Wednesday, 29 December 2010

End of Another Year

With my being laid up with the Flu over the Christmas period, I’ve not managed to get out and about, but instead had a go at revamping the look of my blog.  It’s become traditional at this time of year that television channels create cheap programmes by re-hashing what’s happened over the year, so unashamedly, I bring you 2010 through my Camera.

It’s actually been a disappointing year for me, especially from a photographic point, with many of the opportunities and sights available to me in previous years, not happening this year.  This may have had something to do with the weather as the year started off colder and snowier than normal effecting the survival of many wildlife.  With temperatures below freezing, Grey Squirrels were more approachable and very photo generic.




As usual, the beginning of the year was slow but I did get my first opportunity of seeing and photographing Barn Owls, unfortunately these were lost when my hard drive crashed before I had backed them up and no future sightings of this beautiful owl were seen.

Around the same time I made my biggest photographic purchase – a Sigma 500mm lens.  A second hand copy came up at a bargain price and after initial doubts I took the plunge and haven’t looked back, it’s a great lens and does everything I could want of it going past my expectations.  Since then, lenses, even second hand, have gone up so I was lucky to get it when I did.  It’s opened up new opportunities for me allowing me to get that little bit closer to wildlife and yet not be too heavy that I can’t walk about with it.


A nice surprise in spring was to see Red Squirrels again on Tyneside.  It had been a few years since seeing them last as the Greys slowly move northwards replacing them.  Unfortunately, this was the only time I did see them this year with sights in Northumberland also becoming rarer.  It seems inventible that it will become extinct from mainland UK.


It felt like I spent the first half of the year waiting for summer or at least some decent warm, sunny weather.  With the end of May and beginning of June being promising and with ‘experts’ saying the last time we had as colder winter as we did was back in 1976 then if was followed by a hot summer, it seemed this might be a good year, but no sooner than the good weather came, it was gone again -  back to a ‘normal’ June.


Despite being a little cool and often overcast, I made the most of the days I could with the coast being especially productive despite the endless stream of dog walkers ignoring signs and the enjoyment of others.  Unlike other years previously, opportunities for photographing certain wildlife seemed scarce, particularly Foxes.  I had particularly hoped to get the iconic image of Fox cubs playing outside their den and had the previous year, found out a quiet location.  Unfortunately after spending many a mosquito ridden hour waiting, it was obvious that the den was no longer in use. However, one Fox encounter I did have was very memorable when one came up within close distant and, despite my being in plain sight, it didn’t see me and eventually went on it’s way.  It was one of those times where just watching was more important than trying to photograph wildlife as using my camera would have scared it away.


With the summers breading season well in swing came opportunity of photographing this years young including one of my favourite places along the river Tyne where Sand Martins nest.


While still waiting for summer to arrive, spring came!  With this came plenty of chances of colourful photographs and, for the first time this year I was finally able to photograph some Kingfishers.  The last and best time came a week before the big freeze when a Kingfisher unexpectedly came within metres of me, but unfortunately had my converter on and was almost too close making a good sharp, clean shot difficult, that and having a slow card in my camera which soon had the buffer filling up.


Winter came early this year, ending 2010 much as how it started with record low temperatures and amounts of snow.  I seem to be one of the few people around who actually has enjoyed the snow.  However, it’s easy to forget how bad this can be for the wildlife not used to these kind of conditions.  No doubt it will have a negative impact on the coming year, already owl sightings are down and no doubt Kingfisher numbers will suffer again.  Plans for the coming year?  I think I will spend more time with my landscape photography.  Wildlife wise I’m hoping to photograph Short Eared Owls if they make a come back as well as Little Owls and Barn Owls.  Foxes will be on top of my list as usual, especially cubs.


Hopefully, 2011 will bring new opportunities as well as a bit of good fortune. 

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Momentary Respite

After over two weeks of snow, I got up early today to find most of it suddenly gone, just some compact icy parts which I had to navigate over without slipping and breaking my neck as I made my way in the dark down the street.  It seemed strange to be able to plant my feet on real terrafirma instead of snow.  It was almost a clear sky and a cool 3 degrees though still quite dark when I reached the coast and the sky was turning a beautiful orange colour as the sun started to rise.

I never get bored with watching the sun rise, there’s something special about it – the colours and you can actually see the sun rising.  With the view I had I thought I would set up my long lens and try and photograph the sun close up, something I have never tried before, obviously making sure I didn’t give my eyes some ‘laser treatment’.  As I waited for the big moment I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and swung my lens around just in time to see a Fox bounding across a patch of short grass into some bushes.  Unfortunately, my camera set up was for a small aperture in readiness for the bright sun and so I could only get a 1/40th of a second shot off in the gloom, before it disappeared.

Back to the sunrise, I was able to take a few images before the light became too strong, with the last perfect timing as some birds took to the air.


With the sun now well and truly up and the light improving I headed down to the waterline.  I wasn’t expecting much as I new the tide was going out which is not the best time to photograph shore birds as they will be moving away from you, however, after settling myself down a few Oystercatchers and Redshanks came into lens range.

After a while I headed back to where I had seen the Fox in the off chance it may return, and had a sandwich to eat which attracted a Robin.  I broke off some bits for it and left them close by which it soon came for though it was too close to photograph.  The Fox didn’t return not surprisingly.  Looks like I’m not going to get a decent shot of one this year.


Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Cold Snap Continues

There’s something about the woods in winter when there is snow on the ground, that I love. It seems more peaceful and quiet than normal, probably helped by being a ‘balmy’ –1 so nobody else seemed to share my enthusiasm for being out, but also there was no wind making it very silent but for some occasional bird sounds.  From a wildlife photographic point of view, it was not so good and even the enticement of the nuts and seeds I brought along wasn’t having the effect I was hoping for though I would normally stay a bit longer so the birds would get used to my presence, but I didn’t bring a ground sheet along to sit on so I was only able to stop in places for short periods of time before the damp cold forced the need to start moving again.

I stopped off at a couple of places I knew Roe Deer would cross on the way back to their daytime hold ups and on one occasion got lucky as two deer came out into the clearing and shooting my shutter was enough to stop one of these inquisitive deer to look my way and buy me time to frame and focus my shot before it indifferently moved on back into the trees.

Roe Deer

Despite the seemingly bareness of the woods, everywhere I looked there were tracks.  It’s not until you get a dusting of snow that you can really see the tail tell signs of just how much wildlife there really is living here though mostly nocturnal.  In many places there wasn’t a spot which didn’t have some type of animal track of some sort – mostly Foxes, Roe Deer and Rabbits – some obviously very recently, others older. 


This has definitely been the coldest and most prolonged snowy period in a long time, certainly since I have lived in the North East of England.  Having this amount of snow seems to have changed the landscape, where normally you can see clearly defined parts of the wood or countryside, the snow has covered much of this – fences, hedges, boundaries have all been whitened out making it seem bigger and unrecognisable.  Looking at the same spot in the above image normally at just about any other time of year, you would not see more than a couple of feet as it would be high reeds in marshy water.

Despite not seeing much wildlife if was a useful time out as I was able to find out what wildlife was around, where they normally travelled and their numbers, information I can put to good use during the rest of the year.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Early November Snow

Well, winter’s definitely here.  Normally, in this part of the UK when we get snow it’s around January.  We’ve had over six inches of snow in recent days.  Getting up early in the morning this weekend, the local radio station was saying if you don’t have to go out, stay in which seemed sensible advice with temperatures at around zero and planning on rising and with more snow on the way.  However I like getting out when it is like this, as long as the wind isn’t too strong and you dress warmly in layers, walking around one of my favourite places will usually be quiet with fewer people venturing out and animal tracks all around plus the added bonus that much of the wildlife is less timid and spending more time looking for food.

So it was that I set off dressed up snugly with camera, lenses and food for myself and to entice some wildlife.  Initially, it seemed very quiet with little stirring – amazingly quiet.  When the wildlife started to appear it seemed very cautious and I could only get some long distance images.  I also couldn’t stop long as there were few places that I could find that didn’t require my digging away the snow and despite my wearing two pairs of thick socks, I would soon find my feet getting cold.


Apparently, at this time of year the Robins we have are not our ‘local’ ones but visitors from places such as Russia escaping the cold weather there – not sure what they must think when they end up with this then!  Anyway, they seem particularly friendly though this may have something to do with any food on offer as whenever I did stop for any short periods, up would pop a Robin out of nowhere and although I couldn’t get them to feed out of my hand as in previous years they still came quiet close.  Each location it was the same – first came a Robin then later, a few others and after putting out the last of the food I brought I decided to just walk around enjoying the sunny weather.


In some parts I went, it looked like somebody had let off a giant foam fire extinguisher with everywhere looking like it was covered in foam.  Along the edge of a wood I came across some obviously fresh Fox tracks, as it had snowed heavily recently, so I new they had to have been made in the last hour – possibly the last few minutes, but they turned off into the woods. As well as other Fox tracks there were Roe Deer and other bird prints though no Rabbit. After around five hours I could see some very foreboding clouds rapidly heading my way and decided I really didn’t want to be caught out in another heavy snowfall and so made my way back.

From a photographic point of few, the day had been quiet difficult with, despite the sunlight, it was dark as far as the light getting into my camera was concerned and I had to shoot at 1600 ISO when using my telephoto lens. Surprisingly the battery held out saying it was still a full charge, usually the cold will drain them quickly, though I had two spares in my pockets being kept warm. Despite my telephoto lens having lens cover on it, it still had a bare handle grip which in these temperatures, even through my thermal gloves, felt very cold. Next time I will have to make some kind of cover for this to help prevent this.  I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I prefer this kind of weather in the winter than the ‘normal’ cold, damp and wet weather we would otherwise get.


Fresh Fox tracks leading along the side of a wood


Sunday, 21 November 2010

A Wet day…again

The plan today was, that I would head to Cresswell, Northumberland, in the hope of seeing and photographing Barn Owls.  The weather was going to be very important as these owls do not like to hunt when it is wet, so ideal situation would have been a wet night and a dry day so they would have more likely hunted during daylight hours which they tend to do more anyway at this time of year as food becomes rarer.  Leading up to the day the forecast looked promising until the day before when it changed with probable rain during the day.

Up at the crack of dawn and I could hear the rain outside – not too promising – still maybe the forecast will show an improvement – nope.  I could either go back to bed which was very tempting, or I could venture out in the cold and wet to either Cresswell in the hope it improves or, I figured, one of the public hides situated around the region where at least I would keep dry.  I chose the latter, to be exact, I decided to revisit Clara Vale in the hope I would get a better chance at photographing a Kingfisher.  Ironically, the wet weather would be an advantage as their usual places along the Tyne would be fast flowing with the extra rainfall so they would be more likely to visit still waters.

On arrival at Clara Vale there was only one person there, someone who I often see when visiting local hides and have a natter with, the weather must have scared the usual crowd off.  The usual birds were there again as last week only this time it was considerably darker and I started getting no better than 1/100th of a second shutter speed at 1600 – 3200 ISO which, even if I could prevent camera shake with this and a 500mm lens, the birds were moving too quickly.  After about an hour, the familiar call of a Kingfisher was heard, but like last week it kept its distance and despite the improving light enabling me to attach my converter, I was lucky to get a shutter speed of 1/400, still, I managed to get a few, reasonable shots off if distant.


Kingfisher on an branch almost empty of its leaves


Sequence of images of a catch





Water Rail




Male Pheasant


In-between visits by the Kingfisher and with the rain changing between downpours and drizzle I attempted, with little success to photograph any other passing wildlife.  After about six hours of the cold and damp and my regretting not putting on a thick pair of socks, I was, for the umpteenth time thinking of calling it a day, when the Kingfisher made a sudden and unexpected appearance on a perch close to the hide.  Unfortunately I still had my converter attached and was almost too close to the bird, that and the fact I was using only 1/100th of a second at a focal length of over 800mm meant none of my shots were completely sharp.  To add insult to injury, I was using my second storage card which was not a fast one so my buffer kept quickly filling up!

I was able to get a few images off, some of them showing what was by now, quite heavy rain.  Although happy with the opportunity, I was kicking myself that I had my converter on and a slow flash card in otherwise the images would have been much better.  Still, with the year approaching and end, I have finally managed to get some decent images of a Kingfisher in 2010.