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.