Saturday, 31 July 2010

Butterfly afternoon

There was no sunshine forecast when the sky cleared after lunch.This would be my best chance to try and get some photos of the pied wagtails I had spotted on Friday, and which were still in the same place in numbers this morning. A large group was feeding on a tilled field by the road across the moss. A mixed group of adults and youngsters begging for food and chasing their parents around.

When I drove to the field there wasn't a bird of any sort to be seen, never mind numerous wagtails. I scanned the field away from the road with the big lens on the off-chance they had moved. They'd moved alright!

As I was planning move elsewhere I had also put the smaller lens in the car, so off out to the flatlands for a look around. I left the car on a verge and set off down a farm track bordered on one side by a tall hedge and on the other by a copse. With the sun shining this made it a bit of a suntrap as the hedge provided shelter from the strong wind. Although there is a rapidly silting pond nearby and a few ditches I was surprised to see a dragonfly hawking up and down the track, looking as if it was searching for a perching post. I had the camera with the big lens round my neck and didn't have much hope. I was in the process of switching to manual focus for a flight shot when it settled, I fumbled and missed it. I never saw the thing again. I'm pretty sure it was a female common hawker, which would have made a nice photo perched on a pine tree.

Into the field there were plenty of butterflies around. Gatekeepers and peacocks were abundant, there were a few common blues and one small copper, plus plenty of whites flying around aimlessly. The umbillifers are going over now, but the thistles and ragwort were covered in bees, wasps, hoverflies and other insects.

 Common blue

On my way back  I turned right and along the side of the copse towards the pond. Before raching the pond I had seen more butterflies along the hedgerow plants. Whites, peacocks and a comma. Thirty years or so ago, when I first saw this pond, it was quite open, but silted. Now it is the sort of thing you wouldn't realise was there as it as willows have almost completely encroached on it. In fact it's little more than a large puddle in the middle of a clump of willow extending from the edge of the copse.

Comma

There was a brown hawker patrolling the edge of the trees over the rough, neglected, grass. As usual with hawkers it showed no signs of resting.  As I rounded the corner of the pond and into a sheltered spot there were butterflies everywhere. There was a large group of gatekeepers, an odd battered looking skipper, quite a few whites and well worn meadow browns, plus a lone speckled wood.

 Speckled wood

I also disturbed a common darter from the grass. I hadn't expected that. With a bit of stalking I managed to grab a couple of shots of it in this habitat.

Darter in the grass

Having seen three dragonflies I thought the litter pit might be worth a look. Apart from a few blue-tailed and blue damsels there was a lonely emperor patrolling it's big pond. So I went to the newt ponds. These proved to be similarly dragonless. There were a few damsels, but there were lots of butterflies. The same species as at the flatlands. I suppose I should spend more time in one place, even taking something to sit on near some attractive (to insects) flowers so that the insects will come to me.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A sunny evening

I wasn't sure where to go looking for stuff, or what to look for, this evening. In the end I hedged my bets and took big and not so big lenses out, which is unusual for me. At the last minute I turned off the main road and down a dusty track to check out a patch of waste ground between the track and two ditches that I thought might hold some interesting insects. With the sun being so bright I left the flash gun in the car. There were a few butterflies around, one of which was visited by a fly while I was attempting to take it's portrait. Hence the soft image.

Gerroff!

Other butterflies around were the usual meadow browns, plus a few red admirals and a peacock or two. I was hoping to see some damselflies or dragonflies, and I did disturb one that I didn't get a good look at. It was quite a dark one and not too big. Possibly a common darter. As I drove back along the track I saw another dragonfly heading up into the willows along the bordering ditch. Those were the only two dragonflies I saw. Maybe the next port of call would be better? I was off to see the barn owl, and with it still being bright I thought there might be some dragonflies near the ditches.

After parking up I set off to the first footbridge. When I crossed it I saw the paths had been mown, revealing the public right of way to the left which I had not taken before. This runs alongside a ditch that had buckler fern lining both banks. I think it's buckler fern, at any rate. As I walked along I could hear corn and reed buntings, but no sign of any until a corn bunting flew out of the fern just a couple of feet in front of me! I slowed my pace and disturbed another bird. Paying more attention I could see there was a group of young reed buntings in the fern on the opposite bank, accompanied by at least one adult male. Then I noticed two young corn buntings on my side of the ditch. I went into stalking mode and slowed up even more. The corn buntings didn't let me get very close, the reed buntings seemed to get used to me, and I got very close indeed.

Corn buntings

An unconcerned young reed bunting

I spent over a quarter of an hour photographing the reed buntings before turning back to go sit on the second bridge and await the owl. It was still very sunny and I thought the owl may appear later than usual. By eight there was no sign of it. Clouds had covered the sun and the air was turning slightly cooler. I went back to the car. Leaning on the gate I kept a vigil for a distant glimpse of pale wing movement. There was none. I went for a wander along the lane hoping the owl would be in the field behind the beeches. When I chanced to look along the lane I was surprised to see the owl working up the verges of the lane towards me.


Hovering in anticipation

As there was no cover for me I headed back to the gate, looking around to check on the owl from time to time. I saw it hedge-hop into the field. As I neared the gate I practised squeaking. I did too good a job. Looking back again the owl came over the bank onto the lane and was heading straight for me. I dropped to my knees and tried to blend into the grass, but too late. I got two dodgy pics as the owl saw me and turned tail.

Sussed!

I hoped, in vain, that the bird would work the field behind the beeches and appear in front of the gate. What it must have done was head out across the field. When I saw it again it was far off in the distance, closer to the main road. That was where it stayed too. I could see it working along a hedgerow a few yards from passing traffic. In the end this was too much for me. Knowing the futility of it, and with the light very poor, I drove round to the main road and pulled up in a gateway that looked back towards my initial parking place.

Now the cloud had rolled away and the low sun was throwing golden light on the landscape. All I needed was a barb owl to fly into a shaft of sunlight within range of my camera. When the owl showed up it was half way back to the spot I'd recently left... It was soon gone, too. I knew I'd blown it with my premature squeaking efforts, so I couldn't complain. The buntings had made the outing worthwhile.

After crossing the moss close to home a bird flew from the hedgerow on the right of the road and landed on the verge on the left. As I got closer I was expecting a thrush or blackbird to fly away as the car approached. To my amazement the bird that took to the air was owl shaped. A little owl. And closer to home than the one I had seen previously, making me wonder how many of them there are in the locality. The more you go around with your eyes open, the more you see.

PS - these aren't the best photos, but the more interesting ones.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Another dragon afternoon

Even though it's Sunday I went to the dragonfly pond. There was a woman and her dog already there taking photographs (that is to say the woman had a camera), but the dragonflies weren't flying. It was cooler than of late and dull, so it was a case of stalking them. There were a few damsels around, but I managed to put up a couple of common darters, one of which landed in view and I was able to creep up on it and get close enough to use the Raynox without spooking it. It was so unconcerned that I got bored before it flew off. In fact it didn't fly off until after the dog owner had managed to get some shots of it after I pointed it out to her.


After more wandering round I disturbed another darter. This one looked to be recently emerged, and one wing was either not going to fully unfurl or was still unfurling. As a result it was even more immobile than the first one, and I got even closer with the Raynox.


I went for a stroll through some unkempt grass and mixed herbage where I found a bee feasting on a thistle. I spent quite some time photographing the bee trying to get the perfect composition with the bee in just the right place on the flower. Only when I revied the photos at home did I realise, that like the darter macro, I'd left the ISO on auto instead of setting it manually and it was higher than it should have been. Oh, well...


Time was getting on and hunger was gnawing. I still called in at the litter pit, after a wander along a path by a nearby wood, and then into the wood where I got low down for a first attempt at fungi photography. The angled eyepiece is ideal for this. Given that fungi don't run or fly away I guess it's time to get the tripod out and slow the shutter down for future efforts. It's a start, but I should have done more 'gardening' to tidy the picture up.


At the litter pit craters there were as few dragonflies in evidence as at the dragonfly pond. The usual blue damsels and a couple of common darters were all I saw before the clouds darkened, rain threatened and the stomach rumbled.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Dragon afternoon

Summer returned. Leaving stuff to dry I went in search of odonates. My first task was to try and get a closer look at the darter I'd seen at the litter pit craters. This time I took my wellies so I could paddle among the horsetails. Although the crater is tiny there were small carp crusing between the stems that almost fill it. Horsetails are ancient plants, and dragonflies are ancient insects. The two go well together. Almost straight away a femal common darter flew up, then I saw a male. It took a while, but patience paid off and one of the two I saw took to landing on some drying ground. It would return to the same place and I managed to get as close as the lens would allow.

Common darter

There were plenty of damsels around. Blue-tailed ones for the most part. I wasn't going to photograph any until I saw one that looked to be covered in something nasty. At first I thought it was dead and stuck to the stem, but it flew off a foot or two.

Blue-tailed damsel in a bad way

Also in evidence were a a brown hawker (which I managed to sneak up on when it was perching and got an almost okay shot of it) couple of male emperors. One was patrolling the bigger pond, the other was over the largest crater. This confined body of water allowed me to get close to the insect, and limited it's flight opportunities. If I had stuck around longer I might have improved on the flight shot below.


Male emperor

Would there be anything at the newt ponds? At first it seemed very quiet apart from butterflies. Gatekeepers and a few skippers were about, plus some whites. Damsels were hard to find, a single emerald being the highlight at the larger pond. Passing the hidden pond on my way to the smallest one I was surprised to see a shoal of rudd cruising about at the surface. I'd assumed the pond to be silted and fishless, but it looked much clearer than before and those definitely were fish!

Unexpected rudd

The small pond was also lacking damsels, although there was an emerald in the usual spot. A brown hawker flew over the hawthorns, as one had done on my last visit, and when I returned to the larger pond (having noted deer tracks on the way) I spent a few minutes watching hawker working the pond and surrounding trees and grassland.

Time was getting on. A call at the dragonfly pond was in order. There's a £1 parking fee there. I checked my pocket for change and found I had no pound coins. So I passed on that idea nd headed for home.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

So close...

It wasn't until seven thirty that I was able to get out and about. For some reason I went looking for grebes at the local nature reserve, I think because the sun was bright and in the west. Alas I was about an hour too late and the lake was almost all in shadow. Somewhere more open would be well lit, so I took a circuitous route to the barn owl site near the mere.

This route took me out by the river to another barn owl location. Before I reached the bridge I stopped off for a look at a wild field when I saw a crow drop something as I pulled up to survey the area. What had been dropped was the remains of a red legged partridge. I doubt the crow had killed it, but something had. Leaving the scene of the crime I was at the bridge in no time at all. As soon as I got out of the car I saw the owl heading towards me parallel with the bank. I ducked down at the side of a parked van and took some shots. The light was great, low and rosy.

A slight crop of owl no.1

The owl didn't really come close enough, and I was a bit far away even if if it had reached the the road, but probably as close I have got. It turned east and headed along the hedgerow, passing the spot where I had been looking at the partridge corpse a few minutes earlier. Then it skipped up over the road and away. These owls cover some miles when out hunting, their range must be quite some acreage. I tried capturing some swallows in flight, but really I wanted to get to the other owl site so the interlude was short one.

Leaning on the gate there was no sign of the owl at the next location. I set off back down the lane for a look across another field. I hadn't gone more than twenty yards when I saw an owl fly across the road I had just driven along! I'd not seen it covering that area before. It was almost instantly lost from view though. I went back to leaning on the gate, shooting a few hopeless landscapes to while away the time before the owl reappeared. If it would.

It did so quite soon. It had worked its way back up the fields towards the beech trees lining the far side of a drain running away from me. I caught a glimpse or two of it through the trees. However it turned and headed off out of sight. When I caught another glimpse of it it was far off, but heading back towards me along a ditch line to my left. It angled in and came closer and closer. I managed some distant shots taking in the landscape.

A crop of owl no.2 heading my way

I was all set for a nice fly-by when it veered off course. I was tucked in between the hedge end and the gate for cover and the owl became hidden from view by the hawthorn. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I tried squeaking the owl in as I'd been told would work. Something I hadn't mastered before, but using the back of my hand I managed some weird squeaking and squealing sounds. Completely taking me by surprise the owl loomed out from behind the hawthorn branches not twenty yards from me, but obscured. I couldn't get it framed, even though it hovered briefly and pounced to the ground. When I did get it framed focusing went to pot.

Full frame...

The bird can't have spooked as it flew off just as it had come. With no haste at all. By the time I had regained my composure it was too late. My best effort was a rear-view!

...but no cigar.

The owl disappeared into the distance again, eventually crossing the distant road and out on to the mere. With the light fading I once more left for home feeling partly satisfied, and partly disappointed. Next time...

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Butterflies and damsels

On Monday I was thwarted by the rain when I went to try and photograph common blue butterflies. With the rain finally passed I had another try. The sun was shining an the air warm, there were small blue fluttering things all over the place. None intent on posing placidly for a portrait. What frustrating little creatures they are! When one would settle and pose nicely there's be grass in front of it. When they perched in plain sight they'd be at a daft angle.

Male common blue

Female common blue - not very blue, is it?

There were other butterflies around; plenty of gatekeepers, a fair few meadow browns, some whites, one or two small tortoise shells and a peacock. Lots of moths too. I struggled manfully for about an hour before leaving for the easier target of damselflies at the Newt Pond after pestering a horde of insects on an umbellifer.
Red soldier beetles - at it as usual!

For some reason I'd been having trouble getting sharp shots while chasing the butterflies. When I got to the newt pond the camera was failing to recognise the flash gun. I traced the fault to the connecting lead and had to make do with the flash directly on the hotshoe.

Something approaching 24hrs of constant rain had raised the level of the pond and the path round it was a bit more squishy than on my previous visits. As I neared the pond an unidentified, dark green-ish looking, dragonfly flew up and high over some trees. There weren't many damsels to be seen, but the first I spotted was an emerald that disappeared from view. There were gatekeepers and whites around, as well as a few skippers. The few damsels were mostly azures and an odd common blue.

By the second pond an emerald damsel played nicely and let me get close enough to stick the Raynox on, but wouldn't move into a position where I could get good depth of field.

Emerald damsel - headshot!

Emerald damselfly

Making my way back to the first pond for a second circuit I disturbed a brown hawker, and two more from almost under my feet when I got back to the pond. A few spots of rain fell so I went back to the car. The rain stopped and I went to the Litter Pit. Again there weren't too many damsels to be seen, and no dragonflies at first. Eventually I noticed blue tailed damsels here and there by the 'bomb holes', and a gathering of gatekeeper butterflies in one corner.

One of the horsetail filled craters was almost connected to a bigger one after the rain. It was along the now water covered path that a red dragonfly approached me, even perching just out of decent camera range.

Common darter

Another rain shower came in, accompanied by greying skies. Time for home to evaluate the photos (pretty poor) and see if the flash lead was repairable (it was - a loose screw).


Saturday, 17 July 2010

I can't keep it bottled up any longer

Some things in life raise my blood pressure, and sanitised nature reserves and people that like them are one of them. The next time I visit one I'm going to make an entry in the sightings book listing how many Berghaus jackets and pairs of Brasher boots I've spotted.

Here are links to two pictures that illustrate what I dislike so much. A hide that's neater than my house, and a shop selling overpriced 'wildlife watching' paraphernalia.

And while I'm at it a fine example of wardens behaving irresponsibly in a boat. No life jackets and both at the same side of the boat at once. Fools.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Near misses

Another rainy start turned sunny around lunch time. I was in two minds as to what to do. Go fishing or go looking at somewhere to fish, and check out another place to photograph birds (and maybe other stuff). The drive took longer than expected owing to roadworks on the dreaded M6. I called in at the lake that I had heard about and turned round immediately. It was more of a barren hole in the ground than I had expected. No matter how big the fish it holds I'll not be fishing for them.

The reserve car park was quite full, but when I went to look for the place you hand over your cash I couldn't find it. So I availed myself of the toilet facility and drove elsewhere. The track to the other car park was tricky to find. As I turned the final bend a swallow appeared to fly into the wall of a building. When I stopped and looked there was a hole in the wall, and the swallow flew out!

My first stop was at the hole in the wall to try and freeze a swallow on its way in, or out, of teh hole. This proved extremely difficult hand holding the camera. After many failed attempts I held the camera pointing at the hole but didn't look through the viewfinder. using my peripheral vision I could tell when a bird was approaching and fire off a burst of shots. It didn't work too well, but it was an improvement. Then I noticed other swallows flying in through a gap in a door in the front of the building. So I tried for a shot there as it would be more pictorially pleasing than what looked like a shell hole!

My results were equally useless. What I really needed was a tripod and  a remote release. Maybe I'll return.

Best of a bad lot

After that episode I headed out onto the marsh, disturbing a heron and an unexpected kingfisher. I did manage to photograph a young starling perching on the back of an obliviously grazing sheep! There were flocks of waders wheeling over the watery edge of the marsh, a redshank flew up and along a gutter flooded by the tide, and a young pied wagtail perched briefly on a fence post before I turned back.


I wandered around some more, photographing butterflies with an unsuitable lens and a lurking hen pheasant before she ran off. The path to the hides was horribly hard and the view non-existent. I had a quick look out of the first hide and there was more wildlife inside than out. Time to go look elsewhere.

Avoiding the main car park I found a pull in and set off down the long track, as hard on the feet as the other one, with nothing to see but reeds higher than me. Some swifts were wheeling and swooping over the track by a tree and I tried to get some flight shots. Failing again. Poking my head round the hide door I shut it immediately. I'm not a sociable hide user. It was far too crowded for me. There didn't seem to be much to look at either. I really do hate hides, much preferring to go to the wildlife than wait and hope it'll come to me. When I spied a boat pulled up in the reeds I was sorely tempted to take it for a jolly!

I carried on to the other side of the reserve then gave up. The walk back to the car was as eventful as the walk away. Dull, dull, dull. That was me done. I set off for home, pulling over to take a look at the reserve from a hill. All that water and reed and there's only a fraction of it visible from the hides and paths. Drives me nuts. Coming down the hill there was another pull-in by a stone wall, obliviously well used as it gives a clear view over reeds and open water. Straight away a marsh harrier flew up and to the right just sixty or so yards from the car. If the camera had been in my hand I'd have nailed a clear shot. By the time the camera was in my hand the harrier was long gone.

I got out of the car and camera at the ready scanned the reeds. It wasn't long before a big dark bird flapped up, hovered a little, glided forward into the wind and dropped down again. The autofocus bypassed the bird and hit the distant reedbed. Sharp reeds, blurred bird. Another miss. The day wasn't going well, not least because the recently 'repaired' lens was playing its old tricks. I'd already missed a couple of shots when the lens through up an error message and failed to work. But now it was failing more than it was working.

I took some landscape photos, no need for haste so the faulty lens wasn't a problem. Then a harrier landed way off across the open water. It was joined by another, both juveniles by the look of them. Despite them being so far away I took some shots as the second bird landed, just to prove I had seen them! I hung around hoping that I'd get another closer chance, but after an hour I reckoned I'd well and truly lucked out. Monday morning Sigma will be hearing from me again. If I had a photo of an unhappy bunny I'd post it here.


The two 'best' harrier photos

Sunlight on the farmstead


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Thunder owl

When the storm passed over and the sun shone I grabbed the big gun and set off to look for the barn owl. Driving down the lane the sun was shafting through some trees onto a hazy mist rising from the damp fields. With stormy skies on the horizon I was wishing I'd picked up a wider lens too. By the time I parked by the gate the sun had gone. I leaned on the gate and scanned the moss-land through the lens. I soon saw the owl in the distance. Putting on my waterproof over-trousers I decided to try a different viewpoint.

I like the colours - and the fly I hadn't noticed at the time

The owl was still far off as I took a way-marked path along the back of a patchy hedgerow, stopping at each gap to look for the owl and ensure it wouldn't spot me. At the end of the hedge I paused. The owl dropped into the long grass and I hastened over the wooden footbridge and worked my way towards the owl along the edge of a wheat field. The owl popped up and I dropped to my knees to watch it's approach.

Distant barn owl

I couldn't resist some distant shots, but it kept coming closer, and closer. Then it veered off to my right and headed straight for the gate I'd been leaning on. It got very close to the gate before turning back and then heading off through the beech trees. Had I made the wrong decision? I doubt the owl would have gone so close to the gate had I stayed there, so I wasn't too miffed.

 No good larger... ;-)

While the owl was out of sight I crossed a second bridge and sat down on the steps at the end of it. I would keep low and the bridgework should help disguise my outline. The owl reappeared further off and I knelt down in the long grass and thistles. Unfortunately the owl was heading away and continued to do so. Eventually it flew off and away out to the mere. I sat back on the step and waited.

The sky was dark to the west, flashes of lightning coursing over the mere and thunder rumbling. Even so larks and corn buntings were singing. There was no sign of a returning owl so I set off along the path to see where it lead and what there might be to see. The rain and low light was keeping insects in hiding, but the plants were many and varied. When I got level with the place I'd seen the hare on the road the other evening I wondered if I'd see another. I was daydreaming a bit when one materialised and ran off, pausing some forty yards away to sit up and have a good look at me!

The dark area of sky was now heading north, and with no wind I reckoned I was in the eye of the storm, it was darkening in the east too. It seemed a good time to let discretion be the better part of valour and get out of it.

Everyone's a wildlife photographer

The web seems to be filled with blogs and sites displaying wildlife photographs, many offering prints for sale or images for use via agencies, some even offering photography workshops. The problem is that it's difficult to differentiate the true professionals from the wannabes.

You see it's all too easy to make images that look pin sharp at small sizes on the web. And with the ability for people to comment on blogs the uninitiated praise photos that are actually small versions of noisy crops. They look okay at 400 pixel width, but any larger and they reveal their true quality. Some folks also get sucked in by praise from the undiscerning and think their work is as good as they are told. Then they style themselves as 'wildlife photographers' - pushing it to the limit by adding 'pro' to the title if they have sold just one photo (or maybe less)!

The nature of some on-line photo agencies are less discerning than others. It costs them little to host the photos, so anyone can sign up and claim they have an agent. It all looks very professional - but it's just smoke and mirrors. But so long as nobody gets conned I guess it's pretty harmless fantasising.

Enough of the grumbling. Here's some pics from the garden. All tiny to make my point!







Monday, 12 July 2010

You never can tell

I popped out with the sun shining after tea intending to hit the marsh and nail some meadow pipit pics. En route the sun disappeared before I got to the first spot I was going to take a look at. Last time I visited this reserve it was looking for butterflies with the close up gear. This time I was equipped with the big lens. Naturally there was hardly a bird to be seen, but there were butterflies galore. I made a feeble attempt with the 150-500 but it didn't work out. The closest focusing distance is way too long.

Small copper

As the light wasn't top hole I changed direction and headed to the lane where I'd photographed the swallows feeding their young. A corn bunting was in evidence but little else. I was about to leave when a barn owl flew into view a way off across the nearby field. It soon made its way out of sight through a row of beeches. I hung around hoping it might return, dithering as to driving further down the lane in the direction the owl had gone. Eventually that was what I did.

Parking up again I got out of the car, without the camera, and leant on a gate to scan the surrounding fields. There was a blackbird singing in the hawthorn by my side which suddenly got agitated. I couldn't work out why, until the owl came into sight flying up the ditch towards me turning through the beech trees and away. I kicked myself. The owl was close enough for a good shot.

Back to the car for the camera in the vain hope the owl would give me an encore. It took a long time for it to reappear, and when it did I was taken by surprise as it materialised between the beech trunks coming across my line of sight from right to left. I took some photos, which could have been better.



For about an hour I watched the owl hunting over a wide area, mostly far away. At one point it made a kill and I saw it fly off with its prey. But it disappeared from view before I could pinpoint where it was heading. When it reappeared it was from a different direction. Maybe it wasn't the same owl. The light was getting worse so I decided to drive round and see if the owl was visible from the opposite direction, so I could get the setting sun (such as it was) behind me. As I left the light improved...

My route took me past a favourite singing post of a well known, and I think often photographed, corn bunting. There it was singing away. The lane is narrow and a four by four was approaching, I let it pass and pulled over. The bird was undeterred, just looking disdainfully at me through the window as I fired away! The first time I took this bird's picture the results were a little soft despite good light. This time the light wasn't quite so good but the photos were much crisper. I think the time in the lens hospital has improved things.

Corn bunting

Leaving the bunting behind when an approaching car forced me to move I kept an eye out for the barn owl without any luck. I did see a hare, which stopped in the middle of the road and legged it back where it had come from as I approached it. A small dark shape scurrying at the edge of the tarmac a couple of hundred yards further on turned out to be a weasel. With no sign at all of the barn owl I was now heading away from its territory.

I'd seen a photo posted on the web of a little owl perched on a tall street light where the road I was taking crosses a dual carriage way. I've looked for it a few times with no joy and as I waited for traffic to pass I glanced up again and looked away. It was double take time. There was a small dark blob at the top of the lamp post! As soon as I was across the central reservation I pulled over and got out - with my camera. Two or three shots over the car roof, and then move closer behind a road sign. The light was quite poor by now and the lamp very high. Still, it was another species photographed. I tried one step more but the owl, that had clocked me straight away, was having none of it. I hadn't planned an owl hunt, but things turned out quite interesting in the end.

Little owl

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Lost in the forest

I normally stay away from the Litter Pit on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so I made the Newt Ponds my first port of call. As it turned out the Litter Pit looked as deserted as the rest of the area. There are some unsavoury characters visit the area, so it was reassuring to see a police van make its way along the lane.

The meadow was alive with butterflies. It was very windy again, but the shelter made the chances of photographing insects better there than elsewhere. I was hoping to catch sight of one of the greenish damsels I had seen a couple of times before so I could get a positive ID, but apart from one male banded demoiselle by the pond all the others were blues of some sort. My efforts at shooting a mating pair failed miserably. They seem much more wary when paired up.

While I was chasing gatekeepers and whites around I heard a 'bustle in the hedgerow', more a crashing in a thicket actually, as if someone had let a big dog loose. I wouldn't have been surprised to see  a large dog running uncontrolled around there. What I did see was a roe deer bounding through the hawthorns towards the smaller pond.

Green-veined white

Leaving the butterflies to their own devices I tried to see where the deer had gone. Needless to say I didn't. Nonetheless I was pleased to have confirmed my thought that deer might lay up in a certain place during daylight. Creeping round the small pond I sussed out a deer trod round its margin, and saw some young reed warblers in the reeds. The pond is well encroached, particularly as it is drying out in this prolonged drought. There were at least two reed warblers in evidence. Making my way back to the larger pond I caught sight of feebly fluttering silvery wings attached to a green damsel. It perched well and gave me plenty of time top take enough shots to get one I was pleased with. Reviewing the shots I noticed the flash was switched off. I'd turned it off to try and grab some warbler pics and forgotten to turn it back on. By the time I did the damsel had flown. Luckily the shots weren't too bad, even with my wobbly hands and the slowish shutter speed. I think it's a female emerald damsel.

Female emerald damselfly?

I could have hung around a lot longer but I wanted to get to the a pond I can never find. With just one missed turning I found it this time! A couple of red admirals greeted my arrival. What I was hoping for were dragonflies and maybe a large red damsel or two. It was not to be. There was a one legged moorhen by the pond and plenty of blue damsels. Not to mention hordes of biting flies. Quite a few of the damsels were paired up. using all my stalking skills I finally got a decent shot. It would be better without the background rush stem, but it's a step forward.

Blue-tailed damselflies

I was tempted to stick around here and see what birds were around. Again I had somewhere else to go. A run around the forest, in the ancient sense rather than the large woodland sense, was in order. As the afternoon was getting on there wasn't too much traffic around. Before setting off I swapped the 70-300 for the 35 so I could take some landscape photos of the rolling moors, limestone walls and sheep the area is noted for. For once I was blessed by sunshine and scudding clouds, meaning my shots looked like the ones everyone else seems to get as a matter of course.

Somewhere in the forest

There were a few birds around as I drove along the narrow, twisting and undulating roads. Some were perching provocatively close to the passing car on drystone walls or thistle tops - pied wagtails and meadow pipits, and goldfinches respectively. Often they'd have beakfuls of food for their young. Of course these perching places always coincided with the narrowest sections of road - preventing me from stopping to get the camera out.

When I spotted a meadow pipit looking me in the eye as I climbed a particularly steep stretch I pulled over at the next opportunity. Getting the big lens out there were pipits all around me! Even so I was unable to stalk close enough to them for a really detailed pic. There was plenty of twittering and it was clearly a family group. I got the impression the youngsters were waiting for mum and dad on the wall when the coast was clear. At one time there were at least four either on the top of the wall or lower down on protruding stones.

By now the wind had died and the sky turned a uniform light grey. I crept alongside the wall, but the pipits had an exclusion zone, and whenever I entered it they would fly up and drop back further along the wall. I just could not get any closer.

Moorland meadow pipit

Near to where I had pulled off the road was a derelict stone barn, one of many in the dales. Often used by the moorland sheep for shelter in inclement weather this barn was the last resting place for one of them.

Dead sheep

My stomach was rumbling and  I headed home, stopping off at a fell that's closer to home for a bit of a look around for future reference.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The newt pond

The afternoon was free, so with the sun shining I set off for the newt pond, stopping off close by to investigate a farm track that I thought might have butterflies along it. Parking up I saw a buzzard swirling low over a field, but by the time I had the camera ready and got out of the car it had gone. Typical. There were a couple of small tortoiseshells on the path but nothing much else.. When I got back to the car the sun had disappeared like the buzzard. It was threatening rain too.

At the gate to the newt pond I chose to head the other way and have a look over the railway line into territory unknown. Although the public footpaths were obviously used there was hardly any signs of civilisation to be seen. It was like entering another world of little valleys and almost rolling hills. Unusual for this flat part of the county.

Another world

There was little in the way of wildlife at first glance, although I'm sure spending more time there would reveal it. There was an ex-hedgehog lying in a field of maize, flies of many sorts busy laying eggs upon it.

Recycling

Turning back I set off for the pond, which I knew would be sheltered and maybe there'd be a damselfly or two around. There were biting flies if nothing else. Although it was cloudy the air was muggy and I was sweating, my bare arms being a magnet for the blood suckers. The first insects I disturbed were meadow brown butterflies which proved as flighty as always. Flitting away as soon as I would make a move towards them from yards away. The gatekeepers were more obliging. Some settled with their wings spread, but always at awkward angles or behind leaves, making photographs a bit naff. One eventually settled, wings closed, long enough for me to sneak up on it and get a decent shot.

Gatekeeper

Making my way along the flattened path round the lake, avoiding the various droppings along it, I put up some damsels. Mostly they were blue-tailed, but some looked like azures. One, which I almost got a shot off but didn't, looked a little larger and decidedly less blue. That'll have to wait for a positive ID. I wasn't too bothered about photographing  the blue-tailed damsels but the azures I put some effort into. I got a couple of half decent shots, but the one I liked best was spoiled by a blurred blade of grass or something. It was interesting to watch one perched, arching its abdomen to, apparently,  brush its wings.

Azure damselfly

After spending some time inspecting deer droppings and looking for their tracks and paths around the pond, wondering if I might be able to hide up some time and photograph them, the rain arrived. Only a light, refreshing, drizzle. Quite welcome but not beneficial to camera equipment. Having nothing to protect the camera and flash with I hurried back to the car.