Saturday, March 27, 2010
I decided this week to turn my lunch hour camera outings towards trying to photograph some dippers. This decision was made to do this now because the stream where they live becomes heavily shaded once the trees burst in to leaf. The lunch hour sessions provide a very relaxing break in the middle of stressful days but can on occasions also prove very frustrating due to the limited time available. Most typically the clouds will part and the light will come good or I will just find the bird I am seeking as I need to head back to the office.
The first 60 minutes out looking for dippers on the local stream was productive as I managed to locate two nesting pairs. However, the light conditions were not great on either of my two visits.
One of the moss nest balls was not difficult to find as it was fully in the open and had somehow been created, about 7ft above the stream, on a concrete wall. What exactly was keeping it in position on an apparently flat vertical surface remains a mystery.
Dippers are really fun birds to photograph but can be tricky to approach which is not ideal when you are time limited. A great deal of pleasure can be derived from just watching their antics be it bobbing up and down on a rock in the middle of a stream to plunging completely underwater or just wandering around in shallow areas with their head submerged. The couple of brief sessions this week have mainly been geared towards observations and getting some portrait photos on to the memory card.
There are a couple of points to watch out for if you ever find yourself with a dipper in front of your camera. Their breast feathers are incredibly bright white so very careful camera exposure setting is essential to save ‘burning out’ any detail. The other key point is you need to take a good number of photos as a good proportion will be heading directly to the waste bin due to the very frequent blinking of these birds with their prominent white eyelids. The final point is to think about your positioning carefully in terms of achieving a good setting and background. Dipper photos can easily be ruined by a hailstorm of bright specular highlights bouncing back of the tumbling stream waters they inhabit.
A bit of warm up exercises before taking the plunge.
I am planning to spend a bit of lunchtime with the birds over the next couple of weeks which will hopefully produce some swimming and feeding photos under some better light conditions.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Under a sky filled with spring sunshine I recently took a trip to the local Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Centre at Martin Mere. This is always a relaxing break from my usual wildlife photography pursuits with no early alarm and bleary eyes, no crawling through mud, lurking for long periods in the undergrowth or being a dining table for mosquitoes.
A winter or spring visit to 'The Mere' is always productive due to the large numbers of wild waterfowl that take up winter residence. I started my session with a wander around the captive bird enclosures which offers the opportunity to photograph some interesting and beautiful birds and also often offers a bonus as I will shortly reveal!
Here is a small selection of some of the captive birds and they do not come much more colourful than the Wood Duck.
I am always fascinated by the beautiful rainbows hues on their iridescent heads.
The striking black and white patterns of a captive drake Smew.
My final captive bird was the Australian Black Swan which caught my eye as it sat peacefully on calm golden water.
If you are photographing captive birds or animals then please do not try to pass them off as anything else. I have no problems with photography in zoos or waterfowl collections as they not only provide great camera practice but can also really test your skills. However, I have seen photographs of the captive Goldeneye at Martin Mere, a difficult shy species to photograph in the wild, being claimed as non-captive. This is not only misleading but really undermines the significant efforts and patience it takes to get photographs of the wild ones. A good example of the problems such mis-labelling can cause was well demonstrated in last year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.
The main reason I always check the captive enclosures, apart from simply being good fun, is that the free food handouts also attract wild birds. It became quickly obvious the large numbers of wild Shelduck were present amongst the captive birds and so busy in courtship that they were relatively oblivious to the passing human traffic. By this time the sun was high and bright and difficult exposure conditions for photographing these birds. Only mad dogs and Englishmen photograph Shelduck under the midday sun.
I moved over to the 'wild side' where a number of hides overlook the mere that attracts diverse and dense populations of wilds ducks, geese and Whooper swans during the winter months. I often find bird hides slightly frustrating, as you are often forced to shoot from a slightly elevated position whereas I prefer to be at water level when photographing waterfowl. If only they would cut some hide slots low down!
I began with the elegant shape of a drake Pintail.
My main target species for the session were the drake Wigeon which I have not photographed for a while and were in wonderful condition.
While photographing the Wigeon, a Coot came running across the water in front of me in pursuit of another bird. I managed to capture the sequence of which this was my favourite image in terms of wing and leg positions.
Overall a fun and relaxing session which recharged the batteries for the busy spring period ahead.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
It would be difficult to let the month of March pass-by without a post dedicated to brown hares. They are a symbolic with the start of spring. As you may already know I have a strong passion for photographing these wonderful and apparently 'eccentric' animals. The more time I spend with them, particularly at close quarters, the greater the fascination becomes. I have over the past three years accumulated a large library of hare photos but those wild staring orange eyes always draw me back for more. For those of you who have not experienced hares and think they are just a 'rabbit' then I urge you to take some time to find some in your local countryside and your opinion will soon be swayed. If you sit quietly and still you may be surprised on occasions how close they will approach which is always a special moment. My closest encounter was having one sniffing my boot!
I have spent some time recently taking some hare photos for this post. An early start is essential for the hare photographer. They can on occasions apear quiet at first light, as if waiting for the day to warm a little.
You can see by the dilated pupils that this photo was taken in low light before the sun headed up over the horizon.
The rising sun seems to stir them into action but the activity can be quite short-lived before they appear to vanish once more in to the landscape. This is a hare back-lit with the first sun of the day.
A brown hare looking as if it has been up to mischief turned orange but the early morning light.
Running around in the road which fortunately has very little traffic as it would be very sad to one as road kill.
On you marks...get set...
and go... a hare at full speed is a good test for both camera and photographer.
One more in 'flight' to finish the post.
If the weather is kind this weekend, set your alarm clock for unreasonably early, head forth in to the countryside and hopefully you will have a good hare day.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
One of the great joys of photographing birds is the diversity of species that may be encountered nearly anywhere. I am fortunate of living in easy access to a wide range of habitats, from hills to farmland through to woodlands and coast, that in turn support a varied bird fauna. I thought I would put together a compilation of recent photographs taken in a wide range of situations with a bit of background on how the photographs were achieved.
Starting with woodlands, a well placed feeding station can attract a wide diversity of birds, particularly during the cold winter months when the small birds have a need to supplement their energy supplies. The setting up of a feeding station requires careful consideration in terms of light direction, placement of perches and the hide but the results can be very productive. The Blue Tit is a common bird but shows some stunning colours in Spring plumage.
It is difficult to dislike Long-tail tits with the unique shape and colours and comical antics. They usually descend to a feeding station in groups but can be quite difficult to photograph.
A common woodland feeding station visitor is the Nuthatch which can usually be heard long before they arrive with there almost electronic sounding call.
Moving across to the Farmland habitat, the office where I work is surrounded by fields and currently hundreds of bleating lambs. The are a number of birds that are resident that allows me to undertake short sessions during my lunch hour. These include a large mixed flock of rooks and jackdaws and the occasional buzzard.
The opportunities to photograph the wary buzzard are seldom but a joy when they happen.
Photographing rooks under the lunchtime sun presents some tricky exposure issues.
A Jackdaw taking carefully landing on a fence post.
Moving down to my local coastline. A Black-necked grebe was being report as taking of temporary residence on one of the large local marine lakes. It proved a tricky customer to photograph but perseverance won out eventually. I ended up lying on the ground on the lake margin and was fortunate when the bird with the spooky eyes popped up a close range after one of its foraging dives.
I also caught up with the second winter Mediterranean Gull that has been lurking locally for a couple of months. It is rapidly progressing towards full summer plumage. It was not quite in summer colours when I found it and I hope it will stay around for another couple of weeks for the feather transformation to become complete.
I will finish this post with some waders who will be soon heading northwards to their breeding grounds where I hope to catch up with some of them again with a trip I have planned to Arctic Norway in June. The following photos were taken during the recent big spring tides when the birds are forced to take refuge on the local sea defences at high water.
The rare sight of a stationary Sanderling
Resting Ringed Plover
It is not until the light is at the right that you can see where the Purple Sandpiper gets its name.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
When I was at school, in the dim and distant past, we were asked to study Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Only one phrase has stuck with me from that book which is the title of this post about skylarks. Nothing reminds me of my childhood more than skylarks. Lying in the long grass on a sunny afternoon fascinated by the these small birds ascending to such a great height in a cloudless sky while their beautiful liquid song descends. My apologies I was getting a bit lyrical there but I am not the first to be so inspired by these beautiful birds.
My fascination with skylarks all these years later is no less diminished and now when the first image is captured on the memory card it signals to me that Spring has begun. I am fortunate to have a good population of these birds along the local coast and March is my favourite month to photograph them before the vegetation gets too long. As I walked to the site where I usually photograph them a smiled was raised by hearing that characteristics song overhead. Being a ground dwelling bird they are not one that is found perched in trees but they do have a fondness for sitting on fence posts.
In a more natural setting there excellent camouflage comes in to play and they can be quite tricky to spot.
By slowly and carefully crawling in to position I managed a low angle and to get in close proximity to a couple of birds and it is always a great pleasure to be in their company.
By opening up the lens aperture, the resulting shallow depth of field can turn the surrounding vegetation in to a mist of colour that is useful for drawing attention to the subject.
Hopefully I will get opportunity to have another session with skylarks before my attention is diverted by the arrival of the spring migrants. The first of the Northern Wheatear should be arriving in the next few days if they are keeping to their usual annual timetable.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
The title of this post is not the name of the local pub but I thought I would show some recent photos of mammals to make a change from the birds. My attention is just now turning towards Brown Hares as the stirrings of spring are in the air. Nothing lifts the spirits out of their winter hibernation more than the birds bursting back in to song as they call for mates. However, the weather has continued to be cold which has kept the hares hidden away in the hedgerows and so my sightings to date have been few and far between. Hares do not seem to be fond of the cold and hot extremes of weather but then they do not have the benefit of a burrow to retreat to like rabbits. Their home being a shallow depression in the ground that does not offer much protection against the elements.
Will I get the elusive hare 'boxing shot' this year? That is difficult to say given their unpredictable nature and the element of luck necessary in photographing wildlife but I will give it a good try.
It is always good to see and capture the first hare photos of the year and I managed to find a couple in some poor light on a recent frosty morning.
Not quite enough camera shutter speed to freeze this hare in its run past but some blur in the legs can add to a sense of movement.
A close encounter of the best kind.
Moving on to some larger animals, as whilst out photographing some birds recently I came across a group of deer. I am still trying to work out what type of deer these were. My first impressions were that they were all dark coloured fallow deer but wonder if a couple of the group were Sitka deer which are known to inhabit the area. If anyone has any views I would welcome them.
Always good to get some direct eye contact with your subject.
Up close and personnel.
Later in the day a small group lined up to cross a footpath. Fortuately they made the their moves one at a tiime allowing me to get photos of each.