I took another trip to Burton Marshes on Tuesday, and was rewarded with a prolonged hunting display from one of the local kestrels. The light conditions weren't ideal, but I managed to take some pretty nice photos (if I do say so myself):
I paid a short visit to the RSPB's Burton Mere reserve on Tuesday afternoon. As I approached the main bird hide, a birder passing the other way informed me that a hobby was ‘displaying well’. I gathered this was a good thing, so I thanked him and carried on.
I hadn't seen so many people in the hide before. Every single one of them bore extremely expensive optical equipment in the form of binoculars, telescopes and telephoto lenses. I tucked my own horse-racing binoculars and bog-standard zoom lens discreetly under my arm, and sneaked my way in amongst the experts.
The chap who had tipped me off had been right about the hobby. It was putting on a magnificent show, gliding high, then plunging down, twisting and turning, snatching hapless dragonflies from the air, and eating them on the wing. Unfortunately, the light was appalling, and the hobby was a very long way away, so I couldn't take any decent photos.
The hobby continued hunting in this way for about half an hour. All the birders in the hide were extremely excited about it—as was I.
Once the hobby had left, a kestrel approached the hide, and I got some better photos. But, as I say, the light was appalling. I had to turn the ISO setting way up on my camera, then deliberately over-expose to get any sort of shot. I then had to crop and process them on my computer, tweaking up the contrast and removing a lot of the noise. Modern digital technology really is remarkable. I would never have been able to get photos like these with traditional film:
I spent a few hours at Burton Marshes yesterday afternoon. I sat in the car for a while, then walked along the track as far as Denhall Quay next to the Harp Inn.
I've always loved Burton Marshes. They're effectively man-made, exploited by farmers and the military, yet they feel utterly wild and remote. And, most important of all, you tend not to bump into too many other people there.
More photos here »
I decided to celebrate my birthday with a walk on the moor. The glorious weather of the last week had, of course, disappeared—but at least it wasn't raining.
Lots of red grouse around. Whenever they fly away from you, they seem to do so in a long curve, rather than flying directly away from you. I wonder if it is so that they always present their upper half to you, affording them better camouflage. Or maybe it is because they can keep a better eye on you that way. Or maybe something else entirely.
Watched a skylark ascending near the trig point. It must have sung for a good couple of minutes as it rose so high that I lost sight of it amongst the floaters in my eyes. Knackering work for skylarks, singing.
Spotted a lapwing in the field just below the moor. Got some half-decent, albeit heavily cropped photos before it took off. Definitely one of my top-ten birds.
Then a kestrel hunting over the scrub above the Nook track.
On the whole, a very pleasant walk.
A glorious, clear, blue-sky sunny day. Up to the moor.
There were thousands and thousands of black flies mating above the heather just beyond Mount Skip. Those big, ugly flies with the training undercarriages—whether legs or sexual organs, I have never been able to tell. Never have I seen so many flies in one place. They swarmed everywhere. The restricted depth-of-field in the photograph I took just doesn't do the spectacle justice:
I couldn't believe that only a single swallow was taking advantage of this almost limitless feast. Perhaps all the others had already had their fill.
Fortunately, the flies thinned then petered out completely as I reached the golf course, where I was amused to see local sheep trimming the third tee:
I stood admiring the view from the trig point for several minutes before a covey of three grouse that I hadn't seem suddenly took flight from feet away. Apparently, they hadn't seen me either!
A couple of unidentified caterpillars on the footpath. I need to get a better guide book. A kestrel hanging motionless above the edge, facing into the wind, the updraft making hovering unnecessary.
At the corner before the big shed, I decided to turn left for a change, heading home via Johnny House. I don't know if that's it's real name, or just JP's nickname for the place. I must ask her.
Three rooks were having a whale of a time, cavorting in the wind, apparently just for the joy of it, breaking off only to mob the poor kestrel.
I sat on the wall by the almost-dead tree at Johnny House for 10 minutes, taking in the view. Bilberries have taken root in some of the recesses of the tree. A typical Yorkshire ecological niche.
I finally managed to identify the pretty, little yellow flowers that grow in certain places amongst the heather:
Tormentil. I think.
Postscript 13-Sep-2011: I have since identified the black flies spotted above the heather as rather aptly named heather flies. And the things dangling behind them are definitely legs!
The so-called Glorious Twelfth turned out to be anything but. A damp, miserable, hill-foggy day. Only a complete idiot would be found on the moors on a day like this. So I decided to see if I could spot any.
A soggy kestrel hunting above the golf course, then soggy sheep, and a soggy path through the soggy bog, then more soggy sheep. Perversely, I love this sort of weather. Which is just as well, as we have an awful lot of it around here.
As I climbed the hill to the trig point, I entered the clouds and the rain set it. Far too wet for photographs, so I stowed my camera safely away in its bag. Less than ten seconds after I had clicked the bag shut, a shadow flew out of the mist in front of me and passed within 15 yards. It flew with slow, methodical wing-beats, its head tucked into its shoulders for protection against the rain, totally oblivious of the soggy, open-mouthed idiot watching it. Having recently spent several hours trying to determine the identity of a moorland raptor, I knew exactly what to look for this time. Without a doubt, I was looking at my first ever peregrine falcon on the local moor. From its size and colouring, I took it to be a juvenile female.
As I fumbled with my camera bag, the bird swept low and disappeared into the heather, presumably trying to shelter from the rain. I took a line on where she had landed, readied my camera, and made through the heather towards her. But she soon detected me and flew off, leaving me with two utterly unusable photographs.
I have to admit, I was ecstatic. Soggy, but ecstatic. I returned to the path and continued my slosh through the fog.
Then, there she was again! Once more the falcon emerged from the mist about 200 yards in front of me, sweeping back and forth over the heather. With such poor visibility, it was hardly surprising that she was having to hunt so low. Then, with a sharp turn, she alighted on a small cairn of stones (which will henceforth and forever be known as the falcon stones), and peered at me through the fog.
I fired off a couple of quick photos, then began to make my way slowly towards her, clicking away as I went. Suddenly, the falcon looked to her left. I followed her gaze to see another idiot walker appearing out of the mist. When I looked back, the bird had already taken flight. The last I saw of her was as she glided down towards the heather, disappearing behind the brow of the hill.
Taken from 200 yards, through fog and rain, heavily cropped, this is the best I have to show of the soggy encounter:
I headed down from the tops along the soggy path, past yet more soggy sheep, having had what was quite possibly my most enjoyable walk ever on the local moor.