Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bushy Birds

This post follows on from my previous one. During my visit to Bushy Park and whilst wandering around looking for the deer I came across a few birds to photograph. The first images provide a good link back to the last post as it shows some symbiosis between a red deer and jackdaws. Symbiosis is the mutually beneficial relationship between two different types of organisms. In this case the deer benefits from having skin parasites (such as ticks) removed, whilst the birds are gaining a easy snack. As you can see from the photos the female deer is very relaxed and oblivious to the birds foraging on her head.
I also took a few moments to take a few flight photographs of the Jackdaws, although decided to give up quite quickly as the birds were still going through moult and not looking at their best.
Another bird species which I always keep my eye out for when in the London parks is the Egyptian Goose. This species is generally restricted to the south-east corner of the UK and so not a species I can photography locally at home. These feral populations may not be native but they are a very attractive bird.
Up close and personal.
With the adult goose in the photograph above were two goslings. By sitting still and letting the birds make their way along the lake bank to my position I was soon getting full frame images of the youngsters.
How does the song go...'walk like an Egyptian'.
The other non-native birds I always keep a look out for are the Ringed Necked Parakeets. However, these colourful and noisy birds were sticking to the tops of trees during the session except for one bird which was perched on a old decaying trunk.
Grey herons are a species with a large 'circle of fear' and are not normally easily approached. For example, the herons on my local coast will often start walking away or take flight when a person gets within 75 metres. The 'circle of fear' for the urban park herons is significantly reduced through daily exposure to park visitors. I spotted a heron fishing in a small channel that ran along one side of the car park and which proved to be typically approachable.
After a while the bird stepped out of the channel and immediately was mobbed by two crows which caused the heron to raise its 'hackles' in defensive posture.
Hopefully from these last two blog posts you can see that the Royal London Parks, although not particularly challenging in terms of photography, can be very productive, good fun and ideal for a short visit.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Capital Deer

I was visiting London during June and found time to spend a couple of hours with the camera in Bushy Park. These expansive parks on the outskirts of the capital are often very productive for wildlife photography and usually I will come away with a good selection of images of both the bird life and the herds of fallow and red deer.

The parks are ideally suited for a quick visit as the wildlife are accustomed to the large number of visitors and so generally more approachable. My session did not coincide with the best time of year, which is about now, when the deer are spectacular as they go through the motions of their annual rut. If you decide you want to go and watch or photograph the rutting deer, then some caution is necessary with the stags. These are large powerful animals with an overdose of testosterone coursing through their bodies which make them both less predictable and potentially dangerous. However, the rut is an event that is worth taking the effort to go and see. The sight of a large bellowing male stomping through the bracken in the early morning, before engaging in a head-on battle of strength with a rival stag, is a memorable sight. The parks look beautiful at this time of year as the bracken and trees change colour in the softer light of autumn.

During my visit the situation was much calmer with the deer gently grazing across the parkland wilderness. I started off the photography with some shots of Fallow Deer running. This herd shows a wide variety of colours from white spots on red, pure white and very dark brown.
At this time of year the bracken that forms large clumps across the park is high and allows for some photos of head and shoulders, when combined with a shallow depth of field, emerging from the mist of foliage.
I found this large Reed Deer stag moving through the bracken. This would be classed as a Royal Stag as it had twelve points to its antlers.
Whilst going through the images I decided for a change that I would convert some to black and white. Deer seem to be one of those species that always look good in monochrome. So below is a selection of photos of both Fallow and Red Deer.
At this time of year the antlers are covered in velvet which is shed in advance of the rut to create the jousting weapons for the clashes between rival males.
A younger stag giving me the stare. I think its probably these younger stags that present more danger to onlookers in the rutting period, as it was one such animal that showed some aggressive posturing towards me during an autumn visit. Needless to say I backed slowly away!
To finish off this post a Red Deer doe and huge stag amongst the bracken.
I hope this has inspired you to go and watch a rut this autumn if there are deer herds in your local area but please proceed with caution and as always respect the animals.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Southbound for the Winter

I popped out the other day for a brief session along the local coast. It was one of those outings where I did not have a particular target species in my sights and so it was just a general walk around to see what could be encountered. On my local coast there are usually some birds around to photograph, particularly waders, as long as you make your visit at the right state of tide. Also given that its autumn you never know what southbound migrants you may stumble upon.

As I wandered along the concrete embankment that forms the sea defences, I bumped in to one of the local birdwatchers and we chatted for a while to see if he had come across any interesting birds recently. As we talked, a movement further along the wall caught my attention as a North Wheatear landed. A feathered cue that it was time for some photography :).
The birds were looking tidy in the warm colours of their fresh autumn plumage. However, I think I still prefer the colours of the spring birds, which really add a splash of much need colour to the still dormant landscape, when they first arrive locally in mid-March.
The attractive patterns created by the rear view of a male bird.
As the sun broke through the clouds four more birds arrived. The burnt orange colour of the birds glowed in the late afternoon sun as they temporarily paused on the southward journey to Africa.
The concrete sea defence structures appear to offer them a temporary substitute, and probably a reminder of their rocky upland habit that they had recently left. They would occasionally drop down to snatch another passing insect.
Given the birds seemed so relaxed, I decided to try and see if I could crawl up close to a bird that landed nearby on the concrete embankment. After a slow a careful commando crawl, much to the bemusement of the local passing walkers, I was up very close to the bird with a nice low shooting angle.
Whilst photographing this bird at close quarters, I noticed it had what appeared to be a small piece of 'mud' stuck to its lower bill. However, on examining the photos on my return home it turned out to be a small beetle, a stowaway on a free trip south.

Wishing these birds safe passage on their long arduous journey ahead. I would like to think that maybe our paths may cross again when they will be travelling back through the area next spring.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Plan W - Session 2

This is a continuation from my previous Whinchat Post (which can be found here). I was really looking forward to this session as the majority of my first visit had been spent finding the birds. It was a grey and overcast as I left the house before dawn but the forecast looked promising and conditions were brightening just as I arrived on this upland moor. The site I had located was next to the road which allowed me to photograph from the comfort of the mobile Nissan hide. When I arrived both birds were away foraging so I waited until they both returned to their perches close to the nesting site before pulling in to position. This would allow them to see me slowly approach rather than finding a strange object near to the nest when they returned. They both, particularly the female, spent a few moments checking out the arrival of this strange new object in their landscape.
Having decided I did not seem to be presenting any threat, both birds then quickly continued with their feeding duties of a demanding brood. I never went to view the nest but assumed they were rapidly growing by the frequency of feeding. The breakfast menu for the day was the occasional fly and caterpillars.
In fact lots of caterpillars..
The female bird appeared to be doing the majority of the work foraging as the male was otherwise preoccupied defending the territory and their food supply from the numerous Meadow Pipits. This photo is of the male on lookout duty for invading Meadow Pipits. I took this photo as a wider angled shot to show the bird amongst the wonderful range of hues of moorland habitat. These birds certainly live in a beautifully coloured world.
The male bird would frequently take up position on a perch and as soon as a Meadow Pipit approached, would take flight to chase the pipit out of the area in twisting aerobatic flight through the low lying vegetation.
I will finish off this post with a few last photographs. If you read my last post on the Whinchats, you will recall I left a perch in position as I departed. Well the female was very happily using this regularly on her approaches to and departures from the nest.
There was a brief light rain shower during the session which added some extra moorland atmosphere to this photograph of the female.
I will finish this post with a photograph of the male bid perched on some heather, although unfortunately not in flower at that time of year. The orange colours of a male bird would really compliment the purple flowering heather if you think about the enhancing effect of matching opposites on a 'colour wheel'.
It was a very enjoyable session and before leaving for home, and while both birds were away foraging, I added another perch for my next session and left a little feed to help them along with their parenting duties.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Media

I thought it time to write a post on where myself and some of my images are currently appearing in various media. First up I was asked by BBC Countryfile to once again undertake the long-list judging for their annual photography competition. This took a slightly different format this year with 12 separate categories to be judged. It was a long day whittling the 55000 entries down to 3600 which was accompanied by continuous filming. This is being aired tomorrow evening (11th September) at 7:30pm on BBC1 and whether I appear on the show or end up on the cutting room floor remains to be seen :)

I have entered a couple of photography competitions this year and managed 12th place with a flying Jay in the British Birds Journal. Greater success was achieved in Bird Watching Magazine's Bird Photo of the Year competition where I won the Birds of Britain category. This image of a juvenile cuckoo is currently given a full page in the August 2011 issue.

I have also had some images recently published in a books on North Atlantic Seabirds and Puffins, an iphone bird i.d application and South Wales Wildlife Trust is using my infamous flying puffin image on the front of their new pamphlet.

Obviously I didn't want to write a post without showing a few photographs. On my wanderings across moorland areas earlier in the year I was fortunate to have a brief and first encounter with some Black Grouse. The thee birds were just coming to the end of their lekking period but were still half-heartedly going through the motions. This has certainly raised my interest in trying to get some more and better images of these fascinating birds. Hopefully this will be a little mission I can pursue next spring.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Chilled Hares

I love to photograph Brown Hares during the late summer. This is a quiet time of year for bird photography as many birds are going through their annual moult and not looking very photogenic and so the hares provide a good diversion to keep the camera busy.
During the late summer the hares are very relaxed, with the hormone fuelled madness of spring subsided, and they are busy feeding on the abundant vegetation to build themselves up for the winter ahead.
Those long hazy warm summer days of childhood no longer seem to exist, no doubt partly as a result of a changing climate and the main weather feature of August now seems to be rain....lots of rain! Even so there are still brief occasions when the sun shines and by keeping a close eye on the weather and my camera close to hand I try and make the most of the brief sunny spells either before or after work.
Despite having spent more hours than I would like to count in the company of hares it was not until the other day that I realised how long their eyelashes are. It's interesting how a slightly different perspective can reveal features that you have previously missed.
The other benefit of pursuing hares at this time of year is that there is a good chance of encountering leverets and young hares which always seem to have a degree of inquisitiveness about them. All part of the survival learning process.
For me this last photograph of this post sums up the summer hare and as the old song goes .... 'Summer time and the livin' is easy'.


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