Sunday, 29 June 2014

HOW TO GET SWALLOWS IN FLIGHT

Let's get something straight before I go to far into this post. I am no expert at how to nail flight shots of Swallows in flight. I just have a unhealthy obsession with these charismatic summer visitors or should that be healthy, either way I spend a lot of time photographing them. So somehow I got reasonably good at keeping them in the viewfinder and getting images...every dog has it's day I suppose.
I have been asked by a few people how I do it so thought I'd share a few tips and suggestion.
"WHAT LENS DO YOU USE"
Tricky question really, it helps if you use a fast lens preferably with some sort of image stabilisation however I know of people who have obtained brilliant flight shots using a Sigma 50-500mm lens with no image stabilisation mode. Personally just in case the Swallows stay a bit distant I like to use my 500mm f4 prime lens and if the weather is sunny setting it at f/5.6 however I do find using a teleconverter slows things down too much so don't use one and with Swallows being quick...well you need your equipment to be quick to respond.
If I am at a location where I know the birds will be close I will use my 300mm f/2.8 this will eliminate poor weather too.  If you're having a problem with Swallows along the ground like the image below, welcome to the club. But seriously try sky shots first, with a blue sky. It's easier and makes good practice.
 "BUT YOU GOT A MEGA FAST FOCUSING 1D DO I NEED THE SAME"... Not really my first ever flight shot of a Swallow was with a Canon 400d which was mega slow at focusing. On all camera's you have an option of which focus point you enable on most it'll either be all of them or individual focus points on "pro" cameras like the 1d it is a multitude of choices, if you ain't got a 1d or the Nikon equivalent I would choose the centre focus point and on my 1d I DO THE same but enable additional focus points left and right of centre and not all of the focus points or as it's known the "ring of fire" as too many focus points selected slows the speed at which the camera focuses. In your camera settings if you have the option to change the auto focus speed option don't turn it up to the fastest unless you're photographing over perfectly calm water as blades of grass will grab the AF system attention and leave you frustrated. In good light on the 1d I go one down from halfway in poor light I stay at the half way option..it works for me.
 "WHAT EXPOSURE SETTINGS AND CAMERA SETTINGS DO YOU USE"
Right ideally you want to be photographing in glorious sunny weather with blue skies as it helps massively and the blue on the bird just looks great. Make sure the sun is behind you of course.
I will switch my camera into AV mode as this guarantees that I get the fastest shutter speed regardless where I point my lens. ISO setting varies on location and light condition for example if I am in a field on a good bright day that isn't shaded too much I will go anywhere from 400 to 640 and shoot at f/5.6 and exposure wise anywhere from +2/3 to +1. If it is overcast or slightly late in the evening I will up the exposure settings from anywhere +1 to +1&2/3rd's and change the ISO to values of 640 to 1000. You ideally need a shutter speed of anywhere from 1/1500th to 1/2500 however I have got flight shots with less shutter speed just with wing blur.
However if you are photographing over water remember you have the reflected light off the water surface which helps on slightly cloudy days to get both better exposure and shutter speeds.
Also set the camera to Continuous shooting mode for obvious reasons.
 " I STRUGGLE TO KEEP THE BIRD IN THE VIEWFINDER".
Again welcome to the club. It's what makes photographing Swallows equally frustrating and rewarding face the facts you have to keep the bird both in the viewfinder and in focus whilst a small bird flies at speed low to the ground twisting and turning normally trying to catch and even smaller and more nimble insect...however there are a few tricks I do.
1st Try either early in the morning when the Swallows first start to hunt both the Swallows and the insects aren't quite up to speed/warmed up.
2nd Unless you want sky shots avoid mid afternoon's as I find normally this is when they're mostly high in the sky as are the insects, unless it's sky shots you are after... Plus if the UK weather is hot you will too get hot and sweaty.
3rd Try about 5pm onwards the light is soft, less heat haze, and to me I swear the Swallows feed more but slower.
If you have more than one Swallow zipping around, as often is the case sit back and watch them, learn the flight pattern they do, it may look like a manic feeding frenzy but it ain't if it was there would be collisions and I've not seen Swallows collide EVER. With some it is like a figure of eight pattern other times its up one way and back the other...just watch them you'll figure out what I mean and figure out the way they hunt. Also they will disappear, taking food back to the young,  this is your chance to get your breath back and check your images, they will return as long as you haven't done something stupid to scare them away Swallows are quite tolerant to us humans so they shouldn't have been scared off.
I also have seen others frantically point the camera at the nearest bird, curse, then point at the next nearest bird followed by more cursing, don't choose this method you might get lucky but you will also get frustrated equally quick. Pick one bird that's at a fair distance from you and keep tracking it in the viewfinder the bird will do one of two things stay far away,  in which case choose the next bird and wait/keep tracking until it gets closer this method is good if you have either a slow lens/camera if you choose the closest bird to you often both you and your camera aren't quick enough. Also try out photographing juveniles for your first time as they're not as quick as the adults. However my TOP tip is practise, more practise, have a drink, more practise and....more practise but on a more serious note take loads of images the hit/success rate is shockingly low, I am lucky if from a full 4 gigabyte card I keep 20% of the images on a good day( I think I heard Adrian faint and hit the floor).

 "DO YOU USE A MONOPOD OR TRIPOD".
I don't use neither! Even when using my 500mm lens I prefer to handhold the lens but my biceps are big lol. So it's a case of use a tripod if you have one or a monopod if you got one. I would opt for the monopod with a gimbal head, which is what I used to use. However I felt either option was to clumsy and prefer handholding the lens as it gives me better fluidity whilst tracking the bird and with high shutter speed being used "stability" is not really an issue plus if need be I can lay low on my belly for a better point of view plus whilst laying low/kneeling down I find the Swallows come in closer.
 Like the image below.
"WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO PHOTOGRAPH SWALLOWS". That's a tricky one. Most Swallows in my home County tend to nest in barns/stables or outbuildings. So if it's nesting in a stable I will try and photograph them in the field or paddocks that they tend to hunt in near to their nesting sites. However sometimes they build their nests in strange places like the one below, a flock regularly nest in garages belonging to residents of one village who leave their garages open all Summer and the birds then either hunt the nearby fields or as in this image a playing field/football pitches.

 But Swallows will hunt for insects off the surface of water and need to drink too so any body of water is a good place to look around I have seen Swallows drink and feed off a rather large'is garden pond and a personal favourite location of mine is reservoirs as you get some unique shots as they hunt insects off the surface , reflection shots if the surface is calm enough and if it's hot a chance to dip your toes in the water too.

 But please don't photograph them at the nest it disturbs them feeding their young and personally I believe Swallows need all the help they can get.
But more importantly just enjoy it as often you will get some great close encounters.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

JUVENILE GOLDCREST, SWALLOWS, HOUSEMARTINS MATING AND SOME QUALIFICATIONS

Some time ago you may remember me blogging about some exams etc I was taken. Well I finally got my results and now qualified to go into transport management at some point if I so wish (oohhh!) and much to my disgust, as I hate it's concept I have also got my CPC renewed at MY cost, stealth tax for professional drivers!
Also for the last eight months until the Kennel Club confirmed it was ok to say so and make public I am to say my Mum has been appointed as "breed" judge for Crufts in 2017, she has been a Championship show judge for some time and will judge "her" breed the Japanese Chin, may seem trivial to some but speaking purely for myself, I am over the moon for her she turns 73 tomorrow (I sneaked a look at her passport) so it's been a good week for her.
ANYWAY, being a birding blog I'll get round to some birding because despite having to refit my kitchen and other diy chores I got some birding done.
Firstly in my garden it's starting to resemble a day nursery with EVERY bird being a juvenile hanging around my feeders, so busy I converted my shed into a hide, there's nothing in there so what the hell....mind you my garden is to shady for any quality images. I have not seen my garden so busy at this time of the year in ages it doesn't normally get this busy even during the winter, it has been a bumper year for Tits around my way and Starlings too. In every garden you walk past there is small flocks of twenty Starlings on up to seven lawns worming away it makes the morning walk to the local shops quite interesting on one property there is a soffet/eaves that has been tapped away at by adult starlings with a noisy brood showing! In my garden I have 8 juvenile Blue Tits, sadly just one juvenile Blackbird (second brood), 5 Great Tits with one solitary Coal Tit (see previous post) though watching the Coal Tit, the Great Tits hate it constantly chasing the bird, also 12 Long Tailed Tits all juvenile no adults apart from Goldfinches to be seen. Given the number of cats around here I'm surprised anything breeds and it comes as no surprise the Blackbird (2 juveniles in the first brood, 1 in second brood), no juvenile Dunnocks but have a nesting pair of adults and no Robins numbers are so low for ground nesting birds around here, my greyhound Jim went for one Tabby that strolled past us on a walk with a Starling in it's gob, I hate CATS as does Jim to be fair.
Best bird but not a garden tick is the two juvenile Goldcrest in my Yew tree/bush

 Well happy to see them but an absolute nightmare to keep in the frame always flitting around and with low shutter speed really hard to get, luckily as birds go they are quite confiding and with good use of garden craft (field craft seemed like the wrong word) happy to stay around IF the cats get these I shall let Jim loose......

 Notice on these two images you can see there is no Gold crest on it's head and no small brown patch below the eye. You might also be able to make out the gape, on the second juvenile bird the black bit that stradles the "gold" crest is more developed but getting it in the frame is proving hard but fun from the garden shed...I mean hide. They are not touching the feeders and seem to be cathcing green flies and daddy long legs. I also placed a feeder on this branch today for the juvenile Coal Tit so I might try for some better pictures of that too.

Yesterday started off promising weather wise but near to my new Little Owl site (an eight mile cycle from my house) I went for some Swallows and Housemartins. Sadly by the time I managed to get up there the weather turned, the skies went dark and it went really windy, an approaching rain cloud and possible thunder was on the cards, luckily the wind blew the most threatening looking clouds straight through but for a while I was worried.
Saying that I'm glad I stuck it out as I got to watch my very own aerobatic display team, performed by the Martins display team, the Red Arrows have nothing on these guys, getting an image was out of the question as the display taking place in front of me was happening in either really grey skies or about 5 to 6 feet above the ground with a frankly shit 1/300th shutter speed.
Basically I had circa 50 adult birds chasing around, one lead bird (which became obvious was a female) was being chased around by up to 4 birds, jinking left, twisting low and fast, rising steeply then coming a bit to close to me with aduible flaps of wings whisking past my head until it was just two birds, then the lead bird would slow down and the chasing bird would catch up and mount it both then "parachuted" locked to the ground, they were only a few feet of the ground at this point but the descent was being controlled by the male bird, I really wanted images of this bit but sadly way to out of focus but from them I could see they hadn't copulated the male bird standing on the back of the female using it's wings to safely land whilst gripping the females wings, so she couldn't escape or maybe to prevent other males from getting in on the action maybe? Not sure I have never seen this.
Clcik on the below image and you can see how the male is gripping the females wing whilst mating.
As you can see from the image it wasn't just the one female and not all landings (look at the pair at the back) were so elegant as the pair in the centre I was cursing the skies I didn't get this one's descent locked together. It was a frenzy of activity as birds were dropping down everywhere..again I have never seen this before to a human eye it was quite comical whilst the actual pursuit was impressive flight display by both the female and male. glad I got to see it.
ALWAYS ONE TRYING TO SNEAK IN ON SOME ACTION

ROUGH RIDE..OOPS I MEANT LANDING
 I know these Housemartins already have fledged juveniles so obvioulsy a second brood was being atempted, I left them to it and watched the swallows feeding with high ISO being used I managed a few shots but light wasn't good and this one is best of a bad bunch.
 The one below I got in better light today, the Housemartins have calmed down today just busy feeding what a difference a day makes! I was sneakily hoping for more of the same behaviour witnessed the day before.
Sadly they stayed a bit distant, but feel this image has some merit, you can see the bug to the left of the birds mouth, but I also love the sprayed out tail....sadly I am working for the next four days but what good start to the working week and given Glastonbury Festival is starting this week I am not surprised to hear the weather is turning lousy :o( Have a good week and now Blogger seems to have sorted the dashboard issues I look forward to seeing what you have been up to, can I recommend if you haven't check out "Rugby Birder" blog on my list on the left, there is a rather gorgeous melanistic Barn Owl on there, captive bird but still a right good looking bird.

A quick re-edit I am having an image published in Birdwatch magazine (July issue) too.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

AUSTRIAN GRAND PRIX PREDICTIONS

I have been dreading this one.  I hate the A1 Ring or whatever it's been named this year. I have been to this circuit for an F1 race and it was when Ferrari dominated and Mr . Schumacher and Co tried to make a dire race more interesting, I remember the booing I also remember fans chucking beer and soft drink cans at the Ferraris' trucks though that was never reported in the press. I also remember how four grown men almost came to blows trying to find the blasted circuit it is not as easy as you'd think!
So my predictions, well I spotted something with the Mercs' it started in Australia remember how at that race they had to do two formation laps and then Lewis retired,  fast forward to Canada a couple of safety cars the Mercedes had problems. So  it seems if the Merc's if they get to hot or cold then hot then back to cold then they develop issues. I predict some of the less talented drivers will end up off the track causing a safety car. Which in turn will end up with Mercedes having issues. I think we will see the Silver Arrows implementing team orders this weekend after all the two driver's pushing each other so hard didn't help in Canada,  the maths are simple with Nico&Lewis ending in one/two it would take Lewis at least five races to draw level with Nico so it might just come down to the final race and double points, it'll be all about winning the constructor title for now.
So my race results will be as follow
1st Nico
2nd Bottas
3rd Alonso

Thursday, 19 June 2014

ECTON SEWAGE FARM

Sounds nice doesn't it, sewage farm lovely! As I approached on my bike I could already smell the actual sewage farm when I got to the Billing Aquadrome I'm really not sure how the residence of Bellinge and those on the Billing Aquadrome put up with the stench it was making me physically sick. Luckily I was heading for the lakes at the back of the sewage farm where it wouldn't be so smelly. I entered via the Cogenhoe campsite and onto the flood plain that leads up to the small concrete bridge.
Straight away I was onto some wildlife as soon as I crossed the river at the campsite, a Grey Wagtail was taking advantage of the small boats as a launch pad for catching insects off the surface of the water, mostly it was catching these.
TAKEN WITH A 500MM PRIME, NOT IDEAL FOR MACRO
 On the flood plain area apart from the herd of cows was these Swallows perched up on the fence I really like the plain green background from the field and spent too long photographing these....I really do have a Swallow problem.
JUVENILE SWALLOW
 I walked around the lake clocking Blackcaps, Cettis Warblers, Common Whitethroats, ChiffChaffs and Willow Warbler but not as many as last year, there was plenty of Butterflies floating on the breeze too. I also got a Buzzard and a male Sparrowhawk. However two really notable things the first was the number of juvenile tits, it really was deafening the sound of Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits I did search for Marsh Tits as there is normally a few down on this site, sadly couldn't find any.
The other notable bird was a Cuckoo calling, I headed off in the general direction of Grendon down the River Nene, couldn't find the cuckoo but carried on down the Nene. I got as far as the canal lock/sluice that sits roughly opposite Whiston village where a footpath leads through a field, it looked tempting so off I went as I could then cycle along Whiston Road and the eight mile bike ride home.
JUVENILE BLUE TIT
 The best bits at the sluice gates was three Kingfishers which didn't hang around. As I peered down to see what was in/on the water I saw an Otter peering up at me which quickly dived and vanished before I had time to get my camera out the bag, they do half swim fast. Whilst I was stood on the bridge a rather knowledgeable bloke and his daughter approached me apparently the Otter is seen regularly down here, which was handy information to have.
As I walked up the field it was good to see a Skylark and some Yellowhammers and the Cuckoo again, This time I could see it on the the phone cables in the middle of the field. I was surprised to hear it calling as it appears via the BTO website most are/have left the UK on their long migration back to Africa.
The long journey home was uneventful until I got to Bellinge, a police car pulled up alongside me. "Excuse me, I don't think you should be cycling on the footpath". "Erm, can you see the blue sign there, does it not have a bike and person on it"..copper looks..."that means it's both a footpath and cycle path" somewhat embarrassed and in what I think was an attempt to save face in front of his colleague he then asks "can I ask what you have in the bag"..to be fair my 500mm lens bag is big but "no you can't" I was tired and frazzled from the heat I didn't need this, I definitely didn't want to pull my lens and camera equipment out in front of people on this housing estate, well rough it is. The copper then wanted to stop and search me. "You need a reason, what's your reason". Apparently a woman was mugged by a bloke on a bike, yeah right, but plausible on this estate, stop and search over the bloke wanted advice on camera equipment!! I blew, it doesn't take much to be fair, "you want advice, don't stop someone cycling on a cycle path, don't then stop and search them and finally after all that don't expect them to give you advice on camera equipment" "I'm only doing my job" "are you? The person who did the mugging if there was a mugging, where is he then?" with a few more words exchanged, mostly him warning me I was allowed to go  I cycled off the cop car drove past and the other officer waved, boy I was tempted to show a finger or two but thought better of it and just shook my head...idiots.
JUVENILE COAL TIT
 On a slightly better note I had some juvenile Coal Tits on my feeders. A common bird but in the wooded section on Eastfield Park they had gone with one showing up last winter I was hoping they'd bounce back so I was really happy to see the young on my feeders.


Sunday, 15 June 2014

SWALLOWS, JUVENILE BEHAVIOUR AND "LE MANS LAG"

Well Le Mans was never going to be a race I was going to try and predict and my decision not to do  my usual trick of popping over to Paul's to watch it on Eurosport via a Sky dish was an even harder call. My decision was based on the ACO (organisers of Le Mans) to put more effort into their web based broadcasting and a rather smart app. I was not disappointed, the app was fantastic, you could choose from several cars (mostly LMP1 and sadly not many GT cars etc) and watch on board footage live, no adverts, no commentators just the sound of engines, braking, gearchanges etc. I was worried when it came to the night section of the race I wouldn't see much from the cockpit....WRONG. It did show some curiosities in how the different LMP1 cars used headlights, for example the Toyota's lights were almost dim, normal car like, the Audi's when in a straight line cast a 180 degree view (lucky Audi drivers) and the Porsche's were also very bright. It was odd to see the 919's when they went down the straights they were vibrating and bouncing like mad, I think this might have been the cause to their retirements...something literally shaking loose...perhaps? Watching the LMP1 cars closing in on the slower cars was scary at night time, proper driving.  I also found it odd that given what the Red Bull owner said about Mark Webber last year in F1 Mark still had the drinks company logo splashed all over his helmet!
Like I said it was a shame the app didn't have more GT cars to choose from as there was a fantastic battle during the night with Bruno Senna which sent me back to watching the "net" TV coverage/streaming and a brilliant job of streaming they did too....in my opinion better then shelling money out to the Murdoch empire for sure.
The start of the race was brilliant with rain make an exciting 4-5 hours. My driver of the race has to go to Oliver Turvey who won the LMP2 class, this is a man who is contracted to Mclaren as a test/simulator driver whose team faced money struggles and pulled out and even as late as Thursday didn't even have a race seat!!! My second place driver goes to Fabian Barthez, yes he who fumbled his way between the posts for Manchester United, and finsihed 27th, and at least he handled his steering wheel better then he did the ball for United. It was looking like a Toyota win but early in the morning the lead car had it. It then looked like we were in for a battle to the end with Porsche and Audio a great weekend for the V.A.G however Webber car lost all power, I was watching on board at the time and it sounded like a turbo failure I could be wrong. STILL given it was Porsche first visit to Le Mans they didn't do too bad...roll on 2015.
I think a 2015 visit to Le Mans is on the cards....if only I could find a camper van to hijack for the weekend......
 I did on Saturday manage to combine birding and Le Mans (thanks to the app) light wasn't brilliant but thought I would stake out the Little Owls I had found. The owls decided to stay even further away then on my previous visit, they do have a vast area and a lot of posts to perch upon. So I opted to try for some of the other birds around the site.
The swallow's and their young were out in force flying low with me ducking out of the way a few times just wish the light was better the birds would've looked better and a little less wing blur (more shutter speed would've been handy).
It was encouraging to see new nest building activity and some mating activity...second broods hopefully.
The House Martins were busy both picking up stones(!) and even though I didn't catch it on camera were laying on the ground covering their wings in dust...A way of catching insects?
Plenty of juvenile Blackbirds this one's antics made me chuckle as it tried worming...not quite got the hang of it.

There was a few juvenile Song Thrush around too and loads of Goldfinches both too far away for images.
I did like this cheeky chap who was in the tree I was stood under whilst hoping the Little Owls would come closer.
A rather short post as I am struggling to keep my eyes open (that's Le Mans lag for you) I hope you all had a good weekend.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

TWO NEW LITTLE OWL SITES

Funny how things work out sometimes. Somewhat stressed out of from endless contraflows and snarled up motorways I knew after work yesterday I needed some time out with my camera and a spot of birding. I wouldn't have long the ensuing traffic made sure of that. I grabbed my camera and my bike and headed out.
The original plan was to make the most of what remained of the day and visit some local Swallows and Housemartins then after that I had eyed up some potential Little Owl sites.
HOUSEMARTIN
SWALLOW, ADULT

SWALLOW, JUVENILE

ADULT SWALLOW AND A SLEEPY JUVENILE SWALLOW
 The Housemartins and Swallows were busy feeding in the fading light and the juvenile Swallows were also out and about though some were more active then others.
I was soon off to check out the site for Little Owls. The site had potential plenty of horse paddocks, barns and the "right" types of tree...if that makes sense.
I was heading down the lane at the end of which was a private school I was cycling along looking on with envy at the cricket pitch wishing for a quick batting session on the field, with on site security it wasn't going to happen, I was going to have to stick on the public footpath, the sun was setting so if there was any Little Owl's on the site it was now the best time to see them, it was 8:30pm when my wandering mind was snapped back to reality, perched on top of the most unlikely "post" was an all to familiar blob....is it an omen for the upcoming World Cup?
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES!
 These are quite heavily cropped, there was no way of getting any closer the school ground is off limits, however the Yew tree (wasn't expecting a Yew tree being it's choice of tree) it was using is closer and unlike the goalposts in better light, this site would be better in the morning rather then having the sun being from behind the Little Owl.
THE BALL NEVER CROSSED THE LINE
 You might be able to make out the flying insects around the owls head, every now and again it would snatch at them, it dropped down onto the ground and flew into a nest cavity inside the Yew tree with what was either a very large earthworm or potentially a Slow Worm, I could then see a second owl a quick food pass and it was back onto the goal post and the second adult bird went back into the cavity.
Intially I was worried about all that netting but it seemed to know what it was doing, the only hazzard might be when if any young fledge the nest, maybe.
WHAT YOU LOOKIN' AT, WANT SOME DO YOU?
I was quite happy, this was my first new site in ages. When I got excited all again but somewhat "miffed", I heard in the distant another owl calling, quite a far distance from this site, I could see both birds in front of me so knew this was another bird, I was miffed as it was calling from the area I just had cycled past...little buggers!
But as the second Little Owl called I heard a Tawny Owl calling and it was close. I started to scan the area and realised again on the schools site it was coming from a somewhat strange looking "barn".
Circular in shape and not exactly level! I have seen on other blogs Tawny's using barns for daytime roosting and with Buzzards in the nearby copse's I was guessing it might be using the barn for a day time roost, but I was wrong. I had attracted the attention of the security guard, god I hate security gods...ooops I meant guards. This guy was okay he quickly realised what I was up to and we chatted...now look at the entrance of the barn again.
Apparently a now retired teacher had but a Barn owl box in there and was once used by a Barn Owl but is now used by a Tawny Owl (he had seen the Tawny on his night patrols and talked at length about his sightings, which was good to hear) they had to place the stuff in front of the door to stop the children from going in and disturbing the owl...that is good thinking in my opinion, it bred last year but he hadn't seen any young this year. I asked about the risk of the Little Owl getting caught in the net, the guard said the nets were coming down at the end of the week but it has been using the the goalposts for as long as he could remember he also pointed out how the nets on the post were up and the other goal posts they weren't....someone seems to be switched on at the school towards birds.
I had a second owl to locate and made my excuses and left, as I cycled down the track again! I soon spotted my second Little Owl site perched on top of a barn, surely I couldn't have cycled past it first time round. In my defence....who I am kidding I had, this one was getting hassle from all things the juvenile Swallows using the barn, shutter speeds were low so no shots of that. So some high ISO and low shutter speed shots instead.


A horse owner then came and checked me out. We had a nice chat and she agreed I could come back anytime and wander around the paddocks as long as I closed all the gates after I had finished and if I injured myself I wouldn't sue (!!!), fair enough I thought, my cycle home I was making plans already on how to achieve better images, so hopefully more to come.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

THE REEDBED AND CANADIAN GP PREDICTIONS.

As most will remember from last year I have a bit of a soft spot for a "natural england"/ELS farm scheme in Northampton that I knickname the "reedbed". I personally think it's a stunning place yet others that I dragged down there hated it as it was a nightmare to photograph at thanks to the "non managed" state of the site, plus on a hot day there is no hides to seek shelter in (or if the weather turns crap). I always thought it was the species and their quantity that was important not creature comforts and the ease of which to get a photograph....sure I have left the site numerous times in the past cursing my luck but on the odd occasion I've left smug as bug. I'm thinking Cuckoo flight shots and on one occasion at the start of the spring migration 20 Hobbies patrolling the sky. So given the fact my 1d mark3 gave up the ghost I probably should have picked a better spot to get familiar with the buttons etc of my old 1d mark2 but I never seem to do things in the correct manner.
This was my first visit to the site and as I walked along the farmers field/footpath there was plenty of small common stuff diving in and out of the rape seed field as I approached the board walk I was greeted by the explosive call of a Cettis Warbler lurking in the undergrowth, there is a few of these scattered around the site, I also flushed out a frankly remarkable 8 Mistle Thrush from the field and some Starlings (seems to be a lot of Starlings floating around this summer), the reedbed looked thick and healthy...hmmm this wasn't going to be easy for Reed Warbler shots.
 No land management here with the exception of a new drainage ditch onto the site topping up the water levels...which explained why the reedbed was more lush looking and thicker then normal.
 Look at the image above and the height and thickness of the reeds! What really frustrates was the fact there was plenty of Reed Warblers within touching distance sadly no usable shots of said bird nor the Cettis that kept bursting into life, I returned to my camera bag to fetch a drink and formulate a new plan of attack and found this making a home on my bag, thanks to Trevor who named it as a Drinker Moth Caterpillar big old hairy bugger it was and given the fact I could hear two Cuckoo's calling (one in the farmyard and one down by the lake) I placed it carefully on a reed stem and watched it crawl away.
I was noticing a severe lack of Sedge Warblers around the site this year, not one seen all day. Plenty of Reed Buntings which hooked me for ages trying to get flight shots of them flying between the reed stems...failed but more down to aesthetics like poorly exposed or reed stems in the way the 1d mark2 was marking easy work of flight work....still the best autofocus system to this date in my opinion.
You can see from the below shot getting a "clear" image was hard thanks to the reed stems.
FEMALE REDD BUNTING RETURNING TO NEST WITH FOOD
 Also got this Garden Warbler with food in it's mouth too.
 But it isn't just the reedbed that makes life hard the Willow is everywhere down there making it hard to get a clean shot without a branch nipping in the way, plenty of juvenile birds around, mostly common birds at the moment like Long tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and these two Great Tits, have you noticed the amount of food in the images?
There was plenty of bugs crawling and flying around...technical term for a numpty like me.
I found these two willing to pose for my big old 500mm lens not the perfect lens for a spot of macro, I think these might be Broad Bodied Chasers...don't quote me on that though.

It was getting hot and I needed some shelter from the sun so opted to walk down to the lake and hide under one of the many willows (told you don't need hides), the copse opposite me I could hear the Cuckoo again and despite it sounding really, really, really close I couldn't see it I couldn't stray onto the private land to see if I could locate it (landowner hates birders) which was annoying as I could hear both Little Ringed Plover and Oystercatchers calling, there is on the private site a couple of small islands that I have in the past seen both of these species plus Green Sandpipers and Common Sandpipers too, nevermind.
Whilst sat there I could see a pair of Common Whitethroats and at least one Lesser Whitethroat, again images were pants thanks to the bushes but shall try again.
I saw three Hobbies hawking high for insects and they never really came close except one that came from behind me low and quick and from out of the sun it's shadow on the ground alerting me to it flying over.
HOBBY FROM OUT OF THE SUN....CRAP

NEVER CAME CLOSE
 Still despite this it bumped the number of Hobbies seen this year to five, hopefully with better results to come. I also managed a shot of a fleeing Starling.
STARLING.
I had a 8 mile cycle home in hot weather and was mulling my route home whilst watching a pair of Buzzards gliding over the reedbed, thinking one day it should be a Marsh Harrier, it only has to be a matter of time before one or two set up home here, can't think of a better place myself when I heard a Kingfisher, guess what, yes you guessed it, the bird perched on a branch with another branch blocking it, still this was a new bird on this site for me, so here it is.
In terms of images, yes I had a bad day, but I still love this site and yet I still didn't seen one other person, shame really.
CANADIAN GP PREDICTIONS.
SAFETY CAR, SAFETY CAR AND BIT MORE SAFETY CAR, RED BULL BREAKS DOWN, LEWIS AND NICO START BITCH SLAPPING EACH OTHER AND SUZI PERRY SAY SOMETHING ANNOYING.
and other predictions
1st Lewis Hamilton
2nd Nico Rosberg
3rd Botas