In December I went out to Scallows Hall to set up my winter station. It was good to be pottering about round the hide and filling up the feeders again. On returning a few days later I found them completely empty so the birds out there are as voracious as ever. I got into the habit last year of feeding sunflower hearts, but I could not fill up the feeders quickly enough (or my wallet). This year I have decided to use more whole sunflower seeds and just use the hearts when I am photographing. After topping up the feeders on this second visit I stood back and watched for a while. Already the common members of the tit family were constantly back and forth and it was good to see a visit by a party of long tailed tits. Nuthatches had found the feeders again and were present as was a single woodpecker.
After feeding several times, I made my first visit to photograph at the feeding station on Saturday 14th January, a bitterly cold, but beautifully sunny and crisp day. On arriving I took down all of the feeders and replaced them with a mossy branch leant against the feeder pole that I wanted to use for a perch to photograph my subjects. I baited the back of it (out of sight of the lens) with my patent brand of peanut fat. To make this I blitz a couple of handfuls of peanuts in the food processor and then mix these into a pound of lard. Sometimes I add meal worms or bird seed to the mix. This attracts most birds and I can apply it where I want the birds to land. The trick is to get the photographs before the bird gets at the fat or its beak becomes lathered with it. All of the usual suspects visited and I was delighted to get shots of them all with the exception of the woodpecker which as, usual was extremely wary and flew off the minute I moved the lens. I always look forward to the winter feeding station and never tire of watching and photographing common species at extremely close quarters. It is nice to visit exotic places, but we need to remember that we have stunning wildlife on our own doorsteps.
Since that first occasion I have visited again and also spent some time photographing winter fungi in the wood: yellow brain and velvet shank. Whilst out walking Jet above the village on a miserable damp and foggy afternoon we were delighted to disturb a barn owl. There used to be a pair in one of the local barns but it is possible that both birds succumbed to cold or age and have not been seen for a year or two so it was a real pleasure to come across. I have seen it again one morning when I was searching for the buzzard and managed a couple of poor shots before it flew off. Another byproduct of buzzard hunting was the kestrel hunting above the valley which I managed some shots off.
A satisfying start to the year.
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