Sunday, April 28, 2013

In Print

In this electronic age we are all accustomed to viewing images on the screens of phones, tablets or monitors. The majority of us view  photographs that are low resolution versions which have been uploaded to websites or various social media where their quality is often further reduced by compression. We are missing a lot. When I am preparing the low resolution versions of the images to post on this blog  it is a shame you are unable to see the version before me where every feather filament or strand of hare can be seen along with a whole range of other subtle details lost during downsizing. When you are able to see this detail it draws you into an image and makes you look deeper and marvel at the beauty of nature rather than just glancing quickly at it and thinking 'nice photo'.

To see a photograph in its full glory it needs to be printed. A photograph often takes on a whole new life when it has been printed by a commerical labortatory, mounted, placed in a complimentary frame and hung on a well lit wall. So I urge you to free some of your photographs from the confines of the screen and release them into the world and on to the walls of your home as printed versions.

It is always good to see a printed version of your images. Mine have appeared in numerous books, posters, pamphlets and magazines over the years. However, up until this point I have never produced a full magazine article with both text and images. I recently approached Bird Watching Magazine with an idea for an article on Western Oakwoods and summer migrant birds which I am happy to say they accepted and fills 8 pages of this month's issue (May). A sample of a couple of pages (taken with my ipod to make the text unreadable!)  is shown below:

I will also use this little update post to tell you of an exciting photography trip that I have had booked for a long time and now is just over a month away. Following on from my trip to the wonderful birds of Hungary last year, I decided for this year's trip I would head a little further east and into Romania. This will include a few days on the Danube Delta (a wetland wildnerness that I have always wanted to visit), a couple of days in the mountains and some time on some coastal lagoons by the Black Sea. Of course I will give you a full account of the trip and hopefully have some interesting encounters and photographs to share with you.

Sunday, April 21, 2013 last

Most bird photographers have a list of species they would love to put in front of the camera. This can either be achieved through a determined effort or occasionally by a lucky chance encounter. One specie that I have always admired from the books on European birds is the Garganey. This is a scarce and shy migrant duck that visits the UK during the summer having sensibly spent the winter in warmer climates to the south. This species tends to be found more frequentlyin the south of the UK, although occasionally one does appear locally. I have only ever 'seen' one of these birds which appeared as a tiny dark speck on the far side of a large lake.

A couple of weeks back I had to attend a meeting down south in Bristol and so decided to see if there was anywhere I could stop off with the camera on the way home to break up the boredom of the long drive. Whilst trawling around the various bird reports on the Internet, I notice there was a small lake, that was only a short detour from my route, where there were four Garganey reported. More importantly there were some photographs of the birds. These were not just long range sightings of the birds through spotting scopes.

The weather was not good but appeared to be improving slightly as I pulled up into the car park next to the pond. First job was to try and find the birds. There were some wild mandarin duck cruising around at the southern end of the lake which had a strange water colour of bluish-grey no doubt caused by the local clay. Normally I would have been happy spending some time photographing the Mandarins, which are such an attractive bird, but I was not to swayed from my hope of finding the Garganey in my limited available time. I scanned the pond and noticed a couple of small dark ducks at the far end and could just make out the characteristic white eye stripe. Moving to the north end of the lake there were four birds in the corner which unusually for such a retiring bird seemed fairly oblivious to my presence. A Garganey at close last.
I decided to concentrate all my efforts on the drakes as the single female was not what you would describe as visually exciting or distinctive in its mottled brown plumage that was fairly similar to a mallard. The male Garganey on the other hand are subtly beautiful birds with their intricately patterned plumage of various shades of brown and rust, distinctive head stripe with the long draping bluish-grey feather across the back. The birds spent most of the time feeding in a large weed bed which means their heads were under the water.

As with any wildlife photography a much better perspective is achieved by getting at the same level as your subject. In the case of ducks this means getting as close to water level as possible and getting dirty but that is all part of the fun.
I manage to catch one of the drakes very briefly on one area with a nicely coloured setting just as the skies brighten a touch.
The last moments of a mosquito.

My favourite photograph from this brief encounter is shown below and I like the serenity of the capture scene.
I had about an hour with the birds before the darkening skies emptied its 'monsoon' which brought the session to an abrupt end and my home bound journey northwards was eased by finally encountering this long sort after duck.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hoping for Owls

Not far from my home is a expansive area of salt marsh that forms the outer estuary of the River Dee. This relatively short vegetation, small creeks and ponds provides good habitat for birds but also for a range of small mammals which in turn attracts a variety of birds of prey. This is particularly the case during the winter months when birds like hen harrier and short-eared owls take up temporary home on the marsh to join the residents such as kestrel, barn owl and merlin.

The photography here is really a question of luck. Walking out on the marsh is discouraged to prevent disturbance of the birds and also presents some real dangers in terms of disappearing into the soft muds. So it is a question of finding a location along the footpath the runs along the eastern side where you have a chance of the birds flying close. The only way to get some results is to put in some time on the basis that the longer you are there the greater the chance of a bird flying into photography range. A game of persistence and chance.

Since the start of the year I have been making some occasional visits to try and photograph some of the owls. Barn owls have been doing well locally in recent years due to a lot of effort put in to provide them with nest boxes. These enigmatic birds show wide variability in the timing of the daily hunting. Some individuals will appear in daylight at either end of the day but many are strictly nocturnal so to achieve any success requires the right bird to be found. The patterns of the bird behaviour do change through the year with the birds forced to hunt in daylight during the demanding periods of rearing of their young.

During the last couple of months the Barn Owl I have been trying to photograph has shown nearly nocturnal behaviour with very brief appearances at first and last light when often too little light for photography which has obviously limited success. Several sessions have seen me heading back home with no or only a few photographs that have headed straight to trash. In fact I only really managed to get a few photographs, that I was happy to keep, from one recent session when we had the heavy snowfall. The cold weather probably forced the owls to stay out a little longer than usual. It was nice to get a couple of photographs of the ghostly form of the owl gliding through the light snow that was falling.
I was surprised when the owl appeared behind me, hunting along the verge of the the car park, and landed close by briefly having missed a vole.
The Short-eared owls are an easier prospect for photography as they are one of the few owls that regularly hunt in daylight so the chance of success is much greater. My efforts for these have been hampered to an extent by the dreadful weather we have had at the start of this year. How I have yearned to just have a few moments with the owls driftingclose-by  through some beginning or end of the day sunlight. Oh well you can't have it all.

It has been pleasure just watching these beautiful owls as they hunt in low buoyant flight across the marshes, looking for voles, with the occasional close fly-by allowing a few images to be captured.
I will probably keep putting some time in for the owls in the near future assuming I do not become distracted by other species. Photographing these birds is quite addictive. As always so much to do and such limited time.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Frozen Spring

Usually at this time of year I tend to write a blog post on brown hares. This is an animal that is often associated with spring with their 'mad March' boxing antics. The posts from previous years have shown the animals running around or sat in the rapidly growing grass or passing blooming daffodils. In fact during March last year the UK was unusually warm with temperatures in the low twenties Celsius. This year though is very different.

A shift in the jet stream and high pressure over the north of the UK has resulted in a constant icy wind blowing in from the east which brought with it a couple of weeks back some very heavy snow. Living on a penninsula any snowfall  is usually a bit thin on the ground (literally)  due to the warming influence of the surrounding sea. This was still the case in the recent weather but a short distance down the road where I photograph the hares, a decent layer of around 30cms had accumulated and had been pushed into low drifts by a harsh east wind.
I have not got many photographs of hares on snow so thought I would take the opportunity to try and get some before it melted away. My first attempted failed as the snow was too deep to gain access, especially for my very much less than 4 wheel drive car. After a couple of days of slow thaw, access was possible and I had a very productive couple of sessions. It was certainly good to get some of these wonderful animals on snow to had some variety to the library.

Given that I rarely encounter snow I always find it quite a challenge to photograph and getting the exposure right. Its is a fine balance between trying to keep the snow looking white and not over exposing the image.
There must be some vegetation down there somewhere to eat.

I have had my concerns for doing any hare photography this year. During last year I noticed that numbers seemed to be much reduced and then I found out why. I was told in the autumn that someone decided it would be 'fun' to go around shooting them. For some reason it is not illegal to shoot this rapidly declining mammal but it is to do it in the public open space where they live. The police took to occasional patrols but whether they caught anyone I do not know. The population is quite small so it would not take much to wipe them out and that was my fears for both the hares and any future photography. I would have certainly missed spend time in their company. Numbers certainly do not seem to be at the level they use to be but there appears to hopefully be sufficient to keep the population going given they are quite prolific breeders. I was certainly very happy to see a heavily pregnant female, shown below, fighting off the advances of several males.

My next mammal project, which I am thinking of checking out tomorrow given an improving forecast, is a return to some Water Voles which I am really looking forward to. This will be a reconnaissance mission for some plans I have to photograph them for when it warms up a little.


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