Sunday, January 30, 2011

Simply Gulls

With the January weather continuing to be a disappointment from a photography perspective, I thought I would turn the clock back a few weeks. Living by the seaside I am surrounded by gulls and so it is inevitable the some should find their way in front of the lens. I must admit I do enjoy photographing them as they are always entertaining and if you have a loaf of bread instantly become your new best 'friends'. So here is a compilation of some photos taken towards the back end of last year that I did not get an opportunity to show. I will start with the most common species the Black-headed Gull which is probably the most likely to be ignored by the photographer. The first was taken against storm clouds in the last light of the day and for a few fleeting moments the sky was filled with swirling golden arc of gulls, a memorable sight.

While on the topic of great light, while the ground covered in snow there was some superb up lighting on the birds.

The local raised Model Boating Lake always offers some good opportunities at high tide for bathing birds. Water level photos are achieved in relative comfort and without the need for scrabbling around on the floor.

and a young bird undertaking a bit of feather maintenance.

There are also good numbers of Common Gull or as they seem to becoming more frequently labelled Mew Gull.

Lurking in the unusually deep snow we experienced this winter.

Herring Gull are common and its is quite easy to see how a whole herring could easily slip down that gaping void.

A young bird undergoing some acrobatic manoeuvres on the local boating lake.

I think the manufacturer of the local seaside telescopes show change their name to 'Gull Scopes'. A Lesser Black-backed Gull on watch duty.

To finish off the scarce Mediterranean Gull which has been lurking in amongst the Black-headed Gulls all winter. It usually takes a bit of finding due to the similarity in looks, particularly when the whole flock takes flight. I am hoping this one will stay around long enough this year to transform in to their wonderful summer plumage. This first photograph was taken again when snow was on the ground on a beautiful crisp clear day.

As I have said many times before and no doubt will do so again the future, never ignore the common birds around you :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Beachcomber Bunting

Having bred in the uplands during the summer, many Snow Buntings make their way down to the coast in the winter to feed on seeds washed up on the strand line. They will often stay in a localised area for quite a prolonged period especially when given some supplementary feed by local bird watchers and visiting photographers.

A small group of 5 birds has been present on a North Wales beach for over two months and will probably continue to be there now right through to March. I have been bidding my time in making a visit and waiting for a break in the persistent gloom that has been a feature of this month. Following a forecast of some early morning sun I decided it to head over to the birds on a clear, cold and frosty morning. The birds are well camouflaged on the pebble beach and I found them at first by the low sun catching their heads as they peered over a shingle ridge.

The clear air and low sun created some excellent photography conditions and the birds were soon on the move as the group hopping through the stones foraging for washed up seeds.

Using a brick, eroded by the tide, to keep a watch for predators and of course any approaching dog walkers.

The birds quickly became very comfortable with my presence and settled down at very close range, apparently seeming to just enjoy sitting and gaining a little warmth from the weak winter sun. The general lack of activity of the birds gave plenty of opportunity to experiment with camera settings and composition.

Chewing on some grass.

I left the birds basking in the sun, having had a memorable session in some wonderful morning light. After a slow start to the year I walked back to the car with a smile and the feeling that my 2011 bird photography had at last begun.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Slow Start

Since the start of the New Year, the weather has been dire from a photography point of view with an almost continuous blanket of leaden skies above. I do not mind taking photos in poor conditions but when the quality and quantity of light are so poor it does tend to become a bit of a fruitless exercise. These grim weather conditions are of course compounded by my limited availability of free time and typically when the sun has appeared briefly this year I have been stuck in the office at work. This is made all the more frustrating as there are a few interesting birds around that I would like to photograph at the moment.

My first trip out of the year, following the prediction of a little sun by the Met Office, proved to be very unproductive as the forecast was wrong and the winter thrushes I was pursuing in an uncooperative mood due to the presence of a large female sparrowhawk. In fact I only came away from the first session of 2011 with a single photograph of a Fieldfare which was feeding on a low Sea Buckthorn bush.

Last Sunday saw me back out again before sunrise and under some rare clear skies. I decided to return to try the same site once more with my main target being the smallest of the winter visiting thrushes, and generally more wary and difficult to photograph, the Redwing. A few Redwing were mixed in with a moderate sized flock of Fieldfare which were working their way across a grass field to where I was sat. So while waiting I passed the time taking a few Fieldfare photographs in the low morning sun.

The birds were mainly hunting for worms, with the berry trees long since stripped of their fruits.

They were also picking up the occasional small snail discovered while foraging amongst the grass.

Occasionally a bird would hop up on to one of the mole hills to survey the surroundings.

The birds made their way closer and closer and were on some occasions too close but a pleasure to be in the company of such a handsome bird. There seems to be quite a degree of variation in the plumage in terms of the degree of 'spotting' and the yellow hue at the top of the breast. This was a particularly nicely patterned bird.

Another very close encounter were I just managed to fit the bird within the frame.

Photographing the Fieldfare was all very enjoyable but it was not really the species I was after. Eventually after a couple of hours patiently waiting the Redwings started moving in to close range.

Redwing tend to be more difficult, not only due to their shyness, but as a result of their behaviour when ground feeding as they are constantly on the move and tend to show a preference for lurking in areas of shade. This can be compared with Fieldfare which often stop and spend moments motionless allowing more time to compose the photo.

The Redwing followed a similar route to the Fieldfare and soon came too close to photograph. I managed just to fit this one in before they moved inside the minimum focusing distance of the lens.
Of course the weather was too good to last and once again I have spent this weekend watching dark grey skies and rain. The skies just cleared at sunset tonight, and what is the forecast for the next couple of days when I will be stuck in the office once more.....sunshine!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Down the Road

Happy New Year to you all.

As the light has been dire since the start of the New Year I thought I would wind back time a little to just before Christmas. At the bottom of the road where I live is the River Mersey. I have looked at it many times but in the 10 years I have been here, I have strangely never bothered to take a camera to the wading birds that appear amongst the mud, sand and rock at low tide. It can be all too easy to overlook the wildlife on your 'doorstep'. My interest in the end of the road as a new photography site however has been awakened while taking our two new dogs, Ziggy and Mojo, for their daily walk. I have started observing the birds, watching the light and tides and starting to realise the photography potential.

It was on one of these walks that I found a Curlew in the fading afternoon low winter sun standing on ome rocks close to the promenade. I stopped for a while and this usually nervous species just stood and looked right back. It was time to get the camera so the hounds' walk was cut short as I quickly headed back up the hill to the house before returning to find the bird in the same spot.

While on the subject of Curlew I also recently had a productive short session with these birds, including some delightfully close encounters, as they foraged for earthworms on a local field.

Back to the end of my road session, and having taken a few photos of the Curlew I noticed a small group of Sanderling and Dunlin feeding along the tideline of the ebbing water. Sanderling are one of my favourite waders to photograph as the scurry around along the waters edge.

The Dunlin are much more sedate and leisurely as they search for food left by the tide.

Another worm being extracted from the estuary mud.

The sun quickly dropped and the short session was over but it is unlikely to be my last at the end of my street.

I will finish this post with a couple of photos of Purple Sandpipers taken in some less favourable light about 5 minutes from home.

It just shows that you do not need to head off to the horizon to find good wildlife and it can pay off to have a good look around your immediate local area. You might be quite pleasently surprised at what you may find.


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