Friday, 22 July 2005

The Local Patch

Gosh, a couple of weeks since my last update here.

The big sighting for me since then was a fine summer plumage Black Necked Grebe on my local patch, a new tick for me.
Beautiful birds, if you think Dabchicks have a fluffy behind you ain't seen nothing yet!

I recently grumbled about how unfriendly birders can sometimes be, particularly male birders of a certain age, but I have to quite gladly admit those drawn in by the rarity on my reservoir were far more talkative. I suppose we all assumed we were there to see the grebe, we all knew it was there, so we couldn't spoil the sighting for each other - indeed I directed several grateful spotters to where I saw the bird.

No pictures of the grebe, but here are those birds I did capture,

Collared Dove
It seems to me that foreplay for Collared Doves is arguably the easiest in the known animal kingdom. The sweet spot, that which, ahem gets her going, is very practically marked out, how convenient for the males!
Oh, go on then...

On the big list of British mammals you only ever see when they're dead, you can add the Common Shrew. Poor guys, they live only a matter of months, must eat their own weight in small insects everyday and are lucky to raise one family, that's the life of a beetle, not a furred creature.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

General update

My fledgling count went reasonably well, although the Song Thrush decided to avoid showing up until after the deadline. In all for my garden, 3 adult Blackbirds and no young, 8 adult House Sparrows and 7 young, 1 adult Robin and no young, 5 adult Starlings and 7 young. Those were the highest numbers of each at any one time.
These national counts always seems to have a southern bias. Blackbirds don't seem to fledge here for another couple of weeks, there are more Sparrows and Starlings later in the summer too. With an entire month of difference between Spring striking the North and South in this country maybe these surveys are missing out on the real numbers.

Anyway, lots of pictures, and one bird I was particularly happy to finally get a snap of...

It's a Grey Wagtail. Only a juvenile but a Grey Wagtail nonetheless. As the name suggests they wag their tails, A LOT, and are always on the move, ants in their pants or something, and are quite shy, hence the difficulty snapping them.
No ants actually, the wagtailing is all about constantly moving in order break up their reflection in the water. The birds feed on invertebrates in the stream and need to see them without their own beak shining back up at them.

Anyway, more of him...

More images from the reservoir...

Meanwhile at the local community country park...

House Martins are just the sweetest of birds, and still nest building, a muddy patch beside the carpark offered a perfect supply of material.

This time of year the orchids are dazzling. These are Common Spotted, yet uncommonly pretty.

Monday, 13 June 2005

General Birding Update

Fledgling Count continues through to the 19th. I'm spending maybe ten or fifteen minutes twice a day at the busiest bird times surveying my garden. It's been super interesting. Usually I glance out of our kitchen window and if any eye-catching bird is around I'll stop and look. But waiting at the window, I've seen so much more! The kestrel that quarters our suburbs, it even hovers over the enclosed gardens most of which are no larger than a half a tennis court. And the Robin, scarce and very shy in our neighbourhood, yet bold enough to sip water from the bucket by my window that is home to a frog. The Coal Tit back and forth from the feeders, ferrying seed several gardens away, even if caterpillars are the ideal choice for the chicks.
Patience counts for a lot in bird watching, even in your garden.

The Great Crested Grebe pair/nest I've been photographing at the reservoir since late winter seems to have only raised one chick, and quite a spoilt one by now. Two parents spend the whole day around it.

Swifts are always a treat at this time of year.

Friday, 27 May 2005

Down by the river, below the croaking tree-tops

Plenty of time for another reservoir visit yesterday, the place must be getting tired of me, though the herons don't seem to mind...

What's he looking at?

An ambitious sized fish for such a young heron, and lucky escape for a big lazy carp.

Then drama! A yearling swooped in and chased new fledger away...

...circling back around to claim the castle.

Not to worry, youngster found branches further down the river,

Faraway from the fuss the matured adults have free reign over the safer reedbeds...

...hey, one day youngster!

Friday, 11 March 2005

Somebody asked about my photography

Generally I use a FujiFilm Finepix S5000, the important specs of which are 10x optical zoom and 6-megapixel image quality. Those are about as large as you'll get for an automatic digital camera short of much more expensive digital-SLRs (those with interchangeable lens and full manual controls). I bought mine over a year ago second hand from a guy I knew, at the time the only way I could have afforded it, nowadays similar cameras seem to be selling for around the £300 mark.
Importantly it has almost full manual features with aperture and shutterspeed priorities as well a few other options, from video capture and black and white settings. For the most part it's still an automatic focus camera and this can be a drawback when you're trying to photograph birds, particularly when foliage is involved. Unfortunately that's something you just have to learn to live with unless you're willing to shell out upward of £600 for a digital-SLR, though there are little tricks you can learn to try and cope with automatic focus.

For presentation on the internet I generally reduce the size of my pictures, this increases their sharpness and just makes for a better looking picture. That's not necessary for printing when usually the size you print at will give a decent quality result from the picture.

Macro lens is a superb feature that's pretty standard for most digital cameras these days, basically it lets you take super close-ups, very handy for pictures of flowers, insects and so forth.

When snapping birds I almost always choose to set my aperture as wide as possible, normally F 2.8 to F 4.0. This means the subject you focus on will be sharp but the background and foreground will soon blur, it really helps to draw the subject of the shot out, in this case a Robin. Also such a wide aperture will give a quick shutterspeed that in cases of dimmer light can really help prevent potential camera shake.

At longer range, over 50 yards in this Stonechat picture, 10x magnification just isn't enough for a normal portrait of the bird so you have to be creative and instead compose the shot to photograph the bird in its setting instead.

Prior to the S5000, I used FujiFilm's Finepix 2800, only 6x optical lens, 2.1-megapixel and very few manual controls beyond flash and macro lens, it's little more than an automatic camera with a big lens, rather affordable though. Still with a little practice and luck some acceptable shots still came…

These were all about opportunity taken with what by today's standards are fairly low-range cameras. If you just get out there with a digital camera that lets you take 200 shots or more in an afternoon, sooner or later you'll be wowing yourself.

That's all, a very brief summary, and I'm by no means a professional or an expert, this is just amateur experience talking, but I hope it helps.

Wednesday, 9 March 2005

A Little Glamour in Suburbia

Probably our most eruptive species, it's that time of the year when Waxwings can turn up just about anywhere, or alternatively you can chase them throughout the entire winter and see not a single one. I lucked out, this flock of a dozen birds spent half an hour flitting between a TV aerial and a front garden just down my street.
Virtually identical in size to Starlings it's worthwhile to avoid assuming and checking that really is a flock of the shiny black birds, you just might get lucky too.

(Shot against the whitest of overcast skies so apologies for image quality)