Image of the month : March 2018

Fieldfare 000325

Fieldfare 000325

Canon EOS 7D mark II, EF 500mm f/4.0L IS USM II, f/8, 1/200, ISO-640, tripod, hide

Bit late this month, as is usually the case!

It snowed last Friday, and the garden was temporarily transformed. On Sunday, the rains came and all the snow was soon gone So, I only had Saturday to get any shots of birds in the snow.

The snow makes everything look incredibly bright to the human eye. Not so to the camera. A look through the viewfinder and a spot meter reading on one of my reference points, a neighbours red brick chimney, (which is about one half of a stop or so brighter than mid-tone), revealed pretty dull light. So I had to increase my ISO in order to increase my shutter speed for my preferred f/8 aperture. The light hardly got any brighter all day. And many shots were ruined by subject movement, due to slow shutter speeds.

The snow brought with it an influx of Redwings and Fieldfares, (and Goldfinches, more of them another time), who proceeded to strip every berry bush, ivy plant and tree in the district of the few remaining berries they had. Then, they descended on my garden. Unfortunately, I was set up for Goldfinches, and didn’t have any apples out. Nevertheless, they came down and started to eat the sunflower seeds. Needs must I suppose. This one particularly large Fieldfare sat in the snow at the foot of the hide for about 15 minutes and just ate snow!? I presume it was taking fluids from the snow.

Image(s) of the month : February 2018

For all those loving couples out there!

The Mute Swan is reported to mate for life. However, changing of mates does occur infrequently, and swans will re-mate if their partner dies. If a male loses his mate and pairs with a young female, she joins him on his territory.


Canon EOS 7D, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 2.0x II, f/6.3, 1/000, ISO-250, tripod, hide

2017 Garden Bird Photography Part 2

Setting up a basic bird feeding station for garden bird photography.

I will use my back garden as an example, (I like to keep my woodland sites completely private).

I have a large-ish garden, which is laid mainly to lawn. Although large, it’s really not great for bird photography. On the southern side, against the light there are five massive 300 year+ oak trees and five large conifers, so I don’t get much light. Added to that the backgrounds, as you can see in the photograph below are very cluttered and messy. With reflective holly bushes, greenhouses and lots of sky and uPVC windows getting in the way. And there are cats, lots of cats….

Step 1 : Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…

I wish! I spend a fortune on bird seed. A 20kg back of sunflower hearts lasts me about 3 weeks. Anyhow I digress. If you want to photograph small garden / woodland birds in winter you have to feed them.

As I’ve mentioned previously. In my neighbourhood EVERYONE feeds the birds! Which is not a bad thing really, it’s just that sometimes there just aren’t enough birds to go around. So I have to outwit the neighbours by feeding better food, and more of it. I may put out apples, pears, bread, suet, dried fruit, fat, nuts, seed, corn, mealworms, even meat and even open up my precious compost heap to reveal the bugs and worms. That way the birds simply can’t resist stopping by to have a look.

For this basic feeding station in order to attract the birds in the first place I’ve put out nuts, sunflower hearts, (in a squirrel proof feeder), and fat balls. All placed next to a large hedge. Within the hedge there are another two feeders of sunflower seed. I’ve pulled a piece of bramble out from the hedge and pegged it out across the line of where I expect to do my photography. I’m not looking for a huge vista here, just a small matchbox sized spot along the bramble where I will train my lens. This is the spot where I will be trying to get the birds to land, (more about that in another post). The grass and hawthorn hedge beyond will, hopefully give me a clean green / brown, uncluttered background to my image.

Although, I would dearly love to photograph the birds on the bramble, I haven’t as yet been successful in getting the birds to land on it in the garden. I have used bramble as a perch in the woods quite successfully over the years for species such as Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and Dunnock. In my garden however, the birds are just damn fussy and don’t want to land on it. Which is such a shame, especially in Autumn. A bramble branch can be such a colourful prop perch. I will swap the bramble for a crusty lichen covered oak branch or a spade handle for my photography sessions.

The cane on the left hand side of this picture marks the closest focussing distance of my 500mm lens, (just under 4m).


Typically, the feeders will be in place in strategic spots around the garden for several months before I even attempt any photography.

Step 2 : Set up the lens



Here I’ve set up my lens in the position where I will build small lightweight portable hide and focused it on the bramble. In this particular case, I will build my hide against the face of my shed, which will act as a good windbreak, however it does block some of the light behind the hide, which is not great. Unfortunately, in the case of my garden I have to work with what I’ve got, and it’s generally an uphill struggle to get any decent photo’s at all.

I will build the hide around the lens, which will not be moved. This technique is a far cry from the more serious work of setting up a ide on a nest, whereby it may take you two weeks to build the hide at a considerable distance from the nest, and a further two weeks to slowly move it in…. For garden bird photography you can usually get away with a more simplistic approach as the birds are generally far more approachable and are so interested in the food you are offering that you don’t have to be so discrete. Sometimes, I’ve had birds sat on the perches next the bird feeder whilst I am trying to fill it up with seed. However, for Jays and Woodpeckers you may have to leave the hide in place for a few days and then enter and leave in the dark or use an accomplice to get you in and out of your hide. Birds generally can’t count to very high numbers so if you have someone walk with you to the hide, then you get in and they walk away you are generally okay. You can then radio / phone them to get you out of the hide in the reverse order of how you got in. I’ve never had to use this technique in the garden. In the woods I will enter and leave the hide in darkness.

I use an old beer crate as a seat in my hide. Who said wildlife photography was glamorous!?

Step 3 : Build the hide up around the lens


(apologies for the poor image here, the excitement of it all, I couldn’t hold my phone still)





This particular hide canvas used to be a lovely shade of green and brown, the sun has really taken it’s toll over the years.


Inside the hide roof I will add a bamboo cane frame inserted between the top of the aluminium frame and the canvas. This is in order to stop the roof from sagging under the weight of water / ice / snow which will generally collect on top of the hide. I will also tether the fide against the wind and weigh it down with rocks and stones to protect it from the wind and to stop the sides flapping.

In the woods I have a similar hide which is sunk in to a hollow in the ground, and is also covered in camouflage netting. In to this I have added bracken to fully hide the hide. There are a lot of poachers and trespassers in the woods where I go and more than once have I been visited by more than just wildlife whilst using my hide here. I’ve had my hide vandalised, feeders stolen, had shot guns pointed at me etc. In the garden I don’t need to resort to such clandestine methods and it’s not so scary. So no need for the camouflage.


I leave a plastic bottle end sticking out of the hide window when I’m not using the hide so that the birds don’t get spooked when I suddenly change it for a lens with a big piece of reflective glass showing. Currently, my daughter has used the bottle for a school project, so I have to drink another two litres of lemonade to get another one. I have a bespoke one in the woods, covered in camouflage tape to resemble a lens hood.

Below are a few shots taken from this hide set up on the day after I set up this hide. The lighting was overcast and a too little dull for my liking. I’ve not used this part of the garden for photography before and I found this area by the hedge a little too overcast and shady at times so resorted to using fill in flash when the sun came out in order to subtly fill in the darker shadows. I have since moved the hide to another position.

European robin (Erithacus rubecula), perched on tree branch, Wes

Robin 000306

European goldfinch, (Carduelis carduelis), perched on tree branc

Goldfinch 000297

European robin (Erithacus rubecula), perched on spade handle, We

Robin 000300

Image of the month : January 2018



Blackbird 000294

Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EF 500mm f/4L IS II + 1.4x III Extender, f/8 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 800

Taken at low level from my patio doors, (and the comfort of a warm house) over the Christmas period, when we had near white-out conditions on the lawn when viewed at low level. This technique is one of the easiest to try if you fancy having ago! Basically, just sprinkle bird seed all over your lawn and then set up your camera and lens on a bean bag, open the patio doors, drawer the curtains and then poke the camera lens underneath, Of course you either have to have a lawn near your patio doors or a long lens to get a real close up view like this. My focal length in this case was equivalent to 1120mm.

Image of the month : December 2017

Male Pochard 000313

Male Pochard 000313

Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EF 500mm f/4L IS II + 1.4x III Extender, f/5.6 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 250

Upon reflection I decided to refrain from showing the clichéd image of a Christmas Robin and instead show something else that’s seasonal, and much more spectacular.

This drake Pochard was closing and breaking fast. Going from 60mph in flight to sitting on water in a split second is no mean feat, you’ve got to admire them. Getting it centralised in the frame and focused in that time was quite a challenge. I managed to get several frames showing different wing and feet positions, of which this was my favourite.

Image of the month : November 2017


Nursery Web Spider 000014 ( female guarding young in nursery web)

Canon EOS 5D, EF 180mm f/3.5L macro lens, f/11 @ 1/60, ISO 100, tripod

As near to a Halloween theme as I could get; and only a day later.

The Nursery Web Spider is a common spider of grassland and scrub, and is often seen sunbathing amongst Brambles and Stinging Nettles. The adults are active hunters and don’t spin a web to catch food, instead using a quick sprint to capture flies and other insects.

The female carries her large, round egg-sac in her fangs. When the young are about to hatch, she builds a silk sheet among the vegetation to act as a tent, sheltering them until they are old enough to leave on their own.

I photographed this individual low down in the grass in a small meadow within a large expanse of woodland near my home shortly after a light shower, which gave extra clarity to the lovely soft subtle lighting.

Image of the month : October 2017


Blue Tit 000059

Canon EOS 7D, EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 1.4x II, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-200, tripod, hide

Other Blue Tits see the male’s blue crowns differently from how we do. Male Blue Tits have an ultraviolet reflective crown patch which is displayed in courtship by posturing and raising their nape feathers, advertising them to females.

I took this image in my garden, where I have fitted removable fence panels. The lovely green background shown in the image is in fact my neighbours lawn!

This image was published in the Autumn edition of Bird Watching magazine.

2017 Garden Bird Photography Part 1

I’m currently planning my feeding station in the garden, which I run every year to enable me to photograph some of the colourful birds that visit. I’m running a bit late this year as usual due to a having to dismantle a falling down shed, and fear that I’ve already missed the pair of Jays that are currently clearing the acorn crop off the oak trees at the end of the garden.

I usually start feeding in August and put up a hide to get the birds used to it. I tend to start photography in late October for the autumn colour then go right through to late may for spring colour (apple and hawthorn blossom). Add a pool and I could potentially photograph garden birds all year round!

We live in a semi-rural area of what was once near the centre of the great forest of Arden, (more about that another time), in what used to be a village, but now is being slowly swallowed up by encroaching developments, the four or five local villages now form a small town. We used to have farmland within view from our bedroom windows, not anymore however, since another housing estate has just been built locally. Our garden is large, 1/6th of an acre. It was cut out of the surrounding farmland fields eighty three years ago. At the end of my garden there is an 80ft length of ancient hedgerow, (a former field boundary), and four ancient oak trees (lapsed pollards). Half a mile away behind some houses there is a large patch of oak woodland, in the opposite direction behind some more houses is a large park, some allotments and a railway cutting. In another direction there is arable farmland and the M42 motorway.

My garden is laid mainly to lawn, with a few flower borders. I removed all the large conifers and overgrown shrubs when we moved in to let more light in, and am slowly restocking with new wildlife friendly trees and shrubs.

Potentially, my garden can attract a lot of wildlife and has, but sporadically. I’ve counted 46 species of birds in the garden, 16 species of butterfly and 6 species of mammal. Highlights have included: Tawny Owl, Buzzard, Redstart, seven species of finch at the same time, Tree Creeper, Pheasants (a mixed blessing as they cleared all the bird seed in one go, and then came back and did it again; worse than Squirrels), Silver-washed Fritillary, Marbled White, Stoat, Hedgehog and regular fox dens behind the where the old shed was at the end of the garden (always difficult to photograph).

I say sporadically, because there is never a constant flow of birds to the feeders even during the hardest of winters. Why? I think it’s because with so many of my neighbours also feeding the birds during the winter months that the local birds are well fed, fat and happy. Nevertheless, I persevere.


Male Goldfinch 000555



Image of the month : September 2017


Bladderwrack Sea Weed 000033

Canon EOS 1D mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-200, hand-held

I was on a beach trying to photograph gulls in flight, but not having much luck due to shortage in focal length, when I noticed the various patterns formed by the sea weed that had been washed ashore by the tides. I became enthralled, and set about trying to photograph some in the early morning light. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my tripod or a macro lens so used what I had to hand, which was hardly ideal. I got just a few totally sharp images. As for the gulls, there’s always another day.

Bird Fair 2017 haul.


Not a bad Bird Fair.

Managed to find a rare Hannu Hautala book, there was another but the seller wanted £30 and it wasn’t in the good condition, so I didn’t buy. This one is in lovely condition and for only £15, a steal. These books are very hard to find, especially in English.


and added a signed Markus Varesvuo book to my growing collection of books signed by top nature photographers.


I’ve met many over the years, but never seem to have their book with me for signing. Here are a some:-