Friday 27 May 2016

PRAENUBILA - stunning colour form

The Four-spotted Chaser in yesterday's post HERE was of the unusual colour form Praenubila; the first one of these I've seen, a rather stunning individual too. Here are a few shots of the more common colour form of Libellula Quadrimaculata, taken today:

A very close-up pic. The intricacy of dragonflies always amazes me!

And here's the difference between the two aforementioned colour forms. The first image shows the more common form and the second image shows the form Praenubila. Note the extended Pterostigma (dark patch towards the wing tip) on the lower pic!!!

Apologies for the sheen on the wings; it's a teneral dragonfly so there was no avoiding it - nice to see one so new and vibrant. The Pterostigma can also be significantly more extensive than the example above shows; sometimes the black can extend over almost all of the end of the wing! 

Fascinating creatures.

Wednesday 25 May 2016


Dragonflies are great! They're both fascinating to watch and challenging to photograph. With bird migration drawing to a close (there's been nothing of much interest new on patch for a while now), butterflies and dragonflies will be making a more regular appearance here for the next couple of months. Places like the Somerset Levels are enjoying literally thousands of dragonflies at the moment, but they've been difficult near the coast here. Today I finally found a couple - singles of Four-spotted Chaser and Scarce Chaser at Lower Bruckland Ponds:

Saturday 21 May 2016

New life

There's little to report from inland areas of the soggy patch lately, the main interest has been out to Sea; it seems as though most of the birds have moved through now. As you'd expect in mid-May, there are lots of young birds around and I couldn't resist taking a few snaps of a rather endearing Mute Swan family this afternoon:

The photo of the single adult bird was intentionally underexposed and then the shadows were pulled back to emphasise the contrast between the blacks & whites. No details/objects have been edited out of the original image.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Pelican and Vulture Twitching...

Here's a bit of a write-up to supplement the pics in the previous post regarding the Dalmatian Pelican in Cornwall. An offer of a lift to Cornwall presented itself (many thanks Brett Spencer) so obviously I accepted. We set off from Seaton at 02:50 (he must have left home at around 02:00) and headed to Drift Reservoir, as the bird had seemingly decided to roost there overnight. Arriving on site at 05:30 the Dalmatian Pelican was immediately visible through dense mist, asleep out on the water. It was very distant, but that's not really a concern when watching such an immense bird! We stayed there until the bird decided to fly 3 hours later; it was worth the chills - seeing what looks a bit like a boat on wings was bloody great. So everything went smoothly! Or so we thought.....

We headed home after eating a massive pasty, dipping on Bowhead Whale and another dip on Serin. The mood of the twitch suddenly changed when we were approaching Exeter and I checked my phone only to discover that the recent LAMMERGEIER was now in Devon! ARGH F%£*!!!!! It was funny really; just the night before I was talking to a friend saying that the Lammer would appear nearby after we'd seen the Pelican, but not for a second did I think there was any realistic chance of this. So after a quick stop to get petrol for the car and an unhealthy quantity of energy drink for Brett and myself, off we went. We approached from the direction that the bird was last seen heading in so this gave us a good chance of 'bumping into it' but alas no such luck. We then headed out on the moors to Avon Dam Reservoir in the hope that it was still in that rough area, but then heard news that the bird had been re-found further North. Typical! By this time we had walked a couple of miles away from the car so much cursing and hurrying ensued.

Long story short, we didn't see it. There was some excitement whilst looking as other birders had reported that they'd seen it, although all sightings after about 15:30 were later re-identified as being of a drone... People saw it from a very long way away so the mistake is fair enough; the main downside is that others were pulled away from various watch-points to see the 'drone' and the actual bird managed to slip through the valleys unnoticed. Fortunately it was seen the following day in the Princetown area so it didn't go all that far.

We really thought we were going to see it! We were always slightly behind the bird, and it flew low and infrequently so picking it up would have been a real challenge despite its size. On the whole it was a fantastic day. We saw the target bird (Dalmatian Pelican) without any trouble/complication so I don't really call missing the others as that much of a dip; they would have been bonuses had we seen them (a very good bonus in the form of the Lammer...).

I've never been a twitcher to drive around after birds, but a few species this year have certainly made me more long-distance twitchy than I thought I ever would be...

Monday 16 May 2016


Having been up for 39 of the last 40 hours and pratting around Dartmoor after a LAMMERGEIER, I'm really flipping knackered. A write-up of the day will follow but for now here's a few pics of the Pelican. Very impressive bird:

Sunday 15 May 2016


Some more dirty twitching! I didn't expect to see another GS Cuckoo so soon after the patch bird at Beer Head (see HERE), thankfully this Portland bird looked far less knackered. It was a late afternoon visit as other commitments were prohibitive of spending much time there; it disappeared after about 5 secs initial viewing but did come back to the 'regular hedge' after an hour or so. Pics were challenging as the heat haze and light direction were BAD; if you read this blog regularly then you'll already be aware of my distaste towards strong Sunlight & heat haze for photography. My best shots were from when the Sun very briefly hid behind cloud but the bird was relatively distant and up a tree at that point. Here's a couple pics (more to come in a later post):

Great find Anthony Bentley!

Thursday 12 May 2016

Canvas prints etc

I don't really advertise the commercial side of my photography much on here so whilst I'm still writing the bridge camera vs DSLR follow-up post here's a little plug. I sell cards, mounted prints and canvases to outlets for them to sell on, but I also take private orders too. Below shows the three main product types:

-Greeting card, canvas print, mounted print (satin finish)-

Wrap-around edge of the canvas print

Although it's a common species, the Blue Tit is one of Britain's most popular birds; I quite like this pic from earlier this Spring. The pale background lends itself to mounting on walls very well and the image is nice and free from clutter whilst remaining 'arty' enough to look aesthetically pleasing on display. Anything from this page is available - please send any enquiries to:

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Short-eared Owl emerging through the mist...

The Short-eared Owl which was found yesterday was performing well again today, albeit difficult to photograph due to the mist and rain. Great bird to watch!

The wader activity in the Axe Valley has finally picked up a notch - about time too. Steve W sent a message to say 90 ish Dunlin and 7 Ringo on the Estuary and Ian Mc later found a Turnstone and a sum plum Knot to add to the party. Let's see what the next few days bring...

BIG ZOOMS Bridge Camera vs DSLR - Bird Photography (Part 1)

Technology advancements in the photography industry are astonishing. As a wildlife photographer, one of the most important aspects of the capability of equipment is the FOCAL LENGTH of the lens/camera; birds are nearly always 'too far away' for that perfect shot - the number of times I've had a bird too close to photograph/compose can probably be counted on one hand. Bridge cameras are increasing massively in popularity, particularly amongst people with an interest in wildlife photography; they are affordable, versatile, fairly compact and usually have colossal zoom ranges. I'm primarily a DSLR user, but do have an old bridge camera which is used occasionally. This post will compare bridge cameras vs DSLR cameras in terms of the focal length only - it is not 'as simple as that' due to there being other influences on images, but this will provide an understanding of the two in this specific field.

I have a big lens - a Canon 600mm F4. This is currently THE wildlife lens to have if using DSLR cameras, assuming you can physically lift it up. Silly as this may sound, it usually involves 'training' (I've been into weightlifting for many years) to be able to handle one all day without struggling with the weight. A lot of the local birders can vouch for that - they've asked to hold this lens out of curiosity and simply not been able to lift it up into a position to be able to take a photo. It is HEAVY. Here is a size comparison between my DSLR arrangement and my bridge camera:

Now for the part which I can almost guarantee will be a surprise to you. Which one has the longer focal length (zoom)?

...and by a very significant margin.

My lens is a 600mm f4. The 'f4' notation refers to the aperture of the lens and it is primarily because of this aperture that the lens is physically so large. Does this aperture affect focal length? No, the two properties are not related.
Bridge cameras are currently available with focal lengths as high as 2000mm. Let me put that into perspective for you...

This first image is what I would get from my professional 600mm lens:

And this second image represents the same photo taken from the same position at 2000mm on a bridge camera:

It is plainly obvious just how much more magnification the bridge camera offers. The lesson here is that if you think a big lens always means big/close images, then you are very, very wrong.

I'll do another post on bridge cameras vs DLSR cameras at some point as the focal length is just one of many factors that is of importance to wildlife photographers. The DSLR system really comes into its own if you like playing around with settings manually and being creative, but then again that isn't always necessary depending what you want to achieve with your wildlife photography. Despite the obvious advantages of getting so much closer to the action with bridge cameras, I will not be changing away from DSLR cameras any time soon. I will reveal why soon...

(There will probably be a 'bird' post or two before the next 'photography' post).

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Short-eared Owl on Patch

Short-eared Owl is a fairly good bird on our patch here so when I heard Richard P had found one just South of Black Hole Marsh I popped down briefly. The poor bird looked pretty sodden but it was still managing to make short flights and catch prey fairly well. Steve Waite had one from Beer Head recently too, but as far as I can recall it headed out to sea so wasn't an easy one for other people to get onto. Here's a pic of the one from this morning - nice find Richard! (He has recently started the Charmouth Birding blog):

Sunday 8 May 2016


What a stunning bird! I'm not really into off patch 'twitching' but if something within 50-60 miles of home really takes my fancy then I may go for it - this was one such occasion. I had a horrible journey to Morden Bog NNR late afternoon; there were multiple crashes on the A35 and the diversions were not fun. As such, I arrived on site 30mins later than intended so was worried the bird would have already settled to roost for the night. It took a while to find her but thankfully persistence paid off; she was on trees about 1/2 mile South of the Decoy Pond. These pics were taken just after Sunset so light was rather lacking, but they came out O.K. none the less.

A 'habo' pic

Wednesday 4 May 2016

B & W Grey Heron and more blog links

I thought it was about time the blog link list on the side of my page was updated seeing as though there are a lot of informative local pages. Have a browse!

A couple of recent evening visits to Seaton Marshes yielded nothing of particular interest. I ended up resorting to taking pics of a Grey Heron which was reflected nicely in the water; taken well after Sunset so I converted to black & white and pulled the shadows to make it a little 'arty'...

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Taking sharp photos - birds

The content of this post may seem a little contrary to convention at first, but it does also make perfect sense from a scientific perspective.

There are many factors which have an impact upon the sharpness of images, from the resolution of a camera's sensor to the clarity of the atmosphere, but the one thing that I repeatedly find has a particularly profound effect is Sunlight. Many birders now have a proclivity for taking photos as the age of digital photography and system aids has made photography within the reach of everyone regardless of skill or bank balance. Dad used to tell me how purchasing a camera in 1960s - 70s was a massive decision, as even mid-range equipment was months' worth of wages rather than days'/weeks'. Also the time frame between taking the photos and using the photos was significantly longer back then - I did briefly start off with film for perhaps 6 -7 years before digital photography really took over; the anticipation of waiting for pics to come back after sending off a roll of film in the mail is something I still remember well. Comparing this with what we have now is mind-blowing; a BOC (back of camera) shot or a digi-scoped shot with a phone (phone-scoping) can be posted on Twitter and have reached in excess of 10,000 people within a few hours. That's a pretty remarkable change.

Back to the propitious conditions which are conducive of taking sharp photos:
There is an incredibly common misconception that you need strong and/or direct Sunlight to take 'good' photos. Granted, there are scenarios where direct Sunlight brings out different colours in a subject - take the Glossy Ibis for example; this species can appear as a near-uniform charcoal grey colour in the shade, yet can exhibit shiny purple and green tones when viewed in direct Sunlight. In this example the bird appears far more coruscating to observe in direct Sunlight, but not necessarily to photograph.

Here's a few of the downsides of strong Sunlight for photography:

  • Severe exaggeration of highlights and shadows of the scene i.e. whites are too bright, and shadow areas lack detail
  • You need a clear view of the subject. If photographing from behind a tree, with the light source coming from behind you, there can be shadows of the tree obscuring the subject
  • Angle & direction of the Sunlight - to minimise the effects of the aforementioned highlights and shadows (first bullet point), ideally the Sun needs to be directly behind you, with the 'angle' being the light source, photographer and subject all in line (so not very often the case)
  • Heat haze - this is the big one for ruining photos and making them unsharp; various surfaces 'reflect' heat and this introduces significant atmospheric interference between photographer and subject.
I have tried to illustrate this below with the recent Hoopoe (Musbury). The symptoms are slightly exaggerated here as the scene is side-lit (partially backlit) but it demonstrates the concepts well. The pics were taken at the same range of about 25ft. The heat haze effect of softening the details is increased with distance from the subject, so with this pic being close up, it's actually minimising this effect to an extent.

As well as the problems as per the annotations, the above image is generally soft - purely a result of heat haze.

The below image was taken shortly before, when some clouds passed over and obscured the Sun. The difference is rather puissant.

And a close crop of both of these really emphasises the difference in detail & sharpness:

It baffles some people that when I want to go somewhere to photograph birds, I look to the forecast with the honest hope that it says cloudy/overcast; I'm even happy if it says rain so long as it's not prolonged spells of torrential rain.

Sunlight isn't always a photographer's enemy, but this is exception rather than rule. Not all situations produce severe heat haze however i.e. a bird sat up in a tree can look fairly sharp in a photo even if taken in direct Sunlight. Also back-lighting can be used to good effect to produce images with an artistic aesthetic, but the applications of this are fairly limited. Grass and water are amongst the worst offenders for producing heat haze, so it's the photography of grounded birds which causes the most difficulty.

I'll do another 'photography' type post soon, unless there's some more birds of interest to report on. The wind direction does look favourable this week so we could have another influx of migrants...

Monday 2 May 2016

New header after MONTYGATE

Had the Hoopoe stayed until 1st May, it may well have been the subject of the blog header at the end of this month. Although the bird isn't as good as the Monty, it still deserves a place at the top of this page, especially after all of the 'controversy' taking the edge off any joy generated by the Monty. Hoopoe was a patch first for me whereas I spotted another Monty in 2013 as a brief flyover at Black Hole Marsh, so I didn't 'need' it for the patch list in any case. Thankfully the Hoopoe stayed beyond its first night as with me being the only birder to see it on the first day, that would have likely been a cause for more unnecessary 'political discussion' from other birders. I have a lot of catching up to do with patch Hoopoe sightings - most of the other patch birders have seen 4 or 5! But then again some of those sightings were from before I was born.

In other news, one (or more) of my pics of the Colyford Common Monty will be in a nationally published wildlife magazine in the next month, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing that!

Sunday 1 May 2016

Absence of Hoopoe yet a Glossy Ibis lingers

There was much better light for photography today (overcast) so I thought I'd have another go with the Hoopoe & get some better shots. Well so much for that plan! It hasn't been seen/reported today and the area was watched from 07:00. The bird was present til at least 19:30 last night so it must have roosted here overnight - it could still be around, or perhaps it moved on before people went to see it this morning. Here's a short video clip of it from yesterday:

With a no-show from the Hoopoe I had a look around Seaton Marshes instead but things were pretty quiet here, with the exception of the lingering Glossy Ibis. It's made it to May!