Sunday 29 March 2020

March Adders And Lockdown

I've said numerous times in the past, that I ignore my garden and what visits it. I am guilty of spending time pretty much anywhere but being at home when looking for wildlife to photograph, but this past week, with the lockdown enforced from the Coronavirus pandemic, I have begun to appreciate the garden once again.

The start of March saw me on Mull running an otter workshop, followed by a fun few days back home in the company of Lyndsey, who was collecting Andy's new car from the dealership where my brother works. After she'd headed back north, with the house being so quiet I was as usual keen to get out, to find wildlife, and top of the list were adders.

There aren't many locations to see these snakes in the Midlands, but I discovered one through research some years ago, and through a lot of walking and looking, worked out where to find them, on the site. With a forecast for sunshine, I drove over, and started to scour the areas I knew for them. The male adders would have emerged from hibernation during February, and by now some of the larger females would also be out.

As with a lot of wildlife spotting, you need to "get your eye in" and then the snakes start standing out from their surroundings.

The day ended with me having seen four individuals, which wasn't a bad tally. I managed some relatively "clean" shots of a couple too, which isn't always possible with where the snakes tend to bask in the sunshine.

Then as I was contemplating a return visit, the lockdown came into force. Stay at home was (and still is) the message, and only go out for essential work or shopping. Well, my work isn't essential on any level, when faced with this virus, and my freezer was pretty well stocked already. Truth be told, I had been monitoring the news globally, and had guessed something like this lockdown might be enforced, so had picked up odds and ends prior to it kicking in.

Confined to the house, I woke on the first morning, and looked out into the garden. It was a mess to be frank, with brambles and ivy encroaching from all sides. Armed with secateurs and gloves, I spent most of the first couple of days of the lockdown, fighting was might be called Battle Of The Brambles. I won, eventually, but my fingers suffered from the thorns and their ability to pierce any gardening glove.

Whilst pruning I did notice the birds that were visiting the feeders, so once I was happy that the garden was in a decent state, I turned my attention to my camera again. Initially, setting up in the conservatory with the 500mm on a tripod, I found that few birds save the plucky blue tits were coming in. It's funny, given how often birds here see people, that they are so wary of them, compared to those I see in the Highlands, when photographing the crested tits, for example. But flighty they were, and I needed to do something.

Part of the problem is having the conservatory door open. Perhaps the birds are used to seeing it closed, and it looks different. Only time will tell if they get used to it. But I employed my bag-hide to help mask the shape of my camera and tripod, and it also helps hide me somewhat.

Next I needed to set up some perches, and a bit more pruning was needed to make some of the backdrops to the shots, cleaner. Then it was (and still is) a case of standing still behind the tripod, and waiting.

By far the most frequent visitor is the humble blue tit. I think there are two pairs coming in. They mostly aim for the suet balls, but are quite happy to pick from the seed mix tray or the sunflower heart feeders.

A bird that always makes my heart sing when I see it, is the long-tailed tit. And I've noticed that a pair seem to be busy in the far corner of the garden, hopefully building a nest. They're collecting spiders' webs from around the shrubs, but every so often coming to the suet ball feeder to keep up their energy levels.

There are three pairs of robins around too, and one pair of coal tits.

In recent years, when I have spent an hour watching the garden's birds, I have noticed a lack of greenfinches. Thankfully that trend has reversed, and there are at least three pairs coming in.

Goldfinches are also around, chattering as they wait for a turn on the feeders. Always a treat to see, and brighten up the dullest of days.

At the beginning of the month there was a male blackcap constantly hogging the feeders, trying to chase off other birds, though strangely the blue tits scared him away! Since I've rigged up the camera, he's gone into hiding. Typical. That said, I did see a female yesterday, and a rival male, so perhaps he's busy with other things now.

A pair of nuthatches are vocal most mornings, so I got up early one day this week to try for some shots. Yes, you guessed it, no sign of them until late afternoon...

As well as a busy wren zipping around the hedge at the back, there is also a pair of goldcrests around, so when I spotted one flitting around the lower branches of the evergreen tree, I was out in a flash, armed with my Canon 7D mk2 and 100-400mm mk2. You need to be quick to capture images of these tiny birds (smallest in the UK) so I ended up with many shots of empty branches, or blurred tails. But thankfully a couple of decent images.

The star of the garden though, has to be the bullfinch, and from what I can tell I have at least three pairs coming in. One I have seen in previous years unfortunately has lesions on one of his legs, so he can't perch up on the feeders. Doesn't seem to be affecting him though, as he hovers to take seeds. And he is absolutely gorgeous in colour.

There's another vibrant male, with no such problems on his legs, and he almost glows, though he needs to remember to clean his beak after nibbling on the freshly growing buds on the trees around the garden.

And finally a young male, with a subtle pinkish colour, but is no less beautiful.

And of course each male has an accompanying female, stunning in their own way.

So after ignoring my garden in recent years, it has now become my saviour, and provides me with something to occupy my mind and point my camera at, during these trying times. Stay tuned for more posts...

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