Category Archives: Birds

New location, new life.

I was sat right at the water’s edge of Loch Fleet, the smell of the sea, beautiful crystal clear water, flocks of Sanderling and Dunlin whirling around the mouth to the sea and the ever present call of Oystercatchers, when it really hit me. I live here now, this is my local area. As I’m thinking this in a slight state of disbelief, a Common Seal surfaces in front of me and i’m treated to a flypast by Red Breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes.

Loch Fleet meets the sea

Loch Fleet meets the sea

I guess I should go back a bit and explain. My wife Maria and I have been talking about moving away from the south east of England for some time. For us, just too many people, too much traffic, not enough space, so I started looking at jobs in Scotland. The logisitics of what would be required were pretty daunting to be honest but we were determined to make a significant change. Then whilst at work I was given an idea. I didn’t know If it could possibly happen but at worst the answer would be no. Why couldn’t I keep my existing (IT based) job and work from home in another location. A plan was hatched and I started asking questions to see if it was possible. When I get the initial nod from my line manager I’m starting to think this could be possible. A few weeks later when I’m sat with my senior managers explaining the pros and cons and how my plan would work I was given the go ahead and I realised our lives are about to significantly change.

Fast forward a few months, we’ve sold our house and are yet to find anywhere in Scotland to live. We are living with family and all our possessions are in storage. We spent the summer up and down to Inverness and looking at properties in a wide area around the Cairngorms and all the way to the west coast. The main requirements being quiet and secluded with space and wildlife (especially for photography!), decent internet connection and within a couple of hours of an airport. I’m a creature of habit and this really did turn our lives upside down. Moving is stressful enough without actually wondering if you’ll ever find a property. One we did find one we ended up not being in a position to make an offer and lost it.

During this time family, friends and work colleagues were really supportive (for which I am really grateful). It was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least.

I remember people saying “things happen for a reason” and I feel now that we are settled in the Northern Highlands that really feels true for us. Whilst the house we lost felt like a disaster at the time, we really did find the right place in the end. Nestled in a very quiet secluded location on a single track road but only 3 miles or so from town (Tain) with everything we could want locally. A trip to Inverness (heading south!) is a 45 minute drive. Perfect.

So, as this is a wildlife blog, what’s it like? A quick explanation of the area. Single track road for a few miles with lots of “wet” woodland to either side. Down a small private road, our property borders a farm field (low scrub, heather and young pines) on one side, croft land on another with lots of mature pine trees. We have a couple of neighbours with large mature gardens similar to ours – mature pines, some low scrubby bushes and hedges. We have a large area of grass front and back and a large pond at the back which seems “natural” (unlined) as the ground in lower areas is quite boggy.

Over the fence

Over the fence

Well we were hoping for Red Squirrel (and were told they had been seen here) but this is looking unlikely despite being plenty of pine forest very close. I’m told there are Pine Marten around although I’ve not yet caught any on the camera trap. There are deer which are mainly seen on the croft / farm side of the fences, mainly Roe but I have seen a young Sika also.

If you are one of those that “follows” me you’ll be aware I do like to encourage as much as I can into the garden to be able to watch and photograph. I almost have a blank canvas so really putting some planning into what to plant to encourage the most wildlife.

So who are the stars so far? I’ll let the images talk –

Coal Tit

Coal Tit

Constant traffic from these little birds, almost fearless, will come right up to you.

Perching Coal Tit

Perching Coal Tit

The mouse like Treecreeper is always present. This really is a bonus, thinking of some interesting ways to photograph them in the future. This one found a juicy morsel underneath the pine bark despite the freezing conditions.

Treecreeper with spider

Treecreeper with spider

Another bird that is here in high numbers are the Chaffinch, large flocks visit the feeders are and ever present flitting through the branches. A large flock of around 40 birds present during the snow, feeding on what i had put out to help all through the harsh weather.

Male Chaffinch in snow

Male Chaffinch in snow

One of my (if not one of the nation’s) favourites that visit a few times a day in a small flock is the Long tailed Tit. Such beautiful little birds. Stand still when you hear them and you may be rewarded with extremely close views.

Long Tailed Tit

Long Tailed Tit

There are of course all the usual garden culprits, lots of Blackbirds, Robins, A few House Sparrows, Starlings and Dunnocks, along with Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great and Blue Tits, Hooded Crow (probably my only real Scottish visitor so far  – and no images yet), the inevitable Wood Pigs (my new name for Wood Pigeons).

I’ll keep the images to a few of the more interesting ones –

It took a larger niger seed feeder to encourage the Siskins down and I am pleased to say they are here everyday at the moment. Feisty little birds with an ego much bigger than they are…

Siskin male

Siskin male

Here’s a bird I never thought I’d be photographing in my garden..

Grey Heron in snow

Grey Heron in snow

The wintry weather also brought in a few very welcome visitors. I took a half day off to see If I could get any images of the redwings that I had seen the previous day although it had been a fleeting visit. Really pleased I did, I was treated to a very memorable session with the birds sometimes almost too close to focus on. They were there for the apples I put out through the winter.

To get images like these I lay flat on the snow, cover my body with a bag hide, wear a balaclava and make sure I make no sudden movements. Not always needed of course but what better way to photograph your subject when it doesn’t even know you are there?

Redwing in snow

Redwing in snow

I was honoured to have this chosen as image of the week on Birdguides website.

Redwing with apple in snow

Redwing with apple in snow

Another bird I hear regulary (but have not yet seen) is the Tawny Owl. Every evening we are treated to a chorus of calls from the nearby woodlands. Looking forward to seeing If I can encourage them to the garden. I have a great spot for an Owl box so will put one up to hopefully attract a nesting pair next year.

It’s now April and I’m reliably informed that spring is late this year. Other than the skeins of geese that regularly flew over, the only migrating bird i’ve spotted from the garden was a fantastic Osprey. Not a bad sight when you are sat at your desk working! I’m really looking forward to seeing which migrants will be joining the regular garden birds. I’m hoping for Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart but only time will tell.

Apart from the migrants I am seeing lots of nesting activity. There are Blue Tits in box the boxes I made and put up (i’m not that “handy” so was fairly pleased with how they turned out), Coal Tits nesting in the wall of the house (there was a decent hole where a pipe previously was which I meant to investigate and fill up – oh well that can wait until the end of the season now) along with House Sparrows and Starlings under the tiles near the chimney.

Blue Tit using home made nest box

Blue Tit using home made nest box

The birds are also loving the wool I’ve put out to help them –

Coal Tit collecting wool

Coal Tit collecting wool

We are starting to feel like we are settling in and it really does take some getting used to. 5 months in and we are still getting moments of “I can’t believe I live here!” We have so many places to explore (Cairngorms, loads of coastline, lots of uplands, woodlands, Channonry Point for dolphins) I can only guess at what I might be lucky enough to see. I’ll be sure to update you when i’ve visited some of these places and have some images to share. I’ve also not yet met many photographers but guessing as the summer season starts I might see a few more lenses out and about.

I started by mentioning Loch Fleet and I guess that’s a good place to end as well. This is fast becoming my new “local” spot and I’ll be concentrating on this area in my next blog update.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in D500, Garden, Photography, Scotland, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Looking back on 2016….

Firstly, a happy new year to my followers.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of my photography highlights of the year….

Despite feeling like I’ve managed to get out nowhere near as much as I’ve wanted to this year (I wonder if all wildlife photographers feel this way?) I’ve still had a really good year and managed to meet some of my personal goals.

I thought I’d share a few of my favourite moments and images with you all.

January was successful for my Barn Owl images. A bird I never tire of trying to photograph and have spent so many hours looking at an empty field of tufty grass but, when it does all come to fruition, it’s worth every moment –

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl incoming!

Barn Owl incoming!

Whenever I attempt to photograph these lovely birds I always hope that one will perch close enough to get a decent “classic” shot. They certainly won’t do this if you are visible so I’m inevitably hidden from view under a bag hide and behind my tripod. I can’t tell you how fast my heart was beating when this owl flew right towards me then veered off and, from the corner of my eye, I saw it land on a post around 30 feet away. As it was now around 90 degrees from where the lens was pointed I had to move so agonisingly slowly to bring the lens round whilst daring not to breathe. Luckily I drew no attention and was able to get the type of image I had hoped for in the dusk of the dying day.

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl in perfect pose

Barn Owl in perfect pose

February saw a personal goal realised when one of my images was chosen to grace the front cover of Bird Watching magazine for their 30th anniversary edition. This was one of my favorite images of the previous year and was taken at Minsmere in Suffolk and was my first (and only so far!) front cover on a national magazine.

my first front cover on a national magazine

Those who follow my blog will know that I enjoy submitting images to competitions and this year managed to have an image included in the inaugural Bird Photographer of the year competition with my image of a feisty goldfinch in the garden birds category. Very humbling to be included in a book with some of the best photographers on the planet! What I like even more is that this shot was taken from my back door!

Included in Bird Photographer of the year book

Included in Bird Photographer of the year book

Whilst I am on the subject of competitions, I did enter a couple of others in 2016. I tried some of my badger reflection images in Wildlife Photographer of the year (the major global competition) and had two images shortlisted but didn’t make the final cut. Still really pleased considering this competition receives over 40,000 entries! I haven’t entered in this years but have my eye and brain on some images for next year.

Early spring saw the visit from our neighbourhood foxes and badgers increasing and each evening I am treated to very close experiences with them now that I’m part of the clan. Sometimes it was just too much effort to pose!

Tired Fox Cub

Tired Fox Cub

May finally saw the release of the Nikon D500, a camera that so many wildlife shooters have been waiting for, literally for years. 10 frames per second and an almost unlimited buffer when seriously shooting RAW, along with a flip up/down screen (no more framing images with my face on the floor!) and 4k video made this a foregone conclusion for me.

May also gave me a small surprise in the shape of a Black Adder. My wife, Maria, spotted it whilst walking in woodlands near Eastbourne –

Black Adder

Black Adder

June was my first visit to the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Breathtaking scenery, peaceful and wildlife everywhere (see my previous posts for images including Pine Marten). I really am smitten with Scotland. I can put up with the midges (he says bravely) and the renowned harsh weather and would love to live in this part of  the world. Also part of the same trip, we dropped down to Northumberland to visit the Farne Isles for the first time.

If you haven’t been to the Farnes then you really are missing a treat. It’s an assault on all senses and as a photographer you will be spoilt for choice and opportunities regardless of kit and ability. You can literally sit down a few feet from a Puffin if you so wish (remaining on the boardwalks of course).  Everywhere you look there are birds wheeling in the air, whizzing past with nesting material or fish in their beaks or engaged in all kinds of interesting behaviour. Just make sure you wear old clothes and a hat if landing on Inner Farne as the Terns are feisty in their defence of your perceived threat to their nests. As with any wildlife, a little thought about where you do or don’t stand makes all the difference, keep your eyes open and have some respect for their space. They will reward you with more natural images! One thing is for sure, I totally overdid the puffins in flight shots. Hard not to 😉

Puffin in flight with sandeels - Farne Isles

Puffin in flight with sandeels – Farne Isles

Also great chances to photograph lots of other different seabirds…

Shag courtship - Farne Isles

Shag courtship – Farne Isles

Razorbill with sandeels - Farne Isles

Razorbill with sandeels – Farne Isles

Razorbill resting - Farne Isles

Razorbill resting – Farne Isles

Arctic tern portrait - Farne Isles

Arctic tern portrait – Farne Isles

July saw fox activity in the garden at a peak. With at least 3 youngsters our visiting mum had quite a job keeping them in check and they were always full of mischief. By this time they have learned that if mum won’t give you any food, sit back a little way, watch her bury it, then go grab it when she moves away! Get caught and get told off…

Scolding for young fox

Scolding for young fox

I always try to fit in some macro work during the summer when there are plenty of subjects, even better if you can get a hot day with the temperature dropping overnight to add a little dew on the resting insects. These normally mean a very early start to get plenty of time before they are warmed by the sun.

Little Skipper and dew

Little Skipper butterfly and dew

Skipper covered in morning dew

Skipper covered in morning dew

I also tried to spend as much time as possible with the badger clan that visit the garden. Sitting on the lawn feeding badgers just a few feet away has to be one of the most relaxing ways (for me) to spend an evening. I have some ideas on how to improve upon my images that were shortlisted for both the British Wildlife photography Awards (BWPA) and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) – they both came close but didn’t get chosen at the final stage. An improvement to my lighting technique will help I think. Here’s what it looks like from ground level with a bundle of badgers in front of you –

Young badgers feeding in garden

Young badgers feeding in garden

Badger Cub close up

Badger Cub close up

What I’ve really been hoping to improve upon is my reflection shots. Although the images I took this year were quite pleasing, they just don’t quite cut it for the serious competitions. Next year!

Badger reflection

Badger reflection

Talking of Badgers and BWPA (British Wildlife Photography Awards), I had pretty much given up on achieving another of my goals this year. Even though I had 6 images shortlisted in the competition (5 of my badger images and a macro Damselfly image), September rolled round and I hadn’t heard that any had been successful. I had resigned myself to another “not quite” year when out of the blue I had a strange E-mail telling me that as I was included in the BWPA book this year (YAY!) I could collect my free copy “at the BWPA book table in the gallery on Monday 5th September”.  This E-Mail arrived on the 4th Sep at 17.13 and I quickly realised perhaps I had been invited to the award ceremony but hadn’t been told! Thankfully my understanding boss allowed me to take the afternoon of the 5th off and I nipped up to London to the Mall Galleries where the ceremony was that evening.

Seeing all the final images professionally printed and mounted was excellent, it really made them look their best. I made my way round the room trying to find my badger image(s) and was really confused when I couldn’t find any. Had they made a mistake and actually I wasn’t mean to be there after all? Another time round and still couldn’t find any so took my time on the 3rd attempt to look properly and there, amongst the hidden britain display was my shortlisted Damselfly image. So pleased at finally making it into the book but admittedly a slight pang of disappointment that it wasn’t one of my badger images. I clearly have too much emotional attachment to them! Anyway, here is the image that was chosen and which also popped in as a full page in the Nikon magazine NPhoto –

BWPA shortlisted image "Peeking over"

BWPA shortlisted image “Peeking over”

Autumn and winter have been particularly mild this year. I really enjoy really cold snaps as the addition of frost and snow add another dimension to any images but they have been in short supply. Although it doesn’t help the wildlife, I always make sure I have plenty of food available in the garden. This year I had collected lots of acorns that had dropped in areas unlikely to be collected by any animals or birds and popped them on my garden menu. The local Jays were soon visiting regularly and snaffling the offerings. They are extremely timid birds that visit me and I have to remain totally hidden to have a chance at shots like these –

Jay with peanuts

Jay with peanuts

Jay swallowing acorn

Jay swallowing acorn

Finally, around christmas I always try to get out for a final trip of the year. No chance of snow but a lovely (but very cold) day with virtually no wind made it perfect conditions to try and pay a final visit to the Bearded Tits at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. They are so much easier to find in calm conditions but there is never a guarantee. I was actually walking back on my way home when I finally connected with these stunning little birds –

Male Bearded Tit on reed head

Male Bearded Tit on reed head

Bearded Tit feeding

Bearded Tit feeding

Female Bearded Tit in flight

Bearded Tit feeding on seeds

Bearded Tit feeding on seeds

Totally worth getting up and out into the freezing dark before the sun has risen to share some time with this family of six as they fed across the reserve.

So what does 2017 bring? The only plan so far is my first public talk about my photography which will be held at Winchelsea Community Centre on March 18th and is organised by the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Really looking forward to the new experiences the year will bring and hopefully will have some to share with you through the year.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Badger, Cameras, D500, Mammals, Photography, Rye Harbour, Scotland, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |