Steve's Wildlife Photography Blog
Welcome to my blog page. I will be writing a monthly blog to begin with and if that proves popular I will try to post one weekly. Work gets in the way though!
Is it me or is everybody naffed off with this weather? Here in South Wales, it's either overcast or misty. Not the best conditions for photography.
I haven't ventured far these last few weeks, just visiting the usual haunts of Slimbridge wetland centre and Forest farm nature reserve near Cardiff. Last Wednesday I arrived at Slimbridge with good intentions and a good forecast predicted (which never happened!). Whilst waiting for the fog to lift I had propped my camera and lens on its monopod up against the hide, the next thing I heard was crunch! On the floor was a cracked camera body and the lens attachment was ripped off. ££££££ The air was blue as I cursed my stupidity. The lens was ok thank god and worked ok on my spare camera body. The next thing I did was order a Nikon D810 body! Damaging my camera was probably an omen. A rather expensive one! I was meaning to do this for a while since the introduction of the D850 the D810 prices have decreased slightly. Don't get me wrong the D500 is a good camera with amazing auto-focus and shutter speed but the D810 has amazing quality and resolution and the shutter is soooo quiet. So when my D500 returns from the Nikon hospital it will be relegated to the back-up body!
In all this unplanned extra expense I managed to photograph an elusive hawfinch at Forest farm nature reserve near Cardiff. There has been a big influx of these birds to the UK this year and are always great to see. They are probably making up for the lack of waxwings this winter. Last year was a 'bumper' year but not many have migrated over this year.
Hawfinch near the warden's office at Forest farm nature reserve.
This was probably the last photograph I took with my D500 before it was sent back to Nikon! In pieces!!
At the start of the week I was talking to a regular birder at Slimbridge of a sighting of a Great Northern diver just up the road at Sharpness marina, Gloucestershire. As I wasn't getting any worthwhile shots here I called in on the way home. Sure enough the bird was bobbing about on the marina lake battling the waves. It wasn't easy to get close to at first but then it started to dive for food. Whilst under the water I was able to get closer by moving a bit quicker than I normally do (a bit of a feeble attempt at jogging!) and dropping down low when it resurfaced. It worked-ish and got I some half decent record shots. I call my not-so-good photographs 'record shots'.). I'm my own worst critic! Lol. Great Northern diver on Sharpness marina lake.
Today I called at Forest farm for a couple of hours to try out the Nikon D810. The lakes were frozen so the kingfishers wouldn't be playing but the jays were helping themselves to the peanuts I had brought. The grass was white with frost which made a great back drop for the jay shots. I'm really impressed with the 810. The quality of the shots are fantastic and there is plenty of resolution available if a shot is to be cropped. The big plus factor is how quiet the shutter is on this camera as opposed to the 'clunk' of the D500. I also tried it in QC (quiet continuous). Impressive stuff. I wish I'd bought this body ages ago. The 810 has a 5 fps which is plenty. I'm not one of these 'trigger happy' togs. One of of my best kingfisher flight shots was taken with 1 shot when I used to have a D800 which was even slower! 'One shot' kingfisher taken at Forest farm.
Eurasian jay in Arctic conditions using the D810.
After a couple of hours at Forest farm I drove up to Gigrin farm in Mid-Wales. Gigrin is famous for being a red kite feeding station for the last 23 years! An amazing place I love visiting but today it was CLOSED!! More obscenities filled the air, I should have checked their website as they have limited opening times in winter. Whilst I was in the area I had a drive up Elan valley. A stunning place to visit especially in the Autumn. I took a few long exposure shots of the water flowing over the reservoir dams. An impressive sight. After nearly freezing to death I retreated to the visitor centre cafe for coffee and cake!
Caban Coch Dam, Elan Valley.
Thanks for reading my latest installment.
More of my images can be viewed on my flickr page.
At last I’ve finally got round to writing a blog! I never know what to write in these so I’ll tell you about my latest exploits at RSPB Ham wall in Somerset over the last couple of weeks. I have visited the reserve a few times over the years which only ends up being once a year. So last week I had a quiet period at work and spent 3 consecutive days there and a day the following week. I find this is a better way to get to know a place and was rewarded with some great images. My main goal was the elusive Great bittern preferably in-flight (image below). The problem with these birds is you never know where they are going to spring from but I had a friend on my side. The Weed Cutter! The cutters were busy tidying the place up a bit which spooked the birds as they went along the reed beds. I don’t think the birds were too impressed but I got the shots I was after!
Great bittern 'spooked' from the reed beds.
Walking round the reserve the little birds such as the long-tailed tits, bearded reedlings, reed buntings, cetti’s warblers and goldcrests were busy calling and feeding up for winter. Just stop for 5 minutes and they will soon appear. While I was walking around Loxton’s marsh, I heard a thrashing in the reeds and a roe deer appeared, she jumped in the water and swam to the next island. I watched this activity for around 10 minutes and she never spotted me. It’s amazing what you can see at this place.
Roe deer hind swimming between the islands on Loxton's marsh.
On one of my first visits a regular visitor advised me to sit at one of the screens dotted around the reserve for a couple of hours because you never know what is going to fly in or out of the reeds. So with a full flask of coffee and a bite to eat I found a screen and waited and waited! The little birds were everywhere and the ‘Blue Lightning’ kingfishers were darting about ‘pipping’ as they zip past. I also heard the distinctive ‘ping ping’ of the bearded reedlings but they were not coming out today. I did manage to catch up with them on my fourth visit.
Common goldcrest. The UK's smallest bird.
The marsh harriers were out in force hunting for small birds usually teal (small ducks). After a couple of hours I went for a walk to the Avalon hide which is quite a walk. I’ve never had much luck with this hide, maybe things will be better this time. There were plenty of ducks such as mallard, widgeon, gadwall and teal and a preening great egret. These birds remind me of a white pterodactyl when they are flying!
Great egret flying over Walton's marsh.
On my 2nd & 3rd visits the weed cutters were still doing their job so I spent quite some time in the Tor view hide (great views of Glastonbury Tor). I got some good shots of the stonechats (male and female), Cetti’s warbler, little egrets, marsh harriers and reed buntings. I could still hear the ‘ping ping’ from the bearded reedlings but they were deep in the reeds. I managed get another shot of the great bittern and a couple of great egrets chasing each other around the lake. The day was coming to an end so I watched the starling murmeration. Well worth visiting Ham wall for this alone. An amazing spectacle.
My final visit was 5 days later and it was bitterly cold (-3C!) and everything was frozen. The start of the day was very quiet but as the sun rose things started to wake up. The great egrets were still chasing each other and the kingfisher was looking for unfrozen areas on the pools. A walk over to the Avalon hide and I hear the distinctive sound of a ‘squealing pig!), a water rail. A shy bird but when things are frozen they will appear on the hunt for food. Managed to get a couple of shots but it was too close for the 500mm lens I could only photograph its head! Nice shot though.
Water rail close-up on Avalon marsh.
Whist walking back to the main reserve I heard that ‘ping pinging’ again. I thought that’s it, I’m not going until I at least see a bearded reedling. After only a couple of minutes they appeared. Six of them (3 pairs). That was the ‘icing on the cake’. My visits all within a week or so had paid dividends and more. The bittern was my main aim, but with the egrets, goldcrests and the reedlings I was made up. I would have liked to have seen the Glossy ibis and the reported sightings of a rare Firecrest but there is always another day.
Male bearded reedling on Avalon marsh.
I hope you enjoyed my first written account of what I get up to when I’m not maintaining aircraft. Please feel free to leave any comments or ask questions regarding any aspect of my photography.
More of my images can be viewed on my flickr page.
I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.