Tag Archives: Puffin

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 , , , , , , , , |

Taking the time (in Pembrokeshire) – Part 3

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Pembrokeshire was to finally visit Skomer Island. This Island, managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, must be one of the best known places to see Puffins in the UK. Consequently, during the periods that seabirds, and especially puffins, are nesting on the island, it is very popular. I wanted to share my experiences of the two trips we took whilst in Wales.

Puffin portrait - Skomer Island

Puffin portrait – Skomer Island

Firstly, and I can’t stress this enough – you need to be there EARLY. There is no pre-booking and is strictly first come first served. The carpark will cost you £5 for the day (fair enough really) and the ticket office opens at 8am (ish) even though the first boats don’t leave until 10am. I highly recommend getting there for 7-7.30. Even arriving at 7am there was a queue building and if you want to ensure a spot on the first boat (carrying 50 people) then make the effort. It’s worth it! You buy a ticket from the lodge (like an island permit really) which then reserves you a spot on the boat. You then pay your boat fare actually on the boat. The boats are quite snug when fully loaded so be aware that If you carry a lot of kit you are better off sitting in the middle and keeping your rucksack on. All info about the island can be found HERE . Be aware that the Island is closed on Mondays.

After you have your boat ticket secured you have a couple of hours to spare. Luckily you are in a beautiful location and if you head onto the headland (Deer Park – no deer here tho!) you have a chance to see Chough and the coastal views are stunning.

View of Skomer from Deer Park

View of Skomer from Deer Park

During our week we visited twice. Having never been before I wasn’t aware of quite how large the island is and wanted to make sure we had a good look round. The boat trip out is quite pleasant and as you get nearer you start to see clouds of wheeling birds in the air along with puffins, razorbills and guillemots zipping across the surface of the water. As you head over to the landing stages there may well be a large raft of birds on the water surface. One thing’s for sure, no-one is disappointed. You get fantastic views before you’ve even stepped off the boat. If like me you are chomping at the bit to get snapping here’s a tip. Don’t worry about rushing off the boat and charging up the hill. Everyone is gathered up and the ranger does a short and important chat about the island and making sure you don’t stray from the paths. So It doesn’t matter if you are first or last off the boat, it makes no difference.

When you get let off the leash you have a few options where to head and most people head to “The Wick” right away. This is the best place to see and photograph puffins so is the obvious draw. I didn’t do this as I was also hoping to see (maybe photograph?) the Little and Short Eared Owls, both subjects I have never really managed to get images of. We headed towards the farmhouse (and the accommodation if you stay on the island) as I had read that the Little Owls like the stone walls around that area. We struck lucky and managed to get quite decent views and, after doing about 200 yards on my knees, managed a half reasonable image –

Little Owl on stone wall, Skomer Island

Little Owl on stone wall, Skomer Island

On thing I should point out, we were very lucky with the weather. It was hot and very bright. Normally this is great for a day out but for photography, especially black and white birds, it makes for some hard work trying to adjust. The Little owl image is taken into the light and meant I had little choice but to blow out the highlights in the sky. Still, was great to see them. We also managed to see the Short Eared Owl on the 2nd visit, distant but still lovely as it hunted across the swathes of flowers.

We managed to visit at just the right time for the wild flowers to be in bloom (2nd week of June). Everywhere we looked was an explosion of blue and pink as the Bluebells and Red Campion flowers carpetted the hillsides. It made for a stunning spectacle and I really wished I’d had more time to take some landscape shots.

Bluebells on Skomer Island

Bluebells on Skomer Island

Bluebells surround the old farmhouse, Skomer

Bluebells surround the old farmhouse, Skomer

 

Over the two days we did a lot of walking, great scenery and loads of birds to see but ultimately it was the puffins I wanted to spend time with. We headed to the Wick which is a large steep cliff face where the puffins come right up to your feet and scurry into their burrows. There were birds wheeling and darting everywhere, a photographers dream! If you haven’t seen puffins close up before you may be surprised at just how unperturbed they are by human presence. Common sense, giving them room and respect and they will happily go about their business just a few feet from you. Massive lenses aren’t needed (although I took mine) to get some great images. Even a compact with a small zoom will do the job. I actually wanted to try and photograph the birds as they came in to land. I was also hoping for beaks full of fish but it seems we were a little early for that.

Despite how they look, Puffins are really fast in the air, their stiff wings a blur as they zoom in off the sea and put on the brakes as they near their burrows and were quite a challenge…

 

Puffin coming in to land, Skomer island

Puffin coming in to land, Skomer island

Puffin landing on Skomer Island

Puffin landing on Skomer Island

As you cannot really get in place until around 11am, the sun is high in the sky and makes for really difficult conditions to photograph. The bright light on the white of the bird has to be controlled otherwise you will blow the highlights. Most of the time I had -1.0 Ev dialled in. Also the fact that harsh shadows are created mean that if you didn’t catch it just right the contrasting dark / lights were just too much. I would have liked to have caught them coming in off the sea and managed to get some clear backgrounds. On the images above the background is the face of the Wick, the steep cliff face, in shadow.

Anyone that knows me will attest that I am really picky with my images and all the little things add up, like not being able to get decent catchlights in the birds’ eyes to give them that spark of life. If I had the chance I would love to be able to stay on the island so that I could choose the conditions, maybe next time!

Here’s another little tip. I believe our boat was due back around 3.30pm. At 2ish I headed back down to the landing area and lay on the rocks. I wanted to try for some shots of the birds on the water and also a chance to photograph the guillemots and razorbills whcih I hadn’t found a good spot for around the island. As most people were still wandering the island it also meant less disruption and with me lying still, the birds came quite close.

Puffin swimming, Skomer Island, Wales

Puffin swimming, Skomer Island, Wales

As an example of how important a catchlight in the eye is, compare the following two images –

 

Close up of Puffin on water, Skomer Island, Wales

Close up of Puffin on water, Skomer Island, Wales

Puffin wih no catchlight in eye

Puffin with no catchlight in eye

The first image seems full of life and much brighter whereas the second image, although the eye isn’t completely black, the lack of a catchlight detracts from the image. A small point but a big difference in my opinion.

I also managed to get a few shots of the guillemots and one or two of razorbills –

Swimming guillemot looking up towards the rocks, Skomer island

Swimming guillemot looking up towards the rocks, Skomer island

 

Razorbill swimming in sea, Skomer Island, Wales

Razorbill swimming in sea, Skomer Island, Wales

So if you are in this part of the country at the right time of the year I would strongly recommend a trip. If you haven’t seen puffins close up before it’s such a treat that it shouldn’t be missed, they are so full of character you can watch them for hours!

 

Posted in Birds, Pembrokeshire, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , |

A week in Wales…

I’ve not long returned back from a week in Pembrokeshire, based out in the middle of beautiful countryside, and had a chance to finally slow down a bit and concentrate on my photography. I will be doing a full write up soon but wanted to just pop some of the images up (already on the latest images page) to give a quick glimpse into what it was like. It made me realise that I don’t slow down and concentrate enough!

Anyway, here’s a few examples –

Swallow in flight

Swallow in flight

 

Spotted by a Tawny Owl

Spotted by a Tawny Owl

Dragon sized bite for baby whitethroats

Dragon sized bite for baby whitethroats

Diving Pied Wagtail

Diving Pied Wagtail

An Otter hunts the pond

An Otter hunts the pond

Puffin portrait

Puffin portrait

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , |