Thursday, February 14, 2013

Return of the Reds

The native Red Squirrel of the UK has had a tough time. Not only has it been pushed northwards and in to isolated pockets since the introduction in 1876 of its more aggressive grey relative from the USA, but these invaders have also helped spread the deadly Squirrel Pox Virus with tragic results.  The introduction of the grey squirrel in to the UK was not one of the smartest moves by our predecessors. As with many introductions of 'alien' species the effects on the native fauna and flora can be devastating. There are many such examples of such harmful animal and plant introductions from different countries around the planet.

Close to where I live there is a small colony of Red Squirrels that inhabit the pine woods at the back of the sand dunes on the coast at Formby. This is a well known site where it has always been easy for the visitor to have a close encounter with the squirrels. I believe the red squirrels were actually introduced there many years ago where they flourished until 2008 when the dreaded Squirrel Pox Virus struck and virtually wiped out the population. The National Trust that manages the site have been working tirelessly ever since the outbreak and their efforts have been rewarded with eradication of the virus and the numbers of red squirrels bouncing back.

The crash in the population is one of the reasons why I have not visited the site in such a long time. However, with numbers of squirrels returning I thought I was due a revisit, especially as looking through my library I don't appear to have that many photographs of them. I think on my previous visits, which will be back around 2006 when I first started photography, I tended to be sidetracked by a fox that commonly visited or various woodland birds.

The site has changed a little since my last visit with noticeably lower numbers of slightly more wary squirrels and the construction of a number of feeding platforms on a number of trees around the woodland.

I had to wait quite a long time for some squirrels to appear in front of me and my patient waiting, whilst sat leaning against a tree trunk, was eventually rewarded. One thing I particularly noticed was the high number of squirrels that were quite dark in colouration which is more typical of the red squirrels that you see in continental Europe. Given that this population was, I believe, originally introduced from squirrels brought in from Europe it may be some of these dark fur genes are now being expressed as the population recovers from a limited number of breeding adults.

It was great to the red squirrels doing so well after their numbers were so severely impacted by the pox. Red squirrels are very endearing animals and it always good to watching scampering across branches and around tree trunks and basically going about their daily 'squirrely' business.
I enjoyed my brief session there in late November last year, as they are great fun to photograph and intend to hopefully return in the near future so that I can add to my collection of images.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Simply Flying Magpies

As the rain and hail swirl round outside in strong freezing gusts of wind it has been time to sit in front of the computer and work through my backlog of images left from last year. This seems even more sensible given that I am just getting over a nasty cold.
The weather is getting rather frustrating now as any time there is any glimmer of light it seems to be accompanied by gale force winds. I hope it will settle down soon as I am aching to get out and do some photography. This is particularly the case as after some selling of old kit and saving I managed to get my new long lens and am looking forward to giving it a really good testing.
So this post is just dedicated to flying Magpies, which have been taken as part of my long running work on capturing various corvids in flight. Magpies are not a greatly loved species, blamed for also kinds of avian atrocities. However, they are opportunistic birds and nature is about survival so if available they are going to exploit an easy meal by raiding a smaller bird's nest of its eggs or young.  You often hear people say 'oh I had a lovely woodpecker in the garden' but never are such words spared for a magpie. However, woodpeckers can also be surprisingly predatory as is evidenced by the number of nest boxes that suddenly become empty and the entry whole 'mysteriously' enlarged.
To me the old counting magpie rhyme does not start by painting them in a good light. 'One for sorrow' in my mind should really be 'One for Pleasure' because they make a superb bird to photograph. This is particularly the case when in flight when their striking plumage is displayed in its full glory.

They are not the easiest of birds to photograph in flight as they tend to be quite erratic and difficult to track with the camera. Of course the black and white feathers also require careful exposure control of the camera and vigilance of subtle changes in light conditions. My photography of these birds has required quite a concerted effort with continual feeding of a particular site over a number of years. This has resulted in it being now quite easy to get the birds where I want them which is half the battle won.
Now if I were to ask most people about the colour of a magpie they would say that it was a black and white bird. Looking at the first five photographs on this post it is easy to see why they would think that. However, it is the back of the bird where the colour are. The blue of the wings and a tail that is green turning to purple at its tip that glows like a rainbow in the right light.
Now in my head I have an image of a magpie in flight that I am hoping to capture one day. I already know that it is a difficult photograph to capture and only persistence and a bit of luck will see me rewarded. The best colours of a magpie are displayed from a rear view when the tail takes on it spectrum of hues.
However, on these occasions, as above, the bird's head is facing away from the camera and I want something that gives the viewer of the photograph a bit more of an intimate contact with the bird. I know I will never take this rear view image with the magpie looking back towards the camera as it would be a foolish bird that flies without looking where it's going! The only hope is to get the bird banking in front of me with a full dorsal view and its feathers splayed. A difficult proposition but one day it will happen and that's what keep me going back to photograph these wonderful birds.


Related Posts with Thumbnails