Saturday 29 May 2010

Damp, cold and windy…yes, it’s a Bank Holiday Weekend!

What a difference a week makes.  Last weekend the temperatures got into the mid twenties with bright sunshine, this weekend it struggled to get into double figures!  So with the forecast for light rain all day I decided to visit one of the local hides – at least I would be out of the rain and wind.  I use hides but, even in winter, prefer not to, I feel a certain ‘detachment’ from the nature around.  Although you can still see wildlife, your other sensors are limited and then there’s those others who use the hide, many of which seem to lack any kind of ‘etiquette’ and seemingly think that because they are in the hide, that somehow the wildlife outside can no longer see or hear them no matter what they do.

However, in this case there was a regular, another photographer who seems to have a particular keenness in photographing the Kingfishers who have been known to visit this particular location, but looking around at the pond surface, there was barely any area that didn’t have a covering of weed – not ideal for Kingfishers who need to see into the water to see their prey.  Besides, the bad winter I’m sure has taken its toll on the local population and so far this year I haven’t seen a single one unfortunately.

After an hour or so there was very little to see except for a pair of Coots with their single remaining offspring, presumingly the others fell prey to a local predator such as the Heron or a Fox or some natural causes. 


With the arrival of a Heron, things started to get a bit more interesting – at least from a photographic point of view.  I find these large birds very photogenic, especially when they are hunting although they can be sensitive to humans.  This one seemed to find the odd tasty morsel whilst working its way around the edges of the pond before eventually flying off to the far side into the reed beds.


A female Mallard flew in for a brief visit before taking off, where I was just able to train my lens on its take off.  At this point, it settled down to another quite period with only Swallows flying in and around though too fast for me to have a chance of photographing them, and the Coots were still around, hiding within the reeds.


With a brief lull in the light rain I decided to venture out. The weather seemed to be brightening up with even an appearance of the Sun, I packed my camera away and headed out along the Derwent River.  I decided to take my favourite route which, if you’re lucky, you can see a wide range of wildlife, Mammals such as Otters, Foxes and Deer as well as Kingfishers, Dippers, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks and thanks to a recent re-introduction, Red Kites.  The latter have become quite common now and can almost be guaranteed seen gliding over the area at any time of the year.


A brief appearance of the Sun brightens up a field of wild flowers


Silhouette of a Red Kite


It wasn’t long before I saw my first Red Kite, unfortunately, it came overhead when I was walking between an area of trees and had my camera packed away. By the time I managed to get this out and point it towards the bird it was already almost past and I hadn’t had time to change my exposure settings to dial in some compensation for the sky so it ended up an image of a silhouette.  Further along and another Kite though this was much higher and the appearance of a Crow that started to mob it, drove it away.


Red Kite being mobbed by a Crow


I stopped and sat at a few locations where I new Dippers often frequented and just sat there, enjoying the sounds of the river.  It’s unfortunate that this part of the Derwent suffers from a lot of rubbish being dumped – empty cans of various alcoholic beverages, plastic bottles, crisp packets and, lots of little bags of dog crap!  What on earth is the point of clearing up after your dog only to leave numerous little packages that, now, as a result of them being placed in plastic, will still be around at the end of the next Ice Age!!  It’s no wonder I have such a low opinion of dog owners.  These people are imbeciles.

After an hour at my final stop, I decided to head off as the skies were getting darker.  Normally, stopping at this location for any period at this time of year, I would see a Kingfisher, but nothing, which confirmed my fears that there is currently no Kingfishers resident here so far this year.  Hopefully, at the end of the summer, when the young of other Kingfishers in the area leave the nest and find their own territories, they will once again frequent this area.  The river’s just not the same without them.


The River Derwent

Sunday 23 May 2010

Warbling Delight

With promises of it being the first day of summer weather on a weekend, this year, I managed to drag myself out of bed at 5:00 am this morning – it’s amazing how much more easier it is to do so at this time of year when it’s bright and sunny than when it was dark and cold as of 5 months ago.  Normally, when I’m still in the built up areas of the city, I like to have my MP3 headphones on so I can just turn off from the grim and noise, hustle and bustle but today, because it was so early and because of the time of year, there was a chorus of bird songs in the air.  Whilst waiting at the Metro station I just listened and picked out the different sounds – Robins, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Swallows, Wrens – all seeming to compete with each other.  The only other person waiting at the station seemed oblivious to this, something that living in a city does to many, he was busy texting someone.  Who on earth could you be texting at 6:00 am on a Saturday morning???

After the usual dubious delights of public transport seeing me to my destination, the plan was to make myself comfortable at a spot where I thought might be my last chance of seeing this years Fox cubs before they grew up and the mosquito hordes took up residence.  Unfortunately the recent spell of warm weather seemed to have brought the mosquito menace out a few weeks earlier than I had hoped and as I walked through the woods they must have thought they had hit the jackpot with nine pints of blood walking past their neighbourhood.  Fortunately I had become prepared, bringing a long sleeve shirt with me, anti histamines and some antiseptic cream.
After attempting some 40 minutes being subjected to constant attack by an assortment of different sized mosquitoes and with no luck at seeing anything never mind the Foxes, I beat a hasty retreat to an open area near water where I new they wouldn’t be and ‘licked my wounds’.  The buzzing sound I had been listening to was now replaced by a bird singing – a Sedge Warbler – an amazing sound for such a small bird.  For a while I couldn’t find where it was coming from even though it seemed so close.

As it was very bright and sunny, I put my 1.4 converter on my 500mm lens and attached my monopod and edged towards the noise slowly and eventually could see this summer migrant perched on a reed singing away.  The photographs I took weren’t great as I was in an awkward position and, despite having the monopod and a shutter speed of around 1/1000 sec, I still struggled to keep the image still in my viewfinder and there were other reeds obstructing the view.

The sound of a Sage Warbler


After taking a dozen or so images, I decided to just enjoy the sun and birds singing.  By 11:00 am it was starting to get warm (the forecast was for around 25 degrees) and the Warbler took shelter from the sun.  I thought I would make the most of the bright light and take a few infrared images which I love the effect of though still trying to master the technique. 


I had guessed that most of the animals by now would have also taken shelter and as I headed back through the woods home, this seemed to be the case though I did see some Roe Deer, but at the last minute as there war now in a dense undergrowth of ferns at this time of year.

Just before exiting the woods, I heard some rustling in some nearby reeds running alongside the path I was on, then, about four metres away, I could see the top part of a Fox coming out of the thickest part of the reed bed and then moving parallel to the direction I had just come from.

I crouched down and stopped, thinking it was going to come out and use the path I was on.  I pointed my camera at it, but because of  the reeds I struggled to focus on it, so tried manually but the shutter speed was only 1/200 of a second – way to slow for a 500mm lens and would have given me camera shake as well as alerting the Fox for nothing.  Once I realised it was not going to come out of the reeds, I headed off back in the same direction it was going, knowing that there was a gap further along which it would have to go through, giving me a chance to photograph it, but waiting there it must have doubled back.  Unusual, as, unless it was hunting, Foxes tend to prefer the path of least resistance so creating their own routes or using existing man made ones.

For some reason, this year so far I have had no luck in photographing Foxes despite being very close to them on a number of occasions.  It looks like it will have to wait another year before I can get my Fox cubs image.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Along the Tyne

I thought I’d have a wonder around somewhere different this weekend and so went along the south west part of the Tyne River where I had passed by a number of occasions and was curious about.  I’m not a born and bred ‘Geordie’ but I have lived here long enough to see massive changes to the looks of the area especially the redevelopment of the river areas from the industrial and shipbuilding to leisure and housing.  There is also a lot of forgotten areas like this one I visited that was slowly being reclaimed by nature.

From a distance this area looks quite green, but on closer inspection there is a lot of debris – glass, brick, metals as well as general rubbish including plastics, batteries and circuit boards, so although time will visually remove the industrial scars, much of the waste will remain for a  considerable period yet.

The Tyne itself has also come a long way.  From being polluted by industry to a clean river where Otters are now found, which is usually a sure sign as to the health of a river.


Along the banks, when the tide is right, a variety of birds collect, though on this occasion the tide was too low and only some Shelducks were feeding by sifting through the mud, with overhead, Gulls and Swifts.


Shelducks watching one of the many recreational activities that take place on the Tyne.


Later, I visited Shibdon Pond Local Nature Reserve, further along the Tyne.  I hadn’t been here for a while, normally finding it a bit quite, which sure enough, when I arrived, it was.  Most of the activity was in the middle of the large pond but after a while a Lapwing came by and did a bit of pruning.


Whilst trying to track a Turn in my viewfinder, I heard a commotion to the right and saw a Moorhen and Coot having a bit of a disagreement and was able to quickly swing my camera around to catch the end of territorial conflict between the two.  Both these birds can be very confrontational when it comes to defending their territory or nest.


Coot Vs Moorhen

TBP_4297 TBP_4298 TBP_4299

After the Coot and Moorhen finished and went their separate ways, I went back to photographing a Tern.  This particular one was feeding its mate who was on a nearby man made platform and would follow a regular pattern which occasionally meant coming close enough so that I could get a half decent photograph.  He would take off, fly across to my left, hovering sometimes and diving then reach a certain point then go back the same way by which time it had usually caught a fish which it then took back to his partner then start the process again.  I watched him have about seven successful trips before he eventually had a rest.


Monday 10 May 2010

Bit of a mixed bag

After a few hard weeks at work, I went out and about this weekend for some R & R.  I think I’m becoming more and more depended of being able to get out into ‘the wilds’ and find some remote location and just sit there, listening to the sounds around me, it’s very therapeutic and seems to help increase your senses – probably some through back to some ancestral gene.  When the weather’s bad and I can’t get out I tend to be a bit more ‘ratty’.

Anyway, on this particular day, I had also hoped to catch site of the local Fox cubs, having kept missing them for the last few years and with it being now May, time was running out again.  The weather was mixed – cloudy with some sunny spells but windy and the temperature not even reaching double figures – IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE NEARLY SUMMER!! Less than four months and Autumn will have set in and we can look forward to another eight months of cold weather!

It could be my imagination, but the cold spell seems to have driven the wildlife into some kind of hibernation compared to a few weeks ago when we had some nice weather and the woods was full of noise and life.  An hours patience of sitting with my back against a tree and down wind from where I was expecting to see anything, paid off with a Roe Deer stag walking past, but no Foxes.

Another hour of nothing much and I decided a new location which, after a slow start, livened up with a Magpie which kept flying down to some muddy patch and collecting what seemed to be nesting material, though I would have thought it was a bit late.

A nervous Jay made a brief followed by the Magpie back to collect some more mud.

Two Mallard Ducks flew in and wondered about before heading for the small patch of water.  Unfortunately, the lighting wasn’t to good with one minute the sun was out and it was very bright, the next it was hidden behind the clouds and needing a fast shutter speed for the Sigma 500mm, I had to keep changing the ISO from 800 to 1600 so that I could keep a faster enough shutter speed and prevent camera shake with such a long lens.

Not long after ducks arrived, a Pheasant also made an appearance, staying around long enough to let me take some photographs before getting a bit nervous with me and decided to fly off.
Just to complete my variation of wildlife for the day a Grey Squirrel made an appearance as did a Heron.
Two male Pheasants made an appearance and had a quick squabble with one of them backing off, flying straight in my direction allowing me to get some close ups of its lovely colouration, with the sun coming out just at the right time to help accentuate this.
Another appearance from my busy Magpie friend and I decided to call it a day, with still not joy with even seeing a Fox never mind the cubs.  Looks like it’s going to be another year wait.