Category Archives: Garden

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 Birds, D500, Photography, Scotland, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Springing into 2017

Half way through April and spring is well and truly underway. I guess the best way to start this post is with the most obvious sign of spring from the garden and one that many people probably take for granted – a frog chorus. Now frogs are hardly rare but you would be forgiven for thinking that in my garden. Despite having two reasonably sized wildlife ponds, it has been the newts that rule the water (newts eat frogspawn and vice versa)….maybe that’s all about to change?

After finding quite a few adult frogs at night and hearing them sing from our bedroom window, I knew that maybe this year would be a little different. My hopes were realised when one morning on my way to feed the birds I saw the first frog spawn of the year, and the first time in abundance for my pond(s).

Frogspawn clump

Frogspawn clump

Over the next couple of weeks there was a steady addition of spawn, the result being a large semi-floating mass with what must number into the thousands of eggs.

I’ve not had many chances to photograph Common Frogs so firstly out came the macro lens and my waterproof mat and I spent a session or two laid out at the side of the pond –

Common Frog close up

Common Frog close up

Common Frog Reflection

Common Frog Reflection

Despite some reasonable success they were still quite shy. What about trying to photograph them at night I wondered? A couple of remotely triggered flash units placed at 45 degress from each side and I was ready to go. This time the frogs were amazingly approachable with a little care and sat nicely for their portraits –

Smiley frog portrait

Smiley frog portrait

Floating in the dark

Floating in the dark

Common Frog reflected at night

Common Frog reflected at night

Whenever walking the garden at night around this time of year I have to be really careful of the travelling newts as they move around on damp nights –

Newt crossing lawn at night

Newt crossing lawn at night

It’s now a few weeks since the spawn was laid and my pond (the bulk was laid into a single pond) is now a writhing mass of life – everywhere you look there is a tadpole darting about, I could watch it for hours!

When the spawn first hatches the tadpoles tend to stay together and eat the rest of the jelly from the eggs, I tried to get a few images of this but any image taken into water is really difficult. Hopefully these convey what I was seeing –

Mass of tadpoles

Mass of tadpoles

Finally for the frog theme, i’m trying out a little aquarium photography. Although it’s a reasonable start, I’ll need to work out how to clear the water as the following image shows (oh and notice the hoglice in the bottom right photobombing!)

Tadpole underwater shot

Tadpole underwater shot

Bird wise the garden has been quite busy with the smaller birds being most active it seems. This Goldcrest was a welcome visitor and has been seen around regularly and not alone. Hopefully they will be nesting nearby –

Goldcrest side portrait

Goldcrest side portrait

Another lovely little bird that is definitely nesting nearby is the Long Tailed Tit. They have been picking up tiny bits from my fat feeders before zipping around finding spiders webs with which to construct their nest –

Long Tailed Tit gathering nesting material

Long Tailed Tit gathering nesting material

Long Tailed Tit with moss

Long Tailed Tit with moss

Not the best images but something I don’t often see so worth inclusion here.

They even have enough energy to manage a few chin-ups…

Long Tailed Tit chin up

Long Tailed Tit chin up

Moving away from the garden, I was treated to my first singing Sedge Warbler at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve at the beginning of April. This is a welcome sound as it heralds the reedbeds coming alive with warblers for the next few months. A small amount of time stood still and the bird was happily belting out his song close enough for some lovely portraits.

Sedge Warbler portrait

Sedge Warbler portrait

Singing Sedge Warbler

Singing Sedge Warbler

Finally, I’ve been giving access to private farmland, something I’ve been longing for to get some new space where it’s less likely i’ll be disturbed. It’s noticeable that all the wildlife I’ve spotted so far is really shy so it’ll be fun trying to get some good images.

One bird there is no shortage of is the Pheasant – this shot was early morning, low light and high ISO so fairly pleased with how it came out –

Pheasant in flight

Pheasant in flight

I also managed to find a pair of Treecreepers making a nest in some rotted wood. I’ll be keeping an eye on them over the coming weeks. I’d love to see the youngsters fledge into a huddle! –

Treecreeper with nesting material

Treecreeper with nesting material

That’s it for this instalment. Hope you enjoyed the images.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in Photography, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

December at Dungeness and Rye

Work and weather seem to have been against me this month and I’ve only managed a couple of trips out.

I’m probably in the minority here but I love this time of year and especially when the temperature really takes a dive. The addition of frost and the fantastic sunrise and sunset lighting always give me good ideas for what I’d like to attempt to photograph. There have only been a couple of small cold snaps down here in the South and they have yet to freeze over any larger water bodies. When the larger lakes freeze it often changes the behaviour of some birds that are normally difficult to see as they come out into the open to forage. Bittern and Water Rail are good examples of this. I might not have had the frost but the lighting was certainly fantastic on my first morning out to Rye.

Sunrise Geese

Sunrise Geese

I find it difficult to get good images of flocks of geese despite there being great numbers around at this time of the year but really liked this image for the lighting and the shapes of the geese.

I also have a favourite spot at Rye to attempt to photograph the Barn Owl. I never tire of trying to get images of these amazing birds and I’m often there before sun up when the bird is just an ethereal white shape gliding in the half light. Anyone who is involved in wildlife photography will be more than aware that often the best laid plans lead to no photos as your target species either doesn’t turn up or won’t come close enough for decent shots. I mentioned earlier about frosty images and perfect light and whenever I see the post in the following shot I am reminded of several days where I stood hidden and motionless pre dawn,  in sub zero temperatures, watching an incredible sunrise over frost bitten fields only to be staring at a blank post the entire time. The perfect image was there, it was just missing the owl!

Barn Owl watching for rodents

Barn Owl watching for rodents

Having heard reports of a Bittern being seen, my next stop was the hide at Castle Water. My wife and I crept in, making as little noise as possible and I slowly opened one of the windows. The first thing that caught my attention was a Little Egret fishing the margins just over to the left and close enough to get some great images. At this point I was moving very slowly at full stretch to lock the window in place when I looked ahead to see a beady pair of eyes staring right back at me. The Bittern was in the closest reeds and I had been spotted. It’s at these moments when you just hope it’ll ignore you, I even slowly looked half away so that I wasn’t making eye contact but the Bittern had other ideas and launched from the reeds as I was still in (slow motion) full stretch. The chance of photographing a Bittern at close range are few and far between so I really wasn’t impressed with myself that I’d just ruined an opportunity. To top it off, the Little Egret also took it’s cue from the Bittern and was gone. ARGH!

I didn’t give up however and continued waiting in case the Bittern decided to drop back in. I’d love to be able to say it did but it actually stayed on the other side of the lake for the next couple of hours. I took a couple of shots of it “hidden” in the reeds and when it looked like it was about to move I trained the camera on him and waited until he took off (I say he – I have no idea how to sex a bittern! maybe I should look that up) –

Hidden Bittern

Hidden Bittern

a Bittern erupts takeoff flies  from the reeds

a Bittern erupts from the reeds

Although I’ve mainly concentrated on the “wow” birds, there were hundreds of wildfowl out from the hide and you will always see Marsh Harrier here, no pictures this week but that’s what keeps me coming back.

My next trip which incorporated both Dungeness and Rye Harbour with my good friend Mali were slightly unusual in that I have finally got fed up of waiting for the Nikon D300 replacement and picked up a Nikon D7100 and this was my first time using it. I’m sure now that i’ve spent some money the mythical D400 or D9300, or whatever it’s going to be called, will show up imminently. Here’s (still) hoping.

The first bird to get the D7100 treatment was a female Stonechat. Not particularly close but worth just seeing how the image would turn out now that I had the extra megapixels to play with. Not to bad although I’m never a fan of birds perched on barbed wire. It’s not going to win any prizes but I was happy with the detail when zoomed in when viewed on the camera.

Female Stonechat

Female Stonechat

The next opportunity wasn’t so well taken but we found Coots fishing close in to one of the hides and, despite underexposing and having to lighten it up a bit (so introducing more noise than the 800 ISO that i was using) it was good to see plenty of detail available despite the very large crop here –

Coot with fish

Coot with fish

The stars of Dungeness were in no doubt. I had chosen Dungie as I knew there had been a few Great White Egret around and, as it’s a bird I had not yet photographed, I wanted to try to get a few shots. I have seen them here in the past but more often that not, they are over the far side of the lake out from the Dengemarsh hide. This time though they were very visible. I say they as there must have been either 4 or 5 birds on the reserve. At one point I could see 3 in my field of view alone. I wonder if these are soon going to be as “common” to see as Little Egrets?

Great White Egret

Great White Egret

At the hide closest (before?) the visitor centre Mali pointed out a viewpoint and from here I could see two Great White Egrets. When they then started flying towards us it was all eyes to the camera to see if we could capture a decent flight shot. The sun was in and out behind the clouds and, as is tradition, I blew the highlights on many of the images. Even with my experience I still find this challenging. This one however, was properly exposed  –

Great White Egret in flight, Dungeness RSPB

Great White Egret in flight, Dungeness RSPB

The final shot of the Egrets that I’ll post today I’ll have to thank Mali for. After the birds had seemingly flown past and landed just round the corner, Mali went back into the hide to see if he could spot them. He didn’t see it but at the very moment he was in there I got the best fly past of the day – Thanks Mali! I have no idea if he did spook the bird when going into the hide but I’ll take any help I can get!

Great White Egret fly past

Great White Egret fly past, Dungeness RSPB

After the great views we had of these large birds (around the size of a Grey Heron) we headed back to Rye Harbour. Not the best time to attempt to see anything to be honest but of note were the number of Little Grebe around and fishing close to the hides.

Little Grebe close-up

Little Grebe close-up

I’m writing this just a couple of days before Christmas and hoping to get out over the holiday period. Fingers crossed!

 

 

 

Also posted in Birds, Dungeness, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Fox cubs garden fun

It’ll be no surprise to anyone that follows my blog or is familiar with my “work” that I have foxes visit the garden every night. I’ve never actually known where they den and can only assume that they are in one of the many mature gardens that surround us. I have seen young foxes before but none that I could ever describe as a cub. All that changed at the end of April.

Rising at just before 5am to go out with the camera I took the obligatory glance out of the back window and to my surprise there were 3 bouncing little fox cubs fighting and playing in the garden. I just had to wake my wife to also come and watch. it was way too dark to try and get any kind of photos so we just enjoyed the moment. Roll on a couple of evenings later and once again they were out. it was almost dusk with little light but I managed to get a couple of shots –

Fox cub in garden

Fox cub in garden

 

Considering how low the light was I was lucky to get anything at all, they barely stop moving and as I hadn’t planned ahead and got my flash units in place I was restricted to very slow shutter images and high ISO. The image above is 1/25s at F4 and ISO 3200, not bad for a D300.

Fox cub in undergrowth

Fox cub in undergrowth

You can clearly see how young these are and I’d estimate around 5 weeks old based on information i’ve since looked up online. I would also assume that as they won’t stray too far from the safety of the den at this age that they are denned just through our dense hedge in the neighbours garden. Such an opportunity just can’t be passed up so over the next couple of nights I spent hours laid out on my conservatory floor with the lens pointing out of the door to try and capture some of their antics.

For those interested in the technical info behind the shots – the following are taken with a Nikon D300 with a 70-200 f2.8 VRII lens and a 1.4 converter and are lit by two SB600 flashes triggered remotely by Pocket Wizard Plus X units.

Fox cubs play fighting in garden

Fox cubs play fighting in garden

Fox cub play pouncing

Fox cub play pouncing

Fox cub jumping

Fox cub jumping

It was difficult to stop myself giggling at their antics and at times I couldn’t believe I was watching this from the comfort of my own home!

Fox cubs having a bundle

Fox cubs having a bundle

Fox cubs playing with weed from pond

Fox cubs playing with weed from pond

Having such a privileged view of the goings on let me see scenarios and situations that I’ve never seen before. Firstly was the cubs obsession with the blanket weed that I had removed from my pond. I pile this up next to the pond to let any insects that happen to be caught in the weed a chance to get back in the pond (although I’m very careful when removing it). Weirdly the cubs loved this stuff and I’d find it strewn around the garden in the morning. On this night I saw that at times they would actually eat it too.

More worringly I wondered what would happen when the envitable meet up with my other regular nightly visitors, the badgers, occurred. I have twice witnessed the vixen chasing the badgers off away from the cubs (after hearing noise from indoors, not while getting images) and it reaffirms the danger that mothers will risk to protect their young. It wouldn’t be good news for the fox if the badger stood its ground and fought back. This scenario will be playing out across the country as it’s not unusual for foxes to actually den within an area of the badgers sett.

The youngsters certainly knew to keep their distance –

Fox cubs have spotted a badger

Fox cubs have spotted a badger

Fox cub watching a badger

Fox cub watching a badger

Badger watching the fox cubs

Badger watching the fox cubs

Occasionally I was also lucky enough to spot the cubs in the garden in the middle of the day which triggered a mad scramble for the camera and a stealthy creep to the conservatory door and wincing as I opened the door and it squeaked. I needn’t have worried as the cubs were quite oblivious to my presence and more more interested in soaking up the sun.

Fox cub scratching

Fox cub scratching

Fox cub in sun

Fox cub in sun

The proud vixen

The proud vixen

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve been doing nothing else but photographing the cubs and that’s not too far from the truth. I have been out elsewhere and have added new images to the latest images gallery. Hope you’ve enjoyed the images as much as I’ve enjoyed taking them!

Also posted in Mammals, Photography, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , |