Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Between super, heavy downpours today, as well as the odd clap of thunder, there were periodsof beautiful, heart-warming light. Luckily, I was in the Goldfinch Hide during some of these spells and captured this gorgeous goldfinch as it fed on the teasel heads. It was one of those magical hours with a superb number as well as variety of birds feeding in low, bright early-winter light. At one stage there was a nuthatch, great-spotted woodpecker, goldfinch and various species of tit including red-listed marsh tit just 4m from me! This year has been so busy for me that I have been making a concious effort to shoot more images myself and short, magical spells like this in the hides reinforce how enjoyable it is. It was also good to see the male sparrowhawk trying his luck too!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Hunt...again!

On Friday, I came across the Surrey Union Hunt comprising 20 riders in full regalia and as many dogs riding through Scrag and the surrounding woodland comprising Rusper Wood as a whole. The dogs were scattered and so were the riders. It appeared that a general search/hunt was under way. I spoke to the hunt master and pointed out that they were on private land and that they had no right of access; he apologised and stated that the dogs had caught a scent and that he and his colleagues were just trying to recover the dogs. They then wanted to leave via an area to the south. I, in short, told them to leave the way they had entered. After more apologies, they left. Strangly as soon as they were told to leave they called all the dogs together very quickly; they were obviously unable to do this until I had arrived. This is the 2nd time this year this hunt has entered and ridden through the wood; this causes a great deal of damage and disturbance; they have been informed in writing earlier in the year that they have no access .

Friday, November 13, 2009


During another woodland birds' photography workshop yesterday, proceedings were interrupted when a sparrowhawk again made a deadly attack run through the feeding birds before deciding instead to take a bath in the in the shallows of the pond in front of the hide. This gave me the chance to grab just a few reasonable shots like this one before she sunk down behind the rushes to bathe properly. The shot shows that it is a female which is interesting because most of the sightings at Scrag, 95% I would say, are of male sparrowhawks especially in winter. This is actually the third time in as many weeks that I've observed sparrowhawk bathing in exactly the same spot, so it has given me the plan to maybe set up a small temporary hide at the pond edge in order to get that all elusive perfect portrait of wild sparrowhawk. I took one several years ago on transparency and have been endeavouring to do the same on digital format. My plan is to provide a natural perch close to the pond edge; a sparrowhawk is more likely to want to perch on something solid and upright before taking a bath - you can see in the image that she has perched on this log laying next to the water's edge. Raptors are vulnerable from attack when they bathe and I have noticed they often choose very small, quiet ponds to bathe in. Anyway, it looks as if this pond has been chosen as suitable, so with perch, hide and potentially a very, very long wait I may get the shot!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Badgers!

Last night, or late afternoon in fact as it now gets darker so much earlier, I set up to photograph the badgers again. It was very, very dark when I got myself in place; the moon, although just past full hadn't yet risen and a hail storm and period of torrential rain had ominously darkened the sky. Sitting there cold, wet in a dark wood, I did wonder, 'what am I doing?' I often do this though on a solo badger watch or photography shoot; there's always lots of better things to do popping into my mind instead of sitting there alone in a darkening wood looking at a pile of earth!
These misgivings didn't last long though. Having settled at 5.05pm after just setting up the flash units, I was surprised when at 5.16pm, 2 then 3 stripy heads emerged; in fact they may have been out a couple of minutes before I even noticed them; I just didn't expect them so early. I was fully prepared for an hour of tawny owl vocals before I saw any badgers!
Anyway, they, or certainly one, performed fantastically, moving into the exact baiting spot and not being bothered at all by 3 flash guns firing! The shot above is one of about 20 images I managed to take before the badgers moved off allowing me to retrieved the flashes and leave.
The walk out, was lovely; the moon, now risen, was slanting through the trees and bathing the east side of Scrag in silver pools. Driving up the track I was also lucky enough to get a tawny owl perched at headlamp height. It sat there fully illuminated by the van's lights for about 5 minutes, scanning the ground and undergrowth beneath it; it is not often you get such a prolonged view of an apparently relaxed adult tawny. I shall check the same spot as I leave on Friday; if it's a regular perching spot it may prove valuable.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yesterday started with a total drenching; fortunately, the group who had turned up to learn about woodland bird photography were a pragmatic group and made the most of it. The weather improved as the day progressed and in the end we had some good light and some good bird behaviour topped when the sparrowhawk made a pass and then perched on top of one of the feeders just 4m from people in the hide!
The weather today, by contrast was beautiful though a little colder than it has been over the past couple of weeks. I took this image of one of the many fly-agaric fungus that has emerged outside the bird hides.
While I was having my lunch and watching all the birds at the feeders I was again treated to a close fly-by from the stunning male sparrowhawk; what a bird!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween!

Last night was halloween night and I thought the best way to spend it was with a badger watch. There was a slight mist over the meadow and the nearly full moon was slightly hazy as it rose, though still easily bright enough to cast long shadows through the trees. The tawny owls were very vocal as they tend to be at this time of year. We caught a glimpse of a female perched behind us and she repeatedly called from the general vicinity of the sett; this is good news as she seems to be holding a territory where one of the tawny nest boxes are.
The badgers came out at 5.50pm; I was expecting them at 6'ish. They fed noisily on the peanuts and raisins I had laid down for them; I had to lay this outside the main sett entrance as I haven't been laying anything for them down since June or July. In the end, we got about 30 minutes of fairly relaxed viewing before they were spooked (no pun intended on Halloween night!) by something and retreated to the sett.
Another eerie sound in the night but a very, very welcome one was the chilling scream of a barn owl as it hunted across the meadow! I just hope they start to use the barn owl boxes again.
It was a fantastic way to spend the evening; deep in the woods and the badgers performed well as usual maintaining my 100% 2009 record, however, it was the owls and their evocative calls that, for me, were the highlight.