Saturday, December 31, 2016

Winter Fieldfare

The winter influx of Fieldfare from the north seemed to be late this winter.  I checked the usual sites in November and the rowans were laden with berries but empty of birds. However, they did eventually arrive in big numbers providing some photography fun during December. These birds are one of my favourite thrushes, such smart and attractive looking birds and typically show quite a bit of variation in the intensity of their colour and markings.

Photographing birds feeding in trees on berries requires some patience to get the birds in a good setting otherwise you end up with images of birds in a 'jungle' of sticks.

My usual approach is to look carefully at the tree and trying to select the end of branches or the lower branches where a bird can be photographed against a clean background. Whilst waiting I always concentrate on particular branches hoping the birds will land there. Sometimes they do, often they don't. The ideal point to visit a rowan tree is when the birds have reduced the berries down to the lower branches, as they tend to eat their way down from the top, which generally provides some better opportunities and also the chance for some more interesting backgrounds. A couple of examples of this are shown below. Having found an interesting background these two photographs show a bird on the same branch, the first with a bird closer to the tree trunk and second photograph was taken by waiting for one to land on the end of the branch.

Another example, in my view the first has a few too many distracting elements in the image whereas the second is more the type of image I hope to photograph.

Of course this is not always possible, and so when the sky forms the background it is important to choose a day of good weather, which can be infrequent in the winter, to provide a blue sky for the backdrop. In my view a bird in a rowan in dull light against a white sky is a non-starter and on these days its time to look for birds on the ground.  Fortunately in December we have had a couple of periods of high pressure providing  good conditions for photographing the birds and of course such days are accompanied by that wonderful golden soft low winter light.

A further advantage of the ends of branches or those hanging down from the tree is that they also provide some more interesting photos as the they are thin and unstable and usually requires some balancing by the bird to stay on them. The four images below are from a rowan where the remaining berries were on long thin branches hanging down. The birds needing to use their tails and wings to balance.

The constant mantra while photographing the birds is setting and background....setting and background....  and small changes in position can make a big difference to the resulting photographs.

After the birds have been on the rowans for a few days you tend to start finding them on the ground below feeding on fallen berries.

However, Fieldfare are relatively shy birds and so remain always alert and wary.

When not feeding on the berries they will start hunting worms and as with all thrushes show the characteristic slow moment across the grass listening for the worms below.

I will finish off this post with a day I went out and the sky wasn't really suitable for photographing birds in the trees so I was looking for birds on the ground. Eating berries tends to make the birds thirsty and so they will often visit puddles to drink and bathe. I managed to find a group using a long puddle in the middle of a quiet cul-de-sac and immediately spotted an opportunity for some images.

Interestingly after the birds left the puddle, I went to look at it from the other side and found it would have created images with dark water and been back-lit which could have produced some interesting photographs. Maybe something for another day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Morning with Stoats

Apologies for the lack of recent posts, it has been a busy time for me with my new business. Also I wanted to have a short break from the blog to recharge my batteries. As the blog has now passed its 10th anniversary, I figured a short break was deserved. 

For this post I want to wind you back to the summer and a short morning session when I tried to photograph some stoats. It had been four years since I last tried to photograph these mini predators and a session with them was long overdue. I love photographing stoats but they are very tricky to photograph, partly due to the fact that they move so quickly and rarely pause which is further compounded by the rocky terrain where I photograph them. 

It's  really a case of now you see a stoat and an instant later you don't as it disappears behind a boulder. A real game of hide and seek between the stoats and photographer.
For photographing the stoats you have a very small window of opportunity of around 2 to 3 weeks, as the easiest time is generally when the young are just fully grown and about to disperse away from the adults. At these times the adults will leave the young playing in a group while they go off hunting. However, trying to predict exactly when that 'photography window' will occur is difficult to predict with certainty and the vagaries of the British climate can have a direct impact on the optimum time to visit. Unfortunately not only was my visit this year mis-timed, but it also coincided with a morning of poor light and frequent heavy showers.  Ideally you need good light and fast shutter speeds are normally the order of the day with these very fast animals. This particular morning was going to need high ISO and a wide open lens to try and make the most of the poor light available. The sun only made a brief and very temporary appearance.

It took me about an hour of searching to find the stoats and when I found them it was two adults actively hunting. During the morning I only caught one brief glimpse of one of the kits and they stayed underground in one of the temporary dens throughout the session.  The adults were moving fast and covering a lot of ground in their search for prey along the foreshore. They certainly kept me busy as I tried to get ahead of them and let them come to and past me as they rapidly weaved their way through the large boulders.

It was a slight frustrating morning as I would get a glimpse of a stoat and it would then disappear behind a rock just as I manage to get the camera trained on it. Every photograph was hard won and I was pleased to get a few.  Such a  real pleasure to be in the company of these beautiful animals for about an hour and watch them go about their lives. 

Eventually the two adult stoats went to ground as the weather deteriorated and I decided to bring the session to a close. Hopefully I can catch up with them again next summer with an improvement in my timing and the light.  


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