Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Twelve Months of 2012

As 2012 draws to a close and with the new year soon to be upon us, in true tradition I thought I would look back over the year using photographs that didn’t make it into my blog, mostly due to their being slight variations.  Too be honest, 2012 hasn’t been the best of years for me – personally or from a photographic point of view, so I’m not sad to see the back of it.  However, despite my often lacking motivation and it being officially the wettest year on record, there were some moments weather permitting.


This month carried off where the pervious month ended with lots of sights of wintering Short Eared Owls, although photo opportunities were difficult due to the very poor light and distance, being owls, they are just a great sight to watch hunting.  Unfortunately, probably due to the long periods of rain and flooding of many of the areas they used at the beginning of the year, their numbers have been greatly reduced and more dispersed this time.


Typical distances experienced.  Taken with a 500mm lens + converter


A lucky closer fly by


Although this month was milder than the same time the previous year, it still felt very much like winter – damp, dark and miserable and the usual growing activity of wildlife wasn’t there.  Usually a good time to see Roe Deer, I barely saw any never mind having any photographic opportunities.  It wasn’t just the woods that seemed quiet, the lakes, rivers and even beaches seemed devoid of activity.


The one guaranteed bird you will find on a lake – the trusty Swan


A Wigeon was about the most exotic bird around on this lake


March last year was a flurry of activity for me, not to mention an opportunity for one of my favourite photographic subjects – Rabbits.  But where were they? Not a bunny in sight.  Their warrens were abandoned and there were just a few sightings.  There had been plenty of young born the previous year, so what had happened?  Predication?, disease?, human intervention?  I may never know that one, but hopefully a visit this year will see their return.  One positive out of an another quiet month was the sighting of a Red Squirrel in a Tyneside Wood where they’re otherwise become extinct due in no small part by the Grey Squirrels push north.


Typical, quiet woodland scene for this month – still little sight of Roe Deer


Definitely a slow month with the weather changing little from the previous two months and temperatures rarely getting into double figures.  Again, normally my calendar would be taken up with photographing Roe Deer and the arrival of young Rabbits but the only mammal to cross my lens in this month was a Rat which came by as I waited in anticipation of photographing Foxes!


Brown Rat making an appearance whilst I quietly waited for bigger quarry


May was finally showing signs that nature was waking up despite the damp weather.  Courting birds, Dippers feeding their early fledglings and Grey Squirrels chasing away rivals.  This year I’d hoped to finally break my ‘duck’ and photograph Fox cubs, but a den found the previous year had been abandoned and Foxes seemed much more scarcer this year possibly linked to one of the main prey, Rabbits, also being rarer.


Inquisitive Grey Squirrel tempted my some of my pack lunch


Normally a bad time for wildlife with dawn arriving very early in the morning and dusk late at night, foliage hiding birds and mammals alike and any venturing out into many areas results in being sucked dry by mosquitoes.  However, it has now become the one time of year I look forward to and plan so that I can visit the Farne Island, timing it for just the end of June when the Puffins are madly feeding their chicks.  This year, the weather on the day was perfect and, despite the concerns on the islands that the wet weather would flood their nests, I was able to fill up a few cards with plenty of images as they seemed to have weathered..well, the weather. Though I was not able to, I keep hoping to get iconic image showing a close up of a Puffin with Sand Eels in its beak.  A tricky shot due to the problem that as quick as they land, they get ‘mugged’ by waiting gulls, so their landing is usually a case of flying straight into their dens and crash landing at the entrance.

Definitely the highlight of my year and a recommendation for anybody who can visit a Puffin colony.


Having a good scratch outside its nesting burrow


Off out to sea


Landing back at the nest without a catch


Recently, I’ve tended to have a calendar of events for certain times of the year, and in July I visit the Sand Martins along the banks of the River Tyne.  However, they tend to change their nest locations each year by moving a hundred yards or so up or down from the previous year.  This years location was not good from a photographic point of view as I couldn’t get a decent view point as I had managed in previous years.  Another nesting area is the gull colonies which make for a great opportunity to practice birds in flight camera techniques.


About the best views I managed of Sand Martins this year


A Gull nesting precariously on a cliff ledge


The lack of anything in August was more down to my motivation and dealing with personal problems and with the little time spent out, little success came of it.  I’d still hoped for some success with Foxes and Roe Deer but both remained elusive.


A very brief encounter with a Roe buck


September, normally I time for landscaping opportunities, unfortunately continued for me where August left off so there was a large gap in my blogs during this part of the year.


Autumn look


I made a concretive effort to get out in October, despite my morale being low.  This month brings its own opportunities as dawn is becoming later as to make it easier to get up and be on location by sunrise and it can still be reasonably mild at that time.  This makes it an ideal time for taking landscapes and a time of year I often take my camera, tripod and filters down to the coast.  Timing ideal conditions – weather, tides, etc, can be difficult and what should have been a partly cloudy start to the day and with a sunrise through broken clouds turned out to be completely overcast and foggy.  I wasn’t unhappy with this as it gives other photographic opportunities though not so much for the shoreline waders as it was simply too dull to take decent images.


The blue cast given by an early, foggy and overcast morning just before sunrise


A flock of waders flying through the dim, misty morning


Just before the fog lifted gave a different image opportunity of the much photographed St Marys Lighthouse


As part of my calendar at this time of year, my hopes are of photographing Kingfishers by areas of waters such as lakes or large ponds – better than the dark light of rivers.  Any earlier and the water is full of plant life or fallen leaves.  Any later and the water may be frozen or the Kingfishers have moved to wintering grounds.  Its one of the few times I will use a public hide, partly because I like the challenge and freedom of photographing wildlife ‘out in the field’ but also I prefer peace and quiet and my experience of many people who use the hides are of other photographers who have no patience, etiquette or genuine interest in the wildlife.  They simply drive straight to the hide dressed head to toe in camouflage and set their camera to as many frames per second they can squeeze out of their camera whilst talking to each other loudly and constantly. 

Anyway, one such visit didn’t have any success photographically though a Kingfisher was sighted but stayed in the distance much to the annoyance of two of the said photographers who seemed to be taking it very personally.  I was tempted to tell them that the areas the Kingfishers were perched was where they could fish because the water was free of fallen leaves – the areas closer to the hide were not.

Later that month success was had in open an clearing in woodland with a visit of a Woodpecker and in perfect conditions.  Normally I see them in dark areas of woodland, but this time I got lucky.  I also got lucky with a few more glimpses of Roe Deer which had been eluding me all year – one planned and one by chance.


Moorhen on a ‘Kingfisher perch’


An opportunity too good to miss with this woodpecker


Unusual sight of a Roe Deer in the middle of the day by a busy lane


Spurred on by the success of the previous month, I decided to head to Northumberland in the hope to see Red Squirrels, somewhere in the north east they can still be found in reasonable numbers.  After placing some food down and waiting quietly, it wasn’t long before the first arrival and I ended up spending the morning watching the single individual who seemed as curious of me as I was interested in it. 

In-between the exceptional wet spell we’ve had, I tried another sunrise photo session but this turned out brief due to condition of all four batteries of my recently unused 5D, despite seeming ok the night before after charging them.  For my last outing of the year, I guess that and the current poor weather conditions sums up 2012.


Red Squirrel checking me out


Taken minutes before the camera batteries packed in

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Blast from the Past

img_5314I’m sure it was a surprise to all of us when the apocalypse didn’t happen a few days ago, however with the days of continuous rain we’ve been getting, it’s certainly felt like the end of the world was coming.  Today this has finally had a respite, but only because the gales have blown away the clouds.

All this of course has meant little chance of getting out and, after spending way too much time on the festive image left, I decided to reclaim my sanity and do something more practical – by having a clear-out of my storage drive, of which its 1 terabyte of space is now nearly half full of all of my RAW photographs.

This collection starts from my first introduction to digital photography back in 2006 and so far I’ve only completed going through the first few years having deleted plenty lot of images I would now think of as being poor quality.  As these six years have gone by I like to think that, not only my photography has improved, but also my skills at processing the images and getting the best out of them.  Also RAW and editing software has made advances and, in particular, to remove noise.

So, in order of date taken, here are some of my images that I either overlooked originally or have managed to re ‘process’ to get a better image out of them than my original effort.


Grey Wagtail – September 2006 Canon 350D & 400mm lens + converter


Female Pheasant – October 2009 Canon 350D & 400mm lens


Female Roe Deer taken at dawn – December 2006 Canon 30D & 400mm lens


Red Fox – March 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Robin with food for young – May 2007 Canon 30D 400mm lens


Red Fox – May 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Kestrel along main road – June 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Goldfinches – June 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Young Rabbit – June 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Pied Woodpecker – June 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Red Squirrel – July 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens + converter


Rook – July 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens


Nuthatch - July 2007 Canon 30D & 400mm lens

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Of Best Laid Plans

Preparation is the Key to Success – or at least that’s what they say.  Every time I make an early start to any photographic trip, I make sure everything is organised the night before and todays outing was no exception:

  • Canon 5D – check
  • Two fully charged working batteries for battery grip for said camera – check
  • Back up set of fully charged batteries – check
  • Blank camera cards – check
  • Wide angle zoom lens – check
  • Cable realise – check
  • Tripod and head – check
  • ND and ND Graduated filters – check
  • Clean lens cloth – check
  • Everything packed away in camera bag including refreshments – check
  • Confirmed tide will be half way out at sunrise – check
  • Confirmed best possible weather to give a colourful sunrise – check
  • Planed journey – check
  • Complete set of warm clothing – check

Arrive on location an hour before sunrise to give myself plenty of time to set up – so far so good.  Plenty of clouds in the sky to give some dramatic colours when the sun starts to rise – excellent. Camera set up, now just need to wait another twenty minutes and enjoy one of natures spectacles that is the birth of a new day.  Clouds starting to dissipate, ok, I can live with that.  Why is the sun starting to rise just behind the lighthouse at the end of the pier, ruining the shots ambience? – It was supposed to be further north east where it would be much more photogenic.  What’s that great big ship lit up like a Christmas tree doing stationary right on the horizon in my viewfinder?

Twenty minutes of shooting and my camera battery indicator is showing my set of batteries are about to die – not to worry I had anticipated that the the use of long exposures and the cold might drain them a bit quicker than normal and have my spare set.  A quick change and they’ve been replaced – nothing. No life. Dead.  They were ok last night when I checked them after charging them.  Back in with the other set hopefully I can get a few more shots from them.  I do, but only a few before they too are completely dead.  The sun has just risen and there is still photo opportunities but there’s nothing I can do and I still had planned to make at least a morning of it and it’s barely 9.00 am!

Not quite to plan and the images aren’t anything special.  I guess it just goes to show you can’t guarantee anything in photography despite planning. 

It turned out that one of the batteries has had it as it wasn’t holding a charge anymore, another was barely holding a charge.  The ship couldn’t be helped and could easily be ‘Photoshoped’ out.  I have a sunrise chart which I should have checked, but I’m sure I’ve photographed at this same spot at this time of year and the sun was further north.  Stupid really, of course the sun rises and sets further south at this time of year.

Still, it’s all part of the learning curve and it was nice to see the 5D back in action.  I forgot just how nice a image it takes, unfortunately these reduced quality images here don’t show it, but I reckon it still can hold it’s own against many of the latest twenty plus mega pixel cameras.  The old timer has some life in yet – as long as the batteries do that is!


Above and last image – Photoshoped the ship and pier out.  Not sure if I like it though.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

An Uncooperative Red Squirrel

It’s been a while since I’ve managed to photograph one of my favourite animals – the Red Squirrel – and with no success with them locally around the Tyneside area, I decided to move further afield to Northumberland where they still have a stronghold against the invading Greys.

So it was with temperatures hovering around zero that I set out early morning and arrived just as the sun was rising.  With the combination recently of freezing temperatures and rain, paths were either covered in black ice or mud or off the paths, frozen leaves that made a very loud ‘crunch’ when you walked on them, so it was a case of finding a good spot and just staying put.


Most of my wildlife photography comes from just finding a good spot and sitting up against a tree or something else that hides my shape.  It takes time and patience, but it is surprising what turns up.  I’d also put some food out (nuts and fruit) on a picturesque log and tree stump, and with the rising sun behind me, sat back and waited.

In surprising little time my first Red arrived, scuttling along the leave litter and pausing in the early morning glow of light, unfortunately eagerness got the better of me and took a picture too soon.  The sound of the camera shutter caused the little critter to shoot half way up the nearest tree, look back at me and make that scolding sound that Red Squirrels make.


Red Squirrels used to be common in the Tyneside area and I used to like to just sit in a quiet place and watch them.  There’s something about them that makes them very endearing, unlike their counter part – Grey Squirrels – they seem to have a character about them.  Despite being wary, they also seem to have a great deal of curiosity and pluckiness the Greys lack and of course they are cute and I think these attributes is what made them a favourite for me.


After making its way up the tree, it moved around my location effetely by crossing along the tree canopy, occasionally stopping to look at me and eventually it moved out of sight behind me.  I didn’t want to turn and watch it – making this much eye contact to most animals would be seen as a threat, so instead I just continued to sit back and enjoy the early morning sounds.  Soon I could hear a very loud ‘chattering’ sound directly behind me which I knew was the the squirrel and sounded like it was literally on my shoulder. 

At the risk of scaring it away, I turned slowly around and saw it on a trunk of a nearby tree, stretching itself out and madly wagging its tail.  Twisting around, it was hard to get a decent image of it, not helped by the strong back-lit sun behind and my lens set to the pre-set focusing option of 8 metres plus.  One of the view times I’ve felt a zoom lens would have been an advantage.

While this was going on, out of the corner of my eye where I had originally been training my lens, I saw movement and was just in time to see a Roe Deer move into cover.  I was amazed that I hadn’t heard it at all walking over the frosted leaves and undergrowth less than a hundred metres in front.  I saw it too late to get a photograph.

SMP_7102-2 SMP_7098-2

Meanwhile, the Red Squirrel was determined to stay behind me, in the worst position for light so when some passer-by's scared it up the tree, I took the advantage and moved to a better location where the sun was again, more favourable, and waited.  After a while it appeared again but was on a branch the other side of the tree and in mostly shade, but every now and then, would poke its head out and check on me.  It had found something to eat and was seemed to be periodically checking I was still there.


I waited around, hoping it would eventually move to my front where the morning sunlight would have made a perfect picture, but instead it again, circled around me before disappearing in the tree tops. After some three hours since I arrived, I decided it was time to move off too.  A short distance away I found what I believe was the same squirrel, moving some bedding around in its drey.  It seemed quite a small drey so I’m guessing it was new or had been damaged by recent strong winds.

On the day I only saw two Red Squirrels, though at this time of year they are less active.  Thankfully I saw no Greys and now I know that, that spot was in the territory of a particular Red Squirrel, so it’s a place to visit again another time – maybe when there’s snow on the ground so I can get a more picturesque image.  Hopefully it will be more cooperative next time!


Organising bedding for its drey