Monday, 2 July 2012

Revisiting Gilfach Farm And The Wyre Forest

While mooching round the woodlands of Cannock Chase is always fun, I had been watching the flood of fine shots still coming out of Gilfach Farm, of redstarts posing, even on people's hands! Problem was, had I left it too late to go? I knew if I didn't try I'd always be asking myself, so at 5am on Saturday morning, the alarm sounded, and by 7:30am, I was driving across the border into Wales.

The forecast wasn't great - sunshine and showers, and rather windy. But at least it was reasonably bright. Which was handy when, as is tradition, I stopped off on the way to see if a tawny owl I had been told about was out. I've never seen it before, so didn't expect anything, but was pleasantly surprised to spot a brown shape sat on the fence. Praying it wouldn't fly off, I carefully lined up the camera and took a few shots.

There was a lot of chatter from nearby birds, but that isn't unusual, as they often go a bit mental when these secretive owls are visible. Then I spotted something hanging out of the owl's beak. I assumed it was a rodent, but later inspection revealed the prey to have been a chick, which goes a long way to explaining the reaction of the nearby birds! I wonder if it had found a nest, and was perhaps picking off the young one-by-one?

I didn't have long to watch, as it turned tail and disappeared into the shadows behind. I waited for a while, but there was no sign of it returning. A good omen for the day, perhaps?

Over at Gilfach, I started to think perhaps not, as the car park was empty and after 15 mins in the courtyard, I'd not seen any sign of redstarts. I took the chance to photograph some of the brightly coloured siskins visiting the feeders though, which made up for a lack of them locally over the winter.

Then Pip wandered out of his cottage and broke the news I had started to expect. The redstarts had fledged and gone. He'd not seen them for a few days now at the courtyard. Bugger. Well, I thought of something else, but I can't put that on here! However, I'm not one to be put off by the fact that a subject has moved on. No... If the bird has left, then I'll go and find it again.

Which I did. Just as I was driving out of the farm, I clocked a flicker of a red tail in a tree. A male. I quickly parked up and wandered back to find the male, female and a few fledged chicks, all in close proximity to one another. Ok, they wouldn't be posing on a carefully selected perch, or feeding from my hand, but at least I had a chance of some shots after coming all this way.

The female seemed to favour the area I had chosen to stand by, coming pretty close at times, perching in the trees or on posts, dropping down to catch grubs, before zipping off to a waiting chick nearby, to hand over the meal. Conditions weren't easy though, with the strong breeze moving both me and the subject around at times, and with passing clouds and showers, it meant continuously having to adjust the ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings.

The chicks generally stayed hidden in the middle of the trees, though I did manage a glimpse of one, long enough for a shot or two.

Both the male and female called to each other constantly, and it increased in frequency and volume when a sparrowhawk sped through. Thankfully it carried on by, and didn't take any of the family.

I tried to position myself closer to where the male was singing from, and he moved to where I had just left! So I moved back and just waited. Eventually it paid off, with him landing on the edge of a tree, momentarily.

Then the skies went very dark and I legged it back to the car for shelter - a wise move as it chucked it down for about half an hour! Nothing like summer time... I moved elsewhere - driving around the back of the Elan Valley again. I hoped to catch up with the whinchat I'd seen before and within 5 minutes of parking up, I got a glimpse. Saw both the male and female, though she stayed very much distant.

By now it was past lunch and I wanted to head back towards home. I called in at Clee Hill on the way, to see if any wheatears were around. Like the whinchats they were mostly far off, in small family groups following the parents around picking up insects as they went. But one juvenile popped up near the car, and perched on a fence for a second or two.

When it started raining there too, I decided to call it a day.

Sunday started with clear blue skies, but by the time I had got ready, it had clouded over and wasn't that warm. I wanted to revisit the Wyre Forest to try for adders, but I'd not realised how different it would all look now. Ferns covered most of the ground, so finding any would be tricky and I wasn't up to the task.

Instead I found myself photographing insects (at least trying to) and flowers. I really need to invest in a proper macro lens. Best get saving some pennies...

Still, the 100-400mm allows for close-ish focusing, so I made do with that, when I spotted a butterfly perched up - a ringlet apparently.

And later a blue / black beetle which seems to be a dor beetle.

I actually popped it on to the fern for a better perch, which might be frowned upon, who knows?!

It didn't seem bothered, and soon found (read "fell") its way off and headed back into the undergrowth. I followed its example, and returned home. I just need to work out what to do next weekend...


Max Silverman said...

Excellent stuff Pete.

Gary Jones said...

Hi Pete, just discovered your blog, looking forward to looking back at your posts, looks great
regards Gary