Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Revisited

I do not usually produce a retrospective end of year blog post but thought I would do one for a change. So I have picked a photograph or two from each month, each of which stirs particularly strong memories for me in terms of wildlife encounters.

January - saw me sat of a freezing North Wales beach photographing a flock of around a dozen Snow Bunting.

February - I headed up to the Highlands to try and photograph a Capercaillie. Such a magnificent bird which has left life long memories.

March - A prolonged cold spring and instead of photographing hares amongst the daffodils, they were boxing in deep snow.

April - Calling in to the Forest of Dean to break up a long long drive home from a work meeting found me with a long awaited Garganey in front of the camera for the first time.

May - I tried to restict myself to photograph from each month but failed in May which is always one of the busiest months for a wildlife photographer. A first light start saw a reeling Grasshopper Warbler in front of me. I have many photographs of these birds now but find myself drawn back to them each spring.

A chance encounter with a beautiful vixen.

June - I headed off on my annual overseas trip in June to Romania and the Danube Delta. A beautiful place filled with many wonderful birds. Here is one of the images from the trip of a Squacco heron feeding on a frog.

July - On my return from Romania I had a concerted effort with trying to photograph the extremely wary Green Woodpecker with a moderate degree of success. In this photograph the young bird on the left is watching the adult male excavate yet another ants' nest.

August- I returned to Scotland once again but this time to photograph the Ospreys at Rothiemurchus. An amazing experience just to watch, let alone photograph.

September - Throughout the summer I had been undertaking various sessions with water voles on a Cheshire canal. This was part of a long term project and some very enjoyable and relaxing morning were had by the waterside.

October - A fairly quiet month although I did head out to North Wales to try and photograph a Grey Phalarope. After several hours waiting the bird came close only to be scared away by the sudden appearance of a large dog, resulting in only a couple of photographs being taken.

November - An unexpected encounter with some Redwing feeding on rowan trees against a back cloth of autumn hues

December - Another chance encounter, this time with a beautiful male bullfinch whilst trying to photograph Fieldfare.

Of course December is not over yet and tomorrow will see me heading out to try and capture my first images of Mountain Hare. Hopefully this will produce some more special memories to add to what has been another interesting year in my journey in wildlife photography.

This will be my  last blog post for this year so I will take the moment to wish you all a Happy, Healthy and wildlife filled 2014.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fieldfare and Festive Greetings

I have never been able to decide if I prefer Fieldfare or Redwing out of the two winter visiting thrushes. The arrival of Fieldfare, when you see the large loose flocks overhead with their distinctive chattering flight calls,  is always a sign to me that winter is fast approaching,  The birds typically arrive from Scandinavia around October and quickly descend upon trees with berries with rowan  being a particular favourite.

They are a large smart looking thrush with their combination of brown back, grey head and black-spotted amber breast. When you spend quite a bit of time with these birds you notice there is quite a bit of variation in patterning with the darker coloured birds tending to be the most striking in photographs.

The unusual weather this year of a  prolonged cold spring and a warm summer seemed to provide very good conditions for berry growth and by the early autumn the trees were heavily laden and ready for the winter thrush invasion. Given the glut of berries available it took a while for the birds to arrive at the site which I usually visit to photograph them. However, when they did arrive it was en mass with a big flock of around 500 birds.

Fieldfare are quite a wary species and  the site I visit is made slight  frustrating as there is a long row of Rowan trees which the birds favour although this can only be accessed from one side. The trees never really get the low winter sun on them properly, and the majority of the day they are back lit with a bit of side lighting in the late afternoon. If only the landscape architect who designed the planting scheme had put them the other side of the road, it would have made the task for the photographer so much easier. However, the trees do attract good numbers of birds and it is just a question of looking for other nearby opportunities for  for photographing them.

Eating berries makes the birds thirsty and by positioning myself next to a puddle  provided some opportunities to capture some images of the birds drinking.
 I must have moved the lens a little too quickly as both birds stopped drinking and look straight towards me.
I found one puddle which had some reflected autumn hues on the water from the fallen leaves on the bank behind and where one particular bird decided it would bathe.

Of course as with any bird photography you often get a bonus or two along with your target species. During this session it was a striking male Bullfinch which was also taking advantage of the free berry feast.
As this is Christmas eve, I was also take the opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, successful and wildlife-filled New Year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Going Pelagic

I had plans this year to organise 2 or 3 pelagics trips out into Liverpool Bay, after the reasonable success of the exploratory sailing last year. However, the weather conspired against my efforts and in the end only one trip was made in mid-July. With these pelagic trips you are at the mercy of the elements with the main constraining factor being the wind and its affects on offshore waters. This saw two of the trips in August and September 'blown-off'.

The day the boat managed to get out into the bay was not ideal for a couple of reasons. Harsh sunlight was beaming through the clear skies which is not ideal for predominately black and white birds. More importantly the wind was gently blowing in from the north, the wrong direction, and which would see the birds coming in and taking off facing away from the boat.

Prior to the trip I had spent a couple of days mixing up some chum and filling the kitchen (I was not too popular) with some fishy aromas. Chum is a concoction of mashed up fish and oils used to attract the birds to the boat. Since my trip last year I had done some trawling of the Internet looking for suitable chum additives and found some interesting products such as krill meal and shellfish extract (I wouldn't recommend opening that one indoors or near cats). I even made up a bucket of liquidised seaweed off the local beach mix with some cod liver oil hoping that it might attract some storm petrels that can be found out in the bay during July.

With an early departure we headed out of Liverpool marina on the 'Discovery', down the Mersey and out into the Bay. We soon passed the Burbo Bank Wind Farm and after about an hour and 15 minutes sailing were around 25 miles offshore. The chum line was started and appeared as a snaking flat patch of oil and floating particles extending way out behind the boat on the calm sea. The birds soon started to arrive with the a Fulmar appearing first.

It was not too long before one of several gannets started to show along with  numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull that started building up behind the boat. The Gannets would circle overhead before plunge diving, often very close to the boat, to whole mackerel that were being dropped over the side. We had regular visits from Gannets throughout the trip all accompanied by some amusing commentary from the skipper on the progress of the birds towards the mackerel.
A young bird circling the boat
Offshore gas platform and trawler in the background
With the wind in the wrong direction the birds were usually hitting the water facing away from us.
Surfacing after a dive. The birds still facing slightly away from the boat to take advantage of the wind direction to lift them back off the sea.
The Gull numbers continued to build until we had a good number sat on the sea behind the boat.
A solitary tiny storm petrel appeared in the chum line approximately 100m back from the boat but too far for any photography. However, the bird watchers on the trip enjoyed the view of the small black bird as it 'danced' around in the chum for about 10 minutes. I suspect the petrel was put off from following the oil line back to the boat by the large numbers of big gulls.

During the day we saw several  'pirates of the high seas', the Great Skua. The large powerful birds cut a menacing presence through the air and certainly seem to put fear into the similar sized Lesser Black-backed gulls which would take to the air every time one came close in to the boat.

Most of the time the gulls were happily feeding off the chum line picking up the small floating particles whilst on the wing.

We saw good numbers of Manx Shearwater while we were out there and had the occasional one coming in close but never stopping on the chum. I did end up with one nice frame filling shearwater photograph which somehow an annoyingly I have managed to delete!! So only have this one to show which is a big crop but have included to show you one of the birds speeding low across the surface.

Overall despite the conditions it was a very enjoyable 10 hours out at sea and all aboard seemed to enjoy themselves. Importantly I learnt some lessons on chumming which hopefully I can try out on the next trip out into the blue yonder next summer.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Rothiemurchus Ospreys - Day 2 and a Bit

This is the second and final part describing my trip to Scotland earlier in the summer to photograph the Ospreys at Rothiemurchus. Before I get on to those magnificent birds of prey, I will spend a couple of moments to show a few images of other birds that appeared in front of and around the hide. These birds provided a good distraction while waiting during the occasionally prolonged quiet periods between Osprey dives. As with many types of wildlife photography involves periods of quiet tranquillity interspersed with moments of intense action by both wildlife and photographer.

A Grey heron was present on and off throughout the two days. During the whole time it was present over the two days, I never saw it catch any fish although to be fair it did only made a couple of half hearted fishing attempts.

The big bird gracefully coming in to land

Standing around preening in some typical Scottish summer weather.
The other bird to grab my attention was a hyperactive Common Sandpiper which spent a good deal of time in front of the hide and at times was too close to focus on. It was very good to see this small wader up so close for a change and with the benefit of the sunken hide putting the bird at eye level. However, it proved quite tricky to get photographs due to the length of the grass but after quite a bit of effort I managed to get a few images I was happy with.

Time to move on to the Ospreys. The second day saw another early forced departure from bed with it still being dark outside. A quick look out of the hotel window unfortunately showed the previous evenings forecast to be correct with a leaden blanket of grey above. Light was going to be limited.

For this morning session we opted to chose the second of the two new hides at the far end of the pool. We had about three dives in total that morning  from an un-ringed bird, one of which again very close to the hide. Not the most productive of mornings particularly with a challenging lack of light to play with but still a memorable session in its own right to watch this specialist predator once again in action.

After returning to the hotel around mid-morning for breakfast and a by now much needed sleep we returned to the hides in late afternoon for the final evening session. However, the evening followed a very similar pattern to the previous one, with the rogue 'Red 8T' bird patrolling above and keeping all the other Ospreys away from the pool.

The next day saw Andy's workshop starting and I was due to have breakfast and then start the long journey southward. However, there was still a hide available which allowed myself, Rob and Dave a final morning session.. A spectacular morning of action it turned out to be with around 17 dives during the session. The wind was not in the ideal direction for the hide we were in but it still provided a good variety of photo numerous opportunities. Included amongst the plunging Ospreys was the un-ringed bird together with  'Blue DF' and of course the notorious 'Red 8T'.

A selection of images from this final busy session can be found below.

At first glance it looks like this may be a miss and the fish may of had a lucky escape but somewhere at the back there will be a talon firmly locked on.
 An osprey dive is not without a lot of flying spray.

We even managed to get some welcome sunlight.

 Some sunlight shining through those broad powerful wings

Full stretch with and without fish

The restrictions on visibility and speed of the dive prevented actually capturing ospreys at the point of hitting the water. I just managed to catch this one which will give you an impression of the power of an osprey dive.
 Water quickly falls off the bird once they have made it back into the air leaving a trail of spray in their wake.
So there you have it. Two and bit days with the wonderful ospreys that visit Rothiemurchus, spent with some great company and with the bonus of some rare Scottish sunlight. You cannot ask for much more than that and I am left with memories of my mini adventure in Scotland that will stay with me for a very long time to come.


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