Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Last week I had to take a journey down south for a couple of days with the rather grim task of attending a funeral. To ease the sad occasion I decided to take my camera so that I could fit in a short morning session on the following day. I did some research on the Internet to see what could be found in the locality of where I was staying and came up with a very ambitious plan to try and photograph three new bird species. I will describe this session over two Blog posts.
The first species on the 'hit list' is a bird that I have longed to see and wanted to photograph, the Dartford Warbler. A scarce bird at the northern limit of its range that does not suffer harsh winters well and the UK has just had its coldest in 30 years. Dartford Warblers inhabit areas of heathland and usually reside in gorse bushes so that is where I decided to concentrate my searching.
5:30am found me stood in a slightly raised carpark overlooking a valley of heath land. A stunningly beautiful morning. The air was still with a little mist and frost in the valley, the sky turning orange with the rising sun and the only sounds to draw the attention being the dawn chorus of birdsong. 20 minutes later and I had crossed the valley and reached the area I intended to search for the birds. I was met by acres upon acres of gorse bushes which dented my confidence on finding this shy and skulking species. It was time to start listening hard for warbler song, which to my joy I heard and almost at the same time saw a small dark bird flutter between two bushes. I had found one. The bird was regularly popping up on top of a few selected bushes
I quietly and slowly moved position to another well used perch to try and get more blue in the sky for a background.
I wanted to finish off with trying to get some plain coloured backgrounds on the photos. The heathland vegetation can create some wonderful coloured backgrounds. To achieve this I need to be at a higher angle and stood by a tall gorse bush in camo gear next to another perching area.
One last photograph of this songster in the early morning light. His singing efforts paid off as a female bird appeared signalling it was time for me to slip quietly away and leave them to their spring courtship.
It was only 8am as I made my way back across the valley to the car wearing a broad smile with the first and most difficult part of my plan complete. It was time to move on to the next site to try and photograph the other two new species.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
A French title seemed appropriate for this post as it is dedicated to the Red-Legged Partridge. This is not a native UK bird but originally imported from France for hunting but has been here long enough to be considered a normal part of the countryside. They are quite wary birds and not one I have had opportunity to photograph much before. The usual sight of the bird is of its rear end as it runs off in to the distance. They are very beautiful birds and worthwhile putting in some effort to try and photograph. I recently found a pair of birds while checking out a cemetery and have put in a bit of time recently trying to get a few photographs.
The first encounter was early one morning as the birds were moving through dew soaked grass.
The next sighting of the birds was several days later where both perched on top of some gravestones.
The final encounter to date was late one evening as the birds were steadily moving across a field.
A stunningly coloured male bird.
and the female
The rapidly sinking sun then broke through and the rare sight of a stationary partridge.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
It has been an odd spring locally for the influx of migrants after our very cold winter. Back in March it looked liked everything was going to arrive a bit earlier than usual and then there seemed to be lull as the winds shifted to north-westlies. It has only been in the last couple of days that the birds seem to be on the move again, so I popped out at first light yesterday morning hoping to try and find some grasshopper warbler. I must admit I failed on that quest and the usual bramble bushes they inhabit were eerily forlorn and deserted. The only migrant I did find was some Chiffchaffs so spent a while with them taking photographs. They are not the most visually interesting birds and while they lack the looks you certainly have to admire such a tiny bird making that epic voyage back and forth to Africa. They are tricky birds to photograph as they tend to be either in the tops of the trees or deep in the undergrowth. Fortunately the very slow spring progress of tree foilage helped in their photography.
Given the general lack of migrants to photograph I decided to see what resident birds could be found for the camera.
Nearby a dunnock was taking in some early morning sun.
Coots were battling it out amongst themselves on the local pond.
Together with Little Grebes bobbing around and occasionally uttering their strange calls.
and a lone cormorant looking for some fish breakfast.
Another cormorant was encountered flying close to the water along the sea wall that borders the area of scrub, ponds and reedbeds I was searching. This was an adult bird in breeding colours showing the white thigh patch they develop.
A further fly-by, but below the Icelandic volcanic ash level, was made by one of the resident Little Egrets.
A lone Mistle thrush was busy listening to the ground for eathworms below.
A patient female Kestrel waited for that rustle in the undergrowth signalling the arrival of a breakfast rodent.
So despite the lack of spring migrants, my search for resident birds and watching them going about the daily early morning routines provided some comfort that prehaps things were not as odd as they appear.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
If you asked someone to think of a very colourful bird in the UK, I expect many would give the answer of a kingfisher with its contrasting electric blue wings and back and orange breast. I suspect you would get many fewer replies nominating a pheasant but they really are spectacular birds, partcularly at this time of year when the technicolour plumage is in top condition. Locally we have several colour varieties which includes the standard type which comes with and without a white neck ring and the even more colourful Green Pheasant.
They are quite tricky birds to frame with the camera given their long tail and I usually find I need to position myself at a reasonable distance, especially when expecting some action.
Another good reason for photographing pheasant at this time of year is that they will be routinely bursting in to their explosive wing flapping calls. It takes a bit of patient but if you stay with a pheasant long enough you will normally be rewarded with this display.
The energy that is put in to the call by the males is amazing and the sheer effort is visible.
So next time you spot a pheasant, take some time to stop and study it amazing colours in more detail as they really too beautful to be overlooked. Hopefully if you are fortunate you will also get chance to see the male in his full wing flapping glory.
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Last weekend I took a trip with Dawn up to Blackpool Zoo for the first time. I am not sure why I have not visited before but it is probably due to having the excellent Chester Zoo just down the road. It was a a wonderful spring day with clear skies overhead but not ideal for photography with some intense harsh sunlight. My preferred conditions for zoo trips are bright days with white cloud above which acts like a large diffuser and removes the problems caused by high contrast. I also find zoo trips most productive when I go alone as I can make several circuits of the zoo which gives increased opportunity to photograph animals that were not showing on the first lap, allows you to spend an extended time with a particular animal and means you can visit particular areas when the light is in optimal position for different enclosures. On this trip I just packed the 300mm lens and just took a few photos while wandering around. Generally a zoom lens is much better at zoos as the flexibility in focal length is a handy feature for dealing with different enclosures.
I will start off with an animal that I have not seen or photographed before. I was really constrained by the enclosure particularly given that their long claws had scratched a broad band of the perspex that I was shooting through. So apologies for it not being that good a photo.
In the beginning there was a word...and the word was Aardvark.
Photographing animals in zoos tends to produce quite a lot of static portraits so I was pleased to find this Red-necked Wallaby springing around its enclosure.
An inquisitive animal which seems to be present in most UK zoos the Oriental Short-clawed Otter.
Moving across to the big cats which are always very photogenic. These two photographs show how getting some action, even as in this case if it is just a yawn, can make the image that more interesting.
A standard portrait of an African Lioness
and in mid-yawn
I never fail to be amazed by the sheer size and power of an Amur Tiger they are very impressive and beautiful animals. Sadly also highly threatened in the wild and in this Year of the Tiger I would urge you to try and support conservation groups that are trying to prevent their extinction. A world without tigers would be a very sad one.
I also photographed a few birds on the circuit around the zoo that included a Night heron, Eastern White Pelican, some free range Peacocks which are difficult to resist with their dazzling colours and African Spoonbill.
Finishing off with a couple of photographs from the reptile collection which proved a struggle due to the lack of available light.
The lurking eyes of a Yacare Caiman
If you ever find yourself out an about in North America and looking at one of these at this distance then its time to take a sharp exit!. An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.