Monday, 5 March 2018

Beast from the East comes to the North East

They named it ‘The Beast from the East’, the cold and snowy weather that hit the country last week.  Most people seemed content with staying in out of the cold but it was too good a photo opportunity to miss for me at the weekend, so I dug out my thermals, covered myself from head to foot in layers and went out to see what I could find.

One very good reason for going out is to find out what wildlife is around by checking the various foot prints and trails in the woodland.  The woods themselves were very quiet as if everything was trying to keep warm and under cover but it was immediately obvious from the tracks just how alive the woods were – at least nocturnally.

Click to enlarge

Everywhere there were Rod Deer tracks despite after 40 minutes and still early in the morning, I hadn’t actually seen one.  The above panoramic shows Roe Deer tracks in every direction.  Fox tracks were also prominent though not in the same numbers.  Probably one or two active Foxes.  I followed one set of recent tracks which in turn followed the trail, occasionally going off but soon returning but eventually leading off into the underbrush.  It was clear these were made in the last few hours as I new there had been a light dusting of snow early that morning which could be clearly seen within the imprints (see below).

I was surprised to see how many Rabbit tracks there were as I rarely see them here, but here they were very clearly around the woodlands. 

However, actually seeing anything other than for some birds which seemed to be far more ‘tame and approachable’ than usual, remained elusive.  Two brief sightings of a Roe Deer and that was it. 

I decided to sit down in a spot I have had previous success with seeing Roe and Foxes and started to set up my camera and lens on my Gimbal head and tripod when, snap, one of the legs broke at the joint.  I don’t know if the cold contributed to the demise of my trusty tripod but after what must be 10 years of great service, it is no more.  I would have been better to have happened at the end of my day than at the beginning as now I didn’t have any real support other than resorting to using my bag or knees whilst sitting low down.

After realising the autofocus wasn’t functioning on my Sigma 500mm lens, I checked the settings and everything seemed fine.  Batteries at full charge, etc.  I tried changing to a different lens – that worked so it was the big lens that was now not working.   So know with no support and only manual focusing available and still only around 9.00am, I was tempted just to give up, feeling just a little fed up, but I continued though I knew there would be little point in keeping the 500mm lens attached whilst walking because I know if an opportunity came about, I wouldn’t be able to hand hold it so changed to a 18-135mm lens.

I wasn’t really expecting to see anything at this point anyway and just thought I might be able to get some ‘winter woodland shots’, but despite the obvious beauty of my surroundings, I just couldn’t get any kind of composition.  As I continued on my way I glanced to my left and saw a Roe Deer close by just standing looking at me.  I expected it to shoot off so turned my back on it whilst I set my lens to 135mm just in case.  To my surprise when I turned around again, it was still there though had started to walk away.  I put my camera to my eye and took a couple of images and noticed there was another couple of Roe resting which had now popped their heads up.

They didn’t seem to bothered by my presence but did start to get up to move away.  I didn’t want to push my luck and decided not to alarm them any further and move off myself.  It’s good to remember that in cold weather like this, wildlife are always on the brink of surviving and having to use up precious energy to run away will not do them any good.

I spent the rest of the day visiting a number of locations and managed a few more photographs, though nothing special.  You really appreciate auto focus when you don’t have it.  Birds can be very twitchy and don’t stay long in one spot and Grey Squirrels are constantly on the move, so there was a lot of ‘hit and miss’ with what I did take.

At one point I decided to take a landscape picture just using my phone when that suddenly died on me!  It was really starting to look like it was not going be my day.  Luckily it turned out the cold had just drained the battery but I had a battery pack on it so charged it up again.  Still, 90% had drained in three hours of being out in the cold.

The good news (I think) is that it was the cold that seemed to have caused the auto focus to fail.  On my return it started to work again and with a little research found that the cold could cause this.  I’m not completely convinced that it isn’t a sign of some other problem waiting in the wings as I have taken this lens out in sub zero temperatures before without issue.  The difference then is that I had a 1D series body attached which research also suggested the power of the camera body could make a difference.

I guess only time will tell if it was just the cold or there is another problem lurking, waiting to happen again.  Meanwhile a new tripod is winging its way to me.