Friday, December 30, 2011

The Plot

A couple of months back I managed to secure the use of private site to set up a new bird feeding station for photography. This site is now known as 'The Plot' and is in an interesting location with a good potential to attract migrant birds. It has taken some work to get the site suitable for bird photography and I have shared the efforts of setting up and feeding with a couple of friends.

December has not been a good for my photography, mainly due to me feeling unwell with some lergy at the start of the month and my energy levels only returning to some normality this week. The weather and light have also been consistently poor, so even if I had been healthy enough to venture out, I don't many photographs would have been had.

A couple of days back a morning of rare sunlight was forecast and having returned to the world of the living, I finally got round to my first session at the Plot. Its is good to end the year with the start of a new project. Conditions were not ideal with a strong 30mph wind blowing in off the sea and the clouds racing across the sky causing very variable light conditions.
The wind was a nuisance as it was causing a lot of problems with my pegged down hide flapping around and causing unwanted noise. A sparrowhawk swooping through occasionally also didn't help put the birds at ease.
It is always interesting when you start photographing at a new feeding station, not only to see which birds are turning up, but also you start to get a feel for the subtleties of how the light changes across the the set up and influences the background colours. This is quite nicely demonstrated in the two Goldfinch photos above and below.
The main bird species arriving at the free food supply were a range of tit species and finches such as this Great Tit.
I was particularly happy to see good numbers of Greenfinch turning up which are beautiful birds.
A party of around ten Long-tailed tits were also doing the rounds and coming through en mass on an hourly cycle. A species that is always such fun to photograph and I look forward to more encounters with them over the coming months.
There were several other species visiting the Plot at the moment but they can wait to future sessions. The final species photographed during my brief session was a bold male Great spotted Woodpecker which seems to have taken a strong liking to one of the upright perches.
So that really brings this year to a close. 2011 has been an enjoyable year with around 110 bird and 5 mammal species photographed including quite a good number that I have not put in front of the camera previously. I have so many incredible memories but some highlights would include the Stone Curlew and Balearic Warblers of Mallorca in the Spring, the Whinchat and Corn Bunting in the Summer and Water Rails in the Autumn. I think my strongest memory will be spending the three hours following a group of hunting stoat which was such a unique and privileged experience.

What will 2012 bring? Well who can say but I already have quite a few plans including a week booked away oversea. I am looking forward to 2012 already and will end this post by wishing you all a very Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Wildlife filled New Year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Simply Starlings

Starlings create one of nature's great spectacles as the swirling murmurations of birds come into roost at dusk. However, as an individual bird they tend to be a little overlooked which is a shame as they take on spectacular rainbow of metallic colours in the right light.
Seeing a large flock bathing, I recently took the opportunity to have a lie down and take some photos. Unfortunately a big bank of dark grey cloud swept in off the sea and quickly cut the session short as the light vanished. Its amazing how much fun can be had with the simple combination of a flock of starlings, a large puddle and some soft golden winter light.
Just before the light disappeared, I decided to try and photograph some birds in flight. This is not an easy task with Starlings as they are small and fast flying but I managed a couple but many headed to the trash as I clipped off bits of birds in the frame. If any one wants some partial images of flying starlings, I have plenty :)
Given that it Christmas Eve, I would like to take this moment to wish all my readers and those who have regularly supported me through this year and kindly taken the time to comment on my posts a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Wildlife filled 2012. Of course some do not celebrate Christmas and to those I send my seasonal greetings and best wishes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Rail Trail

Water rail are a species of which I have relatively few photographs and my entire collection have all been taken during occasional chance encounters. This mainly results from the low visibility of this water bird's with its habit of skulking in thick vegetation such as reed beds. The usual sightings of these birds are as a blur of grey, brown and red as they dash between the cover of clumps of reeds. They are often heard more than seen with their unusual pig like squeals emerging deep from within the vegetation.

I heard of a lake in Cheshire where a couple of birds were putting in a regular appearances in the open due to low water levels and this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. Therefore I decided to drop my other photography plans and spend a couple of sessions trying to capture some images of these normally 'hidden' birds. This proved to be a good decision as the rails have now once more melted back into the reeds as the water level in the pond has risen due to recent rainfall.

I first came across the birds wandering across the exposed silts of the lake bed. Joining the birds in the mud gave me a nice low shooting angle.

Having not really had prolonged views of these small birds previously, I have never really appreciated what an attractive species they are. The red of the eye and bill, slate grey head and breast that then blends in to the chestnut back and black and white striped flank patterns and all finished off with a sharp white tail.

Their eyes can look quite comical when viewed head on especially when combined with that narrow body profile that helps them easily slip between emergent pond vegetation.

It was a glorious autumn day without a breath of wind and clear blue skies overhead and warm soft light. Some perfect reflections could be captured as the birds swam across the remaining water in the lake.

The pair of birds really were very confiding as they frequenty swam or foraged for food at close range in front of me, often requiring a change to a 300mm lens to fit them in frame.

This included repeatly walking across a log jutting out over the pond.

It was so refreshing to see these birds out in the open for a change.

I made further visits to the Water Rails before the water level rose and the birds disappeared. I will post some more photographs from the other sessions in the near future.

I suppose if there is a lesson to be learnt from this episode, it is that when a set of unusual circumstances i.e very low lake water levels, creates a unique photography opportunity then its time to concentrate your efforts as such moments are always rare and temporary.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Close Encounters of the Hare Kind

As the end of the year approaches, I like to get all my photographs finished off and backed up so I can have a fresh start in the New Year. I have been working through the last of my hare images, taken earlier in the year. A reminder of warm gentle days as the hail swirls under gale force winds under black skies outside. For example a hare running through the fallen blossom of late spring.
Or feeding on the lush growth of mid-summer.

During my hare photography this year I have had some very close encounters with these shy animals. The most memorable of these moments was lying down for about 30 minutes one evening next to a female hare while she quietly grazed. There was no doubt that the hare knew I was there, but given my prolonged and careful approach, it had decided I presented no threat and carried on feeding. An intimate memorable moment spent with a special animal. Below is one of those photos from that moment.
I have encountered a couple of young hares along the way which are hilarious to watch on occasions with their rather uncoordinated antics.
This one get coming closer and closer, looking rather inquisitive, until all I could get in frame was a head photo.
Watching me, watching you, watching me.
Some early morning fur maintenance. As hares do not use burrows they spend a lot of time grooming their coat to keep it in good condition to repel all the weather throws at them.
Thought I was suffering from double vision for a moment from getting out of bed too early.
This one probably recognises me from a previous encounter.
So I will finish off my hares for this year with one giving me the 'eye'. Their is spring madness just waiting to be unleashed behind that eye.
I hope the selection of hare posts I have made during 2011 have given you as much pleasure as I have had in taking the photos. I take away many fond memories of having the priviledge of sharing moments of their world.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Few Along the Way

With my photography I do try and concentrate on sessions aimed at a particular species. Inevitably whilst waiting around or during my wanderings a few other species tend to appear in the viewfinder. Often you may just get one of two photos of these chance encounters and therefore as the year progresses I tend to end up with a small collection of bonus images that I can use for a compilation blog post which is exactly what this one will be.

I will start of with spring and whilst walking down to a small reed bed to try and photograph reed warbler, a male Blackcap poked out of a bush and launched in to its loud blackbird like warbling song. I quite liked bird partially obscured by vegetation in this image as this a good representation of a typical view.
I live on the road which has the tidal River Mersey at the bottom and whilst walking down the hill to look for some wading birds on the beach, I cut through the park where there are some very approachable Mistle Thrush. Fortunately the maintenance people leave some areas of longer grass to allow some interesting low angle photos to be taken
During a session looking for some hares I came across a large clump of thistle which the local Goldfinches were doing their best to strip of all it seeds.
Another bird encounter during my search from hares, a Jay in the process of taking on board an acorn to go and bury somewhere for the winter.
I occasionally visit a graveyard where there is usually a relatively 'friendly' female Kestrel. On this occasion there was no sign of 'Mavis' as she is fondly known, but I did manage to get a couple of images of a male bird in some late in the day light.
Perched on a gravestone
Hovering low looking for worms and voles.
I also keep an eye on one of the local duck ponds as sometimes something more unusal the the flocks of mallard will arrive. A Shelduck unexpectedly 'crash' landing.
I try and keep my camera by my side as often as possible for unexpected moments. While driving to work one morning, I spotted a young Black-tail Godwit feeding on the fields behind the local promenade. Well it would have been a crime to drive by with out taking a few photos. It is fortunate I always tend to leave early for my trip to the office in case of such events.
Obviously these are just a few of the 'extras' I have encountered during this year but each one has been a welcome and special moment.


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