After a week of mainly sunny days, it wasn't a huge surprise to me that the weekend's forecast was for cloud, snow and then possibly a moment of sunshine late Sunday afternoon. With the snow in mind, I really wanted to head over to Northants for the SEOs, but alas, we are in England and as soon as a single flake of snow falls from the sky, it's gridlock everywhere, and you have to sleep in your car.
As such, I thought I'd try local instead, and before heading down the M42, I called in to see if Little Grump was out in its tree. One of them was, sat on a branch on the side of the tree, out in the open. I had time to get the camera ready and window down, before pulling the car up on the verge. Two shots, and it looked at me, turned tail and flew off to the stump in the field. Looking through the hedge, I could see both on the stump, so got out, and pointed the bazooka at them, handheld. Given the light and shutter speed, and my still painful wrist, I was amazed the shot came out as well as it did.
When the owls flew further off, into the trees at the back of the field, I decided to head off and found myself stood beside the river, at the back of the Bittern Hide at the Moors (Upton Warren), scanning the trees for the lesser spotted woodpecker. No sign of it, though I did see plenty of thrushes (song, fieldfare and redwing), plus goldcrest, a couple of wrens, a buzzard, a great spotted woodpecker and at least one male blackcap, feeding amongst the ivy. After about half an hour, I was joined by Trevor Jones, who helped with the search. We also had a good chat about trips north of the border - I must get my act together with a winter trip to Scotland one day...
With the feeling in my toes starting to disappear, I headed to the Bittern Hide, to try for some shots of the birds around the feeders. It was actually colder in the hide, as its raised position meant it was catching the light breeze, which went right through me as I sat peering out of the windows. The feeders were busy, with reed buntings, greenfinches, blue, great and long-tailed tits, dunnocks and occasionally the great spotted woodpecker swooped in for a go on the fat balls. My interest though, was mainly on the small numbers of bullfinches. Despite the gloom, the males glowed. Would have been nicer to get a shot with a cleaner backdrop, but they're so vibrant they tend to distract you from looking elsewhere on the image.
Also around, though providing only brief glimpses were common snipes and water rails. They seemed to appear from the reedbed, scurry across the frozen pool and head towards the free-flowing water of the stream. I guess they had a prayer of being able to find some food there!
By now I had been joined by Bob and Chris, who were also interested in the feeder visitors, and provided some good conversation to take our minds off how cold it was. Chris kept warm by grabbing at his camera as it tried to leap out of the hide window... and Bob had his hand-warmer with him. I should get one - they're so erm, handy!
Eventually though, with the snow coming down, I yearned for the warmth of the car, and left them to it. Defrosting in the car, I felt it was too early to be heading home, so again, diverted to see the owls. This time, only one was visible, and was perched as close to the trunk of the tree as it could, trying to be out of the wind and driving snow. Didn't look too happy, but when do they ever?
It kept looking around as if to work out if anywhere else was more sheltered, and moved eventually, when it had snow settling on its head. A quick ruffle of its feathers, to shake off the snow, and that was about as entertaining as it got. I headed home to warm up properly.
Sunday was cloudy. Snow on the ground, but after the night before, when it took me 40 mins to cover 2 miles in the car (so much for B'ham Council's boasts about being ready for the snow), I wasn't keen on going out. But it was starting to thaw, and I convinced myself that going to the owls wouldn't be that bad. It wasn't, though the traction-control light flashed a few times on the way there, and the country roads were still covered and untreated.
Looking up at the tree, I realised the owls were sat near each other in the branches. Careful parking on the verge allowed me to get a shot of them together, albeit with one somewhat blurred in the background.
With nothing else to do, and it being so quiet I chose to stay and watch for a while. They occasionally moved when people wandered by, which was good, as they have a habit of sitting still for hours.
This allowed for some shots of them looking somewhat startled at the people, looking for safer places to perch and best of all, for a few seconds, both sat very close to each other on the same branch.
When they both flew away, one to a tree down the road and the other to an obscured branch, I thought I ought to head back. But I had time on my side. No need to move was there?
Well, one incident with a pair of lads in a new Mini, when their car lost traction and for a good 5 seconds looked to be on a collision course with my car, only to grip at the very last second and miss by less than an inch, made me reconsider, and I chose to head home!
The sun popped its head out for a short while, so I set up in the garden. I was very pleased to see a redpoll on the nyger seed feeder, though it disappeared when I went outside. However, the local pair of goldcrests were busy mooching through the branches of the pine tree, and kindly paused for a moment to allow for an easier shot or two.
Then I had one of those magic moments - I had been inside the conservatory for a telephone call, and just got back outside to my camera when I looked up, and at the end of the garden, looking directly at me from behind an apple tree was a fox. Looked in good nick too.
Neither of us moved for a second, until the voice in my head shouted "Get a photo you moron!" and the movement of my arm and head towards the camera made the fox vanish into the shadows behind. No picture, but a moment to treasure. Perhaps I should spend more time in the garden - I wonder what I'm missing!