It's been ages since I've got out properly with the camera since Christmas - real life, work and DGPix talks and workshops have all taken up my spare time!
I had an hour to spare this morning so I chased a few birdies about the woods for a while, using the Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6L which has now become my walkabout lens due to it's light weight.
I had a breif walk out near the shoreline before heading home for coffee, and I got to see a big flock of mixed ducks on the lough, pochard, tufted, goldeneye all bunched up in the wind.
The 24th & 25th October saw our last workshop of the year take place at Oxford Island NNR. This particular workshop concentrated on woodland photography such as fungi, autumnal leaves, woodland birds and landscapes. Over 2 days the attendees learned about basic photo techniques, in the classroom then spent most of the time out on the reserve putting their new skills to work. Topics covered:
Our next workshop will be in January and will concentrate on wild birds - keep checking the website and blog for more details closer the time!
Wading birds have always been something of a bogey bird type for me - I've only ever managed some dodgy distance record shots, and not something I'd be showing to clients or publishing widely. I'm lucky to have close family living near Strangford Lough, a rich a varied wildlife hotspot in Northern Ireland. It was time to go for a wee visit!
I was straight into the photography action on arrival - the shoreline is easily accessible and I was greeted with redshank, curlew, oystercatcher and herons. 100yrds further down the shore was a small collection of very accommodating turnstones.
We even ran into an otter on his way back in around the inlet of the Net Walk.
Back on my home patch on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, I was lucky enough to come across a common snipe, which is not so common for me, or the area.
Here's the latest badger shenanigans from our land, nicking the foxes dog biscuits, eating the bird's peanuts out of the tree, and generally making a mess, but that's all good as I'm just glad to see them!
We set up 2 Bushnell trail cams on the site, almost back to back to catch all the goings on; 1 Natureview Cam Max HD, and the older Trophy Cam Max HD.
Here's a fox catching a guilty badger nicking his treats:
This badger found the peanuts under the stone (to stop birds from eating them all) and just chills out and has a sit down will scoffing them all:
I had some food in the tree so the magpies would find it and not eat all the other stuff on the ground, but this badger sussed it out.....
And finally, the peanut always goes down a treat with the badgers:
Keep an eye on the blog for updates from this particular patch of land, as we'll be setting up to get some otters and mink in the near future.
The 3rd and most popular, Oxford Island NNR workshop was held last weekend 25th & 26th July - and this time we concentrated on insect macro photography. The macro workshops have always been popular with the public, seeing regular bookings of over 12 per course.
Techniques covered were:
The Discovery Centre is located in the middle of an area of great biodiversity, especially insects and invertebrates - and the pond made a great place to find many aquatic and flying insects. And we had our secret weapon with us this time in the form of Sandra Currie from the education team. Sandra has a wealth of knowledge on mini beasts and was able to put us on to some great bugs straightway! Even spiders....
It was a busy two days of macro fun, and a lot of the attendees are booked in the upcoming fungus photography in the autumn, so keep checking the facebook page and on here for the official dates. One thing we always try to do on the workshops is have fun, no matter what the photographic principles, if it's not fun, it's not worth it. We certainly did that!
Hope to see you all again at another workshop in the future, and keep snapping
Certain birds and wildlife are like the holy grail to some photographers, and others are common, yet rarely seen, and others are commonly seen only in certain parts of the country. For me the barn owl, is one of the latter birds, being seen commonly in pockets around the UK, but not on NI where I am most of the year sadly. But Norfolk is a hotspot and I'm lucky to spend a few weeks there every early summer, looking for these elusive evening-hunting birds of prey. My goal was to get some shots of this bird in flight, using evening light to show the beauty of its feathers and markings, and how it hunts its territory.
Barn Owls hunt mostly in the evening, but some come out sooner if the weather was poor the previous days, and feed in the long, rough meadows, or the margins left by farmers in the crop fields. These margins are so important to the barn owl, as they hide most of the creatures they live on, mice and voles. If you are lucky to be near such fields where an owl hunts, you are guaranteed some terrific views of the birds.
And if you do see one, you are likely to see it regularly as they tend to hunt the same ground over and over again.
The shots below, hopefully show the eloquence of this owl in its flight, in the setting sunlight - the colours really pop in the light and you can pick out lots of feather detail as it silently glides by:
You can predict a barn owl's appearance once you see it a few times, but once thing you can't do is make sure the weather is the same each time! Without the strong evening sun, the owl takes on a different kind of presence, still silent, but almost ghostly as the the whites glow more in the gloomy light:
After Project Jay went so well, I knew it would be difficult to follow it up. But with Spring now arriving properly all over the country, there is a wealth of wildlife displaying and nesting that we can view right on our doorstep. While out looking for kingfishers and encountering cheeky mink, I took a drive to a river not far from home to see what was there, and that was the first of many visits, and the start of Project Dipper!
Dippers always seem delightfully cheerful little birds about the size of a blackbird, a little bit more round, and found in shallow, clear and fast moving water. Here, they feed on insect larvae, shrimp and other aquatic goodies. Although exclusively found on rivers' edges, these are still songbirds (our only songbird to wade and dive for food), and have a lovely rolling song in summer. They also nest along the bank and use grass, moss and twigs from the river to line and build the nests.
The river where I found several nesting pairs is a great place to photograph and film these birds, as they are well used people walking past with children and dogs. I was able to get to within 10ft of them sometimes and they were quite unconcerned with my presence. This allowed me to wade out into the river to get some shots of a dipper with its head under the water at the top of a weir as it searched for food:
I was also lucky enough to see the courtship display taking place - which was after they built the nest, so I reckon this was for bonding purposes. The courtship consists of lots of chest bumping and wing flapping and retreating, then following and repeat. What a great sight to see and witness, so close to the birds too:
Tina was able to video a lot of the courtship, while I concentrated on photographs, and you can see the short film on the DGPix Youtube channel, or here:
I had fun on project dipper and I will revisit the site after the young have fledged to get some more images of adults and juveniles together, but for now I'll leave them to nest and breed. You can see these fantastic wee birds all year round, so I would encourage you all to go out and look on your local rivers for them. Just look for the tell tale bird poo on stones on rocks that gives away their presence.
For a long time now, Jays have been a bird I've struggled to get decent shots of. They've either been badly hidden by branches or on a very unnatural perch or background...sights other wildlife watchers would be pleased with, but not us photographers! You can see some of my terrible Jay shots below.
So it was time to get some better shots of these fine birds. Jays are elusive members of the crow family and are more common than most people think. Marked with striking azure blue wing bars and a white rump, they can easily stand out from other birds once you know what to look for - oh, and peanuts work a well if you want to give them a treat. The peanuts were to prove vital in getting proper shots.
Once I found the right spot in the woodland for the birds, I waited until the weather forecast predicted sunshine, and off I went and fed up the area with shelled nuts. I used the car as a hide as I noticed the birds flying round when cars were parked, but if anyone was to get out or return to their car, they soon became scarce again. Armed with a beanbag and Bigma mounted on a Canon 7D, these were the shots taken over 3 days :
I couldn't resist a wee video too, all shot on the Canon 7D and Sigma 50-500 :
It's been a fantastic winter for watching wildlife, none more so than on my land where I have a feeding site and an array of bushnell cams setup to record everything that goes on. We've seen hooded crows, greenfinches, mistle thrushes, wood mice, badgers, foxes and our cats!
Over the weeks we've got to know a fox named "Smudge" (dark patch on the base of the tail) named by my wife. This fox is very comfortable at the feeding area and clearly feels safe as it sits and even lies down to eat some of the food. He/she (I think its a she!) also likes the smell and taste of the Natureview Cam and gives it a good lick...... I often hide the food under stones to avoid it all being taken by birds during the day and in the update video below you will see the Smudge digging for the treats, great footage. She also visits during the day too, showing that wonderful red coat in great condition, check out the videos:
I've also introduced a "Creature Cam" to the site to capture the smaller mammals and creatures that frequent our land when we aren't looking. So far in one 12hr stint we captured 12 species of bird and mammal on the cam, with the star of the show being the wood mouse who worked tirelessly to stash all the peanuts away for later:
About this blog:
Photographic adventures from from behind the DGPix Wildlife & Nature Photography lens!