So how is everyone's lockdown garden safari going??
My social media feeds are full of people (re)-discovering the joys of engaging with the wildlife that lives alongside us at home.
With a sincerely heartfelt thought for everybody who hasn't got even a tiny outside space to call their own, it's time to catch up with what's been happening here at 'Harris Acres'.
Gardening .... lots and LOTS of gardening is what's been happening here, but still some time to look out for the wild visitors keeping us company.
With the most abundant resource at the moment being ... time; I've used that very thing, added to a bucket of patience and persistence and applied liberally across a number of projects, with spectacularly varying degrees of success, from the abject failure to 'ok-ish', to 'quite-pleased-with-my-goodself'.
Let's get the failures (so far!) out of the way first.
1. Project Fox
We live on the edge of a village in rural Warwickshire with lovely neighbours next door and on our road to the north, but our only neighbours to the south of the house, being the open countryside full of wildlife.
The woods and wildflower meadow adjoining our property (amounting to a couple of acres or so that we own) are home to local Foxes, Badgers, Roe and Fallow Deer, pesky little Muntjac (night time shot below) and lots more besides.
The Foxes visit every night to take advantage of the peanut and grated cheese handfuls left for them, show beautifully on the Trail Cam (video clip below), but object strongly to this smelly human (to them anyway!) when he sits in a pop up hide with his camera, hoping that one of them will say "cheese" (so to speak).
So ... Project Fox is still a work in progress. I have renewed hope for the future though as a potentially genius idea from wife Sarah, may have us moving in the right direction - watch this space for news in future blog posts.
2. Project Macro (tiny stuff!)
I've always admired wildlife photographers who have mastered the art (and it is) of capturing the wonderful detail of tiny creatures.
A quick second hand macro lens purchase, a perfunctory google ... 'What is Macro photography' ... and off we go out into the garden.
Absolutely clueless, having a go anyway, loving the initial results even though they are at the 'rank' end of amateur at the moment, but that's what I love about photography, there's always something new to learn.
Bees, Bee-flies and Hover flies seem the most cooperating so far, but I have my sights set on Spiders and all sorts of other creepy-crawlies in the weeks to come.
3. Project 'Bandits at 7 o'clock Blue-Leader' (the skies above)
More familiar territory here and my favourite vantage point on the bedroom balcony, has proved fruitful over the last couple of weeks.
Sometimes the perfect combination of wind direction, light, thermals rising and a bit of good luck (including being there with your camera for example) can yield a super wildlife sight.
The Sparrowhawk(s) that visit virtually daily are hard to capture (with a photograph) but everything came together last week as a mature male Sparrowhawk banked over the tree-line and turned on a thermal to get a better view of the potential lunch offerings currently using my bird feeders, giving me a chance to pan, focus and capture him mid-flight .... nice .... my best Sprawk pic for a good while.
There are a family of six Buzzards showing every day when the prevailing westerlies blow, with some springtime 'sky dancing' as a fun thing to see and to try to capture.
Red Kites are still uncommon up here, although both last Summer and this spring, we've had lone visitors checking out the territory, with Kestrels a more regular visitor overhead and eyes peeled for Hobby's returning from all points south and perhaps even one of the huge White-tailed Eagles currently roaming the skies above much of England having been introduced to the Isle of Wight. Fingers crossed ... what a sight THAT would be!
Project 4. Woody the Woodpecker.
Visits made to 'professional pay per visit' wildlife hides have taught me that if you create a natural environment for wildlife to feed, but somewhere from which you can take photos, both parties (wildlife and photographer alike) can get a good result.
A new construction in amongst the fruit trees and small bird feeders then, was just the thing. An old branch, strapped to a supporting post, with the cracks in the bark filled with RSPB fat balls was my side of the deal with the male and female Greater-spotted Woodpeckers, who visit from time to time to raid the peanut feeder.
The picture at the top of this blog is the male surveying his next mouthful, taken from my 'hide', in this case the open dining room French windows camouflaged by the curtain wrapped around my tripod (Sarah quite rightly despairs 🙄).
My ambition is to capture them both feeding at the same time, but the closest yet to that was a high speed blurry flyby from the female (behind) as the male (in front) was startled on the post.
This is a rubbish shot, but thought you might like to see how many times you have to fail before you get the shot you want.
5. Project 'Pot-roast Pheasant'
Named affectionately after a garden visitor (and no of course we didn't ha ha!!) of a few years ago, so tame it would eat from my hand, the latest dominant male Pheasant has established his territory, collected his harem (at least 4 females) and is keeping his strength up (!) on the goodies that fall from the bird feeders.
Not so concentrated on feeding that he should miss an 'opportunity', he looks determined, focused and ultimately quite pleased with his good self; as was this photographer in being able to capture a nice series of shots.
6. Project LBJ's (little brown jobs in 'birding' parlance!)
The dawn chorus (c 05:30hrs here in Warwickshire atm) is a must-hear wildlife experience. There was never a better time time to set your alarm and open a window than under lockdown, with traffic noise being as quiet as its likely to get in our lifetime.
A little extra effort invested in listening hard to identify the different calls and songs, adds huge value to what is otherwise, 'just 'birds'.
With some practise it's possible to distinguish between the various common garden birds and also to identify when the migrant visitors return from the continent or even from different continents, Africa for example.
The Chiffchaff is a LBJ with a distinctive aurally onomatopoeic call (guess what it sounds like!) and is an early harbinger of Spring.
A little quiet and patient waiting down by the bottom pond in the garden and I eventually got a close up view .... lovely.
We have Sparrows further down in the village, but sadly not here at this end. We DO have the Hedge Sparrow or Dunnock though, usually to be found skulking about the hedges that border the garden, in and out of the shadows before dropping down to pick up discarded seeds that the other more nimble birds have dislodged.
I quite like this little LBJ (below) too, not especially sharp technically but good for mood!
Also recently arrived are Blackcaps and Willow Warblers, great singers both and bang on time (a single day earlier than last year) .... the Cuckoo ... woohoo!
Hopefully future blog posts may capture those beauties and perhaps also the Hedgehog picked up by my trailcam and who knows, perhaps even the local rural foxes might take pity and pop in for a photo-call!
In the meantime - enjoy your own Lockdown Garden Safari's, stay safe and well and enjoy this time we have closer to our wildlife neighbours.