Saturday, 14 June 2014

Squirrels in the grass

When you think of an animal that’s interesting, cute or idyllic, the Grey Squirrel doesn’t exactly come to mind.  In the last ten years, this foreign invader has been steadying replacing the home grown Red Squirrel, a much more handsome squirrel which I think most would agree.   I fondly remember sitting in woods in Spring and just watch Reds rushing around the tree trunks, chasing each other, stopping occasionally to lay a curious eye over me.

Now that’s all gone and the Greys are here and here to stay.  They don’t seem to have that same curiosity of the Reds instead they seem to either ignore you or disappear at first sight.  That doesn’t mean to say they aren’t without their own charm. Sitting and watching them up close and you can see they do have their own little personality and even a certain amount of ‘cuteness’ – just.

They spend a lot of their time on the ground, more so than what I have seen of Reds.  Maybe that’s down to the difference in diet.  This can make them a little more accessible though at this time of year the grass and foliage did a good job of hiding them when I was trying to photograph them, resulting in my having to manually focus for most of the time.  The grass acted almost like water with they as Otters swimming through it.  They were constantly nose down rummaging around the undergrowth looking for what I don’t know, occasionally poking their heads up barely giving me enough time to focus and shot.

Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel

In the end I had to follow the rustle of grass until they either showed a head or crossed an open section, which they tended to do so quickly, presumably concerned about any predators about.

I think at the end of the day, like any wild animal, it’s nice to be able to just sit and watch them on a nice summers day, but I still prefer the Red Squirrel.  Sadly, I think those days are over.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

At this time of year… past and present

I find it interesting to look back at previous years at the same time, to see what was about and what I was photographing at any one particular time.  It’s not only a record of what is about at any particular time of year, but how much as time goes by, nature changes as does my own ability to photograph it.  Every now and then I like to go back through my photographs and delete older ones as I improve, though I still like to keep some of the older ones just as a record of the past.  This collection goes back to 2006 when I moved into digital photography and I’ve tried to put together a couple of images from each of those past years at the same time of the year.

At the beginning of June should be a busy time – life is in full swing with animals bringing up offspring and plants in full growth – but I was surprised to find it hasn’t always the most productive time for me.



Most activity, as expected, seems to involve parents bringing up their young, birds sing loudly proclaiming their territory and insects are everywhere. Some of the images I achieved last year couldn’t be replicated.  It wasn’t as simple as going to the same place around the same time and see the same bird or animal performing the same behaviour and just goes to show nature is constantly changing.



Much the same as this year and, although my 500mm lens was being repaired, I don’t think it meant any missed opportunities as it seemed quite quiet considered the expected activity around.  The Reed Bunting encounter was perfect for me as I was able to get close without it being to bothered by my presence.  Mallards and Geese were a plenty with their young and again very approachable with just a 400mm lens.



I could find very little in the way of photographs taken this year, probably more down to my ability to get out as anything.  Warblers were the theme of the day.



Skylarks were in their numbers in the same place where today, they’ve been replaced by Reed Buntings.  Same activity though, busy feeding their young.  New camera this year – the Canon Mark III



The locations where I saw the birds in 2010, no longer have them in the same numbers or in the case of the Coots, they have gone completely due to dog owner irresponsibility at the small lake.  The Sand Martins are there but in much smaller numbers, more down to the naturally changing landscapes of their nesting sites where the sand banks have eroded making a less than ideal nesting location.  New lens this year, the Sigma 500mm taking over most of my wildlife photography though the Canon 400mm was still getting used as shown by the Sand Martin image below.



Not sure what happened this year, but I couldn’t find any images at all for June so just a Kingfisher from the following month.  This year also saw my taking the plunge into getting a ‘professional’ camera, the Canon Mk IIn.  This felt so much better to use than the 30D I was using and image quality also seemed an improvement.



Another slow time of year for 2008 and very few images to show for it, in fact this is the only wildlife one I could find.



To big steps in my photography this year.  The purchase of the 30D but mostly by getting the Canon 500mm f5.6.  What a difference that made both quality of images but also being able to get much closer to the wildlife, though the somewhat fierce looking Fox below was an exception in achieving that!  I also replaced the kit lens with the Canon 17-40 mm lens also making a big difference to my landscapes.



My reintroduction into photography and in this case, digital was through a Canon 350D, a Tamron 70-300mm lens and the standard ‘kit lens’.  The Tamron lens was awful – very slow and soft, the kit lens was ok but you had to use it in the right way, but I loved the 350D.  It gave me a love of photography all over again.  Prior to this my camera kit consisted of a couple of Olympus cameras and a statement of lenses, the longest being a 300mm mirror lens -  not recommended for wildlife unless you live in a very sunny place!


I like to think during these years, my photography has improved as certainly my knowledge of wildlife and nature has.  I feel my photography has had an impact too through various introductions – a professional body camera, the 400mm then 500mm lens. Also interesting to see the Damselflies differences.  The one taken in 2006 using the Tamron zoom and very soft in quality and the most recently taken one using the Sigma 105mm lens, technically much better.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Bright Sunshiny Day…

…though not first thing in the morning it wasn’t!  After leaving the house first thing I immediately retreated back in to retrieve a jacket.  The weather forecast may have been saying sunny, warm weather but for now it was cold and grey.

I hadn’t really planned to photograph anything particular to day, as so often is the case with me, I just wanted to get out and enjoy the forecasted summers day.  I did however, hoped to see a Fox, it seems rare that I see them nowadays, but first the air was full of competing bird songs and so there was some opportunity to grab the odd picture though many of the birds were either hidden away in the bushes or just skittish.  A small flock of Goldfinches – one of our more colourful birds – stopped briefly before flying on, while a Meadow Pipit with a mouth full of food perched, calling for its young and another just just seemed content to make its presence known, chasing off any intruders.


A change of pace and a look to see if there were any Foxes about.  I thought with the time of year they might be more active during the day with cubs to feed.  Also with the grass long, it would give them plenty of cover in the daytime.  After a short time of waiting I could see movement in the distance but it wasn’t a Fox, rather, lots of little Rabbit ears popping up above the grass.  Over the years I’ve often seen Foxes here in the daytime but not Rabbits even though I knew from the occasional sightings and traces they were around.  Now it seems a reversal in habits between them.  Maybe the Rabbits got wise and thought they would be safer during the day if the Foxes were now nocturnal.


Rabbit out in the heavily dew socked grass

The Rabbits seemed quite relaxed.  Every now and then, a head would pop up and take a look around.  The sound of my camera taking a picture would result in their ears suddenly pointing in my direction, like little radars.  I don’t know how a Rabbit feels, but moving around feeding in long grass must be like us in a dense jungle knowing there could be a Tiger just metres away!

Fortunately the Rabbits didn’t have to rely just on their large pair of radars on their heads.  A couple of Magpies were nesting nearby and these are a great early warning for any predators about.  Flying overhead they literally get a ‘birds eye view’ and can see any Foxes around.  In the past they’ve always been a good help in my finding a Fox as their alarm call is very distinctive and in fact last year I found one in exactly this way.  On a number of occasions on this day the Magpies would suddenly become very agitated, the pair of them flying around and surrounding an unknown intruder.  Unfortunately I could never see what it was that was getting them worked up as it always seemed ‘over there’ or in an inaccessible overgrown area.


Alarmed Magpie


Checking to see what all the noise is about


One Rabbit braving the open

SMP_2749Eventually, after over three hours in the now hot midday sun, I decided to follow up on another Magpie alarm call, but all was quite by the time I reached the spot.  I decided to wait in the hope that the ‘Fox’ would return but the air was full of a nearby Aspen tree releasing its seed pods into the air which (see left), along with the many flies in this particularly damp area, made it very uncomfortable.

With soaked muddy feet, fluffy white seed being breathed in and countless flies determined to drive me nuts I decided to move on.  After a short distance I came across a sure sign that a Fox had indeed been here.  A patch of the long grass had been flattened where the Fox had obviously lay, in a south facing spot no doubt to enjoy the early morning sunshine.  Had it been there before when the Magpies were alarm calling?  It was certainly very recently flattened.

This is something I have seen Foxes do on a number of occasions and despite being often thought of as nocturnal, they obviously like to catch a ‘few rays’.  One time whilst walking through a wood, I spotted out of the corner of my eye what I thought was a ginger cat sleeping in a shaft of sunlight coming through the trees. A second glance showed it was a Fox, curled up nose to tail asleep, just about five metres away!  Having not seen me I crouched down onto the ground, looking down as I did so.  In the few seconds it took for me to do so and then looking back up, it was gone!  It didn’t make a sound and I didn’t see it go, it just disappeared.


A sign that a Fox had done a bit of ‘sun bathing’


Above was another sign of a regular Fox presence.  Although not obvious from the photo, I’ve marked a regularly used path, one of many I could see on the day.  Worth a few more visits over the coming months I think.