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.


Sunday 14 November 2010

One year on…


…since starting this blog, with the original idea behind it partly being to motivate myself to get out a bit more as I was going through a bit of a slump, with work dominating much of my life.  One year on and this has worked as I’ve been out much more, unfortunately, I have had less success than the previous four years – opportunities have just not been there for some reason, at least with my three favourite subjects, Foxes, Deer and Kingfishers.  I could put it all down to bad luck but if I was being pragmatic then the reasons for my lack of success may a bit more tangible.  Fox numbers, like most animals, will fluctuate according to their food source – in this case Rabbits which help make up a large part of their diet, and I have seen fewer of these over the last year.  Having said that, I have seen quite a few Foxes over the past twelve months, just not where I have normally photographed them.

Most of my Roe Deer photographs come from one particular wood which gets little human disturbance making photographing this shy and very alert animal much easier, however I know that due to growing numbers and problems with rival males there was some form of cull planned so this might explain that.  As far as the Kingfishers are concerned, we had one of our worst winters for years this year with many of the water ways frozen over leaving just the coast for them to fish at.

Having now photographed wildlife for four years, I’m seeing patterns form at the locations I go to, changing year to year.  Some areas of water dry up at bit or become more overgrown, woodland change, some areas have more human disturbance, so it seem natural that animals are going to adjust accordingly as well as change their habits and territories. So I need to rethink my approach and also adjust.  It’s ironic that I have the best equipment now than I have ever had, with my main lens being the Sigma 500mm which could have made a big difference a few years ago when I needed the extra reach and stops it has over the 400mm I was using.

Anyway, with my first blog showing Kingfishers and with regular reports about Clara Vale having them visit, I decided to head off there.  I don’t like public hides at the best of times, but the this one can make me feel particularly uncomfortable as it is usually crowded with photographers who don’t tend to the quietest lot.

On this day a Kingfisher did make an appearance, in fact on and off for a couple of hours, but always at a distance and so I was only able to get some low quality images, still, I never get bored watching this entertaining little bird.


Initially, despite being a sunny morning, the lighting was poor as the sun was still low down and so had to use a ISO of 800 - 1600 for most of my images to get a decent shutter speed especially with the song birds which were constantly on the move, it was only in the last hour or so that the suns rays were finally reaching the areas I was trying to photograph.

One unusual bird to this area was a Water Rail, which, every time it made an appearance there was a sudden clamber of photographers moving to that side of the hide which then sounded more like a major press conference, the noise of continuous frames rattling off - it just lacked the flashes and questions! To be honest, although my 30D can do 5 fps and the 1D mk II 8.5, I rarely use this option unless I am trying to capture some quick action and then only if it isn’t going to have an adverse effect on the animal I am photographing. Someone commented that it didn’t stay out for very long, darting back for cover just as they were taking pictures…hmm, can’t understand that one! I think next week I will go back to a bit of solo therapy.


Sunday 7 November 2010

The Golden Hour

Last week I tried to photograph woodland in its Autumn colours.  This week, with the weather looking ideal, I thought I would give wildlife a try, hoping to give them an Autumnal backdrop.  I decided to use the ‘Golden Hour’ – that period just before and after sunrise – and water based birds as the subject.  Arriving just as the sun was rising, it was around 5 degrees but with no wind and a clear blue sky – perfect.

Over the water was a fine mist, unfortunately just dissipating, otherwise this would have given a great atmosphere.  You can see from the first image that the sun was just hitting the trees at the far end of the small lake, the trees of which were ideally in their Autumn colours and reflecting beautifully on the completely still water.  There were only four Mallards and a couple of Moorhens around but were perfectly posed within the reflection of the trees, which you can just make them out below.  Combined with the early morning orange glow the images I was able to get were a spectacular colour which I have tried to recreate.  It was just a shame there weren’t more subjects available and a bit closer.

After shooting a couple of dozen images, I had a walk around the area in the hope of other opportunities but with nothing there I came back to the lake only to find just two Swans left and the strong golden glow all but gone, so I moved on – next stop Big Waters.


Big Waters seemed initially very quiet.  It’s one of those places where there will be nothing much to see then, if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of an Otter or Kingfisher.  No such sights today but a large flock of Greylag Geese flew in, spooked by something in the nearby fields in which they were feeding.  I had my 30D with Sigma 500mm plus 1.4 converter attached so trying to track these birds as they flew past wasn’t easy.  Had I had the 1D mkIIn then I would have probably had more ‘keepers’ but I would have lost a little reach.  Still, I was able to get a few shots.

In the middle of the lake were a couple of Cormorants, warming themselves up.  For the most part they just sat on an old dead tree, but occasionally stretched themselves, opening their wings to make the most of catching the suns rays.  Although now late morning, the sun was still ideal, being low down in the sky due to the time of year.  The Cormorants turned out to be quiet photogenic, but eventually they flew off, leaving Big Waters very quiet again.