Friday, 13 April 2018

Otterly Disappointed

A few years ago, the local town lakes proved a hot bed of mustelid activity with a resident Otter bitch utilising the three main lakes in the town and their adjoining river network to raise her family. This proved brilliant for a budding wildlife photographer like myself, who had only ever had a distant glimpse of wild Otters in the Highlands. It gave me an opportunity to get some photographs and watch their behaviour all usually on my lunch break from work.

So, after a couple of weeks of rumours that a resident Mother was back and with three small pups in tow, someone managed to get some photographs, it was confirmed and I was quite excited, in the intervening four years I can’t complain I have had some awesome Otter encounters up on Mull. But it’s always nice when you can drive five minutes down the road to see them. The only worry I had initially is one I still share today. Social media is so prominent nowadays and a lot of newer visitors to the lake (I can’t really talk, they probably visit a lot more often than I do) are very quick to share all shots and sighting on social media groups, both closed and to a wider audience in the town. Last time it wasn’t uncommon to find dozens of spectators perched on the edge of the water watching these normally elusive mammals. With early onset of grumpy old bastard, I find any one that doesn’t appreciate good field craft and basic wildlife watching etiquette unbearable and would rather miss out myself that witness such annoying behaviour, hopefully the expected throng of foot traffic bound for the lakes are respectful and understand it’s a mother with three young cubs.

Did I mention I don’t really like people? Probably a lot in my posts, with that in mind my own visits to the lake would try and coincide with the usual weekend lay in. I had a brief walk one Saturday afternoon, not expecting to see much but armed with the camera just in case. A few Cormorants perched wings hanging wide, standing sentinels from the big tree overlooking both lakes. The odd one dropped down to fish close to the fishing pontoons. I soon realised the Cormorant is a species I don’t really have any good shots of. So, body down flat among the dried Goose and Duck shit I found myself at water level clicking away as one bird surfaced in front of me. I did have a moment of fright and as the resident territorial male Swan didn’t like the look of one of last year’s Cygnets and headed flapping quite speedily my way to see it off. Only when you are at head level and about 3 feet away can you appreciate just how big and angry a Swan can be. Luckily enough I managed to get my arse up off the deck and camera to safety before they came splashing past.

Celebrating he drifted off into the shade for a big, dominant wing stretch. Even though on the far side of the lake, I couldn’t get the full reflection in with the 600mm. 

That afternoon visit started a trend though and at the time of writing this two and a bit months later, seven visits to the lakes and still no Otter sightings. I’ve been in the early morning for first light, mid-morning, mid-afternoon and even towards dusk. I’ve seen dozens of photos posted online and all I have to show for it are a few more shots of Swans and some fishing Cormorants in some nice early morning light, minus the fish!

I am off to the Outer Hebrides in 6 days or so where I’m hoping Otters are much easier to come by!

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Tuesday, 3 April 2018

'Resurrected with a Rail'

It is back again the blog, for the 1 millionth time, well perhaps not that many. But it was a New Year's resolution to resurrect my ramblings which accompany my photography. It's taken till April but let see how long I can keep it going again. A lot happened last year, I had some awesome encounters with our native British wildlife and I had my first wildlife shots printed in the national press which I was quite chuffed about.

So I guess where do I start when resurrecting the blog, well highly fitting I guess that I am writing this on Easter Sunday the beginning of resurrection. I could flashback to 2017 or even 2016 when I last posted, but I'm getting old and my memory isn't what it was so I will try to keep it present and up to date.

It's Early February and a we had a weekend visit to the in-laws in Cheltenham which allowed a sneaky day trip to Slimbridge. I try and get to the WWT spot at least once a winter to tick off some specialities like Bewicks's Swan and some of the other showy species that over winter on the Severn estuary. A couple of years ago I got some pleasing shots of a very showy Water Rail that was feeding beneath the bird feeders in front of the Willow Hide. Having seen a couple oh dozen posted online during the week before our visit I hoped that it would be a species we would encounter.

Luckily two Water Rail showed brilliantly in front of the Willow hide just feet from my lens at times for a good 10 minutes at a time on and off for most of the afternoon. Only disrupted by some pretty ignorant birders having a shouty conversation at each other right outside, arseholes!

I always try to get a low angle where I can, and hide photography doesn't usually allow this. So making use of a small spy hole window about a foot off the floor, I had my 600mm lens poked through it and my body contorted in a pretty awkward position to achieve some of these shots. Kneeling on a stone floor isn't the most comfortable for one's knees especially with 20 people clamouring around you with iPads trying to take photos. The birds were really that close!

A supporting cast of male and female Teal were also nice to focus on when the Water Rails dispersed.
The light was nice however and the low level and the still water proved quite pleasing.

That being said I have concluded that I need a more portable lens combo, the 600mm, although brilliant with its extra reach is just starting to get a bit too cumbersome to lug around on walks. Decisions decisions.

Slimbridge again delivering something good to point the camera at and make the admission fee well worth it.

So what is next? Otter spotting at the local lakes!

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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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