Image of the month : October 2017

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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.

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Male Goldfinch 000555

 

 

Image of the month : September 2017

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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.

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

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

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Duck Fest 2017 ;O)

Bit early I know, (haven’t even been on holiday yet), but, it’s nearly that time of year again….. I lie, still about three months to go. Who’s counting?

Spent so much time recently going through all the unedited images on my pc, most of which were deleted to free up space on the hard drives, that I am now a blithering wreck pining for winter bird photography. So forgive me for pre empting.

Soon be time to break away from the boring old office and household chores, if only I had my own lake. At this rate think I need to re-lable the site. Duck Photographer.

What is it about ducks? It’s the challenge. These things are fast. Ever seen one go over at top whack. That’ll be 70mph. Try photographing one? In fact, try just getting one in the frame. As for photographing one taking off, well you need to know the signs so that you can predict it, i’m still learning that after 25 years doing it. Take the teal. They go ballistic in a split second without warning.

One wildlife photographer, (with the obligatory beard), once said, it was “old school” and “less arty”! We can’t all follow the crowd doing pay and display photography. I follow my own path doing all the old fashioned stuff my way.

So the below images aren’t artistic, they are old school….

Who cares anyway?

Might never be as good as Makus Varesvuo, or perhaps KK Hui (https://kkhui001.wixsite.com/avian/waterfowl) though, but will keep trying. Unfortunately, Solihull doesn’t have many great duck ponds that don’t face directly in to the sun, and definitely can’t rival Hong Kong or Finland for birdlife, or nightlife come to think of it…

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Male Pintail 000589

Male Pochard 000313

Male Pochard 000313

 

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Pochard 000508

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Pintail 000372 (shame about the ripple on the water behind a trace of another duck taking off)

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Redshank 000671 (pretending to be a duck)

Mallard 000829

Mallard 000829 (forgive me for showing my favourite mallards again)

Wish you all had big A2 monitors like me, the detail in these images is phenomenal, every water droplet and feather in amazing detail. When I took the two scanned images below, (on slide film back in the early 90’s, when low level stuff like this hadn’t even been considered by those who follow the crowd), I was lying down, dead still, flat on my stomach at the side of a pond for such a long time that a passer by came over and kicked me to see if I was still alive! Which was nice!

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Mallard 000004

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Female Mallard 000005

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Male Pochard 000511

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Male Tufted Duck 000955

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Male Pochard 000457

Image of the month : August 2017

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Male Goldfinch 000925

Canon EOS 7D II, EF 500mm f/4L II + 1.4x III, f/8, 1/1000, ISO-200

Taken from my hide at the top of my garden a few winters ago

I see more Goldfinches around my garden at the moment than any other bird. There is always at least one singing from the roof top or one of the trees.

Goldfinches were in decline a few years ago, however regular feeding in gardens up and down the country by millions of householders, (and possibly mild winters), has meant that this species has staged a big comeback, and is definitely one of the most numerous birds to be seen in gardens. As for Chaffinches and Greenfinches, in my garden, they are very seldom seen.

Image of the month : July 2017

I’ve decided to share a favourite image each month. Other nature photographers do it routinely, so I though why not, and besides, it gives me enjoyment sharing my work and I enjoy thinking of interesting things to write about; it keeps the mind active.

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Drake Pintail Duck 000774

Canon EOS 7D II, EF 500mm f/4L II + 1.4x III, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-400

Bit of a bizarre choice for July, but well, the other day I was craving to do some action photography with ducks in flight and couldn’t, due to it being high summer and 9pm at night. So I ended up trawling through my images on Light room, remembering the days….

I remember this one well, usually the ducks fly past the hide from right to left, but this particular male flew straight at the hide, before quickly veering off to my left at the moment of capture. The image may look static to the uniformed viewer, however, this duck was absolutely flat out, probably doing 50 or 60mph and turning. My camera locked on and I managed a 3 frame burst, before he was out of frame and gone… All three frame were pin sharp.

Other images taken during that period were a couple of birds of prey. Now we all know how fast Peregrines fly? My camera nailed one flying past at top speed. The capability of modern autofocus systems defies belief.

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Peregrine 001024

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Buzzard 000984

Maybe it should be “Images of the month”!?

Wow, roll on Winter!!!

Make a plan.

April to August are busy times of the year for the nature photographer. With gardens, hedgerows, woodland and grassland literally buzzing with life. Whether it’s wildflowers or insects for the macro photographer, seabird colonies for the bird photographer or baby foxes for the mammal photographer there is something on offer for all during the spring and summer months.

The trouble is knowing where to start first. In order to concentrate the mind it’s always a good idea to sit down just after Christmas and make a plan for the forthcoming years nature photography, that’s if you have time, as you’ll probably be snowed under processing your latest winter wildfowl, or winter Robin pictures. It doesn’t have to be anything grand, a simple list will do. Then you can plan your photography around this list for the forthcoming year, and anything you failed to achieve or want to improve on can be added to next year’s list.

A simple yearly nature photography project plan could be based around the seasons, the months or target species. I tend to photograph birds in the late Autumn, winter and spring; then wild flowers and insects in the spring and summer months before moving on to fungi, and autumn colour. I used to photograph Red grouse and Puffins in the Summer months followed by deer rutting and Grey Seals during the Autumn; however the growing popularity of Nature Photography nowadays has lead to many of the sites that I used to frequent being overwhelmed by many, many telephoto wielding photographers with little respect for field craft and ethics. So I follow my own path these days, and my images are unique because of it.

So one of my typical year plans (which actually spanned over a couple of years, when all was said and done) went something like this, and these were the favourite images obtained from these simple projects that I set myself.

January – February; Winter Wildfowl in flight, landing.

Locations: WWT Reserves / local parks and reservoirs

March – April : Woodland Flowers

Locations : Private woodland / Wildlife trust reserves / country lanes

May – September : Butterflies & Insects

Locations : Wildlife trust reserves // garden

 

October – December : Garden Birds

Location: Garden

 

Over Christmas period : Robins

Location : Garden

This year my plan didn’t really get going until late June. So it merely consists of the following small projects to see me through to Christmas. I will try to concentrate solely on these subjects, and try not to be side tracked, (which I usually am).

July : Butterflies

August: Dragonflies (maybe? Probably not, too busy doing boring stuff)

September: November: Fungi and Autumn Colour

November: Grey Squirrel and Jay collecting Acorns

December: Garden Birds (note to self, repair hide)

 

 

National Meadows Day

One from the weekend. Saturday 1st of July 2017 was National Meadows Day in the UK. I couldn’t make Saturday, but was able to venture out first thing on Sunday morning and was lucky enough despite the strong breeze to capture a whole series of this Small Skipper Butterfly nectaring on a Common Knapweed flower at a local nature reserve.

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Small Skipper Butterfly 001189

One of my favourite Bloggers!

Although I don’t have much time for my own Blog I do try and find a little bit of spare time each week, usually during my 10 minute lunch break at for to read some of the posts of “Ragged Robin” (http://raggedrobinsnaturenotes.blogspot.co.uk), who appears to be a retired lady who travels around my local area visiting local towns, villages, churches, festivals, gardens, going on long country walks and generally enjoying life, living in the countryside. It must be lovely to have all that free time.

Ragged Robin, like me is mad about local history, and again, like me is very much walking in the footsteps of Edith Holden, who wrote her Country Diary (of an Edwardian Lady) and Nature Notes in the early part of the 20th century.

I very much tread in the footsteps of Edith Holden, as I was raised and still live slap bang in the middle of the area that she frequented the most, around Widney / Knowle / Dorridge and Packwood. I’ve had hides, for bird photography, in the very wood she mentions collecting flowers in in her book. I also photograph wildflowers and insects in some of the meadows that she visited all those years ago.

My house was built on some of the farmland mentioned in her book, near the River Blythe. At the end of my garden are several large veteran Oak trees. It would be nice to think that maybe after a long day hot summer’s collecting flower specimens in the buttercup filled meadows that would have been all around the area where I live, (we still have a couple that flower every year), Edith would sit beneath these trees to catch her breath in cool shade of the luscious green Oaks. before her long cycle home to Olton to paint the flora that she had collected.

Back to Ragged Robin. I thoroughly enjoy reading her posts, as they open my eyes to all the amazing local heritage and natural history that is literally on my doorstep.