Monday, December 22, 2014

Feathered 'Selection Box'

Christmas is upon us once more. I am sure the years grow shorter as I get older as it seems like only a blink of an eye since the last.  I thought it was time for a seasonal selection box. However, this one is not filled with sticky spiced chocolates but some recent images of the local bird life. Typically the winter weather has not been particularly kind recently and in fact at times it has been bordering on very grim with frequent strong winds, plenty of rain and dark blankets of grey clouds above. As such, light, the essential element for photography, has been in relatively short supply. So it has been a question of being at the ready with camera and snatching odd moments when the light and free time have put in a combined appearance.

I have also been working on a small unexpected winter bird photography project which I will reveal in a future post. The delay in posting is mainly to protect these birds from unwanted attention and potential disturbance.

So lets not waste any more time and dip into the avian selection box. I will start off with a scarce bird for this area, the Long-tailed Duck. I asked a good friend of mine if he wouldn't mind looking in on a lake local to his home whilst passing, to see if there were any Goldeneye present. There were none but he sent a picture text to my mobile and said he had seen an unusual duck but was not sure what it was. I immediately recognised it as a Long-tail duck and more interestingly it did not seem to have been reported anywhere. Unfortunately not one of the stunning drakes but it was too good an opportunity to pass by, a scarce bird that the crowds of bird watchers and photographers had yet to discover. A quick visit was in order. I found the bird easily as it seemed to be staying away from the other birds up one end of the small lake and managed to get close by the old 'move when it is underwater' routine. After a few photographs it was slowly making its way along this small lake when I noticed a patch of reflected reeds that were turning a patch of water golden and this was the result.

The shortest photography session ever was recorded when I decided on a bit of flight practice with some Black-headed Gulls on the local marine lake. Despite a large patch of clear winter blue sky above, the low sun stubbornly refused to lift from behind the only bank of cloud except for about 2 minutes. This was the best I could muster on this icy, blustery day in 120 seconds.
We are still on the first layer of the selection box and this time a brief sunny morning session looking for some winter thrushes. In the distance I saw two birds feeding on a grassed area and assumed that these were my target. However, as I got closer I could see one was a blackbird and the other looked slightly odd, only revealing itself properly as I approached to be a Green Woodpecker, as it  flew up to a nearby tree. After a short while waiting and predicting where the bird might appear, I got the opportunity for about 2 seconds to get a couple of photographs of this beautiful shy female bird before it was gone.
The winter thrushes I was seeking I typically only found a flock  about 10 minutes before I had to leave. The Fieldfare has to rate as probably our most attractive visiting winter Thrush species. This one showing showing a typical drooped wing pose.
The flock was accompanied by a single Mistle Thrush that was also picking out fallen rowan berries from a gravel area. The birds having already completely stripped the tree above its fruit.
Let's dip in to the layer below of the selection box and see what lurks there. Ahh...seems to be a wading birds.

The first was taken on the way home after a wholly unsuccessful session with the small winter project I mentioned earlier. As I swung into the 'home straight' which takes me along the coast I noticed it was high tide and decided to check one of the regular roost for wading birds. They are not always there and I thought may be absent that morning as it was a fairly large tide but was pleasantly surprised to find around 50 Redshank, and a similar number of Turnstone perched high on the rocks. However, what really drew my attention were three Purple Sandpipers and so concentrated on those.
My next encounter with some waders was on a day when I decided to head out for some Red Breasted Merganser on the local marine lake. I like to photograph swimming birds on either very calm surface or the dynamic conditions of rough water. The forecast was for strong westerly winds but it turned out to be blowing much harder and much colder than expected. The marine lake resembled the North Sea in a storm and so there was little chance of seeing, let alone photographing the Mergansers. However, the first light visit coincided with a rising tide which would see the wader flocks coming into roost. A good number of Redshank, Turnstone and a few Dunlin and a solitary Knot had gathered.
I took a few photos and noticed spray being blown into the birds from the crashing waves driven by the punishing wind which created an interesting effect backlit in the first light of the day. I thinks this photographs gives a great impression of the harsh weather we were all enduring that morning.
After I while I decided it would be good to head home and get my hands round a warm coffee, leaving the tough wading birds to sit it out. I took a route home that would see me pass an area that curlew often use at high tide when the sand banks are covered with water. I have always liked curlew. They may not be the most colourful birds but are beautifully patterned and surely possess one of the most evocative bird calls. The birds were across the road from their usual area and seemed to be getting disturbed by the Sunday morning dog walkers. Fortunately one dog walker pushed the birds right over to where I was waiting.
With that the bird selection box is now empty. For those of you interested, all of the above with the exception of the Purple Sandpiper were taken with a Canon 7d Mk2.

So I would like to take this moment to wish you all a Very Merry, Healthy and Peaceful Christmas with a suitably tacky e-card.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Just the Hare Necessities

Coming up to the end of the year is often the time to try and reduce the usual processing backlog and get the year's images wrapped up and finally backed up. So my first task was to go through some brown hare photos from the summer that have been left gathering dust on the hard drives.
I spent quite a bit of time with the hares again this year, an animal of which I can never tire. Its always such a pleasure being in their presence but I cannot quite put my finger on the attraction of hares for me. I mean I have obviously seen a large number of rabbits over the years but taken relatively few photographs but put a hare in front of me and the hours just seem to drift away. They certainly have mesmerizing glassy eyes that reflect that surrounding landscape.
Keeping those feet clean.
A warm summer evening spent lying down on the ground close to hare is such a wonderful experience and all of life's pressure and stress fade to nothing in the background. To use a versus from a song in the Jungle Book film but substituting bare with hare and you get the following which I think sums it up well.

'Look for the hare necessities
The simple hare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the hare necessities
That's why a hare can rest at ease
With just the hare necessities of life' 

May be I have just spent too long with hares !!

Anyway on to some photographs. The summer brown hare is a very relaxed animal they still breed throughout the summer with the occasional crazed boxing bouts but most of the time seems to be spent feeding and building up fat reserves to see them through the hard times in the coming winter months. This makes these shy cautious animals much easier to approach.

Hare's eyesight is geared up to detect movement. If you sit still enough they can sometimes walk right up to you, apparently completely oblivious to your presence. Some of you may remember a couple of years back when I told you of a hare that walked up to me whilst sat in a hedgerow and started licking my boot, presumably for some residual salt left on it from a beach wader photography session.
If you need to approach them then crawling flat is the way to go as they, together with many animals, associate the upright human form with danger. At times you will be surprised how close you can get to a hare. The tricky part is often leaving without disturbing it as crawling very slowly backwards with a heavy camera is not the easiest movement to make. However, the goal with all wildlife photography should be not to disturb or stress your subject. I see many people having got their photos then forgetting about their subject, standing up and sending whatever they were photographing speeding off to the horizon.  My view is you should back away as carefully as you approached.
With the brown hares now quiet my thoughts are rapidly turning to photographing mountain hares given that they will be well in to taking on their white winter coats. It is all dependent on the weather which is never to be taken lightly in their habitat.


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