Apologies for not posting this last few days, my cataract is having a big effect. I have been out most days though but with varying amounts of success. I have been trying to photograph a Kingfisher locally, I sat and watched one very close up for around 20 minutes on Monday, I didn't have a camera with me which is Murphy's law, because when I returned the next day- twice - and then again yesterday, it didn't show at all? Nearby I saw that there was a pair of over-wintering Stonechat that were using the top of a reed mace as a look out point. They catch small flying insects such as hoverflies. I went and sat very close to the reeds and covered myself with my cam netting and it was just seconds before they came back again. I used both of my cameras to get both in flight shots and portraits - very successfully I might add.
Here's the male, flying from the reed mace to grab a passing insect. I used the Lumix camera on pre-burst to freeze the birds wings in flight chichis something that really "floats my boat".
Amazingly the camera needs a shutter speed of at least 1/3500 sec to freeze the action. I am looking forward to another session today, the weather is going to be bright and sunny which is perfect.
This is the female. Both birds are in fresh plumage and as the winter progresses the plumage will become worn and expose much brighter underlying colour and the male will have a jet black head.
It was must easier to get good portraits. They are such beautiful birds.
I am continuing with my quest to get the perfect Buzzard photo and it's a struggle. The light is just so difficult to deal with but I have continued trying. Yesterday I set up my spotting scope which I connected to the lumix camera and positioned some bait quite a distance from the caravan. I had been surprised by the Buzzards behaviour this last few days. For example, they were absent from the site on Thursday and then when I returned on Friday morning I could see that they hadn't visited either. I set up some bait, positioned a gopro camera and then left. When I returned a few hours later I could see that they still hadn't been in to the bait and I wondered what was going on. Then, after much longer than I expected and in a rain shower, the juvenile came in to the bait and I filmed it through the digiscope set up. It wasn't perfect, I couldn't get all the bird in the viewfinder but It was an experiment that proved to me that it is another way to film the birds especially in low light.
I have continued trying to get more footage of the Polecat that came to take a rabbit carcass earlier in the week. I am hopeful that it will return and I will be able to get a better image. The camera fires off constantly and each shot shows wood mice which proves how common they are around the site.
The Buzzards are now very accommodating and coming down to the bait much more quickly than they did previously which is exactly what i was hoping to achieve. I have discovered that they spend more time in the woodland than I had known. When they come to the bait they will quite often appear from a spot well under cover. Quite often they will fly low over the bait, then land nearby having assessed that all is safe. I have been trying to get shots of them flying in and out and yesterday I was quite successful.
This one was taken with the Lumix camera set to 4k burst shooting. I this way every frame at 30 frames a second can be extracted as a large megapixel image, meaning that you have a good chance of at least one or two decent shots. I am getting there, hopefully more to come.
Excitingly I was fortunate to film what appears to be a Polecat at the caravan hide the other evening. The image is a still from 5 seconds of infrared footage on a camera trap. I had seen that parts of a rabbit carcass had been taken the other evening and I assumed that a fox would be responsible, which I was pleased about anyway because it would mean that at least one fox had escaped the recent culling of them. I re-baited the next night and placed a camera trap next to the bait. When I checked the files the following day it was a shock to discover the culprit was a Polecat. I have done some internet searching and discovered that Polecats are spreading rapidly and are known to breed here in East Devon now. In 2010 after a survey they were thought to still be absent here but by 2015 their presence had been confirmed. Dead roadkill animals locally, as recently as 2014 turned out to be true Polecas. I say true Polecats because of the obvious difficulty of separating true Polecats with the domesticated Ferret. Genetically, Ferrets and Polecats are identical so they do obviously interbreed. Regardless of this Ferret/Polecat distraction, I am massively excited and thrilled that a Polecat like animal took bait from next to the caravan. Obviously, I set up the cameras again the next night and I was hopeful that the animal would return. However, I could not believe it when I had recorded one of the Buzzards, just before dark, had come down on to the back step of the caravan and taken the bait. Can you believe that a Buzzard would come down literally 6 inches from the caravan door? No - neither can I. On the picture above, it looks as though the animal is white but this is just reflection on the infrared camera. Going back to the confusion between polecats and ferrets, we need to use the terms phenotype and genotype. Phenotype means that two animals look identical, genotype mean that two animals share the same genes. Polecats and Ferrets are always genotypical but they are not always phenotypical. Ferrets - domestic polecats in other words were bred and interbred for light pelts - this helps the ferret handler find his animal when he is hunting with it, the animal is easier to see if it is white not brown! When and if a domesticated ferret escapes back in to the wild and goes feral it can then interbreed with the wild polecat population and the resultant kits would be genetically identical to the wild Polecat and therefore share the same genotype, but phenotypically they could differ. In other words, you may see the young animals inheritance. But, it is no less a Polecat. This is all very messy unfortunately. Another massive "cockup" caused by our uneducated and unthinking forefathers! The same mess is happening and has happened with the Scottish Wildcat but in a more catastrophic way.
At last I managed some success with my Buzzard project today. I haven't given up trying over the last week but I hadn't had much luck this week.. Either the cameras were not working properly or they ran out of power, or there was a memory card error and when I was sure that I had got everything set up properly the Buzzards didn't show, all very frustrating to say the least. With every problem encountered, I found a solution, rectified the problem and then moved on to the next one. For example the cameras ran out of battery life when in standby, it was just a case of connecting them to power packs. Today, I just about had everything sorted I felt. I have purchased a good item of equipment, an Atomos field recorder. This allows you to take the feed from a camera which is set up remotely and then I can record uncompressed footage from the camera. I have to say that I am massively impressed with it. Videos when recorded on cameras is apparently compressed but the Atomos recorder records in uncompressed 10-bit HD which is very superior. I think you will agree that straight away there is a noticeable improvement. Basically, you connect the camera - which is in stand by mode - to the recorder via an HDMI cable. The recorder is left in monitor mode and shows exactly what the camera is seeing, useful in itself. Once there is something in the viewfinder of the camera, record is pressed and up to 12 hours of video can be saved. The field recorder can also be mounted on to a camera and used as a live view for the camera when you use it normally which is a massive improvement. They are expensive but not as costly as a good camera so, in actual fact very affordable.
Anyway, this afternoon I set the lumix camera up, connected it to the field recorder, I set up my Gopro to record any bird flying in and set it to record. I also had my Pentax camera set up with the 300Da prime lens and pointed on the pole. I had it all covered. Suddenly after about an hour one of the adult Buzzards flew in and landed on the baited pole. I prodded record and then went to the Pentax to take photos there. It all turned out just about as fellas it could have., A good result.
Notice the worn feathers on the wing coverts of the bird. You can clearly see that the bird has undertaken a partial moult.
Please don't be too upset about the day old chick that the Buzzard has come in to take. These chicks arrive frozen in a box of 240. They are a "by - product" of the poultry and egg industry. Chicks are euthanised on hatching if they are not the correct sex. For the egg laying flock, all the newly hatched male chicks are destroyed and for broiler "meat" birds, the female chicks are destroyed. It's all pretty nasty.
Wednesday the 5th turned out to be a great session. One of the dark Buzzards - or it may have been both of them - came to the bait. I had the small adventure HD cameras set up and recording so. even though I missed the first bird that came in and took the bait and then left in about the time it has taken me to write this sentence, I still recorded the event which you can see during the video cast above. Then, after thinking that it wouldn't return again during the session and as I recorded the videocast on the Macbook - see above - I had taken my "eye of the ball" so to speak - a Buzzard then returned. This time the gopro was running and I managed more footage of it as it zoomed in to the log where the bait was placed. If you run the videocast to the end, tagged on is a clip showing this sequence. All in all a great session.
My latest Podcast from the caravan hide. Yesterday I visited at dawn but without success. I returned after 1600 and could see on the trail cam files that 2 different Buzzards had visited during the day. One bird had flown in even though there was no bait left. This is a good development because it implies that the Buzzards have become to associate the area with a food source. Here is the trail cam image of the bird, one of the adults.
Back at the caravan hide this morning and then later on in the afternoon, there had been some great action on the trail camera which proved that the Buzzards are regular visitors now. My persistence has begun to pay off and I am now in to a situation where I can almost guarantee a visit if I stay long enough. Here is an image that I created earlier on.
There was some success yesterday with Buzzards. I sat quietly in the caravan with the Lumix connected to the iPad and in pre-burst mode.In this way as soon as a Buzzard landed on the baited log I would press record and the previous second would be filmed frame by frame. I would be able to get a shot of the bird coming in to alight on the log with talons extended. After almost an hour, suddenly, there was a Buzzard. After sitting watching the iPad screen for that length of time my reactions were slow, I thought I had missed the chance but then thought "oh well, I'll press the shutter anyway" which is what I did. I was successful after all but the lighting was so unhelpful that the bird seemed as though it was in the dark. As well as that, I had still underestimated how large the wingspan of a flying buzzard actually is and they were not in the frame. So it was a combination of very good and very bad with the excitement of success soured by the disappointment of partial failure. However, the images appear to show a different dark bird, in fact they certainly do. This one is probably the adult female. Have I seen her before? I am not certain but I am certain that I have photographed 3 different individuals now. After the bird had departed I went out to retrieve the camera and sat there sorting through the disappointing image files. I have been able to make something of a few of them. I hadn't realised that the bird had returned and there it was again, feeding on the bait as before. Eventually it flew again. Time to come home and as I left the caravan this time, yet another Buzzard - the light juvenile was sat on the low fence line. It's possible that the second bird to feed was the original dark bird so all 3, but at least 2 came to the bait during this session. Here is footage of the bird flying in - I have slowed that down - and then it feeds voraciously and quickly on the remains of the bait all the time looking around cautiously to remain safe. The fact that the bait is small pieces of food separated means that that the bird cannot lift it and fly off with it. If it were larger I am sure it would.
If you look at this still below - not of the highest quality I am sorry to say - you can certainly see that there is a difference in the markings on the breast, To me the head shape is different as well.
Then if you compare to the other dark bird, you can clearly see that there are differences in the shape of the white/buffish markings on the breast and the belly markings, which are much more extensively light are different confirming that these are different individuals.
All in all, this is turning in to quite a success. It has taken me weeks to get to this stage and I am certainly getting good results now.