Saturday, 30 October 2010

Autumn’s Colours

Last week I tried to to photograph Autumn’s typical colours but without too much success, so I decided to try a local wood with plenty of deciduous trees. The day was forecast sunny and so I arrived early to get the best of the early morning ‘golden hour’ light, but had to wait a while for the sun to rise.   As I sat in the gloom, one of the local occupants decided to check me out – a male Roe Deer, who kept coming up to a couple of hundred metres, looking at me intently, then running back barking, stopping, coming back again then repeating the whole thing again, doing this about four different times.  Eventually he left continuing to bark, where I could hear him in the distance for a further 20 minutes.  Unfortunately I only had a 300 lens and it was still dark – the picture below not really showing how dark – as the sun was only now just hitting the top of the trees.  Taken at 1/40th 3200 ISO.

Roe Deer Alarm call




With the sun only hitting the tree tops within the woods, I had a look at the lake where the light was creating a lovely warm colour on the far side. I had the wrong lens to photograph wildlife but did managed to capture an image of an adult swan with some of its youngsters. The various other waterfowl would have made great pictures had I had my 500 lens as the light was perfect, but I hadn’t planned on any wildlife photography today, wanting to instead travel light.




Returning to the woods, the sun had momentarily disappeared making the wood seem very dull. When it did reappear, it was only to light up the tops of the trees, so I spent much of my time with my camera pointing upwards. One of the things I like to try and do with my photography, particularly landscape and scenery, is to capture just what I see, the colours the mood, atmosphere, unfortunately today I failed miserably.












Some three hours after sun up its warm early morning glow was replaced by a much harsher light, though still the rays were only in places, hitting the floor of the wood due to the suns lower place in the sky at this time of year. Quite a bit of bird activity today, probably making the most of the last of the available summer food with still some insects about as well as berries and acorns. Only two further sightings of Roe Deer, though with the unavoidable noise made by the thick leaf litter on the ground, they could probably hear me coming some way off.


Thursday, 28 October 2010

A few song birds

A difficult wildlife subject to photograph for me are small song birds, especially at this time of year when there is lots of foliage for them to hide in, with them at the best of times being twitchy, nervous and are constantly moving around.  To get as bigger image in my viewfinder as possible I brought my Canon 30D out of retirement, having a crop 1.6x giving a little more ‘reach’ over my usual camera, added together with a 500mm lens plus converter giving my a total of around 950mm!

The lighting was poor, being quite dull and overcast with the occasional light rain which meant shooting as low as 1/320th of a second and that despite having the cameras ISO at 1600, as a result of this I set my camera up on a support so at least camera shake was reduced.  Rather than trying to follow them with the lens, I pre-focused on branches I could see they regularly moved to and from, waited until they landed on them and made any quick focusing adjustments.  Some of the results are as below.

One problem I did find was focusing on the bird.  Most wildlife photographs you want the eyes to be in focus, but using the centre focusing point and filling the frame, this would result in body would as the main focus point, and at f4.5 that can throw the eyes out of focus, so I found myself manually tweaking the focusing, even then I wasn’t always quick enough before the bird was gone.

At one point during the three hour shoot, the birds suddenly scattered and I looked up just in time to see the flash of a Sparrowhawk which had just made a play for one of the birds, without success.  It was another 15 minutes before they settled down and returned.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

A few days off

IMG_7724With a few much needed days off work, I decided to make the most of a break in the weather and headed off to one of my regular haunts along the Derwent.  During the week there tends to be fewer people walking around the area so I thought I would see, and hopefully photograph, more wildlife, particularly so far this year, the elusive Kingfisher.  After a cold three hour wait and not even flash by, apart from an overhead Kite I moved on.

I’m not sure why this year I’ve had no success in photographing the Kingfisher, the cold long winter, more disturbance from people or just changing their location.  I am still seeing them flashing by and hearing them, they are just not stopping where they use to.


There are certain places along the Derwent where Kestrels perch which I always check before getting too close as they are easily spooked.  From a distance on a pylon, I could see one right at the top.  Still within its ‘comfort zone’ I thought I would see how close I could get and followed a line of bushes and trees that hid my approach but through a few gapes could see if it was still there.

On what was a very windy day I was amazed at what is a light bird not been blown away, perched at such a height.  The images I took weren’t very good, taken at the equivalent of over 1000mm, hand held.  The second image was taken after I managed to get closer and photographed  through  a  break  in  the trees I was using as cover.

IMG_7751Eventually I had no option but to move out into the open so I sat down, letting it get used to me and every time it looked away, edged a bit closer.  After about 45 minutes and half the original distance, it suddenly flew off, originally thinking I had pushed my luck but then behind me, saw some people out for a walk coming towards it.

As I followed its flight through my lens, I noticed a much bigger bird which I then tracked and saw that this was a Buzzard.  I managed to get a few shots off despite hand holding the camera in windy conditions with such a long lens, one image which turned out quite good as it had its wings spread out in typical Buzzard pose.


I still have an old tatty copy of a Collins guide to Birds of Britain and Europe from my childhood in which it shows the then distribution of the three birds of prey I saw (below scans) – Buzzard, Kestrel and Red Kite.  The Buzzard then quiet common in the west has now spread east throughout the country and is now very common.  The Kestrel which was very common then is now apparently becoming rarer though around these parts it can is still regularly be seen.  The Red Kite which was very rare after been hunted nearly to extinction in the UK, has now been re-introduced to various areas including the Gateshead area where you can almost be guaranteed to see it.

       Buzzard                 KiteKestrel

The day finished with a brief appearance of a male pheasant which seemed indifference to my being nearby with only my camera shutter noise getting its attention.


The next day saw me take the train up to a small place called Prudhoe along the Tyne.  The hope was to catch the trees changing to their Autumn colours and as I would be doing a 4-5 km hike, I travelled light with just my 5d camera and 17-40mm lens.  The weather was sunny spells along with showers and strong winds.

Most of the scenic part of the Tyne was the first stage between Prudhoe and Wylam as this is were most of the trees next to the river were, unfortunately they didn’t have the ‘golden’ colours I had hoped for.  The trees were at different stages of changing, with the wind blowing those leaves that had already turned colour, off their branches.  Still, there were some sections which were reasonably picturesque.

Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5 - Looking up towards Wylam Railway Bridge


Wildlife wise, there was little to be seen, justifying my not trying to drag along a telephoto lens though I did take the opportunity to look at what possibilities there might be and certainly there were plenty of Fox tracks.

There’s also a bit of history along the walk such as Wylam Railway Bridge, opened in 1876 and in use until 1968, looking like a small version of the Tyne Bridge.

Apart from the very strong winds which made keeping my camera still while taking a photo difficult, it was quite a good days shooting.  Normally when taking landscapes I would use a tripod even during the day.  Apart from keeping the camera completely free of camera shake (preferring to use a low ISO and f22 for maximum depth of field) it also means you can use long exposures for a different effect, and also slows you down when taking a picture, making you think a bit more about what you’re doing, however, this would have added to the weight I would have to carry.

By the time I had reached Wylam, I was in more familiar territory, just being further on from here is where I watch and photograph Sand Martins though, of course, they had long since headed for warmer, sunnier climes and with the skies darkening and the wind as strong as ever, I was wishing I could join them.

When I reached Newburn the journey had taken around three hours mostly spent on the first kilometre where I took most of the photographs.

Image 6 – fishing on the Tyne Taken from Wylam Railway Bridge


Sunday, 17 October 2010

Something for the Weekend

On Saturday I went with a friend and visited Low Barns Nature Reserve in County Durham for the first time.  Although little to see on this occasion, it seemed quite an interesting place with a mixture of wetland and woodland and a number of hides.  Although I didn’t get too much photographically wise this time, it was a nice Autumns day with the trees now starting to turn golden.


Perched precariously at the very top of one of the trees in the foreground in the above picture was a Cormorant, swaying in the wind.  Not a very popular bird due to its veracious appetite for fish and, as you can see from the close up of the same bird below, the damage it can do to trees where they roost.


Mallard Duck flyby


With Sunday promising to be a sunny day and the tide and time just right I thought I would venture to St. Marys, Whitley Bay to photograph some shore birds.  Anyone who has read any of my previous blogs of this excursion, will know that this tends to end in a lot of frustration for me due to the numerous dog walkers, however I thought I would give it a try anyway.

When I got there, there wasn’t many people around and on the beach itself just a fellow photographer with the same idea.  I gave him some breathing space on the beach and set up about half way along this 200 metre or so stretch.  There was plenty of birds coming in with the tide including Oyster Catchers, Curlews and Sanderlings.  After about an hour of waiting, (the other photographer had gone by now) and expecting at any minute to see some dog bounding up the beach whilst its owner shouts at it, some of the birds started to move closer with the incoming tide, in particular a crow that strutted about.


After another half hour the Sanderlings started to come into range.  I'd previously attached my 500mm lens to my camera and, with great annoyance with myself, realised I had forgotten my 1x4 converter.  I had chosen to use my 30D which is a crop camera, instead of my usual 1d MkIIn.  The focusing wasn’t as fast but it does give a little more ‘reach’, ironically, about the same as having the 500mm with the converter attached to the MkIIn.  For most of the time, the birds kept either side of me with the occasional Sanderling running quickly past to get to one side or the other, but gradually a few of them came in close and so I was able to get a few decent shots.  Slowly the larger birds were getting in close too.


IMG_7682IMG_7702Of course the inevitable happened – not a dog owner but a couple of numpties who chose to walk the 3 minutes to the dead end of the beach, of course past in front of me, scaring off the most of the birds, then walked back as there was nowhere to go and nothing to see at the dead end, followed by a bounding dog that chased after the remaining birds!

At least, I thought, I had managed to get a few decent shots and over an hour and a half without disturbance, though I still left in disgust of the selfishness of some people.

Walking back, past St. Marys wetland, there was a number of birders/twitchers. It would seem there was some rare bird(s) around about.  I can’t imagine that it would want to hang about with a whole lot of people chasing after it.  Too be honest I’ve never personally, fully understood the idea of chasing after a particular species of bird, to me I like wildlife – all wildlife and I enjoy watching it, ideally in peace so being apart of a group of 20 or more others clambering to see an elusive bird, just isn’t for me.  I wonder how many of them noticed the Fox prowling in the long grass, right under their noses or the Kestrel hovering overhead.