Monday, 28 December 2009

Red letter days!

Every now & then you hit a purple patch, when every thing falls into place with very little effort (at least on your behalf). The last couple of days have been like that for me. On sunday a drive around the levels looking for "winter swans" started off slowly with just a few mutes, here & there. I eventually got to Sharpham, where i had heard reports of Whoopers being present with a large herd of Mutes. I found the field & was delighted to find that there were 2 groups of whoopers (2 adults & 3 juveniles & a further 2 adults) amongst the 50 or so commoner mutes. For those of you not in the know, Whoopers are winter visitors from Siberia & more recently Scandinavia. They are however rarely seen in Somerset & most winter on the Ouse washes, Scotland & the north west.

Top: Adult Whooper swan

Middle: Juvenile Whooper

Bottom: Mute swans landing after being disturbed further up the field.
After Sharpham, i drove out over Kings sedgemoor where i found a pair of Ruff in a field, along with Starlings, fieldfares & a few Lapwing.
Stopping off in the carpark of the Greylake inn & looking across the road into a grass field, i noticed a large flock of Golden plover amongst the Lapwings & Starlings. A few Dunlin also put in a brief flyby.
Today was even better! Cheddar reservoir is gaining a bit of a reputation for turning up good birds. The latest "batch" have included, Great-northern & Black-throated diver, Ring-necked & Ferruginous duck & Red-crested pochard. My main target for today was the Black-throated diver, a bird i have only seen once before, miles out on Portland harbour. As i walked up the ramp onto the footpath that runs around the res, i noticed another photographer running along & then putting his gear down & waiting. A quick scan with the bins showed nothing but water. Then as if on cue, up it popped not 20m from me. For the next half hour it slowly made its way towards the sailing club. As it dived, i tried to get in front of it & waited for it to surface. I was never far enough along & it always seemed to pop up right next to me!

A wander around the res towards the sailing club, found me scanning the large flock of Pochard, Coots & Tufted duck for my secondary targets. Straight away i found the Ring-necked duck & shortly afterwards, i was put onto the female Red-crested pochard by a nearby birder.

Top: Ring-necked duck & common Pochard

Top center: Ring-necked duck

Bottom two: Red-crested Pochard.

On the way back from the res, i stopped off atWesthay moor, where a Yellow-browed warbler had been found a couple of days before. After a wait of no more than 10 mins & in brilliant sunshine, it appeared along the edge of the road, flitting in & out of the overhanging brambles. Using manual focus, i managed a few shots, some of which were sharp & in focus!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sign of the winter to come?

Coastal sites usually turn up a few "special" winter migrants every year, Shore lark, Lapland bunting & of course Snow buntings. Unfortunately, Shore lark is not very likely in this part of the world, Lapland bunting not impossible & Snow bunting, more or less annual.
Stolford, near Hinkley point turned up a pair about 1 week ago, but there could have been as many as 8 of these visitors from the far north, strung out along the shingle between Stolford & Steart.
My visit yesterday afternoon in the weak wintery sunshine, yielded just the 1, a few hundred meters east of the car park.
A very confiding little bird that allowed a very close approach. It was not confiding enough however, to put up with the spaniel that was running riot across the marsh though & was flushed a number of times along with the resident Pied wags & Meadow pipits. The owner was quite pleased that the bird had gone (read flushed by her dog) so she did not have to walk behind our tripods!
With the entire marsh available, why did she feel the need to disturb the bird & excercise her dog where we were? I sometimes think common sense is a thing of the past! Rant over.......
Anyway, Myself & Tim Taylor managed to relocate the bird & get a few more shots before the light went altogether.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Camera traps- good or bad?

A lot has been said on the net about the use of remotely fired cameras to obtain images, especially when the images have been entered into prestigious photography competitions. For the last couple of years, images that were taken when the photographers were not present, have won the Wildlife photographer of the year awards. Should they have won? Personally I think not. The skill & dedication of photographers that put in the hours, often in harsh conditions to get the shot, should get the credit they deserve.
Such automated techniques do have a place though. I have recently got hold of a wildlife spy camera, not for winning any competitions though. I plan to use it for reconnaissance. To scout areas, to see what is about & at what times of day or night. It will be invaluable for checking badger setts in the spring & save a lot of waiting around.
The model I have purchased is the 8MP version shown here:
Capable of taking colour stills & video in daylight or black & white in complete darkness, thanks to it’s built in infra-red LED flash. Images & video are stored on a SD card (not supplied) & can be viewed in situ on the 2.5" screen inside the waterproof case. A USB & TV connection lead are supplied along with an adjustable tree strap, rechargeable lithium ion battery & charger. Battery life as stated on the website is up to 2 weeks depending on activity. I have had the camera on site for about a week at the time of writing, only firing at night (approx 70 photos so far) & have not had to recharge yet. Quality of the infra-red jpegs are not great, but you can easily identify any creature that wanders in & fires the camera via the distance adjustable passive infra-red (PIR) trigger. Each photo or video has the date & time embedded enabling regular patterns to be found ready for an ambush with the D2X! That’s the plan anyway.......

Catching up...

During the last week, i have been able to get out & about a bit more as things return back, more or less, to normality. An afternoon at Catcott lows allowed me to catch up with the 3 long staying Glossy ibises that have made the SWT reserve home (for now).
One of the birds has a large leg ring that can be read from quite a distance, bearing the number "N4C". I have been told that this bird was ringed (or is it rung?) in Spain.

Other waterfowl present included these Wigeon, a species which although relatively common on the levels, i have very few images of. More to do with me ignoring the usual than through any difficulty! Also present were flocks of Lapwing, which lift at the slightest distubance from a percieved threat, in this case a Grey heron.

A later visit to Greylake RSPB reserve saw a few more Shoveller (top) & Teal (bottom) shots in the bag to bolster those files.

Monday, 2 November 2009

New beginings

Those of you that know me personally will know that my partner Lindsay was expecting a baby.

Well here she is, introducing Jessica kim. Born on 22nd October weiging in at 8lbs 8oz.

Monday, 12 October 2009

New website.

Well I have taken the plunge at last & revamped the website. The galleries are now alot more accessible & you now have the ability to buy prints online using paypal. This will speed up the whole process & allow customers that have commissioned pictures of both wildlife & pets to view the images a lot sooner.
So please have a look & tell us what you think, feedback is always welcome.
Dont forget to update you favourites!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

That time of year.....

That a Red deer stag foregoes the mates he has been hanging around with all year, to pass on his genes.
From the middle of September to the middle of November, the stags grow more & more irritated with each other. The bachelor herds they have spent the rest of the year in have now broken up. They then make their way to the hinds favourite feeding grounds (it is the hinds that determine where the rutt will take place, the stags just go to where they are).

What follows is better than any soap opera. Trials of strength take place between equally large stags. Roaring or bellowing signals their fitness to others & this is sometimes enough to deter a lesser stag. However, two large stags that do not back away from all this shouting could then end up testing each other. They first eye each other up by parallel walking, roaring as they go. If one is not scared off by this, they then turn to face each other, lowering their heads & engage. The design of the antlers is such that they interlock, preventing the beasts from stabbing each other. I have witnessed wily old stags turning their heads in order to get a tine through the guard & putting pressure on the oppositions neck. This is sometimes enough to make them run away while the victor chases, again roaring. On accasion, serious injury & sometimes death does occur. Stags with abnormal antlers, long tops or just single spikes can breach a bigger stronger animals defence & kill him. These abnormal animals are sometimes culled to prevent this happening. Some are killed by just bad luck. Any one who has been watching the BBC webcams from the rutting greens on Rum will no doubt know that Titus was killed on Saturday by Percy. He slipped & ended up on his back & was stabbed in the stomach. He died shortly afterwards.
Below are a few long range shots taken today at a site on the Quantock hills. A single mature stag was present along with 40+ hinds. These are wild animals & do not be put off by the fences in the background. They are there to prevent the deer getting in to the winter wheat, not to stop them escaping! This stag was also present last year & has a very impressive head.

To watch the webcams visit:

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Birthday escape

For a few hours on my birthday, i managed to get out to Meare heath, part of Shapwick nature reserve. The recent run of cracking birds saw a pair of Pectoral sandpipers on the mud of the second lagoon. Although a long way off, i managed a couple of record shots along with the roosting Lapwing. A short visit to the Meare Heath hide produced the adult female Marsh harrier.

Above: You can see the sharply demarcated breast band that gives the Pectoral sandpiper its name.

Above: Dwarfed by the Lapwing behind it, it shows how small a bird it really is.

Above: The greater amount of pale creamy patches on this female Marsh Harrier point to it being an adult bird, the immatures being much darker overall.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Great whites, snakes & crakes...

Quite a good day today......
First a trip back to Chard reservoir where the Great white Egret was showing well, sometimes down to 12m & far to close for the 600mm. The local Heron kept flushing it from its fishing spot & allowing some flight photos as well.
Whilst there, a fellow birder & photographer mentioned that the Spotted Crake was showing at Greylake RSPB reserve (thanks James). After showing me some of his shots, i had to go & have a look, especially as it would be a lifer for me. On arrival I walked out along the boardwalk towards the pool. A couple of birders were there & the Crake was only meters away on the edge of the pool, interacting with a Grass snake. I saw the bird several more times during the hour or so i spent at the pool & witnessed it chasing away the snakes a couple more times. At one point a Water Rail also joined in the harrying.
Below are some of the shots taken Today.
Above: Chard reservoir Great-white Egret.Above: Water railAbove: Spotted Crake. The Grass snakes body can be seen in the first & second photo as it slithered away.Above: One of the Grass snakes that was hunting along the pool.

Sunday, 26 July 2009


Bad weather & other commitments have kept me away from the countryside for a lot of this month. The few short trips out have been spur of the moment & without a plan. The only real exception was an afternoon at Collard hill on the Poldens, to try & see the rare large blue butterfly. Several were seen as they went about their business, but only one was brave enough to sit in front of my macro lens! Marbled whites, Ringlets, Small heath & Common blue were also present.
A trip to Bristol at the start of the month, allowed a short visit to Ashton court where these three fine gentlemen were grazing blissfully on a rare sunny afternoon.
The Avalon marshes continue to attract some good birds. Further to the Little Bittern which is still present at the time of writing, Bitterns can be seen in flight above the extensive reed beds with a little effort. Purple heron has put in a brief appearance & a Great white Egret has been present for most of the month. This vagrant from the Mediterranean & North Africa has been showing well on Meare heath, where i managed these distant shots, late one evening.

The Great white is almost the size of a Grey Heron & the first shot shows a good size comparison with a Little Egret.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Getting domesticated?

I was recently asked to take some pictures of a work coleagues dog as a surprise birthday present for his wife. After a couple of hours at a couple of different locations, I had over 200 shots covering portraits & action. I then had to sift through them to delete the obvious "rubbish" & to burn whats left onto a CD for approval of the owner. His 3 favorite images were then professionally printed, mounted & framed. What you see below are some of my favourites.