Wednesday 21 November 2018

---GIVEAWAY--- Milky Way from Seaton Beach

It has been a while! I'm very sorry to those of you who check this blog regularly; I've had a busy few months. This page will hopefully get back to regular birding stuff soon!

In the meantime, I'm doing another giveaway on my photography page on Facebook. It's worth a plug here as it's to do with the natural World!

A bit of story on the image itself. I was initially disappointed to see the cloud coming in so soon after setting up the camera equipment, but fortunately the wisps were thin and showed some warm colours, presumably from light pollution around nearby towns.

This image is a stack/blend of 5 long exposures with a total exposure time of slightly over 10 minutes. This allows all areas of the image to be detailed without showing much image noise.

This link < HERE > should take you to the post.

GIVEAWAY CLOSES ON SUNDAY 25TH NOVEMBER AT 20:00 (local time) - see the Facebook post for more information if you're interested. There are approx. 100 entries so far.

Thursday 20 September 2018


Well, it has been a while! I have been getting out for the occasional 30mins of birding but haven't been able to blog anything having not had a working week of less than 100 hours for quite some time now.

A quick visit to BHM in the strong winds this afternoon yielded nothing better than 2 Ruff, 2 Greenshanks, a Green Sand and 3 Grey Wags.

Monday 13 August 2018

Cuckoo at Black Hole Marsh

There was a Cuckoo at BHM near Tower Hide on Thursday 9th. It was pretty elusive, only giving brief views and mostly seen in flight when the trams flushed it. We've also had more waders around recently with the best being a Curlew Sandpiper seen briefly by Ian Mc. The only other wader of much interest was another Wood Sandpiper.

Here's a pic of the Cuckoo but it doesn't have many pixels left. I took this from Island Hide, so it was a few hundred feet away...

Saturday 4 August 2018

Wood Sandpiper posing nicely

Black Hole Marsh has been looking absolutely stunning lately! Lots of birds, nice evening light with the recent Sun and a nice view over the whole marsh now that the overhead cables have been removed. We've had at least 1 Wood Sandpiper here over the last few days, showing well near the viewing screens at the end of the boardwalk to Island Hide at times. I took Dad for a quick visit this evening and it performed very nicely indeed. Other birds of note included 16+ Dunlin, 3 Green Sandpipers and a Greenshank.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Spotted Redshank and more juv Yellow-legged Gulls

Black Hole Marsh continues to attract waders with the best of them being a Spotted Redshank which was found by Clive and has been here since the 26th. Blackwit numbers are building with 20+ present recently and Dunlin are also in low double figures. Other waders of note have been 2 Greenshanks and at least 1 Green Sandpiper.

We've had quite a few Yellow-legged Gulls in the last week, perhaps just into double figures, although it's hard to be sure. There were 2 on the estuary from Tower Hide this evening; Steve had 4 earlier in the day so perhaps these birds were 2 of those. We've had quite a few Med Gulls recently too, including a juv on BHM with yellow ring number AYNK.

Annoyingly I reckon an Osprey probably went through mid-afternoon on Friday 27th. As I got out of my car at the BHM car park I saw the gulls go up from the estuary in a big flush. It wasn't just the gulls though; all the waders were up too, including almost everything from BHM. I didn't see what caused it but it was a very 'Osprey-like' flush and it took a while for the birds to return to the estuary and BHM. I've missed all of the patch Ospreys so far this year, and there have been a few...

I'm going to try and get more pics of LBB and Herring Gulls in various plumages over the next year or so for reference purposes. Either that or find a proper gull ID book! Some pics:

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Wood Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gulls and ISS

Late news and a brief post! Clive found a Wood Sandpiper at Black Hole Marsh on 21st. I wouldn't normally rush out to twitch one but I didn't see one on patch in 2017 so it was worth a quick look. A Hobby flew overhead and a Yellow-legged Gull was showing distantly but well from Coronation Corner on that same evening. There was a different Yellow-legged Gull on the estuary the following evening, although I think other Tim (Wright) had two.

Not birding related but some of you may be into such things; the International Space Station has been very bright and obvious when passing over during the last few evenings. If you look closely you should be able to see part of the Milky Way above the ISS 'streak' in the pic. When I posted this on Twitter James Chubb referred to the lens flare as an 'intergalactic haddock' which I quite liked!

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Great Egret at Black Hole Marsh

A Sunday evening trip to Black Hole Marsh proved worthwhile when I spotted a Great Egret flying towards BHM at 20:22. It landed close-ish to Tower Hide (where I wasn't) so I took a quick pic, sent out a few texts & tweets and looked back up 30 seconds or so later to see that it was no longer there! A search of Seaton Marshes and Colyford Common didn't yield any further sign.

Other birds of note on BHM were 7+ Common Sands, 4 Dunlin and an adult Med Gull.

I hope to get more time for birding and blogging soon; recently I've been working most of the way around the clock every day of the week!

Friday 29 June 2018

Interesting Heron

Firstly I must write sorry to those of you who check this blog regularly but repeatedly see the same post(s) at the top! Birding time has taken a massive hit lately but I did manage to get out a couple of times recently. I was surprised to see a Greenshank on Black Hole Marsh on Wednesday evening as I can't remember personally seeing one here in June before (might have done but I'm not going to trawl through and check). Other birds of note were 2 Common Sandpipers and a group of Gadwall. Exactly how many there were I could not tell as both camera & scope were at home and I only had binoculars with me. Ian Mc had 13 the following morning and 11 were still there when I popped over for a look in the afternoon. The Greenshank and 2 Common Sands were also still present.

The most interesting bird for me was a rather striking Heron. It was DARK. I was watching it in isolation for most of the time so I wasn't sure just how dark, but thankfully a 'normal' Grey Heron came nearby for a proper comparison:

Melanism? Hopefully we'll be able to see how this bird develops over the coming days and weeks.

Sunday 17 June 2018

The Milky Way - photo taken at Seaton Hole

At 23:00 on Thursday (14th) the sky was almost completely free from cloud here and this gave me a sudden desire to go out and do some night photography. The only other thing I needed to check was the Moon phase as it needs to be either dull i.e. thin crescent or not visible at all, otherwise the moonlight will bleach out the sky on a long exposure. Turns out this was perfect timing and conditions were ideal! I headed out and arrived at Seaton Hole at around midnight.

The Milky Way is difficult to get pics of, especially if trying to get a detailed foreground in shot rather than just the sea. A common way of doing it is to take multiple pics exposing for the sky and foreground in separate shots and then stacking them together in photo editing software. It's a bit more difficult to get right but I've always tried to do it in a single exposure and then play around with the settings in Lightroom to make it a bit more punchy. It still requires editing, but I like the challenge of doing it in one shot rather than making an image out of multiple shots (sometimes it almost has to be multiple shots i.e. if it's so dark that detail in the foreground needs a significantly longer exposure to be seen).

Settings were 16mm focal length, 30sec exposure, f/4 aperture at ISO 5000. I don't have a camera body that's particularly good in low light anymore so this could have been a lot better with different gear. Still, I'm pleased with what I came away with.

This has been shared on Facebook hundreds of times now and I've had a few enquiries about prints. Please feel free to message me if you are interested in one; it's probably easiest to do this via Facebook HERE.

The pic below is deliberately low resolution but this looks okay up to A3:

Thursday 31 May 2018

Red-footed Falcon INCREDIBLE views

Watching raptors has long been one of my favourite aspects of birding so when I saw reports of a 2cy female Red-footed Falcon only 45mins from home my interest was instantly spiked. Some of the reports almost sounded too good to true as it was giving 'unbelievable views' and 'showing down to 15ft' at times. I'd only previously seen one Red-footed Falcon, back in May 2016 at Wareham Forest and it wasn't a great performer; it came close a couple of times but was usually out of view.

This bird at Isle Brewers near Taunton was fantastic to watch. Despite the drizzle we headed over mid-afternoon and after leaving the car it took less than a minute to get on the bird as it was flying directly over the small group of keen watchers. It had a couple of favoured perches which it was loyal to, returning to them for extended periods of time between flights.

As is often the case with such birds, getting good pics of the wee beauty was a massive challenge. Erratic flight paths from a fairly small bird is a nasty combination for camera autofocus systems and the dull light didn't help either (although at least there was no heat haze). Viewing through binoculars was easier but I was determined to get some okay pics as a better memento for the occasion. Here are a few of the images where things came together quite nicely!

Tuesday 15 May 2018

104+ Red Kites over Colyton in 2 days

With the continuing hot and settled weather I was hopeful we'd have more Red Kites today. 2 over Colyton mid-morning was the best of it until the afternoon when there was a strong passage again with another 22+ birds. It was more difficult to be sure of numbers than yesterday as all except 5 of the birds in the afternoon were extremely high so we ended up writing a couple off as possible repeats and likely missed a fair few due to altitude.

Fran reported 5 over Seaton in the morning and a few others were seen locally on patch that didn't come over Colyton, but like yesterday it seems Colyton had more going over than any other site locally. Well, any other site being watched that is!

Looking at tweets (Twitter) it sounds as though we smashed the Devon record for Red Kites (from one site in one day) from our garden in Colyton yesterday which seems absolutely crazy. We were very strict and deliberately conservative if there was any uncertainty when counting so our counts will be below the actual numbers that went over on both days. It's nice that this record is both from the garden and within the patch boundary, but with the way the Red Kite population is increasing in the UK this may not even be that impressive in a few years time. We'll see!

Now I need to catch up on some sleep because I've been birding during the days and ended up working through a lot of last night! Worth it though. So worth it.

Pic from yesterday as I didn't bother with the camera today

Monday 14 May 2018

MEGA Red Kite passage 80+ birds

What an utterly brilliant afternoon that was! The Red Kite passage over Seaton last year (see HERE) left a lasting impression and was easily one of my personal highlights of 2017. In terms of sheer numbers, today smashed the total we had from the two (main) days of passage last year.

I had the first one over the house at around 14:15 so I rushed out with the camera to take some dodgy pics of it. 2 minutes later when I was back in the office a quick glance out of the window revealed that there were another 3 flying towards me! So, back out with the camera and there were suddenly 5 above me. At this stage is was pretty obvious that there was some passage going on as all birds were heading West so I phoned Dad and we co-ordinated a watch from his garden for the next few hours. Even with both sets of eyes we will have missed quite a few birds; approx. half of them were easy to see i.e. between 100-600 metres away or so, but many of them were VERY high and some we only picked out by chance with the binoculars. Our 80 was slightly conservative as we reckon we had a couple more but didn't want to double count anything so any that were possible repeats were discarded. On the whole, keeping an accurate total was easy as nearly all of them were heading directly West. I suspect that the true number over Colyton this afternoon would have been slightly over 100 as some were already on the limit of our binoculars so others would almost certainly have been too high to see.

Ian Mc phoned to say he had a Hobby (and some Red Kites) from the A3052. Interestingly I had a few Hobbies passing at the same time as the Red Kites last year so it was nice for the same to happen this time. I expected it to be too high by the time it came over us in Colyton but it wasn't; it flew directly over the garden perhaps only 100 metres above us.

Photos were a challenge as the heat haze was particularly extreme so all pics came out slightly soft. Also please forgive the colours and shadows; the backlighting was quite tricky to deal with. Still, with passage events like this it's the thrill/experience that counts, and that was an afternoon I will not be forgetting anytime soon...

Tuesday 8 May 2018

More Red Kites

Spending a lot of time looking to the sky out of windows paid off yesterday with a Red Kite flying low over Colyton heading East, and Dad had another one today heading West. All of my Kite pics so far this year have been from half a mile away or more so here is a pic of one of the 60 ish patch Red Kites I saw last year:

Other patch news of interest:
A text from Ian Mc in the morning of Monday 7th said there was a Marsh Harrier over the estuary. I suspect that it was here from late afternoon on Sunday as there were two big flushes on the estuary about an hour apart from each other. I thought maybe it was a Red Kite with the first flush as there had been a couple already but after the 2nd flush I said to Dad (we were watching the Garganey) that the behaviour from the gulls was more typical of a Harrier type flush i.e. from the ground upwards rather than something flying overhead. We couldn't see what it was from where we were but it's likely that this was the Marsh Harrier that was reported the next day. No regrets missing it though; that Garganey was great to watch!

We've now got at least 8 Swifts back in Colyton. I wanted some pics of them but they have been feeding very high with the recent warm weather, although it looks as though that has now started to change for the colder!

Monday 7 May 2018

Hobby and another Garganey

Well what a stunning end to the weekend that was! Ian Mc texted to say there was a drake Garganey still at The Borrow Pit (Seaton Marshes) so I picked up Dad and headed down for a look. It was asleep when we arrived so I spent a lot of time looking upwards in the hope of seeing something half decent pass over. This proved worthwhile as I eventually spotted a Hobby flying over. The small group of us took a few snaps before it drifted out of sight northwards:

Soon after this the Garganey woke up and performed well; it seemed oblivious to the group of observers but was rather wary of other birds on the water. Something that I wasn't expecting was for him to be calling quite regularly! A slightly strange call but great to hear. This is (only) the 5th Garganey I've seen here having found 4 others previously but this was by FAR the best of them in terms of viewing experience.

What a superb looking bird!

Thursday 3 May 2018

Swifts back in Colyton and another missed Osprey

It's always nice to see Swifts back in Colyton! The 1st of May was the day I saw my first of the year but I've been seeing a few birds regularly over the town since then. We normally get a few pairs breeding in town so hopefully some more will join them.

The patch had another Osprey today seen first by Phil I think; it was here for much of the afternoon and early evening. I went out at the soonest opportunity (work rather busy currently) and missed it by 5 mins when it flew off north! Thanks to Brendan and Mark for the updates none-the-less. It was a shame to miss it. I don't really like posting old pics but the last two posts were image free and this isn't going to be a third!

Only other birds of note from me were 6 Whimbrel from Coronation Corner this evening.

Osprey over the River Axe 08-09-2017

Sunday 29 April 2018

2 Red Kites over Seaton

Short post to say that I had 2 Red Kites very high from Tower Hide at 17:08 when they drifted West towards Seaton. They gradually lost height as they headed away from me and were quite low by the time they were over Seaton. I did take some pics but they're terrible as the birds were 1000-2000m away from where I watching them from! Nothing to report from Black Hole Marsh but there was still plenty of mud on the estuary at this time so there were probably a few waders elsewhere.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Mirrror, Mirror.....less.

On the recent camera post I mentioned that I had a friend who has recently switched from DSLR systems to mirrorless systems. He has written a piece which compares various aspects but similar to my DSLR posts there is more to cover (not a simple subject). Enjoy! And thanks Oli Reville.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Not much to report!

I've not had much time for birding lately but on 22nd a brief visit to Black Hole Marsh yielded a near summer plumaged Grey Plover, 2 Ringed Plovers and a Reed Warbler. On 23rd I heard a rather vocal Whimbrel flying over Colyton at 22:30 whilst walking back from the pub. I'm not out boozing midweek, in fact the beverage of choice was diet coke as I'm currently in a cutting phase (bodybuilding talk). On 24th a few House Martins were back in Colyton. Lots more to come hopefully...

1 of 3 Whimbrel on the estuary on 17th April

Monday 16 April 2018

CAMERAS - Part 2 to the Bridge Camera vs DSLR post

A reader recently commented on my ‘BIG ZOOMS Bridge Camera vs DSLR – Bird Photography (Part 1)’ post asking if I ever followed it up with a part 2. I wrote that post back in May 2016 so there should probably have been a couple of follow-ups by now, but I never got around to it. This delay however means there is certainly plenty to write about now.

I will open by stating the obvious; bridge cameras and DSLRs with big lenses are 'different animals' and not generally intended for the same purpose/market, but they are both used in birding and wildlife photography so there is a point to stacking them against each other. I'll also add the conclusion here so you know where the post is going. Bridge cameras can be excellent tools for long distance subjects, but they are restrictive in terms of conditions in which they perform well and a high-end DSLR with a 500mm or 600mm prime attached will nearly always outperform a bridge camera for long distance photography. As such, I rarely use a bridge camera other than for travelling when portability is a priority. CSC & MILC systems however, have become a little more tempting in recent years.

A few things I won't talk about here as the post will get too bloated are file formats, focussing capability, speed/flexibility in use, low-light performance and video capabilities. They are all relevant, but I'll just say that generally DSLRs come out comfortably on top in all of these except perhaps video where the bridge cams hold up well (and some DSLRs lose continuous autofocus etc).

This isn’t aimed at photographers who have a genuinely thorough knowledge of the various types of cameras (DSLR, CSC, MILC etc); there will be little or nothing to learn here so no need for you to waste a few minutes of your time, unless you really want to have a read through anyway of course. I wrote the ‘Part 1’ post because hearing (quite frankly, uninformed) people talk nonsense about big lenses and seeing things which some were writing online was an all too frequent occurrence. It’s worth clicking on the link on the first line of this post to see what I was on about in the original post. It was primarily about focal length and magnification achievable with two different but both commonly used camera systems - bridge cameras and DSLRs (plus the lens). The below pic sums it up; the physically larger of the two camera systems here does not have a longer focal length. 

It may seem like I’m excessively ‘talking up’ one system over the other in the next section but bear with me, it'll balance out at the end.

I will use the Nikon P900 (not pictured) as the example for comparison as this is one of the best and most widely used bridge cameras currently available for wildlife photography and/or twitching. I will compare it to the Canon 600mm f4L IS II USM lens which is probably the best lens currently available for wildlife photography (except perhaps for paid setups/hide work), mounted on a 1DX ii. This is a fairly extreme example but it does illustrate the point. 

Bridge example vs DSLR example (prices accurate at time of writing)

COST                           £479.00  vs  £16,328.00        Bridge camera is approx. 97% cheaper

WEIGHT                        899 g    vs  5,567 g               Bridge camera is approx. 84% lighter

FOCAL LENGTH     2000 mm  vs  600 mm               Bridge camera has approx. 333% MORE focal length

So (and this is something many people fail to get their head around), when you see ‘Person A’ with a bridge camera and ‘Person B’ with a large lens taking pics of the same subject from the same distance (at full zoom on the bridge camera), ‘Person A’ with the small camera may be getting frame-fillers whilst the long lens ‘Person B’ may be getting only a fairly small area of the frame filled with the intended subject. I mention weight in the above stats because most photographers/people cannot handhold a 1DXii with the 600mm ii lens as they simply don’t have the strength, but hey, tripods, ledges and fence posts can be very useful!

This is making a bridge camera sound like the obvious choice then? Well no, far from it. They may be cheaper, they may be lighter and they may have significantly more reach than a DSLR setup, but they do not produce the same sort of still image quality. The sensors are not capable of performing like a larger sensor in a DSLR, and the built-in zoom lenses will not perform as well as the fixed focal length beasts you can buy for interchangeable lens systems. In simple terms, bridge cameras have smaller sensors than DSLRs, many of them being 1/2.3 inch sensors with a few newer models increasing that size to 1 inch. These small sensors give the cameras a ‘crop factor’ vs full frame which essentially allows a big ‘focal length’ in a small package. All focal lengths quoted here are in terms of 35mm equivalence; I've written 'focal length' in inverted commas in places because the lens itself doesn’t achieve this i.e. the P900 doesn’t have a 2000mm lens but has the equivalent of a 2000mm lens due to the crop factor of the sensor. This is where the big compromise is. Small sensors typically gather significantly less light than larger sensors; a smaller sensor surface area means that the individual pixels must be smaller for the same resolution, and are therefore capable of capturing less photons in a set time period. As everyone who uses a camera should know, light has a profound impact on the end result. This is also where big lenses come in. A lot of lenses aren’t ‘big’ because of the focal length (obviously some are, to an extent), but more so because of the aperture of the lenses. Take the Canon 400mm f2.8L IS II USM compared to the Canon 400m f5.6L for example. They have the same focal length, yet the f2.8 version is over 3x the weight, significantly longer and nearly double the max diameter. Herein lies an incredibly common misconception, that big lenses get you close-up pics. They usually don’t. Take mine for example; I have a big lens but also have the equal least equivalent focal length of all the local patch bloggers/photographers here. However, the light gathering benefits of such a lens are profound.

However, focal length isn’t everything. What is the use of huge focal length if the quality of pics produced is poor? What is the use of huge focal length if there isn’t much light available and the camera needs a slow shutter speed that will likely result in blurry images? What is the use of huge focal length if the photographer is handholding but isn’t very stable? Well, you simply wouldn’t benefit from more focal length. Tricky photography conditions lend themselves to cameras with better sensors; they’re more versatile and that can make all the difference. If you nail a shot on a DSLR and get everything right with the settings, you should be able to crop out perhaps 80-90% of the image and still have enough pixels to make use of for websites or small printing. You may have noticed when I post a pic of something very distant, I’ll occasionally say something along the lines of ‘this is cropped to show 2-3% of the original pixels.’ This is something that simply can’t be done well with bridge cameras yet. Granted, you may have a bigger subject in the frame straight from the camera, but that doesn’t always translate to the best final result. The pics below show a full image (DSLR) and then a heavily cropped version which still shows enough detail to be of use:

Another area worth mentioning is quality of equipment, and the ‘you get what you pay for’ saying does ring quite true here within each type of camera system. One 400mm lens is not going to get the same results as another 400mm lens of a different aperture or from a different manufacturer. It’s a tricky one to balance with DSLRs as some lenses can produce a higher perceived resolution than the camera body is capable of capturing. This does go both ways though and a very high-resolution sensor on a camera body won’t produce very good results if you are shooting through a mediocre lens. In basic terms, interchangeable lens camera systems are not simple and thought needs to go into what will be the best combo of body and lens to suit your specific requirements. On the subject of quality, if you manage to get a shot composed as you want where no cropping is required (i.e. the subject was very close in the case of wildlife, or if you are going for a scenic/habitat shot), then the quality with a decent DSLR & lens will blow away what is achievable with a bridge camera. Every time. The sensors are simply that much better due to their size and light gathering capabilities. In reality though, it is rare that the original shot from a DSLR will be close enough unless it was a set-up type situation; that's just part of the challenge with wildlife photography.

Perhaps the most significant factor when considering impacts on results from all types of camera systems is knowing your equipment and knowing how to use it effectively in different scenarios. Take pics of the Moon for example, whether taken on a bridge or DSLR type camera. A quick look online will show massive variation in quality of pics from the same type of camera in the hands of different photographers with the main reason being some know how to get the most from the equipment they have, and others don’t (although an immeasureable caveat of this is that not all gear is made equal and two versions of the same model may not produce the same results in the same hands). Have a play around with manual settings rather than relying on auto modes. Play around with ISO settings to see what you are personally happy with as a limit. Play around with different apertures to see the changes it makes to depth of field and consider how you may use this to your advantage. Play around with shutter speeds to see how still you can hold the camera in case you need to use it when light is poor. 

I suppose I need to conclude this in some way, so I'll end with saying that modern cameras are brilliant and photography can be very rewarding, whether you use it for blogging, social media, business or simply for your own personal records. Both bridge cameras and DSLRs have their own set of advantages & disadvantages for wildlife photography and this post is a long way from exhaustive of these (it's already long enough). In terms of the 'mutt's nuts' a £15,000-20,000 + DSLR setup will achieve the best results in most circumstances (in the right hands), but the value & performance for money you get with bridge cameras is incredible. To get close to the performance of a £400-500 bridge camera like the Nikon P900 for very long distance subjects, you will likely need to spend well into four figures on a DSLR system. However, for anything that doesn't require close to full zoom, bridge cameras will lose out.

P.s In part 3, APS-C vs Full Frame sensors within the DSLR category needs to be covered in more detail, as do the different types of interchangeable lens systems. I have a friend who has recently switched from DSLRs to MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, an area that is advancing rapidly) and know some local people who have also made the same switch. I’ll see if I can persuade someone to write a guest post for me with a few pics to help show advantages/disadvantages of each system. This still isn't exhaustive of course, with digiscoping and other options out there! Hopefully I won’t leave it almost 2 years for the follow-up post this time…

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Hirundines arrive and Egyptian Geese linger

A quick check of Bridge Marsh at 17:30 yielded hundreds of hirundines with some continuing North and others hanging around to feed. They were mostly Swallows but there were 30+ House Martins and a few Sand Martins amongst them too. The 2 Egyptian Geese continue to linger and I popped back shortly before dusk to get a few (fairly distant) pics; these are the first I've seen here since I had 3 fly in and land on the estuary in January 2014.