Sunday, October 31, 2010

Return to Project J

At this time of year its quite common to see jays flying across roads on broad wings, as they ceaselessly transport acorns to their winter stores. One such passing bird resparked the thought for a return to Project J. Regular readers of this blog may recall my long running but intermittent mini project to try and photograph jays in flight. The project 'brief' has being extended on this attempt, to try and photograph the jays from a different perspective.

Jay are such beautiful birds and Project J over time has given me wonderful close encounters with them. Its always a real pleasure to be in their company. To start the post, not a flight photo but a bird posed with fully raised crest. I always thought a good caption for this would be 'Mr J contemplates his new Bonsai project'.

Moving on quickly as Project J is supposed to be about flight photos. I always forget between my periodic attempts, how hard these birds are to photograph in flight.

Apart from the obvious problems for autofocus against a mixed background, the jays have a very erratic fly behaviour.

This is especially the case during landing where unlike a magpie, that come in fairly straight, jays tend to do a strange unpredictable 'flip' sideways just as they land. This usually puts the bird half out of frame or sends the autofocus to a place where it cannot recoverly quickly enough.

Jays are a good looking bird from below

However, it is only on the back of the wing that those iridecent blue feathers can be seen.

The new element of Project J is some remote photography of the birds using a wide angle lens to get a different perpective. It something I have meant to try for a while but will admit I am on the bottom step of a long learning ladder but my first couple of attempts have given me some value experience. Its great fun going back through the photos when you retrieve the camera.

I will carry Project J on in to the winter. How long it keeps going though is difficult to say when there are many tempting photo opportunities trying to pull me away. It is difficult to run many mini-photo projects when you free time is limited and I always find concentrating on one at a time yields the best results.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sea Swallows

Much as I love photographing seagulls, if a gull and tern were passing then the camera would always be turned to the tern. Tern photography is always very satisfying as they are such elegant birds and always form some interesting poses and provide plenty of action. I am fortunate to have a good Common Tern colony locally and always try and make at least one trip there in the summer. A tern colony is a noisy place and if I close my eyes it is quite easy to conjure up their penetrating cries.

I arrived at first light and could see and hear the birds before I had got anywhere near the hide, a promising sign. Numbers of birds were bringing in sandeels and small sprats for their waiting young.

Fortunately the hide has a number of posts and rocks in the water at close range which allows some great opportunity for portraits and the birds were beautifully lit in the early sun.
As usual they formed some interesting poses in response to other birds passing close by.
The first rule of being at a tern colony is never look up, unless you want an eyeful, so you would have thought this bird would have known better.
When hit from above there is not much a bird can do but preen and shake itself down.
By now some of you may have noticed that a large proportion of the birds are ringed. The site has been subject to a long-term ringing and monitoring study. I must admit I am not a big fan of photographing ringed birds but if the data helps conserve the species in the long run then its all for the good.
I will finish off the Common Terns with a couple of flight photos. A problem with photographing terns is they have a very large wing span relative to their size, and so when at close range you inevitably end up with a fine collection of partial images where a wing tip or tail is out of frame. Coming in to land.
While I was sitting there I suddenly noticed an unusual tern land in front of me. It took a few moments for the grey matter to register what I was looking at, which turned out to be the scarce and sadly rapidly decline Roseate Tern. Typically the sun disappeared behind a solitary cloud during its brief visit. A great way to finish my morning session in the presence of these wonderful birds.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Raucous Rooks

Rooks are a bird that in my opinion do not receive the attention they deserve. This is often the case for common birds but I think even more the case for crow species which have got a bad press 'thanks' to various horror films. When you spend some time with them you start to notice the subtle purple and blue metallic sheen to their plumage,the interesting vocal interactions and the hierarchy of dominance between these social birds.

From a photographic point of view they present an interesting challenge as they are generally quite shy and it takes some good camera exposure control to try and capture the detail and colour within the blacks.

They are really at their best when in flight due to the interesting shapes they form as they twist and turn through the air, especially with those finger like feathers on the wing tips.

I have undertaken these short rook sessions as a lunch hour project, and occasionally after work, in the car park next to my office. The car park is fortunately surrounded by grazing fields and so there are good numbers of both rooks and jackdaws present. I can think of a better way to break up a working day than a 30 minute session with the camera.

I decided to convert some images to black and white which tends to give them a darker atmosphere given that Halloween is approaching. However, this is just for fun and I do not wish to perpetuate the myth that crow species are sinister. They are, for those who take the time to watch, fascinating and wonderful birds.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Dawn Egrets

I recently made a trip up the RSPB reserve at Leighton Moss hoping to photograph some Greenshank. However, the birds had different ideas and persisted in roosting or feeding out in the middle of the lake during my visit. So I had to change to Plan B and spent most of the visit photographing Little Egret.

It was an early start from home as I made the 90 minute journey northward to try and arrive for first light. I was first to arrive in the hide and was greeted by approximately 40 Little Egrets just coming to life. This first photograph is before the sun had reached sufficient height to get above the low hill behind and with the lack of wind was a serene scene.

The sun slowly crept skyward and its first appearance bathed the lake in wonderful golden light.

A solitary passing curlew was also caught in the orange glow.

as were a small group of Greylag Geese.

However, despite these passing distractions I stayed firmly focused on the Little Egrets. The rising success of this species in the UK is notable. The appearance of a single bird 35 years ago would have caused a stir amongst the rare bird fanatics and here was I looking upon a group of 40 on a single lake.


No fish is safe from the lightning accurate strike of an egret.

Unfortunately a small group of noisy people entered the hide which disturbed the birds are saw them flying off across the adjacent fields. For some peculiar reason many people seem to think that because they are rendered virtually invisible within a hide, they are also made inaudible to birds. To me and the birds, a happy hide is a quiet one.

The birds did eventually slowly return but by this time the golden light had become more harsh with the ascending sun. The great enjoyments of photographing egrets is they are very elegant and active birds when feeding. So I will finish this post of with a selection of flight photos and generally dashing around in the shallow water.




Overall a really enjoyable session and obviously there was no disappointment on my part at having not managed to photograph my target species that day.


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