The Great British Wildlife Hunt

Roosting-TreecreeperEarlier in the year I was contacted by Bloomsbury Publishing, regarding the use of one of my images in an upcoming book and after some negotiation, a fee was reached. The image in question, was a photograph of a treecreeper roosting in the bark of a Sequioa tree, taken with the aid of a flash.

For anyone who hasn’t felt the bark of a Sequioa tree, even way after sunset, in the middle of winter, it is warm to the touch, as it is a very good insulating material. Treecreepers have been quick to adapt to this and the fact that the bark is also very soft, by burrowing into the bark and making small indentations. They then fluff up their feathers to further conserve heat.

The Great British Wildlife Hunt was finally published in June. I had planned on buying the book, but never got around to it somehow. As it turned out, it was actually just as well I didn’t, because just over a week ago, a complimentary copy plopped through my letterbox. An added bonus, to an image sale and one that hadn’t happened with previously licensed images.

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RSPB The Great British Wildlife Hunt by Anne Harrap (20 Jun 2013)

Gigrin Farm Visit

For some time, I’ve been considering a visit to Gigrin Farm, in mid Wales. It’s one of the feeding stations (and was the first), that have been set up for red kites and as a result, it has become a bit of a honeypot site. Of course, the downside of it being so popular, is that everyone now can get photographs of red kites, which makes it harder to get something different. Also it makes it less of a challenge, as no fieldcraft is needed to get close. However, against that, you have the chance to try out different ideas, without having to wait months or even years for the opportunity and it is very good for practicing panning and other techniques necessary for bird photography. I finally visited a couple of weeks ago and was entranced by the the sheer spectacle. Seeing 100+ red kites swooping and gliding is a sight everyone should experience. It is certainly a sight I won’t forget for a while.

I’ve seen red kites before, up in the Black Isle and near Inverness and also while travelling by train towards London, but never as close as the views at Gigrin Farm. They’d always been soaring, not dissimilar to a buzzard, so I assumed they also fed like a buzzard, by landing next to the “prey”. After all, they are both carrion eaters in the main. However, that is where the similarity ends. The red kite is a much more acrobatic flyer, preferring not to land and swoops instead, collecting the prepared meat, before eating in mid-air, much like a hobby does with dragonflies. I wasn’t therefore prepared for the high speed panning. There are a number of hides available, from the general purpose public hides to some specially designed photography hides. It was unfortunate the day we went, that a coach party had been booked, so two of the public hides had been block booked and there was also a photography workshop, meaning that the photography hides were also unavailable. As a result, I ended up seated on the child benches, which was extremely uncomfortable, due to the low position. It did enable me to get a couple of low angle shots that wouldn’t have been possible from the photography hides though, as they are raised above the public hides, which are at ground level. The photography hides would make panning a lot easier though and experimentation would also be more possible, plus the dorsal colours would also be more obvious.

Definitely a place I would recommend and I will visit again some time in the future, perhaps in the winter.

Starling Roost 11/1/11

Last night, I decided to go and see the starling roost that occurs every evening during the winter months on the Somerset Levels. The roost in the Avalon Marshes area is one of the largest in the country, due to the large area of suitable natural habitat, with the extensive reed beds. Of course the downside is the number of people it attracts, which is the main reason I don’t watch the spectacle more often. Parking is at a premium in the area and some days there can be almost 200 vehicles parked in the small car park and along the verges.

Starling roost on the Somerset Levels, showing motion.

Some of the photographs are spectacular, but there is an element of luck involved (aside from patience and persistence), as no one evening is the same. In wet or windy conditions, the starlings don’t perform and dive straight into their chosen roosting sites. Also, conditions have to be just right to get the vivid colours as a backdrop. Even when conditions are seemingly perfect though, there are no guarantees of a good display and it is thought that the presence of raptors provokes a response; certainly a close examination of the best photos would seem to suggest this. Also, while some years they seem to have a preferred site, they are liable to move around and the past couple of years, they seem to have been much less decisive in where they will roost.

Black and white conversion and slow shutterspeed as roosting starlings fly south, showing a more abstract view.

Yesterday, despite the heavy cloud in the morning, things looked pretty good, the clouds thinned and the sun bathed both of the Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall reserves. However, as sunset appproached, more cloud started to roll in from the west, preventing the vivid colours that make the best photogaphs. It was also quite windy, which didn’t bode well for a good display. However, despite the conditions, it turned out not to be too bad a display, at least they didn’t dive straight into the reeds. In fact, they seemed to be quite indecisive and split into three large groups, coming in at different times. The first group seemed to fly over the reserve from the west to roost to the northeast of the first viewing platform. The second group however, flew more to the south, as did the third, which came in quite a bit later. Finally, the first group seemed to change their mind and flew back south, to roost directly east of the easterly facing screens, to the south of the main path.