Saturday, 28 February 2015

Things are hotting up!

A visit to Westhay reserve showed that things are hotting up as the approaching Spring raises hormone levels in the residents - I am talking mainly about the birds here.

Take this serene looking Coot for example.

 It soon turned round and "sCooted" across the water to tackle a rival.

When it arrived, an almighty fight broke out with each bird leaning back in the water and engaging the other with its feet.

At one point, one of the birds was almost submerged but both eventually survived, to fight another day no doubt.

The Great Crested Grebes were also doing their famous courtship dance, crossing bills and offering each other bunches of weed. Unfortunately I do not yet have a photo of that. Obviously top of my list for the next visit.

Apart from the obvious mating shenanigans, the other inhabitants were going about their business as usual. This picture of a pair of Gadwall is interesting as much as anything for the colour and texture of the water. I am finding that I seek this more and more in my conventional bird portrait pictures.

Of course, Gadwall also make a fine sight in flight. In groups:

or singly

At this time of year, I am finding that I have to wait for longer and longer periods for anything to happen. I like this. I enjoy the long waits because it always feels like anything could happen. Patience is eventually rewarded on some occasions, not on others, and these birds eventually made an appearance. A female Marsh Harrier:

A Sparrowhawk:

and a Bittern:

These last two birds caught me completely by surprise. That is the drawback with the long idle periods, it is fatal to lose concentration and start fiddling with your camera or thinking about something else. The Bittern made itself known by a clattering exit from an innocent looking reed bed. I was looking at the Sparrohawk photos on the back of my camera, because that one had caught me napping too, and I had great difficulty drawing a bead on the accelerating Bittern. That is why the shot has caught it just going away. I always prefer an on-coming shot, but I need to be much quicker to sort myself out to catch these. Anyway, that is the challenge and the fun of it! 

Thank goodness too for the advanced technology of the latest cameras. I pretty much just threw my camera at the Sparrowhawk and the Bittern, it did pretty well in capturing a few shots without much help from me.

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

More action on the Somerset Levels

I really have been trying to get to grips with this year's garden-bird-in-flight project. Somehow, though, it is proving difficult. The garden birds are reluctant to visit my many feeders in any numbers - whatever food I offer them.

It has been like this for about six months now, and I hear similar stories from other people. I have no idea why this is. It must be to do with the availability of other natural food supplies, or perhaps it is just that my neighbour has better bird food on offer than I have!

The other problem is that as soon as there is any fine weather, I find myself drawn back to the Somerset Levels and the numerous wildfowl.  I can never resist a good Swan!

This, of course, is a Mute Swan. There are a few Whoopers about, but I have not yet seen one this winter. Fabulous birds both of them.

The Shoveler also takes some beating for photographic impact.

Likewise, a Pintail.

The big drama always centres around raptors though. Whilst I was at Greylake a few days ago, this female Marsh Harrier was stirring up the ducks. It did not attempt to attack them. John Waters (noted wildlife cinematographer) suggests that they just try to clear the lake and then look out for any ailing birds left behind. It certainly looked like that was what it was doing.

Here is a view of another, taken this time at Westhay NNR.

As much as I like a good Marsh Harrier, I never like to overlook a Buzzard. Shame the light was not just a bit better for this shot.

For the technically persuaded, just a short note on my experiences with the new Canon 7DMk2. I have had difficulty persuading myself that this camera represented much of an advance on the original 7D, which I used for four years. However, on Monday, I took my old 7D on a coastal walk and tried to photograph some Fulmars wheeling about below the cliff top with the sea as a background. I was struck by the difficulty the autofocus system had in picking out and holding the bird against the background. In the few months I have had the Mk2, I have become used to being able to take this type of shot. So maybe it is doing something for me after all?

If you have not already, perhaps you would like to take a peek at my main website

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

"B" is for ...

Well, Buzzard for one thing. This one was kind enough to fly by at Greylake and it is always a treat when they condescend to come close enough for a photo.

And here it is going away with just a final look over its shoulder.

And "B" is also for Bittern. First one flew past in the distance at Westhay, almost too far away for a photo but looking splendid against the darker background.

Then later one flew very close across the front of the hide. Frustratingly, it was too close, and moving too fast, for me to be able to get the camera on to to it until it had almost gone past.

I always prefer an approaching shot, but at least from this angle you get to see the lovely patterning on the top of its wing. 

I think that both Bitterns and Marsh Harriers will start to get a lot more active now that Spring is approaching. The Harriers are reportedly already engaging in some display activity. Hopefully I can look forward to some good days out with my camera.

Finally, here are a few Gadwall shots just for the colours really.


PS I had a great time delivering my illustrated talk, "Birds in Flight - a photographic adventure", to Taunton Camera Club #Taunton on Monday night. Thankfully it was very well received and made for an enjoyable evening.

Please do visit my website at and perhaps even book me for a talk.