Thursday, January 29, 2015

Hanging out the bunting(s)

A weekend trip to Aust to look for any owls flushed out of the saltmarsh by a highish tide proved unproductive.  I didn't even see the stonechats so frequently reported recently, but retreated to Rod's log where the reed buntings were popping in.  The males haven't quite morphed into the full blackheaded version yet.  I knew roughly the picture I wanted - bird and phragmites seed heads - but didn't quite get there.  Still a few more shots for the collection ........... and a sparrow for good measure.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Whooping Cold Bird

I've written before about our local seasonal wetland - the Nedern.  In winter the fields flood and we get an influx of wildfowl - wigeon, tufted duck, shoveller, pintail, teal, shelduck - and waders, especially redshank.  I haven't ever given them the time they deserve but the angles and light can be troublesome and it's hard to find a good viewpoint. 
Last weekend for the first time I went down reasonably early and tucked into some bushes.  The duck were miles away as usual, but the population of mute swan swells beyond the resident pair and a juvenile and adult cruised around playing at mirror imaging.


Wait a sec ...... let's back up.  That bill on the back bird isn't orange.

OK the most contrived title and intro for a post I've probably ever made!  A keen eyed Nedern watcher had spotted a whooper swan, and it had been hanging around for a while.  Although a number of northern swans overwinter in this area, most are the Bewick's which characterise winter at nearby Slimbridge.  So while I'm not a twitcher at all this was too good a chance to miss.

I'd seen the bird a few times walking the dog, but it favoured the far end of the wetland nearest Caerwent village, and relatively difficult to reach so I wasn't too hopeful of closer shots. 
I did 'visualise' one shot (careful - I'll be talking about 'making pictures' next) when I saw it swim across with the village in the background, but didn't have time to swap the set up to allow a bit more space.  I wanted to catch the church and did so but the bloody thing dipped it's head at the crucial point!

I did manage a few closer shots when it drifted nearer briefly but it was bit shy and I didn't have a hide. 
After it disappeared for a while round the corner I decided to call it a day.  Had just stood up when I heard the instantly recognisable sound of a swan taking off.  It came into view flying low and I tried to grab some shots by handholding a 600mm lens attached to a folded tripod!  This looks ok at this resolution, but isn't one to blow up I'm afraid.

My big treat this summer is a photography trip to Iceland, and I may even see this swan again then.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Last Post (this year!)

Time seems to have slipped away at the tail end of 2014.  My memory is of a succession of wet weeks which meant little chance of snapping, and then we had a longer break in Florida which didn't see a lot of camera action really, but plenty of fishing.  Maybe I shouldn't even mention that in a wildlife blog.  There weren't really any new subjects, but a couple of okay snaps.
It's only the last week or two that I've got out again.  Back to the 2 woods where the feeding station activity is starting to pick up and to a reminder of just how awkward the light can be.  The following shots were taken over the course of a couple of hours showing the spotlight effect dappled light can have, lighting the subject, the background, both or neither.

At the end of that session I was wandering away when I almost literally stumbled over a late mushroom, one I haven't seen before.  I had missed the first phase and so the cap had been eaten away by insects leaving the phallic 'skeleton'.  I had with me only my 300mm lens complete with x2 converter, but I thought I'd have a go at getting some snaps. The sun was quite well down so the light was quite warm, but then it died lending a blue cast to the final images - I've tweaked the white balance on a few to warm them up a bit.  As you scroll down you will see how I (slowly) improved the background, stray twigs, etc.  Getting better at close up snaps will be an aim for next year - I need to develop a different way of working.  You will also see how the light affected the background - at first highlighting intrusive paler elements, then the whole in a patchy pattern and finally a diffuse blur.

To end, a few first goes at the pair of jays now visiting my closer woodland.  Bigger birds mean it's hard to get a good depth of field.  I like the one of it drinking, and hope to try some different angles on this with a remote trigger.  That though means time which remains in quite short supply these days.

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.