Saturday, 25 March 2017

Little Ringed Plovers at Black Hole Marsh

Time I've invested on patch has been yielding little reward lately so I was pleased to see 3 Little Ringed Plovers at Black Hole Marsh this afternoon. I heard 3rd hand that one had been reported earlier in the day so it was nice to add another couple to this. They remained pretty distant so the pic is a bit naff...

2 of the 3 LRPs

I've been out for a couple of hours daily lately and still haven't seen a Wheatear or House Martin despite diligent searching and also responding to other reports quite quickly. Wheatears in particular seem to have a knack of clearing out a few minutes before I get to them. It's still very early Spring so I know I'll get them; it's just a bit frustrating to repeatedly miss things by minutes despite putting in the hours. Then again birding can often be like that - that's part of the fun/satisfaction!

The 4 Pintail and single Grey Plover still linger, with the latter now showing some signs of moulting into breeding plumage. Hopefully we get to see it looking really smart before it departs...

I haven't managed any nice shots of the Black-tailed Godwits as the smartest ones haven't posed for me yet. More of them are showing the gorgeous rufous colours now so hopefully one poses nicely soon. Here's a couple snaps of birds which weren't as close as I'd have liked but there was certainly some nice light around!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Robin singing amongst the blossom...

This is one of my favourite recent photos, taken on the 18th at Black Hole Marsh. The light was very dull so I had to use ISO 3200 (using the 5DSR rather than the 1DXii) but this is just about tolerable when the subject is close:

A quick check of Black Hole Marsh most evenings lately has yielded a single Dunlin (on the 20th) along with the lingering Grey Plover and 4 male Pintail which were still there today. Also many of the Black-tailed Godwits are moulting into their summer plumage and some look fantastic at the moment! Hopefully they'll pose for a photo or two before they move off...

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

3am Meteor 'Nightscape' of Black Hole Marsh

Night photography is something I haven't explored much so far but it often captivates me when I see the work of others; the results can be absolutely spectacular. Depending what the desired result is there are so many variables that need to be taken into account, the obvious main one being sources of light - these can be both shot making and shot spoiling.

Night shots tend to take some planning but just heading out with the camera can also yield some interesting shots. With night scenes there will always be parts of the image which are in complete shadow so a long exposure is necessary to bring out any detail. The downside of this is that any brightish light will likely be significantly overexposed; it is difficult to balance the two. There are various ways to combat the contrast of overexposed and underexposed areas in an image, including using physical graduated filters, digital graduated filters (Lightroom or similar), light painting the dark areas with a torch or even taking two different images and combining them; one would be set to bring out detail in the dark foreground and the other to control the 'blowing out' of any light sources.

I wanted to capture some detail of Black Hole Marsh whilst still being able to see stars in the sky for the final image. In terms of weather this required a clear sky, calm wind (which I didn't have) and no Moonlight as that'd make the sky too light and the stars would be less clear. Fortunately the sky remained free of cloud here for all the time I was out 00:00 - 04:00 and the Moon didn't show until 03:00 ish. The Moon was actually just coming into view for the shot posted below, hence the slightly brighter area behind the trees on the right hand side of the image. Although not planned I think this works okay here as the slight backlighting emphasises the detail in the trees a little. Something else that wasn't planned was the malfunction of a motion sensing light at The Lookout which was on intermittently with approximately 10 seconds on followed by 15 seconds off. I was trying to do long 30 second exposures so this would obviously capture the light in that time frame. This chance malfunction perhaps makes this image so much better than it would have been without it! It lights up the walkway to Island Hide and adds some nice detail to the middle of the image. There was a little more light pollution than I was hoping for with diffused light glowing distantly, probably over nearby towns within a few miles; this wasn't visible to the naked eye (it was completely dark apart from the stars and the dodgy light) but is quite obvious on a pic taken with a long exposure. I wanted to do this as a single image so I accepted that the light pollution would show if exposing to capture some detail of the foreground shadows.

In terms of image processing the contrast has been boosted, some shadows have been pushed to show a little more detail in the foreground and highlights have been pulled a tad to reduce the intensity of the light sources. This is a single image without any significant manipulation other than altering the RAW data captured in the original image. For those of you that use phones, bridge cameras or compact cameras in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you to make the image 'punchy' in the way that the camera sees fit. RAW files are always created intentionally 'flat' as it is simply capturing data for you to process later rather than having the camera interpret it in it's own way for you. Night photography can be a bit of a love/hate scenario in that some people don't like that cameras can capture more than what the human eye can see, whereas others think that what a camera can capture is simply amazing. After all, what the camera is capturing is actually there, it's just that the human eye isn't capable of seeing it in the same way.

As for the meteor? That was a nice bit of luck. I did see about a dozen of them but only a couple were bright enough to show up on the images. There is a remote possibility that what's been captured is a passing aircraft but a meteor did go through during this pic and the 'trail' doesn't look like the usual double-streak from aircraft in other pics. The streak is also slightly more intense towards the bottom which is how you'd expect a meteor to look rather than an aircraft. The image below has had a little more shadow & highlight adjustment than on the one that I've posted elsewhere so a little more foreground detail should be visible with this version.

Shot settings were as follows:
Shutter speed: 30 seconds
Aperture: f4
ISO: 8000
Focal length: 16mm

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Med Gull showing well (plus patch update)

A brief look from Tower Hide late afternoon showed that all 4 male Pintail were on Black Hole Marsh (I only had 3 on the 18th after the initial 4 on 17th) along with the lingering Grey Plover. A look over the gulls on the estuary yielded a 2nd Winter Mediterranean Gull and 60 - 80 Commons; they kept flying up so an accurate count was impossible.

Nice rear ends at Black Hole Marsh

A quick look over BHM and the estuary at around midday yielded nothing of interest initially. I chose the wrong moment to leave however as Len spotted 4 male Pintail land on the river a few minutes after I went to have a look around elsewhere. Fortunately Ian Mc relocated 3 of them on BHM from Tower Hide and then I relocated the 4th at the North end of BHM. They were still there when I left at 17:00 as was the lingering Grey Plover. As the light was fading 20+ Sand Martins flew over BHM but I still haven't managed to pick out a House Martin or Swallow amongst them. Other local news of interest is that Ian Mc had a Greylag on Bridge Marsh this morning and Bun had 7 male Wheatear on Beer Head at lunchtime. Spring migration has certainly picked up a notch.

3 of the 4 Pintail were still present at Black Hole Marsh on 18th.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Signs of Spring

It took a little longer than for some of the other local birders but I finally saw some Sand Martins with 40+ around Black Hole Marsh at 17:15. The Avocet continues to show near(ish) Tower Hide and there has been an increase in number of Chiffchaffs around BHM with perhaps 8 in the corner near the main entrance to the reserve and likely many more elsewhere. Away from the Axe a few pairs of Grey Wagtail have been showing well on the Coly.

Grey Wagtail

A few of the Sand Martins pictured flying over the BHM car park

Patch update and pics

I spent a few hours out around the patch today but only saw the usual suspects plus the lingering patch scarcities; 1+ Cattle Egret still at Colcombe Farm and both the Avocet & Grey Plover still on Black Hole Marsh. There was probably more than 1 Cattle Egret amongst the Little Egrets at Colcombe Farm but I was viewing distantly from Chantry Bridge and could only positively identify 1 as being a Cattle Egret.

Here's a few snaps taken around Black Hole Marsh today. Light was dull so these were all between ISO 3200 - 4000:



Long-tailed Tit