Thursday, 31 January 2013

Photo Manipulation

 For me, Photoshop is almost exclusively used for slightly changing the levels, cropping and adding my copyright symbol.  As I am still a fair novice to wildlife photography, I took a great interest to reading the blog on Just Bird Photo's, here was talked about Rear focusing, something I didn't realise existed.  But as I went through the posts, I found one on photo-manipulation: There was an image of a Kestrel with some distracting branches behind it -something I wouldn't have minded, as I rarely see perched Kestrels- and he removed them so that it looked like they had never been there.  Now I am no Photoshop genius, but I was sure that this was simple enough.  So I picked two shots I had taken on my perch with my 500mm, both of which had a little-annoying branch which I wished to remove.  It was quite simple; using the Clone Stamp Tool, I took the colours from around the particular point and pasted it on top, so it looked natural.  Many pro photographers use photoshop -though maybe not in this way- on their images, Curves, Sharpening, colour changing to get the image just right, and with the amount of competition now day, some may even clone stuff out.  On a blog this is perfectly acceptable, but I would never put images on my website which had been altered in this way, a blog is different; you can do as you like, but on a website you should keep it as natural as possible, as that is where -if your fortunate- people will buy your work, and if you edit images in all sorts of ways it is harder to see the talent, a bit of light sharpening (although I never do it myself), and level changing is fine, but that is just my opinion anyway.
 I also did a bit of sharpening to the eye, and around the birds.  I have posted both the original and digitally manipulated versions of the two birds.


                                Manipulated  note: lack of stain on branch and the twig is gone.


                                  Manipulated note: missing twigs and smoother background.

So that is digital manipulation, something I personally would only do for a bit of fun, which ultimately, it is.  I did a bad job on the Blue Tit though, as you can see if you look at the bottom right of the branch where I removed the twig; it is bulbous and blurry, but for my second attempt, and a roughly ten minute job, I could not, myself, have done much better, although I am sure many who are better on Photoshop could have.

 A change of subject now, Crows, Crows are often hard to photograph nicely, as they are all black and I find it hard to get the exposure right with them, and even harder to get any detail, like the eye and the defining of the beak edges.  This was not made any easier by the Sun reflected waters of Brighton Beach yesterday, for jet-black and bright glaring white often cause silhouettes.  There was a Murder of around 7 Carrion Crows, who with a bit of patience would come into range for pictures, and sometimes so close that at 500mm I could just fit their heads in!  Incredibly the light was so bright I ended up using ISO 200, which is not bad compared to the 1600 I've been forced by the weather to use recently.

The waves were huge, and all the gulls were over the Sea rather that sitting on the beach like they usually do, a shame as I had wanted to photograph them with the new lens, another time though.

Friday, 25 January 2013

2012 Year In Review Part Two

As said and promised, part two, la deuxième partie, another six months too go.  So lets crack on before its time for tea.

  There was an abundance of insects during July, and as is my nature, I couldn't help but start naming as many as I could, and the ones I couldn't get I would occasionally look up, not as easy as birds.  
Some of my favourites from this month were: Ruby-tailed Wasp, Zebra-jumping Spider, Banded Demoiselle, and a species of Butterfly I think was Marbled White.  Most of these were seen on reserves, the Spider was seen on the wall of a hide at Rainham Marshes.  That's forgetting Moths.  While camping I recorded several species, the most exciting of which was a Poplar Hawk Moth on the wall outside the toilet block!  Odd place of choice.  Other species; Dingy Footman, Plain Pug and what I believe is a Yellow-tailed Moth, all n the toilet area! 
 The bird highlights of July; Marsh Tit, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove, Sedge Warbler and  Avocet, each of these at the time were lifers.  Reed Warblers were seen frequently, including a small family group!
 Amphibians were also abundant, my favourite experience was watching the froglets as they were trying to get out of the pond in Brighton!  Marsh frogs, and a toadlet were also seen while out birding.

  I went Ireland again in August, a great birding time with; White-tailed Sea Eagle, Ravens, Choughs, Gannets, Sandwich and Common Tern, Shag and Bullfinch, Dipper, but the best bird, despite terrible views, was a Long-eared Owl!  I saw it at night, after several nights of looking -as it was on my Grandma's land- it just took off about 50 foot away , disappeared behind a Polly Tunnel and out the other side.  We new it had landed somewhere but in the light couldn't see where, it turned out to be on a post which we had already looked at but didn't realise exactly what it was!
 Mammal wise; Fallow Deer, Wood Mouse, Pipistrelle Bat and Common Seal, seen on a boat trip dedicated to them.

  For the beginning of September I was still in Ireland.  We visited a beach named White Strand, where, I saw a Fulmar! The beach its self was amazing; large rock pools filled with Hermit Crabs, large Shrimps, fish and in one, a Starfish!  The views were also great, all the rocks going out to the sea with there rock pools.

Lesser Redpoll, Sanderling, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit and Linnet were also seen while in Ireland.
 The day I came back from Ireland my father rang me to tell me that I had come runner-up in the Times young wildlife photographer, I was very pleased!
 Back in England I was soon at Rainham Marshes, hoping to see the Baillons Crake, no luck, but I did get incredible views of a Water Vole, and distant vies of Greenshank!

  Outside my bedroom window in Brighton there is a Elderberry tree, this came into fruit in October bringing Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Robin etc...
 Plenty of Nuthatch sightings at various locations, a Gannet off Brighton Beach, at Abberton Reservoir I saw Whooper Swan, Pintail and Grey Partridge, all lifers.
  I bought a new Scope in October, the Acuter ST16-48x65A, compared to my old Clubman 20x it was amazing!  The image quality even in low light astounded me!  This scope helped me get a Med Gull on the patch, a life tick as well as a patch!
 Firecrest, now that's a hard bird to photograph, and I was lucky enough to have one in the garden in Brighton on the 30th, despite showing fairly well I couldn't get anything good.
 I took a trip up Tower 42 in October, as David Lindo -the Urban Birder- holds a birding group up there to look for migrating birds, we only saw a Sparrowhawk and some Siskin, but it was still fun, and the view was amazing!

  The best birds of November where, Lifers: Short-eared Owl, Stonechat, Brent Geese, Snipe and Green Sandpiper.  Non-lifers: Grey Plover, Buzzard, Pheasant, Avocet, Firecrest in the garden again, Coal Tit, Siskin and another Med Gull.
 I made it my challenge for when my cousin Caleb came over, to get him as many life-ticks as possible.  I managed 17 for him, but didn't manage to get him all the ticks I wanted.  He was very happy with that, especially as one of the birds was a Kingfisher!  I am pleased to say that at the beginning of last year he wasn't at all interested in birds, and now, for Christmas he got Binoculars and bird books!  Another non-birder changed to a birder.

  Finally the last month, by now you have read hundreds of words and seen 15 pictures, so I will keep this short.
 My 13th birthday was in December, to celebrate we went to Pulborough Brooks to do some birding, the best birds were; Bullfinch, Pintail and a ring-tail Hen Harrier!  Not much birding done in December, but I did do a fair bit of photography in the garden.
  All in all an incredible year, I'm happy with how much my photographs have improved since last year, no surprise really as I only properly started this year!  I'm also happy with my ID skills, although I can't do mega rarities and stuff like that, I can ID Med Gulls from Black-headed, and that's an achievement in my book!
 So hopefully 2013 will be just as good, if not better!

 Favourite Shot Of 2012
  Quite a difficult one to pick, I'm not sure why but I think I will have to go with these two Red Ants, no, I'll do two favourites, despite being mostly a photographer of birds both these images are Macro.  The second one like as the Damselfly seems to be leering at the camera!  I'm still not totally certain if I like the focus with the Ants, partially I reckon it should be on the live Ant but I quite like it on the dead one.

So now this post is over, I do not know how long it ill have taken you to read all this but it took me several spread out hours to do it.  I hope it has not bored you to much, and that you enjoy the pictures, despite many not being very good.  I think I will need a break from blogging for a few days, so the patch yesterday will have to wait.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A Bit Late; 2012 Year In Review, Part One

Sorry this is so late, I just haven't got round to it, and often don't have my written journal handy, so I decided before it's too late I would go ahead and get it over with!
  At the beginning of January we managed to find the Heron nest on my local patch, it was high up in a coniferous tree and very obscured.  We often managed to see the Adults sitting up there, but never saw them nest building.
 On the 13th we headed to Fairlop Waters and saw Golden Plover Fieldfare, and got incredible views of a Cormorant drying its wings, I slowly approached the barrier and took some shots trying to get its reflection, I like this shot as it has the late afternoon sun on it.

A decent visit over Wanstead Park had Kingfisher, Parakeet, Redwing and a fight at least 5 minutes long from a pair of Coots!  They were really going at it with Talons slashing, and they were also trying to submerge one another.

  On the 3rd we visited Two Tree Island.  It was a cold day, but the birding was okay; Curlew, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Common Sandpiper.  The biggest surprise though came from a Robin who came into one of the hides, obviously escaping the cold.
 The garden in Brighton had a Woodpecker on a Peanut feeder the day it was put up and a Meadow Pipit came to drink from the pond!  Not a bad garden tick!

On my patch the Greater-spotted Woodpeckers were putting on a regular performance at the feeding station, and one day they behaved very strangely; the female was taking Peanuts and placing them in holes she had drilled into a tree!  The male then came in, and they both flew off, very odd.
 My first trip to my Grandma's in Ireland was in February, it was a fun stay.  As she is in the country she has loads of birds in the winter when she puts out food; often around c.20 Chaffinches, 3 Goldfinch, 3 Siskin, c.5 Blue Tit, 2 Great Tit, 3 Coal Tit, 2 Greenfinch, Robin and 2 Dunnock.
 Redpoll, Sparrowhawk, Bullfinch, Pheasant were all seen.  On the beach  saw Rock Pipit and Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Reed Warbler and Meadow Pipit.  One of the most exciting things though wee Treecreeper! I was treated to several views, but decent images were hard.  The Siskin though were the occasional posers!

  I was still in Ireland when March came, I spent a lot of time Pond-dipping with my cousin Caleb (who I am proud to say, I have turned into a birdwatcher!), we found loads of species; Frogs and Tadpoles, Whirligig Beatles, Great Diving Beatles, there larvae; Water Tigers, something I'm sure was a Red tubifex worm, Flat worms, Dragonfly Nymphs, Fresh Water Shrimp, Pond Snail.  The highlight though, without a doubt were Smooth Newts, especially the males in Nuptial dress!  My cousin and I estimated 4 males and 2 females, by slightly different colours and size; one male was tiny and a paler colour.  I couldn't get any good shots as we didn't want to keep them out of the water too long.

  I got lucky up at the Golf-course in April, Skylark where singing up in the sky and I saw a Linnet atop a bush as well as a Buzzard over.  In the garden in Brighton we had Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap.
 At the patch, I found a Woodpecker building a nest, unfortunately the tree was blown down in the strong winds we were experiencing.

  One of my best birding experiences was in May, at Rainham Marshes with my father, Uncle Iain and Aunt Amanda.  We walked around on an overcast day with Swifts whizzing on each side, some close enough to touch, there were hundreds everywhere!  In one of the hide someone showed us Grey Plover in breeding dress and a Whimbrel through his scope. At the Lagoon a man kindly pointed out a Black-necked Grebe in summer plumage!  He also helped us see: Sand Martin, House Martin, Swallow, White Wagtail, Dunlin and Common Sandpiper!  At another point we saw Yellow Wagtail and Reed Bunting.  As we walked back to the centre we saw Linnet and Whitethroat, a day list of 47.  A poor record shot was all that was managed of the Grebe.

Another nice surprise in May was a Red Kite over my Grandmother Amy's garden  It glided fairly low over and we all got to see it!  The Heron chicks were visible in the nest and in the garden we had Great Tits franticly feeding chicks in the roof!
 A trip to Rye Meads was also incredible.  We arrived in the Kingfisher hide as they were fledging, most had already come out but we saw a couple take their first flight!  They were unfortunately quite distant, but great to watch!  A pair of Kestrels were also visible brining food to their nest.

  The first thing of note in June was a Green Woodpecker who was tolerant of our presence at dusk in the Park.  After he flew off we heard a strange and repetitive call, and upon investigation we found a male Sparrowhawk in a tree clutching prey, a female came into the tree and as far as I could workout took the prey.
 While waiting for a train at Moulsecoomb train station I ha a close encounter with a Blue Tit Fledgling!  As I didn't want to disturb the chick or the parents I quickly backed away after photographing it.

A young Grey Wagtail on the patch was nice and my first ever Nuthatch was a great see at Warley Place.
 I'm sure by now you have read enough, but, this is just part one of 2012, so, maybe tomorrow you will be "pleased" to read part two.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

20D+ Sigma 500mm= Happy Me!

As I had purchased a DSLR lens, my father decided he would order himself a DSLR camera so I can use the lens up here.  He decided  on the Canon EOS 20D, which, despite being a 6-year old model looked good!  It turned up this morning so we decided to visit Hyde Park to test it out.  It was a bit confusing at first as I didn't now how to work it and the first few shots came out completely white, so after a bit of fiddling round I managed to put up the shutter-speed up, and the ISO down.
 As we walked towards the Serpentine and Bearded Tits, I found a tame Robin singing!  I slowly approached and eventually got a frame filling head shot! The below shot is not cropped,  quite close focusing with the 150-500mm!

We got to the Bearded Tits, and like last time they were on show straight away. Immediately the results were better than last time.  They showed remarkably well, but as the batteries hadn't been fully charged and the weather was cold, the batteries soon ran out, annoyingly the moment the batteries ran out a Bearded Tit jumped to a reed stem right at the front, typical!

I also took some pictures of the waterfowl.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

First Day With My New Lens

I recently raided my savings and bought the Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS.  I got it from Panamoz last week and it turned up yesterday!  When I got it out I was surprised at how large it was, and heavy weighing just under 2kg!  But I suppose the OS -Optical Stabiliser- and the three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements weigh a fair bit!


 Most of today was spent trying it out on my perch, and I was quickly amazed by the results!  As advised by Alex Berryman I had the F-stop at f/8, which really brought out detail, and still left the background out of focus, actually, I'm amazed at just how smooth the background was on some of the shots.  The shutter-speed was relatively slow -around 1/80-1/100- as the garden was still in shade but I managed to get some decent results, compared to what I was getting before they were amazing!  I also had the OS on level 2, and ISO between 800-1600.

 I'm glad to say that besides my perch, I'm going to start a new project, this one on Jays!  It's a simple little setup; I made a small log pile with Birch at the front, and dug a small hole, about 1" deep and 1-1/2" deep, this I filled with Peanuts, which today the Jay has been taking!  I believe it is taking advantage of this food to cache for the colder months ahead.  I have already managed to get my best Jay shots yet!  Which I am very pleased with, hopefully we'll get some properly nice light soon!
 So, so far it's an amazing lens!  Glad I bought it!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Inner London First!

This morning we were up and out by 8:30!  The plan was to go to Hyde Park to look for the two female Bearded Tits who had been seen there the day before!  An inner London first!
 Walking through the Park we stopped at a tree where you are meant to get Tawny Owls, unfortunately we couldn't find the Tawnies. Even local birder Des McKenzie couldn't see them!  So it was on to the Beardies next.  When we arrived there were only two other birders, Dominic Mitchell and fellow young wildlife photographer Oscar Dewhurst.  The Bearded Tits were visible from the moment we arrived by the stretch of reeds!  A lifer for me, taking my life-list to 131!  Although they showed well, it was no easy to get any decent photos as the wind kept blowing the reeds and they were almost always obscured by a couple of stems.
 Yet again the images are slightly 'noisy',this is due to the high ISO I had to use.  Although, stopping up the aperture to f/8 I managed to get a little detail, but a shutter-speed of just 1/80th was used, and with swaying reeds, it wasn't the preferable speed!
 We were with the birds for the best part of two hours and in that time I took over 260 images and videos!  For the most part they stayed deep in the reeds but did occasionally sortie out to the edges!  Twice they came down, out of the Reed beds to drink from a puddle, this was behind railings so I wasn't able to get any decent photos.

I only kept this shot as  it shows the swaying of the reeds which I quite like.

Friday, 11 January 2013


Third time lucky!  On Wednesday my uncle Iain came across the flock of  Waxwings in Collier Row, he then picked my father up who was in Tesco at the time and they both got good views of over 60 birds!  So today they took me as I still haven't seen them.  As we pulled up I saw a flock of around 30 Waxwings in a distant tree!  Before we could even cross the road they they all took off and flew out of sight.  We stood round for about 15 minutes and they came back into a tree on the other side of the road!

With a bit of patience, they came down to feed only  about 3 meters away!  Because of low light I had to have a high ISO and low shutter-speed to get any shots, so they are a bit 'noisy'.

Great fun though! I hope to come across them again, but in good light!
 Also I finally got around to ordering a Sigma 150-500mm lens!  Hasn't turned up yet, but I can't wait!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

What A Fun-Guy!

My mother and I went over to the golf-course again today, and in the woodland at it's edges I found loads of Mushrooms!  Mostly Jew's Ear and a few other species I couldn't identify (I'm not very good with Flora).  Strangely I saw two Orange Ladybirds!  And some flowers which were budding!  And, to beat all this; two days ago I saw a Bumble Bee!
 The lighting in the forest was bad but I still tried a couple of shots of the fungi's.

                                                              Jew's Ears

If anyone knows the identity of these mushrooms/fungi please let me know!

These last two are just record shots, the lighting was terrible and I didn't spend that much time on them, the same goes for all these shots!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Worthing Beach

I've been looking forward to going to Worthing Beach for ages, apparently there are some good birds out on the sea there; Red-Throated Divers, Razorbill etc...  So despite the weather my mother and I headed out on the train. When we got off at Brighton to change onto the Worthing train I was surprised to see hundreds of Football fans waiting in a fenced off area.  
 From Worthing station it was a 5-10 minute walk to the beach were at first there seemed to be nothing but Black-headed Gulls!  After 10 minutes of walking I heard the piping calls of Oystercatcher and saw a flock alight in the distance! Nearby a Crow was constantly cawing so I thought it would be rude not to photograph it!

Soon the Turnstones flew by; disturbed by Dog-walkers and disappeared back along the beach behind us.  As we continued another flock flew by us; this consisted of Sanderling!  They alighted further up the beach and there were exactly 20 in the flock!  I did eventually after much error and little trial get close enough to a group of four  to get an image but that was still a bit distant for a good image, especially in the little light allowed by heavy grey cloud.

We continued even further up the beach, and, flying not far away over the water was a stocky looking gull I identified as a Mediterranean Gull!  Not a very good picture but it shows the stockiness, white wings, heavy bill and eye marking which define this species.

On the way back I saw a couple more species of gull: Herring, Common and Greater Black-backed, and on the way to the station I saw a small bird disappear over a roof and heard the characteristic call of a Pied Wagtail, this took my Year-list up to 40!  

 Yesterday we went to the Golf-course, there was not much to see but I saw some Goldfinches and a Rabbit!  I quite liked this shot that I got.

Also in the morning I was walking to the kitchen to make some breakfast when I saw something moving on the feeder, I realised it was the G-s Woodpecker and grabbed the camera and snuck up to the window, I managed a fairly decent shot through the glass.  Although rather unlike me I did slightly change the curves to this image.  I wonder if this is the same female who visited my feeders last year?

Sorry the shots aren't that good, there just doesn't seem to be a break in the clouds!

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