Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A season of loaves and fishes

As if a switch had been flicked the local farmers all started to bring in the crops - cut, turn and bale the hay, combine the grain and bale the straw, this week lifting the spuds.  I was walking back from a failed attempt to get some wide-angled shots of the foxes and thought I'd snatch a snap of the baler working into the night, village houses in the background.  An blur of light and dust.
The last time the hay was cut was the first time I had good views of the foxes - 4 at that time.  This time too in one of the fields a fox was out.  I presume there are casualties; voles, maybe even harvest mice although I've never heard tell of any hereabouts.  This evening though the fox just had a wander around and a good stretch.
With Kay away for the weekend I had some plans.  I couldn't travel, but there were still options - wheatear?  Nothing to see down at Black Rock when the dog and I had a look.  What about the buzzard - the stubble and brown earth might make a good backdrop - but no roadkill rabbits to be found on my dawn tour of the likely spots.  So the fallback was the Nedern.

I've written before about the local wetlands.  Some summers the fields dry completely leaving the horses to wander through the bistort.  They'll walk through the water too if needs be but this year there has only been the odd small patch of water left.  Still there have been plenty of egrets and herons about so I set myself up in a chair with a sheet of camo draped over me and my new toy.  I've finally taken the plunge and bought a big lens - in truth probably too big for the job today, but I wanted to try it.

After the first half hour all that had shown was a grey wagtail. 
I knew the herons might be too wary and at least it would be a waiting game, but I suddenly realised I had a visitor on one of the old fence posts.

It caught several sticklebacks in short succession, then, as I knew it would, headed for pastures new.  I grabbed the chance to move my set up forwards and shoved a branch into the bed of the pool.  Fingers crossed - and not for long. First onto the fence post again, but after the first dive onto the branch for the rest of it's stay.  Light wasn't best angle, but I was pleased with the results.
After the last dive it left it's catch on the branch.  In the viewfinder I thought it was a newt, but once home it was clearly a stickleback spiny pelvic fins extended.

I decided to try again later in the day.  I knew I could get better lighting, but it did depend on the bird coming back - which it didn't!  However this time an egret did drop in and filled the viewfinder as it stalked around, sometimes so close I didn't even try moving the lens for fear of scaring it.
To close a grey heron, which was stalking around in the distance, caught something.  I could see it wasn't a stickleback, but it took the big lens and a crop to reveal that it's catch was a reasonable sized eel.

That was the last before the sun went behind the trees.  A good, good day.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Crepuscular activities

It was only when I was sorting out the pics for this post that I realised there was a theme. At first I thought it was 4 legs, to add to the bear trip, but there is a bird or two in there so that doesn't work.  Then it hit me when I was tweaking the white balance for the nth time that all these pictures were taken in the evenings and in the half shadows of twilight.
One opportunity I didn't make the most of was the chance to snap hedgehogs at my friend Robert Jones' garden.  In fact I only made one trip at the time of the longest days when there was most chance of snapping one in real light - I've never been a fan of flash wildlife photography.
The hogs did appear, but mainly too late for the light.  However I did catch this woodmouse with the ears that were more hole than ear, and got a couple of pics of a hog, albeit somewhat obscured by plantain stalks.  He's got some hoglets visiting now but they will definitely need artificial light and I'm not sure I want to risk disrupting their regular visits.

Similarly I could probably have done more with Rich's owls which for the first time ever came out in daylight a few times - just not the nights I was there.  We worked out that it was probably down to a period of several days rain with a big brood in the nestbox and then a clear and dry night - a combination of factors that never came together for me.  Still it's always a treat to see the owls which did still come out - just too late for usable pics.

Walking the dog one evening Kay and I briefly spotted something in the cornfield.  Definitely a head with antlers - had one of the roe deer decided to have a nap in the grain?  I legged it back for the camera and then stood for an hour or so watching the light die and the corn remain unbroken.  Then ..... bingo up popped a head and with it a surprise.  Not the roe deer we had seen earlier in the year but a fallow.
10 minutes later a further surprise as a second head appeared in the crop, with both deer sauntering over to the hedge and starting to browse.  Who'd have guessed - 2 species of deer within a couple of hundred yards of the house.

When we walk the dogs we tend to put a bit of bird food down in set places.  Earlier in the year I'd snapped marsh tit at one of these spots, but as the year had gone by on a couple of occasions Kay had seen a four legged visitor, and not too late in the day either.  So it was time to deploy my new toy!
In the past I have used a remote trigger for the camera, pre-focusing on a branch and hoping a bird arrived in the right place while you watch from the wings (no pun intended), but I had read about a device that moved that a step on.  The WeyeFeye (sounds a bit camp but think 'eye' and you get the right pronunciation!) plugs into the camera and sets up a local wifi signal.  Install an app on your smartphone or a tablet and you have a remote set-up that enables you to control most of the basic camera functions, including the focus point via the live view screenshot.  The only things you can't do are move the camera or zoom, but because the lens can be so much nearer your target you can use a wider angle piece of glass.
Anyway I wandered up one evening, set up the camera - no real attempt at concealment - and retreated behind a nearby hedge.  A weird sensation then followed as I sat there effectively watching a tv screen!  After about 40 minutes a movement and bingo - a fox's head appeared around a clump of grass.  Mind you it took one look / sniff at the camera and turned tail.  I decided to wait it out and just as well as first one then a second young fox appeared.  The light was well gone, they were well aware of the camera, but the lure of some peanuts proved too strong.
Since then we've put out a bit of dog food now and again - they aren't near any houses and few people walk there - and fairly regularly get glimpses, although they shoot off if they see us - just as it should be.  I found a small hole in a hedge where I could tuck in and have spent a few evenings there with a reasonable success rate as you can see.  Most visits start the same way, with a jay calling in for a snack, then a head appears in a hole in the brambles, looking around nervously for a while before coming out for a snack.  I have the camera set on the quiet setting, but there is still some shutter click so I was worried that they would cotton on.  A few times they have  looked straight at the camera, but mostly they are looking elsewhere so obviously they are relaxed enough about me, although the lighter coloured one was quite submissive at times to the other.

 This last - not a view you want if you are a rabbit!
I plan to go back with the weyefeye and see if I can get a better true wide angle shot - if ever we get a decent cloud free evening.  In the same general area I set the trail cam up a bit further into some woodland.  I can see another project coming on .......

although avoiding flash there might be really too tricky.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Finland finale

The trip to Finland had been very much with one target in mind - it was all about bears.  But wildlife doesn't work like that.  At the centre itself there were some feeders and on the first morning I was up and down to the tent hide before breakfast.  The light wasn't great but there were clearly a few visitors worth snapping.  The squirrels weren't at their winter best, but how often do I get to snap red ones.
Looking cute as always I was kicking myself later for blowing this shot - not too bad at this resolution ,but not sharp if you go in. I doubt I'll ever see a red squirrel atop a mushroom again!

Birds -wise I was surprised to see plenty of bullfinches although the siskins were more expected.

Other visitors included the greenfinch, great spotted woodpecker and a thrush.  That had me doing a double take though - up here the thrushes were fieldfares!
In the trees behind the feeding station there was a nest box which it had been noted was in use but no-one had taken a closer look, assuming it was a tit of some kind.  After breakfast the hide was occupied by Brian and Ivor looking for some serious squirrel pics so i had a wander around and then went to look at the nestbox.  When a small bird looked out I got a surprise.

Not a tit, and not a bird I expected to see either. The male appeared shortly afterwards and confirmed the identification.

A bird I'm used to seeing in old oak woodland and here it was amongst firs and birches - a pied flycatcher.  I wasn't close enough for decent pics and although my experience is that they tend to be reasonably tolerant of people I just settled to watch and grab the odd shot I could when they came to have a look at me.

Sadly though I'm not sure they'd have raised a brood as one of the other local birds was taking an unhealthy interest - even though the female was in the box sitting tight.

The male tried his best to drive the woodpecker away, but he was just too small to be anything other than a nuisance.

I expected to spend more time with the squirrels, but events took over.  Paul told us that one of the guides had some hides set up in a wood about 20 minutes away, and for the last 2 days of the trip I spent all day in a hide after spending all night in one.  No wonder I needed a holiday by the time I got back.

The target - this 'car crash' view might give you a clue if you know your birds?

A great grey owl nest - now I won't find one of those in South Wales.  Jari had made this and  numerous other nest sites in the hope one would be used and he had struck lucky.  Mind you the poor female didn't do a lot - various poses as she baked in the heat. 
Twice though on the first day she started calling and looked into the woodland, for the male to come gliding in.  The first time I was caught out and had the wrong set-up but over his two visits I grabbed a couple of snaps including one of him handing over a mouse (on the camera LCD at first I thought it was a chick, but clearly not).

The second day the male didn't show in the hours we were there but the female did stretch her wings briefly.  I thought I'd got a couple of decent flight shots, but I'd underestimated the shutter speed needed and the point where she brought head and feet together before landing meant there was just too much blur.   I got the wingspan wrong too, but never expected the wings to be so far behind her.

Still a great bonus to an already fabulous trip.

If you fancy a chance to snap bears I would heartily recommend Martinselkonen and Natures Images were a good company to go with.  No criticism at all about any aspect of the trip.  Paul Hobson was a good guide and nice guy, and our fellow travellers made it a great trip.  So thanks to Brian, Ivor, Mike and Judy and Dave  - and of course the lovely Kay - who better to share a hide with!

Thanks too to the staff at Martinselkonen.

To close a snap with the pocket camera of the youngster who decided he'd like to share the hides - first ours and then he gave Brian a shock next door!
He was only having a look - no aggression.  Interestingly none of the others showed any interest in us at all.