Osprey and Catfish

The osprey is quite rare in the UK, so it was great to see one of these great birds of prey  at Archbishop Fiorenza Park, just by a tollway and major road junction within half an hour of Houston centre. Signs by the lake implied that it contains quite large catfish, which was confirmed as the osprey flew overhead with a huge catfish in its talons. Even better, it then settled on a nearby telegraph pole to take a few bites. The only problem for photographs was that he was between the sun and us, so detail in the images is not great. But the silhouettes are impressive and really show the size of the fish taken by this huge bird.

 

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Dancing Grebes

Sometimes you get lucky. In the unseasonably warm February afternoon on Tatton Park’s lake, we suddenly spotted two great crested grebes courting. What an amazing dance they performed. The light was still good, so some sort of reasonable pictures were possible with my Panasonic Lumix TZ200 on maximum zoom, although the show only lasted a minute or two. Here’s a selection:

Click on individual images for more detail.

Redshank

It took a while to identify these waders, a fair number of which were rummaging about the beach at Rhyl. Then sudden inspiration from she who knows more than I do about birds – redshank. Slowly the light dawned – orangey legs, a color once known as red – and parts of legs known as shanks. The name was pretty obvious really.

Of course, they were too nervous to let me get close enough for a really sharp photo with my travel zoom.

European Robin

One of Britain’s most common birds is the robin, also known as the European Robin to distinguish it from other so-called robins that I have photographed: American Robin, Clay Colored Robin, which are really thrushes. There’s usually one turns up when I’m gardening, seeking out the worms and bugs that get disturbed in the process.

The robin is so common in the UK that I never get around to taking a photograph. Luckily this one obligingly sat on a post at Brereton Country Park when I had camera in pocket, and stayed just long enough for a couple of photos. In the featured one above he is looking straight at me, a second later he was off. The earlier photo below catches a glint in his eye.

Interestingly, Wikipedia reports that

The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced).

 

Fieldfare

Several of these thrush-like birds were running around and foraging on the grass in the afternoon sun at Brereton Country Park, Cheshire. They are fieldfare, almost certainly winter visitors to the UK.

fieldfare

The similar redwing would have red flanks, and the fieldfare does have a characteristic black tail. I didn’t have a long telephoto lens, but this is adequate for identification purposes with maximum zoom on my Panasonic TZ200 (360mm equivalent) – cropped.

Helmeted Hornbill

This photograph of the helmeted hornbill comes from this item by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. What an incredible bird, and what a sad story.

These birds have been hunted almost to extinction because of that ivory-like horn, but conservation efforts are hoping to save them.

Do read the incredible story at the above link, of the search for survivors, of the female shutting herself up inside a tree with her young while it develops, relying entirely on the male to feed them, presumably to keep predators at bay. And the photography is superb.

This and many other species depend for a future on a new generation of people coming through that will not tolerate either poaching or habitat destruction.

Exotic Woodpeckers

Costa Rica has a number of woodpeckers that are unfamiliar to European eyes. I’ve recently managed to identify these two from my archive of photographs from our 2017 trip: Hoffmann’s woodpecker and the lineated woodpecker. Both were in Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge.

Pecking upside down in a mass of vegetation, the rather large lineated woodpecker was hard to distinguish as a woodpecker, although its bright red head stood out.

There must have been some luck involved here to get half-decent shots with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. In my experience woodpeckers do not often stay still long enough to be photographed.

Hoffmann’s is named after the German naturalist Karl Hoffmann.

Chiloé Wigeon

An interesting contrast from my previous post on European wigeons are these Chiloé Wigeons, or southern wigeons, from South America, photographed in the spring at WWT Slimbridge. The similarities are evident, and yet they are rather different.

chiloe wigeons 1chiloe wigeons 2

Of course, these photographs were much easier to take as these birds are residents, presumably with clipped wings. It’s a strange facet of the modern world that it can be easier to photograph birds from the other side of the world than their local equivalents!

Wigeon 2

The male wigeon below were at RSPB Marshside, Lancashire, in November.

The brown head of winter contrasts with the iridescent green seen in the mating season. These birds still show remarkable patterning, from the fluffy brown head, the bright white splash on the side, those sharply outlined wing feathers and the detailed engraving on the grey back and side. And what a difference when the sun came out.

wigeon 2 pair

This pair exhibit some differences between male and female, but not so marked as in summer.

Ecoliteracy

Marine biologist Bill Graham writes some excellent blog posts (latest example) on the subject of what might broadly be called ecoliteracy or systems thinking, concepts developed many years ago now by Fritjof Capra and others. I think that one of the problems we have is that neither of these terms has immediate impact on more than the minds of those interested in these things. That be as it may, this is important work.

Bill has the admirable aim of encouraging educators to bring about a generation of children that really understand the interconnectedness of ourselves with all of nature, and ‘think sustainability’.

Here are just a few ideas quoted from this post.

“…much of humanity does recognize our dependency on Nature. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature. “

“An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.
The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might  suffer climate change.”

“Is there any hope of building an ecoliterate worldview of systems thinking within humans? I think so!! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and interdependence. By being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth.”

Bill Graham, blog

The hope for the future sustainability of human society needs people like Bill Graham. Try reading his post, and you might want to follow him.

Bill ends with a series of quotes from a recent article by Fritjof Capra in The Ecologist magazine, including the following:

Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

“The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, designed in such a manner that their ways of life — businesses, economies, physical structures, and technologies — do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”

Fritjof Capra, The Ecologist, April 2018

Postscript: See also Bill’s excellent essay Are Environmental Conservation Strategies Misguided?

Featured image shows a kingfisher flying through Cano Negro national park in Costa Rica, where there is great biodiversity and lots of kingfishers. Hastily shot with my Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom. What chance of getting a shot like this in the UK? Very small, and you’d be very lucky or extremely persistent.

Lapwings 2

These lapwings were on Neumann’s Flash at Anderton Country Park. Periodically they would fly up with that mesmeric leisurely flap of their large wings, flashing alternately dark and white as they circled around the lake, only to descend onto the water at almost the same point.

The distance was a bit of a challenge for the Panasonic TZ80 travel zoom I had in my pocket, but the longish zoom made a fair go of it (handheld).

lapwings 2Suitable resizing and cropping gave the featured image at the top, like an impressionistic painting. The characteristic lapwing crest is apparent.

Lapwings are also known as peewits (onomatopaeic), or green plovers. You can see the green clearly in the photograph. Apparently, outside the UK this is called the Northern Lapwing.

Sundown at Martin Mere

One of the delights of visiting WWT Martin Mere, Lancashire, in November is to see the feeding of the thousands of birds – ducks, waders, geese, whooper swans, with flocks of lapwings wheeling overhead, sometimes a starling murmuration, more geese and swans circling and descending gracefully onto the water,…

This is soon followed by the gradual descent of the sun to the horizon behind the mere, as the birds begin to settle for the night.

At such times all seems well with the world.

Black Tailed Godwit

A number of smaller birds were taking their chances in the mêlée of larger ducks, geese and swans at feeding time at WWT Martin Mere. I concentrated my camera onto these small waders, which turned out to be black tailed godwits. As waders go, they are reasonably large, much bigger than the delightful ruffs that were also scampering around.

Interesting features in these photographs are:

  • the comparatively huge feet of the pink footed goose in the first picture,
  • the seemingly transparent leg in the second picture and
  • the seemingly sinister coot in the background of the last one.

Barn Owl

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about owls. I was once quite stunned when an owl flew towards me down a dusky country bridleway, and then passed by within a few feet.

So yesterday it was something special when a barn owl (or Tyto alba) appeared at an RSPB ‘Raptor Watch’ event at Parkgate on the Wirral. Parkgate quay looks out towards North Wales over the marshes that comprise the estuary of the River Dee. The sun had disappeared behind the Welsh mountains, the light was fading fast and it was getting cold. The owl had come to feed.

Backwards and forwards he patrolled over the marshes, perfectly framed in my binoculars. Frequently he dropped down into the marsh grasses, disappearing from view, often just for a few seconds, only to reappear and resume the search. Then it was a longer period – he must have caught something. Suddenly a dark shape flashed by to where he had disappeared, reappearing seconds later, followed by the owl resuming his search. It seems a kestrel had stolen his dinner. This happened once again.

Mesmerised by the graceful spectacle of this huge bird hunting like a ghost in the fading light, it was only the cold that eventually forced us back to our van to warm up. The barn owl was still hunting, almost a spectre in the gathering dark.

I was too entranced to take the time to get the camera out – I knew that it was not up to getting decent pictures at that level of light. So I’ve searched Wikimedia Commons for pictures of barn owls in flight – here are some of the best. Click and click again to see a bigger image.

According to the RSPB, although populations declined in the 20th century, these birds are not currently under threat. Given that they feed on small animals they are clearly vulnerable to chemical farming.

Thanks to Steven Ward, Edd deane from Swaffham, I Luc Viatour, for making these images available on Wikimedia Commons.

Lapwings

These lapwings at Anderton Country Park were too far away for a sharp photograph with my travel zoom, but I rather like the impressionistic picture. You can just about make out the characteristic lapwing crests. (Yes, there are a few ducks and gulls in the mix.)