Paul Hill



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In a Rut

October 27th 2018

Julia and I visited Tatton Park this morning to photograph the red and fallow deer.  The red deer stags have now established their harems, but it doesn't stop them rutting when a bachelor stag wanders to near the hinds, or if the hinds decide to take a wander.  The morning started nice a bright, but by the time Tatton was open to vehicles, it was overcast.  It was an opportunity to try out the 400mm f/4 DO, just back from repair and I was not disappointed; there was very little drop off (in any) in quality when I added the 1.4x convertor.

Apart from the deer we also saw two Egyptian geese, which have been present for a couple of weeks, and a skein of about 150 pink-footed geese flying east - no doubt heading from Martin Mere over to Norfolk.  Click here for more images

Into the Night

November 7th 2018

Low light photography is not a subject I have really tackled before on Saturday evening, when many photographers were thinking of getting shots of fireworks, I joined Fujiholic  David Yoeman for an evening at Salford Quays.  We spent a couple of hours photographing the illuminated bridges, buildings and the memorial display at the Imperial War Museum.  Essential equipment for this type of photography (apart from your camera) are a wide-angle lens, remote release and sturdy tripod.  Most images were taken at 30 sec exposure, f/8 at ISO 100.  More images here

Ducks and Drakes

November 11th 2018

The Wildfowl and Wetland Centres offer some great opportunities for photography - Martin Mere is a favourite haunt of mine, but a journey down to Devom today, provided a chance to stop off a Slimbridge for a couple of hours.  Whilst the collections mainly hold captive birds, there are plenty of wild birds amongst them to photograph.  Other good areas are the Rushy Pen Hen and also the "Wader Scrape", although the waders at the scrape are all captive and close-ringed.  More images here

A Winning Weekend

November 25th 2018

In 2016 and 2017 Julia and I, with friends, formed a team of four to enter the Bird Race at Martin Mere WWT Centre.  The event is one of several held as part of the North-west Birding Festival.  We have  won ace in the last two years seeing 72 and 74 species.  We entered again this year on Saturday, and managed to see just 63 species between 09.30 and 15.00, so imagine our surprise when we found out we'd won again.

Trying to see as many birds as we could leaves little time for photography, but I did manage a few shots of the Black-tailed Godwits and Lapwings feeding close to the hides, plus a few other species. More images here.

On Sunday I had a couple of hours to spare, so spent these at Pikelow photographing Redwing - one of the wintering members of the thrush family. Click here to see the results.

Happy Friday

November 30th 2018

I took a rare day off work today and headed to North Wales and Rhyl Brickworks, a lake that was created by clay extraction and then restored to provide a sit for conservation and recreation.  The purpose of my visit was to try and photograph a Slavonian Grebe that has been present there all week.  It took me about 20 minutes to find the bird as it kept diving and coming up in a different place.  Views were distant at first - the bird always seemed to be "over the other side".  Eventually after watching the bird and getting distant photos, I decided to just wait in one place, as the grebe was heading back towards me, and was close to the edge.  This paid off and I left happy with what I'd (hopefully) managed to capture with the camera.

After a coffee and lunch stop at Conwy RSPB Reserve I headed back towards Chester and then up the Wirral to West Kirby Marine Lake.  More chasing and predicting followed as the winter plumaged Great Northern Diver was constantly diving and spending what seemed like an eternity under the water.

The shots of the Slavonian Grebe were taken with the 400mm f/4, whilst I lugged the 600mm f/4 with the 1.4x convertor around West Kirby Marine Lake.  Several images from the day are here

Christmas Birding

December 27th 2018

With all my Christmas shopping done I ventured up to Martin Mere WWT Centre on Christmas Eve.  As always I was greeted by the calls of pink-footed geese.  After going through the reception I headed towards the Mere and settled down for an hour to photograph the wildfowl and waders present.  Plenty of  Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler to represent the dabblers, whilst Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye  represented the diving duck.  Plenty of Whooper Swan were present, and waders included Lapwing, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit.  I had hoped to get flight shots of the Pink-footed Geese or Whooper Swans from the United Utilities Hide, but the birds had other ideas, so I returned to the Discovery Hide at the Mere.

 Julia and I spent Christmas Day on the Wirral Peninsula - our Christmas lunch consisted of crusty bread and various cheeses, a flask of hot water for tea / coffee and coconut macaroons (we did have a Christmas meal in the evening.  We had arrived at Parkgate around 11.30 an hour before the high tide.  We were rewarded with four Marsh Harriers, three Hen Harrier, a Merlin  and several Great White and Little Egret.  After lunch we headed to West Kirby Marina, the Marina was almost devoid of birds, but the estuary held thousands of waders; Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Curlew all in evidence.  A great way to spend Christmas :)

Images from the two days can be seen here

More Cake Please

December 30th 2018

Most folk are probably finishing off the last of their Christmas cake, but I've just made a 4 kilo batch for the birds!!  With a cold spell forecast I thought I'd make some bird cake to last me through January and into February.  This is my recipe, and I know the birds will approve of it, as they have in previous years:

Ingredients - the following quantities will fill a couple of 500g yoghurt cartons.

  • 250g Lard
  • 100g Chopped Peanuts - if you can't buy chopped peanuts, put them into a food blender to chop them up, or place them in a heavy duty polythene bag and keep rolling them with a rolling pin to crush the peanuts
  • 150g Sunflower Hearts
  • 100g Sunflower Seeds
  • 50g Premium Wild Bird Feed
  • 50g Breadcrumbs
  • 50g Dried Mealworms

As long as you keep the proportion of lard to filling as 1:2, then you can vary the quantities of the fill mix. 

Making the cake

  1. Chop up the lard into approx. 25mm  cubes and place in a microwavable dish.  Place in the microwave on full power for about 1 minute and then check to see if has become soft (it doesn't need to melt), if it is still solid repeat for 10 seconds and check again.  The actual length of time will depend the wattage of the microwave and sizes of the pieces of lard.
  2. Place the seed / chopped peanuts etc in a large mixing bowl and then thoroughly mix the contents by hand.
  3. Add the soft lard and using a wooden spoon or spatula fold the seed and lard in together.
  4. Spoon the mixture out into a yogurt pot one spoonful at a time and then gently compress the mixture with the end of a rolling pin.  Repeat this until the pot is full.

Putting the mixture out for the birds

You can either smear the mixture on a tree-trunk or branch, drill holes (about 37mm diameter) into a log and push the mixture in.  Alternatively you can hang the yogurt carton (upside down) from a branch or your bird table.

Seeing eye to eye

January 7th 2019

Often wondered why a photograph you've taken isn't quite what you'd expected?  Something doesn't look quite right, but you can't quite put your finger on it. The image may be exposed correctly, have the correct colour balance and be in focus. The composition may look tight, but no matter how you crop it, it still doesn't work for you.

In cases like this it could be the actual angle the photograph was taken from is the problem.  When composing your photograph, concentrate on the eye of the subject  Focus on the eye and this will attract the viewers attention; get level with the eye of your subject and the difference is amazing.

There are several ways to achieve this:

  1. Kneel on one knee to get level (this can also be useful in supporting the camera and lens.
  2. Lie down for low subjects.  Not always easy (or dry and clean) so you need to go prepared for this.  If photographing from a hide, this may not be possible.  The hides I use a Pikelow all have floor level openings for ground level photography.  This blackbird photograph was taken through the floor level opening.
  3. Raise the ground!!  The rears of the reflection pools at Pikelow and many of the logs and perches are at the same level as the viewing windows, making getting to eye-level easier.

So if you are looking down or up to focus on the subject's eyes, change position to try and get level wirth the eye.

More examples are in the gallery here


Black and White

January 17th 2019

Last weekend was rather a dull and flat, so rather than struggling looking for colour and features, I set off to Northwich to photograph some of the old, and new, black and white buildings - who needs colour.  Northwich has numerous old buildings that are half-timbered.  This architecture is reflected in several of the newer (although still empty) buildings of the recently developed Baron's Quay.

See more images from my day here

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

January 27th 2019

I did my Big Garden Birdwatch at Pikelow Farm, my favourite place for photographing woodland birds. As soon as I was settled in the hide at one of the feeding stations, I started counting, for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch you only need to count the maximum number of each species of bird at a time. After all how do you know (unless the birds are ringed) that the five blue tits on the feeders now are different to the five seen five minutes ago. Blue, great and long-tailed tits were almost constantly present and the occasional coal tit joined in. Finches were also enjoying the food with chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, bullfinch, brambling (including this male) and siskin all present. Other species included blackbird and robin, whilst a sparrowhawk did a fly through spooking all the smaller birds.


See more images from my day of brambling, chaffinch, siskin and bullfinch here

Texas - Lone Star Birding

Part One - Rockport

February 7th 2019

Julia and I are currently traveling from Houston, Texas, to the border with Mexico and then back to Houston.  After our ten hour flight and an overnight at Sugarland, we travelled down to Rockport on February 3rd to take a boat trip to look for Whooping Cranes.  Our journey down was uneventful, our hired Ford Explorer effortlessly eating up the miles (and petrol).  We arrived to a sea mist reducing visibility to about 100m, but the boat trip still ran.  Reaching the artificial islands and lagoons we were soon watching Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue and Tri-coloured Herons; waders included Willets and Greater Yellowlegs; ducks included Blue-winged Teal, Shoveler and Pintail.  Birds of prey were also well represented with Crested Caracara, White-tailed Hawk, Osprey and Peregrine.  

After distant views of several Whooping Cranes, we eventually came across two adults and their single youngster  close to the shore.  After photographing the birds for the best part of 15 minutes, we headed back to the quay and onwards to accommodation for the next few days.

Over the next three days we explored the various wetlands around Rockport, including Aransas Wildlife Refuge.  At Aransas Alligator and Collared Pecary stole the show.  Our days were filled with herons, egrets, ibis, cranes waders and wildfowl.  Whooping Cranes, Brown and American Pelicans featured on our lists everyday, passerines were hard to find, Savanah Sparrow and Yellow-rumped Warblers seemed to be every other bird we looked at!!

Images from the days around Rockport can be found here.

Texas - Lone Star Birding

Part Two:  Rockport to the Rio Grande

February 17th 2019

The second instalment of our Lone Star Birding Trip follows our journey from Rockport down to McAllen in the Rio Grande.  After leaving Rockport we headed south to Corpus Christi and the Botanic Gardens.  Upon arrival we noticed a male American Kestrel posing on the  overhead wires in the car park.  After paying out admission charge we followed the path to the wetland area,  a large lake and swamp with various herons and wildlfowl, plus hunting Northern Harrier.  So birds included Great Kiskadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Groove-billed Ani.  A single Texas Tortoise leisurely ambled across the road in front of us.  After a bite for lunch we headed to  the beach and inland pools to look to sandpipers, godwits and plovers.  Almost as soon as we reached the first the pools the rain started and viewing was difficult, although it was hard to miss several hundred Redhead on one of the pools.  Waders included Least Sandpiper, Killdeer and  Semi-palmated Plover.  A high tide roost at the Hans Sulter Reserve in Corpus Christi Bay held several Black Skimmer amongst the Laughing Gulls.   We headed to our base in Kingsville for the next couple of nights, 

On the 8th February we had a full day at King's Ranch organised and were lead by Barbara, a birdwatching guide who works at the Ranch., who'd cut her birding teeth at Galverston.  King Ranch is well known as a spring / summer destination for Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, but our tour today was to two areas of the ranch which didn't support the owl. We explored the vast areas of prairie and scrub which were interspersed with ephemeral ponds, topped up by recent rain.  Scrub and prairie birds seen included Vermillion Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Sandhill  Crane, Long-billed Thrasher, Common Ground Dove and Crested Caracara.  A small feeding station attracted Green Jay, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Northern Cardinal.  After lunch we visited a vast area of farmland, stretching as far as you could see.  The main crop from this area is cotton and is appeared bird-less at first, but before long w were picking up movement in the earth - the occasional Killdeer or Mourning Dove, and then the first of the target birds for the afternoon Sprague's Pipit.  This pipit frequents the weedy margins of the roads, and when flushed by the vehicle, would run ahead and keep looking back over it's shoulder.  Our second target bird, Burrowing Owl, fell soon after, peering over piles of stones and boulders near a culvert.  A third target bird was a long shot - Mountain Plover_ and we failed to see any, but you can't win them all.

On 9th we continued south towards McAllen, stopping off at the Laguna Atascosa NWR

Images from Corpus Christi and King Ranch can be found here.

Texas - Lone Star Birding

Part Three: The Rio Grande

February 17th 2019

Our tour of Texas included several days based at McAllen - an excellent base to explore the Rio Grande (before a certain American President gets to build his wall) and see some species that are at the north of their range.  The Rio Grande has a lot of State Parks and Wildlife Refuges - we had time to take in four of the best.

Before heading to McAllen we stopped at the Laguna Atascosa NWR.  Although some of the trails were closed we still saw a lot of this wetland site.  The usual species of heron and egret were present on the various wetland areas, Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes were both seen along the approach road.  The feeding station attracted Green Jay, Northern Cardinal, Olive Sparrow and White-tipped Doves.  We were "put on to" a Common Paraque roosting on the woodland floor.  This is a nightjar-like bird cryptically camouflaged amongst the dead wood nd leaves. Three species of mammal were also noted at the feeding station - Brown Rat, White-tailed Deer and Eastern Cottontail.

After a very comfortable night at the Double Tree Hilton in McAllen we set off for the Santa Ana NWR on the Rio Grande.  This is a very workable site with all the trails starting and finishing at a central hub.  Habitats include sub-tropical woodland, marshes and pools as well as part of the Rio Grande itself.  The wetlands supported several species of wildfowl; Blue-winged Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mottled Duck and Cinnamon Teal.  Waders included Black-necked Stilt, Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpiper.  The woodlands were harder work, but yielded Verdin and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, a Common Paraque was seen on the woodland floor.  Vermillion Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee and Eastern Pheobe perched and dashed for flies around the shores of the pools.  The feeding stations were well received by lots of Red-winged Blackbird, Altamira Oriole, Inca Dove and Northern Cardinal.  We had planned to just spend a half-a-day here, but there was so much to see, we stayed all day.

The following day we headed west to Falcon State Park, hoping for some of the arid scrub specialists.  The bird gods though seemed to be against us and we again saw lot's of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Orange-crowned Warblers and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers.  Whilst pishing one of the Gnatcatchers caught our eye as looking and sounding different and when it eventually showed, the dark head and tail  confirmed the ID as a Back-tailed Gnatcatcher.  Sparrows again proved elusive, but we were eventually rewarded with good views (but poor photo's) of Black-throated Sparrow.  After leaving Falcon SP, we popped to a private site in Salineño.  Here one of the many Texan winter RV visitors invites birders to his garden, where sat in the comfort of white plastic garden chairs to watch the myriads of birds that visit his feeding station.  I have to be honest it was one of the best feeding stations we have visited for photography and on many occasions birds were to close for the 400mm f/4!!  Olive and Lincoln Sparrows fed almost at our feet along with House Sparrows; Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers fed on half oranges and peanut butter, Altamira, Hooded and Audobon Oriole visited the feeders, with Green Jays, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles constantly present.  Our final stop for the day was at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, as the Park was closed we had a brief walk along the Levee adding Black Pheobe to our trip list.

A selection of images from our stay in the far south of can be seen here.

Texas - Lone Star Birding

Part Four: Galveston - The Final Leg

February 19th 2019

After our final day at the Rio Grande, we made the long drive up to Galveston via a couple of stops en route.  We arrived at Galveston in the late afternoon after a 450 mile drive.  During the journey north we came across a few flocks of Sandhill Crane, including one that exceeded 500 birds.  Roadside raptors included both vulture species, Red-tailed, White-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks and American Kestrel.  A flock of Snow Geese were present on the salt-marsh at Brazoria NWR.

After the drive on the 12th,  we decided on a more leisurely approach to Wednesday starting at the East Beach at Galveston Island and finishing at the Galveston Island State Park at the west end of the island.  Birding was excellent with good numbers of waders, herons and egrets seen.  Roosting waders at East Beach included several Semipalmated Plover and the rarer Piping Plover, with Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover and the odd Least Sandpiper.  Black Skimmers were roosting on the beach and Brown Pelicans flew up and down off shore.

After leaving the East Beach we headed back into Galveston and one of the parks to see if we could pick up any woodland birds.  These were thin on the ground but w had the added bonus of a very close Rd-shouldered Hawk feeding in the park.   After a lunch stop we headed to West Bay where we got close views of Yellow-crowned Night Heron and White Ibis amongst other shorebirds.  Birds of prey included Osprey, Northern Harrier and American Kestrel.  

Our quest for sparrows then took us to the Galveston Island State Park.  The only sparrows we cam across where Savanah Sparrows, but a Northern Flicker and White-tailed Kite, made up for the lack of sparrows.

For our second day at Galveston we headed towards Houston to Brazos Bend State Park - an area of marshes, freshwater ponds, hanging Spanish moss woodland, prairie.  As expected the site supported a very diverse bird fauna.  Wetland birds were very much the same as we'd seen previously, but the birds here are used to people walking around the various trails and so close approach is possible.  Duck included Wood Duck, Blue-winged Teal and Ring-necked Duck.  The woodlands promised to hold woodpeckers and are also known as a good site for Barred Owl.  Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were seen, whilst a Barred Owl was surprisingly easy to see.    Our day ended watching hundreds of Turkey Vulture and tens of Black Vulture coming in to roost.

We had on full day now left in Texas and we decided to do a circular route from Galveston to Barzoria NWR.  A vast area of saltmarsh, prairie and lagoons.  Our target bird here was Boat-tailed Grackle.  This bird is very similar to Great-tailed Grackles we'd seen most days.  The eye though is dark in Boat-tailed Grackle, and the head slightly more rounded. We expected it was going to be a challenge looking for Boat-tailed Grackle amongst flocks of Great-tailed Grackles.  Imagine our surprise when the first bird we looked at when getting out of the car was a singing Boat-tailed Grackle!!  Walking the first trail birds we were now getting familiar with appeared.  We then took the auto-trail to various pools and view-points; American Alligators, various herons and egrets, wildfowl and other water birds all apparent.  At one viewing point we could see several large gulls roosting, mostly American Herring Gulls but t wo or three darker mantled birds warranted scoping.  Amongst the American Herring Gull were three or four Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single Great Black-backed Gull - two unexpected trip ticks.  Once we'd finished on the trails we drove along a minor road running through the Refuge, hoping to find either Snow Geese or Greater White-fronted Geese.  Eventually we came to a flooded field and a few heads of Greater White-fronted Geese.  Stopping the car and scanning carefully more geese were seen and as Northern Harrier flew over around 250 geese - all Greater White-fronts - got to the air, along with several hundred wildfowl.  As we were about to depart a flock of 50 Snow Geese flew over.  

Starting our return journey we headed towards Oyster Creek and the coastal return to Galveston.  After crossing over from Surfside to San Luis Pass, we stopped to scan for waders.  A flock of 100 or so American Avocet were soon found, much smaller numbers of Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover and Marbled Godwit were also roosting on the tide line with Black Skimmers and Laughing Gulls.  We then moved to West Bay and to check for rails - almost as common as sparrows!  The private jetties held large numbers of Laughing Gulls and Brown Pelicans; eventually we saw two American Oystercatcher - a species that had eluded us for the last two weeks.

As we didn't need to be Houston Airport until mid-Afternoon we decided to visit the WG Jones Forest Park.  This site supports eight species of woodpecker including the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  With hopes high, but also knowing that our chances would be better in the spring when birds were calling we set off along the trails.  The first bird we saw was a small Brown-headed Nuthatch (another bird for which the sit is known for).  Our hopes increased, especially when some gentle pishing attracted Caroline Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Woodpecker.  Success a Red-cockaded Woodpecker was loosely associating with the flock.  We stayed put hoping for better views, instead we then added Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers to our day list.  Walking further on we saw a pair of Pileated Woodpecker fly through the woodland and then a small Downy Woodpecker put in an appearance!!  Six species of woodpecker in less than an hour!!  Walking on towards the Northern Boundary Trail we came to some residential properties backing on to the Park, some with well stocked feeders,  Northern Cardinal, Mockingbird and Blue Jays all availed themselves of the feast and all too soon, it was time to head back to the car and the airport.  Walking back to the car we stopped as we got showered by wood chippings.  A male Red-cockaded Woodpecker was hammering away at the trunk of pine above our heads.  A fantastic finish to our trip.

We'd covered 1950 miles in the fortnight, seen 192 species of bird, 14 of mammal (admittedly about half were only seen as road-kill), American Alligator, three tortoise / turtles, a couple of Lizard species and about 20 species of butterfly.

A selection of images from our final few days can be seen here

Tadpole development

March 23rd 2019

One my current projects is to follow the development of frog tadpoles from egg stage to when they leave the pond as froglets.

I collected a small amount of frog spawn from Pikelow and transferred to one of my glass tanks.  I'd added water to the tank the previous day,  to allow it to "nature" before adding the spawn; this is also allows any oxygen bubbles to dissipate.  After a week the tadpoles started to emerge and I set about photographing them on a daily basis.  Within a few days they had lost their external gills and were rapidly growing.  

To obtain the photos I used a I 216PCS LED Dimmable Ultra High Power Panel on each side of the tank, with a Canon 580 EXII flash and diffuser over the tank.  A Manfrotto articulated arm held the flash, which was in E-TTL mode.   I have two macro lens: a Canon 100m f/2.8 macro and Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro. Both lens were used with a variety of Canon auto extension tubes.  By mounting the camera and lens on macro-rail, I could make fine adjustments to the focus as required.    Most images were taken at 1/250sec at f/11, with an ISO of 100.

You can follow  the development of the tadpoles here

Frogpoles or Tadpoles

April 7th 2019

The frog tadpoles continue to grow, but they have yet to develop any legs.  I did though acquire some toad spawn a couple of weeks ago and these have now hatched, so interesting to see the difference between the frog tadpoles and toad tadpoles.  The toadpoles are darker than the frogpoles and have a blunter face and short tail.  The lower eight images here are of toad tadpoles.

Hare today

April 7th 2019

A visit to Pikelow this morning with the aim of photographing Tree Sparrows was interrupted by the appeaance of a brown hare in the field behind the feeders.  I normally make an evening visit to Pikelow to photograph the brown hare from a screen that overlooks one of the fields, so was a pleasant surprise.   As always the tree sparrows put in regular appearances at the feeders.  Click here for some shots from the day.

A Night out with the Owls

May  5th 2019

A short while ago I learnt (through Facebook) of a hide on the Cheshire / Welsh border where Little Owl could be photographed. I therefor contacted Alan Scoullar who operates the hide with Gary Jones. My first attempt was met with failure, the constant rain and wind deters the Little Owls from coming for the mealworms left out for them. Undeterred I arranged to go again a few days later. Before dark the first Little Owl left it's roost and perched up, giving good but distant views. As darkness approached, both birds started calling and before long the male bird appeared, giving frame-filling shots with the 400mm f/4 on the Canon 7D. Alan had set three LED lights up to illuminate the bird in front of the hide, even then I had to set the ISO to 6,400 and at an aperture of f/4 to get 1/100 sec shutter speed! We photographed the birds until 22.30 (having entered the hide at 18.00) and then left for the home. Despite the high ISO and LED lighting I got some amazing results and hope to return in a few weeks when the owls are feeding young.

My favourite shots from the night are here.

A Trip out for Dotterel

May  6th 2019

The Dotterel is one of the UK's rarest breeding waders, but unlike most of our waders, this bird is restricted to high-tops in Scotland in the breeding season, migrating to North Africa for the winter.  So to see Dotterel can involve a long drive to Speyside, then a long walk up to the top of Cairngorm and a lot of luck to find a pair.  

However in spring small parties of Dotterel, called Trips, stop off almost anywhere, as they migrate northwards.  These Trips often stay for several days and two birds (a male and a female) arrived on th Cheshire / Derbyshire border near the Cat and Fiddle on 5th May.  With a free day on Bank Holiday Monday I set off after a leisurely breakfast for the Cat and Fiddle.  After parking safely at Danebower I headed north along the track to the Cat and Fiddle, following directions from a birder who had just come down off the moors.  It took about 30 minutes to reach the area the Dotterel were favouring.  I was accompanied by singing Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Wheatear.  Upland waders including Golden Plover and Curlew were also displaying, and ever present Red Grouse were telling me to "Go Back, Go Back!".

I arrived at my destination and soon found the two Dotterel feeding.  Crouching low I patiently waited for the Dotterel, hoping they would come nearer.  Each time they went in a dip, I crawled forward, stopping when the birds appeared.  We played Grandmother's Footsteps for the next 30 minutes or so - the birds oblivious to my presence.  As these birds breed in the high tundra and rarely see humans, they are very tolerant of people.  Unusually it is the female who is the more brightly coloured of the pair, after mating and egg-laying, she leaves the duller male to do all the incubating and raising the young on his own!!

After a couple of hours I retraced my steps back to the car.  A selection of images can be seen here

Ffestiniog Slate Mines

May  19th 2019

I occasionally try something (for me) a bit different and Saturday 18th May found me joining a workshop on Landscape Photography led by David Yeoman.  I've attended a few of David's workshops, and he has certainly inspired me to leave the long lens and explore opportunities with wide-angle lens.  Today we were exploring the old slate quarries near Ffestiniog, starting out at around 9.00 and spending the next seven hours exploring the derelict buildings, scenery and machinery around the area.    Two lens made up my kit for today - the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 and the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8, and of course the Manfrotto 055 with a ball and socket head.

Images from my trip can be seen here

Bear Essentials

May  29th 2019

What an amazing few days.  I've just returned from five nights of photographing  Brown Bears in Finland with Bear Photos Ltd.  Run by award winning photographers, Kyle Moore and Harry Read, the company offer bear photography holidays at Wild Brown Bear in Finland, a top site for watching and photographing bears in their natural surroundings.

After a hearty early evening meal at 16:00 hrs we set off to the hides at around 17:00 each day.  With just under 30 hides available, we could choose where we were to spend the night.  Each hide is equipped with a narrow viewing slot and four (at least) photography apertures with fabric snouts to conceal the photographer.  The hides have bunks and sleeping bags for sleeping and a basic "bucket" toilet.  After all you are spending 14 hours in the hide.

Each night was different, and each hide offered different views and photo-opportunities.  Some overlooked lakes, swampy areas or bits of the forest.  The first night was a very much a baptism of fire for first time photographers.  At least two different males, and two different females (one with three cubs in tow) were seen.  May is the rutting season for Brown Bear, so the males were following the females (and would do so until they had mated.  So at times we had several bears in view at the same time.

The bears are encouraged to the areas in front of the hides by the provision of small lumps of meat placed on the ground and under heavy timber boxes.  The boxes stop the assorted gulls and Hooded Crows from stealing the meat, but the Brown Bears and Wolverines, can lift the boxes and at the meat.  It was quite often 21.30 before the bears arrived, but with almost 24 hours of daylight, they were still visible, although a high ISO was needed.  Click here to see some of my Brown Bear Images

The lakes also attracted a few water birds - Goldeneye, Mallard, Teal, Goosander, Greenshank and Wood Sandpiper; the Taiga Forest held Tree Pipit, Tengmalm's Owl and Red-flanked Bluetail all heard (but not seen).

The days were spent resting, processing images or photographing the birds and Red Squirrels coming to the food put down for them at the bird hide near to the accommodation. Northern Bullfinch, Siberian Jay, Siberian Tit, Crested Tit were amongst the species visiting.  Bird and squirrel images are here

Birthday Blues

June 11th 2019

Birthdays are times for celebration and 2019 was no different for me.  Don't be put off by the title of this Blog but read on.

Picking up Julia from work at Wrexham on Friday afternoon,  I continued along the A55 towards Anglesey, where we had planned to spend the weekend at Taldrwst Farm house near Newborough.  Fortified by an excellent breakfast we set off for the day, meeting up with friends for a coffee at Treaddur Bay (well it was raining) having a great catch-up before headed to Cemlyn Bay,  This coastal reserve supports a colony of gulls and terns - several hundred pairs of Black-headed Gull, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns and a single pair of Mediterranean Gull.  Other birds present included a pair of Shelduck with a creche of chicks and Red-breasted Merganser.

Our next port of call was the Malltreath Marshes, now known as the Cors Ddyga RSPB reserve.  A fantastic area of reedbeds and grazing marshes, this SSSI was notified for its breeding bird community of lowland damp grassland, as a threatened habitat of wet meadows, and for the botanical interest of its ditches and watercourses.  Much of the botanical interest is out of bounds but we saw a good variety of Odonata including some scarce species such as Hairy Dragonfly and Variable Damselfly, one managed to find a single Southern Damselfly, which we were surprised at as they tend to be restricted to the fenland area of Cors Erddreinogg.  With the addition Azure Damselflies, I'd really had the Birthday Blues!  Birds noted included Marsh Harrier, Bittern and Cetti's Warbler.  

Our final stop for the day was at Newborough Warren for a brief walk around the dunes.  Common Blue and Small Heath butterflies were noted, whilst Skylarks sang overhead and scratchy whitethroats sang from the scrub.

Sunday morning and the sun was shining so we set off to South Stack.  The cliffs here are full of auks - Guillemots, Razorbill and Puffin,. Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake and Fulmar all breed on the cliffs.  Our target for the day was not the seabirds but to photograph Chough.   We managed to locate a pair feeding on the cliffs and spent a pleasant 30 minutes or so photographing them.  

After lunch we returned to Cors Dddyga, this time armed with the 100mm f/2.8 so I was able to get shots of some of the dragonflies and damselflies, but couldn't find any Southern Damsels.

As always images are here

Yaffling about

June 16th 2019

Wildlife Photography Hides at Bourne in South Lincs, have several excellent photography hides.  Some of these are permanent and are probably the best hides I have used.  They are glazed with one way glass, so that you have an unrestricted view, but the creatures outside can't see you.  Add the circular lens holes with material to surround your lens and all you need are the birds to photograph.  Other hides are tower hides with fabric camouflage cover on scaffold.  It was to one of these I went on Saturday to photograph a pair of nesting Green Woodpecker.

During my five hours in the hide the male and female visited the nest hole five or six times. They would call with their typical "Yaffle" to announce that they were arriving with food for the youngsters.  The male would land beneath the nest hole and wait a while before entering, whilst the female flew to the tree, about 10 foot below the nest hole and the climbed up the tree and go straight into the nest hole.  

The afternoon was spent in the Dyke Hide which is built into the side of a dyke so offers ground level views of the birds.  Unfortunately the Green Woodpeckers decided not give a repeat performance and left the mealworms untouched.  I had to be content with photographing House Sparrows, but after the morning's session on the Tower Hide I wasn't complaining.

Photos of the male and female Green Woodpeckers and the House Sparrows can be seen here.

June 23rd 2019

I made a return visit to Alan Scouller's Little Owl Hide on the Cheshire / Welsh border on Friday evening.  The adult Little Owls are now feeding young and visit the hide area almost all the time, where they help themselves to earth and mealworms provided for them.  The photo opportunities are second to none, and with the owls feeding their young during daylight there is no need for supplementary lighting.  A visit in the evening provides some great backlighting, as the sun goes down, whilst somewhat challenging, the results speak for themselves.  

July 7th 2019

With a few days off work for Julia and I, we decided to head to the Somerset Levels for a short break.  We've made many visits to the area, in particular the Avalon Marshes.  This vast reedbed complex is managed by Natural England, the RSPB and the Somerset Wildlife Trust. These areas have been created from old peat workings and are now a mature and thriving wetland made up of extensive reedbeds and open water, grassland and woodlands.  We had chosen to stay in Meare just a five-minute drive from the Reserves.

After a three hour drive on Thursday we arrived at Ashcroft, we had a quick lunch and headed to Collard Hill near Street.  This National Trust property is famous for the introduced Large Blue butterfly; we were fortunate to see two or three individuals, but none stayed still long enough for a photograph. Other butterflies seen included Common Blue, Brown Argus, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Small Heath, Small Skipper and Painted Lady.  Emperor dragonflies hawked over the meadows and a single Keeled Skimmer was seen.   Prior to checking in at our accommodation, we made out first visit to Ham Walls RSPB Reserve, spending some time around the pools near the car park.  Emperor dragonflies were ovipisting and four-spotted chasers patrolled the edge of the pool.  Red-eyed and Small Red-eyed, Blue-tailed and Azure Damselflies were also noted.  The wetland on the reserve provided our first views of Marsh Harrier and Great Egret of the trip, plus a single Hobby as we returned to our and headed back to our hotel for the evening.

Friday morning we went to the RSPB's Greylake Reserve.  This is  a small reserve that certainly delivers with breeding waders on the wet grassland and Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers in the reedbeds.  The reserve is also good for dragonflies and Scarce Chaser seemed to be the most abundant.  Several Grass Snakes were seen as they retreated from the footpath edges into the grass and reedbeds. From Greylake we drove to the Somerset Wildlife Trust's Catcott Complex.  Upon entering the hide a quick scan soon produced around 13 Cattle Egrets roosting in the rushes and several Little Egrets feeding.  The pools were covered with dragonflies and damselflies, Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers, Emperors and Brown Hawkers plus numerous damselflies to far away for identification.  It was only a matter of time before a Hobby came through grabbing and devouring a dragonfly in flight.  After lunch we returned to Ham Walls and after a while around the pools in the car park (where had brief glimpses of a male Lesser Emperor) we headed to the Avalon Hide with views over the reedbed and pools from an elevated position.  Great Crested Grebe and Pochard were feeding young in front of the hide and both Little and Great White Egrets fed in the margins.  Both Marsh Harriers and Bittern were seen, but neither came close enough for photographs - or to be honest I just couldn't get the autofocus to lock onto a Bittern even though it flew right in front of us!  Black-tailed Skimmers basked on the footpath as we walked to and from the hide.

Saturday was out last day of this short break and we spent the morning at Ham Walls again, although we saw nothing new, we still managed several photos of egrets, Great Crested Grebe, Pochard and a few more dragonflies.

A gallery of images is here

July 14th 2019

During the week I upgraded on my 7D's to the full-frame 5D MkIV.  Whilst a crop sensor (which the 7D has), provide a bit more reach with 400mm and 600mm lens, the full frame 5D MkIV has 30 Megapixel and 61 AF points.

Where better to try out the camera than the hides at Pikelow.  The feeding stations were not as busy as usual, probably because the local sparrowhawks are now feeding young, the inexperienced birds at the feeders making up a proportion of their food.  Never-the-less there was a constant procession of   goldfinch, greenfinch, blue and great tits and tree sparrows to the feeders, whilst great-spotted woodpeckers and a treecreeper were feeding on the fat wedges into nooks and crannies on the tree branches and stumps.

Must admit I am well pleased with the results so far - see here

July 22nd 2019

Wildlife Photography Hides near Bourne in Lincolnshire, offer some of the best hides I have ever used, both regards comfort, design and photographic opportunities.  Various hides are available offering day and night photography for a variety of species, many of them targeted. 

I spent 24 hours at the hides on Saturday starting at 06:00 with four hours at the Dyke Hide in the hope of photograph Green Woodpeckers.  Unfortunately they were a no-show, but House Sparrow, Robin and Dunnock helped themselves to mealworms.  At 10:00 we were driven to a tower hide set up overlooking an active Sparrowhawk nest with two well grown young.  The hide is about 6m above the ground on secure scaffolding.  The female Sparrowhawk visited the nest several times with food for the young, sometimes leaving prey in the nest for them, on others feeding the young.  After lunch I returned to the Dyke Hide, but again the Green Woodpeckers failed to show.  A short break for a pub meal and I returned to the Wired Hide for an overnight session for Tawny and Barn Owls.

The hide is equipped with LED flood lights and four remote off camera flashes.  The owls are fed regularly here on mice and day-old chicks.  They are undisturbed by the lights, so return for food as and when they want.   The first Tawny Owl came for food at 22:00 and spent around 10 minutes feeding, before flying off.  A Barn Owl did a fly-fast around 22:30, but didn't stop for food.  I replenished the food supply, but by then I was too tired to stay awake, so slept in the hide, planning to get a couple of hour shut-eye and resume photographing the owls.  After a long day it was just gone 05:00 in the morning.

August 26th 2019

We normally visit Tatton Park to photograph Red and Fallow Deer, but for a change decided on a visit to Dunham Massey.  Although only offering opportunities for Fallow Deer, Dunham Massey's car park and does open at 08:00, two hours earlier than at Tatton.  In addition it is possible to park in nearby streets and then walk in along the public footpaths to Dunham.

Although we'd planned to get to Dunham Massey for around 08:00, it was 09:30 when we arrived (well if you can't have a lie on a Bank Holiday, when can you?) .  Once in the park we followed the various footpaths looking for, and photographing, Fallow Deer.  A female Tufted Duck with her ducklings on one of the pools was a nice surprise, as we photographed them several noisy Ring-necked Parakeets called from the trees and a Green Woodpecker yaffled in the distance.  

Many of deer had their antlers still covered in velvet, others were starting to loose the velvet which hung off the antlers, some of which looked quite sore.

By 10:30 the parkland was getting busy with day visitors and getting any photographs of the deer without people, pushchairs or dogs in the background was becoming a challenge so we decided to call it a day.

September  17th 2019

See how we got on during our week in Tarifa - read the trip report here.

Dunham Revisited

October 5th 2019

I made another visit to Dunham, partially in the hope of getting some shots of Fallow Deer rutting, but also just to photograph the deer.  Unlike my visit in August when the deer were round the Hall and immediate surroundings, this time they took some finding, with many of them actually in the Deer Sancturay area.  Although we didn't see any rutting, some of the stags had obviously been busy as several were just laying down and resting. 

Otter night

October 22nd 2019

Tom Robinson's hides in Bourne - Wildlife Photography Hides - must be some the best in the UK.  I've made three visits to Tom's now, this weekend I was in the Dyke Hide for Sunday morning, starting at 07.00, then moved the Pond Hide before dusk for an overnight session.  The hides are very well constructed and dug into the ground so that you are photographing at ground / water level.  They all have one way glass with ports and snouts for lens, whilst you can see what is going on outside, the birds can't see you.

The Dyke Hide was great for woodland birds and it was third time lucky for Green Woodpecker; other birds photographed inluded Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, House Sparrow, Blue and Great Tit.   The Green Woodpecker  comes for live mealworms that are placed in a deep narrow container so that only the Green Woodpeckers long tongue can reach them.  The other birds are attracted to food put out on the ground and also in an assortment of feeders that out of view.  Excellent for perching birds. I spent a very satisfying eight hours in the hide (hot drinks and a toilet are available) before moving to the Pond Hide.

The Pond Hide has three aspects, one over the pond, one over a newly created pond and feeders and the third over an area set up for Tawny Owls.  My target for the night was Otter, but before darkness fell, I spent an hour photographing one of the Kingfishers which visits the pond.  As darkness fell, and the flash system was put out, I waited for the first otter sighting.  A Grey Heron was the first visitor though and stayed for a while, it wasn't until 19:15 that the first Otter arrived to feed on fish.  The Otter, a male or dog otter, stayed for around 15 minutes, but returned an hour later and stayed for half-an-hour.   As this hide is equipped with a bedroom and benches, sleeping is quite easy, so after almost 18 hrs of photography, I got my head down for a few hours, getting up around 0500 and continued to photograph a Grey Heron until dawn when the Kingfisher took back over for the day shift.  I eventually left at 10.00 - 27 hrs after starting!!

As you can imagine I got plenty of images, some of which are here


November 22nd 2019

Last weekend I popped down the road to run a small workshop at the Gauntlet Vulture and Bird of Prey near Knutsford.  The purpose of the day was to help a group of fellow photographers get to grips with photographing birds of prey, both at rest and also in flight.

We started with an indoor studio session photographing Tawny Owl and Red-backed (or Variable) Hawk.   With a break in the weather we ventured outside where we had the chance to photograph one of the falcons - a Gyrfalcon x Saker x Lanner Falcon, before trying some flight shots.  We started with a slow-flying Hooded Vulture before moving on to one of the falconers favourite bird, a Harris Hawk.  

Our next subject was a familiar UK falcon, a Kestrel.  Set on some boulders, this required us to get low down.  The best shots are always when you are level with the bird.  Finally we had another opportunity for flight shots with one of the larger owls - a Great Grey hybrid owl

As you can imagine I got plenty of images, some of which are here

Christmas Cake for the birds

November 29th 2019

With Christmas approaching, it's time to start thinking about Christmas food, especially the cake.  For me, though, it's cake with a difference - a bird cake.  To be honest, I make bird cake throughout the winter and use for getting photographs of birds away from the feeders.  

The bird cake is very easy to make and takes very little time,  for my latest mix I used the following:

  • 250g of lard
  • 200g of sunflower hearts
  • 200g of wild bird seed
  • 100g of chopped peanuts - use a blender to chop the peanuts, or crush them with a rolling pin

I warm the lard in a large mixing bowl placed on the top of our solid fuel stove - this allows me to watch the lard until has just melted - its helps to cut the lard into 25mm cubes first.  Alternatively warm the lard in a microwave.

When the lard is soft, gradually add the sunflower hearts, bird seed and crushed peanuts, mixing them into the lard until evenly distributed. 

Spoon the mxture into suitable containers for use / storage.  I use 500g yogurt cartons.  These can either be hung out for the birds, or the mixture can be wedged into crevices in trees or holes drilled into logs / branches for more natural photographs, as can be seen by clicking here.

Pine Marten

December 12th 2019

With a couple days of annual leave left I headed up to Perthshire , having booked in at Sue and Mark's at Penny Hedge, to photograph Pine Marten from the comfort of their garden hide!  I arrived at Penny Hedge shortly after 10.00 and Mike soon settled me in at the hide.  My morning was to be spent photographing various woodland birds (providing me with images with different backgrounds to Pikelow) and red squirrels.  The light wasn't fantastic, so photographing the red squirrels as they leapt across to the hazelnuts, proved to be a challenge, which, I although I accepted getting a shutter speed fast enough (1/2000 sec) proved impossible with a reasonable ISO.  Fortified with coffee and lemon drizzle cake from Sue, I spent a very pleasant four hours in the hide before the light began to fade and the heavens opened.  The feeders were constantly attracting blue, great and coal tits, the odd long-tailed tit, chaffinch and siskin.  A pair of great-spotted woodpeckers put in several visits.

I headed back to my accommodation to process some images and get a meal before heading back (in heavy rain) to Penny Hedge for an evening session photographing Pine Marten.  Mike had set up the flash system and the flood lights turned on.  Mike put out food for the Pine Martens - peanuts, raisons and grapes, and we settled down to wait.  It was around an hour before the first Pine Marten appeared, but he (or she) seemed a bit weary as the wind gusted.  All was not lost as it (or another) returned about 20 minutes later and proceeded to walk up the branch towards the food.  The individual fed happily undisturbed by the flash.  Once it had it's fill it returned to the woods.  We stayed another hour, but no return visit, so satisfied I left at 22.30.  As usual click here for some images from the day.

I'm already thinking of returning in May, hopefully to get jumping shots of Red Squirrel and Pine Marten.

What a hoot - Gauntlet Jan 2020

January 11th 2020

First workshop of the year and ten participants at Gauntlet near Knutsford.  We started the workshop with brief introductions and some indoor photography with constant lighting.  Barn owl and red kite posed well for us, before we move outside for some natural light photography of kestrel, followed by attempts at flight photography of hooded vulture and Malaysian wood owl x great grey hybrid; both buffeted by the wind.  We returned to the studio for some nice portraits of two more owl - a great grey owl and the much smaller burrowing owl.

A selection of images can be seen here.    If you'd like to join in a future workshop, click here for further details.

January 21st 2020

With our trip to Cuba cancelled courtesy of Thomas Cook, we were struggling to find an alternative, until we decided to stay in the UK and have a few days photography.  We started our trip at the Tom Robinson's Pond Hide at Wildlife Photography Hides, near Bourne.  This was my second visit to the hide, but Julia's first.  The hide has one-way glass and snouts for photography on three aspects: one overlooking the pond, one a newly developed shallower pond and the third a feeding station, which is also used for tawny owls after dark.  The hide is heated and has small cooker, running water, a couple of beds and compost toilet - what more could you ask for (apart from wildlife!!)

We set two 7D cameras up at the pond - one with a 100-400mm f/5.6 - 6.3, the other the 70-200mm f2/8 and 1.4x convertor.  For the tawny owl we set up with 400mm f/4 on the 5Dmk IV and a 70-200mm f/2.8 on the a 7D.  Lighting was provided by remote triggers speedlights, set up by Tom.

Not long after sunset we had our first visitor, a grey heron, soon followed by the first otter visit of the night.  The otter, a male or dog, visited five times until my bed called at 04:30; on occasion a second small otter appeared, but the dog otter wasn't sharing his meal and chased the youngster / female away.  Grey herons visited on a few occasions.  The tawny owl put in an appearance from the other window, but our attention was on the otter, and we missed some of the visits by the tawnies.

Friday dawned fine and after breakfast and saying bye to Tom we headed towards Snettisham, wet and windy describes the weather, so we visited relatives and headed south to Hickling for the next couple of days.  We had arranged to meet Harry and Kyle (from BearPhoto) on Saturday  at Winterton before dawn; meeting up as planned we headed to the beach in search of seals to photograph.  The pups are all weaned by now and have been left by the females.  Once they have acquired their waterproof fur,  the seal pups will head off into the North Sea.  Only a couple of grey seals were left at Winterton, but provided some great photo-opportunities.  A flock of 50 or so snow buntings kept flying up and down the beach occasionally landing.

After breakfast we travelled up the coast to Horsey Gap.  The seal colony here is much larger than at Winterton, probably because access to the beach is prohibited whilst the seals are breeding.  We walked towards Winterton, beyond the main colony. heading down to the beach were a small group of grey seals were resting, amongst them a couple of harbour seal pups.  Whilst we were photographing these, Harry found a pup in the dunes, which proved to be very inquisitive, approaching us as we lay prone to photograph.

We left Harry and Kyle and headed to Hickling Broad for the Raptor Roost.  This was spectacular with around 40 marsh harriers coming in to roost, and at least a dozen common crane, the latter were disturbed by a fox that walked amongst them.  Two barn owls hinted the area for most of the evening.  Sunday was also spent at Hickling, but photo opportunities were few and far between.  Bearded tits were heard, but not seen, a pair of stonechat added interest and wildfowl included shoveler, wigeon, teal, mallard, gadwall and shelduck on the flooded fields, whilst goldeneye were present on the Broad itself.  The end of the day was again spent at the raptor roost with around 55 marsh harriers, merlin, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and at least three barn owl in attendance.  We also watched a couple of brown hare and Chinese water deer.

Plenty of images here

January 25th 2020

The plan for saturday evening was to do some low-light long-exposure photography around Salford Quays in Manchester.  Unfortunately various security guards decided that, as we had tripods, we were professional / commercial photographers and we were asked to move on.  We did get a few shots, but as we wandered around the quays we came across an exhibition of classic Porsche cars.    It became apparent that inside, in one of the studios was more information about the new Electric Porsche Taycan, and an opportunity to see them up close and even unrestricted photography.  A great way to rescue the evening.

For the "Petrol Heads" the new models will accelerate from 0-62 mph in under 3 secs; a top speed of 160 mph and a recharge time of 9hrs from flat.

Three models were available for view, with some superb lighting effects.

Plenty of images here

At last - Sunshine

February 23rd 2020

After almost a fortnight of strong winds and heavy rain (especially at weekends), a glimmer of sunshine on Sunday afternoon had me heading to Pikelow for a couple of hours.  Clear blue skies at one point produced amazing light, and even when the clouds returned, the light was still good enough to keep the ISO down.  The feeders were buzzing with the usual suspects, blue, great, coal and long-tailed tits, nuthatch, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch and bullfinch.  Several Siskin made brief appearances and tree sparrow numbers appeared to be up.  One the ground robin, wren, dunnock and blackbird cleaned up seed that had dropped from the feeders.

Plenty of images here

March 22nd  2020

With Covid-19 having an impact on all of our lives at the moment, it's important to comply with all the government advice, but at the same time we have to look after our mental well-being.  For me this has meant increased visits to the hides at Pikelow and Bickley Hall CWT Reserve and also to the hides operated by Nature Photography Hides near Droitwich Spa.  When at the hides I am on my own and make a point of handwashing before and after each visit, combined with use of hand sanitiser.

I made my last winter visit to Bickley Hall CWT Reserve, where small numbers of chaffinch and tree sparrow were visiting the supplementary feed.  I retrieved my hide for the summer, but am looking forward to returning next winter.

Some visits have gone better than others.  A day in the Kestrel Hide run by Nature Photography Hides, didn't yield any kestrel, even though they are regular feeders on the (dead) mice put out for them.  I did get nice shots of woodpigeon, stock dove and magpie though, so it was still an enjoyable day.  

The following day at Pikelow, things seems slow at the feeders, with the numbers of goldfinch and greenfinch much reduced, but blue, great, coal and long-tailed tit were ever present, with obliging great tit spending a prolonged period drinking at the reflection pool.  Highlight of the visit though was a young female sparrowhawk which spent 5 minutes sat on the hedge in front of the hide.

Plenty of images here

Small Mammal Photography

April 4th  2020

With all but non-essential travel advised against, I am unable to visit the hides at Pikelow at the moment.  Whilst I could claim it's essential for my mental well-being, it would be stretching the point a bit.  Instead I am restricted to photography in the garden.  This is quite limited for me; our garden is quite small and whilst the feeders are always busy,  they don't really lend themselves to photography, but there are more than birds in our garden.

With several glass fish tanks in storage, I've set up another tank for small mammal photography.  The tank I'm currently using is 600mm x 300mm x 300mm.  The key with photographing small mammals in a tank (apart from catching the mammals) is to make sure that the glass is as clean as possible, not just the side you are photographing through, but all sides that are visible.  I have a 4mm gauge wire mesh on the top of the tank, anything larger and small mammals can get through it.  It's advisable to have the tank set up and ready, making it look as natural as possible.  I currently have some old fence panels at the rear of my tank to provide a background and have placed a few branches and plenty of fried leaves on the bottom.  Other tanks in the studio have a mock brick background, with some old flower pots, a bit like an untidy garden.  On occasion I may fill the base of the tank with turves of grass, but have to make sure that grass fits snugly otherwise the mice or voles get into any gaps. Another tank is has a timber floor, skirting and a shelf with tins on - ideal for house mice.

To avoid getting my own reflection in the image, I wear dark clothing and gloves, and try and photograph with a dark background behind me.

So far I have photographed bank, field and water vole, house, wood and harvest mouse, and water shrew: the water vole and water shrew photography was undertaken at the West Country Wildlife Photography Centre.

Click here to see some of my small mammal images

May 15th  2020

With Lock Down easing, I thought I'd reflect on some of the images I've taken over the last few weeks.  I've spent a lot time photographing various insects in the garden.  I  mostly use the Canon 7D with the 100mm f/2.8 macro as the cropped sensor provide more magnification and a greater working distance than the 5D MkIV.  If the subject is static and not as likely to be disturbed if I cast a shadow on it.  For some images I used a Canon MX14ii Ring Flash for infill flash.

Depth of field can be an issue with macro photography, using infill flash, allowed most images to be taken at 1/250th second at f/11.  Another way is to take a series of image adjusting the focal point and then stacking the images in Photoshop.

Click here to see some of the Lock Down Macro shots

In a Flash - Overnight Photography

June 29th  2020

I was pleased to here that Tom Robinson had re-opened his Wildlife Photographic Hides in Lincolnshire and immediately made plans to do another overnight session in the Pond Hide for Kingfishers, Otter, Grey Heron and Tawny Owl, followed by a morning at the Wired Hide for Kestrel.  As usual I was not disappointed.  I arrived at the Pond Hide at 07:00 and spent the daylight hours photographing Kingfisher, Moorhen and Black-headed Gull, plus Black-tailed Skimmers.  As darkness approached the Flash systems were set up on the pond for Otter and Grey Heron and also over the area where the Tawny Owls fed.  The owls, complete with youngster, arrived just after 22:00, but I had to wait until midnight for the Otter to show and 01:00 for the Grey Heron, but well worth it.  After a few hours kip (the pond hide has a bed and also a long bench for sleeping on, plus toilet, cooking facilities and kettle) I moved to the Wired Hide for a few hours photographing the Kestrels, including the fledged young from a nearby nest.

Plenty of images to enjoy here

August 21st  2020

This week I should have been photographing brown bears and oo be ather carnivores in Finland, but Covid-19 had resulted in no internal flights in Finland, so our trip was cancelled.  Julia and I decided that the next best thing would be to spend some time photographing a couple of Scotland's iconic mammals - Pine Marten and Red Squirrel, so we booked ourselves in at Penny Hedge for a day, and arranged a few nights  self-catering accommodation at Ardormie Farm Cottage.

We arrived at Ardormie mid-afternoon on Sunday, and after a brew unpacking set about photographing some of the birds around the farm - plenty of Swallows, House Martins and House Sparrows.   The light was rather flat, but it was still bright enough to use the 600mm f/4 and 2x convertor.  We retired early after setting the moth trap - this was to be come a pattern most evenings..  

We were due at Penny Hedge for 10.00, so had plenty of time to check through the Large Yellow Underwings for other species, which included Autumnal Rustic, Black Rustic and Feathered Gothic.  We arrived at Penny Hedge on time and caught up with Sue and Mark before settling down in-front of the hide to photograph the Red Squirrels and woodland birds.  The squirrels and birds are used to photographers and sitting outside doesn't deter them.  We spent a very pleasant couple of hours photographing the squirrels, Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Chaffinches and titmice.  The occasional Siskin put in an appearance, but the Crossbills kept to the tops of the larch and pine trees.

Mark had showed us how to set the jump up for the Red Squirrels, so we decided to give it a go.  The key was to pre-focus, set the shutter speed to around 1/3200 and wait for the squirrel to jump and press the shutter and hope that one of the shots is in focus!!  We spent at least an hour on the jump, before trying to some wide-angle shots with the 17-40mm f/4, sitting beneath a branch on which hazelnuts had placed.  Around 15:00 we headed off to do a food shop, get tea and also download a few images, returning around 20:00 to concentrate on Pine Martens.

When we arrived, the LED spot-light was on and two sets of remote flash were ready, so that Julia and I could each fire a couple of flashes when we were photographing.  As before recommended setting were given, although I did tweak them a bit for my own preferences.  The Pine Martens here love grapes and dried fruit, but so do a couple of Brown Rats!!  The rats first showed around 20:30, and we had to wait until 22:30 for the Pine Marten to put in an appearance, which it did for the next half-an-hour.  We left, well pleased, at 23:00!

After a full on day on Monday, we took Tuesday with an afternoon visit to Glenshee.  Our target mammal was Mountain Hare and we expected a long walk to the tops (the Ski LIfts were not working).  Ptarmigan, Dotterel and Snow Bunting would have been bonus's.  We didn't need to get to the tops, and to be honest we didn't fancy the long walk!!  Shortly after watching a distant Mountain Hare, we were treated to a fly by from an adult White-tailed Eagle!!

Wednesday was spent touring round Loch Rannoch, so little photography.  Before departing on Thursday, I spent an hour on the House Martins at the farm.

September 23rd 2020

It doesn't seem a month since my last blog, but we haven't been idle.  On September 13th Julia and I spent 24 hours in the Pond Hide at the Wildlife Photography Hides in Bourne,  yet again coming away with lots of images of Kingfishers, Otters, Grey Heron and Tawny Owl.

We started the day at 07:00 and were soon settled in, ready to photograph the first visitors.  At least three different Kingfishers put in appearances and diving for fish.  During the day we were able to change the perches and the position of the "diving" bowl to allow is to get a variety of shots.  As dusk approached Tom came along and set up the remote flash systems for the overnight session.  The use of remote flash allowed Julia and I to trigger the flash guns independently.  For the otters we had two front lights and then two lights front left, two front right and one each at rear left and rear light, with individual control over the flash output from each bank of lighting.  For the Tawny we had a simpler system with just two flash lights each (one on the left front and one on right front)..

We didn't have t wait long for a first visitor, a Grey Heron, this was closely followed by one of the Tawny Owls.  It wasn't until around 22:00 hours that the female Otter and her two youngsters put in an appearance, but they entertained us until the early hours.  

It must have been about 02:00 before we eventually got some kip,  We were up again at 06:00 to get some more shots of the Grey Heron, this time with a gentle mist over the pond.  We left the hide around 07:00, 24 hours after entering.  It's a good job that cooking, toilet and sleeping facilities are all available in the hide.

October 10th 2020

Holmes Chapel Photographic Society, of which I am a committee member, have kept active during Lockdown by holding regular Zoom Meeting.  However a couple of weeks ago I suggested we should consider a socially distanced field-trip, so it was agreed it would be good to have some direct contact.  To that end I set up a photo-session at nearby Tatton Park for the Deer Rut this morning.

Tatton Park in Cheshire has a large herd of Red Deer and a slightly smaller one of Fallow Deer.  Society member Teresa works as a volunteer at Tatton and was able to arrange early access; a small group of us met at the Old Hall Car Park at 07:40, not log after day break, in heavy drizzle and a promise of showers all morning.  Undeterred with donned waterproofs and protected our cameras and started to walk over to where we could here a Red Deer stag advertising his presence - we didn't have to go far and were able to get some shelter under the Oak trees.  The deer were fairly mobile, on occasion disturbed by early morning joggers.   Some young stags occasionally tried their chances with a hind on the edge of the stags harem, but a few grunts from the dominant stag an a little charge, soon showed the youngsters who was boss. Eventually though one stag started to walk towards, getting a bit to close for comfort.  We walked backwards away from the deer, which then crossed back across the road and started to bellow in response to another stag further away.  He provided some excellent photo opportunities before he headed off towards his adversary.

We spent a couple of hours with the deer, including two stags who were partaking in some antler tussling before they walked off together!  One hind in particular seemed unperturbed by our presence, whilst  couple of stag Fallow Deer wandered past, again allowing a few shots.

Despite the weather, and we did have a few breaks in the rain, we had a great morning. Some of my shots are here

October 25th 2020

With the potential of another lockdown looming I headed up to Dumfries and Galloway for a couple of days of wildlife photography with two targets - Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.  Both species come to hides operated by Alan McFadyen's aka Scottish Photography Hides.  I was booked in for Saturday and with a free day of work on Friday, I set off with the aim of getting to Castle Douglas and Bellymack Hill Farm Kite Feeding Station on the outskirts for around noon.  Red Kites are fed daily here and for the nominal fee of £5.00 you can go and watch, even better coffee and cake were available!  I driven up through some atrocious weather, but as I got off the M6 and headed along the A75 I could see blue skies ahead.  As I arrived Red Kites were already gathering and by the time feeding time arrived around 175 were flying overhead.  As soon as the meat was put out, the birds started swooping and grabbing the small morsels.  By 14:30, half an hour after feeding most of the kites had dispersed.  Satisfied I set off for my overnight accommodation to process a few images and have a meal.

I met Alan at 07:00 in Ringford and followed through the pouring rain to his hides a short distance away.  We picked our way in the darkness to the hides, where I set up whilst Alan put out the food and then waited for daylight.

Whilst waiting for either a Common Buzzard or Sparrowhawk to show, I was able to photograph the Red Squirrels and various small birds - Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Great -spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch.  Around 10:00 a Common Buzzard flew down towards the pheasant carcass put out for it.  I stayed still, not wanting to move and frighten the bird until it started to eat.  Fortunately I had the camera already trained on area, so was soon firing away as the bird had it's fill.  The small birds were unperturbed and carried on feeding, then all went quiet and a quick look away from the camera and a male Sparrowhawk had alighted on one of the posts and was soon tucking into a mouse put out for him.  Which way to look, I didn't know and so alternated between the two birds.  After they had had their fill I reverted back to the small birds when a Roe Deer suddenly materialised on the hillside, with a younger animal much nearer, only partially visible behind the feeding area.  A bonus for my 60 at 60 challenge.   The Buzzard returned for a second feed but I had no further sightings of the Sparrowhawk.

I left the hide at around 15:00 having had an excellent day.  As usual images are here

November 1st 2020

Recently a few people have been asking me  what I put out for the garden and woodland birds that I photograph, so thought it was time to do a blog about feeding birds during the winter.  The larger the variety of food that is put out, the more species of birds you can attract.  There are, of course, other factors over which you have little control - availability of natural food locally, how many other people are feeding birds near you and whether the birds occur in your geographical area.

What to feed

I put out a variety of food for the birds:

  • Peanut kernals - a favourite with Blue ,Great and Coal Tits along with Great-spotted Woodpeckers.
  • Sunflower Hearts -  these are the insides of sunflower seeds, which means that you don't get any waste.  Birds like black sunflower seeds, but split the black husk and just eat the hearts.  Sunflower hearts are favourites with the finches, such Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Chaffinch.  If you are lucky enough to have Tree Sparrow near you, then they will soon be queuing up at your feeder(s)
  • Wild Bird Seed - there are a variety of wild bird seeds available, some of the cheaper ones contain wheat or grain which is ignored by many of the smaller birds and is therefore waisted.  I use a "Premium" or "Hi-Energy" mix, this usually has smaller seeds, such as canary-grass and white millet seed and are less likely to clog feeders.
  • Niger Seed - Rather like a dainty version of black sunflower seeds, tiny niger is equally oil-rich and nutritious. A firm favourite with Goldfinches and Siskins.
  • Suet Pellets - these are high in energy and liked by the insectivorous birds such as Robins, Blackbirds and the various tit species.
  • Fatballs - these are a balanced blend of fats, seeds and cereals. Great for most garden and woodland birds.
  • Peanut Butter - don't get fooled into thinking that any old peanut butter is safe for birds to eat.  Most makes of peanut butter for human consumption have a high salt and sugar content, so far better to buy a Peanut Butter made specifically for birds.  They come in a variety of flavours with added berries, mealmorms or suet.
  • Mealworms - these can be provided dried or live, whilst live mealworrms are preferred they need to be kept cool.  I use dried mealworms and soak them before putting them out.  Once found they become a favourite with Robins and thrushes.

How to Feed

There are a variety of feeders available,  at a variety of prices.  As with a lot of items, you pay for what you get.  Cheap plastic feeders are not always easy to clean and soon crack or fall apart.

  • Peanut Feeders - as their name suggests these are designed to be hung and filled with peanuts.
  • Seed Feeders - these can be filled with either wild bird seed or sunflower hearts.
  • Niger Feeders - because of their small size, niger feeders can just pour out of seed feeders, so special feeders for niger seed are available.
  • Fat Ball Feeder -  do not use fat balls in mesh bags - birds get tangled in the mesh and then can be left hanging and starve.  Instead use a specific fat ball feeder.
  • Peanut Butter Feeder - Special holders are available for peanut butter, or you can smear it on to tree trunks.
  • Bird Tables - make sure that your bird table has drainage holes and can be easily cleaned..
  • Ground Feeding Tables - many species, such as Dunnock and several farmland birds, prefer to feed on the ground, which can encourage unwanted guests, so a ground feeder can be put each during the day and removed at night.

Deter the Greedy Feeders

Inevitably some species start to dominate feeders, and may not be what you've "invited".  To deter species such as Starling and Jackdaws from taking all the food, use some of the feeders that are housed within an external cage, which allow smaller birds to get at the food, but don't permit the larger ones.  They also deter squirrels and there are even some very good, but expensive "Squirrel Busters".

Where to Buy

I get the majority of my Bird Food from FocalPoint optics who stock the range of Feldy products.  Other specialist suppliers include Jacobi JayneCJ Wildlife and Vine House Farm.  Pet shops, the RSPB, WWT and most supermarkets also sell a good range of foods.

Click here for images of food, feeders and some of the birds that can be attracted.

December 31st 2020

Couldn't resist spending some time at Pikelow over the Christmas Period, especially with fresh snow most days.  One of the reasons for my eagerness is that, although I've been going to Pikelow for three or four years now, my visits have rarely coincided with fresh snow, and certainly not since I've had the 5D Mk IV.  

Most of the images were taken with the camera on Manual,  1/1000th of a Sec at f/4 with the ISO set to 1000.  This avoided the need to constantly keep adjusting the exposure in AV or TV mode to compensate for the glare from the snow.  See a selection of images here.

January 10th 2021

 Although I use beanbags on occasion when photographing from a wooden hide, I prefer to use a Gimbal, either on a tripod (if space permits) or more commonly on either a hide plate (such as the one available from  or a Platypod (  However the standard Benro Gimbal GH2 I use can raise the lens to high to use in some hides.  I looked around for a shorter Gimbal or a Sidekick, but couldn't find one.  I therefore looked at whether I could modify one of my GH2.  I realised that the grove that allows the Gimbal base foot to move up and down, was the same size as the Arca-type mount.  I therefore used two Arca quick release mounts screwed back to back, so that they would slide up and down the side support.  I have used this on several occasions now, and find it much better than using a beanbag!

January 23rd 2021

Without getting to political, I could go fishing for recreation and exercise, but I can't got down to my hides for recreation and exercise.  Like an angler or fisherman, I'd be sat in the same place with no-on near me and looking after my mental well-being.  But because photography isn't classed as recreation and staying in one place with a tripod isn't classed as exercise my photography is currently confined to the garden as I can't visit my hides at Pikelow.

So I've been sitting out in the garden to photograph the visitors to our bird feeders.  The variety isn't great and our small garden doesn't offer many opportunities to isolate the birds against the background of the house brickwork, but I'm not giving up!!

Robin, Dunnock, House Sparrow and various titmice tend to dominate my images.


February 4th 2021

So CLICK HERE to see how to make your own portable or permanent reflection pool.

An Apple a Day

February 14th 2021

Wind fall apples are a favourite of members of the thrush family and come into their own attracting Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Mistle Thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares.  Often when we experience and cold snap and the thrushes have eaten most of the berries, rotten wind fall apples provide them with much needed energy, and as the supply dries up, the larger thrushes become quite defensive of a "prize" apple.

February 28th 2021

The photographic studio at Pikelow is in one of the larger farmbuildings on the site and is normally used for photographing small mammals in the various tanks that are set up (and on occasion aquatic subjects).  At the moment a colony of House Mice are very active in the building, feeding on the seed and grain that is kept in there.  It's interesting that they don't seem to moved to the barn where the bird food is kept.  As the mice are active during the day it provided an opportunity to photograph them at the weekend without the need to set any Longworth Traps.  

I used the Canon 5D MkIV and the Canon 200mm f2.8 with a 1.4 convertor.  As the set up was inside I used two pairs of flash guns set at 1/32nd power, fired remotely.   I'll probably work on some different backgrounds over the coming weeks, I tried with a brick wall background but the mice seemed quite wary to anything they were unfamiliar with.

April 8 2021

A pair of Robin had almost set up home amongst out recycling bins, building a nest in an old plant pot.  Unfortunately in the strong winds the plant pot and nest got blown about and the Robins gave up.  However they have now settled down on a new nest in the neighbours garden.  The pull of live meal worms though has meant that the male is a frequent visitor, often accompanied by the female begging for food.  We hadn't noticed before but the female has a broken bill, but she seems to be managing.

Click here for some images of the male feeding the female, collecting food and the female showing the bill damage.

April 17 2021

During the summer months, the feeding is reduced at the hides to just two sites - the Cow Lane Hides and the Plantation Hides.  With Covid restrictions in place, hides are single occupancy, so this morning I spent time with the camera away from the hides, but there was still plenty to photograph.

On Coarse Pool, plenty of Greylag and Canada Geese are nesting and a pair of Mute Swans are also showing signs of nesting.  This results in quite a few skirmishes between the geese and the swans, with plenty pf shallow flights and chasing.  With the action from the geese it's hardly suprising that the Mallards were taking time out on the fly-fishing pools.

The first Barn Swallows are now back at the barns and will soon be nesting inside, whilst the House Sparrows are nesting under the eaves and between missing tiles on the roof.  Meanwhile the Mistle Thrushes are still incubating their eggs in the Copper Beech in the meadow.

Click here for some of todays images.

April 18 2021

Martin Mere has always been one of my favourite places in the North-west and with limited visiting now available,  we booked to visit today.  Although the hides are not yet open, views can still be had of birds on the Mere from the screens that have replaced the Swan Link Hide and the Reedbed trail is open.  Walking round the reserve Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Willow Warbler were all singing from the scrub and trees, a good sign of summer.  What could be seen of the marshes infront of the Ron Barker Hide included a family party of Whooper Swans, plenty of Black-headed Gulls, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher.  The Mere itself held lots of Shelduck, more Black-headed Gull and assorted dabblers and diving duck.  Waders included around 20 Avocet, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Redshank.

A walk along the Reedbed Trail from the Harrier Hide though produced the best birds with a female Common Scoter in front of the hide, Bearded Tits calling from the reedbeds and Cettis, Reed and Sedge Warblers all singing.  

Throughout the walks around the reserve Marsh Harriers were flying over with some occasional display noted.

After lunch we wandered a collection which provided photo-opportunities for nesting Moorhen and Coot, along with the White Storks and Avocets in the collection.  The White Storks are all pinioned so can fly, seeing them nesting just above ground level was quite unusual as these birds normally nest on buildings or platforms higher up.

We ended the day seeing 60 species, not bad for spring visit to reserve best known for it's winter visitors.

Click here for some the day's images.

May 4 2021

The last week of April and the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, saw mixed weather and a mix of bird, mammal and amphibian photography.  On Thursday a visit to Pikelow resulted in me photographing a very showy Garden Warbler that had set up territory on the edge of one of the woodlands, illuminated by the morning sun.  After spending an hour or so with the warbler I moved over to the Studio shed where time was spent with the House Mice.

Saturday saw me heading into North Wales in the late afternoon, first spending a couple of hours at Gary Jone's and Alan Scouller's Little Owl hide.  However no-one had told the Little Owl  I only had a couple of hours, so I had to contend myself with a few backlit Wren and House Sparrow shots.  Leaving the Little Owl Hide I headed to Kimnel and a new hide specialising in Red Fox photography.  After setting up the flash systems I retired to the hide and waited for the fox to arrive.  A vixen and dog fox had been visiting regularly, the vixen collecting food for her cubs.  Having settled into the hide for around 21:30, it was 02:30 before the vixen arrived.  

Sunday was spent recovering from a long night on Saturday (I got home at 05:00 on Sunday) and some tadpole / froglet photography in the afternoon, which I continued on Monday.

Images from Saturday night can be seen here,  other images are here.

Escape from Lockdown

May 15 2021


Julia and I should have been celebrating our 33rd Wedding Anniversary in Finland this week, but the travel restrictions dictated otherwise.  Instead we headed over to Lincolnshire on Sunday afternoon to spend a night in the Wildlife Photography's Pond Hide, before continuing on Monday to spend the rest of the week in Norfolk.

Regular readers of my blog will need no introduction to the Pond Hide and it's regular visitors.  Tonight was to be no different.  The Grey Heron arrived as dusk fell and was present for most of the night.  Two Tawny Owl came for the mice put out (only half-a-dozen mice are put out, so the Tawny Owls still have to hunt to feed their youngsters) and the Otter made a couple of long visits, the last at around 04:30.  The hide had been flooded in the winter, but Tom has done a great job getting ready again for visitors.

Images from the night can be found here .


We left Bourne at 07:00 and set off towards Norfolk.  Our first stop was near Titchwell at a spot were Dotterel had been seen the previous few days.  Corn Buntings, Yellowhammer, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat were all singing and several Brown Hare were seen in the fields, but no Dotterel   Although the hides were closed at the RSPB's Titchwell Reserve, due to Covid Restrictions, the trails and catering facilities were open.  The reedbeds and scrub were alive with warblers, whilst the lagoons held breeding Black-headed Gulls, Common and Sandwich Terns plus Avocets, Redshank and Oystercatcher.  On the beach waders included Ringed and Grey Plover, Sanderling and DunlinCuckoo and Turtle Dove were welcome additions to our growing trip list.  After Titchwell we visited Cley Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve and had down to the East Bank, but after only a few hours sleep the night before (well I think I slept) we were starting to flag so we headed to Blakeney were we had self-catering accommodation booked for the week.

On Tuesday we decided to visit Kelling Heath for some of the Heathland specialities.  As there was no news of any scarce birds we wanted to see, it was decided that the heathland was a good option.   Before lunch we walked around the west heath and saw Woodlark, Tree Pipit and a few Whitethroat plus Red-legged Partridge but no Dartford Warbler.  We had lunch at the nearby Holt Garden Centre (well recommended) before returning to the West side of Kelling Heath were we had been told the Dartford Warblers were.  The conditions weren't brilliant, warm but slightly overcast.  Although we heard two Dartford Warblers singing, they didn't venture out from the comfort of the gorse bushes.  Invertebrates were a little more showy with Green Hairstreak, Painted Lady, Gorse Shieldbug and Green Tiger Beetle seen.  A stop at Cley for tea or coffee and cake was rewarded with a flyover Dotterel which flew over calling, but could not be relocated.  We then went to Coastguards and walked along the shingle beach.  Several Wheatears fed in the fields and Yellow Wagtails could be heard (but not seen).  We had only just returned to our car when the heavens opened!

On Wednesday we had planned to go out on a boat to Blakeney Point to see and photograph seals and seabirds.  Whilst we saw Grey Seal and Harbour Seal, plus Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Little Tern, photographic  opportunities were few and far between. The Boat Trips are really for the general public to see the seals, so the it was a quick hour, with engine running all the time with it's associated vibrations.  As we were meeting friends in Winterton in the evening, we headed to Horsey Gap and then had fantastic views of the resting Grey Seals.  Whilst we kept our distance, we were appalled by the number of people who walked up to the seals to photograph them with mobile phones or compact cameras.  A gallery of seal images is here.

Thursday we stayed local with visits to Stiffkey Marsh (for Temminck's Stint) and a great wet meadow known as North Pools next to Wells.  These pools held breeding Redshank, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Little Ringed Plover.  Wells Wood was fairly quiet and we finished the day at Salthouse, were more waders were evident including Dunlin.  Warblers were also present, including a freshly arrived Willow Warbler.

On our final day we travelled east along the coast stopping at Weybourne and Beeston Bump.  Migrants were thin on the ground, but a male Ring Ouzel at Beeston Bump was welcome.  A return visit to Kelling Heath produced calling Dartford Warbler but none seen.  Prior to calling it a day we popped into Wells North Pools again, were the waders seen the day before were still present plus a Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper.  Two Teal at the back of the pools were the only seen during our break.

May 30 2021

An early start this morning to get the best of the golden light on the Cheshire / Derbyshire border in the Peak District.   The plan was to drive around some of the minor roads around Buxton and photograph the breeding waders and grouse.  I was hoping to connect with Short-eared Owl,  as they too inhabit the same area.  I left home just after 04:00 hrs for the 40 minute drive to my destination.  The route has several speed cameras and sticking to them is essential unless you want to add points to your driving licence.  My first sighting of a Short-eared Owl was just after I'd gone into the Peak District National Park when one floated across the road in front of me.  Unfortunately nowhere to pull off and the owl just carried on flying.

Arriving at my initial destination,  I was greeted by the sound of bubbling Curlew, whistling Golden Plover and Red Grouse gave their typical "Go Back Go Back" call.

As it was still early I drove slowly with my window down, the 5D MkIV and 400mm f/4, and bean bag at the ready on the passenger seat.  Over the next couple of hours I drove around the roads, parking up and simply waiting for birds to come to me.  Golden Plover, Curlew, Meadow Pipit and Red Grouse made up the bulk of the photographs.  No Short-eared Owls put in an appearance, but a Snipe briefly showed itself before vanishing into the heather.  The behaviour of the waders indicated that they had young nearby, not wanting to cause any disturbance, all my photos were taken from the car.  Getting out would only cause the birds to walk away, leading me from any young,  not ideal when they have to contend with walkers and their dogs every day.

Click here for some of my shots from the morning.

Between Jobs

June 8 2021

I have recently changed jobs and managed to have a week off between them, so what better thing to do than cram it with some photography trips.  Images are spread over several galleries, so click on the respective links.

After trip to the Cheshire / Derbyshire border on Saturday,  Sunday was a day of domestic chores and sorting before a visit to Martin Mere on the Bank Holiday Monday.  As we had to book ahead we knew it would not be too crowded and the hides were very quiet with very few people using them.  Photography was a bit limited though, but it was a good opportunity to photograph Shelduck chicks and also some of the waders that breed on the Reserve.  After we'd finished at Martin Mere a quick trip home to change vehicles and I headed up to Dumfries and Galloway.  Photos from Martin Mere are here.

Dumfries and Galloway, especially the area around Kirkudbright, is the base for the Scottish Photography Hides of Alan McFayden.  I had booked in various hides for the Tuesday and Wednesday.  Tuesday morning started with a brief visit to a layby on the moors where a male Whinchat showed really well and I was pleased with the results on the back of the camera - that was until I reformatted the card accidentally at the Redstart hide.  Fortunately I was able to return later in the day and repeat the shots.  The morning was spent in a lovely bluebell carpeted woodland, alternating between a hide overlooking a Restart nest and another strategically placed near a nest box occupied by Pied Flycatcher.  Both hides produced excellent results.  After lunch we moved a little further through the woodland to a clearing where a male Cuckoo responded very quickly to the taped call of a female.  The tape was only played a few times so that the male wasn't distracted for too long - just long enough to get a few shots of him.

After tea, I met Alan who was taking us to a site for daylight badger photography on a nearby MOD Site.  Unfortunately the MOD site was in use, so we headed to a site where badgers appeared after dark, illuminated by LED lighting.  We arrived well before dark, so where able to get some reflection shots of birds coming to the peanuts put down for the badgers.  The badgers didn't show but we were treated to a Tawny Owl coming down for day old chicks.  Tawny Owl was the theme of the session the following morning at the Sparrowhawk hide, where Great-spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll also came for seed as did Red Squirrel.  After a couple of hours in the hide, I headed back to Cheshire.  Plenty of photos from the Scottish break are here.

Thursday morning and I was up early again to visit the Cheshire / Derbyshire Border in an attempt to photography Short-eared Owl.  The weather was overcast, but I decided to give it ago and upon reaching my destination was soon photographing a hunting Short-eared Owl and also an obliging Golden Plover.

On Friday Julia and I headed over to East Yorkshire for my birthday to spend a couple of days photographing seabirds at Bempton Cliffs.  We arrived at Bempton on Saturday at 0900 to find the car park almost full.  Unperturbed we headed to the coastal cliffs and turned south, as most folk had headed north.  Along the walk, farmland birds were singing - Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, Tree Sparrow, Skylark and Tree Sparrow - eventually the smell of the seabird colony was overwhelming.  Gannets, Kittiwakes and Fulmars glided past at head height, on the cliffs they were joined by Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins.  Feral Pigeons were commonplace, many of them looking very close to  pure Rock Doves.  We stayed at Bempton until the late afternoon, returning again for a couple of hours on the Sunday to photograph a Barn Owl that was nesting on the reserve and hunting over the coastal fields.  Our journey home was broken with a visit to the RSPB managed St Aidens Reserve near Leeds.  This former opencast mine is now an amazing wetland reserve with hundreds of nesting Black-headed Gulls and wildfowl with reedbed specialities such as Bittern and Bearded Tit.  Although we heard the latter two species, we didn't see them. Plenty of photos here.

June 21 2021

The Red and Fallow Deer at Tatton Park in Cheshire are always a popular subject for photography during the Rut in the Autumn, but for a change I decided that a few hours on Sunday morning could produce some images of the deer whilst their antlers were still covered in velvet.  As the deer grow their new set of antlers each year,  the antlers are covered with "velvet" as the antlers grow.  Velvet antler is covered in a hairy, velvet-like "skin" known as velvet and its tines are rounded, because the antler has not calcified or finished developing.  Once the antlers are developed, the velvet is shed.   

Most of the deer were either grazing or just relaxing, so I got some reasonable images, plus the bonus of a bunnies and a few of the Corvids.  Click here to see a selection

July 24 2021

Most of the last month I have been concentrating on macro photography, which will be the subject of a later blog.  This morning a call at 09:00  to tell me of a pair of Spotted Flycatcher that were feeding  young that were easy to photograph, so I headed off for a couple of hours on the afternoon.  Click here to see see some images.

August 29 2021

Julia and I have just spent a week with friends, Paul and Claire Lloyd, in Speyside, much of the time spent photographing the wildlife we encountered.  Julia and I travelled up to Blairgowrie on Friday to visit the hide at Penny Hedge.  During the day woodland birds visit the hide and are joined by red squirrels.  In the evening the cast changes to brown rat and the star attraction pine marten.  During the daytime session we were able to photograph Red Squirrel, Chaffinch, Coal Tit and Great-spotted Woodpecker amongst others.  After dark, with aid of off-camera remote flash, we photographed the Pine Martens, as they came to feed on peanuts, grapes and eggs.  An excellent start to the holiday.  The next day we had booked to go up Glenshee on the chairlift, but we woke to a damp and grey day, with visibility at the top of the chairlift a matter of metres, so we cut our losses and headed up to Aviemore via Tomintoul.  A call in at one of the lochs near Aviemore yielded several Little and two Slavonian Grebes

Our first full day was spent around Loch Garten, walking various trails.  Birding was hard work, but several Black Darters and Scotch Argus made up for the lack of crossbills and crested tits.  

On Monday we ventured to the Findhorn Valley in search of raptors and dippers.  Raptors were represented by plenty of Common Buzzards, Kestrel and a single Peregrine.  Dragonflies were represented by Black Darter and Common Hawker, the latter which refused to settle for photographs.  Small Pearl-bordered and Dark-green Fritillaries, Scotch Argus and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies flitted around the meadows, but the river itself seemed devoid of Dippers.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin are a feature of the Moray and Cromarty Firth, so Tuesday we headed to Chanonry Point to find a parking spot and then wait for the tide to turn and start to rise,  The rising tide is best for the dolphin as they feed on the Salmon.  Whilst waiting for the dolphins we had the opportunity to photograph some of the birds present on the beach:  Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, Starling and Sandwich Tern were all photographed, but the marauding Arctic Skuas were too far out to photograph.  Eventually one single Bottle-nosed Dophin came into feed.  After lunch we headed back to Aviemore and had a walk around the Caledonian Forest at Glenmore.  As with Loch Garten, there was plenty of fungi and Black Darter to photograph, but the Crested Tits proved more difficult amongst the pine needles.

On Wednesday Julia and I headed to Lochnidorb to photograph Red Grouse, but there was very little else to photograph, so we headed back to Loch Garten and Nethy Bridge, to get more shots of Black Darter and also Emerald Damselfly.  A Small Copper at Nethy Bridge also fell to the camera.

Red Squirrels were the order of the day (well morning) on Thursday.  We had all booked for Neil McIntyre's Red Squirrel hide at Loch an Eilein.  Several squirrels kept us entertained during the morning and we were all kept busy.  After lunch in Rothiemurchus Julia and I headed towards Cairngorm.  At the moment the only way up to the top at Cairngorm is to walk (or bike).  To walk all the way to top and have a chance to see Ptarmigan, Dottrel or Mountain Hare really takes a full day,   We walked about half way up, coming across several Meadow Pipits on the way but little else.

On our final full day we spent the morning at Glenmore Forest and Abernethy Forest.  Fungi were the main attraction, but several Wood Ants made some excellent subjects for macro photography.  After lunch we headed to the RSPB Insh Marshes reserve, walking one of the trails.  Dark Green Fritillaries and Scotch Argus again featured and several species of Fungi were photographed - just wish we knew what they were!

Late August isn't the best time for birds in Speyside, but it provided us with chance to concentrate on other orders, several species of shieldbug were seen and photographed along with quite a few of the moths attracted to the Actinic trap we operated every night.  

Click here for some of the images.

October 1 2021

Photography has taken a bit of back seat over the last month, with weather and work commitments reducing available time.  What time I have had for photography has been concentrated on macro-photography.

My go to lens for macro is Canon 100mm f/.8, which gives a 1:1 ratio.  To get a higher magnifications I also combine the lens with auto extension tubes and also have manual bellows.  I prefer to use the extension tubes and all the electrical functions are transferred through the contacts on the extension tubes, whereas the bellows are fully manual so the auto lens is fixed at f/2.8, giving a very shallow depth of field, along with the need for strategic lighting.

To get the best results, a sturdy tripod and stationary subject are best for closest of shots, which obviously isn't feasible when walking about and with active insects.  A ring flash comes in handy in these situations, allowing f/11 for a better depth of field and 1/200 sec shutter speed, whilst the flash freezes any action.

I have also been trying some "reflection" shots obtained by placing the subject on a gloss black tile and using either the ring flash or two speedlites, one on either side, to illuminate the subject.

My top ten tips for macro-photography are:

  • Get a dedicated macro-lens or extension tubes (or both).
  • Use a tripod, monopod or support for your camera.
  • Try and get a diffuse distant background.
  • Check the background for any distracting highlights.
  • Consider a ring-flash for some infill lighting.
  • Depth of field can be critical, adjust your ISO so that you can photograph at f/8 or f/11, but still maintain a reasonable shutter speed if possible.
  • Use a remote or self-timer to reduce camera shake vibration due to the mirror movement.
  • Improve your in-camera composition.
  • Plan your composition.
  • Be patient and keep trying.

More on my Macro-photography can be found here or Click here for some of the images.

In a Rut

October 8 2021

With some nice light this morning I headed up to the Cat and Fiddle, only to arrive to thick fog!! Having waited for an hour for the sun to burn the fog off, I gave up and headed to Tatton Park. I would normally aim to arrive at Tatton for when the gates open for cars at 10.00, but arriving at gone 11.00 I was rather dubious whether any of the deer would still be rutting or bellowing. Initially it was fairly quiet with the deer concentrated in the rough grassland near Melchett Mere, making it easier to get some images without vehicles, sheep, walkers or tree guards spoiling the shot.

Most of the deer were resting amongst the grass providing a different shot to the bellowing stags you usually anticipate.  By staying low I was able to get some different shots of stags through the grass, some of which had adorned their antlers with grass.  

At one point a young deer, a late fawn from this year came out from the longer grass.  I've looked, unsuccessfully, for fawns at Tatton for several years, so this was a nice surprise.

Click here for a few of today's images.

October 26 2021

Autumn is he best (but not the only) time to get out and photograph some of the fungi in woods and grasslands.  I've spent a few days exploring some local woods armed with the 100mm macro lens and the 17-40mm, plus the micro-flash outfit trying to get a few shots before he slugs and mice / voles helped themselves!!

Click here for some of my images.

November 8 2021

My portfolio is lacking shots of wintering waders, either feeding, roosting or flocks flying to roosts over the incoming tide, so over the coming months I hope rectify this.  With the Wirral shore around an hour away, it is easily accessible and timing visits with the high tide should help.  At the weekend I headed up to Meols promenade, recently home to a Snow Bunting which I had managed to photograph earlier in the week.  High tide was forecast for around 12.30, so I thought arriving for around 10.00 would still leave plenty of the beach exposed for feeding waders.  I hadn't accounted for the fact that this was a Spring Tide and so quite high, plus a North-westerly wind resulted in the tide already lapping against the embankment when I arrived.  Change of plan so I decided to have a look for the Snow Bunting.  After an hour, and no sign of the bunting, I headed to West Kirby Marine Lake.  Success as around 100 mixed waders were roosting on Marine Lake.  Parking up close by I braved the wind and set up at the edge of the Lake with the 400mm f/4 and 1.4 convertor on the 5D MkIV mounted on the tripod.  I sat down on the pavement without the legs extendned to get at eye-level with the waders and proceeded to get some shots.  Unfortunately Joe Public and his / her mobile phone thought they could do better and kept peering over the wall to photograph the waders only to flush them several time.  Eventually as the tide reached it's peak, most of the roosting area was under water.

After lunch I returned to Meols and found a single Dunlin and several Turnstone feeding on the Embankment, before ending my day photographing Black-tailed Godwits at Burton Mere Wetland RSPB Reserve.  A great day and a good start to my winter project.

Click here to see some images of the waders and the Snow Bunting

The Mouse Nest and Donna Nook

November 13 2021

The last time we visited Penny Hedge, we picked up card for another wildlife photographic hide, The Mouse Nest.  A quick search on Facebook took me to their Facebook and I was soon communicating with Lee Smith to sort out a visit.  The Mouse Nest is located near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire and I decided I could combine a visit with to the hide with a trip to Donna Nook to photograph the Grey Seals.  

I travelled over to Market Rasen on the evening of November 10 for a quick getaway to beat the crowds on the Thursday morning at Donna Nook.  I woke to a misty and dull morning, but still headed off and arrived at Donna Nook to an overcast sky with the sun just starting to shone through.  I hadn't appreciated how close some of the seals would be and the 400mm f/4 with the 1.4x convertor provided some excellent opportunities for portrait shots of the bull and cow seals, whilst still allowing me to frame the more distant seals as they battled for space, or to protect their pups.  Several newly born pups, were visible, and the cows were defending their space against other cows, or warning the bulls that their advances were not appreciated.

After a couple of hour I headed towards Glentham where I had planned an afternoon session at The Mouse Nest photographing Harvest Mice followed by a nocturnal session if the Fox and Owl Hide.  (Lee has an Animal Welfare Licence, which allows him to keep Harvest Mice and use them for photographic purposes.)  Lee made very welcome and he'd soon taken four male Harvest Mice from his husbandry unit and put on the large open tank with some old poppy heads and teasels as props.  Harvest Mice don't jump like Wood Mice, so there was no danger of them escaping and they were soon climbing the props and posing.  Over the next couple of hours Lee changed the props to add variety and as the light began to fade,  he returned the mice to the husbandry unit, whilst I began to set up the cameras in the Hide.

The hide is a solidly built carpeted structure with one-way glass and portholes with snouts for lenses.  To keep disturbance to a minimum, blackout blinds are pulled down over the windows.  This didn't present any problems though as CCTV cameras provided live feeds to a large screen in the hide.  Tea and coffee making facilities were available, as was a toilet and heating.  Very civilized.  Once Lee had baited up the feeding posts and ground with dead mice (not the ones we'd been photographing, but frozen lab mice purchased for birds of prey and snakes etc.), he left with the flashes set and all I had to do was wait for the first appearance of either the fox or an owl. 

I didn't have to wait as within 30 minutes the first visit from a Barn Owl had occurred soon followed visits from a Red Fox.  For the next four or five hours I was treated to regular visits from either the Barn Owl or Red Fox.  Had I known the set up in the Hides and facilities, which included a mattress to catch 40 winks,  I would have arranged to stay the night, but I hadn't come equipped for that :(  I don't think it will be long before I return and hopefully also photograph Little and Tawny Owl.

Click on a species to see some of the photos taken

November 30 2021

With a free Sunday I headed to Pikelow for the morning to see if the recent cold snap had encouraged more birds to the feeders.  I headed to the Plantation Hide, where the feeders had been filled and settled down in the hide.  I was well wrapped up as the temperature was just above freezing, but it hadn't discouraged the birds.  I had not long been settled in when a Jay arrived, filling it's crop with sunflower hearts that had been placed on the logs.  The feeders were attracting plenty of finches - Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch were the commonest, but where also joined by some hoped for Brambing and a single Siskin.  A brief visit by a male Bullfinch made it six species of finches at feeders.  Blue, Great and Coal Tit were constantly at the feeders with the occasional Nuthatch, Tree Sparrow and a pair of Great-spotted Woodpeckers.  Birds feeding under the feeders included several Blackbird, Dunnock, Moorhen and Robin, bringing the total number of species using the feeders to sixteen!. 

Click on the image for more photos from Saturday.

Festive Photography

January 2 2022

The Christmas and New Year break can provide plenty of opportunities for wildlife photography, but this year the weather gods were not really in agreement.  Never-the-less I got out on a few days with a couple of trips to Pikelow and one to Martin Mere - the latter on New Year's Day.

The feeders at Pikelow were still attracting the usual finches and other woodland birds including half a dozen Brambling and over twenty Tree Sparrow.  The UK's smallest bird, the Goldcrest, was visiting the fat ball feeder, either feeding beneath it on the ground or clinging to it - quite a challenge to photograph.   Some images here.

On one of the wetter days, I decided to concentrate on the House Mice that have made their home in one off the barns, feeding on the corn that chickens and swans feed on.  I was after a slightly more nocturnal shot, so I used two pairs of off-camera flash, on one 1/128 power to provide some in-fill lightings, the other pair at 1/32 to give light and shadow. The results can be seen here.

On New Year's Day we made the short journey to Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetland Centre.  Due to bird flu, many of the collections birds were not on view,  but by visiting first thing in the morning,  very few people were in the hides,  the wild birds were close to hides. Most of the usual suspects were present, some were very obliging and regular squabbles broke out between the Whooper Swan families. Plenty of images here.

Another find during the Xmas break was the finding of hibernating Herald and Small Tortoiseshell in the roof space above our garage.  Most years we find 1 or 2 Herald and maybe a dozen or so Small Tortoiseshell, but 8 Herald and over 2 dozen Small Tortoiseshell.  Click here for some images.

Happy New Year to all.

January 9 2022

A constant supply of grain in the sheds at Pikelow, the House Mice don't need to venture far, but it does lead to squabbles between the mature males.   One male is carries scars from several battles, but still manages to be dominant when feeding.  

When visiting this morning the seed on my photography set-up was depleted, but the mice had found the main stock of grain and were helping themselves, so I see the off-camera flashes where the mice were feeding and added a cup and saucer for some different images.  It didn't take long for the mice to find the grain the cup.  

With the mouse scurrying across the shed floor and scaling the legs of the trestle table, I had to keep adjusting the flash output levels to light the mice, very much a matter of trial and error. 

Some images here.

Hungry Stoat

January 24 2022

Several visitors to the Conifer Hide at Pikelow have been fortunate to watch (and photograph) a stoat coming to feed on the bait put out to attract the buzzards.  The hide has proved so popular with paying customers I hadn't had chance to spend any time in it.  On Sunday nobody was booked on so I settled down in the hide just after 09:00 and waited, and waited, and waited. At 11:30 I decided that fresh bait was required (a squirrel corpse), so I ventured out and renewed the bait.  Within 30 minutes the stoat obliged and for the next half-an-hour or so I was able to watch it getting it's fill of the squirrel and get plenty of shots and some video footage.  The light wasn't fantastic so the ISO ranged from 6,000 to 12,800 with 400mm f/4 with and without the 1.4 convertor, 1/500 sec at f/4 or f/5.6 (with the 1.4x attached).

Some images here.

The Algarve - revisited

March 2 2022

It's several years since we visited the Algarve on the south coast of Portugal, but a weekend looking after elderly parents have me a chance to look again at my images and reprocess some of them with Topaz and Photoshop.  The images were all taken on the Canon 7D cameras coupled with Canon 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3.

The Topaz AI Denoise is excellent for removing any noise and applying a little sharpen to the images before finally tweaking the shadows and highlights and cropping in Photoshop.

Processing the images left me wondering about another trip as the light (as with many Mediterranean countries) was excellent as was the birding without having to drive to far. 

Some images here.

Night-time visitors

March 12 2022

Last weekend I spent a couple of nights in Lee Smith's hides in Lincolnshire.  Arriving at Lee's around 17:00 on Friday, Lee settled me into his garden hide and put out food in readiness for the night-time visitors.  The hide regularly attracts Barn Owl, Little Owl, Tawny Owl and Red Fox.  I didn't have to wait long before the first of the owls arrived - a Little Owl, which spent some time perching on the Public Footpath prop.  Not long after a Tawny Owl put in a brief appearance, but didn't stay long enough for photographs.  

Just before 19:30 I had the first visit from one of the foxes, who stayed for around 15 minutes providing plenty of photography opportunities.  I then had to wait an hour until a Barn Owl came down to feed, hopping from perch to perch and helping itself to the mice left out for the owls.  The Barn Owl stayed for around an hour, before a Little Owl put in an appearance again and a Red Fox appeared again just before 23:00 staying for around 15 minutes again.

Just after midnight I decided to call it a day (or night) and headed to my accommodation.

I'd arranged to return to Lee's on the Saturday afternoon to photograph Harvest Mice in a new studio set-up, designed to mimic an old shed or storage shelving - something very different to the usual wheat stalks and wild flowers shots.  After a couple of hours we then headed for the Badger hide for an evening of badger photography.  We were graced with the presence of two individual badgers during the night.  Again I finished about midnight, heading back to my accommodation.

Click here for night-time images and here for harvest mouse images

A Pleasant Evening

March 30 2022

The change over to BST provided the first opportunity this year to get out in the evening for some low light photography so I headed off to Pikelow to spend some time at the Hare scree, in the hope of getting some Brown Hare images.  It was also a chance to see how the MkIII 1.4x convertor worked with the 400mm f/4 DO.

As I arrived at the screen, in one edge of one of the woods looking out over a grassy field frequented by the hares, plenty of Pheasants were on view.

Whilst waiting for the hares to show (or even any rabbits) I started to take a few shots of the Pheasants, and soon heard a couple squabbling,  turning the camera round I found the culprits and they started to "spar".  This continued for several minutes and the was a great opportunity to test out the new convertor.  

Click here for images 

A Tale of Three Counties

April 10 2022

I'm fortunate that  the "Eastern Hills" area of Cheshire is less than an hour's drive away.  The Eastern Hills are really the west edge of the Peak District that occupy Cheshire, but is also where Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire meet at Three Shires Head.

Early morning is the best time to visit for photography, the roads around the Cat and Fiddle,  Axe Edge Moor and High Edge are quiet, so allows for slow driving and occasional stops for anything interesting.  Axe Edge Moor supports Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Curlew,  along with numerous Meadow Pipits and Skylark.  Short-eared Owl can be seen on occasion and an evening visit may produce drumming snipe. All of the birds mentioned can be encountered anywhere in suitable habitat, but the area around Axe Edge allows the use of the car as a mobile hide!   The road from the Cat and Fiddle to Derbyshire Bridge,  is fenced on the north side, the posts regularly providing Meadow Pipits with song posts.  Golden Plover, Lapwing and Wheatear can be encountered around High Edge.  Along the A54 to Congleton a large lay-by on the southern side, provides views along Danebower and access to the Public Footpath network on this Open Access area.  The area is best known for Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and Stonechat.  

The area does occasionally attract passage Dotterel, and on my latest visit today, I happened to glance up to see an Osprey passing over!

Click here for images of some of the birds to be seen in the area. 

Spring Awakening

April 30 2022

After several cancellations during Covid, I eventually returned to Finland just after Easter, with the aim of photographing the Brown Bears (and anything else that fell to the camera) in the snow. We were to be based near Kostamusti, Vartia on the Finnish / Russian Border.

All went well with the flights, arriving at Oulu to meet the rest of the group (all called David, who were to become known as Canon David, Fuji David and Nikon David) and Kyle Moore – our leader from Bear Photo. From Oulu we set off for the 3 hour drive to the Wild Brown Bear Centre, which was to be our base for the week. Passing through snow covered fields, frozen lakes and forests, we cam across whooper swans, curlews and lapwings feeding in the fields but fields but little else. Arriving at our base we were shown our rooms before an evening meal and a well needed sleep, ready to start our photography the next day.

Breakfast was served at 08:30 after which Kyle gave us a briefing on what to expect the week, and a summary of recent bear activity. We were then left do our own thing for a few hours prior to the evening briefing. We headed to the bird, but although it was well stocked with food, there was very little activity, especially when compared with my May visit – pre Covid. The odd blue and great tit paid visits and two great-spotted woodpeckers chased around the trees.

The ”evening meal” was served at 15:00, which sound early but we wanted to be heading off to the hides at 16:00 so that we were settled in before any bear action. We re-assembled at 16:00, collected our packed midnight feast and set off to walk the 500m to the Hides. We each had our own two berth hide for the night, equipped with bunk beds and paraffin heater (well it was going to get below freezing and we were in the hides until 08:00 the following morning). We were soon settled down cameras at the ready, flask and sandwich for when hunger struck.

On our first night we drew a blank, but it was great opportunity to photograph herring, common and black-headed gull on the snow and ice - a challenge for the metering system on the cameras. At 08:00 we left the hides and headed back to base for breakfast and showers. The day was spent catching up on sleep or photographing some of the birds at the bird hide.

After our “evening meal” we set off again making sure to follow the compacted snow tracks made by the snow-mobile. Even then were there had been some thawing, the odd step went into knee-deep (and beyond) snow. We were in a different set of hides for night 2 and 3, still equipped with a paraffin heater, bunt beds and toilet pail. We had much more success these nights with a male bear, known as Nose Job, paying several visits. This particular bear has a damaged nose and was first seen around 2015 This bear visits in April, but by the time the dominant bears and females appear in May, he has moved through the area. A second larger male bear also appeared, this one (due to his size) had been named Mini-Brutus and stood well over a metre high at the shoulder. Once Mini-Brutus appeared, Nose Job made a quick retreat. In the mornings the temperature was around 4 degrees below freezing – the thermal base layers and 700 down fill jacket proving their worth. The pattern was repeated the following day and on each morning the cold morning light produced some superb photo-opportunities, when a pair of great-spotted woodpeckers alighted on the birch trees in front of the hide, providing some hi-key photos.

Most of the days were spent processing images from the night before or having a stroll along the tracks round the base camp, where black grouse and capercaillie occur. After our evening meal it was a trudge through the snow to another set of hides for what was, for most of the group, one of the most exciting nights. Almost as soon as we had sat down Nose Job came down from the forest and started feeding, accompanied by hooded crows and ravens who were after any scraps they could get. Later Mini Brutus appeared along with a third male who had pale patches on his shoulders. Due to a poor phone signal, I missed a wolverine right in front of me, but did it see bounding through the snow, but to far away (and quick) for any photos. Bears were still active after sunset (around 21:30 and we could still see them at 23:00. As previous evenings I bedded down in the sleeping bags waking about 06:00 and then waiting to see if there was any morning activity before returning for breakfast.

For our last night we again stayed in the hides we used on nights 2 and 3. Nose Job and Mini Brutus joined us, passing close to the hides (as on previous evenings) on several occasions the 400mm f/4 and 1.4x extender were too long, and I was using the 100-400mm f/5.6-6.3 at the lower end of the zoom range – talk about a close encounter!

Our flight home was uneventful, except for the Helsinki sprint – getting from one end of the terminal to the other in 30 minutes AND going through passport control!! I’m returning in August 2022 and no doubt in June or July in 2023 to photograph the bears with their new born cubs.  

Click here for photos and videos

Somerset Levels

June 14 2022

Julia and I have just returned from a short break in Somerset.  Rather than spending the week driving around Somerset visiting lots of habitats and nature reserves, we decided to concentrate on the Somerset Levels and aim to get photographs of some of the iconic species there.  We based ourselves in Meare, just a few minutes drive from the Ham Walls RSPB Reserve and Shapwick Heath, with the Somerset Wildlife Trust reserves of Catcott and Westhay less than a 15 minute drive away.  Greylake and Swell Wood RSPB reserves were a little further, but worth the visits.  Slightly further afield we paid a visit to the Steart Marshes WWT Reserve.

Ham Walls is a vast complex of reedbeds and pools, created following the habitat creation work by the conservation bodies after the cessation of peat extraction.  The resulting reedbeds are now home to large numbers of breeding Reed and Sedge Warblers, with several pairs each of Bittern, Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret and Grey Heron.  Marsh Harriers also breed in good numbers.  A couple of hours on the reserve spent at the viewing platforms and the Avalon Hide can virtually guarantee views of Bittern, Great Egret, Little Egret and Marsh Harrier.  A walk around the trails can be very productive for dragonflies, we saw lots of Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy Dragonfly, Azure, Variable, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies.  Coot, Moorhen and both Great-crested and Little Grebe fed young on the lakes which also held Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard.  Breeding waders included Redshank and Lapwing.  

Greylake supported a similar range of species with the addition of Common Crane, although the views were rather distant.  Grass Snake are also quite common here.   Catcott Marsh was visited on a few occasions, three Glossy Ibis were the main attraction here, but Black-tailed Godwit were also present here with the usual wetland inhabitants.  

Swell Wood, as it  name suggests is an area of woodland located on the edge of Sedgemoor, it is also home to a large heronry, with both Grey Heron and Little Egret breeding. Steart Marshes WWT Reserve is an area of coastal grazing marsh, which is managed for wintering and breeding wildfowl and waders, as the sea slowly reclaims the area, which had previously been reclaimed for agriculture.  The wader scrape held nesting Avocet, Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover.

We ended our week with a trip to Slimbridge before spending a day photographing dragonflies, butterflies and other invertebrates at Coombes Wood in Worcestershire.

A selection of images are here, and more can be seen on my flickr site.

Close-up weekend

July 25 2022

For many years I have used the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro for my close-up work, but recently have been considering a fully dedicated macro such as one of Laowa lens.  These though are fully manual and whilst I have seen some very good reviews I haven't been persuaded to part with my cash for one.  When I saw that Park Cameras had two of Canon's dedicated MP-E 65mm F/2.8 1-5x macros for sale second hand in excellent condition, I was soon £620 poorer, but one great lens richer.

The MP-E65mm is dedicated for macro use and has a focusing range of 4 inches to 1.6 inches, with 5x magnification at the minimum focusing distance.  This means you need to get pretty close to your subject and so depth of field is very limited.  Focus stacking is one possible answer, but this requires a static subject.  Photographing live insects doesn't lend itself to focus stacking (unless you are using in-camera focus stacking, which the 5D MKiv doesn't possess) as moving insects result in multiple legs and antenna  when stacking the images.  Instead I'm using the camera  and lens on a focusing rail with my Pixapro twin macro-flash system.

It has taken a bit of getting use to and my success rate is improving.  The weekend was spent photographing various insects in the garden, some found in the garden and others a little further afield.  

I'm looking forward to working with the lens more, but with it's limited focusing range it really is a lens to be used with studio set-ups.

A selection of images are here, and more can be seen on my flickr site.

13 August 2022

One of my (many) interests are reptiles and amphibians, so I was really please to get the chance to meet Harvey and Tom at Celtic Reptile and Amphibian.  Harvey and Tom have established a breeding centre for UK species and also those that used to occur in the UK or could be subject for re-introduction. 

The weather when I visited on 12 August was far from ideal for reptile photography - it was very hot with the temperatures reaching over 30 Celcius.  This made the reptiles and amphibians very active, or they stayed out of sight seeking the cooler temperatures underground.  Each species have there own secure enclosure and there are several different photographic sets.  I got photos of ten species - grass snake and sand lizard were two species I missed because they were hiding in the shade - some of which can be seen here.

Finnish High Summer

31 August 2022

Julia and I have just returned from our much postponed trip to photograph bown bears at the Wild Brown Bear Centre.  This was my second trip this year to the site, following an initial visit pre Covid.  It ws Julia's first trip to photograph brown bears.   Julia’s brother, Tim lives in Finland, and not having seen him since the onset of Covid, we decided to make the most of our visit and spend a week with him in Kuusamo.  We flew from Manchester to Helsinki, and then met a connecting flight to Oulu where we collected our hire car. Meeting Tim enroute we arrived at our rental apartment in Kuusamo late evening.

We spent the week exploring the area around Kuusamo, looking for (and seeing) some of the birds of the area. Black-throated diver, red-necked grebe, goldeneye and goosander where all encountered on the lakes around the area or on trips to the spruce forests in search of red-flanked blue-tail, three-toed woodpecker, hazel grouse and willow grouse. We were successful in all our searches and also came across bluethroat, brambling, siskin, redwing and fieldfare. We also saw migrants such as willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler and spotted flycatcher. We also saw mountain hare, muskrat, red squirrel and reindeer.

I spent a morning at Kuusamo Nature Photography's Osprey Hides at a local fish farm.  A single osprey spent a while fishing and flee off after a succesful dive.  All nicely captured in images.

At the end of the first week we drove back to Oulu and said goof bye to Tim, before meeting the group for BearPhoto at Oulu airport. We were to spend the second week with them photographing brown bears and wolverines and other wildlife. We spent the first night in our cabin, joining the group for breakfast before going on a brief introductory walk to the area where we’d be spending the nights photographing the bears.

Our days followed a pattern of evening meal at 15:30, then walking to the hides at 16:30. Once settled in the hides (which have a basic toilet and bunk beds) we waited until the bears started to appear. Some nights we only had to wait an hour, other nights it was almost dark before any bears appeared. The same was true of the wolverines, although these tending to run in, grab some food, and run out again. Once the sun had set (around 22:00) it was time to get some sleep, waking again for the sunrise at 04:00 and another chance to photograph the bears and other wildlife before leaving the hides at 07:00 for breakfast back at the centre. 

The days were our own, either photographing fungi, birds squirrels or whatever took our fancy. Of course you could always catch up on some kip or process images.

Over the week we saw many different bears – Hemuli – a large overweight male, Scarface – a male who had an obvious scar on his face; and Puti – a young male bear. Three females also regularly appeared with their cubs. Lummiki had four cubs an Blondie with her first two cubs. Blondie is Lummiki’s daughter and I has seen Blondie and Lummiki on my first trip to Finland, so it was great to see them again. We also saw another female with cubs and two unnamed females and one unnamed male. On our final night I saw thirteen different bears and a wolverine!

Plenty of images here on my flickr site or a small selection here

Point Lynas Dolphins

21 October 2022

Risso's Dolphins are one of the UK's rarer dolphin species, mainly seen around Scotland and the Isle of Man.  In recent years small numbers have summered of the coast of Anglesey and can be seen from Point Lynas round to Bull Bay.  With some annual leave due for Julia and some Time off in Lieu for me, we headed off to Amlwch for a few days with the hope of connecting with these marine mammals.  The dolphins have a pattern of feeding off Point Lynas from a couple of hours prior to high tide, quite often close to the headland, then moving off just after high tide.  High tide on Friday was around 07:30 so we decided to "chance it" after we'd had breakfast.  We arrived after high tide, but still managed to see a couple of Risso's dolphins.  Happy with at least seeing the dolphins (my 64th Mammal species in the UK) we set off to find coffee and cake before heading to Porth Amlwch for the afternoon.

This proved to be an excellent decision as we were treated to some very show Risso's breaching right out of the water and generally playing.  In the later afternoon a visit to Bull Bay produced some large splashes towards the west, turnstones on the rocks and a few stonechats amongst the gorse on the cliff-top.

On Saturday we visited Amlwch first, but with no dolphins to be seen, we then headed to Point Lynas, where around a dozen dolphins were just finishing their morning feed.  We then decided to head towards the Dingle at Llangefni were we managed to photograph red squirrels, and also saw a good selection of woodland birds.

Having seen our images FaceBook, friends Jeff Ckarke and Clare Gower decided to head over and join us on Sunday morning.  It was wet and windy, so we got rather damp as we watched and photographed the dolphins.  In between dolphin sightings we saw razorbills, guillemots and common scoter fly past.  Cormorants and shags were a regular feature and gannets also fished off-shore.  We left Point Lynas at lunchtime and headed back to Poth Amlwch.  No dolphins were seen, but plenty of stonechat and meadow pipits provided photographic opportunities.

Monday was our final day , so we headed to Point Lynas for a few hours.  Only two or three dolphins were seen, but the sight of a shot-eared owl coming in off the sea and flying over our heads made up for the poor dolphin sightings.

Individual dolphins can be recognised by marks on their fins and tails, we tried to photograph as many dolphins as we could.  These will be passed on to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and others who keep a catalogue of the sightings.

Plenty of images here  of the various Risso's. 

Haring about

07 January 2023

My first trip of 2023 was fairly local compared to some I've done.  I ventured over the Cheshire border into Derbyshire for a day looking for and hopefully photographing Mountain Hare at their only English stronghold.

I met wildlife photographer, Tesni Ward along the A57 (Snake Pass) and we then headed off into the Pennines looking for Mountain Hare.  Red Grouse occasionally flew across our path and it wasn't long before we saw our first (distant) Mountain Hare, the white winter coats making them easier to see against the dark peat and vegetation.

We carried out walking, seeing a few other Mountain Hares along the route, but Tes wanted to head for an area where she hoped one particular Mountain Hare should be seen.  This hare was used to Tes and her clients and once found, we lay down in the vegetation and slowly let the hare get used to our presence, the wind blowing our scent away from the hare.  We spent around 2 hours photographing the hare, as it fed, groomed and slept.  A purely memorable  experience.

A selection of images are here; more can be seen on my flickr page

09 March 2023

I've been to a few falconry centres to photograph birds of prey, but never been really happy with the results.  However the workshops offered by North West Wildlife Workshops run my Roy Rimmer and Mike Hudson were something different.  Restricted to 10 participants and four species all perched up everyone has a chance to photograph all the species, no trying to lock on to birds in flight, and natural looking perches, with the Jesses concealed, these workshops, for me represented excellent value for money and amazing photo-opportunities.  The species available to photograph varies between workshops, one the day I attended, two barn owl, eagle owl, peregrine and goshawk were available.  See for yourself with a selection of images here.

12 March 2023

It seemed quite ironic that when I photographed Mountain Hares in January it was quite mild, and then when I plan to photograph Brown Hare with Wildlife Photography Hides in Leicestershire I was digging out my thermals, gloves, hats and everything else for a day sat out amongst hay bales for several hours in sub-zero temperatures.

The day started at 06:30 when Tom (who owns and operates Wildlife Photography Hides) met us at The Wheatsheaf in Glentham to drive us the short distance to the Kendrew Barracks, where we were to spend the day.  Kendrew Barracks is an operation MOD base with a large airfield.  The shortly cropped grass at the airfield is ideal habitat for Brown Hare and as we drove round the airfield to the "Hides" we saw several Brown Hare.  The hides were far from conventual; in previous years Tom has set up several portable "pop-up" on the Airfield, however for 2023 he has built several stacks of hay bales as hides - the hares are used to these in the landscape and the bales provided us with 360 degrees of uninterrupted viewing.

We were set up by 07:00 and were soon watching the hares as they chased each other around, fed or just took it easy.  Many of the hares seemed to be paired up and only one pair were seen boxing, unfortunately to far away from me to get any decent shots.  At times activity was very limited, but this did provide an opportunity to watch the Skylarks as they displayed and set up their territories.  

By 16:00 we had got plenty of shots and Tom drove us back to our cars.  A great day.

Images from the day are here

High Tide Waders

25 March 2023

Last week saw several high tides on the Dee Estuary, when the predicted tide height is in excess of 10m and combined with a tidal swell and with the wind behind it, the saltmarshes all along the Dee are flooded with the tide reaching the the Old Baths car park at Parkgate and elsewhere, providing an impressive spectacle with birds and mammals pushed close to observers and some large wader roosts congregating.  One such roost that is easily accessible is at the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands were several thousand waders roosted on the Centenary Pool in front of the Border Hide.  The main waders were Redshank and Black-tailed Godwit, with over 1,500 of each, they were joined by Knot, Dunlin, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Avocet and a single Long-billed Dowitcher.  The latter is a rare American wader that has been present on the Dee Estuary most of the winter.  Several of waders fed and bathed in front of the hide, providing some excellent photo-opportunities.

Other birds present at Burton Mere included Great White, Little and Cattle Egret, Marsh Harrier and Cetti's Warbler.  Wildfowl included a few thousand Pink-footed Geese, two Egyptian Geese, Shoveler, Wigeon and Gadwall.

The tidal wreck left on the Dee Estuary provided foraging areas for a variety of small birds such as Meadow Pipit and Stonechat.

Images from the visits are here

Sensational Seabirds

23 April 2023

Julia and I are delighted to be joining Ocean Wildlife Encounters, a team of naturalists who provide guest lectures on various cruises around the world.  Our first tour will be with Fred Olsen Cruises on their "Scenic British Isles Cruise" in September with our good friends Jeff Clarke and Laura Dennis.  As part of the cruise Jeff and I will be entertaining the cruise participants with our talks.  One of my talks will be about the Seabirds of the UK, their migrations and the importance of the UK for these birds.   To get some new images for my talk, I headed to Bempton on Thursday evening ready for an early(ish) start at the cliffs on Friday.

Friday dawned with a grey sky and a biting northerly wind.  No need to worry about bright light bleaching out the whites on the seabirds!!  I headed to the Jubilee Corner viewing corner - the most northerly of the viewing points - and was treated to the sights, sounds and smells of one of the UK' best mainland seabird colonies.  Gannets were easily observed as they collected grass from the cliff-tops for their nests.  kittiwakes called out their names and they flew back and to from the cliffs,  fulmars flew past on their stuff wings whilst guillemots, puffins and razorbills attempted to land on the ledges, buffeted by the gusting winds blowing up the cliff face.

I got the impression that the numbers of seabirds were down on previous years, perhaps due to Avian Flue or poor breeding seasons in previous years; or maybe the birds were just late arriving back on the breeding cliffs.  The weather occasionally cleared, but the photographic opportunities were excellent. During the day I visited all the viewing platforms and  spent most of the time photographing the gannets collecting nesting material or getting photographs of the seabirds as they approached the cliffs.

A selection of images from the visit are here and lots more can be seen on my flickr page.  Most of the images were taken with the Canon 5D mkIV and 400mm f/4 DO and 1.4x convertor.  ISO 800, f11 and around 1/2000 sec shutter speed.

7 May 2023

I've made several visits to the RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands and adjacent Burton Marshes.  In the spring the area is alive with arriving summer migrants, whilst passage waders are beginning to get their bright breeding plumage.

Most visits have started off at the end of Station Road in Burton, walking along the cycleway towards Burton Mere, looking out over the marsh and the inland fields.  On some visits the fields have been bouncing with Wheatears, mainly of the slightly larger and brighter Greenland race.  Meadow Pipis, Linnets and Goldfinches alsp fed on the grassy fields and the edges of the marsh, whilst rabbits grazed amongst the sheep.    The reedbeds and scrub held singing Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats.  Little  and Great Egrets, and Grey Herons flew over from the heronry at Burton Mere to feed on the Marsh or Estuary.

Burton Mere Wetlands consists of wet grassland, reedbeds, woodland and open water. The reedbeds, like those on the Marsh,  support Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers; the scrubby areas hold Whitethroats, Blackcap and Garden Warbler.  Sand and House Martins and Swallows hawk for insects over the water bodies which held waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Ruff, Dunlin and Ringed Plover all passing through on their way to northerly breeding grounds.  They were joining the breeding Avocet, Lapwing and Oystercatcher.  Rarer waders have included a long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher and a couple of visits by a Black-winged Stilt.

Herons are also a feature of Burton Mere Wetlands - Great, Little and Cattle Egret are regularly seen along with occasional Spoonbill and Bittern.

As you can imagine, I've plenty of images from the last few weeks.