Stonyhurst Kestrels

So we are nearing the end of another long year and a large number are fledging.... that is a large number of children leaving for university and life beyond this fine old place.   An annual event that's happened for 100s of years. Another wonderful annual event that has also been going on for centuries is the fledging of all those little creatures which live amongst the towers, gargoyles, grounds here.

Especially our favourite, the kestrel..   Gerard Manley Hopkins was here as a teacher for a time and wrote a magical poem called "Windhover" about a kestrel.  Perhaps the ancestors of our inspired him. 

We are delighted that for past 5 years (to our knowledge- but probably for as long as the building has been here) a pair have nested behind one of four griffins,  each holding a shield and each above a letter A. M. D. G. - Ad maiorem Dei gloriam - For the greater glory of God!   If you happened to be educated in a Jesuit School anywhere in the world you would know this and probably wrote AMDG at the head of every piece of work you did.   Anyway this year's pair of falcons decided D was the main event (and who can argue that?- well- Christopher Hitchens perhaps and  of course Richard Dawkins but he is a real bore -so whatever...)

For past couple of months we have been thrilled by the shrieks of our amorous pair as the male has been bringing female titbits of the small mammal variety.  Then she was clearly set up on the eggs, safe in alcove behind D.  This is right outside the window of my office - unfortunately too high up to peer out (but that makes the site even more suitable and private and safe)

Yesterday I heard the distinctive sound of young nestrels!  (new word!)  When out with kids later heading to a BBQ I looked up and was delighted to see not one but two fluffy falconettes peering down at the goings on.

We also have jackdaws, magpies, starlings, house martins, swallows, blue tits all nesting in cracks, crannies and shelves on the building.   So living in a second floor apartment we get allsorts at our window feeder and on stone mantle outside window.  This year we've had chaffs, great and blue tits and pied wags using the feeder as well as many crows, jack doors, starling etc using mantle.

Anyway-  a few snaps of Kes Chicks (Nestrels  xx)


Stalking Auntumwatch at Leighton Moss, but not really. Mainly the usual haunts and a bearded tit

The title says it all really. Decided that since Autumnwatch happened to be in our usual patch and we had knackered the spaniel out with highland gallops over hill and dale and even more over Sand and Bay, we'd leave her for a few guilt free hours and return to Leighton Moss. Actually found it surprisingly quiet, given its half term and Autumn watch had been camped out there. It was also unfortunately quiet on wildlife front too. At least during our speedy trip. We spotted marsh harrier, a few shovellers, coots, mallards, teal, widgeon and noted a lot of migrant passerines flocking in but there was no murmuration to behold and no sight of the otters. Did see the lovely (or in welsh: lov errrr ly) Mr Iolo Williams and also Richard Taylor Jones of the soft voice and relaxing stress reducing wildlife films (who'd been unable to answer my question about how waders know where to land in water shallow enough for their particular wading legs? Anyone know? We wonder if they have built-in tide tables? Or maybe they select a scout whose job it is to find the right level and then the others arrive!!) Anyway for pics- a bearded tit. IF YOU KNOW THE ANSWER TO WADER QUESTION.... do let me know. I've grown up on Dee Estuary and known waders all my days and so somehow never took much notice of them but watching RTJ's live film n Autumnwatch live breakfast it suddenly occurred to me how the redshanks was wading thigh deep and then the oystercatchers came and landed at the right level Anyway here's the bearded tit.

River Ribble Otters

Our day off at last. Of course we went back to see whether we could stike lucky and spot our otter family again (this time equipped with our cameras) Nothing! We went for a walk instead, about 4 miles up stream and came across a print on muddy bank - a lone otter and a big print (perhaps the daddy?) There's always something exciting about a print- something magical and hidden - when your touch the indentations and feel the shape and know that someone's paw was there just a few hours ago. Having managed to allow the dog to become completely filthy we sidling back to the car with the plan of a pub lunch formulating. Deceided to head back to the village where I saw the otter family and gran a sandwich at the pub there. I couldn't resist stopping the car by the bridge to have a look see. Simon said - wave if they're there and snuggled himself into his car seat whilst I braved the cold. Couldn't believe my eyes and luck when I peered over and spotted three backsides, heads hidden by the shallows. The otters were under one of the arches in the shallows rootling about under the pebble river bed perhaps for crayfish. Waved frantically at Mr Oblivious and eventually he joined me for what became an hour otter watching session. We got incrdibly close - they absolutely knew we were there, kept looking at us and quite happily going about their business. We watched them head up stream for a while and then decided to fetch the car and park in our original spot. When we hopped out again the otters were directly across from us and we had great views. Then they came over to our side. We employed loch side otter tactics (run for a fe seconds whilst they are submerged and then stand absolutely still) We got incredibly lucky as the little family came on to the bank about 1.5 metres from where we were hunkered down trying to avoid dried reeds in our view. Honestly, we thought several times they would scarper but they came right past us without any concern whatsoever. It was just starting to snow ever so slightly when the mother swam very close to me and made a grunting sound. I took the hint and we left the bank and watched them from the road as they swam on. Just before we lost sight of them there was an almighty ruckus as one caught a big fish or eel and they all tumbled about whickering and squeaking. We were both so bamboozled by the fantastically close encounter we could hardly concentrate on our lunch. Although we've seen a lot of footprints, some spraints etc around the Ribble and Hodder we never really believed we could see a family of three hunting in broad day light (and this is my second time in under a week!!) I hope they got to a holt and snuggled up before the snow came down properly. I hope they will be okay and that we might see them again in coming weeks if we're lucky. Exciting thing is that when these babies finally leave mum, they will stretch out in search of their own territory and our otter population will expand and expand! I will post a number of pictures over a few posts. Please feel free to comment. Please please don't pinch our snaps.

Otters on our local river

FINALLY and completely unexpectedly... I saw otters on the River Ribble today! Dropping some kids off for their voluntary service, I had an hour to myself. It is windy and cold and I'm suffering from laryngitis and a bad chest but decided to zip up and walk along the river for 10 minutes before grabbing a coffee. I did my usual scan of banks for spraint sites etc.. not with any more hope than usual. Suddenly I became aware of a high pitched whistling and perhaps even before my consciousness had a chace to work it out I saw under the arch of the bridge a movement, which again I sort of regsitered as mammalian before giving it too much thought. Saw it again and almost without emotion heard myself thinking "mink" Then I saw the tail disappear and knew. I snapped out my phone and tried a couple of pics. By this time I had reached the bridge and looking over the side - right below me there was an otter hunting. I could still hear the unmistakable calling of another otter and within seconds I saw her cub alongside her. Still though there was whistling from further down river. With phone held shakily I kept videoing and snapping away and eventually the otters came up on to a small islet right in centre of the bridge, enabling me to look right down on them. I could tell there was a second cub somewhere because the plaintive whistling continued and it wasn't coming from the pair I was watching. Then the second cub hove into view, swimming for the islet against the current. What a treat- could hardly believe my eyes and my hands, not only freezing from cold were shaking wildly. Watched the threesome for 45 minutes. The mother looked directly up into my eyes on a number of occasions but she seemed unperturbed and continued to roll, play and preen her youngsters. The cubs were near her size and nuzzled her side for a feed- which at one point she allowed. I feel high as a kite. So privileged. Can't wait to head back with my camera on my next day off but don't hold out too much hope of such a lucky view again.

Barn owl for the soul

Feeling the January Blues? Got a cold? Pay day still too far away? What you need, what everyone needs is a Barn Owl. The sight of a wild Barn Owl hunting is a wonderful pick me up. It makes the soul soar and the heart race and you can't help but smile broadly at the privilege of seeing this silent hunter go about his day. We went out into a snowy landscape yesterday, determind to see a Barny. We searched all our usual favourite spots and eventually struck gold when we saw not one but two owls in beautiful low late afternoon sunlight hunting the moor. They were quite far away and we couldn't get any closer but we watched them flying in and out of the barn and hunting for about 30 minutes and took a few hopeful shots. On the way home we saw a third owl also out and making the most of some NON rainy weather to stock up on voles. Hope you enjoy these snaps

Kestrels nesting on building

For a small and hopeful moment we were hoping we had a pair of peregrines nesting on the school where I work; but having stood watching patiently this evening I managed to fire off a few snaps in not very great light, of a kestrel. Still, it seems there are young and so I will keep my eyes on them and try and get more snaps as they get to fledging time. It would be great to get shots of the newly fledged kes young lined up on the ledge beneath the gargoyle.

Sparrowhawk or Goshawk

Saw this bird sweep in across the river Hodder and dive to grab a rook (in a group, all standing, in an open field) All the rooks flew up with a big racket and chased the predator who flew into a lone tree in the field) We watched from the rear patio of the Inn at Whitewell, Forest of Bowland.
Easily spotted bird in the tree and one of the photos is not even cropped. We think it is a goshawk (could be female sparrowhawk BUT really try and look at the feet and the big pantaloons- spoken like a real birder there)
C'mon Goshawk in Whitewell valley? Totally possibly. Would a female sphk swoop out of a woodland across a river and open field on chance of nabbing one rook out of a sitting flock? Unless she had young (too early) this seems a bit of a gamble doncha think?
Sorry pics are not great but comments welcome.

The elusive wren building a nest

Caught this little chap frantically redecorating a hole in a tree with lichen and moss, ready for a new family later this spring.

Wren's we have found are difficult difficult lemon difficult to photograph as they flit so quickly and unexpectedly around the leaf litter and twigs.

Barn Owls again

In a rush to get some fresh air this evening before the dark and promised rain arrived. Not really expecting to see a barn owl when of course.. we saw a beautiful bird hunting in the orchard area on the old familiar spot of "Barn Owl Hill"

It landed on a post and quietly posed for us as we peered over the wall. So heart soaring again this evening. Can assure you a barn owl a day keeps the blues away!

Tree Creeper and Hares

After a hellish week in bed with flu followed by a mad rush to get some work done before going to Brussels for a course it was great to get a gorgeous sunny day at Leighton Moss yesterday. All eerily quiet in that strange way before the full on energy of spring. We did see a bittern though and a stoat and lots of hares on the way there.
Probably best shots were of the smaller birds in woody area near Lilians. Tree creepers living up to their names everywhere.

Barn Owl Hill expands

So it is a year since we named a local spot Barn Owl Hill. Since then we have watched as two barns held nursing adults with young and then they fledged and now we wonder just how many are in the area.

How large an area will a single barn owl hunt? We've seen quite a few since January, 1st. Today we had to abandon the car because of snow and hike up B.O. hill then later, on our way back from Inn at Whitewell, we spied a beautiful Barn Owl hunting and slammed into a snowy bank.

Watched her/him hunt for a long while and as light failed managed to get a few shots off.

Pants shoots a hare whilst I shoot Pants!!

What a fab day. Worried a bit about taking Sunday off in lieu of Monday (have to work Monday this week) Sunday is full of other people (mine and Jean-Paul Sartre's hell!!)
Fortunately, lots of snow yesterday and fog this morning meant it was quiet and impassable over barn owl hill. We skidded the car into a snowy bank and set off on foot. It looked awesome up there (we could still see the fog in valleys though) Stopped again nearer to Whitewell and Pants went up above the lime kiln whilst I photographed his figure disappearing and then reemerging. As he cam into sight a hare sprang up in front of him and I got funny pics of him gearing up to snap the hare...
Gorgeous day.

The ever popular Barn Owl

Gorgeous views of a barn owl hunting in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day (snow covered Inglebrough, Pen-y-gent and lush golden sunlight.

Barn owl came out of a barn and we followed it hunting over moorland. Tragically took snaps into the light. Playing about practising with shutter speeds and aperture etc lead to some over exposed shots :-(
Oh well, it is all a learning experience. I kind of like the pictures anyway- even though they are photographically speaking sub-standard.

Bittern by the punning bug

AGH! We love Leighton Moss we seriously do- but my oh my the need to pun is relentless. That said .... It is very hard not to when you're dealing with otters and bitterns. Yesterday was absolutely stunning, frosty, crisp with blue skies and gorgeous sunlight. Unfortunately it was also packed at Leighton Moss. Of course that is great for RSPB and for the many many people enjoying the fantastic sights of our fave reserve but selfishly it was also a bit of a squeeze and the noise levels get out of control. We had some good views of bitterns and harrier and a fleeting view of the otters but left early (about 2.15) :-( Saw the barn owl on Barn Owl hill the other evening - stunning views of him/her hunting in the pinky gold of the setting sun. Too far for pictures of any quality but great to see.