Sunday, 27 June 2010

Just Starlings

After last weeks ‘wintery’ weather when I went down to St. Marys, I thought I would give it another go with a much better forecast today – slight wind and about 21 degrees, though only occasional sun. Unfortunately, this week the tide was nearly out, not ideal for shore waders, but there were a large amount of Starlings feeding on the seaweed.  This part of the beach was thankfully empty, so my appearance made them take to flight so I had to settle down with my camera, in position and wait their return as they got used to me.

Patiently I waited, and slowly a few at a time, they started returning, from a distance but gradually worked there way up the beach towards me.  No sooner had they got within a good distance of my lens then someone came down the bank (not a normal pathway) and scared them away.  I was not best pleased.  Settled down again for another go and after another twenty minutes or so they were close again.  This time a dog walker went out of his way to walk closely past and once again off went the Starlings.  Third time lucky, I settled down again and waited again and, again slowly they returned, though not only on the seaweed on the beach but behind me where there was a trickle of fresh water running, forming small pools of water and where they were drinking and bathing.  So while waiting for the others to get closer I was able to get some images of Starlings taking a quick bath.


A flash out of the corner of my eye got my attention and I could see a Wagtail flying around the rocks.  Now I was surrounded by photo opportunities as the flock of starlings on the beach were now back in range.  Unfortunately, the Wagtail kept its distance and even with the 500mm plus 1.4 converter, it was still a distance in my viewfinder.  No sooner has it come, it was gone.


A few more shots of Starlings both adult and juveniles drinking and having a bath.  They seemed very orderly as some waited on the bank while the others took their turn.  For anyone who has a phobia of birds, in particularly the sound of their wings beating, this was not the place to be.  They were flying backwards and forwards over my head from the rock pool to the beach and back and there was over a hundred.


By now there was no shortage of photo opportunities as I turned my attention to the mass of chirping Starlings that were by now, only about four meters away.  There was a lot of squabbling amongst them especially by the juveniles who seemed particularly aggressive.  However I was finding it difficult to actually catch the conflict with my camera as they either shot out of camera as they flew up, or were blurred moving out of the cameras depth of field.


It’s only when you see Starlings close up in sunshine that you can see they are actually, quite a colourful bird, green, blue, yellow, purple as well as back.  After about an hours shooting, they all suddenly took to the air – nobody walking by this time, they all just decided to leave or they were just being a bit ‘jumpy’.  All in all quite an easy photo opportunity of a bird most would not think as interesting, but watching them over the morning and seeing them close up gave me a new insight.


Saturday, 19 June 2010

A Winters Summers day

Despite the prospect of a somewhat windy day, I decided to brave the elements and head out to the coast although a last minute check on the forecast showed the likely hood of rain as well.  Out by 7.00am, I reached St. Marys, a section of coastline by Whitley Bay, by 8.00am just in time for it to start raining.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, as I approached the beach the wind was becoming much stronger (the forecast had 40 mph plus winds in the morning), it was also forecasted at only around 8 degrees and with the wind-chill, it certainly felt at least that.  By the time the scene below came to view, I was having serious doubts about the wisdom of my choice of timing and location, thinking I could right now, be comfy and snug in a warm bed instead of being out at a time not fit for man nor beast.


Surprisingly, as I reached the waters edge, there were a large number of Gulls ‘playing chicken’ with the waves that were covering the last remnants of the beach and was able to take a few pictures before they flew up the coast. With a growing urge to ‘leg it’ back home, I thought since I was already here, I would have a quick look along the cliffs to where the Gulls had flown. 



Despite struggling to keep on my feet because of the strong wind and with a sharp drop to my right to water below and probably only the weight of my camera equipment preventing me from taking off, I reached a relatively sheltered area. I settled down and watched as a large assortment of birds rode the waves.  It was difficult taking photos due to the strong wind blowing my lens around plus a combination of rain and sea spray hitting the front of my lens, but between wipes and pushing my cameras ISO up to 1600 I was able to get some half decent images.


Surfing, Seagull style


TBP_5790        TBP_5792


No improvement of the weather a couple of hours later


With the rain becoming more frequent and not too sure as to the effects of continued exposure of salt spray to my lens, I decided to walk back hoping that maybe the weather might still improve.  I spent another twenty minutes partly sheltered from the worst of the wind at one of the points overlooking St Marys wetland.  Little was stirring.  A week ago when I was out, the air was full of the noise of songbirds but today there was nothing.  During a all too brief burst of sunshine a young Rabbit ventured out, but not for long as the rain came again and it was gone.  I too decided enough was enough and, wet and windswept made my way back home.


Saturday, 12 June 2010

Sand Martins

For a number of years now I have been visiting the nesting sites of the summer migrant Sandmartins along the banks of the river Tyne.  In previous years I haven’t had much luck in photographing them due to a combination of things such as the weather or where they nested.  This year they nested somewhere I could photography them without causing too much disturbance and the weather was ‘reasonably’ ok (sunny spells).  It meant a change of equipment for the visit, reintroducing myself to my Canon 400mm lens which, since getting the Sigma 500mm, I hadn’t used.  I new it would be about a two mile round trip walk so I decided to travel ‘light’ and if I was going to be lucky with where they nested this year, I would be close enough anyway.

When I reached there I was in luck.  They had nested somewhere where I could see and photography them easily.  The location is next to a regularly used path, so they are used to people, but I let them get used to me first anyways before I was in position photographing them.  They were particularly busy and there was a lot of them.  At first I thought I would try and catch on in flight – not a chance, so I settled for my plan of catching them to and from the nest entrance. 


Not long after taking photographs, they hesitated going into the nests, flying to, but then hovering and flying away.  I could soon see why, a quick flash of reddish brown through the vegetation and I managed a quick snap.  A predator, though I couldn’t make out if it was a Stoat or a Weasel, coming out of one of the nest burrows.  It was so quick I didn’t see where it went or whether it got anything, but soon the parents were busy darting backwards and forwards again.


One fledgling (below) decided to leave the nest, maybe because of the intruder, but then decided the time wasn’t right and came back.


After over an hours shooting and lots of miss focused shots, suddenly the Sandmartins were gone!  I looked up and they were all high in the sky – I figured it must be another predator though they didn’t react this way before to a ground one, I could see a dark silhouette of a bird flying over but couldn’t make out what, but the Sandmartins stayed away for some time and only gradually came back.  With the suns appearance less and less frequent and cramp setting in due to the very uncomfortable way I was lying, I decided to leave them in peace and made my way back, managing to photograph the odd scene along the way.

I would have liked to have gone back again, by the time I can get out again next, the young will have almost certainly have left the nest, though there’s a good chance they might have another brood.  I may even attempt to photograph them in the air!


A green field of unripe wheat


A red poppy in a see of green

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Coot family

This weekend I wanted to try somewhere new to visit, and having previously passed it on a number of occasions, I thought I would try Havannah Nature Reserve near Newcastle Airport. Formally Hazlerigg Colliery which was in use up to 1977, the area was left derelict until 1994 when it was turned into a nature reserve.  It’s now home to a wide range of habitat and animals including some ponds where I found a Heron, Swans and a family of Coots.


The Coots and Swans were obviously used to human visitors and were happy with my quietly sitting at the side of the pond taking photos, though the Heron kept its distance at the other side.



Getting fed


Calling out to be fed


Having a go myself, how difficult can it be


Showing how it’s done


The rest of the family


Sibling rivalry


After about 40 minutes of the tranquillity of a sunny, warm summers day, the inevitable happened.  To my left was a loud splash and when I looked across I saw that two dogs had jumped into the water – the owner of course, totally indifferent as the Heron fled and the Coot family swam hurriedly away to the opposite side with the young obviously unable to fly yet.  With the peace and quiet gone, I too decided to move on.


Results of A week of warm and dry weather

I wondered around for a further hour, but at midday, little stirred, just the calls of various song birds and Swallows flying over head.  Certainly worth paying another visit on a later day especially early in the morning with less human disturbance, to see what might be around.