Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Back For Spring Treats

When I left Scotland there was still snow on the hills and the snowdrops were in bloom. When I arrived back home in the Midlands, the snowdrops had been and gone, and the daffodils and crocuses were providing the colour; Spring was well underway.

Being north of the border at this time of year meant I had missed out on one of the local delights, watching the goshawks displaying in woods in Shropshire. That said, after checking the dates of previous years' images, I thought I'd give it a go a couple of times - maybe the season was delayed and I'd get a view anyway?

As is the norm for such days, there is a lot of waiting and listening - the birds were very vocal, but showed very rarely.

Thankfully the woodlands birds were busy preparing for the breeding season, and the woods were alive with their calls. While I try not to be distracted from my vigil on the treetops, I couldn't resist taking a few shots of a goldcrest nearby. They're such delights to watch, though not that easy to photograph, as they rarely keep still.

On my first visit there was a juvenile female goshawk around, hunting and making lots of noise. I had assumed that last year's young would have been seen off by the adults, but this one hadn't, and was possibly begging for food from the adults after failing to catch anything herself that morning.

And at the end of that day, I got a great view as she and the adult male goshawk circled over the canopy, briefly flying side-by-side, clearly showing the size difference between the genders.

A return visit saw even less action, and the juvenile seemed to have left. I could have had a great view of the adult female when she perched in a tree, had there not have been another tree right in front of her! Such is life. I did however hear what sounded like the adults mating, so I thought it wise to leave them be for the season.

With a sunny day forecast, I headed out to another woodland, this time in Worcestershire, in the hope of seeing some adders or common lizards. Having spoken to a local beforehand, I had been warned not to see much, after he'd spotted some muppet poking a stick around in the woods, trying to find the adders. If you want to see adders, the last thing you do is start poking a stick around in the vegetation. These shy snakes are ultra alert to any movement or vibration near them, and will vanish in seconds.

As I mooched around the clearings of the woods, I was rather surprised to spook a short-eared owl from the ground, but equally frustrated when it flew off into an area of woodland, never to be seen again. I think the local jays took offence to it, as they were making a terrible sound for a while. And later on, I saw a woodcock burst up from beneath a small tree, and also fly away.

After an hour or so, I did find a couple of adders, but they were partially hidden beneath the dead bracken, and the cloud cover at lunch made things worse by hiding the sun, and in turn encouraging the sun-seeking snakes to move back underground.

I stopped for lunch, and watched a couple ignore the clear signs all over the area about keeping dogs on a lead, as they strolled by, with their dog free to go where it wanted. Thankfully it didn't encounter an adder and get bitten. I wish dog owners would accept that these signs mean all dogs, even their "always well behaved" pets!

I was about to wander off to look elsewhere, when I saw in the corner of my eye, that another adder had slithered out into view, and was soaking up the sun again. I have recently invested in a new pair of binoculars (Kite Lynx HD 8x30) and unlike my old pair, these allow for close focusing - down to 1.3m in fact. So here, I was able to sit near the adder, and look at it in detail through my bins - something I could only do before, after I had left and processed any images taken. I love the detail of their scales, like armor almost, and also the colours of their eyes. Stunning creatures.

I grabbed a couple of shots, before I backed away and after failing to see any others, headed home for the day. Maybe it was a touch too early in the season to see that many. I will return later in Spring.

Speaking of Spring, there's a bird that puts on a special performance at this time of year, and thankfully there are a lot of them in the Midlands; great-crested grebes, and a number of my friends on social media had been posting wonderful images of them already. I know of many locations to see them, but I wanted to go somewhere I could possibly get down low for a shot or two.

To cut a long story short, I found a spot and within minutes of me setting up, I had two pairs nearby, both showing signs of dancing.

One pair were in beautiful light, but kept teasing me as they faced each other only to swim away once more, while the others were somewhat backlit, but further ahead with their courtship.

As such I needed eyes in the back of my head as I watched and tried to shift the camera round for shots of whichever pair were performing. Time was tight though as I had an appointment elsewhere, but typically just as I was about to leave, the backlit pair dived, and surfaced with some weed.


It was fantastic to see, and hear.

Dancing high up on the water, swishing the wet weed this way and that, before continuing their courtship display by mimicking each others' actions.

Then they headed back to the new nesting site to continue construction, and was my cue to leave, though I hope to be back again soon...

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