eye. They were down in a dip in the field, so with no cover to use to hide my approach, it was never going to be any good.
Was amusing though, in that every time I approached, they would watch, shuffle about and then scurry a bit further away. Unlike the ones on Shetland, which came over to see me!
Ah well, I have a few pics of them already, and in better plumage. The breeze was starting to dry out my contact lenses, so I scuttled back to my car for a break, a bite to eat and then the short drive over to meet up with Ian.
Parking up, I scanned the fields for any owls but it was really quiet, and save for a few crows and pigeons, there wasn't much to watch at all. Behind me, on a barn, a pair of pied wagtails called out, and flicked their tails as they chased flies. No sign of Ian either, so I sat back into the car.
It was then that I saw something that wasn't expected. It was near the wagtails, but wasn't one. I did a double take before it dawned on me. A black redstart!! Fantastic.
Ok, so it wasn't as accommodating as the one from Coleshill some years back, and it was a juvenile, so not as good looking, but even so, what a great little bird to see. It seemed to favour perching on the top of the barn, which meant shots weren't going to be easy, and as seems to be norm these days, whenever the sun came out, the redstart hid!
It came fairly close on a couple of occasions though, flicking its tail, showing off that orange / red rear.
Ian arrived, and the redstart hid from him. Typical! So he sat in the field and watched for owls. Alas it wasn't to be our day. With only a fly-by from a sparrowhawk and no camera to attempt a shot, we left when the light faded. Not to worry though, as there ought to be plenty more chances for SEOs before the winter is out.
On to Sunday, and an extra hour in bed. Well, it would have been, had I not been woken by my phone ringing. Steve Seal on the line, asking why I wasn't at Cannock for the shrike? I said I'd consider it, but as it was raining outside, I really didn't think I would bother. But, what else was there to do, other than perhaps house work? I was out the door like a shot!
Finding the spot wasn't easy, but thankfully Stuart's directions guided me to them, where I found not only Steve and Stuart, but also Ken and Dave, all enjoying fine views of the great grey shrike, and no rain either! It was perching on the tops of trees, and favoured a holly tree in front of us.
After dipping on the one at Harrington the day before, this was a good turnaround of fortune, and I was soon snapping away.
Wasps were the dish of the day, and it was very good at catching and then consuming them, without being stung. If only pubs would employ these birds to keep the blighters away from pints of ale during the summer!
While it didn't come as close as the one at Napton, it was on better, natural perches, and was also eating the prey in full view of us.
Strangely, when Steve and Dave headed off, the bird refused to play ball anymore, and didn't return to its normal perch, favouring more distant trees. I must find out what aftershave they use!
A good few hours out though, and definitely worth losing the hour in bed for.