Tag Archives: Barn Owl

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Badger, Birds, Cameras, D500, Mammals, Photography, Rye Harbour, Scotland, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Bempton Cliffs bird photography – Part 2

The accommodation that we chose was situated in the village of Buckley, just along from Bempton. Just along the road, next to a pond is a lane that goes up through farmland and eventually leads to the cliffs. The lane is mainly lined with thick hedges and was great for farmland birds. Every walk was accompanied by Linnets, Yellowhammers (mainly distant) and more Tree Sparrows. I didn’t spot Corn Bunting but I’m sure they must be here. There is also a small cut-in on the left as you walk up the first part of the lane which allows a great view over the pond and surrounding meadow and fields. I was told that a Barn Owl hunts here in the evenings. I’ll come back to that….

My first walk up the lane was without any gear on a windy and drizzly day (hooray for reliable British summers!). I knew I was getting close to the cliffs when I started seeing the graceful Gannets drifting past a few hundred yards away. As this isn’t actually part of the RSPB reserve it’s actually possible to walk right up to the edge of the cliff. Disclaimer time!! – I’m not suggesting you go close to the edge, you are entirely reponsible for your own actions – use your common sense!

The sight that greeted me at the cliff edge was amazing. I could just sit and have Razorbills and Gannets almost hovering in front of me. The strong Easterly wind meant they were having fun landing on the ledges and so faced the wind to “back in”. The light was awful but I knew I’d have to come back in the afternoon to try my luck.

Flying Puffin

Flying Puffin – Yorkshire Coast

It’s not often you get a chance to photograph flying birds from above and, even though there were plenty of subjects, it’s still really difficult. I found the method that worked for me was to watch a certain area, catch your subject early and follow it in, hoping that it would get close enough. Certainly made my arm ache!

Kittiwakes mid air dogfight

Kittiwakes mid air dogfight

Puffin - mid dive

Puffin – mid dive

Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time and an opportunity presents itself. A bird that I’d often hoped to see but have never managed to photograph suddenly spiralled up in front of me. I had an idea it was coming as all the Kittiwakes flew straight out from the cliff face, a sign I was to see a few times over the week. And there it was…..having a good look at us to see what we were up to – a Peregrine Falcon –

Spotted by a Peregrine Falcon

Spotted by a Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon checking us out

Peregrine Falcon checking us out

A fantastic experience and by far the best views of this stunning bird for me (and first photos). During the week I did spot the pair once or twice, normally because the Kittiwakes gave them away. It was then just a game of spot the dark flying bird amongst hundreds of other flying birds!

I found taking images of the Gannets rather addictive. I have so many flight shots I’ll really have to cut them back to just the best as I’m sure I’ll never end up using them all. One last example for now –

Gannet in flight (from above)

Gannet in flight (from above)

Earlier I mentioned the Barn Owl. I really wasn’t expecting to get any Owl shots from Yorkshire, but, as one of my favourite birds, I just have to try to get a few images wherever I can. I’d like to thank the visiting RSPB volunteer who advised me to try at the viewpoint in the lane in the evening. I did spot the bird on 3 seperate nights but for 2 of those it was staying over the other side of the road or was distant in the fields. As always though, persistence pays off and with a sun setting behind the bird I managed a few shots.

Barn Owl over golden field

Barn Owl over golden field

I was really hoping it would settle on the nearest post with the sun to backlight it. Instead it chose an ugly alternative with fencing in view…..

Perched Barn Owl

Perched Barn Owl

Despite the number of times I’ve taken images of Barn Owls, it’s actually the perched shots that are more difficult. The bird has to feel very comfortable to perch close enough for decent images and that often means you have to be hidden / in a hide / taking a leaf out of the sniper camouflage book. The irony of getting a decent perched shot but with a background and perch that detract from the image. Oh well…next time!. On the plus side I did get a close fly past with some lovely evening lighting –

Evening fly past from a Barn Owl

Evening fly past from a Barn Owl

I really enjoyed my visit to bempton and the surrounding area, it’s somewhere I would definitely go back to. Following our week here we then dropped down south a little to Suffolk and stayed just on the border of Minsmere, which will be the topic for my next post. Hope you enjoyed.

 

 

 

Posted in Bempton Cliffs, Birds, Nikon D7200, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Barn Owl photo frustration

A couple of weeks ago a small escape was arranged for Sunday afternoon. With light winds, clear skies and sun forecast, my wife and I decided to nip over to Rye to attempt to improve on my Barn Owl shots. Anyone that knows me will be well aware that this is becoming a little obsession of mine. I’ve watched the owl(s) at Rye many many times but still hanker for that “special” shot. Anyone paying attention is going to see the title of the post and realise it didn’t quite work out that way…

First order of the day was to walk over to the hide at Castle Water to see what’s about. Never disappointed for views here (not always great for images though) and there were wildfowl everywhere. Due to the distance they often stay, I only took one or two “trigger happy” shots. That said, I’d like to use this image to demonstrate a point –

female Widgeon coming in to land

female Widgeon coming in to land

Although I would consider this an “ok” shot, this is a pretty heavy crop but still retains some decent detail. It was shot at 1/4000s, f5.6 (the 1.4 converter was attached) and an ISO of 640. The ISO may seem quite high given the sunshine and reasonable light but often the super-fast shutter is what makes a keeper. The fact it’s against a reasonable light background helps. A small amount of noise reduction can also help in post production.

There were a couple of birders in the hide and one other photographer. After a short watch we left, knowing that we would need to be in place and fairly hidden to try and catch a close-up of the Barn Owl. The sun was starting to dip and  the light was looking perfect.

It’s a well known fact that often what alerts birds to your presence is the human shape. To counter this, my wife and I sat down with my tripod in front of me and I draped my bag hide around it. With hoods up and hunched over I was hoping we just looked like green blobs and would be of no interest to the owl when (or if) it showed. The sun was now dropping fast but, as the law of sod would have it, in rolled the cloud and, along with it, some mist for good measure. Then right on cue the Owl did it’s first circuit. Unbelievable. From gorgeous golden light to dim and dingy inside 5 minutes. Instead of reasonable ISO levels with decent shutter speeds, the shots were taken at ISO1600 and 1/800s. With birds in flight, even the slightly larger ones, this is no where near optimal. One or two shots came out just ok.

Barn Owl in flight

Barn Owl in flight

Frustratingly, just as the owl flew up and past us, it veered off. When I looked along the path there was another photographer who had just been walking through at the right time (for him, not for me!). When he drew level and started chatting, I suggested he hide a little so we had a chance of another flyby, so Arthur (/wave!) nipped down behind us and we chatted while waiting for the owl to come back. It didn’t seem to be too long before it was up for the hunt again. The light was getting worse but the views were excellent. The owl was dropping down occasionaly so clearly there was prey zipping about in the long grass. After a period of a couple of minutes almost hidden in the grass around 100 yards away, the owl took flight and it was clear that it had made a successful kill.

Barn Owl with catch

Barn Owl with catch

Fly past with food

Fly past with food

 

Quite a bittersweet moment. Fantastic views of a moment I have never witnessed at such a close range but with the awful light I couldn’t really get the sharpness and detail in the image that I wanted as can be seen from the shots. So all the best laid plans didn’t quite play out as I hoped. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back as there is always more to see and room for improvement.

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Also 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!

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Dungeness, Garden, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , |