Friday, December 31, 2010

End of the Year

As the weather, but more importantly the light, has been so grim over the last week I have been busy wading through my backlog of images. It is good to have got this finally finished before the end of the year and the double hard drive back-up is whirring away beside me as I type this.

I thought I would use this post to give a quick overview of my year and post a selection of images processed from the backlog. For me it has been a productive photography year with 118 bird species and 5 mammal species photographed including 17 species that have not been in front of the lens previously.

There have been so many wonderful moments shared with wildlife that its hard to pick out some highlights but the three that stand out are:
  • The entire trip to Norway in the summer. Wonderful birds, landscapes and people;
  • A very early morning in Spring, during a visit to Hampshire, which produced three new species in the space of a few hours including an unforgettable encounter with a Dartford Warbler;
  • Photographing Leach's Petrels in severe onshore winds with my friend Steve. Such a privilege to see so many of this ocean wander at such close quarters.

Before posting the last images of 2010, I would like to send the warmest thanks to all those that have taken the time to read the blog and provide feedback. 2011? who knows what may appear in front of the camera but I am looking forward to it already :). So I will wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year.

Fieldfare listening for worms below.

Mediterranean Gull in flight

Young Green Woodpecker on a gravestone. These are such a tricky species to photograph and hopefully I will do better with them in 2011.

Common Buzzard photographed by my office during a lunch hour.

Female kestrel who is a regular visitor at one of my sites.

Mute swan

It is amazing how much fun you can have with a large puddle and a flock of starlings.

To finish of some rooks and jackdaw.

I have been putting nuts out for these birds to help through the recent cold weather. I think this photo shows how hungry the birds have become.

Please remember just because the snow may have gone, if you have been feeding the birds, then please continue as they need to rebuild up fat reserves and I am sure we have not seen the last of the cold weather this winter.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow

With the UK gripped in a prolonged blast from the Arctic, where I live has managed to remain fairly free of snow. That was until I tried to get home from my work Christmas party last Friday and 6 inches fell very quickly and hampered my already slightly 'wobbly' journey home. Having given over the next day to the inevitable heavy head, I was out bright and early on the following morning layered up with thermals and with the car thermometer reading -10 degrees C. While we are in this lengthy cold spell can I urge people to help out their local wildlife with some supplementary food and particularly water. Even if it is just a couple of bird feeders in the garden or some apples thrown on the lawn for the winter thrushes.

A layer of snow generates some incredible light with its glowing reflection lighting up the underside of the birds and animals. I decided to head to my local woods where some action would be guaranteed and ended up laying on the ground next to a fallen tree. However, I stopped off by the coast on route to photograph some Black-headed Gulls, a real camera exposure headache.

I also managed to locate amongst the flock, a Mediterranean Gull which was even more difficult to spot than usual with the white conditions.

On arrival at the woods, typically the first bird to come and investigate was a robin.

The other bird species were a little slow in coming forth that morning but gradually numbers increased. Magpies were the first to investigate the free food supply and bickered amongst themselves.

They were eventually joined by a small flock of Stock Dove and Wood Pigeon, although these maintained some distance from the Magpie mayhem.

With various parts of my anatomy going increasing numb in the bitter cold I decided it was time to finish off the session with a few Grey Squirrels. They seemed to be very appreciative of the free food supply.

I will finish this post with some season greetings by warmly wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy and Healthy 2011.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

August Hares

With a thick layer of snow outside and gloomy light from the dense grey clouds overhead, I thought I would stay warm inside this morning and get on with processing some of my summer hare images. I did not realise until I start sifting through the raw files how productive my August efforts at photographing hares had been. As usual I applied a stringent selection criteria on which files would be retained and which were destined for the Desktop trash bin.

The pursuit of summer hares requires some very early starts to ensure that I am out and in position at first light.

The hares always seem more relaxed during the summer with the main surge of maddening spring hormones subsided. This allows for some very close encounters particularly when they are preoccupied feeding.

I am often on the look out for hares grooming their fur in the early morning light as they can produce some unusual poses.

and which often culminates in a brief bout of 'shadow boxing'.

The coats of the adult hares may not look at the best at this time of year but there is the added bonus of leverets being present. Photographing leverets is not an easy task and they always remind me of a turbo-charged guinea pig when in motion.

I have noted that once found leverets will often remain in a fairly localised area for a while. This assists in finding them in follow-up sessions.

To finish of my hare photos for 2010, a young one in full dawn 'flight'.
It has been a great pleasure spending a good deal of time with these wonderful animals this year and I am sure our paths will cross once more in 2011.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wandering Waxwings

As many will know there has been a mass invasion of waxwings in to the UK this winter. Not only did the birds arrive much earlier than usual but they arrived in large numbers right down the length of the east coast. These irruptions are usually the result of failure of the berry crop in Scandinavia. The birds have slowly been eating their way south westwards and given the numbers that have appeared, I have been waiting for some to turn up locally.

I decided the other day it was time to head out to find a flock. Waxwings are not only a very beautiful and 'exotic' looking bird but usually great fun to photograph. My previous experience of Waxwings has been in city centres where they have taken up temporary residence in a tall tree next to berry-laden rowan and the flock has repeatedly descended together to quickly feed before returning to their high perches. So it has always been a fairly easy matter of waiting next to the tree for these unusually tame birds to descend.

However, the flocks this year have been surprisingly mobile and hard work. My theory is that this is a result of the bounty of berries available and the birds are flying around to pick off the cream of the crop. This has made them from my experiences more challenging as they seem to take up temporary residence in a large area rather than around a particular tree.
A bird with a tough decision of which berry to go for next.

The first flock I located around the back of a building on an industrial estate after hearing their distinctive rapid trilling call. Unfortunately they were busy feeding on a hedgerow of hawthorn which from a photographic point of view is less favourable for good backgrounds than the rowan due to the densely packed branches.

Another Hawthorn berry bites the dust.

The birds need to drink large quantities of water to wash down their berry diet and frequently flew up to the gutter on an adjacent building, due to the limited water supply with the frozen conditions.

The second flock I encountered were feeding on a couple of small rowan trees next to a busy roundabout but were only coming in every 30 minutes or so to feed for about a minute before flying way off in to the distance. It looked like they were made more nervous by the proximity of the traffic and a passing lorry was the usual cause of them departing.

I am sure these will not be my last encounter with these birds before the winter has passed and I suspect these out of town birds might become less mobile and easier to photograph as the availability of berries diminishes.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

They came from the North

I was off work last week using up some remaining annual leave before the end of the year and decided to try and get a bit of photography done during my break. I had been scanning through the bird reports the previous week to try and decide where to head for. On the Monday morning I rolled out of bed at my usual time but instead of heading to the office took the more enjoyable short journey northward to Fleetwood with my friend Steve to try and find a young Great Northern Diver that had taken up temporary residence on the marine lake. Before my trip I checked on Google maps and the lake looked a much better prospect than the local marine lake, where I have photographed this species previously, due to its smaller area.

On arrival, on what was a bitterly cold day, the bird was quickly located feeding in the centre and slowly making its way to the north western corner. This looked a good area to start as there was a high bank behind that would provide some cover. My normal approach with these diving water birds is to move in to position while they are underwater.

The bird got closer as I sat and waited quietly with a biting wind in my face.

It is always difficult to predict where these birds will surface and sometimes they will travel long distances underwater. Fortunately the bird popped up right in front of me at very close range just as the sun broke through the fast moving clouds overhead. Unfortunately my friend Steve was checking the adjacent lake for Mergansers and Goldeneye and missed out on the action.

The bird came so close at one point that I was reduced to just taking a head shot as that was all I could fit in the frame. A real pleasure to be in such close proximity to a magnificent bird. The bird continued its hunt for food and on its next dive reappeared at distance. It was a good while before the bird came in close again but by now the light had taken a distinct turn for the worse, giving the bird quite a different appearance under the overcast skies.

Once again I had the joy of another very close encounter.

We decided that the light really was not going to make much of an improvement and decided to head southwards towards Preston where the light looked better. Typically as we arrived at Preston a dense cloud layer covered the sky so we just decided to check out a couple of sites for a potential future visit. The first of these was an area where a large flock of waxwings had been reported for several days but had obviously decided to move on as not a single bird could be found. So we head down towards Preston Dock where an Iceland Gull had been reported. As we came to stop in the car park at the dock edge we were faced with hundreds of gulls swirling around to feed on bread thrown to them by visitors. It seemed like trying to find the proverbial haystack needle until I spotted the gull gently bobbing in the dock below directly in front of the car. I decided to take a couple of photos in the gloom but was not particularly happy with the elevated angle above the gull.

After a few minutes the bird came up and landed in the carp park behind the docks perimeter railing so despite trying various angles all that could be managed was a head photo of this scarce gull.

I would like to head back up there to try and get some flight photos of this bird in better light but whether I will get round to it is another matter. An enjoyable way to start my mini break which was spent in the good company with these northern visitors.


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