Sunday, 28 April 2013

Spring At Last...

Finally the long overdue Spring is here.  Over the last couple of weeks there has been a 'Fall' over London, meaning on some days up to 260 Wheatear across the capital.  I missed most of that, but last week I went to Wanstead Flats a couple of days after and there were still a few Wheatear around.  Nowt like the 27 that were there, but a humble five.
 One of the best parts about that trip however was being able to photograph a Skylark.  You are probably expecting a dot in the sky now, but why would I be so happy about that?  Because it wasn't. No the bird I'm talking about posed on a tussock briefly.  I could probably have got closer and got a better image, but my stalking is particularly bad, especially when I have a tripod stuck to the camera.

My best Spring migrant so far this year was a Pied Flycatcher who turned up in the garden in Brighton!  I had to stare at it a while before I could take it in.  A garden, year, and life tick, putting my life-list on 157.
 I also had a Whitethroat in the garden a week or so later.

On Friday we went up Tower 42 with David Lindo -The Urban Birder- to look for migrating birds.  Some people from AFON -A Focus On Nature- were there, and were going to film it.  One of them was 19 year-old wildlife photographer Tom Mason, and it was great to have a chat with him.  He gave me some good tips, including what lens to buy next, but I don't have enough money yet!
 There were no birds migrating through, and the most interesting thing we saw was this Juniper Shield bug!  I found it in a puddle 600 foot up. I hadn't thought to bring a smaller lens than my 500mm, so I had to use my fathers compact for the shot I wanted.

And to cast iron my point, on Friday a quick stroll to the patch produced 7 Mallard Ducklings -probably born that day-  4 or 5 Egyptian Goose goslings and a young Grey Heron on the nest!  And trust me, if you think getting a good shot of a Mallard Duckling is easy, it isn't.  By the time I focused and took the picture the head would be out of focus! Or is that just me?  This is the best I could do.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Oban Harbour

 Sorry for the delay on this, but better late than never as they say!

While we were in Taynuilt we visited Oban Harbour twice, and even after the second visit I could easily have gone back the next day.  To those of you who haven't been there that may sound a bit obsessive, but where else can you walk by within a couple of feet of Black Guillemots? Have a crowd of a dozen plus people staring at an Otter and it not being bothered?  And a once in a life-time experience was had there, and I doubt it will happen there again for a long time.  What was it?  A Sperm Whale, indeed a rare sight in British water with just over 90 in the last sixty years.
 The first time we went was because we had heard about the Sperm Whale.  And shortly after arriving it came out of the water for a breath.  It stayed up for about five minutes before diving under.
 We then decided to go and look for the Black Guillemots, a couple of which were courting in the water nearby.  Before we left a photographer gave me the helpful tip of stopping up the exposure by two stops so as not to burn out the white.  I spent about one-to-two hours photographing them and managed to get incredibly close.  I stayed flat on the ground to be level with the birds, and tried to catch their behaviour.  They are very characterful birds, giving their sad little calls to each other and bowing their heads, no doubt pairing up for the Spring.  Although you lose their little red feet by turning the image black-and-white, I prefer it with these two shots that way.

I kept the aperture at f/8 ISO 400 -so there's no noise- and as I was using Aperture Priority it sets the shutter-speed for you.  The problem I had was that the black,  red, and white of the birds against the dark blue water didn't come out too attractively. So I was pleased when this bird had a small pier for the background.  A railing is part obscuring the bird but I think it adds to the image.

The whale was amazing!  Although only showing distantly.  I'm still quite happy with how they came out, I didn't however manage the cliche tail in the air shot!

On our second visit there we had a look for an Otter which we had been told about, and the moment we arrived at the spot it was up!  Though it had soon disappeared.  As we were walking back there was a load of people looking over the edge and taking photos, and what was it they were taking pictures of? Who but the Otter!  It didn't seem bothered with the dozen or so people watching it, and in around half-an-hour it caught 2 fish, an Eel and two Crabs.  When it caught a crab it would come onto land to rip it apart, a lovely -for an Otter- Sea Food lunch.

Another star of my trips to Oban was the Rock Pipits, there were no doubt more, but I only managed to count three.  While trying to sneak up on a Pied Wagtail -who flew off- I noticed a pair of these wee* birds running around, and managed my best shot yet of one!  But that was not the most memorable of the encounters, while sneaking up one another one I let the bird come to me, and come to me it did. It came close, veeery close. How does two foot sound? Way too close to focus so I just sat and watched!

 So now do you see why I like Oban harbour?  A photographers dream, or mine anyway!
 I don't think I mentioned it in any of my other Scotland blog-posts, but in the whole time we were there  it was sunny, except for the odd cloudy evening, but not a drop of rain!

*You have to say wee instead of small when you are in Scotland. That's a rule, don't break it.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Scotland Part Two...The Trips

Nearly every day that we were in Taynuilt we would take a trip somewhere, usually in the afternoon.  We did twice go to Oban Harbour, but that was so good it gets its own blog, all to itself.  So now you know what to expect after this short post.
 On the same day that we went to the River Awe, we went to Ledaig Point.  This is part of Loch Etive but it's a 9 mile drive from Taynuilt.  We had hoped to see Red Knot, Twite or Red-throated Diver, we saw none of these, but had fun watching some Turnstone. I say some as if there were not many, but it was actually the largest flock I've seen of them, 60+ birds!  There were also over twenty Oystercatchers and a couple of Ringed Plovers.
 It was quite late in the day about an hour before sunset so high ISO and you can see the noise in this image as a result -yes I know I'm always complaining about ISO but I just seem to be unfortunate with it.

The next day we went to Dalavich, the first half-an-hour was great!  We saw a Great-spotted Woodpecker, a couple of Buzzards and great views of a pair of Ravens giving the closest flybys I've ever had with them.  We even saw a young Heron in a ditch halfway up a mountain with a pine forest on each side, quite unusual placement?   But after that we walked for about an hour or two without identifying one bird, yes not one.  We saw an LBJ, but you only ever use the term LBJ when you can't identify it.  When we finally got to the lake, or Loch I should say (See Scotland Part One for correct pronunciation), now here I quote from Dalavichs website 'The Loch is great for many waterfowl species' or something along those lines.  We saw...eegh it's hard to count, about 1 Mallard, some water, and...more water.  Unless of course you count Grey Wagtails as Waterfowl which they are not.

                                                       One from the garden

After 5 or so days in Taynuilt we went back to Glasgow to stay with some friends, Murdie and Wendy.
 We stayed at theirs for two nights and they kindly took us out for dinner one night.
 On the drive to Glasgow we stopped at Kilchurn castle to take some pictures.  As we were taking pictures of the castle I noticed a large bird over the nearby Loch, it was plain to see by the size, shape and flight that this was an Osprey, and guess what?  I left the Sigma in the car, so I had to use the bridge camera to get some record shots.  Must remember to take it Everywhere with me in future.
 Please don't laugh at the quality, just think how you would feel with it, you left a 500mm lens in the car and an Osprey flies over.  But a life tick none the less, putting me on 154!

On our first full day in Glasgow we went to RSPB Lochwinnoch, an amazing reserve, but without a doubt the best part was the photography hide, a hide dedicated to us photographers!  I wish there was somewhere in London where they had one of these, amazing.  The birds were only about 9 feet away on some of the feeders, Siskin, Chaffinch, Coal, Great and Blue Tits, Goldfinch, Reed Buntings etc.. but best of all before we left, a Brambling!  Life-tick 155!  Luckily the next morning -before our train back to London- we got to go again and I spent about two-and-a-half-hours in there!  Now I really must apologise if you prefer lots of writing and a couple of pictures, because, well there is going to be a fair few more than normal.

Only eight images, and you can probably expect more from the next Scotland one.  Well that photography hide was incredible, and next time I go to Scotland, I hope to go there again!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Something Different...

I will continue with my Scotland trip over the weekend, but for now I will 'enlighten' you with a small blog from Brighton.
 Now it has been a couple of months since I did anything from Brighton, and the reason being that not much has been doing.  But now with Spring on the way it should start to get interesting.
 A couple of days ago I looked out my bedroom window and saw a Blue Tit with a beakful of moss.  Now on the wall, or should I say to the left of my window is a small hole.  I have noticed since early March that they have been checking it out as a possibility but I did not know whether it was deep enough to build a nest, but it must be as today the Blue Tit went in with some material for a nest.
 Also a visit to Brighton beach showed 100+ Brent Geese moving West, along with several hundred Black-Headed Gulls.

Now you may not be, but there is the slightest chance that you may be thinking: 'How is this different? Birds again...', but here it changes... with a Fox!  And that's just for starters.

Foxes have been under pressure recently with people wanting a cull, but just look at those eyes, how could you want that sight removed?  It has also been suggested that they should be -Urban Foxes this is- moved to the countryside.  The problem with this is simple: the reason they colonise our streets is because we have removed a lot of countryside to be replaced by buildings, so they are not really the intruders.  It is also said that they are on the increase, however recent surveys show that this is not the case, foxes are in decline.

 On a more positive note I saw my first Chiffchaff today, well I presume it's a Chiffchaff as they are the most common Warbler in my garden, and it looked like one, that means my year-list is on 123!  Better than I was expecting by this time of year.

After going shopping this afternoon (Scotland and Ireland completely ruined my boots) I came home to find that our cat Bernard had caught a Lizard and that my brother had had to fight her for it -I know a female cat called Bernard is a little odd- so I released it into the garden.  It came out of the bowl that it was in after 15 or so minutes and allowed me to take some pictures before it scuttled off.
 I used a low f/stop so that the Lizard would stand out from the grass, and be in sharp focus.
 The only editing done to these images is a slight crop, no lighting changes or sharpening at all!

See no bird pictures, so it is slightly different.  Scotland will continue soon.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

SCOTLAND! Part One, Loch Etive....

I got back from another amazing trip last night, I spent eight days in Scotland!  The first five days were spent in the highlands of western Scotland on the shore of Loch* Etive, and by that I mean you just cross a road and you're there.
 From Euston station it's about a four-and-a-half-hour train journey to Glasgow, by far the longest I've been in a vehicle to my memory.  The highlight of the train journey was an easy pick: Pink-footed Goose! I saw a flock of about c.70 birds shortly after entering Scotland.  That was my first life-tick, and let me tell you it was not my last.
We had a hire car and it was 'just' a further two hours to Taynuilt, the local village to where we would be staying.
 We didn't arrive until after sunset so I couldn't take many landscapes just yet.  Although with what little light remained I took some photos of the ruins of an old pier and a couple of the loch, andI'm actually quite pleased with the results.

Next morning I was up at 6:30am and before seven I was out by the loch. It didn't take long to find Eider, another life-tick, but hugely far out. The Loch holds some great birds, the highlights while I was there were: Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, Eider, Greenshank, Ringed Plover etc...
 Rather than go into detail about every day by the loch I thought it would be easier to just do the interesting bits.

 There is a little island  which, when the tide is in you can't get to, but when the tide is out you can.  So I walked across to the island when the tide was out hoping to get good views of waders, I flushed several Snipe -obviously before I saw them-, I also saw a Raven being chased by a Hooded Crow!  I noticed a Ringed Plover sitting still, most likely pretending to be a rock. By slowly approaching I managed to get fairly close, close enough at least to get a photo.

One of the days we did a boat trip up the loch seeing Seals, Peregrine Falcon, Shag. This Herring Gull flew alongside the boat for a little while, occasionally snatching stuff from the surface.

This Pied Wagtail was quite obliging, allowing me to finally get a decent image!

We took a walk along the River Awe one of the days, and at the rapids I took some long exposure images.  The water was so fast flowing that a 1/5 shutter-speed was slow enough to catch blur.  We saw a Dipper in flight briefly too!

So I thought rather than do an awful lot of writing I would put more pictures up, as you may have noticed there is much less writing than usual, but expect at least two more posts on Scotland  one I know will have much writing!

*According to my grandmother Amy -who was born up here- it is pronounced: 'Lochh' like you have something in your throat
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