Wheatear Wonderland

April 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

With the evenings now light enough for some post-work birding & photography I decided to make the most of the decent weather we've been having and have a look around Blakehill on Thursday evening. Migration seems to be really kicking in now. Swallows, Ring Ouzels, Wheatears, Ospreys, Warblers of various sorts....the list of new arrivals over recent days goes on! I managed to get to the reserve at around 17:30 and when getting to the top track had a quick scan around. I could hear plenty of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks but the first bird I actually set eyes on was a Short-eared Owl! I really thought they'd have moved North to their breeding territories by now but this one clearly had other ideas. A great and most welcome surprise. This was immediately followed by another unexpected moment as turning around to carry on down the track I saw a Stoat shoot across into the long grass adjacent to the track. It didn't make another appearance but was nice to see.

The main event didn't take too much longer to materialise as about 300 metres further down the track I noticed a few familiar looking birds on the ground in one of the sheep paddocks. Getting a little closer I was able to count four Wheatears - my first of the year and a real treat as they were all males and each one looked magnificent. Unfortunately I was facing into the sun so had to take a long detour around the tracks to get into a more photo-friendly position. Thankfully they'd remained in the same place whilst I'd been making my way around and I spent a good 10 minutes or so just watching them feeding on flies. They did this by making mini sprints before eating their prey. They were more often than not on alert, taking an upright position as if standing to attention. They tended to do this when stood on the closest patch of raised ground, as if the few extra inches would give them an improved view of their surroundings. I moved in closer and got some excellent views however I was hand-holding my gear in a crouched position so getting a sharp shot proved tricky, despite the bright conditions. I managed to get within 10 feet of one bird but as I led down and got stable it opted to move a bit further away with its back to me. Typical. The birds soon moved over towards a fence, frequently dropping to the floor to feed and popping back up onto either the barbed-wire or the fenceposts running alongside the track. A patient and slow approach allowed me to get pretty close to one bird in particular. Whilst he was facing away from me, he did oblige with a number of head turns allowing for my best Wheatear images to date. They are spectacular looking birds in my opinion and I'm sure I'll be going back for more over the next few days!

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