Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Not just birds .......

Time with the camera has been a bit restricted and the one opportunity I did get didn't lead to any birds coming to pose.  For the first time though another new subject appeared.
 In the last couple of months I've been to a couple of talks - Danny Green and 20/20 Vision - as well as reading about photography for the first time in a while. and it's been good to think again about how I approach my projects. 
I enjoyed The Handbook of Bird Photography by Markus Varesvuo, Jari Peltomaki and Bence Mate.  A lot of it is not new, but it's good to be reminded, and Bence Mate especially has an innovative approach that appeals even if I don't see myself ever going as far as he has.
When writing about photographing with water he's a fan of reflections, but I'm not so sure, even when there is perfect symmetry and a 'clean' mirror image.  I think they can look contrived.  The top shot above is not a great example I will admit, but personally I prefer the second framing.

That said this snap from a few years ago does work I think.  Shame about the distraction to the left - a case for a bit of photoshopping?
From Woodland puddles

Thursday, March 27, 2014

... and more puddles

Another go at the raised puddle brought 2 new species for the 'drinking' albums. Any guesses for this one?

It's interesting how just a small change in angle changes the view, providing an abstract of the woodland.  The yellow in the top corner comes from the celandine which are carpeting the floor - tilt the camera up a bit and over the top of the infinity branch the local squirrel could be seen burying the peanuts it had pinched - does it look a bit furtive?

The collared dove was one of the new species, and the infinity branch is a definite improvement,
but it highlights one of the challenges of snapping birds drinking.  They don't hold position and you have to be quick to adjust focus points quickly to try and keep the head sharp and to frame the shot. None of the above shots are quite right - either not as pin sharp as I'd want or framed right.  At present there just aren't enough birds coming down to get many chances, but if we get a dry spell I'm sure it will pick up.  Hopefully they'll land on the right spot though.

So did you guess the first bird?  Drinking species 26 - treecreeper.  It was a bit nervous at first, but eventually settled for long enough ..... and again I hadn't got things quite right, with a piece of branch obscuring the reflection.

Finally a real surprise - my first chiffchaff of the year (still haven't heard one) posing with lunch.

Overall progress, and I'll get there.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Back to puddles

A few years ago I spent a couple of seasons lying next to some woodland puddles.  Not the best environment in terms of backgrounds, but 24 species made it fun, and there were plenty of photos - you can see them here.  What I did find though was that rain just killed the action.  If the birds had no trouble finding a drink/bath they didn't use the puddles, so although I had thought about revisiting the site this winter the overall sogginess suggested it wouldn't be worth it ..... that and the fact that some other photographers found the spot 2 years ago and trashed it by cutting back the vegetation.  It might have helped the snapping but it removed the security - birds drinking and bathing tend to be twitchy, no doubt feeling vulnerable.
However in our local wood I had made a raised drinking pool modelled on the one David Whistlecraft showed me at his hide in Norfolk - here.  As this was next to our feeding station I hoped it would have more chance of bringing the birds down.  Early days, but some success.  Hopefully the treecreeper and some of the larger birds will come while I am there as they gain confidence in the the 'hide' (tent!).  Since these snaps I've 'improved' the infinity branch.  Maybe a chance to try again this weekend.

I also made a small puddle at my other woodland feeding station - an old plastic bin lid dug a few inches into the ground as I can't use a raised one here.  I was pleased to find that the birds are using it.  I have found, as you can see from some of the snaps, that I will need to be more forensic in my tidying up, especially of the pine needles which get disturbed too easily, and can stick up adding a third leg to at least one snap.  Apologies if you spot some rather basic removal of bird droppings - I just did this quickly in Lightroom.  Something else to remember for future tidying!

I have found some old pond liner and will try and make this puddle a bit bigger, with a lower front lip or higher water level, but as I have said before it's a small space and I can't make a clear background, so close-ups it will remain. 
Some more shots in the Picasa albums

Friday, February 28, 2014

Iolo Williams State of nature Speech

I meant to post about this in the past, but it got lost amongst everything else.

If you missed this first time around and you want to hear a powerful, passionate speech about the changes we have wrought on our environment listen to this ..... and don't worry the Welsh bit only lasts a minute or so!  In total it lasts about 15 minutes, but it's worth it.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Missing out - but not!

Mixed fortunes in recent weeks.  Not just the lousy weather, but a couple of dips (look at me pretending to be a birder!).  One was failing to snap the purple sandpipers at Portishead.  I've been twice in recent years and each time they have chosen that day to move on to pastures new after being there fairly consistently for weeks.  Still it was nice to meet 'Mrs Trellis' of the Avon Birding blog.

Then there was the raven.  We seem to have pair in residence near the village and they have been visiting one of our bird feeding spots - at least occasionally.  After missing the sandpipers I came home and waited to see if I could snap a raven on the food.  Truth is this was extremely unlikely as they are very shy and without a longstanding hide in place I wasn't going to hold my breath.  I was right - no show.  Not a complete waste though because one or two marsh tits were calling in, so I moved in close and tried to find a vaguely pretty twig for them to perch on.  The twig didn't work out so well but the birds did drop by.  One to revisit with better props.

Wandering back to the house for lunch - and one of our new residents effectively gave me the finger! 
I've kept the feeding stations going in the woods, and visited one a few times to see what is showing.  I'm trying a bit harder with perches and background this year, but the site is not brilliant for varied photography - just a small space so blurring out the background is a challenge and I end up with close up shots the whole time.  Some of the props looked less good in the snaps than they did in the hand - bit leprous really.  The siskin in the first shot used a 'natural' fallen branch I've since trimmed out, but maddeningly nothing is using my alternatives.

Far fewer redpoll this year - in fact I haven't seen any the last few weeks, but siskin numbers are picking up and fingers crossed for hawfinch in the next month or two. 

I made a little drinking puddle which the chaffinches and siskins at least are using, so maybe a bigger one in the summer will be worth a try.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Flooded Owls

It seems a bit insensitive to put up a post about going to watch a flood at present, but the owls of Aust Warth are an attraction at the best of times, and I couldn't resist a visit.  I wasn't the only one hoping for some close views - like this snap from a couple of years ago.

Usually the terrain where they roost and hunt is a grassy salt marsh, .......

but a few times in the year a really high tide drowns the marsh, and even the road goes more than welly deep (I know mine were nearly overtopped as I tried to get just one more shot!). 

At first the water seems to rise quite slowly , but the shallow gradient means it soon sweeps in.  The mipits found branches to perch on as did the crows ...........

- but they had an ulterior motive.  As the water comes in the voles that inhabit the land can be seen swimming at full speed inland, and the birds pick them off, chased by the gulls.
I had hoped to get some shots of the other inhabitants flushed out, and one or two owls did show, but sadly not as close as on other occasions.
In hindsight I missed the shot here - really I needed more foreground to show the scene properly.  I still tend to see the shot after my first visit somewhere rather than during.