Saturday 30 January 2010

Prestwick Carr

Just north of Newcastle, near the airport, Prestwick Carr is somewhere I'd heard about as a good place to go to see birds of prey particularly owls, so I thought I would it pay a visit today.  I hadn’t planned on getting any good photo opportunities but took may camera along anyway.  After having a bit of a lie in, I got up and looked out out of the window only to see a blanket of snow – not forecasted!  I wondered to take advantage of this and go elsewhere to get some snowy pictures, but decided to stick with the original plan.

The area around Prestwick Carr is a mixture of lowland raised mire, farmland, hedges, woodland and grassland with the main centre being split by a rough track.  On the one side is most of the wetland area and on the other is largely grassland and woods, the latter of which is owned by the Ministry of Defence, which on this particular day, had a red flag was waving, warning that the nearby firing range was in use, soon to be evident by the gunfire I could hear.  With that in mind, I proceeded up the track, though couldn’t help but wonder what were the chances of a stray bullet coming this way.


It wasn’t long until I spotted my first bird of prey, in the far distant in the woods, what looked like quite a large bird but I couldn’t identify it so took a picture in the hope of enlarging the image on the computer to find out what it was.  Surprisingly it seemed to be a Kestrel.  At the time it looked too big to be this.


A bit further down in the same woods was a Roe deer feeding, again too distant to get any kind of a decent image.


Other sightings followed but all in the distant and too far to really identify though one at least I thought was an owl.  At the end of the wood I finally saw the unmistakable site of a Buzzard soaring over the tops of the trees with another perched on a branch below.


At the end of the track I came across some Highland Cattle in a field who seemed quite at home in their long shaggy coats in the sub zero temperatures experienced on this particular day.


As I made my way back down the track, I spotted a quite large bird on a pole, as usual, it was in the far distant.  This main image was taken with a 400mm lens + 1x4 converter and still it was small in the frame, but clearly it was another Buzzard.  It was perching on a pole waiting, looking around then flying along a few poles further down then waiting then doing the same, slowly making its way along the fence, occasionally diving into the field obviously looking for rodents.  Later it was joined by a Kestrel.


I watched the Buzzard for another twenty or so minutes then continued to make my way back, spotting another Kestrel, again in the distance, hovering above the field but too far away to take a worth while picture.

From a photographic point of view the day wasn’t a success.  All the sighting were in the distance and normally these images I took wouldn’t have even made it off my card onto the computer, but then that’s one of the reasons for starting a blog, to show all those times I am unsuccessful but am still able to see a bit of nature.  My first blog was titled 1 in 10 – this was one of the 9.  To be honest, I didn’t really expect much as - to see the owls at least, dawn or dusk would have been a better time.  I think many of the birds of prey normally sighted here were also probably conserving energy as were their prey so conditions were also at a disadvantage.   However, having seen as much as I did do and visiting blogs such as I do think it will be somewhere I will regularly visit, hopefully with better photographic success.

A  video from the Wildlife Trust about Prestwick Carr.

Saturday 9 January 2010

A Week of Snow

 The recent few weeks of cold and snowy weather has given new opportunities in my photography, not just visually, but what can be seen and with wildlife behaviour.  The weather conditions have continued to put both myself and my equipment to the test with temperatures getting as low as –10c.  The main problems seem to be cold hands (having only one layer protecting them) and battery drain despite having three camera batteries.


The days started with arriving on location before sunrise in the hope to catch the ‘night shift’, wildlife that normally spends the night hunting or foraging and returns at dawn to their daytime lay-ups. I was particularly hoping to catch foxes or deer.


After going to a few locations, there was the usual suspects, particularly enticed with some food.  Animals that would normally stay well away from people are much more approachable if there is something for them to eat in this weather, where every day is one of survival for them.


Blackbirds squabbling over available food.


With newly fallen snow there were plenty of tracks to find.  The snow gives you the chance to find out what animals are about and their comings and goings.  From the above tracks I new that their were foxes, roe deer and rabbits active and since there had been a recent snow fall that night, these were recent – the last few hours.  Newly made tracks at these same locations where made every day, so I new these could be good locations to wait for photo opportunities at a later date, though many of these were probably made at when it was still to dark for photography.


I followed one set of tracks, foxes, to see where they led.  They mostly seem to follow a set route with occasionally crisscrossing with another fox, being sometimes diverted but always coming back to a path also used by people.  Most animals are creatures of habit and will follow the easiest path they can and at a similar time so the snow meant I new where these were for a later date.


As I followed the tracks along a river, I came across this Heron.  Normally, the first sight of a human and these birds would be off, but this one seemed ok with my being near so I was able to take a number of photos before I left it in peace and continued on my way. 


Seemed no shortage of birds about including this Nuthatch. Also saw glimpses of a Kestrel and Red Kites.


Robins at this time of year will often approach you if they see you eating and I’ve had them eating out of my hand before, but this one was a bit more cautious. 


Despite there being Roe Deer tracks everywhere, this was the only glimpse I was able to get of one. 


At this time of year the days are short, with the sun never really making it very high in the sky and soon the light was fading as was I and my camera batteries, so, disappointed I was unable to get any really good photos and no glimpse of a fox, I headed home.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Squirrels in the snow

Ok, the Grey Squirrel (or less fondly called ‘tree rat’) is not the most loved of animals in the UK, since being a North American import held responsible for the demise of the more endearing and native Red Squirrel, but a recent trip out into the ‘wilds’ of Tyneside I came across these Greys whilst hoping to photograph foxes.

They still seem to have some photographic charm making my trip in sub zero temperatures, not a complete waste since no foxes turned up.