|Posted by basilfishcakes on May 4, 2012 at 7:35 PM||comments (1)|
Hi folks...Well the Spring migration has been and gone now and I grabbed as many opportunities I could to get out and about with my camera. The seasonal passage of migrants, once it finally began, seemed bumper this year by way of shear numbers of more common species. Literally hundreds of Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Meadow Pipets and my favourite, the Northern Wheatear, which is the star of this entry.
What a bird. It is always one of the first hirundines to pass through and always sparks a frenzied response (from me anyway) which often means I get a bit too excited, too early. The following month, whilst full of anticipation, tends to drag a bit but atleast I can always find a Wheatear to keep my spirits up!
The male birds tend to pass through first, eager to get prime locations at their breeding sites, no doubt. I have to say that a smarter looking bird you'll be hard pushed to find. With their upright stance, slender build and dashing plumage they are truly stunning. The 'mask' just about finishes it off. Like the avian equivalent to Antonio Banderas in Zorro this handsome creature really has it all.
The female of the species is, by comparison, no Catherine Zeta Jones, let me tell you. But she is a thing of beauty none-the-less.
These birds, therefore, must be one of the most photographed in Britain. With their striking looks and their willingness to pose these 'Hollywood' migrants are irresistable to the nature paparazzi. Which is why I'm sharing this blog. I have been fortunate enough to get right up close and personal with some Wheatear over the last few weeks. As I already stated there seems such a volume of birds on the Island that everywhere you go (providing as you can sit still for an hour) there are Wheatear who will oblige in providing at the very least some spectacular views.
As I mentioned, by sitting still and waiting, opportunities will come your way. This was taken at a well known site, using my car as a hide. With my tripod set up on the passenger side of the car it is a great way to get shots. Not always possible to get a low angle, so picking your site well is essential. In the shot above a raised mound of rubble put this bird at the perfect height...my outstanding parking put the car at the right distance for this full framed shot. For once the 'busyness' of this image actually helps place the bird in context with it's environment but more often than not a smooth diffused background would be a preference.
The next shot is a prime example and this time a different technique for getting level with my subject. I watched this bird returning to the same patch whenever it was disturbed at various points along a well known walkway at Fort Doyle. It is a great place to see Wheatear, Black Redstart and Meadow Pipits amongst other birds like Grey Plover. Anyway, it is also a popular place for dog walking, jogging, mountain biking etc which means getting a bird to sit still, or having the time to slowly approach one doesn't work. What works is watching where the birds go when they're disturbed. If you set up and wait there then eventually you are guaranteed an opportunity.
This bird consistently flew back to the same patch. With a shear ledge at the end of the grassy headland it was perfect to set up at ground level keeping all but my camera and the top of my head hidden. As it grew ever more confident with my presence it edged nearer, eventually coming within 8 or so feet of my poised camera and lens. I'm pleeased with the shot and the thought that went into getting it. A well executed plan.
Sometimes all the planning in the world can't prepare you for a situation. The following shot was taken from my car, with the same principle I explained earlier. However, when your subject is whacked at immense speed by a Sparrowhawk whilst you're sat waiting for it to hop ever nearer your 'hide', the best you can do his hit the trigger and hope!
It's one of those things that reminds you how nature works and the fine line between success and failure, life and death. I had experienced, only a few mornings prior to this, one of the coolest things ever. I was again watching a Wheatear, a female sat in the top of a short tree on a pathside. Suddenly, she stooped and called before flying off at speed. I was sure she had not been bothered by my presence, I'd been stood there for 3 or 4 minutes and set up my tripod, my immediate reaction was to spin around with my camera, which as always, was mounted on said tripod. What I saw staring down the lens and hurtling towards me was a male sparrowhawk; eyes fixed on something but not our wheatear which had obviously moved. It's course didn't deviate as it passed by my head so close that I felt the turbulence and heard the 'whoosh' as it accelerated by. It dissappeared between two trees and I didn't see it come out the other end but what an awesome experience. The photo that I did get is far from perfect but the best I could do in such short time. It gives a real sense of that fixated stare that must have been the precurser to many-a-small birds demise.
I know I just wandered off topic slightly, for this I apologise but I'll leave this entry with one more image. It's a female Wheatear in just about perfect evening light and it demonstrates, for me, the cross over between art and bird photography. The more I learn and practice the more I realise that it's great to get a good photo of a bird, but it's better to get a great photo with a bird in it. This is ever increasingly my goal. Take care for now. Basil Fishcakes.
|Posted by basilfishcakes on April 16, 2012 at 6:00 PM||comments (3)|
Hello to all you folks who have consistently checked for months to see if I've actually blogged, on my blog. As you know I haven't posted anything for a considerable time. Various reasons...all a bit lame, really. It's not that nothing significant has happened in my life, but rather I haven't been out much and when I have it's been a bit rubbish.
However, let's get this party started with a triumphant Spring welcoming fanfare! Pah papa pom pom! Praise be for longer days, warmer weather and common birds that save you from not getting any shots of 'the good uns!'.
Seriously, I have been far more conscious of our more common species since the turn of the year because it became suddenly apparent that they are some of the most photogenic and beautiful creatures in this part of the world. So I make no excuses for posting the following images....Most have been taken whilst waiting for rarities to show, or not show as has often been the case!
The 'lowly' Dunnock is a bird that leads the way in mating season antics. With the males pitch perfect bursts of song still ringing sweet in the ear they soon descend into orgies of sex and violence, rivalled only by the local Mallards dubious stance on romance and consent!
Anyway, their beauty and charm is captured here on a typical vantage point...perfect for a verse of that, oh so seductive, melody.
Meanwhile, in a tree not a million miles away, a rather different bird has partnered up and is checking out real estate that might suit first time buyers, looking to start a family. I think they may have just found the perfect place.
This rather splendid Blue Tit almost makes you want to sing a verse or two of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'. If you do it whilst giving a crazy sideways look at other 'hide users' I guarantee that you'll have that hide to yourself in about two minutes flat! Another helpful tip from the 'old master'....Barry Wells.
Next up, again, a very common bird but alot of peoples favourite. The Robin Red Breast. This rosey fronted bird popped up recently whilst I was waiting for a much rarer bird with a rouge behind! The Red-Rumped Swallow. However, I couldn't resist this little fella and his passionate sonnet.
What a beauty!
Now one of my all time favourites. The Stonechat.....another poser that sits up in all his glory to be admired. It's impossible to ignore one, it may well be that Canon have installed a feature in their cameras that detects and shoots images of these birds automatically, 'cause even when you don't remember even seeing one during a day, sure enough when you load up your days attempts during the evening, there is always at least one shot of a Stonechat and a Kestrel. Fact!
It is becoming increasingly obvious that Springtime is a great time to capture the colours and spectacular plumages displayed by even our most frequently seen and neglected avian friends. The following image is one that sums it all up really. Could there be a more magnificent creature on your local patch? I very much doubt it. The male pheasant is flambouyant, proud and a real show off. This is a great example!
Although, I was unable to get the whole bird and tail feather in shot, this 'crop' shows off perfectly how smart and varied these birds are. Stunning!
As too are the local Mallards....Whilst they may well appear immoral (at best) at this time of year it does not mean they are not handsome. Whilst being a female duck is possibly the most unenviable thing in the known universe, the males do have a certain penache about them. I captured this one as it flew low and fast past the hide at The Claire Mare NR.
And last but by no means least the most recognisable and beautifully coloured bird. The Common Kingfisher. This little gem popped up unexpectedly when I was waiting on our local Marsh Harriers to show up.
I had heard her calling previously but not caught a glimpse. I assumed if she did come my way then she'd almost certainly land on this sign, and she did, which was nice. She was only there for a matter of 10-15 seconds before flying off again. This was the best I could do. The sign used to say 'No Fishing' and the Kingfishers depicted on it used to have beaks...Anyway any encounter, no matter how brief, with any of the birds captured here is a real priviledge and joy. So keep your eyes open and your shutters clicking.
Take care for now. Basil Fishcakes.
|Posted by basilfishcakes on November 18, 2011 at 6:45 PM||comments (1)|
From my last blog entry it is clear that, photographically speaking, I have had little time. On reflection of 'my year of birds' it becomes apparent that I have concentrated, therefore on rarer birds, lifers and owls. It is often the case with the more scarce visitors that your first intention is to see them, then get a reasonable record shot and then if you're lucky enough, have the time and the bird obliges get something a little better.
My year, from this perspective, got off to a flyer, as they say! 1st of Jan....Waxwing! A lifer, a rarity and a beautiful one to boot. You really couldn't wish for more. This also worked in the sequence described in my opening paragraph. Having seen them first and recorded them photographically, high up on a TV aerial it was then down to maximising an opportunity to get the best shot I could. Eventually there was one bird feeding on fallen apples in a garden. I got the permission of the owners and laid in wait.
This was my pick of the bunch.....What a bird and what a start to the year. Click here for more waxwing images.
In February I found myself on several evenings gravitating towards an area where Barn Owls often show well. With or without camera didn't seem to matter....I just love watching them go about there beautiful but deadly business. Because the window of opportunity to photograph these birds is so short it became the ideal, if not frustrating target, as time was of the essence in my increasingly busy life.
One of the images I captured during that time was born of said frustration and relied heavily on luck as well as foresight. I had spent the usual hour sat in wait, many other photographers had also 'set up shop' in the same area. It had been an evening of perfect light and conditions but the owl had not come within range once. To be honest I was a little disappointed, not least by the constant movement and chattering of my fellow birders. I know camo and being discreet isn't for everyone but with a camera that takes 9 shots a second....if it buys you an extra second then you might just get the shot! Who knows.
Anyway, the side of the hill had fallen into shadow so I made my way upwards and feeling a little dejected when I was greeted by the most spectacular of sunsets. I stopped and set up imediately thinking about only one thing....What if? What if the owl drifts across this skyline now? What if it hovers right there infront of the big red sun? It was only going to be five more minutes so why not wait...just in case?
I called it 'Spirit of Evening'. Birdguides picked it as their Photo of The Week, which was an honour. They said.....
"With so many stunningly detailed owl photos being uploaded to BirdGuides, it's hard to take one that stands out from the crowd. In fact, some of the world's leading wildlife photographers now take the view that there are so many good photos of so many creatures that the only option is to go for photos that are 'different', rather than 'better'. Chris Bale's beautifully atmospheric image of a Barn Owl hunting at sunset shows how productive this approach can be. Firstly, including the sun in the image instantly sets it apart from 99.99% of bird images. Doing so isn't usually possible or advisable but, when the sun is dimmed as it sets, there is a very brief window of opportunity to use it as a compositional element. Obviously, you then need a co-operative subject in the same general direction, which is where the combination of luck and skill really comes into play. With a well-thought-out composition, Chris placed the sun off-centre at the very bottom of the frame, making the most of the owl flying into the frame in front of a backdrop of warm tones graduating down to the natural vegetation. The result is a magical and memorable image."
I have two highlights for March. Firstly, a rarity and one of the most identifiable birds in Europe and secondly the results of one of my only 'projects' of the year.
The Hoopoe is a great bird. As stunning as it is perculiar it makes a fantastic target for photography. When I got the call about this one, from a friend, I couldn't wait to get there at first light and have a go. When my nightshift had finished I headed down there with a head full of possibilities.
It had taken up 'residence' in the back garden of a 94 year old lady. Spritely is not the word...straight talking and wonderful, she granted me permission to enter her garden. The ground was sodden and cold but I set up and laid there for quite some time before I gave up! The bird had not been seen since first light and I was cold, dis-heartened, hungry and tired....as you can probably guess, this is not me at my chirpy best! So I went for a walk about for half an hour, gathered my thoughts.....And talked myself into returning. Afterall, I had first dibs on this bird and if I didn't get the shot....someone else would. That was all the motivation I needed. I got back down and waited.
Worth the wait? You bet Ya! See more Hoopoe shots here.
The second March moment came over a three day project which only lasted three days because of the combination of incompetence, stuborness and the very tricky antics of the subject. One of my favourite birds, the Firecrest, winters in Guernsey. I had spotted a couple that seemed to be hanging on a bit longer than the rest and I decided that, as they were in one of the quieter locations on the island, I might get a decent shot or two.
Silbe NR is a beautiful and tranquil place. I often visit just to sit and be quiet. Anyway, after much persistence I got the shots I was after of this tiny thing of beauty...possibly my favourite shots of the year!
April saw the beginning of Spring and all the anticipation that comes with it. The weather was simply stunning with day after day of glorious sunshine and warmth. Unfortunately that seemed to give migratory birds absolutely no reason to stop on our shores and bar one or two exceptions everything just flew straight over! That would be my explaination. There was a Woodchat Shrike that stuck around for a few days or so and that was a fantastic little bird...I'm not altogether thrilled with the images I got, but they're there to be improved upon. Click here for more images of this bird.
The start of May was spent in France on a family holiday.....A beautiful time of relaxation and fun with the occassional photo opportunity. Some great views of Montagu's harrier, Hen Harrier, Little Owl, Cuckoo, Hoopoe and Turtle Dove....not to mention the Cirl and Corn Buntings, Buzzards, Jays, Deer and plethora of other wonderous
However, on return to Guernsey there was a Black-Winged Stilt at Pulias Pond. This is a bird I have missed on at least two previous occassions......I was determined to get it this time. It was a lengthy process but I did it right and I got the shot I really wanted in the end.
I have already described this in great detail on my blog and you can read it (and see a bonus Little Egret image) by clicking here.
June and July were non events, for me from a birding perspective. My daughter, Gwendoline, was growing fast and my focus was really on family, home and getting married. What a beautiful and memorable summer it was. Our wedding day was perfect and to celebrate our love with friends and family was so special. Click here to see my favourite image of Gwendoline.
August brought with it a return to birding and photography......My first opportunity, in what seemed like an age, was an absolute cracker. A barn owl (again) but with a rainbow looming large in the background was irresistable.
It's not the shot I anticipated but after a little longer and some very slow approach work I got this image.....I think it's probably my best to date. What a bird and what an encounter. My enthusiasm and passion flooded back as I returned to my car with a smile from ear to ear.
Another rarity and lifer marked September's highlight. A small American wader whose unfortunate demise, at the paws of a domestic cat, bought it more fame than it's understated appearance and low key existence! The weather was fairly inclement at the time and the limited opportunities that I had to try to get shots probably coincided with the worst of it. Never-the-less, given the conditions, the fact that it is rare and the sudden nature of it's departing, I don't believe I could have done much better. The Pectoral Sandpiper.
September also saw the only pelagic trip that I went on this year. You can read my account and see my shots here. Sabine's Gull was the pick of the bunch!
For someone who is always 'on the lookout' and keen, I have a woeful record of finding rarities. However, in October I turned up a Rose-Coloured Starling in amongst a local flock. It is a bird of eastern Origin and a long way from home, here in Guernsey. Naturally I was delighted to have found something of interest to other local birders. The photos aren't anything to shout about as the bird spent most of it's time on roof tops and chimneys. Still....pretty cool!
And so to November and at the time of writing I am keenly anticipating a winter full of Lapwing, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush, Golden Plover...maybe even more Waxwing opportunities, who knows? But this month has bought with it, so far, very mild conditions with the weather being driven by South Easterly winds. This brought my most recent subject, rarity and lifer....A Desert Wheatear to our shores.....photographed in what became tricky conditions (as regaled in my blog) this little gem was worth every second of my time.
And there you have it....2011 in photos. Ofcourse there are more than these and those who have followed my stop/start year will have seen many other shots. One of them I will leave with you and is something a bit different. It was taken way back at the start of April and captured one of those moments when you realise just how lucky you are to be alive. I have attached the words it inspired in me, also.
As the first sleepy rays of sunlight pierced the heavy, hanging mist to liberate the sodden world below from the crude, cold shackles of night, a Marsh Harrier drifted purposefully across the glistening dew laden meadows. It's silent silhouette serving as a shadowy reminder, to all, of his prowess and majesty.
I shuddered in awe as I watched it deliberately and effortlessly manoeuvre; magnificent and masterful, subtle and stealthy. The warmth of the car heater, now a distant memory, had been replaced by a dank chill, hazy but tangible with anticipation.
From the haunting call of a single curlew, vague and distant, came a gradual crescendo of sound building to a cacophony of noise. A thousand voices each celebrating every conquering shard of light that warmed my face and lungs. The Chiffchaff’s descant melody the Cetti’s explosive staccato bursts, my ears were ringing to nature’s orchestra. Were they performing this overture just for me? I shuddered a second time.
The world seemed at peace and in good order, but I knew that would only last until I read the headlines on the news paper display at the garage. So I just pretended, whilst I could, that I was the last man alive and if I wanted to contribute to this dawn chorus, then I should….I hummed Alcoholiday by Teenage Fanclub but at a rather reverent level.
My heart was filled with the joy that the robin and the wren expressed so colourfully against such a foggy monochrome backdrop. I was driven by the absolute thrill of being alive and I wanted to share it. I’d made it through the night and I wanted everyone to know that I would live that new day to the full…and not just because it could have been my last. No, no, no…but because I could and I should, as an example to those who can never see beyond their doom-saying tabloids, the rising price of petrol and their own consumer driven misery.
The marsh harrier had long since disappeared from sight but in that brief yet glorious encounter I felt both humbled and empowered. Humbled by realising my place in the world, empowered by realising I had one.