I got out of the house for an hour this afternoon and used part of that time to take a stroll around Stansted Mountfitchet. My plan was to explore some of the corners of the village I’ve never walked around before, but the weather had other ideas. By the time I found this shot of some ivy clinging onto a semi-derelict fence, the heavens had opened and I got seriously wet. At this point I decided to beat a hasty retreat and walked back to the car to dry out!
I’ve been confined to the house today, waiting in for a couple of parcels to be delivered. Frustrating as this is, it did give me a chance to catch up on some necessary admin jobs and print some photos too. When the parcels had finally arrived, I decided to sit in the garden for a while, preparing some music scores. I figure if I spend time in the garden regularly the local bird life will come to realise I’m not a threat and will hopefully come and feed while I’m there. This approach certainly worked with our young bluetit family last summer, although the goldfinches seem a little more skittish.
As I sat there quietly (wrapped in umpteen layers and with a blanket to keep warm!) the bird feeder tree was visited by a family of long tailed tits and two nuthatches, although I couldn’t get my camera to my face quick enough to photograph them. Eventually, a pair of bluetits and a few goldfinches returned and I was able to catch them on camera. By now the light was fading fast but not shooting through double glazed windows helped enormously with catching sharp shots! I can see I’m going to be spending more time out here in the coming weeks so hopefully I’ll be able to capture some of our other visitors.
If you'd like to hear what accompanied my time in the garden this afternoon I recorded a little of the birdsong and turned it into a video - you can find it here.
The last time I participated in the RSPB’s Big Bird Garden Birdwatch was way back in 2011 – somehow work has always got in the way since then. I got up early this morning and spent an hour watching the bird activity in our garden. As in 2011, Lucy came and joined me, sitting at the living room window watching our feathered friends with interest. In the end she decided she’d had enough and went outside to check out her territory in our neighbours’ garden instead.
As I watched the birds I took lots of pictures. The light was truly awful, with no sign of sunshine, so I was shooting against the odds. Of the 158 photos I took only these three come anywhere near being worthy of publishing. I was pleased with the starling though as what little light there was brought out the colours in its feathers.
Ultimately I came spotted quite a variety of birds, and I now need to upload the numbers to the RSPB website so the national statistics can be collated. Here’s what I saw:
- 4 Blackbirds
- 8 Goldfinches
- 2 Bluetits
- 1 Magpie
- 2 Bullfinches
- 1 Dunnock
- 1 Wood Pigeon
- 1 Great Tit
- 1 Robin
- 1 Greenfinch
- 1 Starling
It’s a pretty good representation of the birds that regularly visit our garden – thank goodness they all turned out when it mattered!
The local birdlife seemed on particularly good form at Hatfield Forest this morning, with several robins filling the air with song. Opposite my 'office' the jackdaws were having a good old rummage around in the grass for tasty goodies, oblivious to my presence. I hoped to get more photos of them but this plan was scuppered by two rather overenthusiastic spaniels who came bursting through the gate and scared them off!
We were supposed to have lots of rain today but apparently no one told the weather that, so we had snow instead! I've been keeping indoors as I've got a hacking cough and cold so I spent some time watching the birds at our feeding station. The blackbirds have well and truly got the knack of feeding from the fat balls now but they do have to queue up as there's only one perch from which they can reach them. This young female blackbird was looking particular puffed up as she waited patiently and the falling snow just adds that winter wonderland finishing touch!
The birds who visit our garden are an endless source of entertainment and I keep some binoculars beside the kitchen window at all times to aid identification. Today we had the usual range of aviators in the garden - lots of goldfinches plus the odd greenfinch, half a dozen blackbirds and a solitary robin. Shooting through the kitchen window I was able to catch them all on camera, although it was a bit of a challenge as yesterday's bright sunshine had long since gone.
This afternoon, staring aimlessly out of the window, I noticed we had an additional visitor - more of an acrobat than an aviator. Most days this squirrel scoots along the back fence (the theme from Mission Impossible always passes through my mind when I see this!) but it rarely ventures further than that. Today though he or she whizzed up the bird feeder tree to nab some tasty morsels from the fatballs. I know technically grey squirrels are vermin but I couldn't help admire this one's grace as it scaled the tree and I don't mind too much, as long as it only makes the occasional raid on the bird food!
I'm beginning to wonder whether my recent camera and lens purchases have put a curse on the weather. Since I bought the lens in mid-December we've barely seen the sun, and when it has deigned to appear I've been at work! Today was similarly gloomy but that wasn't going to put me off going for a stroll after my shift at Hatfield Forest.
Yesterday I attended the SWPP photography trade show in London. I had no intention of spending any more money but it did offer me the opportunity to meet up with sports photographer Ian Cook to ask his advice on action shooting with my new G9. He was incredibly helpful, suggesting tweaks I could make to the settings, including using back button focus. I've been aware of this technique (which separates focusing from the shutter button) but had never tried it until this afternoon. After a few minutes all at sea I managed to get my brain into gear and spent some time photographing the birds.
Thanks to the apocalyptically dull light I struggled with birds in flight today but had more success with the geese on the lake. Of course, one of the forest robins was ever present, always hopeful of some crumbs, so I couldn't resist a quick picture, especially when he chose to land on a post just a couple of yards from me!
I think I can safely say my back button focus technique needs more practice but at least I came away with a few pictures. All I need now is for some sunshine when I have a few days off next week - fingers crossed!
I had a very quiet shift at Hatfield Forest this morning but fortunately a couple of the local robins popped by to keep me company. Naturally, I'd taken my new camera and long lens into work with me so I whiled away some of the quiet moments taking photos of my companions. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever get to use this lens in good light (I've had it three weeks and barely seen any sunshine!) but the pairing acquitted themselves well in today's gloom. Once again, the camera's image stabilisation worked a treat, especially when paired up with the long lens, where the two stabilisation systems work in tandem. Fingers crossed for some better weather soon so I can really have fun!
The start of a new year can mean many things but for us it meant a trip to Ikea this morning to buy a few bits and bobs. We arrived early to beat the rush, which gave us time for a sneaky visit to Rainham Marshes on our way home. Sadly the weather gods evidently hadn't received our email about providing glorious sunshine so instead we had leaden skies and drizzly rain! This was hardly conducive to successful photography and even the tame robin was reluctant to come out from the bushes to greet us. Eventually we found there was some bird life to be photographed from one of the hides and I came away with one moderately successful shot. I can't help feeling my solitary lapwing would look even better photographed in good light but at least he posed for me. I guess one day I'll get to use my new long lens under sunny skies but I fear it may be a while yet!
All that remains is to wish all my Photoblog friends a very happy new year. I hope 2018 brings you many wonderful photo opportunities and look forward to sharing my tenth year of daily photoblogging with you all!
I've had something of an obsession with bird photography this week, making good use of a long lens I bought for my mirrorless camera recently. I continued the theme today with a visit to a the Wetlands Centre at Arundel.
Once again the light was appallingly dreary, with heavy grey cloud and drizzle so my camera and lens were stretched to their limits. However, these challenges were worth it when I happened upon a tiny goldcrest flitting through the bushes. I first encountered these tiny creatures in Yorkshire in August but on that occasion they stayed tantalisingly out of reach of my lens. Today though my miniscule friend seemed completely unfazed by my presence so I must have spent half an hour watching and photographing and photographing her. She changed direction incredibly quickly so I wasn't sure I'd manage to capture a successful picture in the fading light. Imagine my amazement and delight when I found I had three sharp shots of this little one - the perfect early Christmas present!
Elsewhere around the reserve I found plenty of wetland birds who weren't the least bit bothered by the drizzle - literally the perfect weather for ducks!
I also spent quite a while in the woodland hide, photographing the small garden birds. With a plentiful supply of food, provided in feeders by the volunteers, there were a multitude of birds to photograph so I was spoilt for choice!
We headed back to Sussex for Christmas today, stopping off in the village of Fittleworth en-route. The purpose of this detour was to deliver our entries for the Independent Goodwood Photographers Guild photo competition. As the winner of last year's competition I had to put something in to defend my title! The competition's master of ceremonies, Mark, is Head Gardener at Fittleworth House so while we were there he offered us the opportunity to take a quick tour of the gardens. Naturally, the garden is fairly dormant at the moment but we were awe struck by this 280 year old Cedar of Lebanon. Miraculously it survived the great storm in 1987 when a large number of trees in the neighbouring field were toppled. One can only imagine the stories it must have to tell!
During a flying visit to Hatfield Forest this morning I spent a few minutes photographing the birds on the lake. Once again, the light was truly uninspiring but that wasn't going to stop me! The geese were milling around near the old boat jetty and I was lucky enough to catch one of them having a good wash and brush up.
Elsewhere the Black Headed Gulls (which, ironically don't have black heads at this time of year!) were doing circuits of the lake, taking off and landing periodically. I didn't manage to successfully capture any mid-flight but I rather liked the drama of this picture, with one of them kicking up the water as it took off.
There's an English saying which says, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". It came to mind in a rather literal way this morning when I had a close encounter of the feathered kind at Rainham Marshes. I was aware, through the RSPB reserve's Facebook page, that they had a rather tame robin living in the cordite store of this former military firing range so I went prepared with a small bag of mealworms in case our paths should cross.
As I walked into the densely overgrown cordite store area I kept my eyes peeled and it was only a couple of minutes before I heard the distinctive birdsong and a flash of scarlet came flying over to a nearby branch. I took a few photos and then put my camera down so I could dig out my stash of mealworms. Sitting down on a nearby bench, it didn't take long for him or her (I can never tell with robins!) to pluck up the courage to eat some morsels from my outstretched hand. Leaving a few mealworms on the back of the bench I went to take some more photos at close quarters and realised my long lens was now too long - a change of lens was needed! I also took a few seconds of video with my phone which you can see here:
It was such an honour to be trusted by this tiny creature but I knew all along that my feathered friend had other trusted confidants too. I popped by again later in the morning and found John, one of the RSPB volunteers, feeding the robin by hand. This allowed me to take the one image I hadn't been able to capture this morning - the bird in the hand shot.
Finally, I went back to the visitor centre to grab some lunch before heading off around the reserve in search of some Bearded Tits. Sadly they were in hiding today but I did find some other birds, including a very pretty pair of Stonechats - literally two birds in a bush!