Friday, 9 December 2016

'Boom Boom'

I think as Photographers we all have a nemesis species. Mine has always been the Bittern, I had great views of an over wintering bird at Slimbridge one year way in the distant past, before I took up photography to the extent that I do now. In the 4 or 5 years since I have been teased with glimpses and empty promises. Even the bird that flushed from the edge of the reed at the bottom of Mum and Dads garden didn’t hang around long enough for me to photograph. Maybe the fact that I almost stood on it and quite possibly almost s**t myself as it erupted from the riverside in front of me contributed to the fact it never got its picture taken. This also almost resulted in a very nearly broken camera lens as I almost lost grip of my tripod.

Locally seeing Bittern is a bit of a gamble, like looking for a needle in the haystack and various other cliches. Without any large areas of reed bed nearby the best to hope for is a flyover or flushing a bird passing through from the edge of the river. So the best place to head to see them every winter is Blashford Lakes on the south western edge of the New Forest. A bit of a drive from my local patch at about 45 miles but well worth it for the wide range of other diverse wintering wildfowl and woodland birds. The Ivy North hide overlooks a relatively small area of reed that fringes the quite large Ivy Lake. Each winter from November on wards reports usually appear daily of individual Bittern crossing the cut channels in the reeds. On a fair few occasions’ two birds had been reported so any time I am in that area during the winter months I always try make an effort to visit and spend a little time in the Ivy North hide to see if I can spot one.

Now as with most big reserves, hides that only have a few open windows are usually taken pretty quickly, with a photographer camped out in them day in day out for weeks upon end. The Ivy North Hide is most definitely one of those kind of hides. With only the two side windows opening, each are always taken. In the past 4 years I have probably visited at least a dozen times. Having to make do with peering through the murky tinted glass as the clear views are protected religiously by most usually extremely rude ‘Togs’. Most visits I have not seen anything nor has anyone else that I have spoken too, but on a few occasions you get the typical response oh you missed it by 5 minutes. I’m sure these campers take satisfaction in saying that to someone like me, just to ruin my day!

So fast forward to February 2016 and I still hadn’t seen a Bittern posing nicely in front of my lens. It was an extremely drizzly and murky Sunday. My girlfriend was at work, and I was sat at home bored off my t*ts. I thought I know I’ll go and have a look in the hides at Blashford, it was such a sh**ty day that I didn’t hold up much hope of any taking any photographs so I only took my 400mm lens, manily so I didn’t have to lug around my heavy tripod. As I drove down the M27 the light got worse, it was cold and I was generally still feeling increasingly more miserable. On arrival at Blashford I wandered off to the Ivy North Hide first and was shocked to find that it was empty, a luxury I had never encountered before. I perched myself down on the bench, got my camera setup and gazed out of the open window at the drizzle cloaked reed bed.

The whistle of hundreds of Teal and the odd squeak of a Moorhen the only noise to break the stillness of the day. A few brave souls came and went, eager to get out of the cold, but soon finding the hide didn’t offer much of a respite. Several times I considered moving on, but then thought to myself it’s not like I had anything else to do. The Minutes ticked by into an hour, I continually stared out at this gap in the reed bed where the reed was cut shorter. Nothing moving at all, more minutes ticked by and still I had the hide to myself when eventually I registered some movement. The gap was no more than 30 feet away but already halfway across it was a bloody Bittern. Finger to the shutter button I clicked away best I could as this skulker worked its way in slow motion across the small gap.

This was about the time I wished I had my big lens. Although the 400mm is perfect for handholding it hasn’t delivered the images I was expecting when getting it. Trying to shoot this prehistoric looking bird perfectly camouflaged against the dying reed was proving difficult. Even more so when it caught a fish, a fair size Jack Pike I think. I couldn’t work an angle to get a clear shot as odd strands of loose reed covered either the head or eyes, I guess that’s the restriction from photographing from a set position and a hide with only one window. Anyhow I got some great views of this shy bird and some photos to match.

It was even better to have the hide to myself and to witness the whole encounter on my own. Even if I had become one of those hide window hogging a**sholes I mentioned earlier! 

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Friday, 11 November 2016

British Wildlife Calendar 2017

Looking at the time of year I thought it was about now that I should bring back the blog. It's been brought back quite a few times and will probably be brought back again in the future as finding time to write is always so hard.

So anyways some new content. Well looking under the bed in the spare room this morning I realized I still had a handful of my 2017 Calendars in stock. When I say a handful I mean under 10 so here is a short write up featuring this years shots.

If anyone has started their Christmas shopping already and needs a small stocking filler, these are great little gifts. And a bargain at £7.00. Local Delivery/Collection is Free. Or I can post for a £1.00

More information or to order you can visit my websites 'Online Shop' here: British Wildlife 2017 Calendar

As always my Calendar features shots of totally wild British birds and mammals photographed throughout the past year. I always try my best to include an even mix or birds and mammals if I can relate them to the month in which the photo was taken. Here is this years selection.

January 2017 - Great spotted Woodpecker - Taken from my pop up hide around my garden feeders.

February 2017 - Brown Hare - Frosty winter mornings were perfect for catching up with the local Brown Hares.

March 2017 - Great crested Grebes - An early spring trip to the Somerset levels brought a morning with a Great crested Grebe pair on a small lake.

April 2017 - Yellowhammer - My local population were looking stunning as they came into breeding plumage.

May 2017 - Eurasian Otter - A close encounter of the Otter kind whilst holidaying on Mull.

June 2017 - Atlantic Puffin - Some Puffin therapy from a couple of hours spent on the Isle of Lunga.

July 2017 - Roe Deer - With Summer underway, the freshly harvested fields became battlefields for the annual Roe Deer rut.

August 2017 - Kingfisher - 4 Years living by a river and finally I manage a Kingfisher shot.

September 2017 - Red Kite - You never know what species will turn up in the garden when the camera is out, this Kite landing in a tree was a little bit of a shock.

October 2017 - Reeves' Muntjac - Alert as ever, my closest encounter to date with the Muntjac.

November 2017 - Wigeon - I have never had the pleasure of photographing these magnificent ducks up close until a chance visit to RSPB Greylake.

December 2017 - Short-eared Owl - No year would be complete without a shot of these awesome Owls, taken around midday on a grey December day.

As mentioned above for more information or to order you can visit my websites 'Online Shop' here: British Wildlife 2017 Calendar

If you are a social media user, Feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for up to date sightings & photographs, any 'Comments or Criticisms' are welcomed.

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Thursday, 23 June 2016

'Owls For Lunch'

For weeks I had resisted the temptation to jump in the car and speed down to Southampton for some Owl action, A couple of Short-eared Owls had taken up winter residence in a small field on the edge of a residential street which bordered on to an industrial park, prime real estate it would seem for Hampshire’s wintering Shorties, surrounded on 2 sides by footpaths, I had been seeing plenty of good shots posted online. Although I am always keen to get a few more SEO photographs the main reason I didn’t want to zip down the M3 was the light, I’ve taken plenty in crap light, and longed for some sunshine on these charismatic hunters. And mainly because Sundays my only free time during the winter for the past couple of months had been a mixture of cold, grey & wet days. I say wet, the weather had ranged from mildly damp to torrentially moist every time I considered getting the camera out.

It was 2 to go weekends until Christmas, and whilst most people were out doing there festive shopping, my weekends job entailed weeding the flower bed in the front garden. By 10.30am I was all done, plastered in mud and with plenty of sweat beads running down my forehead (sorry not a pretty picture) but the sun was out. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen it on a Sunday. I toyed with what I could do, the distance and time it would take me to get there and what I might see when I did get there, and then I thought Owls. They were showing yesterday so why not today, the skies were clear and there was barely any cloud. I raced indoors and grabbed my gear, 25 mins later I was pulling into a quiet side street on the outskirts of Southampton, 25 minutes is no exaggeration either, I literally flew down the A34 and M3. The sky, much to my annoyance got grayer and grayer the closer I got to the coast, to the point that I was almost considering turning around and going home as a few spots of rain hit the windscreen.

You always know you’re in the right place when you see the first guy in camo loitering around a hole in a hedge, I’m sure to many passer-by’s, this is a pretty strange sight, and it does baffle me also, you’re in the middle of a housing estate not the jungle what’s the need for Camo. After a brief chat he was quick to inform me the birds had been out earlier on this particular morning and there had been no sign of them since about half 9. It was now approaching 11.15am. I didn’t hurry to setup my gear but made sure I found myself a good vantage point along the roadside edge of this 10 acre or so area of wasteland that was probably a thriving meadow once upon a time.

Without any owls showing for the next half hour I honed my watching skills by amusing myself at the looks received from local residents and passers-by. Several stopping to make conversation and share their expert birding knowledge on me. I think one woman was pretty convinced the Short-eared Owls had nested their this year, raising about a dozen chicks, I’m not normally so directly skeptical to the uninitiated. But she came across as a pretentious know it all, so I felt I had to put her straight.

It had gone midday and I was just giving heading home some thought when a couple of Magpies glided over tempting up an owl from a midst the grass. Now I was alert, finger poised resting on the shutter willing the bird to come a little closer. The light was poor, but I’d worked with worse, the one great thing about Short-eared Owls is they come ridiculously close if you have enough patience and keep still. It took a while but eventually this gorgeous bird was hunting just 5 or 6 meters away. Coming so close at times to my long lens that I couldn’t fit it all in frame.

A second Owl much darker in colour joined it minutes later and they both zoomed across the tops of the grassland, dropping down to hunt regularly. It is an amazing thing to see such awesome wildlife in such an unlikely place, an area nothing better than wasteland bordered by train tracks, industrial estate, the Motorway and a residential street. With people walking around it at all times of day and dog walkers letting their mutts roam wild across it. And even though the light was rubbish and the weather depressing it was totally worth the drive!

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Thursday, 2 June 2016

'In A Rut'

I’m not really a big one for photographing captive animals but I guess the odd little visit every now and then does no harm, as long as no-one is under any illusion that the subjects in question are not wild. I had recently managed to encourage my girlfriend into picking up my spare camera body and start shooting wildlife herself with my 400mm lens. As most of our trips out together involve taking in some new species or other, set in a wild countryside location, what better way to spend quality time together?

So as I was saying I had actively encouraged her to get involved and take some shots of her own when we are out and about, in my opinion it was a massive show of commitment to her and our relationship on my part, I mean I don’t let just anyone use my camera gear, most of the time I feel like ‘Gollum in the Lord of the Rings’ guarding my ‘precious’ collection with my life. The thought of having a kidney removed seems more appealing than having my lenses dropped on the ground. So to hand them over for someone else to use, I thought was quite trusting and a very grown up move although I’m sure she would disagree.

With a week away imminent, I wanted to find her something she could practice photographing which looked wild and wasn’t too hard to find, didn’t run away and gave me the chance of a few shots too. So I racked my brains for the time of year, what could we find that wouldn’t cost a fortune and give us some results. Petworth Park crossed my mind, a location not too far away housing an ancient deer park, just over the border in West Sussex a place I remember driving past lots as a kid to visit relatives down in Horsham but one I never recall visiting. The first week in October seemed to be unseasonably warm, so I was a little unsure whether or not a trip to a Deer Park would be worth it. The Reds only seem to kick in with the rut when the weather changes a little colder, so with a warm 12-15 degrees I knew it might be a risky tactic. But then again I have virtually no photographs of Fallow Deer which Petworth hosts a huge population of, so I thought buggar it why not, even if they were captive.

We arrived by 10am and soon spotted several large herds of Fallow. Large bucks with massive antlers grunting in the morning sunshine. Occasionally leaving the cool shade of the Oak trees to see off another interloping male. Females, youngsters and prickets all passed us by within meters of the pathways. The long grass giving a great natural look to the scene and the photographs.

With so many Deer close at hand and not at all bothered by the hordes of people out for a Sunday stroll, the Fallow at Petworth made great subjects for an excited enthusiast keen to take some photographs and for my girlfriend ha ha. We even managed to witness some of the big boys having a too do, nothing massively kicked off but there was plenty of grunting and a bit of chasing. I even came away with some shots I was happy with.

Although not a lot of Deer actively engaged in battle, we both managed some nice shots and enjoyed a trip out which definitely meant that we weren’t getting ‘In a rut’.

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