If I could choose a bird that is the most difficult to photograph it would be a Dipper for sure. Firstly, they are not all that easy to get close enough to, but that is usually the case with most birds. The big problem is the habitat, usually that's fast flowing water. Where there is fast flowing water there is usually lots of white water and glare and this causes havoc with the cameras settings, it is so hard to get it right. To make matters worse Dippers have that impressive white breast which stands out like a beacon and reflects light strongly. Let me tell you about today because it has been a good one.
The forecast was for rain in the late afternoon so it was good idea to be out reasonably early this morning. I made my way back to the river and specifically the "carcass" by the waterfall. I had seen a Dipper there yesterday and I thought that waiting there would be a good option. I would be able to capture anything that came in to feed on that, but also it was a good place for Dipper as well. The river is not too wide there so I chose a spot at the foot of a large tree so that I could tuck myself down the bank, near the water's edge, with the tree hiding me from behind. The carcass was about 15 feet from me and I would have got a really good look at anything that came in to feed. I am undecided as to whether the dead animal is a deer or a sheep, it looks more like a deer today that's for sure. I sat under a military cape, using it as a hide. Then to break up my shape, I threw camouflage netting over both myself and the camera ( with the lens poking out obviously). Time went by and it wasn't long before there was some action to witness. Crows were above me definitely interested in the animal, as I said before something has been feeding on it because you can see the rib cage and bit's of flesh that have yet to be torn off it. The crows never did come down to feed, I think I was perhaps a bit too close and they were put off. It was at least an hour before I caught sight of my first Dipper, it was feeding some 25 yards down stream......... typical, but I was hopeful that it would get closer eventually. Time went by and still it didn't come my way. Suddenly, on the rock in front of me and about 10 feet away, there he was. I hurriedly took some photos, the light wasn't too bad and he was still, singing his song because even though I could hardly hear him, I could see his throat puffing in and out. It is really satisfying when you hatch a plan and it is successful. The dipper couldn't see me and was relaxed as he sand away, even though I was only 10 feet away. After a while he flew up stream where later on I saw him, from a distance, with his new partner.
MORE ABOUT THE STONE THROWING INCIDENT
I have had quite a bit of support from people after I asked for comments about the stone throwing child on Sidmouth Sea Front at the beginning of the week. However, I did receive some unpleasant comments from the mother of the child and then today, a very unpleasant and arrogant 'rant" from a man who would appear to be the grandfather of the child. Just to tell you again what happened.
I was photographing Purple Sandpiper on the rocks at Jaconb's Ladder Sidmouth last Monday when a family party walked behind me. One of the children on seeing me and my large lens, looked to see what I was taking pictures of. It appeared to me that he then saw the birds and threw a stone at them. I protested, in the direction of them and not specifically at the child, and the mother totally lost her sense of decorum and began shouting abuse at me. (for apparently protesting at the child's behaviour). Since then I have had a sarcastic comment left on the blog from the mother and then when I removed it, another in the same tone. Today, I had a comment from the man saying that I shouldn't be taking pictures on the sea front and that children are children and should be allowed to throw stones at birds. He also proceeded to tell me what a Blog is and how he has the right to say what he likes on "MY BLOG". Not wanting to make the situation worse because I would be as bad as them in that case, but as both people failed to leave proper email address's and I can't contact them, this is the only way I can respond. Please don't post offensive comments on my Blog Finally if you want to communicate with the world then you can set up your own blog and don't use mine as a way to insult the author! This is a Blog that seeks to to record and inform people of my wildlife sightings,it is not a forum for discussions about the rights and wrongs of stone throwing. The opinions expressed on this blog are mine and I have the right and will exercise that right in the future, to delete any comments that seek to insult me!
It has been the nicest day in the UK today since early November. Great spring like weather, sunny and balmy with clean clear air. Crocus flowers everywhere, snowdrops and Daffodils, both in the garden and out wild in the woods and by the water, and that's where I spent my day........ in the woods, by the water. Not a crazy person in sight, NO stone throwing children, no dogs and no abusive, miss-guided parents. Just me, myself, birds, flowing water and wild flowers all around.
What more could I want? ........ Dippers! So when I got myself settled in my bag-hide, it was just a matter of waiting until one arrived. Like the proverbial bus joke, after more than an hour, not only one dipper but two. Well it is spring (almost), and love is in the air. It certainly was for these two birds because they have paired up for certain. I think there was in fact three birds because the first time I saw two together just too far down stream for a good photo, there was a bit of aggressive posturing and one flew off towards me and past to fly upstream. Then minute later the remaining bird was joined by another yet again, this time there was no posturing so I can only assume that this was a bonded pair. The picture below tells the story and is here for the record rather than it's photographic qualities.
I sat comfortably for well over two hours, perhaps nearer three and then decided to move down stream to a new spot which was nearer to where the Dippers seemed to be favouring. I stayed there for an hour, but still no Dippers came close enough and now I was getting a bit bored even though the expectation of a good sighting and consequently a good photo is usually enough to keep me sat.
I eventually succumbed and packed away the bits and pieces of my day, then started to walk down stream to explore........ and there was the Dipper by a water fall. I dived to the ground and threw the cam netting over me and tried to get as close as I could. This never works because the netting invariably gets caught on a branch or something similar and it's very frustrating. So I never did get that Dipper shot today. But then, by the water fall I saw that a sheep had fallen in the river several weeks ago and was trapped in the bank, obviously dead for ages! You can clearly see the exposed ribs........ Ravens, Crows, Magpies or even Buzzards have been feeding on it. This is just the opportunity that I look for and I can't wait to return and get myself in a hide nearby to see what turns up to feed........... very, very exciting!!!!!!
Pretty ghastly sight if you are squeamish and for that I apologise. It obviously fell in up river when it was flooded and the farmer has no knowledge of his loss. It is a shame for him, but a bigger shame for the sheep though! On the way back to the car much later, the sun was shinning still and a Cock Pheasant was in the field, he ran for cover in typical Pheasant style and I took his photo just before he disappeared in to the hedge. I managed to "lock on to him" with my auto focus and then pressed the trigger so to speak. I bet he was glad, had he been aware, that I was only taking his picture and not his life which is probably the fate that awaits him. Next time someone "locks on" it will probably be a twelve bore shot gun!
It's a funny old world we live in.
It's been a quiet day as far as wildlife is concerned. The garden is deserted with absolutely no birds whatsoever which I am finding hard to understand. You may remember my post from the other day when I asked for comments about the stone throwing child? Bizarrely, the mother of the child tracked me down on the Blog and then continued with her rant on here. Remember I was just taking pictures when a stone was thrown in the bird's direction and I obviously objected. It's really weird because she still thinks that she wasn't in the wrong to react the way she did, then and later on by contacting me. She has even been telling me that she has the right to dictate what I post on MY Blog! Have a look here and you can read what she has to say, it's interesting reading.
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I paid another visit to Sidmouth yesterday to look for the small group of Purple Sandpipers. At first there was no sign of them and I sat on the sea wall for quite sometime....... at least an hour....... then a small flock of waders flew low over the water and settled on the rocks. I was pleased when my patience had been rewarded because it was the sandpipers. They had been waiting for just the correct state of tide. It was quite rough with breakers crashing in and the sun peeping through, straight in to the camera. Good photography was a really hard thing to achieve, most shots being just silhouettes. The conditions really tested any skill that I may have, I was having to constantly adjust the camera to get a shot. Even when the breakers came in it would affect the picture because of the brightness imparted by the waves and when the wave receded the camera needed adjusting again because it was significantly darker within seconds. There was a few more people than previously, due to the sunnier conditions, time of day and half-term holiday. This in it's self made it a bit more difficult because people seeing the camera.... and the birds..... were interested to know about them. It's nice to talk to people, but I did miss a few good opportunities as I being constantly asked what was special about the birds. I did get a couple of shots that were half OK though.
This is an interesting shot. It shows what the birds are feeding on, the "algae-like" weed appears to be the attraction and they seem to feed on it voraciously.
This is a Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima). This is not a bird that can be seen at the "drop of a hat" but there are a few places in Devon where you can be almost sure of seeing one or two. They prefer to spend the winter on rocky shorelines, somewhere that is going to get a pounding wave sooner or later. As I photographed this one today...... there were 5 others by the way....... I could see that it was keeping a close eye on the crashing waves and right at the last moment it would jump clear. They were feeding on slimy green seaweed that was being exposed on the rocks as the tide went out. This in it's self is interesting because in the past, I have seen them feeding on mussels and shellfish. They seem to favour the company of Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) and today there was a dozen or so of them, dodging the waves in the same way but not feeding on the weed as far as I could see. This is a Turnstone.
I have been away on "family duty" this week and enjoyed spending a couple of days with my granddaughter. Now I have a visitor in the shape of my 91 year old mother-in-law, so wanting to do the decent thing, I took her on a trip to Brixham. At least here I might be able to see something interesting in the harbour, and I did! There is nothing particularly exciting about a Herring Gull (above) except to say that they have a much more interesting face than you would at first imagine. For example, the red patch on the lower mandible. Can you believe that a scientist called Tinbergen won a Noble Prize for science by proving that Herring Gull chicks peck at this red spot to beg for food. This pecking also stimulates the parent to regurgitate half digested food which is then fed to the begging chick. An interesting fact, but not something that would rival Fleming's discovery of penicillin or the discovery of dynamite. (Nobel discovered dynamite by the way), but an interesting fact associated with a much maligned bird.
Now Cormorants are different. Also hated in some quarters, (by fresh water anglers for example), but in the right place and doing what they are supposed to do, I find them very interesting. There are always Cormorants in the harbour at Brixham, but are they in fact Cormorants? No,they are the slightly less common and much more attractive, smaller, Shag, the second of the UK's two Cormorant species. The light in Brixham harbour was perfect yesterday and I watched a couple of them hunting for food almost constantly. In the end I managed, with a bit of patience to get close enough for a good photograph.
here is a Cormorant taken, last year, for you to compare. Notice the heavier head and different pattern of yellow on the face. Although it's easy to confuse the two species, if you see them side by side like this the differences are obvious.
To confuse the issue, it's not unusual at certain times of the year, to see cormorants with white markings on the head and neck like this bird below. There is the chance of two different sub-species of Cormorant in the Uk both "carbo", the northern bird and "sinensis" from further south. It is suggested, or has been suggested that these white headed birds are more likely to be the continental "sinensis" race but this has also been largely discounted by some. It seems to me that there is a lot of area left for detailed studies of Cormorants in the UK, as there appears to be still much confusion.
From time to time it rains so badly here in the Uk that you are all but house bound! So at around 3 when I had begun to feel like a caged lion, I went out in to the garden and sat in the hide, just for the fresh air really. We had a visit from 3 birds, a Collared Dove, a male Blackbird and a male House Sparrow. Having just spent an hour watching "The Life of Birds" on TV, where they talked about pecking order in birds, it was interesting to see this sparrow with such a massive black bib. apparently, you can tell the seniority of a House Sparrow by the size of the bib, this must be a "Colonel" at least.
I'm sure that this particular individual is no stranger to the people of Lympstone. He is seen regularly around the Sailing Club and is part of the scenery. I had been told of some Black Redstarts that have been seen around the Sailing Club and also feeding from a fat ball in a friend's garden, so I thought that I would go and have a look. It was a reasonable day, a bit dull but the glare from the river improved the light to an acceptable standard. I know Lympstone village like the back of my hand as I am the musical director of the village Brass Band so when I parked and walked through the tiny streets the few yards to the sailing club, I did feel a bit out of place. There was no sign of the Black Redstart but I hung around a little bit and I am so glad I did. There was Redshank foraging on the tide line as the tide receded, and I carefully tried to get close enough for a photograph. There I was with the Redshank in my view finder when all of a sudden it was joined by a Greenshank, a slightly less common bird and one that is always so nice to see. I took photos as you can see below, and a couple turned out OK, well at least an improvement on any previous Greenshank photos I have taken. Then all of a sudden in flew this fantastic Little Egret. I was skulking amongst the boats and he just didn't see me. He had a preen and then a shake and really exposed his plumes which will be at there best around now as spring ........ and breeding season......... is not too far around the corner and he will need his lovely plumage to impress all the best mates! Arguably this is the best picture I have taken for quite some time.
I have been wanting to perfect "High-speed flash photography" for several months now, and today I experimented, mainly to see what else I need to freeze the action of fast moving birds and their beating wings. Normal flash photography is not quick enough to capture these extremely short moments in time. However by adjusting your camera correctly and also the flash gun, you can capture action as quick as 20.000 of a second........... yes really! But what you also need to do is use a high "f" stop number on the camera, at least f22 but preferably even higher, and the reason? To get the maximum depth of field possible. When a bird is flying it is almost impossible to fire the shutter at the correct moment but with a large depth of field, you have some leeway, because more of the image is going to be in focus and it is not necessary to be so precise. These two pictures, although not without their merits, show me what else I need to do to improve everything.
Firstly, both pictures look as though they were taken at night. This is because the camera can only record the part of the frame that is illuminated by the flash,(in this picture, everything in the foreground). Also, the flash has only illuminated the bird on the right hand side and strong shadows are cast where the light didn't reach. For example on the first picture, the start of the beak. In the second picture it's the birds right wing which is in shadow from the Blue Tits body. Also in the first picture there is an effect called "ghosting". This, I believe, is caused by the camera capturing parts of the image that it would have been able to detect without the flash.
So here are the answers to these problems. The first thing to do would be to use two or more flash guns. In the above pictures I used just one. This was remotely situated about a foot from the subject and I was sat around 15 feet away. The flash was fired with a wireless remote. If I had used another flash gun positioned to the left of the picture, this would have eradicated the shadows on the left and then both sides of the bird would be evenly illuminated. Further flash units placed to illuminate from above and below would totally eradicate all the shadows. But what about the background? If you don't want all your pictures to look like they were taken in the dead of night you need to use yet another flash unit to light up the background. Quite an expensive solution and a whole new "ball-game", but because it is a relatively under used technique in the UK particularly, I plan to do much much more of it. Incidentally, the white spots in both images are rain spots, and you can se that they have been captured as "spots" and frozen in time as they fell.
. . What an absolutely wonderful session I had this afternoon, thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding, fulfilling and lots of great photographs taken. I am rapidly falling in love with Nuthatches........ what beautiful birds, so full of character and so handsome to match. As well as Nuthatches I took nice Marsh Tit and absolutely glorious Blue Tit as well. I will post pictures of those tomorrow but in the mean time here are some lovely Nuthatches.
In response to Jona's very poetic comment yesterday where he eulogises about his fascination for treecreeper, I thought he would like, and of course the rest of the world would too, to know more about how I was so lucky to get such good views of this particular bird. I know an area on Dartmoor where birds are attracted from the surrounding woods to the car park of a cafe. Dartmoor is a particularly attractive place and very barren in parts. However, where there is shelter, usually in valleys close to the river there are some glorious woody areas and these are home to all manner of birds and other wildlife. I am fond of Marsh Tit and a couple are attracted to the free offerings here and give some great opportunities for photography. So, wanting to capture something really specially I was prepared to give myself 3 or 4 hours waiting and watching. After a while I was suddenly aware of the treecreeper as it darted in to the bushes very close to me and then to a more open spot which was in actual fact the brick structure used to collect the parking fee. At first when it came in I rattled off a few shots and had some disappointing results to be honest, but when it repeated the visit 4 times in all, then I was able to be better prepared and ready. In the end it showed quite nicely even though only briefly as they are very quick and active. I even managed to photograph it with a tasty grub of some kind as you can see.
What does excite me though is the thought of getting even better shots which I am pretty confident will happen. It should be possibly, with the aid of some lard, to attach some mealworms to the cracks in the brickwork and position myself ready for something special! It's going to be fun trying.
This is a common enough bird but one that is easily missed. I see them from time to time, not often enough to be honest and, up until yesterday I haven't managed anything half like a decent photograph. It always amazes me that when I do see a relatively new (for me) species, how taken I am. Fundamentally that's why I love birds and wildlife so much, it genuinely gives me immense pleasure to see them close up. In the same way that you enjoy to see a nice painting, a stunning flower, or even enjoy a piece of music, there is just something extremely attractive about a bird. They come in so many shapes and sizes as well as colours, their variety is amazing. Here is a little bird that has evolved to literally hang on to the bark of a tree, and in this case as you can see a wall. They use their long probing beak to winkle out insects from between the crevices in bark and obviously, cracks in walls. They have a tail specially adapted to support them. They are said to move around in the company of tit flocks in the winter time but I would hazard a guess that they are in the same place as the tits because that's where the food is. Their plumage is described as "cryptic", that means camouflaged and probably explains how you can overlook them very easily
A glorious Nuthatch from an afternoon session out again on Dartmoor. European Nuthatch are about the size of a sparrow. The are unique amongst British birds being the only species that will descend a tree trunk head first. When I was training to become a ringer we did some work on sexing them in the hand and those birds with more intense brick red on the flanks were usually males. The bird above would fit that description I think.
There are 25 species worldwide but they are absent from Africa and South America. Having looked at pictures of several other members of the family, we can be content with the knowledge that our bird is one of the most attractive. The photo above was taken from my car which was acting as a convenient hide and with the use of a piece of military 'face-veil" draped over the window, the birds could come and go without feeling threatened. I must say that my heart raced when this lovely bird put in an appearance. I was no more than 10 feet from him as he made his way down the branch towards the free offerings that I had placed on a large boulder beneath the bush. He paused to look for the food and I took his picture while he was still. What a bird!
One of the "rarer" tit species the Marsh, taken earlier today (1 February at a sight on Dartmoor) Lovely little birds who thankfully are quite often encountered on the moor in the right habitat. Usually near to mixed woodland and often close to water in my experience. They have a nice quiet call, very different to Blue Tits. This one was on it's own with Great Tits, Long Tailed, Coal and Blue. In the pecking order it was last and easily moved on by all the other species.