Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Kingfishers

It’s been a while since I’ve really managed to photograph Kingfishers and four years since I blogged a post showing them.  They can be very elusive but one of my favourite birds to watch and take images of.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts during the last few weeks, I finally got lucky with the best of images I managed, below.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Farne Islands 2017

It’s become an annual ritual to visit the Farne Islands over recent years, so much so that I usually take a week or so off work around the busiest time for the seabirds there. Unfortunately, on all but one occasion it’s been overcast this being the worst trip weather wise.  Not only was there no sunshine at all but it was particularly dim which, if you want to take a photograph of a smallish, fast flying black and white bird against a grey sea or sky, it’s not only difficult to focus but as you can see from the pictures below, makes the image background washed out. 

Now I could with the magic of software, replace the background with blue sky (see below example), but that just wouldn’t feel right to pretend that was the way it was.

You can book your place on one of the many boat services that take you to the islands but I don’t, rather hoping on the day there will be spaces, especially during the week days. However, this time they were booked up and I had to wait a couple of hours for the next available boat with free space.

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The trip itself was the usual journey around the islands and a chance to see and photograph the wildlife from the sea, though if you want to take photographs I recommend you get a seat at the side of the boat which I wasn’t and had a hard time trying to get a view past a person who thought it was a good idea to bring their iPad along as a camera (who brings their iPad along as a camera on a boat trip to the Farnes!! Why can’t they just use the camera on their phone?).

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If you land on Inner Farne you have to pass by the Terns who nest right on the walkway so are not too happy with people walking by.  A good photo opportunity if you don’t mind braving being attacked by one or more of the angry Terns.  You have two ways to do this.  Follow someone else and let them be the bait and photograph the Terns attacking them or put a wide angle lens on your camera set it to a fast frame rate, manual focused to around a foot and just hold that above your head as you move through a swarm of them.

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It is mainly the Puffins I come to see and photograph however, though perhaps next time I might just spend a bit more time looking around and just enjoying the brief time you have on the island.  I spent too much time trying in vain to get decent images of the Puffins flying in from the sea and conditions were just against me.  Not only the lack of contrast of the bird against the background made focusing difficult in the grey, dull conditions but I had to use exposure compensation to prevent a dark silhouette, which instead meant blowing out the skies.  A quick bit of editing below could fix that but not sure about the photographic ethics of that.

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Trying to photograph the Puffins in the sky meant I neglected what was happening on the ground.  Anyone who has been to the Farnes will know what a hard time these poor Puffins have when brining in food for their young as waiting by their burrows are various gulls, ambushing the Puffins on arrival.  To avoid this, the Puffins try to fly literally, into their burrows.  This means getting that iconic image of a Puffin standing around with a beak full of eels, difficult, but if you’re quick you might get an action shot of the gull trying to rob an incoming Puffin.

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The next couple of photographs are poor but do show a few things.  The first just how close the Puffins get when flying in and can fly right past you.  The second, just how close the an angry Tern can get to you.

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Photographic Details

If you’re interested the technical details all but the last were taken with the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, the last being a Canon 17-40mm at the widest view.  Because of the lighting conditions exposure compensation of +1-2 stops was given.  Auto ISO was also used.




Sunday, 25 June 2017

Same Time, Same Place…

…different results.  As is so often I’ve found, you can rarely ever re-create the same success previously achieve, as was the case on this occasion. I wasn’t going to bother posting this as the images aren’t good and are few and far between but I did think it was a good example of how unpredictable wildlife, and particularly photographing it, can be.

I went to the exact same location at the same time with even the weather being the same, sunny, warm condition, in the hope of achieving the same success as before in seeing and photographing some young Foxes.  Result?  Completely different. 

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As with a couple of weeks earlier I waited quietly in the same place and again, after a couple of hours the Magpies started to make a noise suggesting a predator was about but I only got a quick glimpse of a Fox.

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Rabbit

Certainly the Rabbits were on high alert, obviously due to the Magpies activities.  The grass was a little higher than last time making any sighting harder to photograph, so when a particularly loud commotion came from my right, I went to investigate.  I stopped at a good vantage point only to see a Fox sprint across after one of the Rabbits.  Ironically, had I stayed where I previously was, I would have hand the perfect view!

The Fox, obviously unsuccessful in its hunt walked back the same way, spotted me, out in the open having not settled down yet – took one look at me and was off!

Fox

Fox

The Rabbits remained wary for a while but eventually settled back into their feeding.  The Magpies continued excitedly back and forth for a while but I didn’t get any further glimpses.

Rabbit

As I said, I wasn’t going to bother posting this due to it not being particularly exciting.  The Fox images were fleeting snaps and the sun was bright and in my face – and so behind the subjects making exposure difficult and way too contrasting.  Still, a morning spent in the warm sunshine is always a good thing.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Close Encounters of the Fox Kind

A trip out in the hope to see and photograph Foxes proved perfect early summer conditions, little wind and not too hot with of sunshine though the latter proved to be as much of a hinder from a photographic point of view.

The best of the summer weather so far this year I’ve only been a spectator to, looking at it through a distant window at work so I was determined to make the most of the opportunity this Saturday with a forecast of sunny spells all day.  Although I arrived on location before 7:00 am, the sun was already quite high up and so the light was very strong and bright.  From a photography view, on the one hand it gives you plenty of scope to reduce the ISO and open up the lens while still keeping a fast shutter speed but the harshness made for some very contrasting  images especially when shooting against the sun, still, I wasn’t complaining.

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The birds were out singing in force from the tree tops and Rabbits out in the open meadow parts, seemed very relaxed and unbothered making me think there weren’t any Foxes about.  After nearly an hour later, Magpies, always a good indicator of the presence of predators, started making a noise and then I caught the briefest glimpse of a Fox in the distance which soon disappeared under cover though not out of sight of the Magpies that followed it continuing to mob it before either getting bored or loosing sight of it.

With all this commotion going on, the Rabbits in front of me were clearly a bit agitated, looking around and a couple going for cover but soon everything returned to peace.

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Another hour passed when the Magpies started up again, this time to my right, so I moved from my hidden position to investigate though could see nothing.  Returning, I saw a Fox out in the open just were earlier I had my lens pointed at.  Surprisingly it didn’t see me so I was able to get back under my cover and take a shot.  I normally use my camera on ‘silent’ mode when shooting Foxes or Deer which they traditionally ignore or don’t hear.  Surprisingly, despite the distance, this one not only heard it but was quite nervous by the faint click.

Fox cub

Fox cub

Staring right at me, it was probably unsure what to make of me, half under cover and the other under netting which I carry around me for such occasions.  Another release of the shutter and that was it, the Fox ran back the way it came.  It was clear this was a young Fox, which from previous experience makes them less weary and curious.  Not this one.

Fox cub running

Fifteen minutes later it returned, only closer this time and again started to cross over in front of me and again I took a photo and again, after a good look in my direction decided it didn’t like what it saw and went back again.  Another ten minutes later, once again it returned.  Clearly it wanted to get across to the other side so this time I settled to just watch it and leave it in peace.  Surprisingly it went right past two Rabbits which seemed completely indifferent to it’s presence.  I wondered if, because it was just a youngster, they thought it wasn’t a threat.

Fox cub

Nearly two hours later, I got up and leaving my camera set up, I stretched my legs.  When I returned I saw to my right a Fox nearby out in the open about five metres away. Unfortunately, I too was in the open except for my lower half hidden in the undergrowth.  This Fox started walking toward me and I was sure it was about to spot me – how could it miss not seeing me!  It stopped momentarily sniffing the air but with no wind it probably couldn’t detect me by scent.  I ducked down under cover and waited and still it came on until one point I could have reached out and touched it by which time, it new something wasn’t right and darted back.

You would have thought that would be it, but a few minutes later this young Fox, probably a sibling of the other one earlier in the morning and certainly equally determined, came back and proceeded along the same path as before only this time I had my camera pointed in the right direction and was ready.  With this Fox, the noise of a single press of the shutter had the effect I would normally expect – stopping and a curious look but continue on its way – which it did.  Eventually it got so close I couldn’t focus on it and, as before, so close it eventually detected me with the same result of darting back.

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Much like the Fox earlier, I guessed it probably would have made a third attempt at its journey, and as before I decided not to interfere moving to another position from the route.  This was the position where I started the day and soon another Fox appeared, possibly the same adult and probably one of the parents of the two young ones I had been seeing all morning.  This one saw the grazing Rabbits out in the open and made a half hearted stalk attempt on one of them which clearly saw it and hopped away not too concerned.

Fox stalking

With midday approaching and the absence of any further sightings, I decided to call it a day.  What could be better than spending a relaxing, summers morning in the warm sunshine watching Foxes.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Bit of a Rant

A visit in recent weeks to one of the local ‘Nature Reserves’ was, not unexpectantly, disappointing.  When I first went there around seven years ago, it was a gold mine for wildlife as, along with wide range of bird and insect life, there was an abundance of mammals too – Deer, Foxes and Rabbits – all regularly seen.

It wasn’t long that I noticed a big increase in dog walkers and in particular irresponsible ones.  I would see dogs chasing after the many Rabbits, the birds breading on the small lake and even on one occasion, a Fox.  Coincidently with this rise came the decrease in these animals.  The visit recently was more out of hope than anything, but where there was once an abundance of Rabbits around the many warrens, they have all now been abandoned and filled in.  Probably linked to this was the lack of sightings or signs of any Foxes.  At a time when birds are gearing up for breading, the only birds on the lake I could see where two Swans and a Coot.  Deer probably were around but now strictly nocturnal and since they seemed to live off the reserve on surrounding private land have been largely unaffected.

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Deserted Rabbit Warrens

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Below.  Taken at the exact same warren, but years earlier when it was thriving

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A dog chasing after a breeding bird (Coot) that had just taken off

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There was still lots of songbirds to be seen and heard, but these can much easily hide and escape this kind of disturbance but for me a place like this is about the whole ecosystem and particularly the larger animals which not only helps make the place but is a good indicator how healthy environmentally it is.

There was one glimmer of hope or possible another side of the gloom and that was spotting a Red Squirrel.  Since the introduction of the Grey Squirrel, the Red has rapidly been disappearing from south to north.  Where I would once regularly see these extremely endearing creatures, they are now an extremely rare sight in these parts.

It was a surprise to see one on this occasion and reminded me of a time I would sit in a quiet part of any one of the local woods and watch them chasing each other up and down the trees - they would even come up close to you.  I stumbled across this one which was feeding on the woodland floor and, characteristically darted partially up the nearest tree only to stop and look at me, showing curiosity.  After disappearing from my sight I thought I had lost it only to find it had worked its way behind me and was watching me.  A Grey Squirrel would simply vanish.  There was one problem however as can be seen by the quick picture I managed to get and that it obviously has a problem.  Probably some kind of mange as it had lost some of its fur.

There was no sight of any others so this may have been a stray and looking around there wasn’t the usual signs of residential squirrels, however I haven’t seen any Greys in this woodland either so it’s possible they are hanging on here.

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It takes more to make a Nature Reserve than simply slapping a sign at the entrance and to say keep dogs under control.  It’s unfortunate that we live in a time where people are becoming more and more selfish to others and indifferent to the environment and nature.  It’s also unfortunate that no council that oversees these locations would ever have the bottle or even inclination to have dog free area reserves which would allow wildlife to thrive.  I know from regularly visiting a privately owned reserve which doesn’t allow dogs, the difference is like day and night.  People still visit but people don’t tend to go running after the wildlife and the local wildlife can adjust to seeing people walking by.

This isn’t a dig at the dogs but squarely at the owners who, over the years I’ve found the vast majority couldn’t care in the slightest to others and who seem to believe that when they go out, wherever they are is purely for their benefit.

 

This is the sight I would love to see again at this and other reserves but sadly is unlikely

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Bringing home the trash

When you think of a bird building its nest, you think of twigs, moss, leaves, maybe seaweed, but if you’re a residential bird that lives on a man made lake then you’ll take whatever is at hand (or beak).

Watching a couple of Great Crested Grebes building their nest and it was amazing to see how much rubbish, literally, they were using.  Various plastic bags, sweet and crisps and a various assortment of what was hard to identify was being used.  I can’t imagine any of the plastics would be of any practical use as the nest material would need to be insulating but it didn’t stop them finding and using them.  Where they found this man made ‘nesting material’ was also a bit of a surprise.  It was at the bottom of the lake which makes you wonder just how bad the lake is as on the surface it seems fine.

I suppose though, since birds take up residence there, it must ultimately be fine still, it does seem a bit strange to see a nest made up of Walker Crisps and Haribo sweet packets.

Great Crested Grebe

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