Thursday 31 March 2011

Frog Blog 11 - Part 6 - We have swimmers

Checking out the pond when I got home from work last night, I noticed a number of clumps of freshly vacated spawn, and found a few other clumps with large dark areas in the centre of them.  Check out this pic from last year, as it is the same this year.

Last year it was fourteen days from spawn to swimmers and this year it has been thirteen, but we are a whole 12 days earlier in the cycle.  Casting my mind back, that would be as a result of the severely cold weather we had in January last year pushing the breeding season back, compared to the very cold weather that was in December in the winter just gone.

With the large increase in spawn put down this year, I am expecting that we will get a lot of froglets.  That is if the dragonfly larva don't get too many of them

Another another recent dark time check out, I saw a couple of Southern Hawker nymphs  that look like they might well come out later this year.


Wednesday 30 March 2011

Quick Session

I checked the weather report for the week and it showed Tuesday to be nice and sunny and the rest of the week to be crap-wet and cold, Winter is struggling to let go, We had sleet the other day and just an hour away it was white with snow, I decided to have a quick session at the private land and try and get some birds on blossom, The blossom is quickly disappearing due to the weather and time is limited and i dont want to miss it, There is nothing like a bird on a blossom branch to make a colourful and seasonal image, I found a blossom branch on the side of the road, It was very thin but i thought it would be thick enough for chickadees and titmice, I quickly attached the twig to a feeder hanger and got set up, My main gear being the 600 lens and D7000, Its a great combo and with the added advantage of being quiet, I havent been to the site to shoot for about 2 months but have been putting food out for a week so there were birds around straight away, It soon dawned on me that i hadnt attached the twig very well, The feeder hanger was too exposed and the birds preferred to land on it or straight onto the table rather than the twig, In the 2 hours i was there not one bird landed on it but i did manage to get some shots of them on other perches, I had some nice sightings with visits from the red bellied woodpecker,Northern Flicker as well as the hairy woodpecker, Unusual bird went to the towhee that landed straight on the feeder, a beautiful male, I will put up a thicker perch in the hope that he returns, House finch,cardinal,chickadee,titmouse and wren all made an appearance as well as the easily spooked jay and towards the end a couple of Eastern Bluebirds just add some extra colour, Although the session did not go to plan and they rarely do it was very enjoyable and nice and warm-the last rays i expect to see for a few days, All images taken in manual mode with the D7000 which is still to go to Nikon, The problem is quite minor and easily worked around so i am not too fussed at the moment

Anywhere but the perch


Tuesday 29 March 2011

Dorset Trip Report - Part 3 - Spoonbills

I suppose I should have tagged this post as part 1 and this post as part 2, so if you can  forgive me for that then this is part 3.

In the same location that we saw the Long Billed Dowitcher, there were also a couple of  Spoonbills.  Now I have seen these on a few occasions in the UK, but usually at great distance.

These two weren't particularly close, and the images are quite substantially cropped, and with a strong heat haze, the image quality is more degraded than I would prefer.

However, these two poses do show off their main feature very nicely.

Still more birds, deer and sunsets to come in future posts for you from this short trip


Monday 28 March 2011

Opportunity Photography

Sometimes you have to work hard for your shots and sometimes it all just happens quickly and easily and sometimes opportunities come your way and you can either take the chance or not, Today i was driving in a very nice community just looking at what houses in our area are for sale and a general drive around in cold overcast conditions, We went into a small cul de sac and as i turned the car around a pileated woodpecker flew in front of the car and landed on a tree stump and within a minute another landed with it-a pair? they dug around the stump and took no notice of the car getting in a better position, We stayed for 10 minutes before leaving them to it, It was only 3 or 4 miles to my house so i dropped my wife off and grabbed my D3s and 600 with 1.4x and headed  back, I didnt expect them to be there but when i arrived there was one still in the area, I grabbed my beanbag and placed the camera on the bag, I took a test shot-uppped the ISO to 1600 and adjusted the exposure then slowly moved into position, It wasnt very photogenic and shortly after i had 2 shots in the bag the bird flew into a nearby tree, I watched it for a few minutes and then it dropped behind me on to another half dead tree, I slowly moved the car around and then started to get some images, The bird wasnt fazed at all and went on both sides of the tree trunk digging around for food, after 10 minutes it climbed up the tree and started to call, I could hear its mate and soon she flew over and they both flew off, the pileated woodpecker is a very large bird-very attractive and great to have in my area, I would love to find the nest and really would love to get them in my garden, It was a totally unexpected shoot but very welcome on a horrible day


Sunday 27 March 2011

Sunrise at Portland Bill

As I mentioned here, just after the wedding Jac and I spent a bit of time on Dorset and one of the great pleasures of the trip was seeing the sun come up over the English Channel from Portland Bill.

It was a good forty five minutes before the sun came up that we found ourselves parked up at a chilly exposed car park, with just the rays of light from the lighthouse playing out across the sea.

Finding a suitable spot looking towards where the sun was due to rise, I set up the 5Dmk2, 24-70 on the tripod with the Lee Filter system, mostly using my favourite Blending Filter.  This is a specially made ND grad that transitions from 3 stops at the top through to nothing at the bottom in one big graduation.  I like this filter as it avoids the obvious step in exposure that you get with standard ND grads.

Well before the sun was up the light was cold and blue

As the sun came up the light transitioned through these glorious stages

They have all had a little amount of Photoshop fannying about for artistic effect.....obviously.

With the waves crashing in the rocks and the wind blowing straight at me, I kept the lens covered with a Lee Filter lens cloth in between shots, and generally had to wipe the filter clean in between alternate shots

Turning round directly behind me in the same place was the lighthouse.

Using just a standard exposure resulted in this shot.

Quite pleasant, but nothing really special.

Putting on the B & W 10 ND screw on filter that I blogged about last year, and then fitting the Lee Blender on top gave me these images

A completely different effect.  As I mentioned before, one of the compromises with the 10 x Screw in filter is you have to do all your composition and set up and lock the camera off before you fit the filter and Lee system.  And before that you have to do the exposure calculation.  I usually do a meter reading, and then using fingers and thumbs keep doubling the shutter speeds until I get to what I think is about the right answer.  It doesn't always work out right, but then you can experiment extending or reducing based on your results.

This was the first time that I had used the 5Dmk2 for landscapes and I have to say I am very impressed with it.  Lovely smooth files, which the size and resolution on here will never do great justice to


Saturday 26 March 2011

Spring-my favorite time

The garden is getting busy with birds consrantly at the feeders, We still have plenty of winter birds around but i am sure that they will move off soon , We have a cold spell for the next week with temperatures in the 50's, Its been in the high 70's so to us it feels cold, The birds are very active and for the first time in the 2 years that i have been here we have bluebirds nesting in out bird box, I have trimmed some thin branches away and will be putting up a nice blossom branch this week and hope to get some 'pretty' images of this colourful bird,
I made the frame up for the pond/pool and now have it staked in and the liner fitted and filled with water, Everything is nice and square and i can now build the edges up with soil and turf to make a kind of infinity pool, It will be a long term project and i hope to get some nice reflections of our garden visitors, I have watched a red bellied woodpecker everyday this week feed on the fat cube so another target to aim for which should not be too difficult, Its a great time of year-my favorite as there will be cubs around soon and lots to aim for


Friday 25 March 2011

Final Part - Slimbridge Trip Report - Part 5

What with one thing and another, I am behind on my trip reports and images, so today is catch up and share the last few images from my Slimbridge trips that I made in February.

My timing was quite good as shortly after these images were taken the Whoopers and Bewicks made their migrations.

One of the Bewicks that made regular fly-by's was 002T as can be seen from its leg ring and neck transmitter.  I am assuming this is either a GPS or radio transmitter for more detailed tracking.  Somebody in the hide said that this bird usually winters in Holland which if that was the case then it was nice to see it over here.  If anyone can give more information on this bird it would be good to hear from you.

A few more for you.  Weather was dry but grey flat light sadly.

The second and third I liked with the juxtaposition of the land.  Shelduck could do with a catch light, but there wasn't one so I ain't gonna add it.  Done that in the past (not on the blog) but will only present wildlife as is unless I tell you that I have removed/added stuff.

Final shot shows a drake Tufted Duck just after a dive as you can see from the mud still on his bill.

Will be back with some Dorset wildlife in forthcoming blog posts including some sunrise/sunset landscapes by way of a change


Thursday 24 March 2011

I feel the need for speed

I mentioned the other day that i had purchased a SSD hard drive for my new laptop to try and boost the speed and realize the true potential of the i7 processor, Well its in and today i got it back with only Windows 7 professional fitted so a clean install without all the crap that comes with an off the shelf laptop/computer, So i have spent most of the day loading Capture One, Breezebrowser and Photoshop as well as putting in all my website addresses etc, So far so good, Its opens very quickly and things like photoshop are open in a few seconds which is a real boon, When i was in Japan Pete had his super duper MacBook Pro with SSD and was downloaded while i was still booting up programmes, It really does make a difference and is the best bang for you buck for improving PC/Mac performance, The PC has a USB3 port as well so i can this becoming my main PC  for a while and i will upgrade my external hardrive cases to USB3 to get the max out of them, Tiger Direct have the cases for $35 so its just a matter of swapping the drives over, It should make a huge difference when downloading and backing up
This is the SSD that i purchased
Here are the external casings
As you can see the SSD is 120GB, With all my software on there it only comes to about 40GB so i have room to spare, I could have gone for a 64GB or a bit smaller and saved some money but i didnt want it to be too tight, One thing to remember is that ALL images etc will need to be kept on external drives if you dont want to fill your drive up, The bonuses of having an SSD over a normal hard drive apart from the speed is that you cant damage one by dropping it as there are no moving parts and if it does crash you dont loose the information unlike a normal hard drive
We spend far too much time tucked behind a monitor so anything to help is well worth the money


Wednesday 23 March 2011

1000th Post Today

Well when Dave and I first spoke about this blog back over two years ago, I am not sure that we ever had much of a 'plan', and I don't know if I am honest with myself that I ever imagined we would get up to writing this number of blogposts.

It has been a pleasure to share our experiences of the things we enjoy - the wildlife, the photography, the technical and the It side of things.

From my perspective, I am sure there are lots of things that I do that many (most) of you do differently , but one of the things I have learnt is that there is no right or wrong way - there is only your way.  If we have helped others that is great, if we have amused and entertained anyone, that is all a bonus.

It has rarely ever felt like a chore, and regular readers will know that when time is a bit tight trying to fit the blogging in, the post might be pretty short.  I have got lots of recent images to share with you and will get round to it over the next few posts hopefully.

Over to Dave for his thoughts

Well how time fly's, Over 2 years and to hit our 1000 blog is a real mile stone, There are many people doing blogs and they will know how tough it can be to not only write on a regular basis but to keep going-many have fallen by the wayside, As Martin said we never really had a plan and still dont i guess, just to keep it up and try to stay fairly fresh, I personally would like some input from our readers-likes and dislikes and some ideas or questions are always welcome, I am in the process of building a small pool in my garden-water is the best way of attracting wildlife so i will carry on with that now and report back in a few weeks

Heres to the next 1000 posts

Martin and Dave

Frog Blog'11 - Part 5 - All croaked out

Activity of spawning continues in the pond as I type this on Tuesday night, but it has tailed off now.  There are still about ten pairs at it, and there are now over thirty clumps of spawn.  I guess it really will be a bumper year.

Checking out the pond last night with the torch, the Smooth Newts are very active now, and I will be checking out for their eggs very soon, now I know where and how to look for them, having done an Amphibian Surveying Course last weekend with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust

Here are a quick couple of images that I took with the new 5Dmk2 and Canon 180 f3.5L - a really stunning combination of quality and sharpness.  I am really looking forward to this years 'close up' season.

You can see the fruits of his labours just in front of him just under the water surface


Tuesday 22 March 2011

Bonus Images

When ever i go away on a trip i always wonder what will be the unexpected or bonus images, We all have expectations of what we want to get, In Japan i expected Cranes, Eagles both Stellers and White Tailed and of course the Snow Monkeys which we did get in abundance, We thought that fox would be easy-they weren't and it was the last day and just about the last shots that added fox to the list, The real bonus i guess was the Blakiston's fish owl-biggest and one of the rarest owls in the world, We nearly missed out on it as you could not use flashguns this year and the only lights were horrible colour casting spot lights and it was kinda expensive but we had come a long way and if it meant just to see one then that was good enough, The other bonus images came in the way of wildfowl, Not only did we see some very nice ducks but managed to get full frame images of them in good light, I like to observe behaviour and things like the crest going down on a goldeneye normally means its about to dive and i had some fun shooting the bird as it dove down just getting its tail out of the water
like this

I have tried to get decent Goldeneye images for years, The best i managed was in Switzerland and although the images were OK thats all they were, In Japan we not only managed excellent close ups but also ducks swimming in mini ice packs and in good light which is important for birds with iridescent feathers, Times like this do not come often, In Japan it was basically just a few hours when the ice in the harbour had broken up so you have to be an opportunist and make the most of the situation which i think we did.


Harlequin Duck (juv)
Pin Tail

Now take a look at these 2 images taken a second a part of a Goldeneye Drake

Notice the eye, Certain ducks have a 'floating iris' which was look strange and or blurry even after processing, After you have sharpened the image i would then draw around the eye with the quick selection tool in photoshop and add some extra sharpening just to the eye, It can make the world of difference


Monday 21 March 2011

The Butterflies are back

It is wonderful what a difference a couple of warm sunny days back.  Followers of my twitter feed @martind01 will know that I saw my first butterflies in my garden of the year on Saturday.

Well on Saturday we had two Brimstones, three Commas and a single Peacock.  Yesterday, we went a bit better and had four Brimstones, three Commas again, two Peacock and a single Small Tortoiseshell.  So four species by March 20th - a good start to the year.

I will send my recordings into the Warwickshire Butterfly Conservation team site.  Why not check out your Counties site by checking out the national site here and sending in your recordings.

I currently have a glut of photos to share with you from a number of outings so will bring this to you in forthcoming blogs.


Sunday 20 March 2011


As Martin mentioned in his last blog the moon is at its largest in the sky for the last 20 years so i thought that as the skies are nice and clear over Raleigh i would take a few images, So i set my D7000 up with the 600 and 1.4x on my tripod and used a remote release
Moon rising through trees
Clear moon
Something different

New laptop plus upgrades

I mentioned that my old Dell laptop died in Japan towards the end of my trip, I managed to get a new Asus with a i7 processor-should be great but i must admit that it still feels a bit slow, I know that the best way to speed it up is to replace the hard drive with a SSH hardrive, Laptops tend to be supplied with a slow hard drive-5400rpm as opposed to7200rpm of a desktop as it makes the battery life look good, but it makes opening etc slow which is a pain, I ordered a Corsair 120gb SSD at 4.30pm on Friday and it arrived 7.20am Saturday morning-hows that for service-well done amazon, I will get the new disk copied and swapped out in the next few days and let you know my thoughts, SSD hard drives are now coming down in price and are the cheapest way of boosting the speed on your laptop or desktop, The addition of a SSD and with the USB 3 port it should really speed up my work flow when away from home-I find a laptop invaluable for my work at home and abroad so its very important to get one that works well,so hopefully that's the laptop sorted now just need to get a desktop but hold your breath on that one


Saturday 19 March 2011

Frog Blog '11 - Part 4 - A Frog's Moon

As I mentioned in my last post, they have finally started to spawn.  Well in just 24 hours we went from just the four clumps I previously mentioned to 28 clumps, beating last years total already, and they are still at it.  

It is going to be a busy year in the garden with mini frog traffic if they make it.  Which leads mean to my next tale.

Tonight is going to the brightest moon for two decades apparently according to this story.  Here in Stratford we were blessed with clear skies so I popped outside with the camera and got this image.

With the 7D, 500f4 + 1.4 on tripod, ISO 100, f9 and 1/125 if you fancy a go.  I pulled the expose back in Capture One, reduced the brightness and upped the contrast to explore some of the wonderful detail.

With this level of natural brightness, I have seen more detail from this image than many other similar type shots.

Click to see it at 800 pixels

Why last night and not tonight? - well it might not be clear tonight so worth getting it in the bank as it were.

But check it out in your area of the world and give it a crack - as it will be the brightest now for a long time to come.

So linking back to my earlier question about whether the new frogs make it.  Well it was crystal clear last night and we had another sharpish frost with temperatures down to minus 4.5 Deg C this morning when I went out at 6 AM looking for Hares locally.

Some of the spawn is exposed to the air and was a little bit crunchy when I got back, so I swilled some pond water over it to warm it up.  Fingers crossed.

Checking back to last year, they were at a similar stage on the 28th March, so we are ahead by ten days this year.  It took a further 12 days before we had swimmers, so on that basis we should be looking at the end of March before the first tadpoles emerge.

I am off on an Amphibian Surveying Workshop later today with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to brush up on my knowledge and learn a few things.

Hope you have a good weekend


Friday 18 March 2011

Japan trip thoughts

I have been home from Japan a couple of weeks and really lucky to have got out when i did looking at the devastation on the TV, It brings home just how fragile the Earth and those that live on it are, I dont know what would have happened if the Tsunami had hit whilst we were on the ice breaker just off of the Hokkaido coast, Its just doesnt bear thinking about, I hope that Japan gets sorted quickly but it doesn't look like its going to be that way for some time, I will return there one day and hopefully in the next year or 2 as its the best place i know for wildlife and in all that beautiful snow, I have been going through and processing some of the images from the trip and a few really stand out from the norm , i have printed some and i have to say-stunning, I had a couple of problems with the D7000 when i was out there but looking at my favourite images from the trip alot are from that camera, I still need to send it in and it will go back to Nikon next week as i am off to California next month and will need it then, The camera is capable of great image quality but i do have a nagging in the back of my head when viewing images from it that i do not seem to be getting consistency from it with images either very sharp or slightly off-reminds me of the dreaded Canon 1D MK3 in which i lost total confidence and that's one thing hat you dont want, The D3s shone as it always does-my favourite camera of all time without a doubt and when i was away if i knew that the shots were important like where we shot the white tailed eagles then the D3s was first and only choice, Now i know that the D3s is $5000+ and the D7000 is around £1200 but it should still be 100% consistent, I know that you cant expect every images to come out spot on and i except that but something just isn't right so i hope Nikon will give it a good going over and see if they can track down the cause and put my mind at rest, One things that came obvious was that manual metering is the way to go with it, One day i shot in AV and the metering was at best naff and inconsistent, Its a shame as it is a really good camera and it does show its limitations quickly, I can see why a lot of people who are not that experienced had struggled with it, I always planned to have it until the D400 comes out later this year but after all the problems in Japan i am sure that will all be put back
So here is my favourite D7000 image from the trip, I was a difficult shot as there was heavy snow and that really tests the AF, I know Pete had a few problems with the 1D Mk4 in heavy snow which i think is due to the quickness of the Canon AF system whereas the Nikon system is a tad slower to grab focus but then holds on well even in tough conditions like this, The Canon AF system worked very well with the eagles in flight and you could see the improvement over the MK3 version as when the eagles dropped out of the sky and into the tree line it kept with it and Petes eagle images are stunning to prove it
The image is full frame uncropped, The one thing i would have liked is for both cranes on the right to be side on, I do have that shot but not with the 3 on the left, I now have this printed at A3+ and its a stunner-nice and sharp, The snow adds the atmosphere and the birds position and behaviour add the interest


Oh my aching head

I am a Gemini so have another side to me-this is him

If you ever see him beware as he will track you down and fill you full of Guiness which is what happened to me last night - you have been warned
St Patricks day is a big deal here in the States but wherever you were i hope you had a good and safe one-even if your liver didnt


Thursday 17 March 2011

Frog Blog '11 - Part 3 - Spawn!!!

The very busy frogs have put out four clumps of spawn today - juding by the activity we are going to have masses of the stuff this year.

Will keep you posted


Japan update

Details of each photographic company here


Two Lifetime firsts and a UK first

On our travels this week, Jac and I popped down to Dorset for a couple of days, took a look at some the RSPB reserves and saw a few sights.  I guess it might be considered a bit of a challenge to ask your new wife to get up at 02.30 in the morning so that we can drive three hours to see a sunrise.  Well I did, she did, so we did.  I love driving at night as there is no other traffic around and you get to see quite a bit of wildlife en route.  On the journey, we saw Barn Owl, Muntjac and Roe Deer, vole, fox and my favourite of all, and it has been a good few years since I last saw one in the wild, was a Weasel.

I will share a few of the landscape/seascape images in future blogs when I have had a chance to process them.

Meanwhile, here are a few of some firsts for me.

First up is a Hooded Merganser - now not unusual for Dave, as this recent blog shows.  But most unusual for the UK, as it is a North American species.  Apparantly it arrived at RSPB Radipole about three years ago and has stayed resident ever since.  Is it wild, is it an escapee? - who knows but it was a real beauty.

It was quite at home with other Tufted Duck and Pochard.  Other great sights we had at this fabulous reserve were Water Vole, Water Rail, singing Cetti's Warblers, Sand Martins - first of the year, Reed Warblers - first of the year, two pairs of dancing Great Crested Grebes.  Sadly no Beared Tits or Bittern.  The cold winter has had a bad effect on the Beardies.

A mile or so east of Radipole Lake is RSPB Lodmoor and another lifetime first for me was seen here.

This Long Billed Dowitcher was a bit distant, so it was a bit of a crop, but fabulous to see.

Also at Lodmoor were a couple of Spoonbills, which I will bring in future posts.

The final first is a UK first for me.  I have seen this species before while in Spain, but never in the UK.   There are usually a few records each year.  The lady warden in Radipole at the RSPB said that one had been seen up at Portland Bill the previous day, and as we were heading back there in the afternooon to get some sunset shots thought we might have a look.  But it would be a needle in a haystack moment.....or so I thought.

Arriving at a parking space just after the Bird Observatory, I got out the car, caught some movement in my eye in fornt of the car parked ahead, peeked round the corner and there it was, a Hoopoe grubbing around by the kerbside, hence the visual intrusion of the road and kerb in the images. 

I grabbed my camera quickly, shot in brilliant bright horrible light, and handheld only, got off a few shots.

I had to move quickly as there were a couple of runners coming down the hill and were going to run straight by it.  I stopped them for 30 seconds, but sadly they scared the bird away from me, and I never saw it again.

I guess I will take the luck of seeing it within ten seconds of arriving.

While we were there we saw more Sand Martins and Meadow Pipits as recent migrant arrivals.  

A fabulous day in Dorset - more to come soon