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Taking the time (in Pembrokeshire) – part 2

As I was explaining in part 1, one of the things I don’t do often enough is just slow down and concentrate on an opportunity that’s in front of me. This next one actually came about while I was cleaning my teeth. Looking out of the window is a good view along the track of the garden along the side of the pond. The pond has a couple of islands and a makeshift bridge has been put in place (a ladder with planks on – check my previous post, 2nd image of the grounds near the boat). I had noticed that a Pied Wagtail was picking off flies from the multitudes in the air and often sat on the plank, mainly in the evening. I decided I’d go and see that evening and when I saw a bird land there I waited until it had a beak full of food and it headed back to the nest. I got in place with a view to getting some shots of the aerial antics. Not as easy as it seemed!

There were two birds with this habit. One was a jumper, the other a flier. The jumper ran across the plank and would jump and flick it’s wings to pick off insects closest. The other would actually fly through the clouds and land back on the plank. My guess was that the jumper would be easiest to try and get shots of but I’d try my best with either.

The plan was to stop down the aperture a little to try to get extra depth of field and so needed to bump up the ISO to compensate. With a 500mm lense at only about 15 feet away meant it was still quite shallow.

This is the jumper – you can see the number of insects in the air.

Jumping Pied Wagtail

Jumping Pied Wagtail

I wouldn’t be exaggerating by saying I took hundreds of shots trying to get a decent image or two with the bird in an interesting pose and properly in focus. Despite the fact that the “jumper” didn’t go too far from the plank, the movements seemed so random (to me – it of course knew exactly what it was doing!) that it was hard to judge where to shoot. Here are a few of the ones I came closest on –

Pied Wagtail jumping to catch insects

Pied Wagtail jumping to catch insects

Pied Wagtail catching flies mid air

Pied Wagtail catching flies mid air

Pied Wagtail in flight

Pied Wagtail in flight

Diving Pied Wagtail

Diving Pied Wagtail

 

These were all taken at 1/3200s, f6.3 and ISO 800 with -0.7EV to counter the bright sun burning out the whites on the bird. I never really did get the shot I had in my head but I guess the closest would be this one –

Pied Wagtail with beak full, flies through the clouds of insects

Pied Wagtail with beak full, flies through the clouds of insects

Getting to spend so much time just observing and listening to the surrounding wildlife was a joy. In the evenings we could just sit right outside the barn, watch the swallows and martins hawking insects over the pond and the incredible agility of the Pied Wagtails as they dance through the air to snatch at any insect too slow. I wished I had a video camera to record it, amazing to watch and just a few feet in front of us. While sitting out on evening we could also hear Tawny owls in the wooded area up the track. We went out at dusk and did manage to spot one flying the edge of the woods, we also saw loads of bats flitting through the air. Around the “gateposts” seemed to be a great place to watch from.

I decided after hearing the owls that I would get up at daybreak and see if I could find one with enough light to get some shots. Sure enough when I made my way up there at 5am I could hear a few calls back and forth. I eventually tracked one down and took some shots. The first I only got 2 clicks of and messed up the exposure, however a bit of fiddling with the RAW file actually produced a reasonable image –

Spotted by a Tawny Owl

Spotted by a Tawny Owl

The owl then relocated to a slightly more open area and I was able to take quite a few shots as it casually glanced around. Great to see!

Tawny Owl amongst the foliage

Tawny Owl amongst the foliage

Up in the woods is a small derelict cottage. I wished I had taken some shots as it was great to investigate. Hugo (the owner) told us that Barn Owls used to nest in there but since the roof had collapsed further and there was little shelter, they have not been seen. I hope he takes my advice and considers putting an owl box up there again, it’s such a perfect place! I was lookig around this ruin and found what I believe are a couple of the Tawny Owl feathers – I took some images and popped a pound coin next to them for scale –

Tawny Owl Feathers

Tawny Owl Feathers

My final part of the pembrokeshire blog will concentrate on my experience of visiting Skomer Island which we did twice.

Though just a week spent there, Little Barn certainly made an impression on us both and hope we can get back there again.

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

Taking the time (in Pembrokeshire) – part 1

I’m guilty. I know it and yet rarely do anything about it. I’m talking about not slowing down and properly taking time with my photography.All too often I’m rushing from one shot to the next, trying to get the most from the precious little time I get to actually spend in the field. Well a couple of weeks ago I found the antidote.

My wife and I booked a weeks holiday in the Pembrokeshire countryside and our choice of location turned out to be a gem. Called simply “Little Barn” it was exactly as the name suggests, nestled in a valley a little south of Cardigan. After a nightmare drive from Sussex (all problems on the English side!) we were pleasantly surprised (and relieved!) when we took the turn into the track that led down to the barn, about 1/3 mile down through meadows, a small wooded area and then the large pond right outside the property. I knew I was going to enjoy staying here.

Stepping out of the car I was greeted by swooping Swallows, Willow Warblers in song, Whitethroats zipping about busily looking for food and surroundings I knew would be a joy to wake up in. We were then met by Neti, the owner, who showed us to our home for the week. Little Barn looks out over a large pond with fields to the right and a tree line around 300 yards away. Even while Neti was showing us the front of the property a buzzard flew low overhead and a Pied Wagtail was dancing through the air, snatching at flies above the pond (more on that later).

Willow Warbler in full song

Willow Warbler in full song

 

The accommodation itself was like taking a step back a few decades. A simple living area with a log burning stove, a double calor gas ring to cook on (if you didn’t fancy the log burner), table, chairs and a comfy settee. The large bed was extremely comfortable and the bathroom, with underfloor heating was snug and warm. Fashionably short of things you take for granted (TV, fridge, kettle etc) meant that cooking on the gas, or the log stove if you felt adventurous was quite fun. We didn’t realise it immediately but this was another way of making us slow down and appreciate the surroundings. Boil a pot of water and sit outside watching the wildlife. Perfect.

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view along the drive

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view along the drive

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view from pond

Little Barn, Pembrokeshire, view from pond

 

As luck would have it, we picked a perfect week. The next day saw light winds and sun and I spent it getting used to my new surroundings. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say there were birds everywhere, the air was alive with birdsong and I spent a while finding out exactly what was going on.

Most visible and often searching the pond edge close to the front of the barn were a pair of Whitethroat. I could see they were collecting food and nipping back across the drive to an area of scrub and low trees. I crept inside and waited, being rewarded with eventually seeing where the pair were taking food. This was where “taking the time” comes in. I spent a good few hours just watching the birds coming back and forth and was able to find a point away from the nest area that they liked to use as a waypoint and the birds sat there for a quick check before continuing towards their brood. This was to be where I would spend alot of time sat deep in the bushes. As this was the first warm week of summer it also happened to coincide with a large hatch of Damselflies from the pond and, a few days later, a small hatch of dragonflies. The following images show the morsels that the industrious parents returned with. I couldn’t help but be amazed at how efficient they were –

Whitethroat with a beak full of food for young

Whitethroat with a beak full of food for young

Whitethroat with Large red Damselfly

Whitethroat with Large red Damselfly

 

Whitethroat with freshly hatched dragonfly

Whitethroat with freshly hatched dragonfly

 

Whitethroat with caterpillars

Whitethroat with caterpillars

Ok, just a few more small ones

A beakfull of Damsels

A beakfull of Damsels

with a caterpillar

with a caterpillar

Soft dragon sized bites

Soft dragon sized bites

I visited a few times during the week and although I could see when the adults were in the nest area (it was low down in bramble scrub near a fence post) I never did get to see the youngsters fledge (or indeed see them at all). I didn’t see the brambles twitching at all unless the adults were there which suggested that the young were fairly newly hatched and were not moving from the nest. I would have loved to have witnessed what happened when an adult returned with a fresh dragonfly larva!

Picture the scene. It’s about 5.30 on Saturday afternoon. The Willow warblers are zipping about the willow around the pond, singing, eating then singing again. Swallows chatter above, gliding and diving, skimming the surface of the pond in chase of the abundant insect life, often joined by House Martins and the occasional Sand Martin. Fabio, the pony in the field next to the barn, is rolling around loving the sun. A Red Kite soars effortlessly overhead, his presence betrayed by the local corvids noisily voicing their displeasure. We’re sitting watching the (wild) world go by with a fresh cup of tea in hand on the welsh grey slate patio right outside the barn that borders the pond. I take a mouthful and as I do my eye is caught by a movement in the pond, something large just rolled in the margins. I then almost choke on my tea and end up unprofessionally spitting it everywhere as I blurt out “^&$%$^&  there’s an Otter!!! Newbie and overexcited child moment quickly passing, I move as the Otter dives and grab my camera. Maria sits stock still afraid she may scare it off and I kneel behind her, resting the lens on the back of the seat and grab a few shots. The Otter is coming closer along the margins but the horsetails through which it is hunting are playing havoc with the Autofocus. I did manage to get a couple of shots……

Otter hunting amongst the horsetails

Otter hunting amongst the horsetails

I hadn’t seen any fish in the pond but we did see thousands of tadpoles. My guess is that it was hunting frogs and newts and he did manage to catch something…

Otter eating after successful hunt

Otter eating after successful hunt

These images are un-cropped and I would say it was no more than around 30 feet away before I think he got a whiff of us and dived. I followed the trail of bubbles and he quickly moved to the other side of the (very large) pond. I moved round and struggled to get a shot as he stayed in a margin I couldn’t fully see. Suddenly he zipped across underwater and was hunting almost at my feet! I tried to move quietly back for when he surfaced but am guessing that I was spotted from underwater and off went the stream of bubbles. I didn’t see where he left the pond and we didn’t see him again during the week. Such a special sight and very lucky to get such close views. When was the last time you watched an Otter while having tea? Thoroughly recommended!

More soon in part 2

 

Posted in Birds, Mammals, 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

 

 

 

 

 

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