Thursday 4 February 2016

Penduline Tits And Cotswolds Charms

After missing out on the melodious warbler last year, that was being seen daily for weeks right beside one of the reserves I visit frequently, I thought it might be wise to get myself over to wherever the pair of penduline tits were currently showing, near Gloucester. Foolishly I hadn't checked where they were previously, and had I realised that the flood pool on which they're feeding was so close to the route I use to access the Forest Of Dean, I would have called in to see them by now.

Arriving at the site on a Saturday lunchtime, I was greeted with the news that they'd just flown off, but were likely to return soon. The reed bed around the pool seems to be alive with small birds, including long-tailed and blue tits, chiffchaffs, robins and also reed buntings. As I scanned for any sign of movement, I spotted a few birds drop back into the reeds, and I clocked one looked like a penduline tit.

Immediately, I turned to the group I was with and announced they were back, but when I looked back again, all I could see were long-tailed tits. I had just started to doubt myself, and offered an apology to the disappointed birders beside me, when I saw another one, and this time so did everyone else. The problem was, we were looking into the sun somewhat, so I chose to walk around the side of the pool, and try from there. Much better, and the birds were a little closer.

With hindsight perhaps I should have swapped out my full frame camera for the 7Dmk2, which has an extra 1.6 reach, but I find the focusing of the 1DX to be better, so stuck with it, and managed to get some reasonable shots of one of the penduline tits as it posed on the top of a reed, and then took flight.

Before departing, they briefly stopped in the trees behind where I was standing, but before I could get over to look, they'd flown off across the main road. An hour's wait resulted in no more sign and a shower of sleet, hail and rain persuaded me to return to the shelter of my car.

Seeing as the skies were clearing again, I chose to head out into the hills of the Cotswolds, where I saw a good number of game birds fleeing from the shoots, plus a brown hare hurtling across a field at pace. Too fast for me to park up and get a shot, but the red kites drifting by were easier targets, and I enjoyed glorious views of one as it danced overhead.

Also around were huge flocks of thrushes, with fieldfares and redwings, plus starlings in the mix. Lapwings and golden plover flocks were feeding on the meadows and I encountered a big mixed finch flock later, with good numbers of brambling amongst them. But by then the light had faded and I headed home.

With just one bright day forecast the following week, I had one eye on the possible snowfall predicted for mid-Wales, with the destination being Gigrin Farm for the afternoon, but the temperature by the time the kites would be fed, coupled with the rain to follow the snow put me off, and I headed back to Gloucester for another go at the penduline tits.

Great move, as it turned out, as on arrival the pair flew over my head and straight into the reeds. I called over the only other person there, and we enjoyed great views as they fed on the stems and heads of the reeds. Then they took flight, and as before, went over our heads and into the trees beside the brook.

Scuttling over the bank, I positioned myself as close as I could, maintaining a similar level to the birds, and hoped for a clean shot. They were busy pecking at the entangled and intertwined mass of twigs and branches, finding plenty to eat. Getting a clear shot however, was proving to be tricky.

Thankfully, they birds stayed in these trees for quite some time, and eventually I got some clear views.

Such beautifully marked birds, with their black eye band and warm brown backs.

After feeding, the pair perched up and preened briefly, posing at the tops of the trees, maybe soaking up some of the faint warmth of the sun.

Then they were off again, back to the reeds this time, to rest properly.

By the time more admirers had turned up, the tits repeated the trick and flew over to the trees once more, only this time were more fleeting, and difficult to see. They eventually flew along the stream, up to a bramble bush before flying up and over the road. My cue to leave, and after last time, I knew where to head again.

Lots of pheasants and red-legged partridges were around the narrow roads of the Cotswolds, and I was hoping to see perhaps another hare. Driving slowly, I was keeping an eye on my rear-view mirror in case of any other motorists, and soon spotted a BMW catching me up rapidly. As I was looking along the road in front of me to see somewhere safe to pull in, I spotted it.

Sat on the wall, partially hidden amongst the tall, dead stems of last year's wild flowers, was a barn owl. It didn't flinch as both cars passed by, and stayed put even after I'd pulled over, let the motorist continue on his way, turned round and gone back past, and parked up.

I grabbed some shots and wondered if the owl was ok. The way it was perched on the wall seemed awkward, but it looked at me, then back down at the grass below.

I have seen barn owls out hunting all day in Norfolk in the past, at this time of year, so it wasn't completely unexpected, and given the weather lately, I guess they are having to take advantage of any breaks in the rain to hunt. My fears were eased when it took off, and drifted along the wall, landing in a more conventional pose, to look at what might be around near there.

I followed, and grabbed yet more images.

The owl failed to see anything of interest, so moved across the field and perched beside a small woodland.

Again nothing seemed to be moving for it to pounce upon, so it relocated on another wall, and this time I was able to clamber out of the car and hide behind another wall to get decent views. What a gorgeous sight!

The barn owl dived a couple of times, but failed to catch anything, and I lost sight of it as it flew along the road and round into some trees, perhaps to a roosting site.

I tried for the large finch flock once more but the gusts of wind were making them even more flighty than before. Plenty of linnets and bramblings within the flock, just never really close enough.

Even when a gang of red-legged partridges charged down the track to eat some of the seed, the flock failed to land any closer to me.

So when the clouds rolled in, I rolled off home. A fabulous day out in Gloucestershire, as is often the case.