Monday, December 29, 2008

Bend it like Packham

Although I used to be quite good at learning things, I've never been much of a one for remembering. They're not the same thing. A lot of my life drifts into the past as a series of half-recalled vignettes, maybe remembering what was said, but not who said it, or vice versa. I have a recollection of watching Chris Packham on tv talking about trying to photograph a bird through grass. I think he was trying a camera, but that bit has gone. Anyway, the aim was a kind of arty, hazy shot with a veil of colour superimposed on the standard view. And ... yes it can be done - shooting through things that is. With a telephoto lens you can blur out structures in the foreground. How so? Well I also recall from distant physics lessons that light is wave-like when it wants to be, so in addition to whatever the focusing issues are I guess that plays a part, rather than the camera guessing what is there!
The reason I'm wittering about this is because of trip on Saturday to photograph a bearded tit that has been resident and showing off in South Wales for some weeks now. As it was the holiday season (good will to all men and that) Kay was coming too, so we set off on time ...... for the first day of the Next sale. Still it could have been worse, it might have been shopping at Tesco . Hang on, thinking about it that came later!
To the point. In between shops we met up with Chris Grady to find a sunny day, a co-operative bird and a wind. A gusty wind, which blew the reeds and the bird around like mad. The reeds bent spaghetti like, and stems and seedheads blew across the viewfinder with frustrating frequency and unpredictability, so it seemed that I would be taking Packhamesque snaps whether I liked it or not.
The other issue was focusing - so many shots were lost because the head wasn't in focus.
Or even in view!
This one combined an out of focus head with stems and a seedhead in the way (the dark shading at the top right aspect is the seedhead).
Eventually though I got a few I could live with. The first does have stems in the way, but I still like it and that's what counts. Just call it 'in the style of Packham'. The second and third shots are uncropped showing just how close the bird came at times. Should have taken the macro lens.
Still a good session. If you want to see Chris Grady's shots click HERE (and yes I am envious!).

Sunday saw a solo trip to brave the bitter cold in search of more waxwings, near the Forest of Dean. Again the power of the internet led to me to a single tree in the front garden of a house in the village of Littledean, and 3 waxwings. Sadly the light was even lower than the temperature, so the snaps are a bit rough, and lack the spark of my Lincoln shots. Given the shutter speed on some of these the fact they are in focus at all is actually quite surprising.
Still, better than shopping.
As always better quality shots on the web albums.
Click HERE and then on the 'latest pictures' album.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Moving pictures

I've posted a couple of short videos onto Vimeo. Click the name to see them.

Waxwings and Steppe Grey Shrike.

Not exactly Natural World standard, but just about watchable!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas wishes

Have a Happy Christmas everyone.
Sadly I don't suppose it will look like this!
As the year draws to a close I can look back on the pleasure that a bit more experience and some better quality camera kit can bring. That said, you can't magic the sun to shine from the right direction (if at all), the short eared owls to fly closer or the goldeneye to turn into a wild one! Still I had to include it below as I don't suppose I'll ever get a wild one this close or well lit!

Short eared owl, defying my attempts to get a decent shot. Still what a cracker to watch.
Pintail, captive goldeneye, woodpigeon, jackdaw (if you want to photograph a shy bird go somewhere with lots of people), curlew and wigeon at Slimbridge. You can see the light fading as the pictures go by.
And for any wildlife photographers out there in 2009,
may the eyes be in focus and the catch light just right.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sweeping Up

I'd achieved a everything I'd aimed for in my first 3 days Up North, and was realistic about the likelihood of keeping the run going, but the chance to visit Potteric Carr (tangled tale involving cars being serviced and Kay and her mum going to the Outlet Centre) drew me in. The usual targets of bittern and water rail being joined by the possibility of more waxwings, redpolls (I had no recollection of ever clearly recognising one, incredible though that feels to say) and maybe even a Caspian Gull (whatever that was).
First bird was a bittern, but sadly at longer range than so often here. Flew off the island quite soon and never came closer. From the hide I saw long tailed tits, a wren (rather spoilt by the cornflake), a redpoll (Yeah!) having a drink and a crossbill. Sadly the latter was attached to a robin, rather than being the 'usual' form (you'll need to look at the web album to see this clearly). Maybe they are adapting to the local conifers!
A distant cormorant caught a jack pike and rather impressively did a sort of sword swallowing manoeuvre to down it. I was going to mention deep throat, but this isn't that kind of blog.
Round to the feeding station, and the water rail obliged - they seem to like feeders and are also seen there at Slimbridge, Forest Farm in Cardiff and other wetland sites. This is probably the best way to see them in the open.
The direction of the light at the feeding station isn't ideal for photography, and the cloud closed in. These two shots of reed bunting look better on the web album, with a painterly quality to the colouring. Then a redpoll showed at a horribly awkward angle and straight into the light, so poor picture, but a beautifully coloured bird. Didn't get better view really, and the identification of redpolls seems quite complex, with perhaps 5 forms, but it did have quite a lot of white and I wonder if this is the 'mealy' form.
Round the corner a lesser redpoll fed at some distance, and the trees boasted some attractive fungi - hoof and, I think, birch polypore. Finally candle snuff fungi - shame I hadn't brought the macro lens.
And the Caspian Gull? I was shown it through a scope. A large form of herring gull. Good looking bird, but I guess one for the 'gull-watchers' out there, more than someone like me who sits with a bird book to work out first winter or second winter forms, etc. Maybe if the house overlooked the sea .....
As always better views on the web albums HERE

Friday, December 12, 2008

A bit of Nook(ie)

I've written before about Donna Nook. It's one of the few sites that Kay will come with me to watch wildlife when I have the camera! (Apparently it's boring waiting for too long to get the right shot. And I'm sure it is.) However the grey seals at Donna Nook are sufficiently interesting in their own right that I can snap away to my hearts content, and even with shingles she decided to come along and share the sheer pleasure of watching this amazing spectacle.
This, the 3rd day of the trip Up North was to aim for one other target, plus a 'hope' and a 'long-shot' - if we had time and the light held out.
It's nearly two hours from Rotherham, so by the time we arrived at a field in the middle of nowhere some satisfied punters were already leaving, but confirmed that target species 3 of the trip was still 'showing well'. And it was. A steppe grey shrike. Perched in a few hawthorn bushes in an expanse of featureless fields. God knows how anyone found it! What were they doing there!
A lovely little bird, and very obliging. We were amongst the last to see it - the next day it was gone. The farmer found some feathers and there were fears of predation, but the BTO confirmed they were not SGS, so we can all believe it got fed up with the weather and the photographers and moved on.
Next on to join the crowds at Donna Nook. Although you can sometimes go onto the sandbanks and photograph the seals at eye level against the sea (see Graham Catley's shots HERE - check the blog, there are more, and they are good) even on the days the beach is closed you can still get pretty good views from behind the fences, and despite the numbers of visitors. When we were there the RAF were using the beach for a bit of practice, but the seals were oblivious.
Females relaxing, and occasionally grumping at each other.
Pups everywhere in various shades - some newly born and small, others a little older and already footballs. Bonding could be felt, let alone seen.
Every so often a female would tenderly scratch the pup, an apparent invitation/instruction to have a feed. Once fastened on you don't really see any sign of the pup feeding, but they obviously do! Unlike human babes these have dentition - imagine the nip if this guy got excited! Eye watering.
A few bulls were hanging around.
Newly delivered females wanted nothing to do with them and made this clear.
For the females preparing to head back to sea the advances of the males could appear quite tender, but the reality was that the bull would be gripping the female firmly by the neck. If you look at the business end of the 'embrace' in this first photo on the web album you might see some redness going on indicating that this was indeed a pair inflagrante delicto. Probably not sufficiently clear on the blog.
Here and there a placenta was lying around, and along with the occasional sadly lost pup the magpies and gulls made the most of the recycling opportunity. Including the 'hoped for' target, the robust glaucous gull in the third shot.
Unfortunately from the point we arrived at Donna Nook the light had closed down due to cloud cover, and by 3 p.m. we were on our way home, but not before we saw a zig-zag, duck and dive fly past of 3 birds. Something small and brown pursued relentlessly by a female merlin and a somewhat less agile crow in pursuit of the first 2. My first merlin sighting - too quick, too dull for a picture, but a great way to round off the day.
I didn't bother with the long shot (grey phalarope at Covenham Reservoir), but I was happy after a third good day.

As always better quality versions of the pictures on the web albums HERE,
or you can see a video from some years ago HERE.
But better still, if you can go. It is worth it, even if the beach access is closed. I gather that when it is open there are loads of photographers out there now and wonder how long before they start to restrict it, given the increasing reports of idiots with no fieldcraft disturbing the seals.