Wednesday 30 June 2010


Well it seems the world and his wife has a website these days varying from excellent to downright dreadful, There are many companies doing anything from bespoke arm and a leg jobs to cheap but effective templates, I went for one of the arm and a leg jobs just over a year ago with a company called Livebooks, They are well respected here and many of the big names in photography use them including Art Wolf, I am very happy with the site i have and its quick and easy to not only add and delete images but to also make subtle changes so in effect keep the website fresh looking, the site i have allows unlimited images and unlimited portfolios so enough to keep me busy for a while, I had a mail from Livebooks some time ago saying that they are now offering a template type service with monthly payments for people who cant or don't want to cough up a large amount of money, Then yesterday i received a mail from them saying that as i am an existing customer i can add extra websites using the templates for either a one off payment or $10 a month-better still pay yearly for $100-well my eyes nearly popped out of my head, I have a couple of domain names in waiting so i am going ahead and having websites built for my non wildlife images, Live books are an excellent company and their staff are very good at getting you sorted all in a very professional manner, If you don't have a website or are looking to have a new one then make sure that you give them a look


Tuesday 29 June 2010

Trip Report - Cairngorms - Final Day

We got up very early on the final Saturday to get the 0730 ferry off North Uist and back to Skye.  It was raining hard, but we didn't mind as we had been blessed with a very dry week except for the second half of Friday.  Passing the old haunts of the week previously we were sad to be leaving.  A new species was seen, although one we would prefer not to see - a  Mink.

On the boat crossing, after having succumbed to a Calmac breakfast, we saw numerous Harbour Porpoise, as well as all the usual sea birds along with Kittiwake and Great Skua.

On the run back across to the Cairngorms, we also had sightings of distant Black Throated Diver before we dropped in to RSPB Loch Ruthven to have distant sightings of Slavonian Grebe.  Sadly neither species were close enough for a decent image.  We did pick up some lovely views of Curlew flying by very closely though in the grey light.


Moving on to the Caingorms we pitched up at our hotel and met up briefly with Neil McIntyre for a chat.

After a wonderful  meal and pleasant evening, we left the hotel early on Sunday morning and popped down to Neils place for a pleasant couple of hours with these delightful little characters.  They are now going into their summer coats, hence the 'blond' patches and loss of the ear tufts, but they are still beautiful nevertheless.

I know that there are loads of this sort of image about, but I think you can never get fed up with them.

Moving back through the estate, we found a Mistle Thrush looking a little bedraggled from the rain, but finding plenty of worms.

Mistle Thrush

So many thanks to Neil for another great shoot.

We went up to the Cairngorm Ski Lift area to see what we could see, but got into the cloud before we reached the car park.  This year there has been plenty of snow, and skiers and boarders were still heading up the hills on the last weekend of May.

Moving on, we headed to the Inshriach Nursery for coffee and cake.  Well you are totally spoiled for cake, but the views are even better.  There are a lot of feeders set up for viewing with close ups of Red Squirrel, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Siskins, Finches and Tits.  Always worth a drop in if you are in the area.

With the weather not particularly brilliant, we checked out an Osprey location before setting the compass south and driving home.

Arriving back in Stratford about 7 1/2 hours later, we had completed our trip.  1770 miles and 48 mpg.

As mentioned in my last post, I will do a couple more showing the flora and landscape of North Uist.  I hope you have enjoyed each day of our travels and my reports.  I have tried to bring you a different range of wildlife subjects over the week.


Monday 28 June 2010

White papers

When you unwrap your new camera body you always get a user manual, It shows where all the buttons are and what they do, Its a basic guide although the D3 manual was nearly 500 pages, Camera manufactures sometimes put out a more defined paper on specific bodies, Canon did this on the Mk3 and i also the MK4, I found one of these 'white' papers on the Nikon D3s which you can fine here, It goes into more depth when the camera is used in certain conditions and will give you an idea of how to set your camera up better, What ever camera you use just google the white paper for your camera model


Sunday 27 June 2010

Rare Garden Visitor

As it write this blogpost this afternoon it is extremely hot, although not at the temperatures that Dave has been experiencing.  I guess loads of you will be wasting watching England lose which is why I am at the computer.

On to more productive use of my time, I was working in the garden this morning, enjoying watching the recently emerged five and six spot burnet moths (future post) flying around.  I had an extremely productive overnight moth trap session (another future post) as well.  Jac suddenley gave me a call while I was whacking a post with a sledge hammer about an interesting butterfly she had seen.  Grabbing the camera, we found it settled down on some knapweed, unsure of it's identity and grabbed a couple of images.

Checking out my butterfly book (see link below), I found it was a Plain Tiger Danaus chrysiipus and checked out its range and distribution.  It seems it is a native of the Canary islands, Africa, coastal Meditteranean, central East Turkey, Saudi Arabia, tropical Asia and Australia.  So was it a very well travelled subject that was enjoying the hot weather.

Probably not, I reckon it had flown less than a mile from the Stratford Butterfly Farm after somebody left the door open.

Right it is half time so I am off to polish the lawn or something


Saturday 26 June 2010

Deer Diary's

I have continued with the Deer images, Wednesday afternoon i arrived at the hide at 5.30pm, The temp outside showed 97 degrees inside it felt twice that and breathless, I stayed until 8.15pm and with only one deer to show for my time i was glad to leave, It was worth getting the new tripod and the deer  came from behind and was back-lit, It was a young male and looked great with the rim lighting, I hope to get more of this type of image, it makes it different from the norm and adds some atmosphere to the image, i like it when the back lighting also picks out the flying bugs, I sorted out my old Arca Swiss head to go on the new Manfrotto 055 pro but i had forgotten just how bad the head had become, it suffers from sticky ball syndrome and is either on or off, I may have to either get a different head or just add a side kick as its a nightmare as it is, I have some social events over the next few days so wont be able to get back until at least Sunday or Monday, Having the dedicated live view button with the live histogram makes getting the exposure right on a back lit subject a cinch and i am really enjoying the D3s at the moment


Friday 25 June 2010

Trip Report - North Uist - Day 7

And so finally we make it to our last whole day on North Uist.  The forecast wasn't brilliant, and so it turned out with the best of the weather expected early in the morning. Getting out of bed to make our first cup of tea, looking out over Loch Hosta I saw a small dark bird flashing across the water towards the lodge at very high speed.  Staying fixed on the subject, she came close by the edge of the lodge, using it as cover as she swept, darting over the mound and fence before terrorising the wading bird population nested down on the moor.  That was as close as I have ever been to a wild Merlin.  It was a stunning start to the day.

 Heading down towards Griminsh quay, I noticed a familiar looking profile on some telegraph wires so we headed towards it.  We got quite close but it then flew off a short way and settled on a much more photogenic location.  Sadly he didn't call for us, as it would have been good to have got it with beak open


With the expected rain due imminently, I then set about getting a few images of the flora of North Uist which I will put up on separate post in the future

Moving down to Committee Road, once again the Hen Harriers and Short Eared Owls were there for us.

Male Hen Harrier plus Vole

Jac missed a sitter of an SEO right in front of her although I did say I wouldn't mention that  :-)

Moving on down the Committee Road, then rain set in and we went and holed up in the Kirkiboost Community Centre for coffee and cakes.  We met four guys that we chatted to on the boat to the islands and shared tales from our week.  So Dave if you are reading this, drop us a comment.

After a while there we headed back towards home to think about packing up but took a detour down the Balranald road and was pleased to see this Snipe.

'aving a scratch!

Snipe on a big stick had eluded me photographically all week, although we had seen plenty.  At least you can see we did get some rain while we were there.

So that was it for the week on North Uist.   However, I have not finished yet as in future posts, I will bring you some  of the topography and landscape, as well as a separate post on the flora as mentioned above.  Also in the series will be some outtakes and also some tips and tricks that we learned with the 7D and another useful one for helping you find a fast moving subject in the view finder when you have got a big lens plus converter on to stop you waving the thing around and just finding sky.

I also have one more post to bring you of our journey back home as we came via the Cairngorms so I have some great images of a very popular little animal to share.


Thursday 24 June 2010

Woodchuck and tortoise

Well it just goes to show that you shouldn't shout your mouth off, There was me saying that the deer had been performing for me in the first few sessions and then for the last two sessions i have only seen them at distance, I sat in the sauna (hide) the other night and had 2 deer come up from behind me, There was no way to get the tripod and camera into position without spooking them so i sat and watched, They were backlit and the sun was low and the light was golden, It really picked out the bugs in the air and i wished i could have gotten the shot, The next night i positioned my camera gear in that direction hoping for a repeat, The light didn't go golden and the deer didn't arrive, But a woodchuck did and i managed to grab a few images as he stood up to see what was going on, I had the 200-400 on with a 1.4x but wish i had the 600 with the 1.4x for a tighter shot, Its great to see him and get a new animal on file, they are just like a marmot and although i have seen quite a few since moving State-side its the first opportunity to shoot one, The new Manfrotto 055 Pro tripod arrived yesterday-Great service from Adorama so tonight i can have 2 systems working and cover both sides of the hide,Just before i left the hide i noticed the vegetation moving close by and focused to see what it was and it turned out to be a tortoise, Something you normally see as road kill so nice to see a live one, i was tempted to move it into the open and get some better shots but decided against it, I sat out on the patio this morning with a cappuccino and watched the first hummingbirds feed at the feeder, It returned a couple of times in the 10 mins i sat there so time to get the thinking cap on and hope to get some images of them soon, On a side note i went to the shooting range last night with a friend and shot a couple of 45's.It was the first time i have shot for over 30 years and i really enjoyed the experience, One of the  45's was a dirty harry type gun and a real canon to use, I kept thinking how cool it would be to get an image of the bullet leaving the gun


Wednesday 23 June 2010

Trip Report - North Uist - Day 6

We woke up on Thursday with bright blue skies, warmer temperatures and a different wind direction, after some heavy rain overnight..  The long run of northerly winds that we had been experiencing all week were coming to an end, and had gone round to more westerly.  So with the wind more onshore we headed off to Balranald and out to the sea watching point at Aird an Ruanair to hopefully see some decent sea birds, and hopefully some Skuas.

This little Arctic tern was a regular on this rock just off from our 'garden' at the accommodation, so I thought I would include it in this 'seabird' day.

On the walkout to the point, laden down with cameras, tripods, binos and scope we had some great sightings of a female Merlin and Great Skua.  Settling down on the rocks, with a falling tide we saw many sea birds including Common and Arctic Tern, Gannet, Turnstone, Dunlin, Eider, Razorbill and Cormorant flying by.  

With the 7D's set up using the C1 and C3 custom options for either 'birds against sky' or 'birds against sea' settings, we were able to quickly alternate between settings.  I will cover how we used the gear and these settings in a summary posting at the end of the series  on our trip, along with a number of other tips.

The Arctic Terns were delightful and came fishing in the rock pools as the tide fell

A few Gannets came close by to give us a shot

Cormorant with a bit of up light from the white surf below to help the exposure

Left a bit of space around this to set in the environment - blue seas and white surf

After a good few hours at the sea watching point, and not having seen Long Tailed Skuas that we were hoping for that passage through this point, we moved on back inland.  Just past the location where I photographed the Corncrakes in my last post, we saw these Whooper Swan parents with the two cygnets shown, plus a further three just out of shot.

As mentioned before, one of very few pairs that breed in the UK

After an early supper, again we headed out and back down to the Committee Road for more late evening shots.  As usual the SEO's and Hen Harriers were there and continued to delight us with wonderful views.

A couple of Short Eared Owl shots, again drawn back to set a bit of scale and environment

Distant juvenile White Tailed Eagle.  Again one shared for the scale and to 'sense' the big space

Final shot of the post  - Curlew in the last rays of the evening sun.  These birds were wonderful to watch and particularly hear their calls.

Coming in the next instalment of our final day on the Uists will be Cuckoo and Snipe, both of which had eluded us during the week, along with some of the flora of the islands. 


Tuesday 22 June 2010

Deer and Tennis

Its been a strange few days, The only constant thing has been the heat, Its in the mid-high 90's here in NC and humid, The hide is a battle against the wits as to how long i can stand it, 3 hrs and i am done-soaked right through but at least i am getting a result, The White-Tailed deer are doing me proud and the other night i had 4 females and a young buck in front of me, Twice the females reared up and did some boxing but both times i was over gunned with the 600 so yesterday an order went off for another tripod so that i can use 2 set ups at the same time, The D3s and 600 along side the D300 and 200-400, I ordered a Manfrotto 055Pro from Adorama and it should be here at the end of the week i hope, I still need to get a bird set up there and will do that in the next day or so and also spend some time early morning trying for the red tailed kites that are constantly calling from the nearby trees, On Sunday i covered a tennis match at one of the local country clubs which gave me time to give the new body a good work out, I shot 24 gigs in 1.5 hours, Again it was high 90's and even in the shade the sweat just dripped off of you, I enjoyed the session and got some good action shots


Monday 21 June 2010

A quick welcome to new friends

Welcome to Martin Engel and Peregrines Bird Blog as followers to this blog.  We hope you enjoy our posts and hope you will contribute with comments.


Sunday 20 June 2010

Trip Report - North Uist - Day 5

With some nice early strong light, I popped out for a quick trip before breakfast to the small nearby loch with the Whooper Swans and got a quick couple of shots off in some quick strange early morning light.

This first shot was a one off with no repeat opportunity with the receding line of birds in formation.

I would have preferred to have got the centre bird sharp really, and with a bit more space all around but sadly the opportunity for the line of three like this didn't repeat itself.

So what's with the colouration around the head?  From our previous day's trip when we went here with Steve Duffield, he advised that the brown colouration is a take up of peat from the water and the soil.  I didn't realise that there were also so few breeding Whoopers in the UK as mentioned in Springwatch last week.  Well we were fortunate enough to see some chicks later in the week which I will post when I get to that day.

Jac and I recovered some of the ground we had covered earlier in the week through Wednesday and ended back at the reed bed area, quite near where the Swans were, trying to get some decent images of the Linnet that were there.  All of a sudden, Jac saw a large bird close by.  We stopped and got the cameras out to catch this beautiful ringtail (female) Hen Harrier.

This was a 'so near yet so far' shot.  Frame filling but she didn't put her head up for the best shot as she was surveying the reeds for prey.    Just one little head lift was all I wanted.  Hey ho.

We also covered some new ground onto Berneray and across to Lochmaddy where we finally saw our first eagles on the Uists.  We got three Golden and Two White Tailed within about twenty minutes.  All were at extreme distance and for scope viewing only, but it was wonderful to see them.

Back on Benbecula we had another try for Red Necked Phalarope but no signs.  Talking to another couple of birders there, they were seen on the Tuesday.  We had tried on the Monday and Wednesday!! - another one down to the Law of Sod.

Heading back towards the accommodation, we took a quick run down towards Balranald.  Just after turning off the main road, we had previously been aware of nesting Redshank close to the road, but this time driving through we could not believe how brave one of the parents were.  Driving by slowly, one of them got up and put down on the road in front of us.  I slowed even more but the Redshank promptly proceeded to walk, quite quickly, up the road in front of the car.  It finally got out of our way about fifty yards further up the road.  What a plucky little mum or dad it was.

Just a few yards further up the road we were in Corncrake land.  This time with the sun in a better position we managed to get a few shots.  However, the heat haze has taken quite an effect on these shots.

In the sunshine

With a little bit of cloud cover

But it was wonderful to see them and catch them calling in the classic Corncrake pose.

Another quick trip out again later in the evening after supper saw yet more Short Eared Owls as well as female and male Hen Harrier.

Another big crop, but I loved the late sunlight

What we did see that was quite appalling was another photographer promptly climb a fence, walking and chasing a Short Eared Owl across the moor just off the Committee Road.  So driver of that old maroon 4 x 4 if you are reading this, you should be ashamed of yourself.  Try fieldcraft, and if that doesn't work, then go back another time.

Thats it for the Wednesday.  In the next installment, Day 6, we went seawatching down at Balranald, so next time we will have some sea birds for you.


Saturday 19 June 2010

Nikon D5000

Having the Nikon D5000 in the family for the last few weeks has made me realise one thing, I am or was a camera snob, Having pro cameras for years has made me look down on the bottom of the range cameras as if they can not take an image of decent quality, The base cameras specs never look great although these days they are getting better, But its the photographer who takes the shot, Having fast AF and lots of focus points can help but a good photographer will take a good image on any camera and its also good to get back to basics, Yesterday i was in Barnes and Noble which is my favorite magazine and book store and was looking through the English photo mags and noticed some tests in which the D5000 was part of, It came out on top beating all its competition, One mag even used the D5000 to do a 'how to' article, The sensor is the same as in the D300 so image quality is excellent, We used the D5000 in Florida last weekend more than any other camera, Its size and lack of weight made it perfect for all day use, We even used it in the EWA underwater housing in one of the water parks-it was perfect and gave us images other people could not get, I have now recommended the D5000 to others who are putting orders in whilst Nikon have them on special, Its good to get back to basics and i for one am happy to have one in my kit bag, Here are a couple of images from last weekend taken with the Nikon D5000 and 18-55vr kit lens

Taken in typhoon lagoon with the EWA housing

This was taken in Downtown Disney using a long exposure with the camera resting on a waste bin

Its the perfect camera for grabbing candids

So overall we are very pleased to have the D5000 in the family-its a great camera at a great price and good that the kit lens isnt just a cheap plastic affair like some others-Highly recommended


Friday 18 June 2010

Trip Report - North Uist - Day 4

After a little break from processing trip images and posts on here, both for you and me, I will now take a look at Day 4.

The weather was initially bright  again with cold northerlies and occasional showers were forecast.  This day was going to be different for us as we took a trip out with the local wildlife expert Steve Duffield who is based on South Uist.  Steve got out of bed early and collected us at 8am.

Within a couple of minutes we picked up our first Short Eared Owl

Moving on to Griminish quay we watched across the water to see Little Terns, Common and Arctic Terns, all fishing in front of us.  Suddenly we sensed some alarm in the birds, as we then picked up a great sighting of a Peregrine going overhead towards the breeding bird area.  Further commotion was seen as a male Hen Harrier came in and took a young Lapwing chick.

OK it's a massive crop into the light so poor, but sharing for the record.

After a small shower cleared, we walked along the waters edge to find an active Otter holt, judging by the fresh spraints that were in evidence.

By the time we got along to the Committee Road at it's northern end, we had already seen 8 Short Eared Owls, a number with marked colour variations.

A time spent watching along Lock Eynort saw many more birds with Red Throated Diver being the highlight there.  Red Deer were also  plentiful too.

Moving towards the trees at Langass we had some great views of a female Hen Harrier fighting off a couple of Hooded Crows.  She stayed in the area so was probably defending a nest site.  Walking back towards the car we had good views of this Wren.

This is the Hebridean variety that is slightly darker and with a longer bill and legs than that usually seen in mainland UK.

Moving back towards Balranald, we bumped into some very close Corncrake, that were at times too close to the car.  Difficult contra light made it tricky to get decent images, but this one is worth sharing.

Visiting another small loch we saw Black tailed Godwits, Whooper Swans and Linnet, along with Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting in a delightful little area of reeds that you can drive through.

Down at the beach at Balranald we had great views of Dunlin, Knot and Purple Sandpiper.  Unfortunately, the Purple Sandpiper didn't oblige for the camera.

Dunlin in the sun

Dunlin in the shade

A solitary Knot

Moving back towards the accommodation, we did see an Otter come across the sand and disappear into a drainage pipe.  I did get myself set up to get a shot but didn't appreciate that it was going to disappear into the pipe, so I dipped on that shot, sadly.  But the views of it across the beach were fabulous.

So sometime after 5pm, Steve dropped us back to our accommodation after a very successful day, that took our tally of species from 83 to exactly 100 by the end of Tuesday.

After supper, Jac and I popped out again and got a stupidly close, car width away Short Eared Owl but could not get a shot off.  I needed a wide angle again.  It was an amazing encounter.

So it was a great day out with Steve.  His knowledge off all matters natural history is excellent as can be seen from his website, Western Isles Wildlife.  His rates are excellent and can thoroughly recommend a day or more with him if you only have a short time on the islands.