Saturday 1 August 2015

Kites, Buzzards And A Rare Falcon

While Shetland offers opportunities to photograph wildlife rarely seen elsewhere in the UK, it's not a place to head to if you love raptors, which of course I do. Back home, after sorting through the thousands of images from that trip, I was keen not to miss out on anything that might turn up.

Cue a red-footed falcon, which was spotted near an old colliery in Staffordshire. The first day it was reported, I had decided to visit the long-staying melodious warbler near Marsh Lane, which had also decided to depart the night before I got there. After all the comments about it being one for constantly singing, the absence of anything other than linnets singing, was a bit of a clue, so I ended up photographing the numerous swallows skimming the crop fields for flying insects. Challenging with a tripod-mounted lens.

I waited for confirmation via news on Twitter that the falcon was still around, and drove up the M6 to find initially the pin on the Bird Guides app was nowhere near the bird. Thankfully the postcode mentioned was bang on, and the crowds reassured me that I was at the right spot. Sat on a concrete post by some sort of outbuilding in a horses' paddock, was the red-footed falcon. A new one for me (in the UK). I'd say tick, but I've had to deal with them in Uist, and I'd rather avoid such things, even verbally.

The light wasn't great but at least the falcon was active, and flew between a variety of perching posts, as well as swooping down on to anything moving in the grass below.

Occasionally it would leave the area and vanish into the nature reserve behind us all, and despite looking none of us would find it, only to hear that it had returned to the paddock again shortly after.

It also gave me a good chance to catch up with friends who had also turned up to see the falcon, and it wasn't long before the usual amusing banter started, keeping us all giggling while the falcon was off on one of its absent spells. And we'd all fall silent again on its return, taking shots aplenty of this lovely rarity.

When Dave (Hutton) who had been to see the melodious warbler over twenty times, also failed to find it, I knew it had gone, so turned my attentions elsewhere. Initially I took leisurely drives down to the Cotswolds, which had been the destination to head to earlier in the year with the short-eared owls, but was now a lot busier with tourists, and the wildlife much harder to find. The fields where hares had been scampering across in February, were now waist-high with crops or wild flowers, so almost impossible to see anything in, though one roe deer decided to take a look around, lifting his head above the crops before slowly, almost comically dropping back down and out of sight.

There were hares around, though none close. I did see more deer though, with a pair of roe deer fawns enjoying what the meadow had to offer their taste buds.

And on another trip, yet another roe deer watching me from an overgrown track. Also watching me, from a couple of feet away was a stoat, but was gone the moment I turned my head to look at it. Too close for a photo with the gear I had out of the bag though.

Something now often seen over the hills of the Cotswolds are red kites, and while they can be a bit hit and miss in that area, I chose to head to an area where they are plentiful, to maximise my chances of a shot. The Chilterns.

Didn't take long to see them, but I was hoping to get some shots of them perched up for a change. Taking as many narrow winding country lanes as I could find, I eventually arrived at a common, being mowed by several tractors and, following behind were maybe twenty or so red kites.

Mostly, as they do at Gigrin, they were swooping down at speed, and snatching anything left behind the mowers from the ground, before devouring it on the wing.

But occasionally, one would land to eat, and that was what I hoped to see. Eventually one did just that, and not far from where I was watching. It seemed to have spotted something larger than the usual grubs, and initially seemed to mantle it after landing.

Whatever it was, didn't last long and with a flick of its neck, the kite wolfed it down. However, instead of flying off, this one decided to take a stroll, perhaps enjoying the scent of the freshly mown grass? This of course was fantastic for me to watch, and I grabbed a few shots as it moved around at ground level.

After the kites dispersed, I continued my tour and struck gold or should I say red, when I noticed a kite sat on a telegraph pole in a small hamlet. I was able to park up and without spooking the kite, get some very close shots.

I have to admit to being somewhat envious of the residents, to be able to look out of a window and see one of these majestic raptors sat at eye-level nearby. Certainly beats the wood pigeons that occupy most of the perches around my road.

Then, just as I was following signs back to the M40, I saw another land up in a tree, and it didn't immediately fly off when I opened the car door to take the shot.

Keeping the red kite theme going, my next excursion was to the Elan Valley, though I didn't plan to take in the spectacle that is Gigrin Farm. No, I was more interested in tootling around the lakes and cascading streams, to see what I could find.

First to grab my attention were some barn swallows. They had perched up on a fence beside the road, and unlike the redstarts and whinchats that had zipped away as I rolled up, these sat still. Perhaps enjoying some warmer sunshine after the unusually cold spell of weather lately.

Rounding a corner, a flicker of red caught my eye and I spotted a male redstart sat on a post. The light wasn't brilliant, slightly harsh, but he didn't fly away.

On the same corner, were masses of house martins and were too tempting, with the glorious blue skies behind, not to linger for. Too fast for the big lens, it was out with the 100-400mm and even then it was a challenge to get them.

Another lens change was required shortly after, to take in the fabulous views across the lake, with the calm conditions, the water turned into a mirror.

Seeing yet another flash of a red tail near the road, prompted me to park yet again, and I was just about to get out to creep up on the juvenile redstart hopping along the roadside posts, when a much larger character swooped in. A common buzzard, and it landed only a few dozen yards from me across the road.

It didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave. Better still, for once, no cars seemed to be around, so it wasn't scared off. It was however, very interested in something moving below the fence, out of sight of the road.

Suddenly it dropped down from the post, and seconds later returned, albeit slightly further away, with something held firmly in one talon.

A lizard, and unfortunately for it, the buzzard proceeded to take ahold of it by the head. Had it been the other end, I'm sure the lizard might have shed its tail to escape.

But not this time, and after a few wriggly seconds, the lizard had been devoured.

And moments later, a car approached and the buzzard departed. I spent the remainder of the day exploring, but the area was now awash with sightseers and the wildlife all but departed. Walking down to one of the streams, I hoped to maybe see a dipper, but in fact found a family of grey wagtails, the fledglings dotted around on the rocks. The parents were busily fluttering up and down the water, grabbing insects, and then delivering them to the demanding youngsters.

Fun to watch but less so with all the biting insects nearby, and after grabbing some shots of the feeding process, I fleed to the safety of my car.

Back out on the road again, I eventually caught up with a whinchat, but it wasn't close and soon flew off when a noisy Harley Davidson thundered by.

Time to head east and see what August might bring...

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