1. Marsh pool

    With autumn fast approaching I thought I’d share a selection of images I took over two mornings back in July.

    As I drove along a track on the North Kent Marshes I noticed a pool of water of just, approximately, 20 x 20m which was attracting a substantial number of birds. The water, it seemed, was just at the right depth for avocet, redshank and godwit amongst others. Not too deep making wading a problem yet not too shallow where it would support little or no life. About, I would say, an inch to an inch and a half.

    It was warm and we were in for a dry spell and with the threat of the pool drying up and the birds leaving to find elsewhere to feed, I scanned the area through binoculars to see where would be the best place to set up a small hide. After settling on a spot and upon obtaining the landowner’s permission, I went home and collected the hide. Activity is at its peak first thing (not to mention the light) and with good weather forecast for the next couple of days I duly set up the hide that evening.

    Under the cover of relative darkness I arrived at 3.30 the following morning and quietly made my way to the hide but before doing so gave myself a good dousing of insect repellent as mosquitoes in and around the pool become active with the rising sun. On the second morning, however, I forgot to apply it and with me settled in the hide and without thinking, liberally sprayed my ankles, forearms and tops of my hands which resulted in something akin to a fumigation tent! I dare not exit and spook the birds. I must have sounded like Dastardly from Dastardly and Muttley. I’m really showing my age now!

    Dawn from my hide

    Dawn from my hide

    I used the excellent Dome hide (standard) from Wildlife Watching Supplies and as I wanted to obtain a low angle I used the slit at the front rather than the normal opening which is a good metre off the ground. A Manfrotto 190 tripod was fitted with an Acratech Levelling Base (beautifully engineered and highly recommended which I also use for panoramas) and on top of that, a heavy duty Gitzo 3-way pan and tilt head. An angle-finder was fitted enabling me to view the image when kneeling. It’s imperative when working this way to use such a levelling base if you are to keep the water and horizon level.

    Oystercatcher

    Oystercatcher at dawn

    mute_swan_001

    redshank-003

    Redshank

    Immature redshank

    Immature redshank

    Adult oystercatcher with juvenile

    Adult oystercatcher with juvenile

    Juvenile redshank

    Juvenile redshank

    On the second morning I repositioned the hide to look into the rising sun.

    The Nikon D300s was fitted with a 200-400mm, occasionally with a 1.4x tele-converter attached and ISO’s ranged from 200-800 depending on the circumstance. For the image of the oystercatcher at dawn below, for example, as it was stationary there seemed little point in using a high ISO so I used ISO 200 with mirror-lock to obtain as much detail as possible.

    oystercatcher-003a

    Black-tailed godwit

    Black-tailed godwit

    Black-headed gull

    Black-headed gull

    black_headed_gull-002

    Avocet

    Avocet

    This juvenile redshank had caught a dragonfly and spent quite some time ‘pondering’ over what to do with it. Interestingly, it submerged it several times which, I am guessing, made it easier to swallow and digest.

    Juvenile redshank with dragonfly

    Juvenile redshank with dragonfly

    Juvenile redshank

    Juvenile redshank at sunrise

    redshank-008

    Mosquitoes buzzing around a redshank at sunrise

    Mosquitoes buzzing around a redshank at sunrise

    Avocets and oystercatcher

    Avocets and oystercatcher

    Oystercatcher calling

    Oystercatcher calling

    I love working from a hide, especially is such a situation where you never know what might turn up. I would shoot from 4.30 through to 7 when the sun would become too harsh for photography but even though it was a short period it was very intense never the less with barely a moment passing when I wouldn’t be peering through the viewfinder or capturing the sounds of the marsh on my recorder.

    Once the sun had risen too high to continue I made my way back to the car and as I did so spent a few moments photographing families of redshanks chasing and calling at one another. Two days later the pool was reduced to a muddy scrape which is testament, I feel, to a saying I hold close with my photography: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.

    oystercatcher-006

    oystercatcher-005

    oystercatcher-007

    3 Comments
  2. Summer

    I’m certainly not in the school of thought that you should only post a blog if you have something specific to say or a technique to write about. Sometimes it’s just nice to see for yourself what you have taken over a period (as a set) and to show others, as opposed to randomly posting images on such social media as fecebook – as much as I enjoy doing so! It’s also important to remember, I think, that not everybody uses FB, so here’s a selection of my favourites from the last 6 weeks.

    Mute swan incubating at sunset

    Mute swan incubating at sunset

    With a new workshop in mind, I spent an evening capturing sunset over Camber Sands. I hadn’t been there for years and had quite forgotten what a wonderful location it is for landscape photography.

    Camber sands at sunsetNikon D300, 12-24mm @ 19mm, iso 200, f18, exposure blending.

    Camber sands at sunset
    Nikon D300, 12-24mm @ 19mm, iso 200, f18, exposure blending.

    A tip-off from a warden friend of mine led me to this wonderful plant which had flowered for the first time in 20 years at this reserve. Situated just a few metres from a seldom used footpath and keen not to give away its location, I would leave the path 20 or so metres before-hand so as not to leave a “path” leading directly to it that might otherwise have drawn attention to certain members of the public! In addition, I would shoot only at sunrise and sunset when no-one was around. Very covert! All the images, below, were taken in a single morning at sunrise where I had a window of just 10 minutes as the sun appeared between trees producing this golden light. A stunning flower and fingers crossed that it’ll be flowering there next year!

    Lizard orchidNikon D300, 200-400 @ 360mm, iso 200, 1/200 sec. f5.

    Lizard orchid
    Nikon D300, 200-400 @ 360mm, iso 200, 1/200 sec. f5.

    Lizard orchid

    Lizard orchid

    Lizard orchid

    Lizard orchid

    Kent’s largest area of acid heathland is situated just 35 minutes from me and it’s an area I have been working on (on and off) for the last 20 years. Aside from being the only location in Kent where you can see the Keeled skimmer dragonfly, it’s also home to an array of amazing plant life, including this – the common or round-leaved sundew.

    common-sundew-2

    Common or round-leaved sundew

    Sundews are remarkable plants that, due to the lack of nutrients in its acidic habitat, digests insects that become trapped on the dew-like droplets on its tendrils. They’re also incredibly beautiful!

    Common or round-leaved sundewNikon D300, 200mm Micro plus PN11 extension-tube and Nikon 5T 2-element close-up filter, iso 200, 1/20 sec. f4. Beanbag. Remote release plus mirror lock-up.

    Common or round-leaved sundew
    Nikon D300, 200mm Micro plus PN11 extension-tube and Nikon 5T 2-element close-up filter, iso 200, 1/20 sec. f4. Beanbag. Remote release plus mirror lock-up.

    Cotton grass

    Summer breeze
    Cotton grass at sunset.

    Pyramidal orchid

    Pyramidal orchid

    Until recently, the last couple of weeks have given us ideal conditions in which to shoot insects with clear nights and breathless mornings, coating everything in dew. I found this Common emerald damselfly on the Kent Marshes first thing in the morning.

    Common emerald damselfly

    Common emerald damselfly

    After securing a number of portraits, I went for something a little different to give the viewer a sense of what I was experiencing – the sun penetrating the tangle of reeds and clubrush.

    Common emerald damselflyNikon D300, 200mm Micro, iso 200, 1/50 sec. f4.

    Common emerald damselfly
    Nikon D300, 200mm Micro, iso 200, 1/50 sec. f4.

    Having found a good location, I returned the following few mornings utilising the conditions as you just never know when it might turn!

    Common darter dragonfly clinging to sea club-rush at sunrise. Nikon D300, 200mm Micro, iso 200, 1/250 sec. f8.

    Common darter dragonfly clinging to sea club-rush at sunrise.
    Nikon D300, 200mm Micro, iso 200, 1/250 sec. f8.

    The image below was taken at 6am which even though was around 45 minutes after sunrise, a thick mist had prolonged the sunrise and kept everything dew-laden for quite some time.

    Common blue damselfly

    Common blue damselfly

    Common blue butterfly at sunrise

    Common blue butterfly at sunrise

    Mute swanNikon D300, 200-400 at 400mm, iso 400, 1/1000 sec. f7.1.

    Mute swan preening
    Nikon D300, 200-400 at 400mm, iso 400, 1/1000 sec. f7.1.

    I’ve been assistant warden of a local nature reserve for over 20 years now, and remember vividly the first time I went out searching and photographing glow worms many, many years ago. There’s only a small stretch of pathway that they can, fairly reliably, be found each spring and summer and this year, once again, they didn’t let me down! On one of my visits I was very lucky to witness and capture a pair mating. Males, as you can see, are significantly smaller and look an, almost, entirely different species!

    Portraits of our wildlife are all well and good but, in my book, nothing beats recording behaviour! Aesthetics go out the window when your working in the pitch dark on a subject that’s an inch long and continually moving in and around leaves and twigs. It was, I think, worth the 8 (I counted) mozzie bites!

    Glow worms mating

    Glow worms mating
    Nikon D300, 105mm Micro with PN-11 extension tube, iso 200, f22, SB800 off-camera flash.

    Last week I spent the evening stood in a reedbed photographing my 2nd favourite bird (1st being the lapwing!), marsh harriers. This individual looks to be a fledgling which I didn’t quite expect to fly so close! I was well camouflaged and it passed by several times so close that I could hear the wind move through its wings. Priceless!

    marsh-harrier-robert-canis-1

    Juvenile marsh harrier

    On the same evening and as the light dropped, I could see clouds forming in the west and so, thinking a decent sunset may be on the cards, I ventured to a nearby warren to try my luck at silhouettes. After 45 mins this inquisitive individual ran straight up to me and posed – quite nicely!

    Rabbit at sunsetNikon D300, 200-400, iso 400, 1/400 sec. f5, beanbag.

    Rabbit at sunset
    Nikon D300, 200-400, iso 400, 1/400 sec. f5, beanbag.

     

    4 Comments
  3. First and only? I hope not!

    Well, it’s 7 days now since here in Kent (along with most of the UK) we “enjoyed” hard frosts and quite a bit of snow. It’s so infrequent now that when it does occur I (and I’m sure 1000’s of other photographers) rack our brains to think of where to go in order to capitalise on this short lived event.

    For the last month, or so, I have set up a bird feeding station quite near to where I live on the North Kent Marshes to see what I could pull in different to the usual woodland species that I have photographed time and again in subsequent years. With regular visits I could see that I wasn’t getting anything particularly interesting coming in aside from tits and greenfinches. So, I decided to go to Knole Park where they have a large herd of fallow and sika deer. With a wonderful hard frost, I enjoyed a good few hours from dawn, milking the conditions for all it’s worth!

    Sika deer

    Sika deer

    This was the first time I used my 200-400 f4 that I acquired a couple of months ago and it really proved it’s worth with me being able to shoot close-ups and contextual, without moving or adding tele-converters.

    Sika deer

    Sika deer

    Fallow deer buck

    Fallow deer buck

    Sika deer

    Sika deer

    For all the sika deer photographs, I used a Manfrotto monopod as continually altering the legs on a tripod can be both tiresome and time consuming which may result in missing a shot. For the fallow deer buck image, I hand-held the camera while laying down, utilising the VR.

    Sika deer

    Sika deer

    I was just sitting down, upwind from this sika and it came closer and closer, sniffing the air every few steps.

    Inquisitive Sika deer!

    Inquisitive Sika deer!

    The day after, heavy snow was forecast for the Sevenoaks area, predicted for around 12 o clock. I wasn’t going to miss this, so arrived at 9 and just waited. The fallow were very shy and with such a strong wind, understandably, took shelter in the wooded areas.

    Fallow deer fawn and doe

    Fallow deer fawn and doe

    Fallow deer fawn

    Fallow deer fawn

    After the above encounter, it was a full hour before I got anywhere near close enough for a decent size image. I came across 4 bucks and by keeping a respectful distance, they took little notice. And, as if on cue, the snow REALLY started to come down. Perfect!

    Fallow deer buck

    Fallow deer buck

    Fallow deer bark-stripping

    Fallow deer bark-stripping. They do this as a source of food, most often in winter.

    Fallow deer buck

    Fallow deer buck

    A few days later and with snow still on the ground I headed to my hide on the marshes where I witnessed the most extraordinary thing! As I walked to my hide to top-up the feeder I noticed a fieldfare in a hawthorn, not 4m away! Amazing. They are generally very wary so what on earth was it doing, just sitting there? I stood and watched as it sat and picked off nearby berries. The camera was in the car so I walked back the 100m or so, fitted the camera to the tripod and returned, only to find it was still there! It remained so for the next minute, allowing me take a few shots before it dropped to the ground, picked up a few berries and flew off to join the rest of the flock. I guess, it’s the hard weather that makes wildlife bolder.

    Fieldfare

    Fieldfare

    I then got comfortable in my hide, observing greenfiches, blue and great tits come and go and then a bird appeared on a thistle seed-head I had only ever seen a few times before and certainly never photographed. A lesser redpoll. I took a few tentative photographs as it fed frantically on the seed-head. It flew to a nearby hawthorn then immediately returned. I let it feed for a while, took another shot and this time it took no notice. This was a rare opportunity to get close-ups of a bird I hardly see, so didn’t hold back in the amount of images Thankfully, quite afew came out sharp!

    All images on this post were taken using a Nikon D300, 200-400 f4 and, more often than not, iso 800. For the redpoll shots, at f5.6 I used a shutter speed of 1/1600 sec.

    Lesser redpoll

    Lesser redpoll

    Lesser redpoll feeding

    Lesser redpoll feeding

    Lesser redpoll

    Lesser redpoll

    Lesser redpoll

    Lesser redpoll

    16 Comments

Be among the first to hear of new workshops and tours

Search Blog

Blog Archive

December 2018
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31