Welcome to my Wildlife Photography Blog
 

Written from Dartmoor National Park, Devon in England. It includes Wildlife Photography Hints and Tips, Exploits of My Nature Photography, My Wildlife Sightings and what's happening on my own Devon Nature Reserve.
 

Man Flu, Rain, No Shows But Still Got, or Made, a Bit of Luck by being Out and About

December 31, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

I hope you all had a great Christmas and will have a Happy New year.

Well November 2017 has been just been as poor for me, wildlife photography wise, as the last few months. I got up at 5am on Sunday 5th to get into a position I had previously chosen whilst it was still dark. I was after Redwings and Fieldfare, two birds I do not have a great deal of images of. Last year there were several hundred in the area I was going to but this year they have not turned up yet. I say not turned up yet, they have, but not in the same large numbers. On Saturday morning I visited the area and had seen seven Fieldfare and three Redwings. Mind you just one of each would suffice my photography needs. The weather forecast stated that it would be a dry sunny day with a few showers later in the afternoon so I decided to go to the area, sit in my pop up dome hide and see what turns up. Although the dome hide is a bit more cumbersome to carry, the hide and a chair, rather than my single chairhide which fits in a backpack, I prefer it because you can change positions or move about whilst in the hide and the hide does not move. With the single chairhide every time you move the whole hide moves and this movement does disturb the wildlife.

On my journey to the area I saw two Foxes. The first one stood on the other side of the road and watched me. I stopped my car, wound down the window and “spoke” to the Fox (I know, I’m mad!). It moved away and jumped up onto the stone wall at the side of the road. It then just laid on top of the wall, its tail dangling down road side of the wall, listening and watching me. It stayed there until I decided to drive off and then it jumped down behind the wall, what a lovely encounter. The second encounter was totally different. The Fox was crossing the road in front of me and appeared not to know which direction to go in. It “dillied” and “dallied” in the middle of the road with its tail swishing this way and that finally deciding to go back the way it had come. I arrived at the area at about 5:45am with a clear sky; the stars and moon were shining brightly. I changed into my gear, loaded up my equipment and started walking. The position I had chosen was about half a mile away across open moorland. Once this moorland was crossed, the land then descends into a valley which contains lots of trees with berries on, which the birds like, a stream and lots of bushes which is good for the hide to blend in. I arrived at my chosen location only to find four single person tents! I immediately made up my mind to move to a location further up the hill. As soon as I started the assent it started raining but the rain also contained hailstones. I huddled under a tree which did not give me much protection because it had no leaves on it. When it had stopped raining I carried on with my assent. I got to my second position, which was in the open, and started putting up my dome hide. It then started getting very windy and half way through it started raining again but this time there was no cover. I carried on with the task and found to my horror that I had forgot to pack the metal pegs that would have held the hide down. I tried to find some stones in amongst the heather but, as it was still dark, this was like searching for a needle in a hay stack. Then a strong gust of wind took my hide and snapped one of the two metal support poles. I decided then that I was just going to sit on the ground with the hide material draped over me – bad idea as the wind kept on trying to blow the hide into the valley. I then made up my mind that when it stopped raining I would pack up and go home, which I did - two hours wasted getting cold, wet and totally “fed up”. An hour after I had got home there was a blue sky, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It stayed like that until lunch time so I decided to go out with my camera again but to an area that was closer to my address. This time I was just going to wear my waterproof camouflaged clothing and not bother with a hide. When I got there I noticed fifteen Fieldfare and eight Redwings in a couple of trees. I made my way slowly towards them and settled myself in a shadow under a tree to wait until they get closer. Just as I did this the sky darkened and it started to rain and hail. It came down so heavy that you could not see the tree I was pointing my camera at even though it was only a few metres away. This time I did not give up, I persevered with the conditions trying to force myself to have a bit of luck. After about fifteen minutes the rain finally did stop and the sun started shining again. The light at this time was really good but there were no birds in sight. Then two Redwings landed in the tree next to the one my camera was pointing at, it was next to it but slightly further away. I started edging closer to the second tree taking photos each time I stopped. I was not happy with the composition because the tree’s branches were blocking some of the bird. That’s one of the problems on Dartmoor, because of the weather, that we receive, the trees near the open moorland are stunted but have lots of small branches and are quite thick in the middle of the tree. Wildlife photographers usually wait until the bird is on one of the outer branches as this is better compositionally but “my” birds were sticking to the middle of the tree. As I was making my way closer a Robin decided to show up on the tree closest to me so I took some images of that. Below are images that I took and I’m sorry for the state of one of them but I just wanted to show my wife that I had seen a Redwing and I took an image of it!.

RedwingRedwingRedwing

RobinRobinRobin

The Redwings stayed for about half an hour but continued to feed in the middle of the tree before flying off. I was close enough, the wildlife was there, the light was good but the composition was not, never mind I will be back next weekend. A pre-requisite for real wildlife photography is perseverance. At times it really pushes you to the limit but as I have said the rewards, when you finally get some, are well worth the effort.

The following Friday I was back out to my first chosen location. The tents had gone so I set up my dome hide in my favoured position. Once it was up I settled in and waited for the light to come and the “action” to start. The weather was cold, clear but still windy. This time the wind was no problem as I was positioned in the bottom of the valley. The area I was facing contained two trees full of berries. They were quite thick in the middle but had a few branches on the edges which were very photogenic if the birds, Redwings and Fieldfare, perched on them. The light came after about an hour of waiting and it was superb but the trees contained no subject matter. Finally after about three hours one Redwing arrived and perched in the middle of the tree. This time I was not going to take any images until the bird was perched on one of the branches on the edge. The Redwing ate several red berries but stayed within the thick part of the tree. It stayed for about twenty minutes before flying off. During this time I could hear several Fieldfare in the distance behind me. I stayed for about three hours after the bird had flown. During this time not one bird landed on the trees I was viewing so I packed up for the day. It did not deter me and I would be back on Sunday as Saturday’s weather was supposed to be really wet and windy. On my way back home I spoke to “him” upstairs and stated that I would not give up. I do have a lot of perseverance because I wanted an image of a Fieldfare and one of a Redwing. The image in my mind was of them eating the red berries with a blurred background. The berry would be in their beak or they had just thrown the berry in the air and they were just about to catch it like Waxwings do. On my way home I just passed a field that contained several Fieldfare last year so I stopped to view the area but as it was clear I continued with my drive home. Just over the hill from this field I noticed several Starlings feeding in a field so I decided to stop and take some images of them. Whilst photographing the Starlings about fifty Fieldfare and a few Redwings arrived and started feeding in the bushes not far from me. The light was coming from the side rather than frontal lighting that I wanted but beggars can’t be choosers and I was as happy as could be. Although most of the birds were sat in the middle of the bush and obscured with other branches there were one or two that were perching on the edges which were just what I wanted. I’ve said it before that you need perseverance and if you do have it then it brings you luck. The more often you are out and about with your camera the luckier you will be. Below are a couple of images I took.

FieldfareFieldfareFieldfare

RedwingRedwingRedwing

On Saturday 24th November I got up at about 7:30am. Yes I know it was a bit late for me but I had a late night last night because I went to the theatre with my wife and never got back home until about 11:30pm and therefore got into bed until gone 12am. Usually I’m in bed by 9:30pm at the latest. When I drew back the curtains the light was fantastic, everything had a pink tinge to it and I immediately thought SNOW! I looked across the valley to North Brentor and saw that the church, and the hill it was on, was white. I looked to the right and all the highest peaks I could see on Dartmoor were white. I looked out my other window on the opposite side of the room, behind my house, and Cox tor was white. Great I thought, I’ll change, get my camera and go out. I looked out again at North Brentor and noticed that the church had disappeared. When I say disappeared, it was still there, but a bank of “dark cloud” had hidden it. This “dark cloud” was moving across the valley towards us obscuring everything as it came closer. Within a few minutes the pink tinge had disappeared and down came the snow, hail and rain. It was so thick that you could not see the hedge across the road. It lasted for about ten minutes before it subsided, leaving hail stones and snow where it had passed. Behind this dark cloud was the good old grey day. I thought the photographers that had been up early will have got some great images of snow covered landscapes. The pink tinge reminded me of a certain wildlife photographer’s images I see on Facebook. The photographers name is Bethany Ogden ( https://www.facebook.com/bethany.ogdon?fref=ts ) and the light she captures in her photographs, especially her safari ones, is to die for. I have the pleasure of being a Facebook friend of hers so I can see her images every time she posts them. In this country the pink tinge usually indicates snow but in Africa, where Bethany goes, I presume it must be the sand, soil or dust in the air that is enhanced by the light and it turns pink. Whatever it is it makes the image superb and stand out for the norm. This is the same as Anna Curnow’s ( http://www.asc-photography.com/ ) images of Dartmoor and to me it proves that great light turns good images into great images.

Next year I am looking forward to retirement from my present job. My intention is to concentrate on my wildlife photography and to teach on more photography workshops, if people book them with me. With my retirement comes a small, and I mean very small, pot of cash and I wanted to spend some of it on a wildlife photography holiday. Years ago I saw a program on television which showed a wildlife photographer, with his camera and lens on his tripod standing in a river. They were photographing wild bears chasing and catching wild salmon only a few metres away. There was also a scene of two men sat on a tree trunk, which was horizontal in a river, eating their sandwiches whilst a wild bear was walking past, looking at them, only a metre or so away. These scenes have stayed in my mind ever since and they really appeal to me. I would love to attend a wildlife photography holiday in Alaska and be the photographer that is standing in the river with a wild bear rushing past, chasing wild salmon. My wife does not like the idea as she does not want to be attacked, or eaten, but this does not bother me as long as the bear is not shot because it eats me! I have been looking into this kind of holiday but there are a lot advertised on the internet and they are all different except for one thing – they are all expensive and I will only be able to afford to do it once. Most of them do not include the air fare to and from Alaska. Some of them state that you should book into a hotel just outside the airport a day or two before and a day or two after the holiday just in case of bad weather and this is not included in the price either. Most of them were for ten or seven days but when I delved a bit deeper some were only five days but cost the same as the seven! One five day workshop schedule stated that the first and last days were travelling days so you only got three actual photography days. I know there is a lot to pay for like the float plane to take you back and forth but only three days photography! Maybe the price has something to do with having 4 or 5 professionals showing you what to do! If you booked this workshop you are really limiting yourself weather and wildlife wise due to only being there three days. I know some of the seven day ones have five days of photography but they also include doing something photographic wise on the other two days rather than just travelling. Obviously as I have never been on one of these workshops I can only comment by reading the information on their websites. You normally get what you pay for but I would love to hear your experiences from anybody that has been on a wild bear in Alaska photography workshop or holiday. I have a Facebook friend, Lisa Langell ( https://www.facebook.com/lisalangell?fref=ts ) (http://www.langellphotography.com/  ), who runs wildlife photography holidays in America and I will be getting in touch with her to find out more about them and if they are the right one for me.

Because of the high cost of going to Alaska I have also been looking at going on a wildlife photography safari in Africa. Bethany Ogden (mentioned above) goes with Wild Eye ( http://www.wild-eye.co.za/ ) for her photography safari workshop, a company that appears to be quite good. Photography safaris in Africa appear to be a little bit cheaper so I might be able to afford to go twice. They are not my “dream” wildlife photography holiday but I would rather go to two separate safari locations in Africa than only one in Alaska. One of the things that bothers me is that, and I’m not boasting or bragging here, I don’t really need a “workshop” and all that a workshop entails. Some workshops include a Lightroom workflow presentation, a Landscape photography day and other “time fillers” which you are paying for and I don’t want. I don’t want to waste time and money, because you are paying for it, to be told what settings I should be using, what ISO I should be on, what auto focus setting I should set or what lens I should have on, I know that information. If you want that kind of workshop and information then great, go for it, I have no problem with that, but I don’t. All I want is a guide to put me into a location, not with hundreds of other cars with other photographers all taking the same image, where the wildlife is and then look after my welfare to stop me getting attacked or eaten. Therefore I might go down the route of just getting a good guide, rather than a workshop unless there are photography workshops that just do what I require. This is why I am starting to research this now, a year or eighteen months, before I want to go. It is no good rushing into this kind of thing because if you get it wrong then it will be a very costly mistake. As I have said earlier if you have been on a safari I would love to hear how you got on and what the workshop was like. I will expand the differences between a safari guide and a safari workshop in another blog.

Since writing all the above I have been struck down by man flu. Once I had got over it I had to go to work for a week in Hampshire before breaking up for a Christmas break. During this week I again caught another cold, sorry man flu, and I am just starting to get over it! Talk about hitting a man when he is down. Because of all this I have not been able to post this blog on my website and I am sorry for this. I have also not been out with my camera for the whole of December. 2017 has not been a very good year for me and photography. I normally take about 12,000 images a year and then edit them down to about 2,000. This year I have taken only 6,700 images and most of them are wedding and holiday images. I hope I have got some good wildlife ones and I just hope 2018 is a better year.

I got up early this morning, 28th December; the clock said 6:30am. It was still dark outside but the sky was clear. I could see that it was frosty so even though my nose was still running and head was still fuzzy, bloody colds, I was going to take Murphy out and enjoy the scenery, so I had breakfast and went out. The car was frozen solid so I decided to walk along the road and the bridle path to the moor. Once on the moor the scenery was stunning. All the bracken was edged with a white rim of frost. The sun was not up yet but the sky was blue, I love these kinds of mornings. I live half way up a hill which gives me a great view down into and across the valley. I stood on the moor viewing my surroundings letting Murphy mooch around and do his own thing. I could see some low lying mist in the valley slowly dissipating as the sun and heat started to rise. I could see a few signs of human life in the shape of smoke rising out of the tops of a few chimneys. A few houses and farms dotted around surrounded by small hedge lined fields which I love about Devon. In the distance I could see vehicles moving on the A386, is this road ever quiet? Across the valley is North Brentor Church standing on its own tor like a sentinel guarding the valley below. The only sound I could hear was water in the stream gurgling and whooshing its way down the hill. My eye caught movement deep in the hedge in front of me. It was a Wren, burring away, looking for its breakfast. We recently had a very bad day on Dartmoor, wind wise, and our climbing rose had been blown off the top of our lounge window. A lot of birds loved this bush which gave them warmth, food in the shape of insects and shelter. When I put it back up I found a dead Wren which had obviously been in it when it came down. A real shame because they are such lovely birds and work so hard at collecting food. As I have stated in other blogs their voice is so loud it hurts your ears if you are close to them when they are singing. I picked the bird up and studied it. There were no marks on it but I was surprised how long its bill was. Although a Wren is small, it weighs about 10g and is about 9cm long, it is not as small as a Goldcrest or Firecrest. I dug a little hole and buried it in it thinking nature can be cruel at times. The Wren just wanted some shelter and it was this shelter that killed it.

WrenWrenWren

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New Wildlife Photography location Dartmoor, Dippers, How we see & Improve our Night Vision.

November 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Today, 8th October 2017, I was up early. Well not really early because it was only 6:00hrs. Looking out of my bedroom window revealed thick fog, but I was still going out with Murphy. I drove to a part of Dartmoor that I don’t know really well but it is only a couple of miles away from my home in Peter Tavy and I’ve wanted to visit, and explore, it for a while. When I got there some of the fog had started to rise and the sun was peaking underneath. This low golden light created some stunning shadows, with the fog acting as a canvas, created by the trees, stone walls and bushes. The Land of Dartmoor was a golden misty haze looking towards the sun very similar to a photograph that I had seen taken by David Clapp called “There is Hope II” (http://www.davidclapp.co.uk/portfolio/view/latest ). As the fog kept lifting I just kept walking, to explore the area, without really concentrating where I was going. Not really a good idea in fog and on an unknown area of Dartmoor but I was going to stay out for quite a while walking and chilling. I love being out early in the morning either with my camera, with Murphy, or with both. This time of year “early” is about 6:00hrs but in the spring “early” is about 4:30hrs. I love the solitude, with only nature, and no human, as my companion. I have witnessed so many wonderful things involving wildlife during this time of day and also the light is great for photography. In fact sometimes it is the best light of the day. I cannot tell you how many times I have been out this early and the weather changes just as I get back home. Being out early as the sun is rising on a cold frosty day is magic, you just cannot beat it. I know that the light at dusk can be a special time as well but usually there are other people around. As you can tell I am a morning person. OK getting up at 4:00hrs to some people is the middle on the night but you know what I mean. Wildlife tends to act differently at this time in the morning. Maybe it’s because they are tired as it is nearly their bedtime, for nocturnal wildlife, or because there aren’t a large amount of humans around, I don’t know but they seemed more relaxed. I have witnessed the look of amazement in their eyes when they notice me at this time in the morning. If I keep still they look at me but normally go back to what they were doing. Apart from Foxes, they normally run a little distance, turn around to see what I am doing, and if I stay still then they go back to what they were doing but in the other direction.

During this walk I located a reservoir, Wheal Jewell, and walked around it as it had a very good path. I was a bit disappointed that there was no wildlife actually on the reservoir water but there were a lot of birds surrounding it. A lot of this area of Dartmoor is open grassland and, in my view, not very exciting landscape wise. I say not very exciting because I like looking at trees, bushes and walls mainly because there is more wildlife to be seen. Surrounding the reservoir were lots of gorse bushes and they were inundated with spider’s webs. They were, because the misty fog left dew on them, really easy to see. This has given me the idea of returning to this location with my macro lens to photograph them. There were so many beautiful webs with the spider stretched out in the middle of them as if on a medieval rack. As there was no wind to move the webs a slow shutter speed could have been used with a high f-stop to get enough depth of field to get the whole spider sharp. There is usually less wind at this time of the morning and it builds up as the morning goes on so it is a good time to get these types of images. Also the dew helps make the image and lets the web stand out but this will disappear as the day warms up.

The following weekend I went down to the leat to photograph Dippers. For those that don’t know a leat is a manmade waterway that takes water to a house, a village a town or a city for humans use; drinking, cooking, washing etc

I arrived about 9am after doing my “chores” feeding and mucking out horse, walking Murphy etc. Once I set up my camera and mats I laid there and waited for the birds to appear. I know the Dippers are in the area because I have seen them regularly. The only niggle in my mind was that I had only seen them very early in the morning from about 6:30am to about 8am and then they seem to disappear either up or down river, so at a 9am start I was hoping and keeping my fingers crossed they would show up. I laid there on my stomach for just over four hours before my back and neck said that they had had enough. The problem is that when your body has had enough and starts to ache you start to fidget and move. This is no good for wildlife photography as the wildlife will notice this movement and you will scare it away. With this in mind and because I had not seen any wildlife during this time I packed up. I would return to the same spot the next day but earlier. The next day I got up at 5am and left for the leat. It had rained quite a bit during the last 24 hrs but it had stopped as I was putting my camera equipment into the car. When I arrived, and exited the car at the leat, the noise of the water was incredible. Before I got my camera equipment out of the car I took my torch to see the state of the river. I looked at the water from over a bridge and it had risen considerably. I walked around the other side of the river to the leat and saw that the water had risen by sixteen inches or 41cm overnight. I could tell this because there is a water measure in the leat (http://www.stillwater-associates.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Measurement-of-Reservoir-Water-Levels.pdf ). The level of the water in July was at 8 and yesterday was at 10 on the measure and it was now at 14. If it rises by one more it would flow over the edges of the leat.

Whilst we have been living on Dartmoor in Devon we have enticed, by feeding and growing insect loving plants, quite a number of birds to our garden. Over the last two years we enticed a pair of Collared Doves. These would sit next to each other, cooing and cuddling, on the telegraph wire, occasionally coming down for some food. Today we arrived home from shopping in Tavistock and just as I got out of the car one of the Doves flew over me. Just then there was a blur and a really loud thump. Feathers started falling all around us and the Sparrowhawk flew just over the road with his talons buried deeply into the Collared Dove. By the speed of the Sparrowhawk and the loud sound as it hit, the Dove must have been killed instantly. Nature in the raw, but it’s sad to see just one Collared Dove on the wire now. I’ll keep my fingers crossed it will find another mate soon.

This wildlife photography caper can be really frustrating at times. Yesterday, Friday 27th, I was up at 4:30am to go down to photograph the Dippers. I looked out of the window and the stars were shining which, fingers crossed, meant that the sun would be shining at dawn rather than this think fog we have had for quite a while. I got ready, had breakfast, put my camera equipment in the car and drove to the leat. I examined, by torchlight, the stones I was going to be looking at and there was no issue with the amount of water as before. I switched off the torch and closed my eyes for a few minutes so that I can let them get accustomed to the dark when I open them. This is a technique that I learnt years ago and it is one that works.

Geek time.

How do we see in the dark?

Our vision range in varying light conditions comes from three parts of our eye:

  1. The Pupil: The eye is very similar to a camera and a lens. The camera’s lens aperture is very similar to the pupil because it too expands and contracts to let in more or less light. It gets very small in bright light to block the amount of light reaching the retina at the back of the eye and it will open wide in the darkness to let in more light to reach the retina.

The eye on the left is seeing in bright light and the eye on the right is seeing in low light or darkness.

 

  1. Cone and Rod Cells: Our eyes have two types of cells to help us see, Cones and Rods. The Cone cells recognise fine detail and colour but need bright light in order to work. Rod cells, on the other hand, can only see in black and white and only recognise big shapes, but remain sensitive in very low light.

     

  2. Photopigments: rod and cone cells contain light-sensitive chemicals called photopigments. When exposed to light, photopigments go through a chemical reaction that converts light into electrical activity that our brains understand.  The chemical Rhodopsin is the photopigment used by the rods and this is the key to night vision.

How do I utilise your rod cells?

Your rod cells can take up to 45 minutes to adapt to a change of light. The quicker you turn off bright lights, torches etc. the sooner your eyes start to adapt. Closing your eyes for a few minutes will speed up this process. (If you don’t believe me try this at home. When you go to bed, turn off your lights and look around your room. Now close your eyes and relax for a few minutes. Now open your eyes and look around your room, you will be amazed how much more you can now see.)

Your ability to see in the dark depends on some things that may be out of your control, your age, an eye injury etc.

In order to see objects better in the dark use your peripheral vision and don't look directly at the object you want to see. Try to focus your gaze on the side of any object you think is there, or just off-centre of the direction you are going as you move forward through a dark area. This allows your peripheral vision to help detect movement and object shape much better than trying to look at something directly. Using your peripheral vision involves more rod cells being utilised which is key to night vision.

This image shows the area where there are more rods on the back of your eye. The first image shows why we need to let in more light so that the light hits the rods.

Geek time over.

I set my self up, got into a comfortable position, and waited. It was 5:30am, the stars were still out and I could just make out my surroundings in the dark. All of a sudden there was an almighty splash just in front of me. My immediate thought was that some of my camera equipment had fallen in the river but just as quickly dismissed it because it would not have made such a splash. I looked around me to see if there was anybody about. As I waited I saw a white shape launch itself out of the water and land back in the river making a loud splash, it could only have been a fish. I have seen quite a few fish in this river, Trout and Salmon. This happened several times during the next couple of hours and the later and lighter it got I could see they were quite sizable fish. There were a few flies and insects about how on earth could the fish see them, if this is what they were after. Once I knew what was happening I relaxed and watched the show. At about 6:30am the wildlife along the river bank and in trees started to stir. The first bird I heard was a Tawney owl hooting away to my right. Then a Pheasant started “Crowing” which they do all year round. During the next half hour there were a lot of bird sounds including two Herons “squawking” as they flew overhead on their way to their feeding grounds even though it was still quite dark. I hope the “feeding grounds” were not somebody’s prize Koi carp in their pond. At 7am I looked above and noticed clouds forming and coming over from a north-west direction. I was hoping the sun would rise and the Dippers appear before the dark clouds covered the sky. At 7:30am not one, not two but three Dippers appeared. It looked like two adults and a juvenile as one was much smaller than the other two. They were all perched on one of the stones I was looking at and would have made a great image. I viewed them through my camera but my settings were 2 seconds, f4 with an ISO of 3200. I looked up and the sky was covered in dark clouds. I thanked him upstairs and just watched the Dippers for about 45 minutes. They stretched, washed and even had a “sing song” together which sounded like a lot of bubble blowing, cheeps, clicks and whistling, in fact it sounded like short-wave radio. During this time the light did slightly improve, 0.5 seconds, f4 at ISO 3200 but even with these settings I was not going to take an image. Just after 8:15am they all flew off down river. I waited until 10am but they did not return. My assumption about the Dipper’s timings I mentioned earlier was correct.

DipperDipper

On Saturday whilst I was taking Murphy for a walk on Dartmoor I spotted a tree full of bird activity. I’ve been waiting since the beginning of the month for Redwings and Fieldfare to appear and now right at the end of the month they were here. There were about 50 Fieldfare and 4 Redwings in the tree. The tree, which was next to a stone wall, was full of red berries, as were most of the trees on Dartmoor. They were flying from the tree to the field next to the tree and back again. I quickly examined the area surrounding the tree and was happy to see some quite close cover in the form of gorse bushes. This meant I could get close enough to get some good images. Therefore I hurried home, collected my camera equipment and dashed back to the area. I came in from another direction which was better for the wind direction, for the light and for the use of the cover, all good things that would allow me to get closer and a good image. On arrival I examined the tree and saw not a single bird. I examined the other trees with my binoculars and again saw not a single bird. I drove around looking at several places but apart from Starlings I did not find any Redwings or Fieldfare. I felt immediately deflated because since June, when I accidently knocked my camera over and it had to be sent away to be repaired, I haven’t had much luck. Normally September, October and November are the months I take a great deal of photographs but at the moment my total of images for the first two months is 22! It’s not that I haven’t put the effort in but mostly it is down to the really bad weather we have had on Dartmoor this year. From the end of August up until now the majority of the days have been thick fog or very misty rain. Yes we have had some great fine days but every one of these days have been when I was at work. It’s at times like these that I really appreciate the images I have taken over the years. Real wildlife photography is not easy but it is satisfying when you get a good image. I’m now keeping my fingers crossed that November will be a great month.

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A Sixth sense, Elephant Hawk moth, David Clapp, Anna Curnow & Wildlife photography clothing

October 07, 2017  •  1 Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Life is a funny thing! How many times have you started humming a tune, turn the radio on and there on the radio the DJ is playing the song you were humming. The boffins say we have a sixth sense but have either forgotten, or don’t know, how to use it. Well the other day my wife and I were driving back from our nature reserve and she started telling me about a hawk that flew along the road in front of her car the last time she drove away from our nature reserve. She described what happened and what the bird did and roughly what it looked like. Then she asked me what bird it was. I replied that with the information she gave me it was either a Hobby or a Sparrowhawk. She then added that it was brown. So I changed my mind and said that it could have been a Kestrel or a female Sparrowhawk. With that a female Sparrowhawk flew off a gate post on our right and landed in front of our car. It then took off, as we got nearer, and flew in front of the car, about 100mm to 150mm off the ground, for about 400 to 500 metres before flying up into a tree, question answered.

The next morning I was up about 6am and went downstairs to get out and about with Murphy. I looked through the lounge window, to see what the weather was doing. I noticed that there were no birds around in the garden, but there, sat on one of the bird feeders, was a female Sparrowhawk. I don’t think it was the same one as the night before because she appeared to be a bit bigger. She was looking straight at me with those bright yellow piercing eyes. All I thought was what a fantastic sight and then I thought did I lead her back home to my bird tables!

Whilst pottering around in our garden the other day I found a caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk moth. It was about 80mm long and about as thick as my little finger. I did not want to squash it so I picked it up and as I did that it started contracting its head into its body. This made the head swell up and the two dots on the side looked like eyes. I was absolutely fascinated with this so I watched what it would do next. The only thing it did was wiggle its tail in the air. I put it down out of harm’s way and after a few minutes it relaxed and continued with its daily routine.

The image below is from inglenookery https://www.inglenookery.com/

Elephant Hawk Moth CaterpillarElephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar

Whilst walking Murphy on the moor the other day I started watching a group of Linnets that were flying around. This group landed on a gorse bush in a small clearing. This clearing contained two gorse bushes and a small amount of bracken. Observing this clearing with my binoculars I noticed that apart from Linnets there were a few Goldfinches and a couple of Stonechats. Then something happened that, once again, I have never witnessed before. Most of the Linnets took off and started hovering just above one bush. Then the Goldfinches took off and started hovering as well and finally the Stonechats joined in and did the same. After about ten seconds they all landed in the bushes. About a minute later they all did it again starting with the Linnets, the Goldfinches and then the Stonechats. It was not very windy so I have no idea why they would want to do this. If you know then can you please tell me via the contact button on this page or via my Facebook page. Nature watching is absolutely fabulous and proves that we don't know it all. 

When I got home on Friday night I immediately grabbed Murphy and took him out for a walk. I needed to calm down after another nightmare journey home. I went for a walk on the moor next to the village I live in, Peter Tavy. The walk starts off quite steep but then flattens out at the top. When I got to the top I wanted to stop and admire the view behind me. OK, the real reason I wanted to stop was because I was puffing and blowing and I needed some air. Before we moved down to Dartmoor in Devon, England we used to live on the Bedfordshire / Cambridgeshire border and the nearest thing to a big hill was a mole hill or a sod of earth. Don’t get me wrong it was lovely countryside but it was very flat. Down here in Devon you are either going up a hill or coming down one. I don’t baulk at walking up them but it does make me puff and I’m not getting any younger. The best thing about being at the top is the fantastic view you get. My view today was looking down at the Dartmoor village of Peter Tavy. To my extreme right was the church at North Brentor. I could see a few cars travelling on the A386 but their sound was being silenced by the slight breeze that was blowing and the cries from the four Buzzards that were hovering above me. Although the clouds were slowly rolling in, the sun was still trying to dominate my view with a few shafts of silver light shining down, lighting some green fields below. The fields were coloured in several shades of green until they faded away off into the distance. I was looking into this distance, dreaming, when I got brought back to reality by a tug on the lead by you know who.

The other night I went to our camera club in Tavistock to listen to a speaker, David Clapp (http://www.davidclapp.co.uk ), a landscape and travel photographer. Although he says he is an “award waiting” photographer he has achieved a lot in the few years he has been a photographer. He works for Canon Europe as a presenter and has been commissioned by several companies including Canon to do video, and still photography, work around the world. He was involved in “Power of Photography”, a DVD that is included with any new Canon camera. He is a workshop leader with “Light and Land” which is Charlie Waite’s leading photography workshop company. He also has stock photography with Getty images, Robert Harding and Arcaid. I know what you are thinking, there are lots of landscape and travel photographers so what's different about him? Well David applies his trade a little bit differently to most. He does not go to places and stick his tripod in the same three holes as everyone else. He goes there yes, but he looks around and takes photographs of other objects and scenes by thinking outside the box and using his creativity. He thinks so far out of the box that he cannot even see the box and the images he showed the club proved this. This is a photographer who said he can make an image of a farm yard muck spreader look good and he showed us the image to prove it. His images were great and his manner of talking was right down my street. The tones of his voice, seriousness at times and joviality in his speech were great. It’s no wonder that Canon use him for lectures at shows like Photokina, the Photography show and the Outdoor show. If you ever get a chance to go to one of his talks and listen to him, snap it up you will not be disappointed. One of the things I liked about him, and his images and blog on his website, is his taste for Dartmoor and the surrounding area. Also his use of long lenses for his photography. He brought along Canon's new 100mm-400mm f4.5-5.6 L mkii lens which he uses.

Canon 100-400mm L mkiiCanon 100-400mm L mkii(C)KenRockwell.com (760) 931-9500

I had a look at this lens as I am thinking of buying one as a "walk about" lens, when I'm with Murphy, for my wildlife photography rather than my 500mm f4 lens which is too heave as a "walk about" lens.

Before my wife and I moved down here to Dartmoor we used to visit regularly and during one of these trips we visited Bearslake Inn on the A386. Whilst we were in there, doing what people do in an inn, I noticed that there were several photographs on the wall, by Anna Curnow (http://www.asc-photography.com/ ), of Dartmoor tors. I stood there admiring her work for quite a while and then visited her great website. It stated that it “currently features photos that are predominantly from Dartmoor and Devon” which drew me in even more. She states that she “really loves the scenery that South West England has to offer especially Dartmoor”. She loves “exploring its wild moorlands and dappled valleys and its remote wilderness has a special beauty that she tries to capture in her landscape photography”. As I have mentioned before I wanted to live on or near Exmoor but due to my job location I had to move south. Whilst viewing Anna’s photographs it really set me in the mood that living on Dartmoor won’t be that bad. As stated above she wants to capture Dartmoor’s “special beauty in her photography” and I believe she does this. She is not one of these landscape photographers that simply takes a picture, turns up the saturation and hopes for the best. I know some of her images do look slightly over saturated, especially the sunsets, but any landscape photographer will tell you that during this “golden hour” the light is so warm that the colours you see are saturated so she is showing you the scene as it was presented to her. This lady has a very good eye for spotting a good landscape to photograph. Her only downside is that she does not do workshops – at the moment! That's a shame because my wife would go on one (Think about it Anna). Take a look at her photography by clicking on the link above. It’s so good that I have included a link on my Links page.

Now I'm going to talk about clothing for landscape photography or wildlife photography. I know this sounds a bit silly because I bet you are thinking well any clothing will do to take a photo. If you just go out, take the photo and then go back home then I agree that any clothing will do but if you are going out for quite a few hours or days then you really need to think about the clothes you wear. If you are not warm, or cool, and comfortable then you will lose interest quickly, rush things, and not put your best effort into getting the shot or, you will pack up early and possibly miss a great shot. This does not just relate to clothing but also to dealing with all the biting insects. So find an insect repellent that works for you as we are all different and one thing that works for one person might not work for someone else. There are several products on the market and most of them have deet or citronella in them to keep the insects away. These include products that I use which are Jungle Formula, Avon skin so soft and Autan protection plus. Be aware that some of these products are so strong they will burn through plastic and rubber so watch where you use the stuff and don’t get it near your camera equipment. On one photography trip to Scotland I went into a hide waiting to photograph Badgers and I put some insect repellent on my hands but wore a thick knit balaclava, like the bank robbers wear black, with the slits for my eyes, nose and mouth, on my head. It was not a stocking or a pair of tights, it was a balaclava. I just want to say that I never have, or intend to, wear stockings either on my head or anywhere else! Mind you they do look good, sorry I’ve got to get back on track! With the little red hearts NO! NO! NO! I digress, I stayed in the hide from 7pm till about 11pm when I started feeling sick. I packed up and walked back to the house. When I got into my bedroom I took off the balaclava and looked in the mirror. It’s not a good reflection at the best of times but this time it looked horrendous. My lips and nose were inflamed by the amount of insect bites and looked like they had long thin balloons, like the clowns use to make balloon animals with, around them. My eyes were so puffed up I looked like I had a disease Gold Fish get called Pop-Eye. They did not itch but it did make me feel sick, no not the reflection in the mirror, the swelling. I went to rinse my face with cold water and as I tried to unfasten my watch strap it fell off into the water as it was made of rubber and the insect repellent had burnt through it. So the night and experience was not good, no Badgers, no photos, no watch, feeling sick and a blown up head. I’ve had similar experiences but usually after going to a bar! But what it did teach me is whether I am outside in the open or in a hide I will always put insect repellent on, well if I remember!

Clothing - Starting from the ground up I usually wear stout waterproof walking boots if I am walking around. I wear these all the year round as I do not like walking in wellington boots unless I am going to be standing in a river or sitting with my feet dangling in water. I have two pairs of boots one for dry conditions and one for wet. The ones for dry conditions are made by Merrell and although they are Gore-tex and supposed to be waterproof, they have leaked from day one but they are very comfortable so I stuck with them. The ones for wet conditions are made by Salomon and although only £12 more than the Merrell’s I feel they are better made and really waterproof. It’s no good me telling you the name of the actual boots I wear because your feet will be different to mine, wider, narrower, taller etc. Go into an outdoors clothing store, Millets, Go Outdoors for instance, and try on as many make of boots as you can because they are all different. Just remember if you are looking for waterproof boots then, like most things, you get what you pay for so don’t skimp on this item. If I am going to be in a hide for a long time then I wear something different. If it is a wooden hide with a floor then I will wear my Merrell’s but if it is some sort of “tent” hide like a pop up or chair hide and the floor is the ground then I will wear my snow boots. I bought these boots, made by Sorel, last year and have worn them a couple of times and my feet have not got cold. They look and feel a bit big and clumsy but they keep my feet warm and that’s all that matters.

There are several socks I wear from Thorlo padded running socks in the summer through Gore-tex Fat Face socks in the cooler months to merino socks in the winter.

Our bodies are amazing and can regulate the temperature on their own. Before we had clothes our bodies grew hair to keep warm and if it got too hot then it would sweat to cool it down. For years we have been wearing cotton next to our skin. This fabric does not let the body do what it can, in other words it does not let it breath, in fact it could stifle it and you could overheat. It will soak up your sweat but then it will keep it, and not take it away from your body, so when you cool down the moisture (sweat) in the cotton will make you feel cold. Once cotton is wet with sweat it will take ages to dry and it also retains the smell. Years ago a lot of the fabrics they invented were quick drying but still kept the smell. Nowadays they impregnate the fabric with silver and other metals that inhibit bacterial growth in the fabric so there is no smell. To help the body regulate itself you want to wear several thin layers. The reason for several thin layers is so that if you are walking then you should take some clothes off and only put them back on when you are still. Therefore you want to wear fabrics that are breathable, will wick sweat away from your body to the outside so that it will evaporate and light in weight so this rules out cotton only fabrics and thick woolly jumpers. Woolly jumpers are warm but can be heavy. This is not only for the item next to your skin but all the items you wear. This is not just great for when you are wearing the clothes to take photographs but also if you are traveling around abroad with your gear on say a photographic holiday. You will notice that your backpack or suitcases are a lot lighter. Great if you are going by air and paying for your luggage. There are several good makes on the market and my only advice to you is that you should read up about the items you want and look for items that are in a sale. There are bargains to be had and because you need dull colours for wildlife photography these tend to be in sales more often than the brighter colours. The minimum you should wear or take with you is three layers, a base layer a mid layer and an outer layer. I stick to this in the warmer months but increase it to four, five or more layers in the colder months or depending what I am doing, walking or sitting in the open or in a hide.

For my legs I usually wear trousers that are light, quick drying and have a bit of stretch in them if I am walking around. This rules out jeans because when they get wet by the “odd” shower they stay wet all day. These trousers are made by Craighoppers (https://www.craghoppers.com/nosilife-cargo-trousers-dark-khaki/ ) or Regatta (https://www.regatta.com/trj330-800-action-trousers-black/ ). I am quite hot blooded and am warm on quite cold days. When these trousers get wet they do tend to dry quite quickly due to the heat my legs produce. The only downside I have found is that the knee area fades in less than a year but then again I do a lot of crawling when I’m out in the field photographing wildlife. In the colder months I will wear my trousers made by STEALTH GEAR. I believe this firm has stopped trading which is a shame as they are really good trousers but only to be worn on a cold day. I will also take waterproof leggings just in case it rains, or more likely, that I will be crawling around in the vegetation. If I am in a hide then I will wear trousers and a pair of “long johns”. Before I go on these “long johns” are not the old, western type, itchy with the trap door at the rear. They are breathable and made with merino wool. Along with these items I will also take a pair of leggings just in case.

For my torso I start off with a cool-max t-shirt, then a Paramo Cambia shirt (http://www.paramo-clothing.com/en-gb/explore-range/product/?pk=FBFCCCC9-C324-4BDE-B187-0A97077359BE ) and then an outer fleece for the warmer months. I find any cool-max t-shirt works well. The Cambia shirt made by Paramo is very light and works well as a mid-layer this time of year. The outer fleece is made by Regatta. I have one with a full zip and another with a half zip for when it’s slightly cooler. For the cooler months I will wear a second, thinner, fleece and a breathable windproof, waterproof jacket. I sometimes swap the outer fleece with another shirt made by Paramo using a fabric called “parameta S” which is reversible. It has a fleece on one side, if it’s cold, and a shiny side on the other if it’s warm. It is slightly better than a normal fleece because it is wind proof. I’m afraid I could not find this item on the Paramo website so maybe they have stopped making it. I will also swap the cool-max t-shirt with a long sleeve cool-max shirt. When I am in a hide I will swap the Paramo shirt for a shirt made by Arktis called the Mammouth (http://www.arktisoutdoor.co.uk/arktis-mens-clothing/arktis-tops-and-shirts/a210-mammoth-pullover-shirt ). Although they call it a shirt there is no way you can tuck it into your trousers as it is so thick, but it is warm and very comfortable. The clothing is made for the Police and the Army and if it is good enough for them it is good enough for me. I have several jackets from a light Paramo Cascada (https://www.paramo-clothing.com/en-gb/explore-range/product/?pk=BB6B1BF0-8A46-4F00-AAB5-62AA82BC1DB8&attributes=5A01410B-7BF6-46CC-8A97-FFEA0A577F6E,82122064-D94F-4D04-808A-437AFF01F28A ) through one that is reversible with Deer Tex, brown one side and camo the other, made by Deerhunter (http://www.deerhunterclothing.co.uk/ ). To my latest jacket which is just for wearing in a hide. It is called a Montanna 5-in-1 and is again made by Deerhunter. You’ll have noticed that I have mentioned Paramo clothing a lot. I find this make of clothing very good. It is light, warm and the jacket, with lots of pockets, is very waterproof and if it does get wet then it tends to dry really quickly. The only downside is that you have got to be careful where you go with it because it pulls or tears quite easily which is no good for a wildlife photographer near gorse or blackthorn. The reversible coat does not have a hood which is a shame as it means I have to think about a hat, or my face & neck cover (more later on), but it is good on cold dry days. The Montanna is far too big for me to walk around in as it has three layers to it, all of which can be swapped around, but is perfect for when I’m sitting still. It is warm and very comfortable, with lots of pockets. The sad thing is that they appear to have stopped making it; maybe that’s why I got it cheap! All my jackets are noiseless when I’m moving around; the Deerhunter jackets are made of micro suede and the Paramo is Analogy fabric.

On my hands I wear a pair of light, see through camouflaged gloves. I bought these gloves on holiday in America. They do not have removable finger tips but are so thin that I can still feel every button and dial on my camera. I wear these mainly to cover up my white skin. They are similar to these made by Deerhunter (http://www.deerhunterclothing.co.uk/Deerhunter-Hats-Gloves?product_id=735&limit=100 ). In winter I sometimes wear a thin black pair of Polartec Cyclone gloves made by Lowe alpine (https://www.cotswoldoutdoor.com/p/lowe-alpine-cyclone-glove-A3214595.html?colour=124&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIo7mc6Niz1gIVloeyCh2iZA2pEAQYAyABEgL7T_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds ) I say sometimes because I have very warm hands and I still usually only wear my light see through camouflaged gloves.  

Around my neck I don’t usually wear anything unless I am in a hide and then I wear a fleece neck cover which I was given free at the Birdfair a few years ago. I know what you are thinking – I cover my white hands but not my neck and face! Well I do because when I bought my gloves in America I also bought a camouflaged face and neck cover. You can get a similar one here (https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=camouflaged+face+cover&tbm=isch&imgil=oZolHzyr2yRiCM%253A%253BwaOERvXZ46FSnM%253Bhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.amazon.com%25252FMossy-Oak-Full-Spandex-Face%25252Fdp%25252FB003UKVFUG&source=iu&pf=m&fir=oZolHzyr2yRiCM%253A%252CwaOERvXZ46FSnM%252C_&usg=__9gKiKtcdPUeMBztVQiRBo4lyiUk%3D&biw=1680&bih=881&ved=0ahUKEwjV29jt4LPWAhVMiRoKHXYvDIkQyjcIkgI&ei=7V3CWZWxEsySavbesMgI#imgrc=_&spf=1505910261426 ) Once again I might look odd but it covers the white bits and trust me there is a big white bit on my head!!! Bring back the old days when we had hair! Well ok “I” had hair.

On my head I will either wear a baseball hat if it is sunny or a beani made out of fleece or merino wool. If it starts raining then I use the hood on my jacket. When sitting in a “tent” type hide in the winter then I will wear a “Russian” style hat that can fold down on the ears. It is called a “tundra hat” and is made by Jack Pyke (http://www.jackpyke.co.uk/products/clothing/hats-and-gloves/tundra-hat.aspx ) Once again I might look silly, my wife thinks so, but I’m warm and that’s the main thing.  

The colour of all my clothing is either dark or light green, dark or light brown, black, grey or a camouflaged pattern. All colours that help me blend into the countryside.

It is a lot of clothing but you need different clothing for different seasons and weather conditions also if you notice I wear a few light things when I am moving about and a lot more when I am sat still in a hide. Remember what I said earlier if you are not warm and comfortable, in other words if you are preoccupied by being cold, then you will lose interest quickly, possibly rush things which does not help your creativity, and not put your best effort into getting the shot or, you will pack up early and possibly miss a great shot.

 

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The Dartmoor weather, Camera make v Camera make and Watching Nature to relax

September 17, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

What a strange month August 2017 has been weather wise on Dartmoor in Devon. Throughout the months of April, May, June and July the weather has, mostly, been sunny with a couple of wet days but August has been a really wet but warm month. In fact it rained so much during the first few days of the month that the River Tavy is still not back to its normal level 21 days later. I say it has been wet but very warm. You put a coat on to keep the rain out but you get wet due to sweating.

If you read the last paragraph of my August blog (read www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2017/8/why-take-photographs-linnets-sparrowhawks-manual-focus-and-roe-deer-on-dartmoor ) you will know that my camera and lens have been returned to me by Canon through my insurance company. Although due to work commitments I still have not taken any images this month and this will continue until I go on holiday in September.

One of the things I had to do with my 500mm lens for it to be sent to Canon for a check-up was take it in to a camera shop so they could send it. Whilst I was in there being served the salesman asked what kind of images did I take with the lens. As I had my IPad with me I started showing him a few of my images. Whilst this was going on a woman entered the shop, saw a couple of my images and asked “What kind of camera would I have to buy to get images like those?” Before the salesman could reply I said “Any camera in this shop will take an image like this as long as you have the same focal length lens.” Then I continued “But you will have to find the wildlife, get close enough to photograph it by using field craft skills, compose the image, get the right light, the right shutter speed, the right aperture, the right ISO and know when to press the shutter release.” “Then you will have to know how to post process it.” She looked at me bemused so I said “Have you got a car?” “Yes” she replied. “Does the car know the way to London by itself?” I asked, again the bemused look “No, you have to drive it there.” I said. “It is exactly the same with any camera, you have to tell it what to do and it will do it. In other words a camera will not take a photo until you set the settings and you press the shutter release. If you want to try this at home put the camera on a shelf and leave it there for a week then check the camera and see how many images have been taken!” The penny, or is it ten pence with inflation nowadays, finally dropped and we continued to have a very good conversation about camera gear, photography workshops and learning the art of photography. When she left the shop the salesman turned around to me and said “It is amazing how many people think it’s the equipment that takes the photograph rather than the photographer, it makes a change to hear someone like you explain it to a person.” It’s a bit like the Nikon v Canon debate. Some people get really irate about which camera manufacture is better. (Now there are certain cameras that are better at doing some things than others like full frame cameras are better for landscape photography because they can use wide-angle lenses at their proper width, but I am talking about camera manufactures here.) It is such a pointless argument to waste breath over. If you look on the internet it beggars belief that there are so many sites and forums on which people talk about this subject. When you look at an image how many of you immediately want to know what camera it was taken with? The answer will be none because you will be thinking what a great shot. Later on you might want to know what the settings were and the equipment used but not immediately. I went to a wildlife photography seminar once and the speaker was brilliant along with every single photo he showed us. When at the end there were the usual questions one person, you always get one, asked “What equipment does he use?” The answer was Sony which appeared to stump the person asking the question. Now just because it was not Nikon or Canon did that mean his images were now crap? NO, they were still brilliant. How many people have looked at a painting and said “That’s a great painting I wonder what brush the artist used?” or went out to dinner and said “That was a great meal I wonder what cooker or saucepans the chef used?” I know I have a bit of fun now and then with “digs” at people that have a Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Sony rather than a Canon, which I have, but really and truly it does not make any difference what camera make you have. As long as the camera accessories you can buy fit your type of photography you can get great images from any camera manufacture. A camera is a tool, a box, with a few buttons and a sensor; YOU take the image not the camera.

The date is 11th August 2017 and the time is just gone 8pm. I am sat on the ground, (no Murphy this time Craig!!! Lol) leaning against a stone wall just chilling. Watching nature either with or without my camera relaxes me. Although I do have my camera back I only have a pair of binoculars with me this time. I need to chill because a five hour journey from Essex to home, according to Jane my sat nav voice, took over eight due to traffic. Last week’s journey was the same and I expect the next few weeks journeys will be the same. When are they, the boffins, going to invent a transporter like on Star Trek? You just step on a circle and it transports you to another location in seconds, wonderful! Why am I travelling to Essex I hear you ask? Well my wonderful job has sent me there for the next few weeks, no end date given, with no time for myself or Wi-Fi conection – roll on retirement. I had plans for several shoots this year but because of my accident with the camera / lens and my wonderful employer sending me away they put paid to them – better luck next year. Looking forward to retirement is a bit sad really because you are wishing your life away and let’s be honest it is not a very long life no matter what the MP’s say but I digress. There is a Blackbird, a Chaffinch and a Song Thrush singing behind me. There are a few juvenile Wrens flying around my location. They could be from the nest that I found a few weeks ago and which I’m sat quite close to. But I’m not here because of them although they do add to the experience I’m having. I’m here because I am watching a doe Roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, with a kid (the name of its young) that was most probably born in May. Their coats are a bright rusty red at the moment but they will change, turning into a dull slate grey colour, in winter. They are about forty metres away from me on the edge of our wood, their usual habitat at dawn and dusk, eating away. The other thing that is being eaten away at the moment is me! Midges, flies, ants and hordes of other “Robin Stanbridge” eating insects surrounded me as soon as I sat down. It’s one of the biggest banes of a wildlife photographer’s, especially mine, life. The trouble is that if it was not for these insects the other wildlife would not be here so I have to put up with it. I was sat here before the deer came out as I had the information given to me by my wife who had seen them on a couple of the evenings she was here. After a while I sneak off quietly leaving them to their feed.

The next day whilst walking Murphy I noticed that there were quite a few Linnets about on the moor. Although I looked on the internet and in my books I could not find out what a group of Linnets is called. As it is part of the finch family it could be a “Charm of Linnets”, if you know then please inform me via Facebook or click "contact" on the top or bottom of this blog. These groups were between 50 and 200 birds strong so nothing as big as my sighting last year.

On the Sunday just before I had to leave for Essex again I walked Murphy along the leat. For the first time ever I saw a Heron which flew off as soon as it saw me. After taking a few more steps I saw a Fox cub jumping and hopping around playing with sticks and vegetation. I could not see any others which is unusual. I stood watching it for a few moments until it spotted me and ran off into the wood. I love Foxes as they always make me chuckle with their antics, a bit like Murphy does, and appear to have a care free attitude to enjoying themselves. In fact they are learning to attack and deal with prey but it does look like fun. This walk was not very long as the good old rain started pouring again dampening my already low spirits due to facing another long, time wasting journey.

Hopefully I will be able to get out with my camera next month. Happy hunting, with a camera of course.

If any of you are, or know of any person who is interested in, thinking of attending a wildlife photography workshop then please see my workshop details on the top of this website. At the moment I am taking bookings for the Red Deer Rut, Wild Birds of Dartmoor and Post Processing workflow. I am also finalising a workshop for Beginners to DSLR photography which will be ready within the next month. 

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Why take photographs, Linnets, Sparrowhawks, Manual focus and Roe Deer on Dartmoor

August 20, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

First of all this month I would like to ask you, and I’d like you to really think about your answer. Why do you take photographs? There could be several reasons or answers to this question but there should really only be one main reason or answer. This main reason is – for your own enjoyment. If you like a view be it, landscape, portrait, wildlife etc., you take an image of it and you enjoy the image you took because you like it, it brings back happy memories and the emotions it stirs up within you, then that is all that matters. A lot of people nowadays take images and because they are pleased with them they put them on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. Doing this hands the image to other people to see if they enjoy it as much as you do. But if they don’t get many “likes” then they get very disappointed, WHY. Some people look at the image and can’t be bothered to press the “like” button. The ways some of these social media platforms work restrict other people viewing your image until you pay for the right. There are so many images on there that people will ignore similar images. Some people will verbally “slag off” your image to get a reaction or jealously. When you look through your viewfinder you decide when to take the image and you will only press the shutter release when you, not other people, like the image that’s portrayed. Ignore other people’s views of your image and stop worrying about them, you can’t please everybody, it is your image, your creativity so as long as it pleases you, then the job is a good one. People not liking an image, especially a judge, is one of the biggest knock downs in camera club photography but it shouldn’t be. Just because one judge doesn’t like it does not mean every judge will not like it. There are some exceptions but there are good elements in most photographs and just because someone says they do not like it or they don’t click on the “like” button, might be for several reasons. Don’t get put off by the lack of “likes” get out there and carry on taking images, for yourself. After all you started taking photographs because you enjoy photography so stick with that.

It appears to have been a really good year for some birds on Dartmoor. Willow Warblers have inundated a certain area of the moor that I frequent and there are juveniles and adults all over the place which is great to see. I hope they return next year. Another bird that appears to have done well in this area is the Green Woodpecker. There are several families around and the largest I’ve seen on the moor is three juveniles with the adults. When I lived on the Cambridgeshire / Bedfordshire border I once saw five juveniles with the adults near my house. And I can tell you it was really loud when they all flew off laughing away.

Green WoodpeckerGreen WoodpeckerGreen Woodpecker

Other birds that appeared to have done well rearing juveniles are Robins, Bullfinches (there are three families right near our nature reserve), Magpies, Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Wrens, Jackdaws, Dunnocks and Blackbirds. There are, most probably, a lot more but apart from walking Murphy I have not been out with my camera because it is still at Canon being repaired. I was informed by my insurance company that it was only going to take fifteen days to repair, that was twenty seven days ago! On one of these walks towards Vixen tor the moor was alive with adult and juvenile Wrens which all seemed to be perching on top of the gorse bushes. This was nice because it meant that I could see them rather than them sitting in the gorse or in the bracken. As I neared some big slabs of granite I could see some Ravens perched on a lone tree. I regularly see these birds in this location so when I get my camera back I must come out here, set myself up and get some images of them as it is quite a picturesque, although slightly haunting, scene. Watching Hammer Horror and other horror films when I was young left a marked impression on my mind in relation to Ravens. The birds in these films might have been Crows or Rooks but Ravens are the biggest corvids so I relate the “graveyard and bird scenes” to them. It hasn’t put me off photographing them as they are stunning, very intelligent, birds. As I started to lower my binoculars I saw a shape of an animal sitting on top of one of the granite slabs. It was a Fox and it was sat scanning the valley below. It appeared not to have a care in the world and was chilling out. I know in reality things are different, because of all the sheep, if a farmer had noticed it then they would have shot it. Sheep farmers make me laugh. They kill Foxes, or don’t want them around, when it’s lambing time but if a ewe dies they want the Foxes around to eat the carcase so they don’t have to pay for it to be taken away which, proves it’s all about money and not the welfare of animals.

Whilst Murphy and I were walking another area of Dartmoor I noticed that the amount of Linnets has increased over the last few weeks. I hope that I will see another Linnet spectacle like I did last year (read www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/7/the-weather-on-dartmoor-in-devon-natures-greatest-sights-and-acorn-lodge-b-b-dartmoor ) but this year I will have my camera with me (if I get it back). I will keep an eye out on the field where they gathered last year because it is still down to grass.

Whilst trimming the climbing rose in our garden, a job I needed to do because our Acorn Lodge B&B guests might walk through the arch, which the rose surrounds, to get to breakfast, a Sparrowhawk flew straight at me and darted away at the last minute. It must have been chasing another bird but I did not see what it was. It happened so fast that all I did was bring my hands up to my face for protection and even then I would have been too late to succeed. It amazes me how fast these hawks really are and how they can react that quickly without getting hurt. Also how other birds can, with a bit of luck, escape them. This was not the only Sparrowhawk encounter I have had this month but more about this later.

When walking on Dartmoor you really have to keep your wits about you know what you are doing and be prepared (as boy scouts in my younger days said). The other day I was walking along, quite early in the morning, the sun was shining and there were only a few puffy white clouds in the sky. With fifteen minutes it was foggy and drizzling and you could not see ten metres in front of you. Luckily I knew the area well and headed back to the car but even so everything looks different in fog and at times I had to really think about the direction I was heading. People without this knowledge or without any forms of direction finder, compass or satellite navigation aid could easily get lost and with some treacherous bogs on Dartmoor that is no joke. I sat in the car for about an hour until it cleared and then recommenced my walk. On the walk I pass an area that has a small “cliff face” as the soil falls away into a very small valley. As I went past this a Peregrine falcon flew out in front of me and off to my right. I have never seen one in this area and the quickness of the descending fog might have forced it down. Seeing a Peregrine falcon three times in four months is great.

The next day I was sitting on top of Cox tor on Dartmoor looking west towards Cornwall whilst Murphy was mooching around the rocks around me. North Brentor church was to my right, Tavistock in front and Plymouth to my left. Viewing the green patchwork scene in front was spectacular with the sun shining and blue skies above. There were patches of fog or mist in a few of the valleys below and in the distance I could see numerous wind farms that seem to increase daily nowadays. There were a couple of areas with smoke rising out of them showing the sign of human presence. On days like this it’s great to just sit and ponder but sooner or later you have to get back to reality, shame.

After speaking to several people I am amazed that so many people either can’t be bothered or do not know how to focus their DSLR manually. I know that most cameras nowadays have a fantastic auto focus system so why learn to focus manually I hear you ask. Well there are several reasons why your autofocus will fail to lock on to your desired point of focus. Because of these reasons most camera manufactures have a switch or a button to turn your autofocus off to let you focus manually, Canons switch is on their lenses. Once you have flicked the switch to manual you then focus by looking through your viewfinder or by using live view on your rear screen. So why do we need to learn how to focus manually? The first reason that springs to mind for wildlife photography is when your maximum aperture is smaller than f8 on professional cameras or f5.6 for most other cameras. This occurs when you have say a 400mm f5.6 lens and you add either a 2x, taking it to f11, or 1.4x or 1.5x, taking it to f8, converter to get extra reach. Next is when the scene is very low contrast as most cameras autofocus systems works by the contrast. Next is when the light levels are low which is similar to the low contrast. Another reason is when the camera will not autofocus on the part of the scene you want sharp because something is blocking the view, for example, a Stoat going through grass where the camera will autofocus on the grass or taking photographs of an animal in a cage where the camera focuses on the cage. Next, for landscape photographers, is when you set your camera to the hyperfocal distance to get the maximum depth of field. When using accessories that only allow manual focus and finally when you have a lens that only offers you the choice of manual focus, yes there are still some lenses that only have one choice like Canons excellent tilt-and-shift lenses. So how do you focus manually? Before you do any manual focusing always make sure your cameras dioptric eye adjustment is set to your eyes so that all the display within the viewfinder appears sharp. One method is when looking through your viewfinder; rotate the manual focusing ring on your lens. The image will be blurred, come into sharp focus and then go blurred again. Once the image goes blurred then turn the focusing ring the other way. Keep going back and forth shortening the movement on the focusing ring each time and you will finally reach sharp focus. The more you practice this method then the faster it will become. When using Canon equipment I believe the autofocus points remain active during manual focus so line up the AF point on the part you want sharp and when you have achieved sharp focus the focus confirmation light will light up in the viewfinder. Remember by using this method you are using the cameras autofocus system, why? You are focusing manually because the cameras autofocus system failed. Years ago before autofocus was invented, yes there was a time it was after the dinosaurs and before mobile phones, the viewfinder had what was call a “split-image” focusing screen nowadays you just get a clear matte screen. This split-image screen helped you focus on your subject. This split looked like a Big Mac without the filling! (This description might sound odd to some of you but I am trying to relate it to today’s generation) You put the split, which was in the centre of the screen, on something and it looked broken as it was out of alignment. As you turned the focusing ring the alignment got closer and was perfect when sharp focus had been achieved. With today’s clear matte screen achieving sharp focus can be difficult for some people. A precision matte screen is better but still, I believe, not as good as a split-image screen. Canon makes interchangeable screens for their cameras. There are split-image screens available for all the 1D and 1Ds cameras but only a precision matte screen available for their “enthusiast / amateur cameras like the 5D and the 70D. As I stated earlier you can use your Live View screen at the rear of your camera to focus manually. This method is used a lot by photographers taking macro images mainly because you can use the 10x magnification facility to pin point sharp focus with accuracy. The downside of this is that it is better when you use a tripod as the camera is more stable. I hope this small tutorial helps you to learn how, why and when you should focus manually.

Our garden is still inundated with juveniles. I am thinking of digging out a small area in our garden for a small pond. Ponds, or water features, in gardens are great for attracting more wildlife to your garden. It would have to be a small pond because our garden is not very big but small is better than nothing. I don’t quite know which liner to go for but I expect I will end up with one of the pre-formed plastic liners which you can buy from a garden centre. That way I will have to stick to the size rather than make it bigger. The only downside of this is that I will have to take out the plants that are already established. The only area I can do this on is already occupied by a large “Hosta” which is inundated with slugs and snails. I often see a song thrush near this, picking up the shells before thrashing them against a stone to get at the snail. Being Dartmoor there are other areas in my garden with snails so the thrush won’t go hungry if this Hosta is removed.

Song ThrushSong ThrushSong Thrush

Although no work is being done to our nature reserve at the moment my wife and I still visit it regularly. It’s a good job we do because the other day we saw a male (buck) and a female (doe) Roe deer. They were in our field with the buck going round and round the doe. You could tell there was only one thing on his mind. The doe was leading him a merry dance and when he got too close she would turn to face him and say “NO it’s not the time”! Then she would lie down. A few minutes later she would get up, tease him, and it would start over again. The Roe deer rut is between mid-July and mid-August. Courtship involves this “chasing” between the buck and doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate. Although the mating occurs at this time the fertilised egg does not actually implant and grow until January. This could be to avoid giving birth during harsh northern hemisphere winters. Therefore the actual gestation period is nine months (four months with no embryonic growth and five months of foetal growth) with kids being born between the months of May – June. We actually got quite close to watch them. We were one side of the hedge / stone wall and they moved to just the other side of it. With still no camera I did not get a photograph of them but the memory will last for ever. They were on our nature reserve for quite a few days before they moved on. I hope they stay in the area and we get to see their kids.

On another occasion, whilst on our nature reserve, we saw a Sparrowhawk chasing a Magpie around the top part of our wood. They disappeared out of sight down into the wood. It reminded me of the time I once saw a male Sparrowhawk catch a Magpie and because it was still alive and flapping its wings the sparrowhawk dragged it to a pool of water and drowned it. Once it was dead it dragged it away from the pool and started to eat it. It was nature in the raw. I wonder how many of you feel sorry for the Magpie! I know a lot would if it was say, a Kingfisher or a Coal tit like I saw in Scotland (read www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2017/5/dippers-in-devon-heart-stopping-moment-and-wildlife-rich-scotland-in-the-cairngorms. )

Sparrowhawk with KillSparrowhawk with KillSparrowhawk with Kill

YEE HA! I have just got my camera back from Canon and it looks like new.

If any of you are, or know of any person who is interested in, thinking of attending a wildlife photography workshop then please see my workshop details on the top of this website. At the moment I am taking bookings for the Red Deer Rut, Wild Birds of Dartmoor and Post Processing workflow. I am also finalising a workshop for Beginners to DSLR photography which will be ready within the next two months. 

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