Sunday 25 November 2012

Big Waters Lakeside

imageIt’s been a while since I’ve visited Big Waters.  Located just north of Newcastle, it’s area of wildlife that, like many in this area, resulted from the mining industry – in this case due to a mining subsidence resulting in flooding in the 1920s and turned into a nature reserve in the early 1970s.  So, I thought I would pay a visit, partly because at this time of year there would be more migrant birds on the lake but also it’s one of the best places to see Otters in this area.

Arriving at sunrise on a cold and almost windless morning, there was quite a bit of birdlife on the calm lake though most at a distance making photography difficult, only the Moorhens were drifting backwards and forwards within range of my lens.  On one such occasion, one of them crossed a completely clear, pristine part of water making a photo opportunity too good to miss.  The resulting image is the one below.

Originally I had envisioned a smaller image of the bird surrounded by the clear expanse of water broken up only by a long ripple behind it, but around it were reflections and various debris, so I had to settle for this tighter image.


In the middle of the lake is an old dead tree which has become a favourite perch for gulls and in particularly, Cormorants.  I suspect it was the latter who’s droppings are corrosive, killed the tree originally.  Despite being unpopular due to their substantial appetites and being blamed for depleting fish stocks, the Cormorants make quite good photogenic images and if you’re lucky and patient enough you might catch one trying to follow a large fish.  Most of the activity for the few hours I observed them however, revolved around yawning, pruning, sunning themselves, taking off and landing.


Apart from the Cormorants there was the occasional fly past by Mallards and a brief bit of excitement by Black Headed Gulls as one of them would find something in the water and take off followed by other in chase.  I’ve noticed them doing this on a number of occasions and notice it’s not food they’re chasing after so is it instinctive or just entertainment?

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I finished off by wondering around the lake and a track that leads away, over the nearby motorway and to a small quiet pond.  Every time I go to Big Waters I go to the footbridge that crosses the A1 Motorway as I’ve seen Kestrels hunt along its verges and have a picture in my head of a hovering Kestrel with the compressed image of road traffic in the background.  Maybe someday.

Monday 19 November 2012

Best Laid Plans

At this time of the year, it can be a good time to see the local Red Kites as they make the most of the short days but also because of the communal roosts where they all gather in the evening.  I hadn’t tried to photography this spectacle before partly because I figured at dusk, at this time of year, the lighting would be too dark, but I thought I would at least be an event to watch.

I waited for a day that promised wall to wall sunshine and decided to make a day of it by taking in some of the other sites this part of the Derwent has to offer and where the Kites gather.  It can be a bit ‘hit and miss’ this section when it comes to wildlife – off the main track, an ex-railway line, nearly every person has a dog or two (or three, four, five) and the air is full of the sound of barking as dogs, off the lease going for other dogs (or people), so it’s not really conducive for wildlife.

It was a bit of a surprise then that, in the middle of the day, whist walking off a side lane that I saw a couple of Roe Deer browsing on the outskirts of a wooded area next to a field.  Luckily I saw them first and ducked behind a wooden fence than ran along the road and field and was able to be hidden for the most part. 


Expecting them to either pick up on me or be spooked by another passer by, I quickly got my camera and lens out and took some make shift photos, hand held and through the fence and long grass.  After these initial shots and as they settled, I had time to attached my monopod and take a bit more time over the images and move slightly to get a better vantage point.  Inevitably somebody came walking down the lane which got the deer's attention.  Soon another couple of people were walking up from the other direction and the Roe Deer disappeared back into the wood.


I decided to follow the river up to the viaduct which is were I was expecting the best vantage point to see the Kites.  Little else to be seen along this part.  A Dipper was flying backwards and forth, but always stopping in an area too dark to get a decent image.  Kingfishers are quite common here during the summer but by now they have moved to their winter areas further down stream.  Sometimes you see scenic image which you think might look good in print or converted to black and white.  The image below I thought might work either way, the contrasting colours of green mosses and reddish brown leaves with the bleak mono tones of trees and branches.  The black and white version didn’t work but I think the colour one’s ok.


I arrived on site, and although only around three in the afternoon, it was already getting dull, partly because it was becoming overcast (so much for the all day sunshine promised). After about half and hour the first Kites started to arrive, flying past but too high to get a decent image.  I had hoped they would roost in the nearby trees, but instead were flying off and gathering on a pylon and a couple of trees off in the distance.

Too far away to get any worthwhile images and with the light fading fast, I decided just to watch.  Quite a few Kites ended up gathering on the various roosts.  I counted twelve on the pylon, another ten in or around a tree and another four dotted around – at least twenty-six.  Not bad for a bird that only a few years ago was all but extinct from the UK except for a few locations in Wales.  Thanks to their reintroduction they are becoming common in many areas.

It’s a shame that many birds of prey are persecuted – mostly out of ignorance and even now this magnificent bird is.  Amazingly even some dim witted locals believe that this bird can swoop down and take off with the darling little pooch!  Only a Golden Eagle would have the power to take dog and there’s not too many of them around!  The Kites diet is much the same of that of a Buzzard with the biggest animal preyed upon being a rabbit or hare or otherwise they feed a lot off carrion.

For more information on Red Kites in the North East of England see


Sunday 11 November 2012

Autumn’s End

Last time I went out I decided not to have any particular expectations of photographing anything, rather, just go out and see what happens.  This time I planned on seeing and photographing Roe Deer – one of my favourite British mammal – so it was up before dawn and on site at sunrise, which is the best time to see these timid animals.

It was over half an hour before I spotted my first deer, or rather she spotted me, and for a moment we both just stood staring at each other.  I’d hoped, as we were some distance from each other and with their poor eyesight, she would just ignore me but, although not seeming particularly alarmed by me presence, decided to trot off in the opposite direction.  Scratch one for the Roe Deer.  There’s three ways I’ve found you can see Roe Deer in a wood.  1) You simply amble through the wood and hope you stumble across one, usually just in time to see the white rump as it’s sprints off.  2) You can move stealthily through the wood and hope you can see them before the see, smell or hear you.  3) You can sit down at an advantage point, ideally a location you know they will pass through, and wait for them.  After trying number 1 option unintentionally first, It was the latter I decided to try next.

I sat down with my back to a large bush, netting over my lens and where I had a clear view through three different sections in the wood with the main one directly in front.  After around forty minutes with no sight or sound of them and the sun rising high enough for its rays to start hitting the ground and fallen leaves giving them a glowing effect, I decided this was too good a photo opportunity.  Now normally I would use my compact camera in this situation but this had decided to start playing up, and with all being quiet I decided to attach my 17-40 zoom lens to my main camera and see what I could take.


After around 6 shots, sods law, I glimpsed a Roe Deer to my right walking without pausing to my centre and tried as quickly as possible to re-attach my 500mm lens.  Normally this is a task I could do in around three seconds, but as I watched the deer moving past my first clear line of sight and then my second, I struggled to line up those two damn red dots on the body and lens.  It wasn’t helped by the netting draped over the lens was getting tangled up and in the way.

I got it attached just in time to see it in my third clear view point but moving away from me.  I still had to change the cameras ISO as I had set it low for the ‘landscape’ shot and it was giving me nearly two seconds exposure with the 500 lens.  I finally managed to get a couple of shots off at 1/640  which is slow enough but with the excitement of trying to change lenses in time and my hands being cold, it was a struggle to keep the lens still and avoid camera shake.

Normally the sound of my cameras shutter is enough for this curious animal to stop and look in my direction, only this time I had set my camera to ‘silent’ mode so the deer just continued moving away.  It stopped to rub its head against a tree and it must of eventually heard my shutter as it stopped and looked in my direction.  This gave me a few seconds to compose myself and take a few shots of it stationary before it continued to move off and disappear.

The images weren’t great – taken at their extreme for camera and lens.  A shutter speed to slow really for a lens of the size on a monopod and with the cameras ISO at its maximum 6400. Still, it was the best success I’ve had so far this year and a confidence booster.

You can see in my first, main, landscape image, in the far centre right clearing, it’s where I was eventually able to photograph the Roe Deer though this photograph being taken on a wide angle lens makes it look further away than it really was.


It seems every season has its advantages and disadvantages when looking for and photographing wildlife.  At this time of year, a definite disadvantage is all the leaf litter.  With a couple of inches of it on the ground, being ‘stealthy’ just doesn’t come into it.  Walking through the woods at dawn, without any wind give it an eerie silence despite hearing other bird calls, so when you crunch your way through the leaves and then tread on a hidden twig underneath it feels like every animal within half a mile heard you and has stopped and looked in my direction.


I was to see only two more glimpses of Roe Deer.  This year there seems a reduction in their numbers which I’m not quite sure of and those around seem particularly skittish.

I finished the day with some opportunist bird images, especially a woodpecker who obliged with a spell on a sun drenched tree.  Normally when I encounter them they are in a dark part of wood making images difficult, on this occasion, for the first images the brightness of the sun – remaining low in the sky at this time of year – was almost perfect without over exposing the images.

Since I seem to be on a roll at the moment I wonder what my next excursion with bring.  I think I might try either Red Kites or Kingfishers.  No pressure!


Tuesday 6 November 2012

Back to Basics

SMP_6119A quick venture out on a cold Autumn day helped produce a bit of success to my lagging photographic ‘loss of mojo’ that I’ve been suffering from over recent months.  Sometimes it’s best just to get back to some basics just to have some kind of success. 

Recent hopes of the subjects I’d hoped to see and photograph haven’t come to fruition which has dented my confidence and motivation, on this occasion I decided to have no expectation and just enjoy the sights and sound and capture whatever strayed in front of my lens even if not what I’d hoped for.

Three hours in the morning enabled me to see ‘run of the mill’ subjects with at least one image I was particularly happy to get – the Moorhen – because it was a bit unusual perched on a stick and the sun was just at the right direction to give the colourful background.  The second image of the Moorhen was taken later when the sun went in and shows the difference that can make to the colour and the three dimensional impact of the image.

This time of year and over the coming months is a good time to take pictures of many animals, especially small song birds as they can be seen more easily without foliage and are more tolerant of human presence due to there being less food around.

I think a few more ‘basic’ outings is what is required for the rest of this year, which will hopefully get me back on track.