Saturday 30 April 2011

Pond Life pt 2 - Metamorphosis of a Large Red Damselfly

In Part 1 of this series, I said I would bring you a series of the emergence of a Large Red Damselfly.  Since then, they have continued to emerge at a rate of between five and eight per day until yesterday when there were no new ones, although we are now seeing the matured early emergent back around the pond and starting to mate.

This series of images were taken over a period of about forty minutes, with the damsel staying on the leaf warming for a further hour or so before it finally flew.

 Just emerging, tail still in its case and umbilicals still connected

 Finallly free

 Body starting to straighten

 Tail beginning to extend

 Wings beginning to pump out

 More wing extension, now level with tail

 More wing expansion

 Wings now fully formed

 Tail now extended

Now fully formed and moving round to the sunny side to warm up

As you can see from the exposures the light was variable with either full sun or part cloud.  Images were taken with the Canon 5Dmk2, Canon 180 f3.5L macro, using the live view facility and resting on a beanbag on the pond edge.


Friday 29 April 2011

California Travelogue-Day 3

I got down to the lake at first light, I would have been earlier bit i had forgotten just how bad the traffic is here-tail to tail for miles and its one of my pet hates, The weather was great and beautiful as the sun rose above the horizon, Its a great time of day except for one thing, The sprinklers were on where the coots normally are and they were in the distance on the golf course, The Grebe tends to like being where the coots are so i set up low to the water and waited-and waited and waited,I had a wander about and found a jack rabbit which i stalked up on-new species in the bag for me, I viewed some over the last few days and they are very shy, I took a few images of the odd coot that came by as well as a cormorant that happened by, I watched a Red Tailed Kites skim across the lake and came straight towards me and shot off to where i shot the rabbit abit earlier, It was chased off by a crow and landed on a lamp post, I shot it hand held with the D7000 and 200-400 as they swooped over and then it was gone without its breakfast, The crow found a large egg on the beach area and had its breakfast and wasnt bothered by my presence, The light was now getting high so i decided to call it quits as it looked like the coots were in no hurry to get in the water and return so i have most of the day to play catch up with downloading/processing and doing the blog etc, I will return late afternoon for a evening session-light is everything and unless its nice light why bother, I got too much sun yesterday and now have a nice red face and i am not looking to add to it

I went back to the bay to try and get some waders, The tide was completely out when i got there which was perfect as there was plenty of mud for the waders to feed in, I went to a floating pontoon and set up on it, Laying flat with the tripod at its lowest and a camo jacket on with the hood over my head i stayed there for a couple of hours, In that time the waders came very close-infact a Willet came so close that it was at minimum focus distance and continued to feed-finding a clam and taking it to the waters edge to clean it before eating it-amazing, A couple of Clark's grebes dived up and down the channel and right in front of me, At first i thought it was a western grebe-more of that in my next blog, A couple of Gadwall turned up and preened-with the stiff breeze blowing the feathers up looked great, I packed up very happy and started to drive down the road when a pair of pheasant walked out, I stopped the car and got some amazing head shots of the male, I then continued back to where the Avocets and Stilts were and finished the evening with both avocet ans stilt along with gadwall,shoveller and teal-another brilliant day


Thursday 28 April 2011

Mini Trip Report pt 1 - RSPB Minsmere - Bittern

We took a couple of days out to head across to RSPB Minsmere  in Suffolk on Easter Monday and Tuesday to catch up with activities over there and for me to try my hand at some of the species that can be seen there.  I have been going to Minsmere for just under twenty years or so now, but haven't been for three years so I was looking forward to getting back there.  With the Spring seeming to be a bit  'earlier' this year I was hoping that there would be plenty of migrants in, but I think we timed it about two weeks too early.  So maybe we should have stuck with the usual preferred time slot of middle of May.

After a relative heatwave across much of the country for the previous week to ten days, the weather changed and we were greeted by a very cold and strong north east wind coming straight off of a very cold North Sea.  The previous heat wave had lulled me in to a false sense of summer so I was grateful of the hides to stay out of the cold wind.

Minsmere is a great place for wildlife watching and we saw plenty of birds species as well as a good few mammals, insects and butterflies too.

In this mini series I will bring you the main species I was after which were Bittern, Marsh Harrier and what I will call the rest at the end.

Minsmere has done extremely well over the years with an excellent reedbed management programme that has proved very encouraging and there are usally now double figures of booming male Bittern to be heard.  However, they remain elusive to the eye for many people and patience, as ever, is called for.

Many a time I have been into a hide to be told, 'You should have been here five minutes ago - it was right here in front of us'  I also reckion the same is true when you leave a hide if you have not been successful and that the things turn up  just after you leave.

By the time we got to the first hide at Island Mere on Monday, the bright sun was high and in the wrong direction for photography but we held out as Jac had not seen Bittern before, and so it was to remain.  A couple of Snipe immediately in front of the hide followed by a very confident Water Rail in the open but with a steep view from above and harsh light there was little point photographing so it was a case of enjoy the views of te ewildlife.

In and above the reedbeds, Bearded Tit, Reed and Sedge warblers could be seen and heard, and many Marsh Harriers were floating effortlessly searching for food or nesting material.

Sand Martins danced across the water catching their prey too.  But no Bittern.

So to the next day.  Getting out of a bed and venturing into the cold wind on Tuesday morning at 05.30 to be met with grey murky light replacing the crisp blue of the previous day, my bed felt more welcoming but off I went back to the reserve.

Walking through to the Bittern Hide this time, I was met with half a dozen very close Red Deer who weren't phased by me, while on the other side of the track a couple of Muntjac watched me carefully.

There were four others already in the hide and the conditions and light didn't seem good but patience was called for. 

About two minutes after getting into the hide and scanning with my binocs, I picked up a pair of Marsh Harriers a good distance away, but just ahead were a pair of Bittern.  Too extreme a range for an image, and to be honest I wasn't ready with the camera at this stage.

As can be the way after such a sighting, it took a quite a while before the next sighting.

As usual we are always optimists and I took some images, in poor light and and extreme distance in case it was the only sighting that I was going to get.

Oh least you can identify it.

Time passed and there was another distant sighting, and my hide buddies had decided they had had enough and ventured further on and were content with the brief sightings plus the Kingfisher and Red Deer we had seen in front of us at this stage.

After about five minutes of them going, and while I was checking out some images with my head down, I caught an incoming largish shape and looked up just to see a Bittern landing right in front of me.  They left too soon.

With no noise and other birds around, the Bittern was bold and made the most of the quiet situation.

 Adopting the Bittern 'freeze'

 Confident and off for a wander

Wading across the gap to the next set of reeds

After it had gone into the reeds, I watched the Marsh Harrier for a while and was fortunately still alert a short while later when the Bittern got up from the reedbed and flew away to my left into the wind and into the light that had come up a little more now and was a bit more sympatheic towards photography.

I was happy to see this at quite close range and went back for my breakfast at about 0900 after a very pleasant few hours when the thought of getting out of bed was not appealing.

We came back later in the day and nothing showed in the morning so we came back again later in the afternoon and Jac got her first sights of Bittern including another similar close flyby altough the light was less favourable for images so nothing to show that would add  to what I have already posted up.

Back next time with Marsh Harrier.


Wednesday 27 April 2011

California Travelogue-Day 2

The weather started off very grey and dreary with possibilities of rain but the forecast was to improve later in the day and that would/should be the end of the naff weather for the week, I started off down at the lake after the Eared Grebe, I found it straight away and set up in some bushes, I used the D7000 and 600+1.4 just in case it stayed distant, I could not have been more wrong and ended up over lensed as it would dive and pop up right in-front of me, No problem as the water wasnt the nicest of colours because of the grey sky, It really is a great looking bird, I spent the morning at the lake taking shots of the grebe as well as the numerous coots and Canada Geese that we eating the grass behind me, I moved a few miles down the road to the bay and got in position to shoot the waders that were there in the thousand, I watched as the birds got closer and closer, I dare not move and was within feet of starting to shoot when they all took off at the same time and suddenly there was deep barking behind me as an idiot with a big dog decided to walk up and see what i was doing-not pleased would be one way of saying it, I left and spent some time shooting or trying to get Snowy Egret and Night Heron images as they flew up to their nests, The weather was now nice and sunny-great for getting a tan or in my case getting a red face, I left to grab something to eat as the light was now very harsh, When i returned i set up and waited to get some birds in flight-hoping for avocet and stilt, Just before i was about to leave the birds started to go mad in-front of me, Both Stilt and Avocet working together instead of bickering over territory, I couldn't understand what was going on and guessed there must be a predator around and after a careful look at where there were hovering over i could see a snake, There hovered over it for about 5 minutes giving me lots of opportunity to get images before packing up and leaving-what a great and enjoyable day-just hope that it carries on as the weather is now set for the week

 Snake in the Grass


Tuesday 26 April 2011

Pond Life - Part 1 - New life emerges

With other activities than just frogs in my pond, I will bring the Pond Life series this year with the comings and goings of anything that could be considered 'non-frog'.

With the activity in the garden a couple of weeks or so earlier than last year, I was expecting the first of the Damselflies to emerge over this last week, and I haven't been disappointed.  The first started to emerge on Wednesday and we have seen between five and eight on everyday.  Although on Sunday, there should have been at least one more but one of the frogs grabbed it before it could get up the plant stem to emerge.

I have also seen four empty cases of Broad Bodied Chaser in the water but have not seen any emerge so I am wondering if they have been sucked empty by the frogs look for a succulent meal.

Anyway, I took as series of images on Friday morning that show the damsel as it emerges from the case with a series of its growth as the wings and body expand as it pumps the fluids through its body to become fully formed.  but I will bring you those images later in the week..

On Saturday morning as I was about to start work on the next phase of the pond, I saw a damsel that had just emerged and was beautifully back lit.  It was slightly too far away in the middle of the water to use just the 180 macro with the 5D so I needed to add some focal length.  One of the beauties of the Canon 180 macro is that you can add the 1.4 EFTC  - not something you can do with the other macro lenses  (Note: Not sure if you can with the new 100 so that may not be totally correct)

So with the body/lens set up, all that remained was to get the bean bag supported on the pond edge on a large plank so it could overhang the water and get busy.

Once again, the live view facility came into it's own.

Large Red Damselfly

As you can see it is still forming, and at this stage the wings are fully formed but the body has a long way to pump out to full size.  You will be able to see this better when I bring the full series later in the week.

With the strong back light, the background goes to black, or very nearly anyway.

After a while, the sun popped behind a cloud for a short while, and this is the result.

Quite nice, but not in the same league as the back lit version, in my opinion.


Monday 25 April 2011

California Travelogue-Day 1

We left Raleigh is very grey overcast and misty conditions and landed in San Francisco in the same horrible conditions, The flights were how shall we say-interesting, I hate flying at the best of times and the short flights always seems worse than the longer ones, Its just matter of switching your brain off and knowing that in the next few hours you will be where you want to be, I love to travel and to shooting new and different countries and shoot new and exciting species and that to me is worth the drama of flying,
We drove straight to the hotel and dropped the luggage off and went straight out and to the lake for the Eared Grebes, it took some time but we found one in a large group of coots, The light was dreadful and although i took a few images of the grebe i binned them all although some coot images came out very well-so at least i know that the grebe and a prime target is there.
Sunday and its an early start, We went straight to the lake, Again the weather was not up to much and after watching the Grebe for an hour we left, It was still in the same area and i watched and made mental notes of its behavior and movements, I have a week to get some shots so not to perturbed that i didnt get good images straight away, I popped down to my usual place in the bay area and shot some waders of which there are thousands and some of the Avocet and Stilts that are there, I used the D7000 and can say that for birds in flight it works very well, About 11am we head south and down to Monterey Bay, About 1hr20 minutes drive, Straight away and i am shooting Western Grebe-a fantastic looking bird and they came so close that i ended up with head shots-amazing, I carried on checking areas i have shot before and watch White Pelican, Godwits and more Eared Grebe, This looks like its going to be a great trip, The weather improves and we watch some big rafts of Sea Otters and head down to Monterey for lunch, There are some Loons or Northern Divers in the bay as well as more grebe, I drive down the coast endin in Carmel, On the way i shoot lots of Gulls in flight and some Ground Squirrel, This time of year the beaches are covered in flowers and its a stunning place to be, Some areas glow in pink and millions of flowers clover large areas, Here i shoot grackles and have shot Squirrels in the past, Its going to be a busy week but when all the conditions come together you have to make the most of it especially when you are away from home
Day one over and its back to the hotel at 10pm-time for a beer or 3 and download the images and get the blog done-feeew i am knackered but feeling good-roll on tomorrow


Sunday 24 April 2011

Mothing in the Garden Pt 1

Since starting my wildlife garden project, I have wanted to understand the full range of wildlife that the planting and our location in urban Stratford attracts.  While I am reasonably clued up on birds. I have had to try to better understand wildflowers, insects, pond life as well.  But there is one set of creatures that you only tend to see as something stuck to your headlights after a night drive and that is moths or lepidoptery.

To that end, regular readers who have been with us at least a year will know that I built myself a moth trap this time last year and I set out how I made it here.

Well I dusted it down and gave it it's first run out of the year two nights ago to see what I could get in the earlier part of the year.

 Grey Arches

 Tatty looking Hebrew Character

 Male Muslin Moth

 Shuttle Shaped Dart

A second Shuttle Shaped Dart

White Plume Moth

Sallow Kitten

All of these moths were placed in the early morning lighting, before the full sun got to them on an Oak log prop, and were taken with the 5Dmk2 and the Canon 180 macro.  Compared to last year when I used the original 5D, it was so much nicer with the Live view, live histogram and live exposure information, and 5 times zoom in live view plus the DOF preview button.  A delight  to use.

All the moths were then released back into dense foliage to protect them from becoming bird food.

As a relative novice at mothing, the hardest bit that I find is the identification process.  It probably takes me almost as long as photographing them.

But the best book that is recommended as the 'standard' is the one I have shown below.  Definitely worth getting.

Finally, if any reader sees that I have made any ID howlers on the above, then please do leave us a comment and let me know.  For me, one of the first duties of anyone who photographs wildlife is to know what you are shooting.

Happy Easter day