Tuesday 27 September 2011

A quick post

It’s been a few weeks since last posting, largely due to the weather or, if I was to be honest, I let that be my excuse.  Work is very hectic at the moment so when the weekend comes all I want to do is as little as possible – certainly not get up at the crack of dawn.  I’ve also convinced myself that I’m going through a barren, ‘unlucky’ period at the moment with my photography which isn’t helping my motivation.  However, at the weekend I was determined to get out whatever the weather or my state of mind.

The weather was forecast windy and a measly 12 degrees, not exactly an ‘Indian summer’, with the wind-chill it was cold enough to wear gloves.  We’ve had a lot of rain recently and I had hoped this would make it a good time to see Kingfishers on some still waters.  This is the first year in the last five that I have been photographing them, that I have not managed to get any images.  After waiting two hours, one turned up but I probably spooked it with my sudden, enthusiastic movement and off it shot.  Cursing my stupidity, I waited another hour and a half, but cold and fed up I decided to have a wonder around and see what else might hopefully be about.  Just before I got up I heard a rustling sound to the side and saw the plants moving then out poked the head of a male pheasant.  He gave me a good stare as I took some photos and then continued on his way as I did.


I stopped again along the river at a point that I new Dippers were and where there was good light on a gloomy day.  Sure enough, after about an hour along came a Dipper, slowly getting closer to where I was sitting.  Amazingly resilient little birds they are and I love just to sit and watch them as they duck under the water only to reappear a metre or so away.  This one was battling the strong current, frequently being washed away, but it didn’t curb it’s determination. 

Although still some distance off I took some pictures when along came the inevitable – a dog walker with five large dogs, all running around jumping into the river so of course the Dipper took off.  It’s strange enough that someone would want to have that many dogs but he was also wearing an MP3 player and oblivious to the nature around him. 

A couple of sightings of Kestrels which, this year, seem particularly skittish for some reason.  Normally they have their comfort zone which will let you get so close to them, but this year this seems a wider area than in previous years, in fact on both occasions as soon as it saw me it was off despite my being some distant away.

Very little else was out and about on this day, a few Blue and Great Tits and a Robin that took interest in my eating a sandwich but stayed in the bushes.  Two Kites overhead, but were quickly gone.


Motivation and weather permitting I will hopefully be getting out more often as the last three months of the year tend to be more productive.  With Autumn suddenly thrust upon us there should be some good landscape opportunities and the animals are busy readying for the coming Winter with this years youngsters having not learnt to be too fearful of people and so more approachable.

Sunday 25 September 2011

A Raptorous Morning

SMP_2368With plans to visit and photograph the Rabbits I visited earlier on in the year, I stopped off first at Prestwick Carr having not been here since January and hearing of the re-appearance of the SEO’s, presumably migrating from the north.
When I got there early in the morning it was dull with brief periods of sun.  In the distance was a perfect rainbow – a sign of the rain to come, although not forecasted.  There were few people about, the advantage of getting up this early, with only the odd cyclist and walker passing by.
As I made my way up bumpy track, I spotted in the distance, a Buzzard perched at the top of a tree.  As I got closer it few across and made a swoop at second one atop of another tree.  They then flew off together into the distance.
Further in the distance I could make out a Kestrel being mobbed by a couple of Magpies and another hovering over some fields.   Jets from the nearby Newcastle Airport were regularly taking off presumably with people going to sunnier climes and I couldn’t help wishing I was one of them.
As I watched the Buzzards disappear into the distance, my attention was attracted to movement in a nearby overgrown field where I could see the occasional head of a Roe Deer bob into sight.  Suddenly, three Short Eared Owls came out of the long grass, obviously disturbed by the Deer.  In the poor light and with a converter attached to my camera, I was struggling to get a focus lock on them so had to switch to manual, by which time the owls had started landing back down again.  I managed to get one half decent distant shot before all but one disappeared as quickly as they had showed up.
SMP_2376I was annoyed about missing such a rare photo opportunity before realising that I wouldn’t have even known they were there had it not been the chance of the Roe Deer passing through and spooking them.  I waited a further hour hoping they might make another appearance, knowing that they are normally daylight hunters though these particular ones seemed to prefer dusk.  In the meantime I was entertained by a Wren fluttering in and around the long grass nearby and some ponies playing in the distance.  Eventually, with dark clouds approaching, I headed back down the track.  I had spotted five Buzzards and four Kestrels though some of these may have been the same ones, and the three SEO’s.
I arrived at my next location in a light rain (not forecast) and settled near one of my favourite locations at a Rabbits warren.  After about twenty minutes the enviable happened as a dog walker went right by me.  Where I was, was off the beaten path and this person must have seen me and what I was doing well in advance but chose to walk right past anyway, dog off on a rampage. Soon after a family with about four dogs came nearby, again dogs let on the loose.
This is area is supposed to be a Nature Reserve.  Obviously my idea of what a Nature Reserve is and what the Councils idea of one, are two different things.  I would have thought it was somewhere where nature is protected and people can sit and watch wildlife and enjoy the surroundings rather than some dog super highway.  Since coming here I have seen dogs chase rabbits, birds on the small lake, a fox, other dogs and have even had them have a go at me.  You need a dog to walk around here during the day to protect you from other dogs!
Anyway, rant over, clearly I had no chance at this late time of the day (10 am), so I started my way home taking some sanctuary and seclusion hopefully by going through a more remote part of the woods.  After an uneventful stroll and with the rain now thankfully abated, I came across the sight below – obvious a Sparrowhawk kill but didn’t think much of it as they are quite a common sight in most of the woods in the area.
A further three metres along, I saw a grey flash of movement in and around the undergrowth at the other side of a tree I was about to walk past and so stopped still.  At first I thought it was a Grey Squirrel, then quickly saw it was a bird with its wings out so I thought it was an injured Pigeon.  As I looked more closely, I could see, from only about a metre away, two yellow piercing eyes looking up at me and realised it must be the Sparrowhawk with the kill from the feathers I’d just come across.  The female Sparrowhawk was a typical ‘shielding’ of its prey from other, would be predators and the way she was looking at me, she must have included me in that!
I know from experience that Sparrowhawks kill ratio is not particularly high, having seen plenty of attempts but only one success before so I didn’t want to scare it from its prey so very slowly walked back, expecting the bird to take flight.  Amazingly, this plucky bird stood its ground – considering I nearly trod on it it wasn’t going to give way.  I got to some distance then laid down to make myself look less threatening to it and carefully took my camera out, still expecting it to make off with its newly acquired food.
I managed to get a couple of images off in the difficult, dark light before it inconveniently pulled its prize underneath some undergrowth and just waited looking around.  Eventually it felt happy enough to start tucking into the Pigeon there and then.  I was surprised as I have seen female Sparrowhawks, who are large enough, take Pigeons off into the the trees with them to feed.  It took about twenty minutes to devour its meal, regularly looking around with those bright yellow eyes, no longer interested in me as I only got the occasional glancing look.  When finished it flew off and disappeared into the trees.  I wonder what the chances of my stumbling across such and event never mind watching it until the end.  I certainly made up for previous disappointment especially considering this time there were no dogs around.


Brief video showing the Sparrowhawk feeding.

Sunday 18 September 2011

A few small woodland birds


Despite yet another dark and dingy weekend morning, I was surprisingly motivated to get up and go out.  Although it was raining when I first left it soon stopped though remained dull and overcast making, as with last week, photography difficult but at least the wind wasn’t as bad. 

Most of the photographs taken I deleted on the spot, mostly through blurred movement as they wouldn’t stay in any one spot for more than a few seconds though, with at best only a 1/300th of a second shutter speed, I was lucky  to get as many as I did especially combined with the limited depth of field.



It was a couple of hours into the morning when all of a sudden the birds made a commotion and fled and I just managed to see a flash of grey come streaking through the trees and land some distance away.  I could see through the branches that it was a male Sparrowhawk. 

I think it must of aborted at the last minute changing direction from its intended prey and seemed to be looking back in disgust. Although it then flew out of sight I was sure it was still around as I could hear mobbing Magpies and the birds I was photographing took a long time to pluck up the courage to return.  I’ve only ever once managed to witness a Sparrowhawk make a successful kill and that was a pigeon.


Sunday 11 September 2011

A Slow summers end

I’ve been going through a distinct purple patch when it comes to my photography in the last few months, not helped by the worse summer apparently, in 18 years.  It’s not that it’s just been cooler and we’ve seen less sun than a ‘usual’ summer, but it’s also been winder and completely unpredictable, and by some freak of chance, the weekends this year seem to almost be guaranteed to be worse than the weekdays weather wise!  Combining this with few successes when I have gone out, my moral has been at a low ebb, it’s like nature herself has just shutdown for a while.

I did think of leaving the blog until I had some real success – only two of the last five outings has even resulted in my taking any photographs – but that could be another month at this rate, so I’m posting ‘the best’ of the last six weeks or so. 


A rare summers day


Most of the typical days (if dry) have looked like the image below – flat and grey but also very windy, making photography more difficult as, from a technical point of few, I’ve had to up the ISO (typically 1600 – 6400) had slow shutter speeds and wide open apertures. You can see the narrow depth of field this has created with some of the bird images below with barely the head in focus.  The lack of decent light has made the images look very flat and dull.


I may just work on my landscape photography for a while until I get my ‘mojo’ back.  Already the leaves are changing colour and although 30-40 mph winds aren’t good, grey skies can actually work in your favour and at this time of year with the mornings getting darker, you don’t have to get up so early to catch the golden hour and yet it is still reasonably mild.