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23 July 2012 Indoor Photography
30th July 2012 - 0 comments
Last weekend was quite busy as we had visits from family and relatives who all wanted photographs taking.

One couple are setting up a website to sell dog beds made from a waterproof material, another pair are setting up a website to sell various accessories for pets and finally another group wanted some family shots taking.

I’ve got to say I’ve not taken many photographs of objects and was at a bit of a loss of how to take a photograph that showed off a dark coloured dog bed to its best advantage.


Tuffmutts dog beds

We did try putting a dog on the dog bed but it didn’t want to know so that avenue closed pretty rapidly. People say never work with animals and children and I think there may be something in that.

The pet accessory shots went ok as I do have a light tent that I could use. However a couple of the products were packaged in a cellophane type material and even with a polarising filter on the lens to reduce the reflections the photographs weren’t good!
If anyone has some ideas on how to reduce reflections without removing the packaging let me know.


Empetz

The portrait session went ok, although initially I had a problem with the flash exposure meter and also the remote flash trigger; luckily both problems resolved themselves after a few minutes.



This session also gave me the opportunity to try out the black background as well as the highlight background. Unfortunately we didn’t change to the black background until near the end of the session and we only managed to take about 10 shots before they’d had enough. Personally I think I prefer the shots taken with the dark background.



I’ve reviewed the photographs and there a few failures due to the usual reasons like someone shutting their eyes or pulling a funny face just as the shutter opens. However I do think Richard & Emma should be able to find some photographs they like out of them.

This session also gave me an opportunity to try and produce some different styles of photograph. I like what I’ve produced but whether they are to Richard and Emmas’ taste I’m not sure; although I like them I don’t think I’d display them in the living room though.





Thanks for reading.

Andy
Winner
16th July 2012 - 0 comments
I'm not a member of a photographic club and I don't enter many competitions but after a lot of thought I did enter some photographs in the local Stockton Heath Photographic Competition as the theme was wildlife.

Anyway I won the public vote and received a voucher for £30 towards the cost of a canvas bonded print.



So a big thank you to those that voted for my photograph.

cheers

Andy
Last Few Weeks
16th July 2012 - 0 comments
The weather hasn’t really been conducive to outdoor photography for the last few weeks but I have managed to take some photographs and visit a couple of places.
On the 30th of June I attended an evening landscape workshop ran by Andy Latham with my good friend Barry.
As we were driving to the location, Winskill Stones Nature Reserve, the weather was atrocious. But as we arrived the rain eased off and it didn’t rain again all evening.
Although we didn’t get the sunset we were hoping for the light was dramatic and moody at times and I obtained some nice photographs.


The view from just above Winskill Stones

Just a 20minute walk from the limestone pavement is Catrigg Force a lovely waterfall that is tucked away in a deep tree lined gorge; apparently one of the famous composer Elgar’s favourite spots. The falls do require a little effort to reach but the track leading to it is very good. If you do go, the rocks at water level are very slippy so be careful.


Catrigg Force

Within the area there is a small limestone pavement with a lone Hawthorn Tree, something that I’ve wanted to photograph for a long time. Many people will have seen photographs of the lone tree at Malham Cove so this is a bit of a change. There are also excellent views with Pen y Ghent and Ingleborough clearly profiled.


Lone Hawthorn & Limestone Pavement


Lone Hawthorn Tree at Dusk


View to Pen-y-Ghent

08th July

I visited Woolston Eyes and there were quite a few Black-necked Grebes to be seen some feeding their young. Lots of waterfowl around including, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Shelduck, Plenty of Great Crested Grebe diving for fish and a few Little Grebe also around. The usual Coots, Moorhens, Canada Geese and Greylag Geese along with Black-headed Gulls were also very apparent.


Black-necked Grebe - From Rotary Hide

Woolston Eyes

Black Necked Grebes (Brian Martin)

2012 has been a ‘better’ year than the recent past for this nationally important species on “The Eyes”. From the first arrival recorded on 17 March adult numbers increased to at least 24 individuals. By June there were at least 9 confirmed breeding pairs with a total of 14 young recorded.
Despite the poor weather throughout most of the breeding term, the young broods have faired well. A number of now independent young have been noticed exercising with short flight attempts on the water surface. We estimate some will start to leave the Reserve to spread out in the next week or so. A number of adult birds have already left but the remaining birds are still providing excellent views of adults and feeding young from the hides.


Black-necked Grebes - Adults & chick

Recent Sightings at Wioolston

14th July
No3 Bed - Many birds still in song, desperately trying to complete a breeding attempt - double figures of Reed Warblers and a few Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Reed Buntings, Wrens, Greenfinches etc.
No1 bed Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings and Linnets.


Blackcap No3 Bed

15th July
A Greenshank was in front of the John Morgan Hide. Also seen were 2 adult Black-necked Grebes and 4 independent juveniles.

Andy Weir
27 Jun 2012 A Day in the Dales
28th June 2012 - 0 comments
Our wonderful summer weather has been pretty well none existent since our holiday in Scotland and I’ve not ventured out with the camera. So other than trying a few different techniques with some flower photography in the house I’ve not done an awful lot of photography recently. The shots which I do quite like were posted in the latest photographs at the time.

My friend Barry is up in Grassington for the week so I arranged to meet up with him yesterday with a view of trying some landscape photography. The weather in Warrington was fine when I set out and driving up there the weather was fine, a little overcast but definitely not raining. About 2 miles from Grassington the drizzle started by the time I met up with Barry it was downright miserable with the rain lashing down.

After a while it eased off and we thought we’d drive to Ribblehead and try to get some shots of the viaduct, as I’ve never seen it close up. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas!!

By the time we arrived it was drizzling nicely but we could see the viaduct probably about ¼ of a mile away. After donning our weather wear we wandered off in the direction of the viaduct.

Not quite in the blink of an eye but it didn’t take very long to reach the viaduct. Unfortunately however within a few minutes of reaching it, the cloud had descended and the visibility had reduced to about 130ft or about 3 arches.

A bit about the Viaduct

Ribblehead viaduct is 440 yards (400 m) long, and 104 feet (32 m) above the valley floor at its highest point. It is made up of twenty-four arches of 45 feet (14 m) span, with foundations 15 feet (4.6 m) deep. It was designed by the engineer John Sydney Crossley. The first stone was laid on 12 October 1870 and the last in 1874. One thousand Navvies were used to build the viaduct and 100 of them lost their lives during construction.

A fantastic example of Victorian building!

We made our way back to the car and met a few ghostly walkers as they appeared out of the mists and quickly passed back into it again. The atmosphere was quite eerie and made more so by the evocative and dinstictive bubbling call of the Curlews that we could here not too far away.

It was definitely disappointing not to see the viaduct in reasonable light and to be able to photograph it so I haven’t got anything to insert here.

Whether the weather be hot
Whether the weather be cold
I’ll wether the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether I like it or not.

A bit like life really.

After driving around in the mist for a while we eventually made our way to Aysgarth Falls.

Barry parked up on the main road and we walked down quite a steep road to the falls, being honest I was thinking more about how I was going to get back up the hill more than the view of the falls still to come.

The road passes over the River Ure and there is a gate and a path on the left that takes you to a viewpoint, costs £1 per adult to enter the viewpoint. It’s a pretty good view of the top fall but doesn’t allow you to take a photograph of all the falls. Whether you can get down anywhere to take a photograph of all the falls I don’t know but it looked like the only place was from the bridge over the river. With my fall at the waterfall on the Isle of Mull still fresh in my mind I wasn’t attempting to find out if there were any other routes to a better viewpoint at water level.


Aysgarth Falls

I took some photos using an ND filter to lengthen the shutter speed to give the water that milky effect that seems so popular at the moment. I also tried some shots at varying exposures to attempt producing an HDR photo.


None HDR


HDR

Having compared the HDR photograph against one that hasn’t had the HDR treatment I think there is a difference but which one is better I wouldn’t like to say. Its down to individual taste I suppose but I think I prefer the HDR.

Having read up on Aysgarth Falls it appears there is an Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. I’m assuming we were at the Upper Falls but exactly where the other ones are and how to reach them I don’t know.

After that I reluctantly made my way back to the hill not looking forward to the steepness of the ascent. It wasn’t really Everest, and I made it to the top puffing quite a lot and very red in the face.

We then made our way back to Grassington, a pint and well earned bar meal. After that I bid my farewells and made my weary way home.

I’d had an excellent day with my old friend Barry whose knowledge about almost everything appears to be unlimited. The weather had conspired against us but what the heck, when your in such good company.

Cheers

Andy
The Treshnish & Puffin Island
08th June 2012 - 0 comments
On Thursday morning it was time for our trip to the Treshnish Islands, we had made the same trip about six years earlier and I’ve wanted to return ever since. This is a must do trip for anyone who loves Puffins and there are quite a few other sea birds to see as well, including Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, possibly Skua, etc. And who knows what may turn up in the sea as well as on it.

The boat leaves Ulva Ferry at 11:30 and the trip costs £50/person. It takes around 45mins to reach the first destination Staffa and you have around an hour on the island. The boat then leaves Staffa for Lunga and you have 2hrs on this island to marvel at the Puffins. Many people don’t bother to move away from the Puffins as they are so enchanting.

Anyway our boat Hoy Lass left Ulva promptly at 11:30 but the boat didn’t appear to be full and most people sat on the top, even though the weather was overcast and windy.

We left Ulva heading south through the Sound of Ulva a narrow channel separating Mull and Ulva.

We then travelled round the southern tip of Ulva and even though there was a breeze and the sky still overcast the sea was relatively calm.

Leaving Ulva and Gometra we headed out towards our first destination the island of Staffa the southern most island of the Treshnish group of islands.


Leaving Ulva towards Staffa

Staffas' most famous feature is Fingals' Cave, a large sea cave located near the southern tip of the island some 20m high and 75m long formed in cliffs of hexagonal basalt columns. This cliff-face is called the Colonnade or The Great Face and it was these cliffs and its caves that inspired Felix Mendelssohns' Die Hebriden (English: Hebrides Overture opus 26). The original gaelic name for Fingals' Cave is An Uamh Bhin – "the melodious cave". Mendelssohn was inspired by the sound of the waves in the cave and waxed lyrical about his visit.

The skipper of the boat sailed the boat around to view Fingals Cave head on then with the precision of a surgeon manouvered the boat toward the darkness of the cave almost moving into it. Even though the skipper had probably done this manouver many times before, with the swell of the waves there wasn’t much room either side of the boat. I thought I could hear some music playing but I may have been imagining that.


Fingals' Cave

The boat then pulled back and sailed around to the tiny landing point passing Am Buachaille “The Herdsman” a pyrimidial shaped rock made up from the hexagonal basalt rock.


Am Buachaille “The Herdsman”

When you alight from the boat you can walk along the base of the cliffs to view Fingals Cave or walk up the narrow and steep steps to the cliff tops and wander around the island. The young and fit can do both but as we are neither fit or young we decided to climb to the top of the steps and take photographs from there. It also doesn’t help when you have brought too much gear with you!! We were quite content with that.


Thrift growing on the cliff



Southern coastline of Staffa

After our hour on the island was up the boat left Staffa leaving Fingals Cave and some of the other caves in our boats bubbling white wake.


Leaving Staffa - The Colonnade or "The Great Face"

On our way to Lunga we passed Bac Mor or “The Dutchmans Cap” on the port side and all the other islands that were visible were also pointed out including Iona and Coll.


Bac Beg on the left, Bac Mor or “The Dutchmans Cap on the right

During the trip plenty of seabirds including Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills and Shags, could be seen on the water.


Puffin


Puffins & Razorbill

Strangely while we were on the boat to Staffa the weather was dull and miserable but as soon as we reached the island the sun shone brightly, bringing everything to life.
This was repeated to and on Lunga.

There isn’t a proper landing stage at Lunga and the boat collects a floating pontoon which is then pushed onto the boulder and stone strewn shore. There isn’t any problem getting off the boat but traversing the boulders and stones on shore is a different kettle of fish. One older lady who had made the trip just couldn’t manage to walk over them and had to return to the boat. Once the shore has been negotiated there is a steepish unmade path up to the cliff top where the enchanting Puffins await you.


Landing on Lunga

Everyone has heard the phrase wall to wall carpet, this is wall to wall Puffin heaven!! A Pufffin metropolis, Puffins leaving, Puffins landing, going down holes, coming out of holes, you name it they were probably doing it!


Puffin peering down a hole


Puffin - going up?

It is very easy just to stay here and watch the activity but there are other birds to be seen and the walk up to the west side of the island is well worth doing. It is haowever probably a 20minute walk, it could be more as the path can be a little difficult to negotiate especially if you have a lot of gear with you!


Fulmars on nest


Shag preening

Tempus Fugit, 2hrs can pass very quickly and it did! Time to leave this little Puffin haven, I will return, such is the draw of these lovely little birds. Just I hope it’s not another six years.

The boat left Lunga heading towards Fladda with everyone discussing their experiences with the Puffins, I think everyone was happy.


Atlantic Grey Seals

Other than seeing a few Atlantic Grey Seals and a couple of fishing boats the return journey down Loch Tuath to Ulva Ferry was uneventful.


Mull fishing boat Jessica Louise in Loch Tuath

If you do decide to make this trip, you don’t need a long focal length lens a 100 – 400mm zoom would be good and anything in between: my 500mm lens was almost useless. Enjoy the experience!

Cheers

Andy
Sea Eagle Adventure
07th June 2012 - 0 comments
I can’t remember properly now but I think this was a fairly early sailing around 09:30 from Ulva Ferry, around 24miles and 45mins from our base in Dervaig.

Most of the roads on Mull are single track, up hill and down dale with plenty of bends. They are also subject to highland cattle and sheep congregating on them which all helps to slow you down, so when travelling on Mull leave yourself plenty of time.

When you reach Ulva Ferry don’t expect a lot! There are a few sheds, a car park, a small jetty and a loo. Don’t linger in the loo too long as the light is on a timer and plunges you into total darkness after what seems about 30 seconds. However wave your arm around a bit and there is light, for 30 seconds. A touch of Scottish thriftiness no doubt.


The view looking north from Ulva Ferry

Although Mull Charters and Turus Mara both sail from here it’s primary service is as it says on the label, to ferry you to the Isle of Ulva. There’s a board on the wall that you change to red and the ferry comes and collects you, turn it back to white before you get on the ferry. The best I can say about the ferry boat is, it looks very basic.

Anyway I digress and the focus of my thoughts should be on our Sea Eagle Adventure but it does give you a bit of an idea of what to expect.

Our boat Lady Jayne turned up on time and twelve of us boarded. Mull charters also operate a trip soley for photographers, maximum four at £150 each.

Unfortunately I wasn’t on that trip and if you are also doing the standard trip try and sit at the back, I didn’t and suffered for it.

Lady Jayne isn’t a large boat and has some interesting holes in the hull that allows water in as well as to drain out. Consequently the floor can and does get wet and so will anything else you may place on the floor including your feet. To be fair the crew do advise you to stow your bags and gear in the wheelhouse, so if you don’t it is your look out. Don’t let this put you off however, as the best is still to come.

Lady Jayne set off promptly and headed southish into the channel between Mull and the southern tip of Ulva. I didn’t know until after the trip but we were heading into Loch na Keal. We passed Eorsa on the starboard side and carried on up the loch for a few minutes.

At this point the crew threw some bread out to attract the gulls, which it duly did, not a vast number probably in the region of ten or so. We drifted around for a while and did a few circles but still no sign of our subject, the imperious White Tailed Eagle.

I don’t know if the Eagle should have turned up at this point or if it was done to build up the excitement/anticipation.

Eventually we moved quite some distance further into the Loch and went through the process of throwing bits of bread over the side again and circling around. At this point we were in the middle of the loch and more or less in line with where a pair of eagles are nesting.

Eventually one of three fish was thrown into the loch that was quickly picked up by one of the voracious gulls resulting in quite a squabble amongst them.


Squabbling Gulls

After a few more minutes another fish was thrown in and a dark spot on the horizon was pointed out to us. What a feeling as the dark spot grew larger and larger, definitely the White Tailed Eagle.


Distant View of White Tailed Eagle

It didn’t take to long to reach the boat, probably less than a minute. It circled over the boat a couple of times and swooped in to pick the fish out of the water. What an awesome sight!! Considering its size with a wing span in the region of eight feet it was extremely manouverable and very speedy.


Circling close to the boat

I’d had the lens trained on the Eagle from first sight so lots of distant shots resulted and just at the moment of impact I found someone was stood in front of me. Lost the view, the bird and the pick up. I didn’t get the Eagle in view again until it was around the front of the boat and rapidly gaining height and distance from the boat. I watched the Eagle disappearing in the distance to the nest.


Overhead - note the pink on the tail, presumably blood from a recent meal

After some time, I’ve no idea how long the last fish was thrown in and sure enough our Eagle was tempted in for the bait. Our Eagle followed the same procedure a couple of circles around the boat a quick turn and it was swooping in for the fish. Unfortunately it was also the same for me, someone in front of me just at the wrong time.

As I watched the bird disappear into the distance of course I had mixed emotions, disappointed that I’d missed the shot I wanted but elated that I’d enjoyed wonderful views of such an imperious bird at very close quarters. An experience that I won’t forget for a very long time, if ever.

As the Eagle disappeared back to the nest the boat turned around to make it’a way back to Ulva.


Making its way back - monochrome conversion

The boat took a slightly different route back, passing Eorsa on the starboard side looking out for Hen Harrier or anything else. Then out past Inch Kenneth named after Saint Kenneth a follower of Saint Columba who is said to have founded a monastery on the Island. Its most famous owners were the eccentric Mitford family. Nazi sympathiser Unity Mitford spent her final years living on the island. Following the death of their mother, Lady Redesdale in 1963, the island was inherited by the surviving Mitford sisters. Diana, Nancy, Deborah and Pamela sold their shares in the island to their sister and fellow beneficiary Jessica. Jessica, a former communist, teasingly suggested that it might become a Soviet submarine base.
The island was sold by Jessica Mitford in the late 1960s and it remains under private ownership.

After passing Inch Kenneth the boat turned to starboard and made our way to a fish farm just off the west coast of Ulva.
It was in tis area where the skipper seen a large fin surface which he said could only have been a basking shark. We spent some time around the area hoping that it would surface again but no such luck.

We then made our way back round the southern tip of Ulva and back to Ulva Ferry.

If you are thinking about taking this highly reccommended boat trip, it lasts 3hrs. and cost £35 per adult.

Having done the trip, try to get at the back of the boat which will probably give you a better chance of seeing everything and don’t bother taking a long focal length lens it isn’t necessary. A lens in the region of 200mm or a 100 - 400mm zoom will do very nicely.

If you do go, I hope you have a great time and get the shots you want. I know I’d do it again.

Cheers

Andy
A Week on Eagle Island
07th June 2012 - 0 comments
We’ve just returned from a wonderful week in the wildlife capital of Scotland, the Isle of Mull (Eagle Island)!

Not only was the weather fantastic for Scotland, so was the wildlife. Unfortunately there was a duffer behind the camera and although I got some great shots of the wildlife particularly the White Tailed Eagle, I did miss some important shots.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the so-called “Raptor Valley” in Speyside and seen next to nothing. Along Loch na Keal there was so much action I didn’t know which way to look, White Tailed Eagle being mobbed by Buzzards and Crows in front, Golden Eagle soaring along the mountain ridge behind, Red Throated Diver on the water and all in an incredible landscape.

A wildlife watchers dream really. I say watcher, as a lot of the action was too far away to photograph, not that I didn’t try, so bins or a scope are a requirement to watch the action unfolding before you.

On the downside beware of the Scottish Midges especially in an evening. Venturing forth without some sort of protection is a definite no, no and those pesky midges certainly feasted well on me. For those that don’t know the effective repellent for Scottish midges is Avon Oh So Soft, so if you are going you’ve been warned, go prepared!!

Apart from the Midge bites and I have lots, even in places that you’d hope haven’t been exposed, I also came home with some other war wounds.

I’m pretty stable mentally; well at least I hope so. Unfortunately I’m obviously not so stable on my legs and when I’m on holiday I manage to fall at least once. So I ended up with a couple of cuts, a swollen and bruised knee, a dose of wounded pride and a pair of jeans now only fit for the bin. Luckily nobody was around to see the event, I imagine it does look quite amusing to watch someone trying to avoid their photographic equipment being damaged in preference to themselves: luckily it wasn’t. What us photographers do for their art!!


The shot I took as I fell

Anyway, I took lots of photographs, 1000’s, a lot of which will be destined for the trash.

The highlights of the trip, not my fall, were the Sea Eagle trip with Mull Charters and the trip to the Treshnish Islands with Turus Mara: both are highly recommended. We also had a wildlife tour with Pam & Arthur from Discover Mull, who we went out with on a previous visit to Mull some years ago. On the Discover Mull website it says Pam’s cake are legendry and everyone on the trip did rave about them, so another top trip.

We stayed at Killoran House, which was also excellent. Start your day off with a super breakfast and finish it off with a fine evening meal and retire to a very comfortable room/bed. The rooms were immaculately kept and very clean. I’ve also got to mention the power shower in our bathroom it was excellent and it helped give me an invigorating start to the day. It wasn’t the cheapest place to stay but neither was it the most expensive.

Killoran House www.killoranmull.co.uk
Mull Charters www.mullcharters.com
Discover Mull www.discovermull.co.uk
Turus Mara www.turusmara.com

See other items to follow detailing the various trips.

Cheers

Andy
19 - 20 May Woolson Eyes
21st May 2012 - 0 comments
Saturday

I looked at the weather forecast on Friday night and I didn’t know what to do on Saturday morning anyway I deliberated that long that in the end it wasn’t worth going out with the camera.

So I sat watching the feeders in the garden and in flew a pair of Bullfinches. Unfortunately the door to the garden wasn’t open so from experience I know that as soon as I open it most of the birds fly off and I’m very lucky if they return quickly.

So I got the camera and took some photographs through the window, unfortunately the quality isn’t good but good enough to see what they are.


Male Bullfinch


Female Bullfinch

Not long afterwards three Redpoll flew in, they love to feast on the Niger Seed and the Sunflower Hearts. It is the first time I’ve seen them for a few weeks though.


Redpoll

We also get most of the common garden birds visiting the feeders and I also saw blue Tit, Great Tit, Long Tail Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Magpie, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove and Starling. Later during the day I also one of the Reed Buntings that spent most of the winter in the garden.

Sunday Morning
On Sunday morning I visited Woolston Eyes, it was a bit overcast when I left the house but the light did improve during the morning.

Plenty of gulls from the screen by the Sybil Hogg Hide but then I trundled down to the Rotary Hide. I was pleasantly surprised to find three Black-necked Grebes on the pool in front of the hide.

Unfortunately they didn’t venture much closer than the centre of the pool so I fitted the teleconverter and took a few photos. They aren’t brilliant but the best I’ve managed of the Black-necked Grebes this season.


Black-necked Gebe


Black-necked Gebe

I also saw Little Grebe, Canada Geese with six young and a group of Shelduck chasing each other, as they do. I also could see Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler


Canada Goose Chicks


Shelduck

I then moved to the Centre Hide. I could see three Black-necked Grebes again in the centre of the pool and I did take a load of photos of them but the majority of them were destined for the trash!!


Black-necked Gebe

Looking at the photographs on my computer there is an obvious difference in the quality and I can only put it down to distance from the hide and the degree of cropping required, although the distance didn't appear significantly different.

I spent quite a bit of time photographing a coot and chicks, I’ve got to say how surprised I was when I saw my first Coot chick so one of the photos is shown below.


Coot & Chick

Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Black-headed Gull and Lapwing also came close to the hide. There appeared to be plenty of frisky birds about including a couple of Mallards.


Gay Mallards?

Am I imagining it or is the lower looking a bit bemused!

Andy
12-13 May 2012 - A Full Weekend
14th May 2012 - 0 comments
After the lack of photography opportunities the previous weekend this weekend was full of them although not all to do with birds or nature.

After arriving at our hide on Saturday morning most of the common birds were swooping in to feed in no time, they included Goldfinch, Robin, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue Tit & Great Tit.


Greenfinch


Goldfinch

Yellowhammer followed soon after along with a pair of Pheasants that spent most of the morning on and off around the feeders.


Yellowhammer


Male Pheasant

Other birds I saw were Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Blackbird, Lapwing, Wood Pigeon & Swallow, I also heard a Skylark close by but I didn’t catch sight of it. I also saw Buzzard and Kestrel and the Buzzard came within 20 – 30 yard of the hide and probably no higher than about 20ft; unfortunately it was off to the side so I couldn’t get the lens pointing it at it to take a photograph.

On Sunday morning something totally different and a chance to try some sport photography. It is an absolute age since I did any sports photography, probably in the region of thirty years. My wifes'' nephew was playing in the Under 14’s NW Counties cup for Rylands Sharks against Thatto Heath and his mum asked if I could go and take some photos.


Bursting through


A text book tackle

It did take a while to get back into it but I was quite pleased with some of the photos.

While I was there I also bumped into Les and Marion Slater who I haven’t seen for 30 years, isn’t it funny how you can recognise someone after all that time! Our daughters were members of Gymnastics clubs in Warrington and Liverpool when we met originally. It is a small world.


Les, Marion & Grandson

In the afternoon it was my mother in laws 90th birthday party and I was asked to record the event with plenty of photographs, which I duly did. I suppose they mainly fall into the snapshot category but I was quite pleased with the photos and I’m hoping the family will also be. I’ve got to say I didn’t pay much attention to what was lurking in the background so consequently ended up with washing lines and trees growing out of peoples’ heads. I’ve got to say I committed all the sins of bad photography, I think I’ll blame the glasses of wine!!


A trio of young ladies


"Big Nan" & one of her many grandchildren

Sightings from Woolston Eyes over the weekend included:

2 Little Ringed Plovers, 3 Oystercatchers, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 3 Garden Warblers and 2 Kingfishers.

Andy
08 May 2012 Our New Hide
09th May 2012 - 0 comments
It was a bit of a full house from Thursday through to Monday with visiting family including three grandchildren, so not much opportunity to photograph any birds. Having said that I did manage to take a few photos in the garden while the rest of the crowd visited the Crocky Trail at Chester.


Greenfinch in the garden

However Tuesday was a lovely day and luckily I had booked a holiday so I went to the hide that Neill Carden and myself have set up.

The front of the hide faces north so the feeders and the few perches that we have set up should be pretty well lit most of the day.

It is only a small hide but could probably fit three people at a push however there wouldn’t be much room to move arms and legs.


Our New Hide

After topping up the feeders and throwing some seed on the ground it didn’t take long for the birds to swoop in. I think the Goldfinch were first to arrive, followed by Robin, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Tree Sparrow. Getting them to land on the feeders isn’t much of a problem, getting them to land on the other perches isn’t quite as easy.


Robin


Tree Sparrow

After about 30mins a Yellowhammer arrived, it spent some time feeding on the ground. The rest of the time in the conifers but at a distance/height that allowed it to be photographed. There were at least two Yellowhammers around for most of the morning.


Yellowhammer


Yellowhammer

The times I’ve seen Yellowhammer previously have been very few and far between and generally at some distance. So to get some good photographs after six years of trying is a real bonus.

Other birds I saw were Dunnock, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Blackbird, Lapwing, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Grey Partridge & Swallow, I was pretty sure I could hear a Skylark close by but I didn’t catch sight of it. While I was watching from the hide I also saw Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Small White Butterflies.


Grey Partridge

Of course I missed the Black Tern at Woolston Eyes that was seen on the 1st of May and from the photo I’ve seen, it landed on the perch for the gulls & Kingfisher in front of the centre hide, drat and double drat. On Saturday 5th May two more of my bogey birds Cuckoo and Grasshopper Warbler were singing/calling on No3 bed. I’ll see them eventually I suppose!

From experience I seem to wait ages to see and photograph a bird then they seem to appear with regularity for a while and then they disappear again.

The Reed Buntings that have frequented the feeders in our garden since late last year now appear to have departed but seem to have been replaced by a pair of Bullfinches, I’ve not tried to photograph them, yet!

cheers

Andy
28 April 12 - Woolston Eyes
30th April 2012 - 1 comment
It has been a couple of weeks since I last visited “The Eyes” so a visit was overdue.
However when I reached the parking area a Minibus was evident suggesting a visiting group of birders!

Sure enough after I crossed the footbridge, it wasn’t a host of golden daffodils that I found but rather a large group of people; so I wasn’t wandering lonely as a cloud on Saturday!

I managed to overtake them and get to the centre hide before them, I thought about setting up the tripod but with 20+ people in the hide it may have caused a SHE issue so I quickly discarded that idea.

During the Black-necked Grebe season I always visit with the hope that I’ll get my best ever photograph of one of them. However in the back of my mind I know that it will probably never happen but you have to be in it to win it as they say!

So with everything conspiring against good photography it didn’t stop me trying and pressing the shutter button when I knew I was wasting my time.

So as usual the sight of a Black-necked Grebe encouraged me to commit one of the common errors; the subject too distant. See Black-necked Grebe photo below after some very tight cropping on the computer.


Black-necked Grebe

I’ve got to say I do see an awful lot of people taking photos from the hides at Woolston Eyes with short focal length lenses and I often think that they are going to be awfully disappointed when they download the files to their computer!

Of course I don’t know what they are actually taking photos of or what their intentions are but usually it’s some distant bird. Even if the intention is to show the subject in its environment I believe they would be very lucky if the subject could be seen in the view.


Canada Geese and six young

While I was in the hide I saw four or five Black-necked Grebe, around 8 Canada Geese and a pair with 6 young, 1 Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Shellduck, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Cormorant and one male Ruddy Duck (not many of those around now).


Part of the Black Headed Gull Colony that breed on No.3 bed

I didn't see a Heron fly in or any Raptors but something put the gulls up.

A Lapwing also put in appearance and there were plenty of Swallows, Swifts and Sand Martins over the water. The gulls on show were Black-headed Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gull I did look earnestly for the Little Gull that had been there earlier in the week and I always have a look for Mediterranean Gulls but neither species were around. A single Pied Wagtail also landed at the edge of the pool but it didn’t face the right way.


Pied Wagtail

Of the other photographs I took, the Gadwall is hopefully the best as it came closest to the hide and it also remained reasonably still.


Gadwall

The Cormorant photograph isn’t too bad even though it was some distance away and it has been cropped quite tightly. It is however a much larger bird than the Black-necked Grebe and it doesn’t have to be cropped as much to appear large in the frame.


Cormorant

On the walk back to the car park I noticed a Ladybird that I tried to photograph with the Macro lens. As I continued my walk back to the car I became aware of 1000’s of large black flies that were on the vegetation. The Ladybird photograph isn't too bad but the fly could be better.


7-Spot Ladybird


St Marks Fly (Bibio marci)

Thanks to Alan Patterson (Woolston Eyes Warden) who identified the fly for me and who also told me why how it got the name.
Fact - The name comes from the fact that this species is often on the wing in large numbers around April 25th, St Mark's Day.

Who needs a calendar when you have nature to give you a date!

I was supposed to be going to our new hide on Sunday morning with Neill but to use a well known cricketing term it was definitely a case of rain stopped play.

I’ve seen a few photos taken from the hide that Neill’s posted on Bridguides and they’ve been good.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get there sometime this week, god willing and a fair wind; having said that it does look like the whole of next weekend is going to be taken up with things other than photography.


Andy
21 April 2012 - Trip to Pennington flash
23rd April 2012 - 0 comments
Neill Carden and myself visited Pennington Flash on Saturday morning as he had just acquired a 500mmNikon lens and he was desperate to try it out. The other reason being that we both wanted to improve on our existing Bullfinch photographs.

As we drove up the M6 it was raining quite hard but the weather forecast was for grey cloud with intermittent rain so we continued on in the hope that the rain would abate.

When we arrived sure enough the rain had stopped and although not sunny and bright it was light enough! The best hide for the Bullfinches is the Bunting hide but when the trees are fully leaved it can reduce the light quite a lot but luckily not too many leaves.


Pair of Bullfinch

There were quite a few Bullfinches around along with Willow, Blue, Great and Coal Tits. There were also Greenfinch, Magpies, Wood Pigeon, Dunnock & Robin and a Wood mouse also put in an appearance just for good measure.


Male Bullfinch


Female Bullfinch


Chaffinch


Dunnock


After spending some time at the Bunting Hide we had a bit of a wander around but we didn’t see an awful lot although we did find a Wren singing in a thicket that we did manage to snap. The Blackcap and the Chiffchaff that I attempted to photograph failed miserably.


Singing Wren

After that we decided to have a look at the hide Neill and I have put up back in Warrington. We put it up last weekend and filled all the feeders to attract the birds and just left it for the birds to get used to it. We know most of the common birds are around and Neill has seen a Goldcrest and a few other less common birds. We only stayed about 30 minutes but these are my first two photos taken from the hide.


Great Tit on feeder


Great Tit

We are on the look out for some more natural or photogenic perches now!!

For those interested this is what was recorded on No3 bed at Woolston Eyes on Saturday.

Woolston Eyes Saturday 21st April 2012
Highlights being: One Cuckoo, 2 Sedge Warblers, 2 adult Little Gulls on the scrape in front of the Morgan Hide, 2 Kingfishers, 3 Common Snipe, 2 Water Rails and all three hirundines. In addition Kieran Foster and his team ringed the first Grasshopper Warbler and Reed Warbler of the year.

Cheers

Andy
11 Apr 2012 Easter Weekend
11th April 2012 - 0 comments
Although I had a 6day break over Easter I didn’t go to Woolston Eyes and I only managed a small amount of photography but I did manage some, mainly some flower photography using my Macro lens.

These are my favourites.





The second photograph was produced using a focus stacking technique and is a composite of fourteen shots. I used a 100mm f2.8 lens with 68mm extension rings and the exposure was f6.3 @ 13secs. To eliminate as much movement as possible I used a tripod, a remote release and also mirror lock up on the camera. The amount of detail in the centre of the flower head is quite amazing.

The Lesser Redpolls now seems to be daily visitors to the garden feeders along with three or four Goldfinch.


Lesser Redpoll

While I was watching the feeders a Mistle Thrush flew in had a drink and disappeared again. I’ve never seen a Mistle Thrush in the garden before and I’m pretty sure they don’t normally frequent garden feeding stations but there’s always a first time!


Mistle Thrush

Yesterday we had a trip to the Trough of Bowland with no particular thing in mind other than the hope of seeing some Curlew and perhaps a Little Owl.
We did see plenty of Curlew but too far away to get good photos, plenty of Pheasants and quite a few Lapwing, various Gulls, a couple of common Buzzards, a Red Grouse and quite a few Meadow Pipits fighting the wind. Where I’ve seen Little Owls in the past drew a blank this time.


Curlew


Meadow Pipit

We also noted quite a few patches of Bluebells in bloom which I believe is quite early.

I also found some Moles pegged to some barbed wire, obviously something still practiced in the country.



It's probably a throwback to days gone by when mole catchers would show off their work to get paid. Trappers hung the animals on fences so landowners could see how many they had snared and pay them by the mole. The catchers would display up to 100 of the unfortunate creatures, as well as crows and other animals considered to be vermin.

For those interested 20 Black-necked Grebe were counted at Woolston Eyes over the Easter weekend. A Siberian Chiffchaff was also netted which is a first for Woolston and only the fourth recorded in Cheshire.

Lastly one day last week I found the remains of one of the male Reed Buntings that have been frequenting the feeders all winter. I’m not sure what killed it but probably a cat although we do get a Sparrowhawk visiting the feeders quite frequently.
As it happened the dead bird was ringed and I have found out that it was ringed as an adult at Woolston Eyes in May 2009 but hadn’t been netted again at Woolston. I have sent the details and the ring number to the BTO.

Thanks for reading.

Andy
31 March 12 Saturday at the Eyes
02nd April 2012 - 0 comments
When I awoke on Saturday it didn’t appear to be a great day for photography, poor light and a slight wind to roughen the water ruining any chance of reflections.

When I arrived at No.3 bed there where about 7 cars parked up and I thought I was going to have company. I wandered round to the Rotary Hide but didn’t see anything of note, however I did see and hear plenty of Chiffchaff.

On the water I could see a couple of Black-necked Grebes, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebes, Gadwalls, Pochards, Shovelers and Black-headed gulls. Unfortunately nothing came close enough to take a decent photograph. However a pair of Lapwings where scaling the uneasy sky flapping the lapwing fly.


Lapwing flying the Lapwing fly

After a while I moved to the centre hide, where I saw more of the birds listed above and additionally Lesser Black backed gulls, five more Black-necked Grebe, Teal, Cormorant, Mallard, a single Greylag Goose, a pair of Canada Geese and a single Mute Swan. There were also Jay, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Greenfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dunnock, Wren and a Pheasant.


Lapwing


Teal


Black-necked Grebe not yet in full summer plumage and too far away!

When I first arrived there was Black headed Gull on the edge of the water that didn’t look very well and by the time I left, sadly it had died.

While I was in the centre hide some of the committee members came in who had been doing a count and officially they had counted twelve Black-necked Grebe.


Black-necked Grebe

Just as an aside they had counted eleven Reed Bunting and I’ve had five or six in the garden for most of the winter! Obviously adapting to the seed available in garden feeders.


Reed Bunting one of the five or six that appear daily in our garden

Interestingly I also saw my first Redpoll in the garden on Wednesday through to Saturday, a nice little bird. I tried to make it into a Mealy or an Arctic but had to make do with it being a Lesser Redpoll in the end.


Lesser Redpoll

Sunday was a nicer day but I didn’t get out to do any photography however I did manage to take a few photos in the garden, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch and the moon.


The Moon - taken in daylight
25 Mar 2012 Out and About
27th March 2012 - 0 comments
Sunday was another very pleasant day, sun, blue sky and no clouds, I resisted the temptation to go back to Woolston Eyes and visited Houghton Green Flash in the hope of finding some Black-necked Grebe that I could photograph.

When I arrived I stood at the top of the embankment and scanned the water with my bins I was quite disappointed, I couldn’t see any. A couple of birders joined me and set up their scopes, they were also looking for the elusive Black-necked Grebes!

They had visited on the Saturday and they said two had been there then.

If last year is anything to go by the Black-necked Grebe appear to favour the edges of the flash so I decided to walk around just in case. The sun made it very difficult to see the far end of the pool from where I was standing so I was still hopeful!

I wandered lonely as a cloud but I didn’t stumble upon a host of golden daffodils or Black-necked Grebe! So here is a photo from last year.


Black-necked Grebe

All I saw on my little wander were Carrion Crow, Black-headed Gull, Coot, Lapwing, Great Crested Grebe, Mallard and a handful of Wigeon.


Great Crested Grebe

Disappointed I thought I’d go home and put some bedding plants in the borders.

However on the way back I decided to have a look at the Mersey just to the East of the M6.

As I got out of the car a Buzzard was drifting over and was soon joined by another two. At one point they were quite low and directly overhead. I’ve got to say it is quite difficult to hold the 500mm lens vertically and keep it steady. I did get a few decent photos however. One of these Buzzards was the one I’d seen on No3 bed the day before.


Common Buzzard


Common Buzzard


Common Buzzard

As I walked along the footpath towards the river, I heard a Chiffchaff in the in a small copse just off the path. After a few minutes I eventually found it at the top of a tree, aren’t they always! The bonus being there wasn’t any leaves yet and although it didn’t stay in one place for any length of time I did eventually get a clear view of it through the branches.

My best photograph of a Chiffchaff, yippee; I’ve waited 6 years for it.


Chiffchaff

I continued on to the river and just gazed and gazed with little thought at the lordly river, broad and deep, dimpling along in silent majesty.

It’s amazing how clean the Mersey has become compared to how it was not too many years ago.

Anyway after my moment of solitude and reflection I made my way back to the car and home.

In the afternoon my wife and I went to the Wirral, big mistake; I think the fine weather had brought the whole of Liverpool out to play.

New Brighton was heaving and we couldn’t find anywhere to park and even the car park at Leasowe lighthouse was nearly full. They had an event on at the lighthouse and people were abseiling down it.

Anyway we went up to the walkway as there was an empty seat; we soon found out why the seat was empty! We’d only been sitting about 30seconds gazing out over the tranquil blue waters of the Mersey estuary and a swarm of horrible large flies descended on us. After a few minutes we gave up and escaped back to the car.

We moved on to Hoylake at least we could find places to park along the front, there wasn’t any flies and there were birds to see, mainly Redshank. I could also hear the evocative call of a Curlew and I eventually picked him out in the distance.


Redshank

I also thought I’d found my first Curlew Sandpiper but on checking in various books and asking a friend I was disappointed and it was a Dunlin. A not very good photo appears below. Excitement over!


Dunlin

We moved on to West Kirby and I know it gets busy but the number of people on the beach was ridiculous, I’ve never seen it so busy.

We decided to head home but then we heard that there had been a crash on the M56 and turned to head back to the tunnel. Only to be confronted by roadworks and queues and my wife complained all the way home about the traffic.

Thanks for reading,

Andy
24 Mar 2012 Woolston Eyes BNG's
26th March 2012 - 0 comments
Having heard that some Black-necked Grebe had returned to “The Eyes” it was a bit of a foregone conclusion about where I would be going on Saturday.

I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning with not a cloud in the sky probably the best Saturday of the year so far, so it wasn’t very difficult for me to raise myself, get my gear together and get out and about.

Whilst driving along the canal to the reserve there were plenty of Great Crested Grebe and Cormorants to be seen; the Cormorants seemed to be having quite a bit of success fishing, returning to the surface dive after a dive with some rather large fish. I tried pointing the camera in various directions but couldn’t really get a decent shot, the light was far too contrasty.

As I walked along the path past the first screen and hide I was hit by the noise from the Black-headed Gulls but as I walked into the trees it changed to birdsong and I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year; spring has definitely sprung.

I normally go straight to the centre hide but I decided to start at the Rotary Hide because I’ve had reasonable success there photographing the Black-necked Grebe but there wasn’t much to be seen or at least no Black-necked Grebe. While I was there Brian Martin came into the hide and told me he had counted eight or nine Black-necked Grebe from the new hide, around the middle of the pool, which wouldn’t be too bad distance wise for a few shots.


Black-headed Gull from the Rotary Hide

So I moved on to the new hide and it took a while before I found some BNG’s anyway I counted six and then another three drifted in from the south channel, so nine in total.

Unfortunately they mostly kept to the far side of the centre pool so no real chances to photograph them, even with the 1.4x teleconverter attached. However I couldn’t resist trying a few shots so a very heavily cropped photo appears below.


Black-necked Grebe

It was quite busy on the water, lots of squabbling and noisy Black-headed Gulls from the colony that nest on “The Eyes”. There seemed to be plenty of young gulls as well as the full-grown adults presumably last years young. A couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls also appeared adding their voices to the cacophony of sound.


Black-headed Gull


Lesser Black-backed Gull

Other birds on show were Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe (at least 4 pairs), Little Grebe, Pochard, Cormorants hanging their wings out to dry, Mallards, Coot & Moorhens. A pair of Greylag Geese also appeared and I could here Canada Geese somewhere but I couldn’t see them.


Mallard mating


Greylag Goose

A pair of Teal and a Lapwing spent some time in front of the hide and gave me some nice shots.


Lapwing


Teal

A pair of Buzzards drifted over circling on the thermals as they do, plenty of Carrion Crows with Magpie and Jays flying through.

As I walked back to the footbridge I could hear Chiffchaff everywhere and I could also hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming but could see neither species.

I found a Brimstone butterfly on a Dandylion: the 500mm isn’t the ideal lens for butterfly shots but by lying down on the path and resting the lens on my bag I just about managed to get some shots before it fluttered off like confetti on the breeze. There were quite a few butterfly on the wing mainly Brimstone and Tortoiseshell.


Brimstone butterfly

As I crossed the footbridge a couple of Great Crested Grebe were not too far away on the bund resulting in a few nice shots with almost mirror-like reflections in the water.


Great Crested Grebe

Tempus fugit: I could have spent the day there it was so nice but the real world beckoned and I had to leave this little island haven and the natural world and I took the steps back into reality.

Apparently Marsh Harrier had been present on No3 bed almost every day last week and a Bittern (from the Lindley hide) has been seen on more than one occasion over the last few weeks.

Thanks for reading.

cheers

Andy
Black-necked Grebe Back
23rd March 2012 - 0 comments
I have it on good authority that five Black-necked Grebe have been seen at Woolston Eyes. Guess where I'm going at the weekend!

cheers

Andy
17 Mar 2012 Houghton Green Flash
17th March 2012 - 0 comments
Frequently the Black-necked Grebe that breed at Woolston Eyes spend some time at Houghton flash before moving on to Woolston Eyes so I just thought I'd have a look there just in case.

I wasn't the only one that turned up thinking there may be some there but no luck today.

However there were quite a few Great Crested Grebe, probably around ten, quite a few Wigeon (10+), Coot, four Oyster Catcher, many Mallard and quite a few Gulls.


Great Crested Grebe


Mallard


Oyster Catcher

The light wasn't brilliant and it rained at one stage but only for a few minutes.

I found interesting to watch the Great Crested Grebe dive for fish and then be dive bombed by the gulls in an attempt to get an easy meal!


Great Crested Grebe/Gull

Due to the poor light I had to use a fairly high ISO to get a reasonable shutter speed and I had to resort to using the teleconverter as most of the birds were a fair distance from the edge of the flash.


Great Crested Grebe

Even so I did manage to get a few reasonable shots.

Thanks for reading.

Andy
Sunday 11th March - Woolston Eyes
13th March 2012 - 0 comments
Th weather and light on Sunday Morning was reasonable so a trip to "The Eyes" seemed appropriate.

As I was driving along the canal bank there were a few Great-crested Grebes making their way along the canal along with plenty of Tufted ducks and the obligatory Black headed gulls.

I couldn't see anything on the bund as I crossed the footbridge to the reserve, there's usually something to see; I could however hear the Black-headed Gulls in the distance. I made my way to the first screen and there were plenty of Black Headed Gulls and a few Tufted Duck on the South Pool.

After that I made my way to the Centre Hide, it is a lovely hide and quite close to the waters edge at the moment while there is plenty of water in the pool.However most of the birds were on the far side of the pool.

On the water there were three pairs of Great-crested Grebe displaying intermittently. Black-headed gulls a plenty along with coots. There were also plenty of Mallard, a group of five Cormorant, Teal, Shovelers, Tufted Duck and a few Pochard.



I was hoping that a wader might have dropped in but no such luck and everything stayed put on the far side of the pool. Even the Grey Heron that flew in landed in the reeds on the far side of the pool not to be seen again!

Even the finches that regularly visit the feeders seemed few and far between.

Another of the regular Woolston watchers came into the hide and told me that there was a Toad on the path outside so I went out and grabbed a few photos before it disappeared into the undergrowth.





After that I had a wander around the bed and other than seeing a few Dunnock, Wood Pigeon, Crows, Magpies and a Buzzard circling over No4 bed, I didn't see much else.



There was however plenty of blossom and buds on the various trees and bushes heralding the onset of spring and hopefully warmer days, not to mention the return of the Black-necked Grebes.







The last two photos are in HDR and are generated from 3 shots. HDR is something I've been playing around with for a while but whether they work or not I don't know.

Thanks for reading.

Andy
Sunday 4th March - Portrait Session
13th March 2012 - 0 comments
Sunday morning was spent preparing to take some photos of two of our grandchild and mum and dad.

It takes a bit of effort to move the furniture around so the background and lights can be set up but the results were well worth the effort.



Certainly mum and dad were happy with the results.





And even the dog got in on the act.