Sunday, December 27, 2015

Winter Wanderings

This has probably been one of the worst winters to date for photography that I can remember. A constant stream of storms and wet weather have rolled in on the Atlantic 'conveyor belt' and an unusual jet stream alignment has resulted in unseasonably warm temperatures. Some trees are even in blossom in December! Many places just a short distance to the north of here have suffered the brunt of this weather and my thoughts go out to those communities who have been subject to repeated flooding which must be a dreadful experience.

I don't mind photographing wildlife in bad weather as it can produce some very atmospheric images but there needs to be some light and that is where this winter has really failed. There has been a almost constant presence of thick grey cloud above. The few moments of brightness seem to have coincided with when I have been otherwise occupied. I have managed a couple of moments to coordinate having the camera in hand with those rare moments when the sun has broke through and thought I would share a few photos from these sessions with you.

The first of these are from my long running corvid flight project. Being close to home it means I can respond quickly to getting there when the sun appears. The low winter sun means that there is a very limited window of light at the location, due to long shadows cast by trees. Always fun to photograph these birds. The challenge with the magpies is to try and catch the back view of the tail in the right light such that it shows off the full rainbow range of colours. The photographs below are a small selection taken from this project since September.
The jay are as difficult as ever with their erratic flight, particularly as these birds come in to land.

I have a couple of marine lakes close to home on the Wirral. The most reliable for turning up an interesting bird is the large lake at West Kirby on the north-west corner of the peninsula. It has been a few years since a Great Northern Diver took up temporary residence on the lake and this winter saw a juvenile bird arrive. A brief moment of sun saw me out next to the lake which is always a challenge for photography merely as a result of its large size. It was good to catch up with this young diver having spent some time with the adults in Iceland this year. After some patient waiting and moving while the bird was submerged, I was eventually rewarded with a close encounter and just in time before the sun disappeared below a bank of clouds gathering over the hills in North Wales.
The very last rays of the day.
Of course you always get a few extras along the way including a group of Redshank at first light and a Little Egret whilst waiting for the final species of this post, the Short-eared Owl.

This winter has seen a big influx of Short-eared owls into the UK. I assume this is a reflection of a poor year for voles, their main prey, or very successful breeding year in Europe. Its always a pleasure to photograph these daylight hunting owls and watching them quarter the fields in search of prey. They usually stay until around March when they start heading back up to high altitudes to breed. So hopefully if the weather is kind there is still plenty of time to photograph them in the New Year.

This will be my last blog post for this year. Thanks for all your support through 2015  and I will wish you all a Happy, Healthy and Wildlife filled 2016.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Little Owl Evenings

With the skies outside a leaden grey and the trees being shaken to their roots by another winter storm that has just rolled in from the Atlantic, it good to turn thoughts back to some more benign conditions of the summer. I love the warm calm evenings of the early summer. The long hours of daylight mean I can pick a camera up after work and head out for a few hours and immerse myself in some wildlife. I spent many of those evenings this summer photographing brown hares but did use a couple to also try and photograph  the Little Owls my friend Steve had found last year. Photographing Little Owls is always great fun especially when its is a shared experience with a good friend, as what these birds lack in size they certainly make up for in terms of 'character'. Watching their antics always raises smiles.
On the first of the two visits we decided to make the bold move of getting out of the car to photograph them. All the photography last year was undertaken from the 'autohide' but we were keen to try and get some different perspectives. So while the owl was not there we got out of the car and sat quietly with our backs to it to break up our outline and waited. The male Little Owl appeared quickly and did not seem concerned by us being sat there and carried on with his evening food collection duties to supply the ever growing chicks inside the barn.

Posing nicely as we shot from ground level next to the car.
Busy Little Owl.

In the end of the day light.

We managed to get plenty of photographs of the owls coming and going and as the sun dipped away decided to get back in the car and investigate the other side of the barn. Here we found the barn was open and despite the light being low managed to get a few more photographs of the male sat on some old weathered beams. The darkness of the barn space behind provided some nice contrasting backgrounds to the birds.

Throughout last year we had struggled to get images of the Little Owls perched. We had plenty of photographs of them on the low outbuilding roof or in the old round brick window they used to exit the barn. At the very end of last year we managed to get a few images of one of the birds perched on an old branch in some very low light but there was definitely room for improvement. So for my second evening visit, which also turned out to be my last one this year, I pulled out an old piece of tree branch from the small pile I keep for perches in the back garden. We decided the best place for this perch, and where it was most likely to be used, was to attach it to the top of a fence that ran back towards from the corner of the barn outbuilding. The benefit of this position is that it also put some distance between the perch and the barn wall behind creating a soft diffused coloured background. Fortunately the Little Owl seemed to get the message that evening and used the perch several times together with one the concrete posts along the fence line.

Last moments of light.

Unfortunately I never got opportunity to go back to the site this summer and so did not have the fun times to be had photographing the young. I am sure the birds will be back in the same place next year and so look forward to another couple of barmy summer evening spent in their company.

I just want to finished this post to apologise for the lack of recent posts on the blog. I have been suffering from a unpleasant flu for the last three weeks and difficult to raise much enthusiasm with a fuzzy head full of mucus and accompanying lethargy. Fortunately this seems to be on the wane now and so normal service will be resumed.


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