Thursday, January 29, 2009

Slimbridge II - The Wild Bunch

On Sunday I decided to return to Slimbridge by myself, for a bit more serious snapping. There was a 'guided' walk to see the snow bunting on the foreshore. I'm afraid one look at the numbers put me off, even though the views were reported later as excellent. I just don't enjoy those big groups.
At first the light was pretty dire, and the only duck in range were pochard. Exposing for the birds led to shots of them floating ethereally on an near-invisible surface, revealed only by reflections and a hint of ripple. I thought I might get a shot of a shoveller at last, but the light and movement meant this was sadly the best effort.
In the two shots before this it had been snowploughing the water, could have been good shots, but even I have standards below which I won't post!
The wigeon were in better light, grazing away like the little whistling duck-sheep they are...
the canada geese, ....
redshank, .....
and shellduck joined in the fun on the saturated pasture.
Probably the best views though were of the curlew; fluffed up after a squabble
tug-of-war with a worm
synchronised standing
pointing at the sky (I don't think I've ever seen a bird's wings so straight and so vertical - just a shame the head isn't sharp)
and lastly showing just how hard it is to keep clean and tidy with a bill that's down to your waist.
Better quality shots in the 'latest' album HERE

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slimbridge I

I always think of Slimbridge as the sum of two parts. There's what I think of as the commercial bit ,and the 'wild' bit; the zoo and the nature reserve. The main area you first enter contains the pens where the captive birds are, ranging from the exotics to the more common UK birds. We went along on Saturday to enjoy the sun, feed the birds and try out my new lens - I've bought a zoom for the holidays - unless it was a photo holiday there's no way I'd lug around the 300mm on a day out!
The sun brought the chance to capture some close ups of a few captive UK species, as well as the odd wild bird that was enjoying the facilities. It was good to get back to the extra freedom that a zoom lens brings, and by and large I was quite pleased with the lens. Any problems lay with the photographer! For the captives the male eiders were the stars of this show, although I still have a bit of a thing for the goldeneye.As for the wild birds? The first couple show the duck that looks so drab at a distance, so dazzlingly patterned close-up, the Gadwall. Wouldn't a catch-light have made that black headed gull shot. Tiny bit of flash maybe? The backlit bill would still have been there, but would that have removed the shadow? The eye is just so black. The lapwing shots were the best I've had yet of this species, and the background fence just about blurs out enough.
Later we wandered along to the feeding area - each night at 4 pm the wildfowl get a snack, but it seems it's more of a social occasion than anything. The Bewick swans come along, and I even had a bash at some flight shots, despite the fading light. Me and Andy Rouse that is. See I'm moving in exalted company now!! I expect his results were a lot better than mine, although the incoming Bewick wasn't bad. He certainly didn't ask me for any tips.
As always better versions of some of these snaps HERE - click on the 'latest' folder. Hopefully the eiders at least will show well.

Monday, January 26, 2009


The end of January and another Big Garden Birdwatch. A spell of milder weather has seen bird numbers fall away in the last couple of weeks - it's not so long since I looked out the bedroom window and saw 15 blackbirds in the hoar frost.
Still there were a few birds around. It's getting harder to count them and I'm sure I'm down on the chafinches at least. The garden is more mature, more 'bushy' and we have more feeding stations, so you need to be counting in several spots at once.

The starlings came top again, peaking with the first feed of the morning. After that the raiding parties were smaller. Max number of 11 was only half of last years, but we've had more at other times so I think it just reflects other feeding opportunities. It was pleasing that the top 3 this year are all birds that have bred in the garden/house - starling 11, house sparrow 8 and blue tit 7. Also that the first 2 are in the list of declining birds, so we're doing our bit! It was our best year for goldfinch at 5, but the greenfinch were down at 2, compared to 8 last year. The only vaguely unusual bird was a grey wagtail, but the 2 pieds didn't show - Kay said she hasn't seen them for a few weeks now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Wrath of Turdus

There was a promise of sunny spells, and as I planned to be over the bridge anyway I headed back to Marshfield, where there continue to be reports of finch flocks and winter thrushes on the Birding South Gloss website (here). I met Martin Hayes when I was wandering around, and should have thanked him better for keeping this going, especially for us out of towners. As before the birds were around in reasonable quantities, but getting near enough for a snap was more tricky.
Eventually these field canaries and I came to an understanding. I would crouch in the raised field in full view and keep still. They would fly in and out of the hedges ad eventually get the confidence to come close enough for a snap. The background is a bit twiggy, but the yellowhammer is such a cute little thing I can live with that.
However when it came to the winter thrushes the same old problem arose. I am convinced that Turdus the Thrush God has put a hex on me. Even when the buggers come close enough for a snap the camera/lens can't get the focus right. Sit in a tree and 9+ of 10 are ok. Sit in the grass and the lens misses. They don't look too bad at this resolution, but none are pin sharp. And look how close the redwing was. I could understand the fieldfare which was, obviously, more distant. Alright probably less divine intervention than some kind of pre/backfocusing issue which occurs with the camera pointing down and a grassy background. It even happened here last weekend with these local song thrushes from Caldicot Castle. Right, you might look and think - not that bad, but I binned loads. The one on the molehill was the only one at that range in focus. Ok if you fill the frame it works, but not at usual shooting distance. And that redwing was fairly close (for once).
The dunnock and robin at Collister Pill were the same. Sit on a gate and bang, pin sharp. Down in the straw and one of perhaps 20 dunnock in focus, and every single robin blurred.

I've tried all the autofocus options. And yes I've tried manual focus, but the viewfinder on the 400D is so small and crap that my iffy eyesight can't tell if it's sharp. It looks sharp, but I'm worse than the autofocus when I get them on the big screen! I know I'm hard on my kit, as I invariably use a 2x converter on the 300mm lens, but I have to get as close as I can! Maybe Turdus would be appeased if I sacrificed a cat? Pass the antifreeze ....................

As always better images can be seen in the web albums HERE.
Click on latest to see these ones.