Tuesday 17 November 2009

Cossington Meadows (Leics)

Late last winter I got a taste for photographing a rather magical bird, the short-eared owl. So with winter approaching, I have been keeping a close eye on sightings across the country. One place that kept cropping up was in Leicestershire, at the end of the M69. A place called Cossington Meadows.

With a good day of weather forecast, after a rather horrid Saturday, I hopped in the car and zipped up there for a mid-morning start. The plan was to explore the whole area of the reserve for much of the day, and then be ready for the owls later. A pair apparently, and one had been seen as early as 2:30pm.

After the rain on Saturday, the reserve was muddy to say the least, and I had to maintain my balance around some very slippery puddles and paths. Talking to locals, I soon got my bearings and found myself scanning the various lakes for anything of interest. Wigeons mainly of note, though everything seemed to go up when a sparrowhawk swooped by.

Also present were several pairs of kestrels. I followed one hunting pair to the back of the reserve and along the river. They were fantastic to watch, not only performing their trademark hovering, but also possibly courting as they interacted with each other, mirroring movements in the sky.

I had read that there are stonechats around, but alas none showed for me! The occasional clatter from pheasants bursting from the undergrowth broke what is a rather quiet reserve. The only real downside of the place were the amount of dog-walkers, and how many allowed their mutts to bound around off their leads.

After a pleasant stroll along the river's edge, I mooched around the other side of the meadows briefly, though they were very soggy under foot and much was impossible to access to allow the Exmoor ponies to manage the land.

By mid afternoon, there were increasing numbers of interested parties waiting for the owls. I tried initially over near the Rectory Marsh, but that stunk of that algae, so I retreated to Swan Meadow for a more general view.

Again, kestrels entertained us as we waited patiently and we tried to count the number of grey herons hidden in the tall grass. Six I counted, though the chap next to me reckoned on eight! And the ponies decided to trudge over to us too, which provided at least something other than kestrels to take pictures of. That is until the owls appeared.

Well, that was the idea, but as with anything involving nature, it doesn't always go to plan. Yes, you've guessed it and probably from seeing the lack of owl photos here, that they never put in an appearance, not when I was there anyway. Buggers. Perfect evening for hunting too, calm and no rain.

They came out later, according to reports, and again the next day, but I was in work by then. Then I remembered another symptom of winter. Irritable Owl Syndrome, brought on by bad luck with these elusive birds.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Fireworks And Red Crests

With the fine weather over the weekend you'd expect tales of travel and bundles of photos. Alas the weekend coincided with my annual firework party, so I had almost no time for bird photography at all. On the plus side, the party was a success with friends and family enjoying the display and BBQ and it didn't rain until the last whizzbangs were being set off.

Sunday had a late start; Saturday didn't technically finish until about 3am, so I needed some time to recover. After watching the Moto GP with a friend, I quickly scanned the sightings pages online and spotted the red crested pochards down at Bittell. Just down the road and that was just as well - I wasn't in the right mood for any sort of a drive.

Unfortunately by then I had missed the window of sunshine so the light was woeful upon arrival. The birds were in line with the gate down the path alongside the lake, so I could see them easily enough, and with the sun setting behind me, I didn't have much choice with waiting for better conditions.

So that was it for the weekend. A trio of red crested pochards. Roll on the next weekend so I can chill out!

Thursday 5 November 2009


After Max had seen and captured some lovely shots of a black redstart over at Draycote Water, I hoped on the following day (Saturday) that it would have stayed around for some more shots.

Alas it had decided to fly elsewhere, despite several birders searching, and I was left with the option of looking for the (now) resident scaup. Did I find it? No.

However, all was not lost. Walking around the edge I spotted a brownish bird perched on the rocks near the channels at the Overflow... A kestrel. And a fine looking male at that. Fairly approachable too.

He soon moved when I strayed that bit too close, but only to a nearby concrete wall, where he had a bit of scratch and preen, before zipping off, up and over the road, and off into the fields beyond. It's a good spot for kestrels actually, and I've often found myself photographing them instead of the rareties on the lake!

Further round the lake, along Barn Bank, I spotted a different looking duck come into land, but being ignorant, I didn't realise what it was... until Dave and Rich arrived, and informed me that there was a female pintail around. "Ah. So that's what it is!" I thought.

With decent light and a very accommodating pintail, the day was rounded off with a selection of shots of a new species for my collection. Would have been nicer had it been the male, in terms of a more colourful bird, but nonetheless, a great new addition to my gallery.

Sunday was forecast to be wet, so I had a lie in for once. I do love listening to the pitter-patter of rain when wrapped up warm in bed. Once the rain cleared though and the first shards of sunlight hit my windows, I was up and out as fast as possible. Make hay and all that.

Upton Warren was the target, and I was soon sat in the Bittern Hide with Bob, chatting about what he'd seen that week. I do envy the retired photographers! Apparently, he'd managed to get some cracking shots of the bittern out in the open near the hide and also witnessed a mink attack, drown and drag off a heron! The traps had best be set up now before this vicious sod gets a taste for bitterns.

Bob left when it was getting gloomier and left me to look for the bitterns. Took a while and the light was almost gone when one showed its head. Only for a couple of moments, but was still great to see.

Fireworks party this weekend, so I'm not sure if I'll get any bird photography done at all. Pity, as the forecast isn't too bad, and the short-eared owls are increasing in numbers all the time.