Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Winter’s End?

Within a few days of being in deep snow at the weekend, it’s all gone and temperatures are almost reaching the dizzying heights of 10 degrees.  Everyone seems to be glad to see the end of the snow and now thinking of Spring.  The problems is ‘Spring’ tends to mean milder temperatures but strong winds and rain!  I must be odd because I liked the snow. I’m not saying I would like it all the time or even for six months of the year but it tends to mean high pressure which in turn means sunnier and less windy weather so going out in that, as long as you're dressed sensibly, I find enjoyable and it makes the landscape look more picturesque.


Knowing the thaw was on the way and we were unlikely to get this amount of snow again for a while I took the opportunity to continue looking around for tracks in the snow to help me build up a picture of what is where and when regarding mammal wildlife in a different location from previously.  I wanted to first visit the area where in previous years (Early Easter Bunny), taken photographs of Rabbits though last year they’d seemed to have vanished.  It started of promising with plenty of tacks around – Roe Deer, Foxes and the Rabbits – the latter clearly showing nocturnal.  The Foxes were clearly after the Rabbits as their tracks intersected or followed their prey.  In previous years, both these animals were often, and in the case of the Rabbits, usually seen in the day, but I saw neither.  Without the benefit of the snow, I would have found it difficult to have seen signs that they were still in the area and get an idea of their numbers.


Rabbit tracks mingling with a Foxes


Image showing tracks of both Rabbit and Foxes going in and around the warren – insert from last year (abandoned)

At one of my favourite warren locations (above), where last year it was abandoned, there were now signs that at least a few Rabbits had taken up residence again, if not in the numbers they had previously been.  This will certainly be worth visiting again in and around April when the young start poking their head out.  The tend to be less experienced and shy and so easier to photograph.


Further exploration found very little life around at all – even the influx of dog walkers didn’t materialise.  I tend to carry around some tempting goodies in the hope to attract the wildlife at this time of year which also helps them in this time of need, mealworm and seed which I usually leave in a few spots, continue walking around and then revisiting these areas an hour or so later.  The former had surprisingly little success (it usually brings in a Robin), but the latter did and I managed to finish the day with a few images.  Looks like though, I'll finish the season off without any of the iconic winter images I set out to get at the beginning of the year.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Just a Few Birds

With no luck in my attempt to get some ‘iconic’ images of Deer or Foxes in winter settings, I turned to the more and relatively easy option of birds to photograph.  Relatively easy, because, though easier to find, photographing small birds that are constantly moving and in very poor lighting conditions, put photographer and equipment to the test.

All images below had to be shot wide open to get the fastest possible shutter speed.  This meant a very narrow depth of field and along with a shutter speed usually not fast enough to avoid a combination of freezing the action and avoiding camera shake, some two thirds of the resulting images were out of focus.


Great Tit - Sigma 500mm - 1/1000 sec, f/4.5, ISO 1600



Nuthatch - Sigma 500mm - 1/1250 sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200


Blue Tit - Sigma 500mm - 1/800 sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200


Coal Tit - Sigma 500mm - 1/800 sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200


Reed Bunting - Sigma 500mm - 1/640 sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200


Blue Tit - Sigma 500mm + 1x4 converter - 1/1320 sec, f6/3, ISO 3200


Nuthatch - Sigma 500mm - 1/500 sec, f/4.5, ISO 3200


Great Spotted Woodpecker - Sigma 500mm + 1x4 converter - 1/200 sec, f6/3, ISO 3200

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Snow, Muddy and Murky

A new fall of snow for me is not just a good photogenic opportunity, but an ideal chance to see what is out and about by the tracks left behind.  With a fresh covering of snow, I went out earlier this week in the hope to check on what mammal wildlife was around in the local area, specifically Foxes which seem to have been more elusive in the last few years.  The forecast was for a temperature of around around minus one, very little wind, mostly overcast and maybe a flurry of snow later on so it was ideal.

Since arriving on location mid morning I wasn’t particularly expecting to see any mammals but it wasn’t long until I did find the main tracks I was after – Foxes.  They were slightly covered up suggesting they had been made very early morning as there had been a lot of snow the night before and another light fall early morning.  They followed a typical path showing two foxes, perhaps together though one track went off in another direction further up the trail.

I had hoped to use what I found to find out better their movements and maybe a den but the tracks showed me what I already new about their route but at least I new they were still active.  Unfortunately, due to a combination of the muddy conditions and the second covering of snow it was hard to follow the Foxes tracks as they tended to use the same pathways as people, which were churned up due to the last few months of heavy rain.


I walked around for a while until deciding to go to one of my favourite vantage points when photographing Roe Deer in the off chance that there may still be some knocking around this late and so photographing one in this idyllic surrounding.  Just before I got there, three Roe’s went by the opening in the woods where my camera lens would have been pointing a minute later had I arrived earlier or them later!

After waiting thirty minutes or so encase of any further sightings, I then walked around for an hour when it started to snow – heavily!  What an image I could get if only I could see and photograph a deer in this.  They and the rest of the wildlife probably had more sense as the only living creatures around were some Mallards on the lake, seemingly indifferent to the conditions and, like me, had a covering on snow.


Despite the conditions, I still carried my camera and lens around rather than putting back in my bag just in case ‘that’ opportunity arose.  This, however this put this equipment to the test as it became covered in snow.  The camera shouldn’t have had any problems being weather resistant, but my lens only had it camouflaged covering for protection so I draped my netting around it too.  The problem seemed more about getting any snow on the front element which, as shown during my previous outing, can ruin a shot. 

The Sigma does come with a soft lens cap but this is only really useful once the lens has been packed away.  It doesn’t fit properly when the lens hood is on and it would easily fall off.  Amazingly, I can’t find a single place in this country that makes alternative lens caps for this lens though I have heard of people making their own out of food containers which I might try as I can’t rely on the lens hoods depth alone for protection.

As quickly as the snow started it ended, leaving the landscape with a fresh coat of snow, covering up any of the tracks I had hoped to find but I decided to continue having a walk around. 


DSCN0436The few tracks I found during the rest of the day were, for the most part, covered up by the latest snow or were being eroded due to the snow melting in the trees causing clumps of snow and ice falling onto the snow.


Although you can barely see them the tracks above look like Rabbit ones and, in this area, they are nocturnal as I have very rarely seen them during the day.  It might explain why the Foxes are also nocturnal being their main source of food.  You can also see from the image above where the melting snow has fallen from the trees making it even more difficult to see any tracks.

I did come across one other set of tracks which were those of a single Roe Deer and obviously made during the last hour as well as some older ones barely recognisable now.

The tracks of both Rabbits and Roe Deer are very recognisable and in the case of the latter, easily found during the rest of the year too.  Like the Fox they tend to often use the same paths as people do so are easily found in mud and soil.  However, I have never felt sure of my ability to tell the difference between Fox tracks and those of a dog despite having done numerous research.

Much of the advice given to recognising the differences I’ve found don’t always apply in reality.  Using one example found at http://www.skullsite.co.uk/prints/Fox/fox.htm isn’t always clear cut.

Below I’ve superimposed a dogs print next to a Foxes, reducing its size to match.  Putting aside the dogs print being a clearer one, much of the differences don’t seem to apply here – that is, if you draw a straight line across the top two the rear toes they wont cut across the front toes.  Or you can draw a cross in the centre of a Foxes footprint and it also wont cross any toes.  Finally, the back pad is more of ‘jellybean’ shape.


Admittedly, the above Foxes print isn’t the clearest so not the best of examples to use.  I use a different type of logic when it come to identifying the differences such as the one above.  I knew it was made at a time when a dog was unlikely to be around.  The prints were by themselves – no human foot  prints so it wasn’t a dog walker.  Finally, Foxes tend to have a specific route often traveling with a purpose.  Dogs don’t usually follow a straight, regular line.

The only other way of guessing is using the popular guides and if the gaps between the pads are quite spaced out, then it’s more likely to be a Fox, they are also usually smaller and consistent size and narrower though this could depend on the dog as a dog the same size and shape as a Fox will, presumably, give a similar print.  It must take a very skilled individual to be confident in being sure of the differences between the two. 

I spent the rest of the day walking around and making the most of the plentiful supply of songbirds around for photo opportunities before eventually leaving as the sun started to go down.


With the regular mention of my photographic equipment, I thought maybe it was time to say a word about my trusty boots.  Despite spending over five hours walking through snow and wading through mud and water with the occasional ankle deep drenching, my feet remained warm and dry and it wasn’t until one too many dunking at the very end that a slight dampness was felt.  When I brought these man made lightweight fabric boots to replace my heavier leather ones, I didn’t think they would last long but they are still going strong and I’ve been very impressed with them.


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Out for a Sunday Walk

Today was just one of those occasions where I was just going out for a walk along the coast and nothing planned.  I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to catch a sunrise or the early wildlife, the tide was all wrong if I wanted to photograph any waders (it was going out), it was just one of those lovely winter days – cold, sunny and no wind and since I haven’t managed to get out for a while with my camera, I took this opportunity.

I started the walk off by going along the dog highway…err, I mean Whitley Bay beach, not long after sunrise and headed off to St Mary’s which is one of my haunts.  As the tide was nearly out, there was a lot of rocks and seaweed exposed which in turn had plenty of waders feeding.  I managed to get a few snap shots but didn’t try to take the extra care I would normally, which meant getting down at bird level and making sure my camera was steady, but because I was in pools water and wet seaweed recently exposed to the tide and there were dogs continually scaring the birds away, I didn’t make any effort and the images taken are accordingly, pretty much rubbish.


View looking back at Whitley Bay


Viewpoint looking towards St Mary’s Lighthouse in the distance


After reaching St Mary’s I had a quick walk around the lighthouse and then to the small patch of wetlands they have there.  There’s always a good chance, even by this late time of the morning – about 10:30am – that you might spot one of the resident Foxes and sure enough, after about 30 minutes of trying the various and some very muddy and water logged vantage points, a Fox in its thick winters coat, made an appearance only stopping on hearing my shutter go off.  Rather inconsiderately stopping in behind a patch of long grass!  I was originally alerted to the presence of the Fox by some birds in the reeds where it was, making alarm calls.  This was then taken up by a couple of Magpies who after I couldn’t see the Fox anymore in the undergrowth, showed me where it was by their location and the noise they were making.

It continue to make a few brief appearances to seemingly keep an eye on me before reappearing with another Fox which looked older, possibly one of the parents.  Both looked back at me before disappearing.  Between the appearances, a Kestrel held vigilance on top of a tree.  Normally you would expect the Magpies to ‘mob’ this bird but they seemed more interested in the Fox.


Further around the wetlands were plenty of wetland birds – Mallards, Coots, Sanderlings, Gulls, etc. Some of these were sent flying when a motorized powered parachute flew by.  It looked like lots of fun up there though noisy even from where I was.

As I packed away my camera and lens I noticed to my horror, mud splashed over the front of the lens.  Not sure I managed that or when and it came off ok, but when I got back to look at my images I noticed that many of the images, particularly the Fox ones were blurred.  I thought maybe because of the mess on the lens but the parachute image looks ok.  I had manually focused that and the Fox images, the latter because of the teleconverter attached and due to the tall grass that was in throwing off the focus.  It was very disappointing that so many images that I took particular care to focus, were so far out of focus and yet the one posted here was ok.  The only thing I can think of that is different between them was the out of focus ones were much further away though I don’t know why this would make a difference.  I will have to do a bit of research and some test shots to see if I can figure it out.