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Marvellous Macro

1 August 2023

I was recently fortunate enough to pick up a good condition Canon 180mm f/3.5 macro lens for a song.  This is a lens I have been keeping an eye open for on the second-hand market; it's one of the few lens that Canon have never updated, probably because they got it right first-time.

So the last few weekends have been spent getting used to it, mounted on Canon 5d Mk IV and quite often used with the Pixapro twin macro flash units.  This allows me to get a good depth of field of around f/11, with a 1/200 sec shutter speed at 400 ISO, the flash just adding some infill light, or isolating the subject.  The 180mm focal length provides a good working distance from the subject, allowing 1:1 images without casting my shadow on and disturbing the subject.

Click here for a gallery of macro images.

19 June 2023

May found Julia and I spending over two weeks photographing birds and bears (and a few other mammals) in Finland.  This was a three-centre holiday starting on Kussamo then a few days on Oulu and finally five days of bears at Wild Brown Bear at Kostamustie with friends on a BearPhoto trip.

 

Whilst at Kussamo I spent a long morning photographing Black Grouse Lekking from a hide in a meadow adjacent to woodland,  arriving at around 02:00, spending 6 hrs in the hide.  Temperatures overnight did dip below freezing, so I was grateful for some layered clothing, but heating wasn't really needed.  The following day I moved to a Capercaillie Lek, arriving around 17:00 and stayed until 09:00 the following morning.  By 19:00 a male Capercaillie had arrived and started popping and displaying giving excellent views.  At midnight the bird was still displaying, but sleep was calling.  I woke at about 05:00 and the Capercaillie was soon calling again (or had it even stopped?)  The rest of the week was spent exploring the woodlands and lakes around Kussamo.  A visit to one of the lakes one morning was rewarded with several lekking Ruff which allow a careful slow approach.  Two evenings at the Kussamo Bear hides produced images of White-tailed Eagles and several wader species, plus a female Brown Bear.

 

Moving onto Oulu our attention was again on wetland birds and overnight in a low-level wetland hide on the edge of Liminka Bay produced excellent shots at water-level of several waders.

 

Our final destination was to Wild Brown Bear and five nights of photographing Brown Bears and days photographing Red Squirrels and birds.

 

There's plenty of images to see here.

7 May 2023

I've made several visits to the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and adjacent Burton Marshes.  In the spring the area is alive with arriving summer migrants, whilst passage waders are beginning to get their bright breeding plumage.

Most visits have started off at the end of Station Road in Burton, walking along the cycleway towards Burton Mere, looking out over the marsh and the inland fields.  On some visits the fields have been bouncing with Wheatears, mainly of the slightly larger and brighter Greenland race.  Meadow Pipis, Linnets and Goldfinches alsp fed on the grassy fields and the edges of the marsh, whilst rabbits grazed amongst the sheep.    The reedbeds and scrub held singing Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats.  Little  and Great Egrets, and Grey Herons flew over from the heronry at Burton Mere to feed on the Marsh or Estuary.

Burton Mere Wetlands consists of wet grassland, reedbeds, woodland and open water. The reedbeds, like those on the Marsh,  support Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers; the scrubby areas hold Whitethroats, Blackcap and Garden Warbler.  Sand and House Martins and Swallows hawk for insects over the water bodies which held waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Dunlin and Ringed Plover all passing through on their way to northerly breeding grounds.  They were joining the breeding Avocet, Lapwing and Oystercatcher.  Rarer waders have included a long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher and a couple of visits by a Black-winged Stilt.

Herons are also a feature of Burton Mere Wetlands - Great, Little and Cattle Egret are regularly seen along with occasional Spoonbill and Bittern.

As you can imagine, I've plenty of images from the last few weeks.

Sensational Seabirds

23 April 2023

Julia and I are delighted to be joining Ocean Wildlife Encounters, a team of naturalists who provide guest lectures on various cruises around the world.  Our first tour will be with Fred Olsen Cruises on their "Scenic British Isles Cruise" in September with our good friends Jeff Clarke and Laura Dennis.  As part of the cruise Jeff and I will be entertaining the cruise participants with our talks.  One of my talks will be about the Seabirds of the UK, their migrations and the importance of the UK for these birds.   To get some new images for my talk, I headed to Bempton on Thursday evening ready for an early(ish) start at the cliffs on Friday.


Friday dawned with a grey sky and a biting northerly wind.  No need to worry about bright light bleaching out the whites on the seabirds!!  I headed to the Jubilee Corner viewing corner - the most northerly of the viewing points - and was treated to the sights, sounds and smells of one of the UK' best mainland seabird colonies.  Gannets were easily observed as they collected grass from the cliff-tops for their nests.  kittiwakes called out their names and they flew back and to from the cliffs,  fulmars flew past on their stuff wings whilst guillemots, puffins and razorbills attempted to land on the ledges, buffeted by the gusting winds blowing up the cliff face.


I got the impression that the numbers of seabirds were down on previous years, perhaps due to Avian Flue or poor breeding seasons in previous years; or maybe the birds were just late arriving back on the breeding cliffs.  The weather occasionally cleared, but the photographic opportunities were excellent. During the day I visited all the viewing platforms and  spent most of the time photographing the gannets collecting nesting material or getting photographs of the seabirds as they approached the cliffs.


A selection of images from the visit are here and lots more can be seen on my flickr page.  Most of the images were taken with the Canon 5D mkIV and 400mm f/4 DO and 1.4x convertor.  ISO 800, f11 and around 1/2000 sec shutter speed.

High Tide Waders

25 March 2023

Last week saw several high tides on the Dee Estuary, when the predicted tide height is in excess of 10m and combined with a tidal swell and with the wind behind it, the saltmarshes all along the Dee are flooded with the tide reaching the the Old Baths car park at Parkgate and elsewhere, providing an impressive spectacle with birds and mammals pushed close to observers and some large wader roosts congregating.  One such roost that is easily accessible is at the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands were several thousand waders roosted on the Centenary Pool in front of the Border Hide.  The main waders were Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit, with over 1,500 of each, they were joined by Knot, Dunlin, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Avocet and a single Long-billed Dowitcher.  The latter is a rare American wader that has been present on the Dee Estuary most of the winter.  Several of waders fed and bathed in front of the hide, providing some excellent photo-opportunities.


Other birds present at Burton Mere included Great White, Little and Cattle Egret, Marsh Harrier and Cetti's Warbler.  Wildfowl included a few thousand Pink-footed Geese, two Egyptian Geese, Shoveler, Wigeon and Gadwall.


The tidal wreck left on the Dee Estuary provided foraging areas for a variety of small birds such as Meadow Pipit and Stonechat.


Images from the visits are here

12 March 2023

It seemed quite ironic that when I photographed Mountain Hares in January it was quite mild, and then when I plan to photograph Brown Hare with Wildlife Photography Hides in Leicestershire I was digging out my thermals, gloves, hats and everything else for a day sat out amongst hay bales for several hours in sub-zero temperatures.


The day started at 06:30 when Tom (who owns and operates Wildlife Photography Hides) met us at The Wheatsheaf in Glentham to drive us the short distance to the Kendrew Barracks, where we were to spend the day.  Kendrew Barracks is an operation MOD base with a large airfield.  The shortly cropped grass at the airfield is ideal habitat for Brown Hare and as we drove round the airfield to the "Hides" we saw several Brown Hare.  The hides were far from conventual; in previous years Tom has set up several portable "pop-up" on the Airfield, however for 2023 he has built several stacks of hay bales as hides - the hares are used to these in the landscape and the bales provided us with 360 degrees of uninterrupted viewing.


We were set up by 07:00 and were soon watching the hares as they chased each other around, fed or just took it easy.  Many of the hares seemed to be paired up and only one pair were seen boxing, unfortunately to far away from me to get any decent shots.  At times activity was very limited, but this did provide an opportunity to watch the Skylarks as they displayed and set up their territories.  


By 16:00 we had got plenty of shots and Tom drove us back to our cars.  A great day.


Images from the day are here

09 March 2023

I've been to a few falconry centres to photograph birds of prey, but never been really happy with the results.  However the workshops offered by North West Wildlife Workshops run my Roy Rimmer and Mike Hudson were something different.  Restricted to 10 participants and four species all perched up everyone has a chance to photograph all the species, no trying to lock on to birds in flight, and natural looking perches, with the Jesses concealed, these workshops, for me represented excellent value for money and amazing photo-opportunities.  The species available to photograph varies between workshops, one the day I attended, two barn owl, eagle owl, peregrine and goshawk were available.  See for yourself with a selection of images here.



Haring about

07 January 2023

My first trip of 2023 was fairly local compared to some I've done.  I ventured over the Cheshire border into Derbyshire for a day looking for and hopefully photographing Mountain Hare at their only English stronghold.


I met wildlife photographer, Tesni Ward along the A57 (Snake Pass) and we then headed off into the Pennines looking for Mountain Hare.  Red Grouse occasionally flew across our path and it wasn't long before we saw our first (distant) Mountain Hare, the white winter coats making them easier to see against the dark peat and vegetation.


We carried out walking, seeing a few other Mountain Hares along the route, but Tes wanted to head for an area where she hoped one particular Mountain Hare should be seen.  This hare was used to Tes and her clients and once found, we lay down in the vegetation and slowly let the hare get used to our presence, the wind blowing our scent away from the hare.  We spent around 2 hours photographing the hare, as it fed, groomed and slept.  A purely memorable  experience.


A selection of images are here; more can be seen on my flickr page



Point Lynas Dolphins

21 October 2022

Risso's Dolphins are one of the UK's rarer dolphin species, mainly seen around Scotland and the Isle of Man.  In recent years small numbers have summered of the coast of Anglesey and can be seen from Point Lynas round to Bull Bay.  With some annual leave due for Julia and some Time off in Lieu for me, we headed off to Amlwch for a few days with the hope of connecting with these marine mammals.  The dolphins have a pattern of feeding off Point Lynas from a couple of hours prior to high tide, quite often close to the headland, then moving off just after high tide.  High tide on Friday was around 07:30 so we decided to "chance it" after we'd had breakfast.  We arrived after high tide, but still managed to see a couple of Risso's dolphins.  Happy with at least seeing the dolphins (my 64th Mammal species in the UK) we set off to find coffee and cake before heading to Porth Amlwch for the afternoon.


This proved to be an excellent decision as we were treated to some very show Risso's breaching right out of the water and generally playing.  In the later afternoon a visit to Bull Bay produced some large splashes towards the west, turnstones on the rocks and a few stonechats amongst the gorse on the cliff-top.


On Saturday we visited Amlwch first, but with no dolphins to be seen, we then headed to Point Lynas, where around a dozen dolphins were just finishing their morning feed.  We then decided to head towards the Dingle at Llangefni were we managed to photograph red squirrels, and also saw a good selection of woodland birds.


Having seen our images FaceBook, friends Jeff Ckarke and Clare Gower decided to head over and join us on Sunday morning.  It was wet and windy, so we got rather damp as we watched and photographed the dolphins.  In between dolphin sightings we saw razorbills, guillemots and common scoter fly past.  Cormorants and shags were a regular feature and gannets also fished off-shore.  We left Point Lynas at lunchtime and headed back to Poth Amlwch.  No dolphins were seen, but plenty of stonechat and meadow pipits provided photographic opportunities.


Monday was our final day , so we headed to Point Lynas for a few hours.  Only two or three dolphins were seen, but the sight of a shot-eared owl coming in off the sea and flying over our heads made up for the poor dolphin sightings.


Individual dolphins can be recognised by marks on their fins and tails, we tried to photograph as many dolphins as we could.  These will be passed on to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and others who keep a catalogue of the sightings.


Plenty of images here  of the various Risso's. 

Finnish High Summer

31 August 2022

Julia and I have just returned from our much postponed trip to photograph bown bears at the Wild Brown Bear Centre.  This was my second trip this year to the site, following an initial visit pre Covid.  It ws Julia's first trip to photograph brown bears.   Julia’s brother, Tim lives in Finland, and not having seen him since the onset of Covid, we decided to make the most of our visit and spend a week with him in Kuusamo.  We flew from Manchester to Helsinki, and then met a connecting flight to Oulu where we collected our hire car. Meeting Tim enroute we arrived at our rental apartment in Kuusamo late evening.


We spent the week exploring the area around Kuusamo, looking for (and seeing) some of the birds of the area. Black-throated diver, red-necked grebe, goldeneye and goosander where all encountered on the lakes around the area or on trips to the spruce forests in search of red-flanked blue-tail, three-toed woodpecker, hazel grouse and willow grouse. We were successful in all our searches and also came across bluethroat, brambling, siskin, redwing and fieldfare. We also saw migrants such as willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler and spotted flycatcher. We also saw mountain hare, muskrat, red squirrel and reindeer.


I spent a morning at Kuusamo Nature Photography's Osprey Hides at a local fish farm.  A single osprey spent a while fishing and flee off after a succesful dive.  All nicely captured in images.


At the end of the first week we drove back to Oulu and said goof bye to Tim, before meeting the group for BearPhoto at Oulu airport. We were to spend the second week with them photographing brown bears and wolverines and other wildlife. We spent the first night in our cabin, joining the group for breakfast before going on a brief introductory walk to the area where we’d be spending the nights photographing the bears.

Our days followed a pattern of evening meal at 15:30, then walking to the hides at 16:30. Once settled in the hides (which have a basic toilet and bunk beds) we waited until the bears started to appear. Some nights we only had to wait an hour, other nights it was almost dark before any bears appeared. The same was true of the wolverines, although these tending to run in, grab some food, and run out again. Once the sun had set (around 22:00) it was time to get some sleep, waking again for the sunrise at 04:00 and another chance to photograph the bears and other wildlife before leaving the hides at 07:00 for breakfast back at the centre. 


The days were our own, either photographing fungi, birds squirrels or whatever took our fancy. Of course you could always catch up on some kip or process images.


Over the week we saw many different bears – Hemuli – a large overweight male, Scarface – a male who had an obvious scar on his face; and Puti – a young male bear. Three females also regularly appeared with their cubs. Lummiki had four cubs an Blondie with her first two cubs. Blondie is Lummiki’s daughter and I has seen Blondie and Lummiki on my first trip to Finland, so it was great to see them again. We also saw another female with cubs and two unnamed females and one unnamed male. On our final night I saw thirteen different bears and a wolverine!


Plenty of images here on my flickr site or a small selection here

13 August 2022

One of my (many) interests are reptiles and amphibians, so I was really please to get the chance to meet Harvey and Tom at Celtic Reptile and Amphibian.  Harvey and Tom have established a breeding centre for UK species and also those that used to occur in the UK or could be subject for re-introduction. 


The weather when I visited on 12 August was far from ideal for reptile photography - it was very hot with the temperatures reaching over 30 Celcius.  This made the reptiles and amphibians very active, or they stayed out of sight seeking the cooler temperatures underground.  Each species have there own secure enclosure and there are several different photographic sets.  I got photos of ten species - grass snake and sand lizard were two species I missed because they were hiding in the shade - some of which can be seen here.

Close-up weekend

July 25 2022

For many years I have used the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro for my close-up work, but recently have been considering a fully dedicated macro such as one of Laowa lens.  These though are fully manual and whilst I have seen some very good reviews I haven't been persuaded to part with my cash for one.  When I saw that Park Cameras had two of Canon's dedicated MP-E 65mm F/2.8 1-5x macros for sale second hand in excellent condition, I was soon £620 poorer, but one great lens richer.

The MP-E65mm is dedicated for macro use and has a focusing range of 4 inches to 1.6 inches, with 5x magnification at the minimum focusing distance.  This means you need to get pretty close to your subject and so depth of field is very limited.  Focus stacking is one possible answer, but this requires a static subject.  Photographing live insects doesn't lend itself to focus stacking (unless you are using in-camera focus stacking, which the 5D MKiv doesn't possess) as moving insects result in multiple legs and antenna  when stacking the images.  Instead I'm using the camera  and lens on a focusing rail with my Pixapro twin macro-flash system.

It has taken a bit of getting use to and my success rate is improving.  The weekend was spent photographing various insects in the garden, some found in the garden and others a little further afield.  

I'm looking forward to working with the lens more, but with it's limited focusing range it really is a lens to be used with studio set-ups.


A selection of images are here, and more can be seen on my flickr site.

Somerset Levels

June 14 2022

Julia and I have just returned from a short break in Somerset.  Rather than spending the week driving around Somerset visiting lots of habitats and nature reserves, we decided to concentrate on the Somerset Levels and aim to get photographs of some of the iconic species there.  We based ourselves in Meare, just a few minutes drive from the Ham Walls RSPB Reserve and Shapwick Heath, with the Somerset Wildlife Trust reserves of Catcott and Westhay less than a 15 minute drive away.  Greylake and Swell Wood RSPB reserves were a little further, but worth the visits.  Slightly further afield we paid a visit to the Steart Marshes WWT Reserve.


Ham Walls is a vast complex of reedbeds and pools, created following the habitat creation work by the conservation bodies after the cessation of peat extraction.  The resulting reedbeds are now home to large numbers of breeding Reed and Sedge Warblers, with several pairs each of Bittern, Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret and Grey Heron.  Marsh Harriers also breed in good numbers.  A couple of hours on the reserve spent at the viewing platforms and the Avalon Hide can virtually guarantee views of Bittern, Great Egret, Little Egret and Marsh Harrier.  A walk around the trails can be very productive for dragonflies, we saw lots of Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy Dragonfly, Azure, Variable, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies.  Coot, Moorhen and both Great-crested and Little Grebe fed young on the lakes which also held Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard.  Breeding waders included Redshank and Lapwing.  


Greylake supported a similar range of species with the addition of Common Crane, although the views were rather distant.  Grass Snake are also quite common here.   Catcott Marsh was visited on a few occasions, three Glossy Ibis were the main attraction here, but Black-tailed Godwit were also present here with the usual wetland inhabitants.  


Swell Wood, as it  name suggests is an area of woodland located on the edge of Sedgemoor, it is also home to a large heronry, with both Grey Heron and Little Egret breeding. Steart Marshes WWT Reserve is an area of coastal grazing marsh, which is managed for wintering and breeding wildfowl and waders, as the sea slowly reclaims the area, which had previously been reclaimed for agriculture.  The wader scrape held nesting Avocet, Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover.


We ended our week with a trip to Slimbridge before spending a day photographing dragonflies, butterflies and other invertebrates at Coombes Wood in Worcestershire.


A selection of images are here, and more can be seen on my flickr site.

Spring Awakening

April 30 2022

After several cancellations during Covid, I eventually returned to Finland just after Easter, with the aim of photographing the Brown Bears (and anything else that fell to the camera) in the snow. We were to be based near Kostamusti, Vartia on the Finnish / Russian Border.


All went well with the flights, arriving at Oulu to meet the rest of the group (all called David, who were to become known as Canon David, Fuji David and Nikon David) and Kyle Moore – our leader from Bear Photo. From Oulu we set off for the 3 hour drive to the Wild Brown Bear Centre, which was to be our base for the week. Passing through snow covered fields, frozen lakes and forests, we cam across whooper swans, curlews and lapwings feeding in the fields but fields but little else. Arriving at our base we were shown our rooms before an evening meal and a well needed sleep, ready to start our photography the next day.

Breakfast was served at 08:30 after which Kyle gave us a briefing on what to expect the week, and a summary of recent bear activity. We were then left do our own thing for a few hours prior to the evening briefing. We headed to the bird, but although it was well stocked with food, there was very little activity, especially when compared with my May visit – pre Covid. The odd blue and great tit paid visits and two great-spotted woodpeckers chased around the trees.


The ”evening meal” was served at 15:00, which sound early but we wanted to be heading off to the hides at 16:00 so that we were settled in before any bear action. We re-assembled at 16:00, collected our packed midnight feast and set off to walk the 500m to the Hides. We each had our own two berth hide for the night, equipped with bunk beds and paraffin heater (well it was going to get below freezing and we were in the hides until 08:00 the following morning). We were soon settled down cameras at the ready, flask and sandwich for when hunger struck.


On our first night we drew a blank, but it was great opportunity to photograph herring, common and black-headed gull on the snow and ice - a challenge for the metering system on the cameras. At 08:00 we left the hides and headed back to base for breakfast and showers. The day was spent catching up on sleep or photographing some of the birds at the bird hide.


After our “evening meal” we set off again making sure to follow the compacted snow tracks made by the snow-mobile. Even then were there had been some thawing, the odd step went into knee-deep (and beyond) snow. We were in a different set of hides for night 2 and 3, still equipped with a paraffin heater, bunt beds and toilet pail. We had much more success these nights with a male bear, known as Nose Job, paying several visits. This particular bear has a damaged nose and was first seen around 2015 This bear visits in April, but by the time the dominant bears and females appear in May, he has moved through the area. A second larger male bear also appeared, this one (due to his size) had been named Mini-Brutus and stood well over a metre high at the shoulder. Once Mini-Brutus appeared, Nose Job made a quick retreat. In the mornings the temperature was around 4 degrees below freezing – the thermal base layers and 700 down fill jacket proving their worth. The pattern was repeated the following day and on each morning the cold morning light produced some superb photo-opportunities, when a pair of great-spotted woodpeckers alighted on the birch trees in front of the hide, providing some hi-key photos.


Most of the days were spent processing images from the night before or having a stroll along the tracks round the base camp, where black grouse and capercaillie occur. After our evening meal it was a trudge through the snow to another set of hides for what was, for most of the group, one of the most exciting nights. Almost as soon as we had sat down Nose Job came down from the forest and started feeding, accompanied by hooded crows and ravens who were after any scraps they could get. Later Mini Brutus appeared along with a third male who had pale patches on his shoulders. Due to a poor phone signal, I missed a wolverine right in front of me, but did it see bounding through the snow, but to far away (and quick) for any photos. Bears were still active after sunset (around 21:30 and we could still see them at 23:00. As previous evenings I bedded down in the sleeping bags waking about 06:00 and then waiting to see if there was any morning activity before returning for breakfast.


For our last night we again stayed in the hides we used on nights 2 and 3. Nose Job and Mini Brutus joined us, passing close to the hides (as on previous evenings) on several occasions the 400mm f/4 and 1.4x extender were too long, and I was using the 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 at the lower end of the zoom range – talk about a close encounter!


Our flight home was uneventful, except for the Helsinki sprint – getting from one end of the terminal to the other in 30 minutes AND going through passport control!! I’m returning in August 2022 and no doubt in June or July in 2023 to photograph the bears with their new born cubs.  


Click here for photos and videos


A Tale of Three Counties

April 10 2022

I'm fortunate that  the "Eastern Hills" area of Cheshire is less than an hour's drive away.  The Eastern Hills are really the west edge of the Peak District that occupy Cheshire, but is also where Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire meet at Three Shires Head.

Early morning is the best time to visit for photography, the roads around the Cat and Fiddle,  Axe Edge Moor and High Edge are quiet, so allows for slow driving and occasional stops for anything interesting.  Axe Edge Moor supports Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Curlew,  along with numerous Meadow Pipits and Skylark.  Short-eared Owl can be seen on occasion and an evening visit may produce drumming snipe. All of the birds mentioned can be encountered anywhere in suitable habitat, but the area around Axe Edge allows the use of the car as a mobile hide!   The road from the Cat and Fiddle to Derbyshire Bridge,  is fenced on the north side, the posts regularly providing Meadow Pipits with song posts.  Golden Plover, Lapwing and Wheatear can be encountered around High Edge.  Along the A54 to Congleton a large lay-by on the southern side, provides views along Danebower and access to the Public Footpath network on this Open Access area.  The area is best known for Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and Stonechat.  

The area does occasionally attract passage Dotterel, and on my latest visit today, I happened to glance up to see an Osprey passing over!


Click here for images of some of the birds to be seen in the area. 


A Pleasant Evening

March 30 2022

The change over to BST provided the first opportunity this year to get out in the evening for some low light photography so I headed off to Pikelow to spend some time at the Hare scree, in the hope of getting some Brown Hare images.  It was also a chance to see how the MkIII 1.4x convertor worked with the 400mm f/4 DO.

As I arrived at the screen, in one edge of one of the woods looking out over a grassy field frequented by the hares, plenty of Pheasants were on view.

Whilst waiting for the hares to show (or even any rabbits) I started to take a few shots of the Pheasants, and soon heard a couple squabbling,  turning the camera round I found the culprits and they started to "spar".  This continued for several minutes and the was a great opportunity to test out the new convertor.  

Click here for images 




Night-time visitors

March 12 2022

Last weekend I spent a couple of nights in Lee Smith's hides in Lincolnshire.  Arriving at Lee's around 17:00 on Friday, Lee settled me into his garden hide and put out food in readiness for the night-time visitors.  The hide regularly attracts Barn Owl, Little Owl, Tawny Owl and Red Fox.  I didn't have to wait long before the first of the owls arrived - a Little Owl, which spent some time perching on the Public Footpath prop.  Not long after a Tawny Owl put in a brief appearance, but didn't stay long enough for photographs.  


Just before 19:30 I had the first visit from one of the foxes, who stayed for around 15 minutes providing plenty of photography opportunities.  I then had to wait an hour until a Barn Owl came down to feed, hopping from perch to perch and helping itself to the mice left out for the owls.  The Barn Owl stayed for around an hour, before a Little Owl put in an appearance again and a Red Fox appeared again just before 23:00 staying for around 15 minutes again.


Just after midnight I decided to call it a day (or night) and headed to my accommodation.


I'd arranged to return to Lee's on the Saturday afternoon to photograph Harvest Mice in a new studio set-up, designed to mimic an old shed or storage shelving - something very different to the usual wheat stalks and wild flowers shots.  After a couple of hours we then headed for the Badger hide for an evening of badger photography.  We were graced with the presence of two individual badgers during the night.  Again I finished about midnight, heading back to my accommodation.


Click here for night-time images and here for harvest mouse images



The Algarve - revisited

March 2 2022

It's several years since we visited the Algarve on the south coast of Portugal, but a weekend looking after elderly parents have me a chance to look again at my images and reprocess some of them with Topaz and Photoshop.  The images were all taken on the Canon 7D cameras coupled with Canon 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3.


The Topaz AI Denoise is excellent for removing any noise and applying a little sharpen to the images before finally tweaking the shadows and highlights and cropping in Photoshop.


Processing the images left me wondering about another trip as the light (as with many Mediterranean countries) was excellent as was the birding without having to drive to far. 

Some images here.



Hungry Stoat

January 24 2022

Several visitors to the Conifer Hide at Pikelow have been fortunate to watch (and photograph) a stoat coming to feed on the bait put out to attract the buzzards.  The hide has proved so popular with paying customers I hadn't had chance to spend any time in it.  On Sunday nobody was booked on so I settled down in the hide just after 09:00 and waited, and waited, and waited. At 11:30 I decided that fresh bait was required (a squirrel corpse), so I ventured out and renewed the bait.  Within 30 minutes the stoat obliged and for the next half-an-hour or so I was able to watch it getting it's fill of the squirrel and get plenty of shots and some video footage.  The light wasn't fantastic so the ISO ranged from 6,000 to 12,800 with 400mm f/4 with and without the 1.4 convertor, 1/500 sec at f/4 or f/5.6 (with the 1.4x attached).


Some images here.



January 9 2022

A constant supply of grain in the sheds at Pikelow, the House Mice don't need to venture far, but it does lead to squabbles between the mature males.   One male is carries scars from several battles, but still manages to be dominant when feeding.  


When visiting this morning the seed on my photography set-up was depleted, but the mice had found the main stock of grain and were helping themselves, so I see the off-camera flashes where the mice were feeding and added a cup and saucer for some different images.  It didn't take long for the mice to find the grain the cup.  


With the mouse scurrying across the shed floor and scaling the legs of the trestle table, I had to keep adjusting the flash output levels to light the mice, very much a matter of trial and error. 


Some images here.



Festive Photography

January 2 2022

The Christmas and New Year break can provide plenty of opportunities for wildlife photography, but this year the weather gods were not really in agreement.  Never-the-less I got out on a few days with a couple of trips to Pikelow and one to Martin Mere - the latter on New Year's Day.


The feeders at Pikelow were still attracting the usual finches and other woodland birds including half a dozen Brambling and over twenty Tree Sparrow.  The UK's smallest bird, the Goldcrest, was visiting the fat ball feeder, either feeding beneath it on the ground or clinging to it - quite a challenge to photograph.   Some images here.


On one of the wetter days, I decided to concentrate on the House Mice that have made their home in one off the barns, feeding on the corn that chickens and swans feed on.  I was after a slightly more nocturnal shot, so I used two pairs of off-camera flash, on one 1/128 power to provide some in-fill lightings, the other pair at 1/32 to give light and shadow. The results can be seen here.


On New Year's Day we made the short journey to Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetland Centre.  Due to bird flu, many of the collections birds were not on view,  but by visiting first thing in the morning,  very few people were in the hides,  the wild birds were close to hides. Most of the usual suspects were present, some were very obliging and regular squabbles broke out between the Whooper Swan families. Plenty of images here.


Another find during the Xmas break was the finding of hibernating Herald and Small Tortoiseshell in the roof space above our garage.  Most years we find 1 or 2 Herald and maybe a dozen or so Small Tortoiseshell, but 8 Herald and over 2 dozen Small Tortoiseshell.  Click here for some images.


Happy New Year to all.

November 30 2021

With a free Sunday I headed to Pikelow for the morning to see if the recent cold snap had encouraged more birds to the feeders.  I headed to the Plantation Hide, where the feeders had been filled and settled down in the hide.  I was well wrapped up as the temperature was just above freezing, but it hadn't discouraged the birds.  I had not long been settled in when a Jay arrived, filling it's crop with sunflower hearts that had been placed on the logs.  The feeders were attracting plenty of finches - Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch were the commonest, but where also joined by some hoped for Brambing and a single Siskin.  A brief visit by a male Bullfinch made it six species of finches at feeders.  Blue, Great and Coal Tit were constantly at the feeders with the occasional Nuthatch, Tree Sparrow and a pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers.  Birds feeding under the feeders included several Blackbird, Dunnock, Moorhen and Robin, bringing the total number of species using the feeders to sixteen!. 


Click on the image for more photos from Saturday.

The Mouse Nest and Donna Nook

November 13 2021

The last time we visited Penny Hedge, we picked up card for another wildlife photographic hide, The Mouse Nest.  A quick search on Facebook took me to their Facebook and I was soon communicating with Lee Smith to sort out a visit.  The Mouse Nest is located near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire and I decided I could combine a visit with to the hide with a trip to Donna Nook to photograph the Grey Seals.  

I travelled over to Market Rasen on the evening of November 10 for a quick getaway to beat the crowds on the Thursday morning at Donna Nook.  I woke to a misty and dull morning, but still headed off and arrived at Donna Nook to an overcast sky with the sun just starting to shone through.  I hadn't appreciated how close some of the seals would be and the 400mm f/4 with the 1.4x convertor provided some excellent opportunities for portrait shots of the bull and cow seals, whilst still allowing me to frame the more distant seals as they battled for space, or to protect their pups.  Several newly born pups, were visible, and the cows were defending their space against other cows, or warning the bulls that their advances were not appreciated.


After a couple of hour I headed towards Glentham where I had planned an afternoon session at The Mouse Nest photographing Harvest Mice followed by a nocturnal session if the Fox and Owl Hide.  (Lee has an Animal Welfare Licence, which allows him to keep Harvest Mice and use them for photographic purposes.)  Lee made very welcome and he'd soon taken four male Harvest Mice from his husbandry unit and put on the large open tank with some old poppy heads and teasels as props.  Harvest Mice don't jump like Wood Mice, so there was no danger of them escaping and they were soon climbing the props and posing.  Over the next couple of hours Lee changed the props to add variety and as the light began to fade,  he returned the mice to the husbandry unit, whilst I began to set up the cameras in the Hide.


The hide is a solidly built carpeted structure with one-way glass and portholes with snouts for lenses.  To keep disturbance to a minimum, blackout blinds are pulled down over the windows.  This didn't present any problems though as CCTV cameras provided live feeds to a large screen in the hide.  Tea and coffee making facilities were available, as was a toilet and heating.  Very civilized.  Once Lee had baited up the feeding posts and ground with dead mice (not the ones we'd been photographing, but frozen lab mice purchased for birds of prey and snakes etc.), he left with the flashes set and all I had to do was wait for the first appearance of either the fox or an owl. 


I didn't have to wait as within 30 minutes the first visit from a Barn Owl had occurred soon followed visits from a Red Fox.  For the next four or five hours I was treated to regular visits from either the Barn Owl or Red Fox.  Had I known the set up in the Hides and facilities, which included a mattress to catch 40 winks,  I would have arranged to stay the night, but I hadn't come equipped for that :(  I don't think it will be long before I return and hopefully also photograph Little and Tawny Owl.


Click on a species to see some of the photos taken

November 8 2021

My portfolio is lacking shots of wintering waders, either feeding, roosting or flocks flying to roosts over the incoming tide, so over the coming months I hope rectify this.  With the Wirral shore around an hour away, it is easily accessible and timing visits with the high tide should help.  At the weekend I headed up to Meols promenade, recently home to a Snow Bunting which I had managed to photograph earlier in the week.  High tide was forecast for around 12.30, so I thought arriving for around 10.00 would still leave plenty of the beach exposed for feeding waders.  I hadn't accounted for the fact that this was a Spring Tide and so quite high, plus a North-westerly wind resulted in the tide already lapping against the embankment when I arrived.  Change of plan so I decided to have a look for the Snow Bunting.  After an hour, and no sign of the bunting, I headed to West Kirby Marine Lake.  Success as around 100 mixed waders were roosting on Marine Lake.  Parking up close by I braved the wind and set up at the edge of the Lake with the 400mm f/4 and 1.4 convertor on the 5D MkIV mounted on the tripod.  I sat down on the pavement without the legs extendned to get at eye-level with the waders and proceeded to get some shots.  Unfortunately Joe Public and his / her mobile phone thought they could do better and kept peering over the wall to photograph the waders only to flush them several time.  Eventually as the tide reached it's peak, most of the roosting area was under water.


After lunch I returned to Meols and found a single Dunlin and several Turnstone feeding on the Embankment, before ending my day photographing Black-tailed Godwits at Burton Mere Wetland RSPB Reserve.  A great day and a good start to my winter project.


Click here to see some images of the waders and the Snow Bunting


October 26 2021

Autumn is he best (but not the only) time to get out and photograph some of the fungi in woods and grasslands.  I've spent a few days exploring some local woods armed with the 100mm macro lens and the 17-40mm, plus the micro-flash outfit trying to get a few shots before he slugs and mice / voles helped themselves!!

Click here for some of my images.


In a Rut

October 8 2021

With some nice light this morning I headed up to the Cat and Fiddle, only to arrive to thick fog!! Having waited for an hour for the sun to burn the fog off, I gave up and headed to Tatton Park. I would normally aim to arrive at Tatton for when the gates open for cars at 10.00, but arriving at gone 11.00 I was rather dubious whether any of the deer would still be rutting or bellowing. Initially it was fairly quiet with the deer concentrated in the rough grassland near Melchett Mere, making it easier to get some images without vehicles, sheep, walkers or tree guards spoiling the shot.