This is the male Whinchat from my Dartmoor site. I travelled out there this morning, it was a late decision, to see what the latest was with the Cuckoo and as you may know, both Whinchat and Stonechat breeding pairs are in that area as well. You may have read how my site had been "invaded" by a couple of other photographers, ethically a big "no-no" and also how subsequently they were totally oblivious to their bad form. You may have even seen photos of the whinchat pair that one of them posted on the Birdguides website, the same birds that I had habituated to the perches here. You may wonder also why I keep going on about it, well frankly because their rudeness got to me so much. Anyway, enough of it now. There was no sign whatsoever of a Cuckoo this morning so it seems that he has now started his migration, but the Whinchats were relentless in their search for food to sustain their growing nest full. I saw them repeatedly catch catterpillars and then fly off with them to the nest, returning immediately to find more.
I spent the majority of the day trying to photograph in-flight Nuthatches in the wood. I would have gone out to photograph the Cuckoo but because of the recent upset when a couple of local photographers decided to search out my the site and muscle in with little regard for me, I decided to keep away. If being usurped wasn't enough I then had to suffer a tirade of abuse when I objected, one even suggesting that because I wasn't from Devon originally he had preference over me, can you imagine a comment like that being taken seriously. So if you are one of the hundreds of people that have been searching my blog today to see what's going on, there's your answer.
So, Nuthatches, I have been trying for weeks, off and on, to photograph them in flight. I know that eventually I will have some success but it's not working out too well. Tomorrow I am going to try with an infra-red shutter release. I used this in Australia last year and it was quite successful and I think that this is the only way that I am going to be successful in my quest.
This Blue Tit photo is interesting from a technical perspective. It was photographed with a high ISO setting on the camera. ISO is the sensitivity of the camera. The higher the number the more sensitive the camera becomes. Using a high ISO number means that you can achieve a faster shutter speed. This is essential if you are going to get sharp moving images. The downside though is the "noisy" image. But sometimes I quite like the effect and this is quite a nice picture.
After the disappointment of the Cuckoo site and the realisation that for this year, it will never be the same again, I went back to the wood to get everything sorted and to refill the feeders etc. Yesterday I had bought a very ingenious Squirrel-proof feeder which will definitely make a difference. The problem has been that the Squirrels, as soon as your back is turned, completely wreck the feeding station and eat all of the feed. This means that the birds don't recognise the area as a source of food because the feeders are too often empty. I am hoping that this will make a dramatic improvement. I have also placed a feeder on the edge of the wood and in the open so that once the birds get to know this source I will be able to photograph the Nuthatches in flight as the light is so much better here, well thats the plan anyway. This feeder is also near to the Buzzard and Jay feeding station where I have put pieces of Rabbit and day old chicks. The food disappears from here every day, probably crows and a fox in the night but so far I haven't see any signs of Buzzard except on two ocassions when I have arrived, Buzzards were in the trees above.
From the hide by the quarry a Jay, Blackbirds, Blue and Grey Tits and a pair of Robins came to feed. The Robins are interesting, if you didn't know you would think that the Robin being fed was a fledgling but no, it's the female of the pair of course because young Robins are speckled without the red breast. Males and females are identical. What is unusual about this is the submissive behaviour of the female who was begging for food from her mate with gaping and fluttering of the wings in the same way that a juvenile would behave. This female never comes to take food for herself but prefers to wait in the wings (excuse the pun) for the male to come and feed her as you can see.
I must have given it away somehow but I dont know when or how. Anyway, I don't own the site or the Cuckoos and it's good that there are other like-minded people who care as much as I do. I hope that they manage to get some nice photographs after they have put so much effort in to track the site down. I cant help feeling masively disappointed that my secret has been given up. I dont know how much longer the Cuckoo will be here before migration but I doubt if much longer. Last year he had departed by June 16 so I am sure he will move south very soon. I wont be there today...... the other guy will though......and on Tuesday he has already told me that he will be there again...... so the glorious solitude has been shattered. I am gutted to be honest, so much so, I could cry openly. It was such a wonderful experience to have this bird (and others) to myself and now it's been taken from me and like I said, Dartmoor is almost 1000 square kilometers, they must have known somehow. I usually post my pictures on the Birdguides website and I may think long and hard about doing that again because I am certain that by posting my pictures I stimulated the obsession to find the site. This has left a very nasty taste in my mouth.
I would have been disappointed if, after numerous opportunities I didn't manage to get at least one or two photographs of Whinchat in flight. So today, in between the Cuckoo visits I tried ery hard to photograph them flying from the various perches in front of me. It's not as easy as you would imagine, small birds fly at an incredibly fast pace and with natural light you have to get the very best out of the camera equipment. I do enjoy seeing and taking photographs of birds in flight though, suddenly you see aspects of a bird that becuase of the speed, you hadn't been aware of with just the naked eye. In the wide open spaces of Dartmoor, even when the sun isn't shining, you can achieve some high shutter speeds for example, above at 1/4000 but even that wasn't quick enough to freeze the wing beats. This is why capturing the moment the bird flies is hit and miss and its hard to get the subject in the frame. The more I look at thepicture above though, the
It was more of the same today. Yesterday I had been soaked through to my T-shirt which eventualy led to me packing up my gear and getting dry. I was worried about the gear, Pentax cameras are designed with 127 waterproof seals to withstand wet conditions, something that perhaps all those Nikon and Canon owners with their plastic bodies are perhaps not aware? But the £3999 Sigma 4.5 500mm lens isn't, so that was a concern. Today, I prepared myself a bit better and took something to cover the lens should it rain again and I needed it, what a summer we are having. The showers came and went, in the end, pretty much lke the Cuckoo. One arrived at 10.15 and by the time I left 3 hours later, at least 3 Cuckoos and probably 4 had visited. For well over an hour there was quite a tussle between two males. It was hard to tell them apart so at times I couldn't tell which was which but on one ocassion a Cuckoo flew down to feed on the grassy area from the back of the Hawthorn and while I watched, another Cuckoo was still on the perch near to me. They both flew around like a couple of fighter planes before one departed chased by the other but within seconds I noticed yet another bird still in the tree next to me, 3 had been there together all this time. On another ocassion a female flew in to the tree, skulked around as females seem to do, and then left as quick as she had arrived. So, four in all. My assessment of this is that territorial behaviour seems to be decreasing and perhaps they are about to depart on the first leg of their migration. An interesting hypothesis ocurred to me today concerning birds on migration. It's quite evident that being territorial, males on their breeding grounds do not tolerate other males. They appear to be loners, but on migration and in their winter quarters, who knows? It appeared that the BTO tagged birds were on migration as individuals, but of course there was no proof or evidence of that and the tagged birds could just as easily been part of a small group. It almost looked today as though a small group of males was beginning to form? I would be gateful for any thoughts and or evidence of this from your own experiences.
Finally, I have been in touch with the BTO and offered to pay for a tag for "my" Cuckoo. Discussion is taking place with the tagging team at the BTO to see if my offer is going to be accepted. I certainly hope so as no West of England Cuckoos have so far been tagged. The tag will be paid for by an inheritence from my mother and father, both very keen wildlife enthusiats, particularly my dad. The bird would be named after him and it would be a fitting memorial to his memory as well as a wonderful way to "watch" my Cuckoo as it migrates south and then winters in Africa. The Tag will actually contribute to science an a real way and the information gained will give an insight in to the life of Cuckoos and discover as yet, unknown facts about Cuckoos. Fingers crossed.
Cuckoos and Meadow Pipits have a strange relationship. All the Dartmoor Cuckoos I would guess, have one thing in common, they were all hatched by, fed and nurtured by and brought to independance by, a Meadow Pipit. It's as though the Meadow Pipits somehow know that they have been duped and attack the Cuckoos bravely whenever they get the opportunity. It seems odd to me though that the same Meadow Pipit that is so keen to mob the Cuckoo may perhaps be returning to a nest and a massive baby Cuckoo of it's own. Today I managed to take some great photos of one such episode of attack by a particularly persistent Meadow Pipit. When I arrived it was just about starting to rain but I knew he was in his territory so I went to sit under the cam net and almost immediately i saw a a Cuckoo...... it was a female, she didn't stay long but immediately departed. Females are much more difficult to see, at least that is my impression. They tend to be very quiet and keep themselves hidden. This is because they need to quietly watch for Meadow Pipit nests and they would not be successful in the breeding strategy if they were seen regularly by Meadow Pipits. They need to spend a great deal of time watching the movements of Meadow Pipits particularly when they are first building and then laying the clutch. Her own egg is then laid alongside the clutch of the Meadow Pipits. Estimates as to how many eggs are laid are said to be as many as 17. That means that a female Cuckoo neeeds to find the nests of as many as 17 Meadow Pipits, quite a feat in it'self.
I have taken so many shots like this both this year and last that I am almost starting to take it for granted. It's not simple, first you need a Cuckoo but after that it's really a question of setting the camera corectly and then keeping your wits about you. It's a waiting game and with good light and patience you just need to wait for a good apportunity. So let me tell you about my morning.
I arrived a little later than yesterday it's my impression that the Cuckoo is at it it's most active nearer 10 than 9, probably because at 9 the ground is still a bit damp with dew. The Cuckoo is feeding on Caterpillars and they are probable not active until the sun warms the grass. This morning it was a bit sunnier than the last few days and when I arrived at 9.45 the Cuckoo was alreadyin situ. I got myself sorted and I had a good sighting almost immediately.
The morning continud quite successful apart from a particularly upsetting episode that saw two bird watchers probably husband and wife, not aware of me, disturb the bird. They had obviously heard him and came for a better look, I saw them watch and then once they had had their fill, just walk back to their car right past him, he flew off almost in panic to the safety of the far trees. I knew that they were aware that by walking so clos to him they would scare him off and they simply didn't care. Disgusting behaviour. Later on another couple arrved, I have met them before, they are charming and very interested in the proper way. I called them over to me and they sat close as we waited for the bird to perform. As we watched. a female joined the male and wow, was it getting exciting. I felt sure that he was going to interact with the female, perhaps mate? Then Murphy played his hand. This is my 10th session with this bird, this was the first time that male and female had been together, and then a hiker, the first in 10 sessions, nonchalently stumbled towards the pair.......... how frustrating was that, and like I said, Murphy's law.
The Cuckoo was still showing yesterday but not nearly as well on my previous visits. What was interesting was, as I sat waiting and photographing the Whinchats and other birds I was convinced that he wasn't here anymore. I couldn't hear a Cuckoo, in fact it was silent whereas previously I had heard Cuckoos constantly. The BTO tagged Cuckoo programme has shown that one has already moved out of the Country on his way back to Africa, much earlier than previously thought. The small birds were showing amazingly well, Whinchat particularly. There is a pair who's territory is centred on the grass right in front of me and the male is particularly aggressive and chases away all the other small birds if they come to feed on his patch.
Suddenly a Cuckoo was with me, but well after 10. This seems to be his pattern. I heard him close to me on the left and then he came, as before, to his favoured Hawthorn to my right. As he flew past me low above the grass, I had the usual magnificent view. It's also very interesting to note, and this has never been recorded anywhere that I have noticed, that I can always hear him in flight and even if I am not looking in his direction the noise he makes as he flies, a kind of whooshing sound, is very very noticeable. He called just a few times and then fed from the grass as you can see from the shot posted above. He sat, just resting I assume, for quite an extended period and then from my left and his other favoured tree, I heard another Cuckoo call and so did he. I was surprised and he was angry, he flew like a rocket towards the intruder. There was lots of "bubbling" and noise and then presumably with the rival seen off,he came back to my side again. All very interesting.
I need to tell you about the Wheatear male (below). My camouflage was working so well that this bird came and landed literaly a foot from me and stiopped for at least a minute. I could have literally reached out and touched him. He never saw me, a glorious view.
I have been trying hard to make the most of the in flight opportunities of the birds, but its hard, here is tthe best from this project.
I always keep a low profile at the weekends, I am fortunate enough to be able to come and go during the week so I lie low when my favoured spots are likely to be a little bit busy. So today, I kept away from the Cuckoo territory, my very presence with a camera might have drawn attention to him and then others may have disturbed him. I will be returning tomorrow though in the hope that he is still with us but it looks as though he could be moving back towards Africa any time now. The BTO's tracking project is throwing up some very interesting facts, for example one of the tagged birds is already moving south and is now in Belgium having spent only 6 weeks in Norfolk! As they say on the BTO website, a short summer.
So today, I picked up a Rabbit from Terry, my plan is to bait an area daily and encourage the resident Buzzards to come and feed on these free offerings, then of course I hope to be able to photograph both the Buzzards and Foxes once they are used to the regular supply. I chopped up the Rabbit in to pieces and then left them in the field close to the edge of the wood as I walked up to the hide. I spent a pleasant hour or so in the dimness of a cloudy evening. The Jay came to call, as usual his arrival was given away by the Blackbirds alarm call. He perched up in a tree just above me and had a look down to see what was on offer. Then down he came to eat a couple of peanuts and he flew off quickly with a day old chick. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Blackbirds and Nuthatches came to feed and I took a few photos. The light was not good but in the end I was quite happy with this lovely Blue Tit image proving hat even our common species are well worth photographing. Then as I walked past the Rabbit pieces only one of he 5 were still there, very interesting and exciting proving that these freebies are going to be well received. It was probably Crows but i m sure that more warry feeders like Buzzards will see the crows feeding and take their cue from them....... eventually.
Please check out this website about my new venture, One to One Photography with Charlie Fleming
This week I have had the best view of Whinchats ever and that says something because I have been lucky in previous years too. As you may know I have found an area on Dartmoor (specifically I want to keep a secret because of disturbance issues), where a Cuckoo has a territory. I noticed that he was happy from time to time to come down on to a low dead hawthorn lying on the grass so I replicated this close to an area where I could hide and still have good close views as well. It always give me imense satisfaction when I think things through and then execute my plan and almost immediately it pays dividends. I have done this repeatedly with Kingfishers as you may know. I can share that without exception, birds will always petrch on the highest perch especially when they are feeding, it gives them a better vantage point obviously. So if you are going to copy this approach just lay your log down or dead bough with one of the ends sticking up high, this will be an attraction to your (photographic) quarry. When I placed a log like this the other day it was incredible to see a Whinchat make a bee-line for it and land just where I hoped it would, oh and then of course the Cuckoo which you can see in previous posts from all of this week. Not only Whinchat but Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and Stonechat. It's uncomfortable, and at the moment cold as well but when so much is happening, well worth the discomfort.
The day dawned with the promise of severe weather here in the South West. Strong winds and heavy rain showers were promised. Never the less, I still went out to the moor and back to the Cuckoo teritory. Again, before I had even closed the car door I could see him but the difference today was the incredibly strong wind, almost too strong to stand up in, at least force 10. I really struggled to erect everything I needed, this included my camera on a tripod and I had planned to fasten cam netting on hooks to the dead branches behind me and then drape the netting over me, camera, seat and all. It flapped in the wind and as I struggled, there was the Cuckoo perched on the dead logs in front of me. Well, I just knew at that point that, in spite of the appalling wind and the threat of rain, it was going to be a special session. This opinion was re-inforced when the male Whinchat landed on the log in front of me as well, and this time I was ready and I started to photograph. The Whincat and it's mate came and went and I took some crackers, reminding myself how they can be hard to find let alone photograph. Then I caught sight of the Cuckoo just opposite me. It was interesting to see the way he was dealing with the wind, keeping very low and not perchin up in the heights of the trees as on previous days and because of the strenght of the wind, when he flew in to it, his flight was really slowed down. Just great views.
Before he glided just above the ground to me he was perched on dead logs opposite and here he is just about to fly over to my side. As he came towards me, a Meadow Pipit was in tow. How annoying these must be to him, never leaving him alone. It seems odd that they have such a relationship because, almost for certain, he would have been fostered by such a bird. The Meadow Pipits are decieved so easily by Cuckoos when they lay in their nests yet they always mob them whenever they come accross each other.
It was thrilling when he landed on the perch just 9 metres in front of me, I had deliberately placed the log at this distance because any closer and I would not be able to get the whole bird in the frame. I immediately started to photograph him knowing that I was getting some great pictures. It was a wonderful feeling of satisfaction knowing that I had planned the whole thing and having studied the behaviour of the bird, I knew that he would land on the highest perch available, and here he was just where I knew he would be.
I didn't set out to photograph these two stunners today. I went back to my spot on Dartmoor early this morning. We were promised rain, and lots of it by 1030 so not wanting to miss the Cuckoo opportunity I left at around 8 and was sat waiting for him 35 minutes later. He was there, or another cuckoo when I parked the car but immediately flew down the valley which I have seen him do numerous times before. I sat down as on the previous days and waited....... waited and waited but today it didn't happen. No complaints though because how could you eclipse the previous days anyway. I had been disappointed with my regular portrait photos this last few weeks so I had a re-think of what I was doing wrong and decided that two factors would improve them. Firstly a tripod and secondly (if you are a photographer you will understand) I went back to basics and decided to shoot in Raw which is what I should be doing anyway. It certainly has worked as you can see. It had even been going through my mind to get rid of all my kit and start again, drastic I know so its probably more sensible to get he best out of what I already have.
As I sat waiting for the Cuckoo which I could hear calling just behind me in the lower valley by the way, these chats were feeding on the short grass and every now and then they would perch on the log that I had placed in front of me for the Cuckoo to land on (which he did yesterday) . In previous years I have spent hours and hours trying to get close to male Whinchat so to have him come to me like this repeatedly was more than a bonus, it made the trip worthwhile as it's my best Whinchat photo ever and perhaps the best ever Stonechat as well, who knows? It's worth mentioning that on this log which is just a few feet in front of a wall and bank, with me tucked just behind, I have had in the last 4 days, Wheatear male, Stonechat male, Whinchat male and female, Meadow Pipits various and of course a Cuckoo. The lesson here is, if you have the time it's worth sitting concealed in a suitable place in front of a log or similar and wait for the birds to come to you. You may go 40 minutes or more on your own but it's worth the wait. You must sit still and be totally camouflaged though.You might be interested to know that I never ever use binoculars prefering to wait until birds come close to me. I always laugh to my self when I see some birders arrive, it happened this morning for example. A car pulled up, two blokes climbed out, one in a red jacket and the other in something far to light in colour. They scanned the distance, well they would have to look in the distance because nothing is goin to be within a few hundred yards of you when you dress so innapropriately and make such a comotion........ they just don't get it do they? All the while a Whinchat was just in front of me, 10 foot or so away and I can see it beautifu, they didn't see anything although I know the cuckoo was just quite near to where they were. After a ridiculously short time they climbed back in to the car and off they went, weird to my eyes.
My session ended when a Cuckoo eventually landed in the tree to my right but I am absolutely certain that this was a different bird, probably a female because it didn't call and it was smaller and more slender than the bird seen yesterday. The male, based on 8 hours observations on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday always called when he landed if only a few times. This was a noteable part of his behaviour so when a wary (and wiry bird) landed in complete silence I was prety sure it was a female. To confirm it, a male continued to call still, down in the valley below.
There has been a few wildlife moments in my life when my eyes have misted over with sheer joy and emotion. Today was one of them! As you may know I went back to Dartmoor on Monday morning just to check if the Cuckoo that I had photographed last year had returned to the same area. I was amazed to discover him, or perhaps another bird, back on the same patch and feeding in exactly the same manner, in the same week as last year. When I looked at last year's photographs I noticed the bird was on exactly the same perch as well, absolutely remarkable. I took some 'once in a lifetime" photos yesterday and I didn't expect to be able to better them but how could I not return to see him again. This is a bird species that most people struggle to see let alone photograph and I know lots of bird photographers have them on their wish list. The weather was cold and wet, can you believe it's June, but there he was in the trees as normal, calling away loudly and vigorously. I quickly got myself in a good spot just like yesterday, hid myself in my cam suit and with sundry items of cam stuff, netting and the like, and waited for a good view. It wasn't long before he was just above me but silhouetted against a grey dreary sky, not ideal. Then mysteriously he departed at real speed, straight over my head and down the valley. A few minutes later I heard a Cuckoo calling quite a way away and I assumed it was him but I sat and waited anyway, it was very pleasant and Whinchat and Wheatears were showing just in front of me so there was lots to see. It was 40 minutes before he came back and then the fun really started. I got the definite impression that he was tolerant of me, I was careful at first to be really still and as hidden as possible but when I moved to get a better view he didn't care nor when I moved a bit more. From time to time he flew down to the turf to feed. I had said yesterday that I hadn't seen him feeding on the ground but instead, he always carried his caterpillar prey back to a perch to eat. This is wrong because today I saw him eating smaller prey while still on the ground. You have to be careful not to make assumptions and make statements of fact without proper study. It was cold as I have said and I think that prey was harder than normal to find, this made hime more focused on his hunt for food and less wary of me I believe.
My first close encounter came when he glided down to a spot just to the left of a specially placed log. I managed to "lock on" to him and quickly took these pictures. The closest I had been to a Cuckoo. Look at his eye and the large pupil, it was dull which made the pupil un-dilated. The down-curved beak is interesting and the way that it is edged in yellow near the base which matches the orbital ring. When you are this close you can see details like this.
Eventually, as it got colder and colder and I was about to call it quits and leave him to it, but he suddenly glided down to perch on the log right in front of me. It was realy hard to get him all in the frame but thankfully I did by leaning further back with my camera resting on my knee, and still he wasn't spooked because while he was on this perch I took 74 pictures!
Just a bit of a closer look, nothing to add except to mention the Cuckoo's interesting toes which are "zygodactyl" that is, two pointing forward and two pointing backwards. Zygo means paired and of course dactyl must mean toes or fingers and it does. One of the interesting facts about a Cuckoo which makes them so interesting. Parrots have zygodactyl feet which makes them good climbers but Cuckoos definitely don't climb, so why the parrot-like toes I wonder. This is probably inherited from their ancestors who may have been climbing birds, thats only my theory and not anything that I have ever read.
Here is the story of one of my best bird photography sessions ever. I rushed out to Dartmoor early and was sat waiting where I had been yesterday, for the Cuckoo. Not being naturally pessimistic when I heard a Cuckoo calling in the distance however, my first thought was that today wasn't going to be successful. Nevertheless, I sat waiting and concealed hoping for the best. I needn't have worried, suddenly he was calling from the tree 100mtrs to my left and then within only seconds he was literally in the branches of the dead tree, the roots of which I was hiding! Then up he went to he usual perch to my right and I took the first photo below.
First thing this morning it was sunny and bright and I just had to go on to Dartmoor to see if there was any sign of a Cuckoo. I hadexperienced such fantastic close views last year. I arrived at around 9.30, climbed out of the car and even before I had shut the door, there he was, calling from the same tree that he had been last year. My heart raced with excitement 370 days have passed for us both since I last saw him....... surely it has to be the same bird. In the last year I have travelled around the world and so much has happened and I could say the same for him. He has flown accross the Sahara to the Cameroons or Ivory Coast or Senegal, I'll never know. Perhaps he's been in the Atlas Mountains crossed the Med in to Sapain or maybe Italy, but here he was back in Devon on the exact tree that he fed from last year, incredible! To cut a long story short, I had another fantastic morning because by 1230, just like last year he had gone. I had said that when I had first photographed him it had been one of my best ever wildlife encounters and today, well it was even better. I ecpected to spend a few minutes and then return back to the woods for another great session here but in the end he put on a wonderful show for 3 hours. Feeding and calling from the old hawthorns very near to me and in good light with the sun at my back. I will be posting lots more photos later on but for the time being here is the best one!
I spent the afternoon experimenting with a a technique for photographing fish and aquatic animals in a tank with my multiple flas units which gives a clean white background. I have to say that I am amazed at the resuluts and am going to do more and more. The Common Frog - Rana temporaria tadpoles have just started to develop legs and are breathing air. They are quite large as Tadpoles go. There will be more photographs as they get nearer to "full frogs". As far as the flowers are concerned, this is a Clematis bud and I have to say that it is a good way to spend an afternoon when it's raining. I am trying to take my photography up to the next level and this is a good step in that direction.
I am very excited about the results here, if you like them too can you let me know by leaving a comment.
Murphy was up to his old tricks today. I visited the wood with the sole intention of reconstructing a better and more substantial hide. I didn't take my camera and Murphy was watching! I called in to see my friends Dick and Rosemary and as we chatted in their kitchen a male Green Woodpecker came in to feed on the lawn. It got closer and closer to the house and in the end, was close enough o have given me the best ever photos of this hard to photograph species. It stayed feeding on ants for 15 minutes at least, their favourite food. I kikcked myself for not at least having the camera in the car ad resolved to never ever go out without it ever again! Later on in the new and improved hide, I failed to get any decent in-flight photos but enjoyed all the usual birds including a bathing Treecreeper. I almost got a good picture but better to come I am sure. It was interesting when the Jay arrived again. I knew it was around because suddenly it went quiet and the visiting birds stopped flying in, a Blackbird alarmed and there it was, first it took a few peanuts and then went down to take one of the day old chicks, they are there for him (or her) anyway!
I have spent quite a lot of cash over the last year assembling the equipment required to photograph birds in flight. I was innitially inspired by seeing photographs of hummingbirds from the USA that actually froze the action of wingbeats at 1/10000 of a second. I won't go in to the technicalities of how this is acheived but I have got my head around it and today was the first time that I assembled all the pieces of the "jig-saw". The gear includes multiple flash guns, electronic remote triggers and receivers and small "poles" to hold the flash guns etc etc. The most important piece though is a background board. This is an out of focus image printed to poster size and then mounted behind the scene and lit up with it's own dedicated flash gun to provide a natural backdrop. Without this, any bird photographed would appear as though it was taken in the dark and obviously birds don't normally fly around at night! When the flashes fire at very high speed, the bachground is illuminated simultaneously giving the picture a natural look. Not only is a fast shutter speed essentialto freeze the action, it's also important to try and get the maximum amount of "depth-of-field", without this it's virtually impossible to get the the subject sharp and in focus. High speed flash with multiple flash guns is a way to acheive both of these necessities.
I set all all the gear up, in it'self a time consuming affair with lots of adjustments and testing required. Eventually it was all ready and all I needed now was a bird! I expected a certain amount of resistence because of the clutter of the flash guns but the birds were very reluctant to perform, in fact it turned out to be the quietest session in the wood so far. Great Tits were the only birds prepared to enter the "stage" and even they were freaked by the flash guns. I only managed one photograph and that one wasn't of a bird in flight but it proved to me that if and when the rest of the residents get used to the set-up, I will get some wonderful shots. Nuthatches in flight are the images I am after so watch this space.
I am usually quick to criticise the Met Office and their weather forcast when they get it wrong so I have to give credit where credit is due. They said that it would be clear at 3 o'clock and it made me smile when at exactly that time the sun came out! Not for long though but I had a window of opportunity from around 1.30 until 3.15. I needed to top up my feeders out in the wood anyway so with nothing to lose, I took the opportunity and my camera, when there was a chance. During the morning and now again later in the afternoon we have suffered heavy rain and gale force winds. Thankfuly it's not cold though. As soon as I arrived at the feeding station the birds were on to the food, it was obvious that they associated me with food and as soon as I was behind cover they came in to feed. Even a Jay came down to the free offerings but decided against it when it became aware of my presence. I spent a pleasant hour trying to get some Nuthatches in flight. I was still unsuccessful though but I learnt a few lessons. An interesting very young Nuthatch was on the feeders and had I been set up for that kind of photography It would have been easy to set some good portraits. As it was, I did finish up with this interesting portrait.
It's been 5 days since I was last in the wood having spent the Jubilee Weekend up in the darkness of West Yorkshire. After returning back to civilisation and Devon, I couldn't wait to get back in to the wood. I have a plan to try and get some more action and in-flight photos but the natural light is rarely bright enough but my ideas are coming together and I am in the process of assembling the equipment that will make it possible. Today's session though was very quiet at first, apart from a male Robin, there was no birds whatsoever for at least an hour. Then suddenly, and the way it happened is really worth a mention, firstly a Great Tit arrived followed within seconds by a Blue Tit and then Nuthatches....... at least three different individuals, all within minutes of each other and then continuously for the next hour or so until I left. It was as though the first couple of birds discovered that the food was back and then the word spread like wildfire! Nuthatches were the most regular visitors which is just the way I want it. The Jay (pictured) suddenly appearded and it's arrival completely caught me by surprise. I was watching, and photographing a particularly ragged Nuthatch, probably worn out from the raviges of breeding. It suddenly froze and remained stock still for 20 seconds or so before flying off only to be repalced on the log by the Jay. it seems that small birds are very wary of Jays and probably with good reason. What did surprise me though was the lack of an alarm call from the Nuthatch and he way that it didn't immediatly depart. However, it was 30 minutes before any small birds returned to the feed. The Jay crammed as many peanuts down in just a few seconds before leaving as quietly as it had arrived. In all of my 55 years of wildlife watching these Jay encounters are the best I have had. This is a very clever and wary species that has evolved, very sensibly to avoid human contact whenever possibly and even though they live in close proximity to us they avoid even being seen if they don't want to be. But the lure of my free peanut offerings was worth just a bit of measured risk.
The pools were fresh today after a few days of heavy rain showers. I was expecting the residents to drink and bathe elsewhere as there must be standing water everywhere but that didn't prove to be the case and the highlight of the afternon was a Blackcap Warbler Female bathing on the edge of the pool close by. The camera was set up for flight photography so I didn't get an acceptable photograph but this is the second time that I have seen a Blackcap bathing here and I am sure it's not going to be the last.
I have been trying for this species and a photo ever since I had access to the wood. Yesterday I had set up a new hide, lower and nearer to the waters edge. I suspected that it was only going to be a matter of time befor the Green Woodpeckers came to drink while I was in the hide and this morning, after I had been sat for only a minute or two in it came! At first it landed a dozen or so feet away from the water but very quickly it hopped towards the edge where it proceeded to drink heartily for a minute or so. More pictures later today when I have had a chance to sort through them. Just to mention, this is my first 'proper" chance to photograph this specie and the first time I have been within photographic range so it's quite an event for me and "Wildlife In a Suburban Garden". The bird is a female with a black "moustache" stipe. In the male of the species this is red edged with black.