Robin Stanbridge Photography: Blog en-us (C) Robin Stanbridge Photography (Robin Stanbridge Photography) Mon, 11 Jun 2018 09:50:00 GMT Mon, 11 Jun 2018 09:50:00 GMT Robin Stanbridge Photography: Blog 120 80 What Life throws at you, I'll fix it in Post Processing and Getting it right in Camera Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

First of all I must apologise to my regular readers of my blog. I have not posted a blog since March due to several events that life has thrown at me. One affected me, one my wife but the main one is that my little dog Murphy lost the use of his back legs whilst he was out for a walk. He ran to catch a ball when he suddenly stopped and started yelping. I took him to a vet straight away where they kept him in overnight. The next day I had to take him to a vet in Bristol where they carried out an MRI scan. The result showed that he had burst a disc in his spine and the fluid shot out and hit his spinal cord. This bruising and swelling of the spinal cord caused him to lose all feeling from the waist down. He stayed with these vets for a few days and then he was released back in our care. They informed us that Murphy had a 70% chance of walking again but had to rest and not jump about! (Have to tried to keep a terrier still!) Since then my wife and I have given him physiotherapy several times a day. He seems to make a slight improvement every day but it is going to be a long process. My wife and I take him for very short walks on the moor three times a day to keep his mind active and there is good movement in his legs. He is just about controlling his toilet functions and now, four weeks later, he has started wagging his tail. At the moment his right leg is the stronger one and is working well. His left leg is a few weeks behind. I can only describe is as “whilst his front legs walk his back legs ice skate”. We have now started taking him to a hydrotherapy pool that contains a treadmill. The water holds his weight whilst a lady moves his back legs along the treadmill. Whilst he is doing this he is getting fed slices of sausages which he enjoys!


Digital photography has brought to the photography table a lot of plus points including: - Histograms, viewing your image as soon as you have taken it, no expensive processing, able to take hundreds of images rather than 36 at a time etc. But it has also brought with it a downside. Rather than spending time taking images you now have to spend a lot of time sat on your computer post processing your images.

I know you might have spent a lot of money on the latest piece of post-processing software and want to do lots of things with it. But when taking a photograph you must not think "I'll just fix it in post processing". If you do then you're not the only one and a lot of people do. After all, post-processing, has given us some really wonderful tools to work with and adjust or change our images to suit our mood or creativity. We can clean up quite a bit of noise albeit to the detriment of losing fine detail. We can fix a certain amount of underexposure and overexposure; just remember that if we really blow the highlights then we cannot bring back the detail. We can adjust white balance, add a colour cast, add an ND grad filter etc. In a sense software producers have made things too easy for us. So why is it a big deal to think “I’ll just fix it in post processing”? Well for some things it’s not. Adjusting a little bit of this or a little bit of that is pretty easy. But there are lots of reasons why it is bad practice to just let your post-processing act as your personal failsafe. The main reason is TIME, time is costly not just for photography but for everything you do. Would you rather be sat there on your computer or be out in the field taking images. For a wildlife photographer it is better being out there in the field because being sat indoors means missed photo opportunities. Likewise if you were a wedding photographer and you underexposed every single photo, in other words the brides dress is grey instead of white because you did not use the histogram, then you can't give the bride and groom any of those photos until after you have corrected them. That means a long time sitting in front of your computer, tweaking and adjusting every single photo, before you can finally save them and give them to them. If you had a lot of weddings to attend then the “post-"Getting your images right in camera", "camera's sensor", "colour tempreture", "color tempreture", processing time” would set you back and you might end up losing business.

Even though your new digital camera is a great piece of equipment is doesn’t always get it right. Post-processing isn’t a new thing. It’s just that photographers used to do it in a darkroom, and today they do it on a computer. I call it a downside but some people enjoy this part of the photography world but I personally find it a chore. If we were all the same the world would be a boring place. For those that think like me I reduce the time spent at my computer by doing a few things.

Getting your images right in the camera

Getting your images right in the camera is a combination of several things including your subject, your creativity and understanding the workings and settings of your camera.  As you examine your subject and the conditions of the scene you should consider what you want your image to look like. You should ask yourself what story you want your image to tell and also what emotion you want it to evoke.


The Subject

This starts with actually looking, and seeing what is going on all around you and not just through your viewfinder. Look and visualize the possibilities of images you would like to take. You could do this at your given location even if you haven’t got your camera with you. This is part of what I call reconnoitring the area. By taking time to looking around you might see something that interests or inspires you. It might arouse some emotion within you which compels you take a photograph of it. I know you might have gone to great lengths to get into the right position at the right location at the right time and you might only be there once so you want to get it right. It is always worth getting in position early to give yourself time to look around. You should already have some ideas about what you want to do with your photograph which should include how you want capture it, how you want to treat it in post-processing and where you want to show it. These considerations will improve how you approach taking photographs.


The Light

Light is the most critical component of an image. The camera’s sensor does not know the subject you are photographing is a bird or a fox, all it captures is the light. Knowing how the sensor works will impact on your photography by learning how to use it creatively. There are many light sources and each has a different characteristic (or colour temperature), which affects photographs. Natural light has many characteristics depending on the time of day. It can be warm around the golden hours at sunrise and sunset. It can be direct and provide hard edged shadows, such as at midday. You may be in the shade or shooting into the shade. Alternatively it may be diffused and softer such as when there is an overcast sky, haze, or even fog. Each of these conditions provides you with different shooting opportunities.

There are also many sources of artificial light both indoor and outdoor including incandescent, tungsten, halogen, fluorescent and LED  which add a range of colour casts to photographs.

The quality, intensity and brightness of the light hitting the sensor will influence your choice of shutter speed and ISO settings. The direction from which the light is coming from will determine whether your subject is lit from the front, side, back or is in the shade.

This leads to the exposure of the image. A good or “normal” exposure is one which has captured a well distributed range of light and is not over or under exposed. This is where histograms come in. This, in my mind, is the best thing about digital photography because you can check the exposure of your image straight after taking it, trust me it is well worth the few seconds it takes. If it is wrong then you can adjust the settings and take the image again.

Light will influence your composition of the image. Composition means how you build your image, what is included or excluded, and starts with understanding the subject, what the image consists of, how shapes within the image are related to each other, how the spaces are filled, or not, and the whole thing must have a kind of harmony.

During the framing of your subject through your camera’s viewfinder there are several things to think about which aids composition. How your photograph is organized, how the space is used, how the elements are to be linked, and how pleasing this is to you.

Think also about the composition rules (for more information on some composition rules, click on these links ), whether the image is better suited to a vertical or horizontal orientation, placement of the subject or subjects, use of space or negative space, the weight and size of the subject to create balance, the interaction between the foreground, middle ground and background helps create interest and all help guide the viewer’s eye through the image. Filling the frame to exclude unnecessary or distracting subjects or include more of the scene on each of the four sides of the frame to avoid cutting off any details on the edges. Photograph your image from different angles, such as above or below a subject, can create a unique point of view.


Knowing how a digital camera works

Knowing how your digital camera works and what happens when you change your settings means that you could set your camera up before you actually need to use it. Then when you get out there you might only have to adjust the settings a little bit due to weather conditions. The settings you choose can be used to impact the appearance of your photographs.

The three main camera settings, Aperture (f/stop), Shutter Speed and ISO will determine your exposure and there are numerous creative choices you can make with these settings. As stated above an exposure is best evaluated by using the camera’s histogram right after you have taken the image.

Using aperture as a creative choice means that you can have a great background bokeh with the subject sharp using a setting of f2.8 or f4. Then again you can have everything in focus using an aperture of f16 or f22. It is up to you and what image you want to produce.

Using shutter speed as a creative choice means that you can have the subject and background frozen with a high shutter speed or you can blur some of it using a slower shutter speed.

ISO controls the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. A high ISO means that you can select a high shutter speed with a large aperture e.g. f4, or you can use a low shutter speed with a small aperture e.g.f16. Remember the higher the ISO then the more noise is introduced in your image.


By me doing all the above means that I only spend a few minutes post processing my image. All I do in post processing is usually: - crop, dodge and burn, de-noise and then sharpen.



When you have confidence in yourself and a good working knowledge of things like lighting, composition, understanding the workings and settings of your camera, you’re going to end up taking better pictures. And though you can crop and tweak the levels and fix the white balance afterwards, what you can’t do is adjust the position of the sun or light, change your camera angle or spot that perfect moment. Having confidence in your gear and yourself isn’t just something that will help you achieve technically perfect images; it will also help you to create fundamentally better images. And I don’t care which post processing software you have, you can’t do any of that in post-processing.




(Robin Stanbridge Photography) aperture artifical light blog color tempreture colour tempreture composition composition rules computer creative choices creativity digital digital camera digital photography highlights histograms images iso life lighting mri scan overexposure perfect images photographer photography post processing post-processing software processing sensor shutter speed software underexposure wedding photographer white balance wildlife wildlife photographer Mon, 11 Jun 2018 09:50:15 GMT
Cairngorms Wildlife, Snow, Campervans, new Canon lens and More Snow Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

I was on leave for the second week of February 2018 but I didn’t know quite what to do. The only thing I did know was that I was going away from the South West of England. Last year was not very good for my wife and I mainly due to two family members dying of cancer. It is a horrible disease and even though you know they are going to pass away it still hurts a lot when they go and we miss them a lot. This, along with the weather (it has been raining on every day I have had time to go out with my camera since August) and work, has put a stop to my photography. Usually I take in the region of about 12,000 images a year before I sort them out to about 2,000. Last year I only took just over 6,000 images, I hope I have got some good ones. As you know I intend to retire later this year and my wife and I are thinking of getting a campervan. As we have never used one, we did not know if it was our kind of thing. Therefore we decided to hire one out for a week. Our destination would be Scotland and we thought that if we can put up with living in a campervan in the harsh conditions that the Cairngorms can throw at us then we can put up with anything. I picked the Cairngorms in Scotland because I wanted snow, not the skimmed stuff that we have down here, snows one day and it’s gone the next, I wanted the full fat stuff that stays around for days. My aim of the holiday was to get my mojo back, start taking images again and photograph Crested tits and Red Squirrels. I had images in mind, which is a great way to be creative, and I hoped that these images in my mine would turn into reality. Like I say it is a great way to be creative with your wildlife photography. Think of an image or images that you would like to take of some wildlife and keep it locked in your mind until the said wildlife appears in your lens, then try to capture your unique image. There are lots of ways to think of an image but a good way is to examine other people’s wildlife images and try and combine two, three or more images into your one.

We went to O’connors Campers based at Okehampton to hire a VW California called “Blackberry”, don’t ask! We were dealt with by Zoe, a very pleasant lady who answered all my questions. We picked “Blackberry” because we wanted an automatic with cruise control. It also had a quiet heater that we could leave on overnight “IF” it was cold. On the day we picked up the campervan early because nobody had hired it the week before, I wonder why, and took it home to pack. As we did not know how cold it was going to be so we packed four sleeping bags and four blankets. At 12:00hrs we started on our journey. I had planned our journey so that about half way, Lancaster, we would have a stopover that way we did not have to rush up there. I set the cruise control to just over 60mph and left Dartmoor and the rain, I hoped, behind. As per usual the first part of the journey, which should have taken two hours, took over four but I had taken this into account and was not bothered. It rained for the whole journey up to Lancaster and we arrived there at about 21:00hrs enough time to arrange the bed for us and the bed for Murphy, well you didn’t think we would leave him behind did you? Our bed was is a seat during the day and then you pull it out to make the bed. There is another in the roof, when the roof is up, but we did not use it. I put the heater on but switched it off after about 20 minutes as it was too hot, even though it was on its lowest setting. In fact we hardly used the heater apart from when the roof was raised during the day, as the sides are cloth, and 20 minutes first thing in the morning. After a reasonable night’s sleep and a good breakfast we continued on our way. The weather was still raining but with another 300 miles to go we were hoping it would turn to snow. The journey to the Cairngorms was eventful as just after we passed Glasgow the rain did turn to snow. Just after Perth the snow that was falling made it very difficult to see and the road conditions reduced our speed to about 30 mph but we ploughed on or should that be “snow ploughed on”! We arrived in Grant town on Spey late afternoon all set for a photographic session in the morning the next day, if the snow let up. After another reasonable nights sleep I looked out of the window to see a cloudless sky, perfect. I drove to my first location to try for some Crested tits. Within a few minutes they arrived at my branch and away went my camera shutter. Cole tits, a Treecreeper, Chaffinches, Great tits, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker and a Wren also put in appearances and just had to be photographed, my mojo was back.

Crested TitCrested Tit

The next day, with similar weather, I stayed photographing the Crested tits hoping that a Red Squirrel would make an appearance. Throughout the morning the same birds as the previous day appeared but no Red Squirrel. In the afternoon we decided to go to an area we had seen Red Deer last year. When we arrived we saw 2 Kestrels and several Red Deer. The Kestrels were too far into the valley for me to photograph and the Red Deer were on too steep a slope for me to climb with my camera gear so we just watch them through our binoculars. At the end of the valley we parked up and took Murphy for a walk. During this walk Murphy played in the deep snow hunting for mice under the snow next to each tuft of grass and we looked for Mountain Hares. Looking for something white in a white background is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In the very strong wind I looked high and I looked low but all I could find was Donalds troosers! (Scottish people will know what I am talking about, check this link if you don’t ) but no Mountain Hares. Having said that we had been looking at quite a large area and not seen a thing. We walked another ten spaces and all of a sudden we spotted a couple and then spotted three more. The sun seemed to pick them out of the snow and showed them to be a brighter white. As the sun was setting I decided that I would return tomorrow to try and photograph them.  

The following day we woke up to heavy snow falling from the sky. We stayed in the campervan for a couple of hours before deciding to go to the area that we saw the Mountain Hares. On the way there the snow stopped and the sun started to shine. We had a few slides in the slush with the campervan on the way but I just took it steady. When we got there my wife said that she would take Murphy for a walk while I went off with my camera. I walked to the same place as yesterday and spotted one straight away. I edged closer trying to keep down wind of it which was hard work as the wind, which was still very strong, was constantly changing directions. I don’t know much about Mountain Hares but I do know that if they are frightened they tend to run uphill. Keeping this in mind I edged closer to the Hare coming in from the side so that if it ran uphill I would try and get a running shot. At about 40 metres from the Hare the wind changed direction, it caught my scent, and it was off running uphill. I panned and took a few shots.

At the top of the ridge it stopped to have a final look at me before it disappeared over the top and out of my sight so I began to look for another. It did not take me long to find another which was sunk into the snow. For the next couple of hours I edged closer taking a few shots each time I planted my tripod. When I was about 10 metres from it I stopped as I was getting too close for my liking. Also I did not want to scare it away as it did look very comfortable in its snow hole. I stayed with this hare for another couple of hours and learnt another thing – they don’t do a lot! Every 15-20 minutes it would yawn, stretch or clean it paws but other than that it would just sit there. In wildlife photography it is bad enough to wait for your subject to arrive but when the subject is in front of you, then you still have to wait until it does something before you press the shutter release. This wait seemed to take an eternity mainly because you have to be ready for the action and it was absolutely freezing. My body and feet were fine but my hands were shutting down. After another hour the sun had dipped below the mountain so the light had gone and I packed up. In reality when the sun dipped below the mountain the wind got stronger and the temperature got even lower. On my walk back I was looking forward to switching on the heater in the campervan.

Mountain HareMountain Hare

This night we decided to eat out so we went to Aviemore to seek out a restaurant. I fancied pasta so we looked for an Italian restaurant that would allow Murphy in with us. We found one, La Taverna Restaurant, Pizzeria and Bar, but they did not allow dogs into the restaurant. They did takeaways so we each bought a meal. We then sat in the car park, in our warm campervan eating it looking out at the lights of the mountain ski resort, life just does not get any better than this!

The next day we were on the way back to Lancaster and the snow was falling again. Due to the amount of snow falling the journey to Perth was slow going as the long traffic cue snaked along behind the snow plough. This was great for my wife in the passenger seat because she was admiring the large amount of Red Deer on the side of the road, the A9. She stopped counting when she reached 300, all of them stags, and that was only on the left hand side. When you see that amount of deer I can understand that some people say they should be culled. If there were less deer then Scotland would have a lot more trees. Maybe we should bring back the Wolf in some areas, what do you think? Just the other side of Perth the snow was thinning out and in fact by the time we got to Glasgow it had turned to rain. This rain continued until we reached Lancaster. We parked up and slept just outside Lancaster again and made an early start for Dartmoor the next day.

If you have never been to Scotland for wildlife photography you are really missing out. The sad thing is that a lot of people are killing a lot of wildlife just to “protect” their game birds. Please don’t get me wrong this is not just happening in Scotland but all over England and Wales as well. I am sure there is more money to be made by tourism, to see the wildlife, then by shooting game birds.

Overall the holiday in a campervan was great. It was great parking and being near to where I was going to do my photography that day rather than having to wait to eat breakfast at a hotel or B&B at 7:30hrs then drive to the area and have to pack up early to get back for dinner. This loss of time would have curtailed my photography but with the campervan I had freedom of choice of when to start and when to finish. I will definitely purchase one when I retire. The only thing I will change is the layout inside the van. “Blackberry” had what they call a “rock and roll bed”. This bed was not wide enough for us as I woke up a lot of the time during the night with my nose touching the side of the van which 1, made it cold and 2, very claustrophobic. Other than that it was all plus points. One way of getting the van you want is by buying an ordinary panel van and getting the inside custom built. That way you can build it how you want it and not how the manufacture wants it.

Weather wise we seem to have brought the sun back to Dartmoor from Scotland which is a good thing as it can start drying up the moor ready for Spring.

As my regular readers of this blog will know that, at the beginning of each year, I pick a few species of wildlife that I try and concentrate my photography on. It does not always work because wildlife does its own thing but I like having goals to aim for. Crested tits were one of the species for this year. Two others have been nipped in the bud before I even started Dippers and Wrens. Last year I located a good, different, Dipper nest site, in a hollowed out branch of a tree, which I was going to return this year to photograph. I took several images last year but none of them, for one reason or another, turned out to my liking. I said I “was” going to return this year but Dartmoor National Park authorities have put paid to that. I used to park in a car park about half a mile away from the nest site which was great. Now the DNP authorities have closed it and put double yellow lines all down the road for some unknown reason and the nearest car park now is over 5 miles away! There is no path over the moor to my nest site so I would have to walk along a narrow winding road which is very steep downhill going and uphill coming back with all my camera equipment. The cars go very fast along this stretch so I will not be chancing it. One other downside of the DNP doing this is that there is no close car park for visitors to visit one of Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserves. The other wildlife subject I chose was a Wren. The particular Wren I was after nested in the stone wall a few metres from our gate to our nature reserve. I located the nest last year and I was going to concentrate on getting some good close ups of this Wren with food in its beak. But somebody in a vehicle must have hit is as it was flying across the road because I found its little body lying in the road not far from the nest. With luck another Wren will take its place but it might not be this year. My other wildlife species for this year are Cuckoo, Redstart, Cirl Bunting and Dartford Warbler. I know I got some good images of Redstarts last year but this just wetted my appetite and I want more. If I just get a good image of one of the other three, I will be happy and if I get more than one then I will be over the moon.

On Friday 16th February, the day after we got back home, I took Murphy for a walk along the lane which passes our nature reserve. As I reached our boundary I looked over the stone wall to see what was about and there standing about 30 metres away were 2 Roe Deer. They were happily munching the grass ignorant of the fact that I was quietly watching them. After about 5 minutes I quietly and slowly walked off, or so I thought. As soon as I started moving their heads popped up and they started watching me. I carried moving away and when I was some distance away from them they carried on eating. Being that close to Roe Deer without a camera finally made up my mind and when I got home I went on to the internet and ordered a “walk around” lens. I plumped for the new Canon 100-400mm zoom lens as I have been informed by several people that it is a really good lens. When it arrives I will pair it up with my Canon EOS 1D mk VI. The reason for this is that it is lighter than my Canon EOS 1DX and it has a 3x crop factor. The downside is that I cannot push the ISO up as high as I can with the 1DX which therefore does not give me high shutter speeds. With the 1D mk VI I will only set the ISO up to 800 whereas with the 1DX I will go a lot higher.

The next weekend I was out walking Murphy with my camera and the new lens which arrived during the week. I was itching to use it but do you think I could find any wildlife? The sun was shining but the birds were too far away from me to get a decent image but I enjoyed walking around with it as it was not too heavy. Now all I need is a bit of luck and my luck will improve as I will be out with my camera a lot more.,

OK, I’ll put my hands up, me wishing for some snow similar to the conditions in Scotland has well and truly bitten me in the backside. It seems that the county of Devon has come to a standstill due to the amount of white stuff that has fallen. I am stuck at home today, Friday 2nd March because there are large snow drifts outside our doors and just outside our drive gates. Murphy can only go for a walk in our field which he enjoys and then returns home to lie in front of the woodburner. The best thing about a complete blanket of snow is that my garden looks as good as next doors! All I want now is the cold but sunny days, not much to ask! I have been up in the loft to get my suit and I’ve been in the garage to get my skis, now all I need is for somebody to carry me up to the top of the hill, any volunteers?


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) aviemore cairngormes wildlife camera campervan campervans canon crested tits dartmoor dartmoor national park devon wildlife trust great way to be creative images la taverna restaurant lancaster lens living in a campervan mountain hares o'connors campers okehampton photography red squirrels scotland snow vw california weather wildlife images wildlife photography Sat, 03 Mar 2018 11:34:06 GMT
Tawny & Barn Owls on Dartmoor in Devon, A friend for our Collared Dove, Tweeting comments & the PAGB Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

In life it is funny that you never see something, or don’t acknowledge it, but then all of a sudden you see lots of them. This doesn’t just relate to wildlife but to everything. For instance when you want to buy a different car, you pick the model you want and then you see lots of that particular model every time you are on the road. Whether it is because it is on your mind and you notice them or something else at play I don’t know. Recently I have been seeing lots of owls; on my way to and from work, on my way to and from taking Murphy for a walk or just driving around the wonderful county of Devon. Tawny owls are the one's I have seen the most and it is lovely seeing them. But recently, on two occasions, I have seen a Barn owl the first was flying through some trees in front of my car and the second time was perched on a signpost very close to where I live. This viewing would have made a lovely photograph, especially if I had taken the image just as it took flight, except that it was 4:30am and apart from it being dark it was raining (What a surprise!). As I watched the owl, it took off, flew up hill and then turned left over the hedge and into some fields. This poo pooed the idea that Barn owls don’t fly, or hunt, whilst it’s raining. This was such a thrill for me as I think they are such superb birds and I cannot get enough of them. After the viewing I carried on my way to work remembering a viewing I had a few years ago in Cambridgeshire. I was informed that there was a rare “brown breasted” or “dark coloured” Barn owl seen at a reserve not far from where I used to live. So I packed my camera equipment into my car and made my way to the area. I wanted to get there a couple of hours before dusk so that I could set up my camera without rushing and then forgetting to do something which would entail me not getting the image I wanted. I was dressed in my camouflaged clothing rather than taken a hide so that I could be more mobile. When I arrived I drove / walked the area to set up my equipment in a spot that would give me several options. The setting sun was to my back as was a reed bed. The reed bed continued to my left ending with open fields. There were open fields to the right and to the front and at the end of the field to the front was a bit of woodland. Surrounding each of the open fields were large diches filled with grasses and weeds. They were so large that if I fell in one I would not be able to look over the top and I’m six foot, 182cm, tall. There were several wire fences all around which would be hard to omit from any image but that is wildlife photography, you cannot always get perfect areas for wildlife, they pick the area and you have got to do your best to rid your image of “eyesores”. This “ridding” process is done before you take an image, so think before you press the shutter release, and not afterwards in Photoshop! I waited until the light had gone and then packed up. I returned several times that week all to no avail. The following week was also a no show by the Barn owl. Then on the Friday of the third week I saw it. It was a “dot” on my left but there was no deigning it was a Barn owl with its familiar slow wing beat. It was flying from the open fields making its way straight for me. As soon as it got onto the reserve it flew down into one of the ditches and started hunting along them. I was standing a couple of metres away from a ditch and it flew along it looking down for food. I was so mesmerised by the encounter that I completely forgot to take any images. Once it flew by I let out my breadth which I did not realise I had been holding. I watched it fly further along the ditch and then started to return in my direction. I gathered myself and started taking images. It stayed on the reserve for a while but the light had gone and it was no good taking images. This would be the case for the next few days. It would fly in from the same direction, I would take images for about twenty minutes and then I would just watch it until it got too dark to see. After about two weeks of viewing it, it never returned. I treasure that encounter but I always wonder what happened to it.

Brown Breasted Barn OwlBrown Breasted Barn Owl

The Tawny owls seem to be everywhere and I’ve seen them even when walking Murphy. Bridget, my wife, was “dived bombed”, which actually hit her head, by one in our wood last year. Although we used to see and hear them nearly every day at our last house in Bedfordshire they seem to appear bigger down in Devon. I have had several encounters with them flying over the bonnet of my car and their wingspan seemed to cover the windscreen. According to the RSPB their wingspan is between 94cm and 104cm so maybe in Bedfordshire they were only juveniles I saw. About twenty years ago, when I lived in Hampshire, I was driving up a steep hill on my way to work when a Tawny owl flew out of a tree, downwards, and hit the side of my car. I immediately stopped, got out and walked over to where it lay. It was on its back stretching its neck up looking at me. I picked it up, examined it, put it in a box I had in my boot and then took it to the Weyhill hawk conservancy ( ), which is located just outside Andover. I dropped it off there and was informed that they would look after it for a couple of weeks and then, if everything was alright, I could return to take it and let it go in the area I “bumped" into it. I kept my fingers crossed and received a phone call later that day informing me that it was OK except it was a bit light in weight. Over the next two weeks they kept an eye on it and fed it well. I went and collected it and it appeared to be a bit livelier scratching around in the box. I took it to a wood which was situated at the top of the hill of our meeting place. I walked to a track within the wood, put the box on the floor and with the open end away from me I opened the box. For a few seconds nothing happened then I heard some scraping and it flew out. It flew along the track and then doubled back and settled in a tree a few metres away. It stayed there viewing its surroundings for a few minutes before flying off over my head and went deeper into the wood. For the next couple of weeks I went back to the wood to see if I could see it again but to no avail. This Tawny owl encounter made me feel good because I saved a beautiful bird and I got a very close encounter.

The image below was taken using a captive bird. If you look close enough you can see the Jessie's.

Tawny owlTawny owlTawny owl

 A bit of really good news is that our Collared Dove has got a partner at last. If you remember a few months ago a Sparrowhawk swooped down, attacked, and killed one of the Collared Doves that used to “live” in our garden. The other Collared Dove did look a bit sad sat on the telephone wire all by itself. But it is sad no longer as it has a partner that follows it around our garden and cuddles up to it on the telephone wire. I hope they “get together” and have some little ones.

On Sunday 14th January I went for a walk, with Murphy, along the leat. I spotted the Dipper on its usual rock. This rock has been underwater for the last few weeks due to the amount of rain we have had. It was nice to see and reminded me that after the next couple of weeks I will be down here regularly trying to take images of it. One image I am after is a decent flight shot. This is going to be hard to achieve to get a high enough shutter speed due to the lack of light in the area but I will try. Other shots I am after are the adults feeding a juvenile. I was close to getting this type of shot last year but the juvenile fledged the nest when I was at work and when I returned to the area it had moved too far down river into a privately owned area.

Whilst walking along the leat Murphy suddenly stood still and started staring at something. That something turned out to be three Roe deer which were about forty metres away from me. The leat is quite high up in that area and I was looking down on these Roe deer. I was surprised by the number because I only usually see one on its own most of the year or two together during the rut. Although they knew we were there they did not seem too bothered and just kept mooching around. They only moved off in the opposite direction when I called Murphy to carry on with our walk.

On the way back home I spotted a male Sparrowhawk that was hunting in the same manner as a female Sparrowhawk my wife and I had seen back in September . This one was flying very fast just above the verges next to the bottom of the stone walls either side of the road. This, I would think, is a very good hunting method if you wanted to catch small birds. Both my wife and I drive very slowly through these lanes because there are always birds; Robins, Dunnocks, Sparrows, Chaffinches, Wrens, Blackbirds, Thrushes, Bullfinches etc. mooching around looking for food on these verges. The Sparrowhawk is trying to scare one of these birds to fly off so it would catch it or sneak up on it to pounce on it. Either way it would catch itself a meal. I do not know if this male is with the female we saw a couple of months ago, either its mate or a juvenile,  but it’s in the same area and it hunts the same way so logic says it is.

Yesterday when I drove out of my drive and before I got to the first corner I spotted the Barn owl perched on top of the hedge just down the road from our house. According to the RSPB Barn owls are between 33cm and 39cm long but this bird was no bigger than about 20-25cm so I presume it might be a juvenile. I would love to know where this bird is living. I know there is a Tawny owl living in the barn just up the road but I can’t imagine a Barn owl would live in the same barn so it must live in one of the other numerous barns surrounding the area. It must be close because I am seeing this Barn owl every few days on my way to work now. IF the sun ever appears I will walk the fields, as I have permission from the farmer, looking for it.

This week Charlie Hamilton James, a great wildlife photographer and wildlife film maker, Tweeted a comment which I don’t agree with. The Tweet stated “I’ve never understood the landscaper photographers obsession with tripods. Shooting wide angle lenses usually set to infinity with the ability to shoot decent ISO these days kind of rules them out for most things.” I totally agree that carrying a tripod, either for wildlife or landscape photography, is an absolute pain because it is heavy. Also if you want to change positions quickly they can get caught up with the vegetation. I especially find tripods a nightmare with macro photography. I cannot tell you how many times I have hit, with a tripod leg, the plant that had the subject on it, whilst trying to get the right composition. So there are downsides with a tripod but, I think, they are outweighed by the upsides. The upsides are 1) You don’t have to hold your camera and lens all the time when you get to your favoured position. With landscape photography you set up the shot, get the composition you want and then wait for the right light. With wildlife photography you set up your camera and wait for the wildlife to appear. Also this stops a lot of movement which could scare the wildlife. 2) You can use lower shutter speeds, in other words long exposures to be much more creative with your image. 3) To stop camera shake when your finger presses the shutter release you can use a cable release instead. 4) You can use lower ISO’s in low light which will give you a less noisier image. I know that cameras nowadays are great for handling noise at higher ISO’s but there is still more noise at high ISO’s than low ISO’s. 5) You can use filters to lighten or darken certain areas of the image and keep it set until the right light appears. 6) You need a tripod for HDR landscapes. I know some images don’t look too good, in other words “real” but it a process that some photographers like doing, we are all different so let them do it. But the best thing about using a tripod, especially for landscape photographers, is 7) it slows you down and you can concentrate fully on the image you want to take. So with these in mind Charlie I think you are wrong but we are all entitled to our own opinions.

When I lived on the Bedfordshire / Cambridgeshire border I was a member of the St Neots and district camera club. It was a great camera club with the right ratio of speakers / competitions / practical evening’s and on top of that my wife and I made a lot of friends a few of which I still keep in touch with today. When we first went there we were greeted with a very friendly atmosphere which settled us down as we were very nervous due to it being quite a big club (about 90+ members). For the first few competitions we sat and watched other people’s work being judged. I made notes on what the judge said so that I would not make the same mistake on my photographs when I entered the competitions. In the first competition I entered, my images were absolutely slated by the judge but I took notes on what he said. I corrected the “errors” on some new images and entered these in the next competition. Once again these images were slated by the judge for different “errors”. On this occasion I started to get a bit miffed as the same sort of “errors” were being done by other photographer’s images and these were not being picked up by the judge. It was on this occasion I started to befriend a chap, Hugh Spence , who would turn out to be a big influence on my photography. He was trying to calm me down because let’s face it nobody likes their work slated especially when others are not for similar errors. Read this for a good view on judges He was telling me that all judges were different and would pick on different errors. If the judge liked portraits then landscapes were out and if they liked landscapes then portraits were out. It does not mean that it is a bad image it’s just  that “THEY” don’t like it. I collected my images and went home cursing all judges (my view of judges has not changed only mellowed a bit). After the next competition I entered, more slating, Hugh spoke to me about my photography and started giving me tips. One of the biggest things I learnt at this club was that photography alone would not win things, in this digital world; you had to learn about post processing which I did by reading and spending hours on my computer “doing”. The next year, taking everything into account, I entered all the competitions and won the league 2 title which promoted me into league 1, the top league. It was about this time Hugh told me about the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) . The Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) is a membership organisation that co-ordinates activities for photographic Clubs in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland (including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man). It does this through 15 geographical Federations.

The PAGB has strong links with similar organisations. In the UK, it has cross-representation with the Royal Photographic Society. It liaises throughout the world via its membership of FIAP (The International Federation of Photographic Art).

The PAGB organises photographic events for its Federations and Clubs. It offers services such as Recorded Lectures and its own photographic Distinctions, known as Awards for Photographic Merit.

APM Awards

The Awards for Photographic Merit (APM) are open only to members of Clubs affiliated to the PAGB through their Federations and are at three levels

•Credit (CPAGB) – Blue badge and certificate

 Standard: Good Club Photography

•Distinction (DPAGB) – Red badge and certificate

 Standard: Open Exhibition Photography

•Master (MPAGB) – Yellow badge and certificate

 Standard: Highest Standard of UK Amateur Photography

The awards are held for life without any annual fee, unlike the Royal Photographic Society, and holders are entitled to use the designated letters after their name.

I liked the idea of getting an award as it gave you letters after your name and it shows to others that you are a bit more professional about your photography. In this world where people are not allowed to say "FAIL, BAD, RUBBISH" etc. so that you won't hurt somebody's feelings (a thing I do not understand), I wanted to prove to myself that my images were good and attaining an award would say this. (I will write a blog on giving feedback at a later date) At this time Hugh was going after the CPAGB which he attained.

During my first year in the top league my images were again knocked by several judges and I ended up mid table which I was pleased with. At this time it was Hugh that kept me going and he stated that I should enter for the CPAGB award. I went and viewed an awards competition just to give me an idea of what level of photography was required. That year I was out and about taking photographs a lot and as luck would have it, great for wildlife photography, I took several really good images. To enter for the CPAGB you need 10 good images and I actually had a few more than this so I entered the competition. Before I sent the images off to the PAGB I entered some of the images in the clubs competitions to see how they fared. As it happened I won the projected images league with 9’s and 10’s for the six competitions and I came third in the prints league. I was hoping that the judges would be kind, which they were, and I got my CPAGB with well over the 200 points mark. Two years later Hugh convinced me to enter for the DPAGB which was a big step up from the CPAGB. For this award you needed 15 images and I had to pick from 35 images I thought were good enough. Once again I used the clubs competitions to see if my images were any good and once again I won the projected images and came second in the prints. I also received top marks on some external club competitions so I was keeping my fingers crossed for the DPAGB. As the award got nearer I started getting doubts and once again it was Hugh that kept me going. On the day I got my DPAGB, just, but that’s all that mattered to me. You can see my DPAGB entries using this link . A lot of this award should go to the large amount of "nagging" I got from Hugh. If he had not kept on at me I would have given up as I did not think my images were good enough.

Recently Hugh has been after other awards AFIAP (Artiste) which he attained in 2016 and EFIAP (Excellence) which he got last year (WELL DONE). Both of which are distinctions related to the Fédération Internationale de l'Art Photographique  Attaining these awards takes a lot of time, money, effort and very good photography. Hugh is the ideal type of person to be at a camera club as he is very knowledgeable on the subject and he is willing to help other people with their photography. Not all camera clubs have a person like Hugh but if they do then being a member of that club is an enjoyable experience.



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) barn owl barn owls bedfordshire brown breasted barn owl cambridgeshire camera equipment camouflaged clothing charlie hamilton james collard dove cpagb dartmoor devon dipper dpagb fiap hampshire hawk conservancy hugh spence international federation of photographic art landscape photographers landscape photography owls pagb photographic alliance of great britain photography photoshop roe deer royal photographic society rps rspb sparrowhawk tawny owls weyhill wildlife wildlife photography Sat, 03 Feb 2018 12:38:43 GMT
Man Flu, Rain, No Shows But Still Got, or Made, a Bit of Luck by being Out and About 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!.



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.



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 ( ) 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 ( ) 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 ( ) (  ), 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 ( ) 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.



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) alaska anna curnow photography camouflaged clothing chair hide dartmoor devon dome hide facebook fieldfare great light landscape photography lightroom workflow north brentor north brentor church photographer photography safari workshop photography workshops redwings safari waterproof camouflaged clothing weather forecast wildlife photographer on dartmoor in devon wildlife photographers wildlife photography wildlife photography holiday Sun, 31 Dec 2017 13:46:16 GMT
New Wildlife Photography location Dartmoor, Dippers, How we see & Improve our Night Vision. 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” ( ). 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 ( ). 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.


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.



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) camera camera equipment camera's lens aperture collard dove collard doves dartmoor dartmoor in devon depth of field dippers fieldfare foxes f-stop how we see in the dark images living on dartmoor living on dartmoor in devon macro lens nature nature in the raw nocturnal wildlife peter tavy photograph photograph dippers photography photopigments pupil redwings reservoir retina sparrowhawk wheal jewell wildlife wildlife photography Sat, 11 Nov 2017 10:33:34 GMT
A Sixth sense, Elephant Hawk moth, David Clapp, Anna Curnow & Wildlife photography clothing 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

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 ( ), 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) (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 ( ), 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 ( ) or Regatta ( ). 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 ( ) 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 ( ). 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 (,82122064-D94F-4D04-808A-437AFF01F28A ) through one that is reversible with Deer Tex, brown one side and camo the other, made by Deerhunter ( ). 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 ( ). In winter I sometimes wear a thin black pair of Polartec Cyclone gloves made by Lowe alpine ( ) 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 ( ) 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 ( ) 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.



(Robin Stanbridge Photography) anna curnow arktis autan avon avon skin so soft bedfordshire birdfair cambridgeshire camouflaged canon canon europe caterpillar charlie waite craighoppers creativity dartmoor david clapp deerhunter devon elephant hawk moth england facebook fat face go outdoors goldfinches gore-tex jack pyke jungle formula landscape photography light and land linnets merino merrell millets north brentor church parameta s paramo peter tavy photograph photographer photography photokina regatta sixth sense sparrowhawk stealth gear stock photography stonechats tavistock thorlo wildlife photography Sat, 07 Oct 2017 14:32:23 GMT
The Dartmoor weather, Camera make v Camera make and Watching Nature to relax 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 ) 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. 


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) beginners to dslr photography blackbird canon chaffinch dartmoor devon essex facebook fox fox cub foxes heron ipad nikon nikon v canon olympus pentax photography workshop post processing workflow red deer rut river tavy roe deer song thrush sony star trek weather weather on dartmoor in devon wild birds of dartmoor wildlife photography workshop wrens Sun, 17 Sep 2017 09:52:47 GMT
Why take photographs, Linnets, Sparrowhawks, Manual focus and Roe Deer on Dartmoor 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 ) 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 )

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. 


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) acorn lodge b&b attracting more wildlife to your garden beginners to dslr photography birds on dartmoor canon dartmoor facebook focus manually instagram nature reserve north brentor church plymouth post processing workflow red deer rut social medis platforms tavistock twitter why do you take photographs wild brird of dartmoor wildlife photographer on dartmoor in devon wildlife photography workshop Sun, 20 Aug 2017 13:13:33 GMT
Juvenile birds on Dartmoor, Dartmoor danger areas, Vixen Tor, Butterflies and Stoats Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

I noticed a comment from somebody on Facebook the other day that stated that this was the quiet period for birds! I don’t know what he, I presume it was a he by his name but you can’t be 100% correct, meant by “quiet period”. If you look at my garden it is absolutely full of birds, both juveniles and adults, coming and going. I have never seen so many juveniles, there are:- Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Dunnocks, Jays, Rooks, Crows, Coal Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Magpies, Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Sparrows, Sparrowhawk’s, Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtails and Jackdaws. Walking on Dartmoor is just the same with Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Willow Warblers etc. Because they have all had an early brood there is still time to have a second, which is great. I don’t want to put a downer on it but with all these juveniles about the birds of prey must be having a field day. It appears that our local Dippers are having a second brood because I have already seen the juveniles fledge over a month ago but the adults are constantly bringing food to the nest site again which is under a bridge.


Whilst watching the Dippers the other day I had a visit of a “squadron” of Blackbirds. It contained three adults and about fifteen juveniles which were making one hell of a racquet. I read the other day that most of our “English” Blackbirds that we see this time of year are in fact from abroad! How dare they! Come over here to have their young on our NHS, maybe this will change after Brexit! (Before you start I am only joking) It was great to see, and hear, the adults trying to keep them under control and failing miserably. The Juveniles all looked very similar brown heads and bodies with black tails.

I had a look back at the Redstart nesting area the next day, which is covered in bracken that is about 3 foot tall, to see if there were any juveniles or adults there. I stayed for about two hours but only saw a male Wheatear which came quite close and I would have got some great close-ups if I had my camera. (More about this later!)


From the nesting area I walked onto the moor. My walk took me on an open path that can end up on White Tor. This is a boundary for the Dartmoor Danger area and has a pole for a Red Flag to denote this. It is a Danger area because the Military have ranges and carry out training there. The training area is mainly situated on the northern part of Dartmoor and has been in existence since the early 1800’s. Military training is carried out on the ranges by the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army, and Royal Air Force. The area is supported by two training camps, one at Okehampton and the other at Willsworthy and there are three established firing ranges at Okehampton, Willsworthy and Merrivale. The area taken up with live firing ranges is 9,187 hectares (22,664 acres) and they are used on average about 120 days each year. To find out the firing times use this link They are used for small arms, mortars and artillery smoke and illuminating shells. The current leases run for many years, with Cramber Tor most recently being granted a further 40-year license.

The time is 7am and I am out on Dartmoor walking with my terrier Murphy and have been for the last half hour. It is the end of June, there is a cold wind blowing and it is raining, welcome to summer. It’s not heavy rain it’s that light stuff that leads you into a false sense of security. You think you can go out without a coat but within a few minutes you are absolutely soaked. The wind is blowing into my back so it’s ok but I know at some stage I have to turn around and walk back to the car. I am walking on a grassed area but I know and I can see that up ahead it turns into bracken. The bracken is nearly fully grown and in some places it is up to, and just above, my waist and I’m 6 foot tall or 180cm in new money. It’s strange that some people, including me, still stick to the imperial measurements. This is not just an age thing because some young people still talk in feet and inches. The decision to go metric in this country, England, was in 1965, 52 years ago, it was announced in Parliament at a time when the prospects of successful entry to the European Economic Community (EEC) were bleak due to General de Gaulle's famous "non" to Britain's membership applications (after all the help we gave them in World War 2)! Since then we joined the EEC and now we are coming out of it, how things change. I wonder if we will go back to imperial, never say never! This subject was brought up in a telephone conversation I had the other day with a nurse. She was trying to diagnose my symptoms, yes over the phone, and I had to tell her my height. I said 180cm and she said “What’s that in English!” so I had to tell her 6 feet. She then said “I don’t understand all this foreign stuff!” She sounded younger than me and this “foreign stuff” has been around for 52 years and I’m 58. How long does it take to change? Most people go to their doctors or their general practitioner (GP) to get a diagnosis but this nurse could do it on the phone by talking not video, maybe it’s the way forward as most people, including their dog, have, and stares at, their mobile phones these days. I digress, back to the bracken. This bracken has covered the ground and is really good cover for ground nesting birds. But what it also means is that it is harder to see wildlife apart from a little movement here and there, a quick glimpse of as they fly across a path and a quick dash of colour seen here and there. Today, due to the weather, I don’t see anything. Even the cows, Dartmoor ponies and sheep are all led down huddled against gorse bushes or behind large boulders of Dartmoor granite. In fact, as I look around me, I am the only nutter walking and moving on this moor! I look down at Murphy, he looks up and I ask him what he wants to do? He jumps up at my pocket, which contains a tennis ball, looks all excited and does not have to say anything as I throw it for him. He brings is back, looks up at me slightly jumping with his feet taping out a beat and I throw it again, he is as mad as I am!

In last month’s blog I spoke about Vixen tor and about possibility of why it was fenced off. Since then I have found this on the internet which has a much more plausible explanation of why it is fenced off.

The Legend of Vixen Tor

Between Princetown and Tavistock stands the largest mass of granite on Dartmoor, which is known as Vixen Tor. A long time ago Vixen Tor was the home of an evil wicked old witch named Vixana. She lived in a cave situated at the foot of the tor.

Vixana hated people and her only pleasure was in making people suffer. She was tall, thin and bent over as if she was walking against a strong wind. She had a large hooked nose, yellowed wrinkled face, no teeth except for two greenish yellow fangs which protruded over her lower lip like those of a wolf, and thin straggly hair which would have been grey had it been washed and combed. Her eyes were yellow and appeared to glow when she was angry or became excited. She always carried a gnarled stick, which she used for walking, knocking the heads off flowers and swiping at the honey bees which came within reach.

Every morning Vixana would climb to the top of the tor and scan the surrounding countryside looking for unwary travellers. If she spotted one she would become excited and her eyes would glow evilly.  When the traveller came to part of the track that skirted the bog which lay at the foot of Vixen Tor, Vixana would call up a thick clinging mist which would envelope the traveller, causing him or her to lose their way and stumble into the bog where they would be sucked, struggling and screaming to their death. When she heard the screaming she would clear the mist back into the bog from whence it came so that she could see and gloat over the last terrified struggles of the unfortunate traveller. The last sound heard by the victim was the evil cackling of the old witch. The path that skirted Vixen Tor soon became known as a dangerous track and wise travellers would take an alternative longer route which wound over the roughest part of the moor.

At the time, on another part of Dartmoor, there lived a handsome your moorman who had wonderful powers. This moorman had two wonderful gifts. The first was the gift of clear sight, the ability to see clearly through the thickest mist or fog, a very useful ability on Dartmoor which is so frequently shrouded in mist. The second gift was a ring which, when placed on his finger, turned him completely invisible. When news of the missing travellers reached the young moorman he decided to investigate and set off along the track to Vixen Tor.

Some days later, the old witch was in her accustomed position at the top of Vixen Tor. She was in an evil temper, muttering to herself and swishing her stick at any insect which came within range. The reason for her temper was that, for weeks now, no one had come along the track and she had been unable to fulfil her evil ambitions. Suddenly she saw the figure of the young moorman in the distance and, cackling to herself in glee, she prepared for his arrival at the fateful bog. The moorman walked steadily and unhurriedly until he came abreast of the bog at which time Vixana called up the mist which completely enveloped the young moorman. The moorman, however, because of his gift of clear sight, was able to stick to the path and proceed normally. Vixana was waiting eagerly for the sound of his despairing cries, her eyes glowing and her bent old figure straining forward. When she saw the moorman appearing unharmed she gave an angry frustrated scream and started to weave another spell. Hearing her scream the young moorman looked up and, at once realising the danger he was in, slipped the ring on his finger and became invisible. Vixana was bewildered; she could see no one against whom she could direct her spell. She moved over to the edge of the tor and strained over, watching impatiently for a sight of her intended victim. Meanwhile the young moorman made his way round to the other side of the tor, crept up and, catching the old witch unawares, pushed her over the edge where she fell screaming to her death on the rocks below.

The people of Dartmoor were so delighted to be rid of the evil old witch that they presented the young man with enough money to buy a farm of his own. He settled down there and eventually married a beautiful young bride from a nearby village. Travellers were always welcome at his farm and when people became lost on Dartmoor, as they so frequently do, the young moorman was always the first to volunteer to search. He and his bride lived happily together for many, many years and performed many good deeds but none which is so well remembered as the destruction of the evil old witch.

So knowing that he was not going to live forever the moorman must have fenced off Vixen Tor to save travellers from the evil witch’s bog! Good job because I quite often walk along that path with Murphy. Only the other day I walked that path and saw two tents right next to the fence at the bottom of the valley. I bet the owners did not know how lucky they were! There are more true stories like this at if you care to look.

Later on during the day I visited another area and walked for about an hour. During this walk there were no sightings or sounds of any Cuckoos, but, being July, they could have left England for their journey back to Africa. During the couple of months they are over here they locate an average of 25 nests, laying an egg in each. Last year 107 Meadow Pipit nests were found in a certain area and only 7 contained an egg from a Cuckoo. Out of that 7 only 2 Cuckoos finally fledged. (According to a report I have just read.) Cuckoo numbers have declined dramatically in the last 30 years but so have Meadow Pipits, their favoured nests to lay their eggs in, in Devon.

Whilst on this walk I looked on the ground and saw what looked like an opal. It was in fact a Green Hairstreak butterfly and it looked absolutely beautiful. The “opal” colour is from the underside of its wings. Its top side is brown with a light coloured spot near to the leading edge. Its wingspan is between 27 and 34mm and its Latin name is Callophrys rubi. It is the most widespread of our hairstreaks. When it settles its wings are always closed and you will only see the brown top sides when it is in flight. As I often walk early in the morning or late in the afternoon / evening I often see a lot of butterflies and because of the times I can get reasonably close. This is one way of me taking my camera, with the appropriate lens, and get wildlife images when I am walking Murphy.

Work has stopped on our Nature Reserve at the moment mainly due to the amount of vegetation, leaves, grass, bushes etc. I have cut down some of the broken oak tree branch that fell in the high winds we had a couple of weeks ago. I say some because I wanted to leave some of the branch hanging to balance the weight of the tree. If I had cut it all then all the weight would have been on the other side. Apart from that I have been moving a lot of stones to the area that I want to build a small stone wall, as a “prop” for photographing birds and hopefully Stoats. Due to the long grass I have not started building it yet but come winter it will be up. Because we, my wife and I, visit our Nature Reserve regularly we are seeing lots of wildlife. We have seen Roe Deer on several occasions; they appear to like the far end of the field, Rabbits and one Hare. I have heard Frogs and Mice / Voles but have not seen them recently. We are inundated with several different types of Butterflies, Moths and numerous insects. From, what I believe was, a Speckled wood, a small Tortoiseshell to a Red admiral. Each time I see a different Butterfly, or a moth, I look it up and find out its name in the book I now carry in the car. This is one way to broaden my knowledge of these beautiful insects. The book is call “Field guide to the Butterflies and other insects of Britain” and it is by the Readers Digest Nature Lovers Library. I’ve had the book since about 1990, but never fully read it. Apart from images of both the top and underside of the butterflies’ wing, it also shows the caterpillars, the chrysalises, the plants it lives on and the type of land area it can be found in. So much information it’s really good. Bird wise; the Buzzards are still there along with the Jays, Ravens, Crows, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robins, Chaffinches, Wrens, Bullfinches, Pied Wagtails, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Blackbirds and lots of LBJs that I have not identified yet. We also still have the Tawny Owl that hit my wife on her head, thankfully no injuries to either. Down by the river we still see Dippers and Grey Wagtails which both have had juveniles this year.

As we approached the gate to our Nature Reserve this morning we saw several Stoats running around playing and hunting on the road. This has confirmed to me that the stone wall “prop” is a must and I will get on with it as soon as I can. As we entered a Roe Deer that was situated in the middle of the grassed area ran off into the wood. I took Murphy for a walk along the road to the moor. I say road but this is Devon and at times I can stand in the middle of the road and nearly touch the hedges on both sides of it. After about a mile and a half the road comes to a gate that leads onto the moor. At times you can’t walk too far in this direction because it ends up very near the Danger area. At the weekends you are fine because there is no firing then. It being early Saturday morning I was the only person there.

If you are one of my friends on Facebook you will know that during the last few weeks I have been struggling with my broadband and telephone line. This all happened a few weeks ago when we in Devon had well over a thousand lightning strikes in one night. and the phone lines went down in most of the village. Before this happened I used to get 2mbps broadband speed. For the last few weeks my broadband was either not working or I had 0.6mbps. BT were called out on several occasions, the last time this week and finally I have a broadband speed of 2.8mbps YEE HA! The last BT engineer stated that the government wants everybody in the country to get at least 10mbps, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Dartmoor seems to be alive with Stoats and Weasels at the moment. Everywhere I seemed to go this week I have seen them running along the road or crossing the road just in front of me, it is great to see as I love these little animals. I know they kill birds but that is nature, they are doing it to live and they are not doing it for fun, like humans do!

At work, I was in the same area that I saw Stoats last year as written in my blog ( ) for info. This time as I was teaching I saw a Peregrine falcon chasing a Skylark. On this occasion the Skylark got the better of the Peregrine and it got away. The Peregrine then settled on top of a lamp post, which was about 30 metres away giving us a good view of him. This area I teach on is not far from the Cornwall coast with its rugged cliffs so it is perfect Peregrine habitat. The cliffs being quite high gives the Peregrine a great lookout spot and they allow it to dive on its unsuspecting prey at up to 220 miles an hour. As Chris Packham would say “WHAT A BIRD”.

On Friday I walked out of the door at 5am to be greeted by a male Sparrowhawk that was sat on one of my feeders. It looked at me as if to say “well, where are the birds?” I stood watching it a while, mesmerised by its orange / yellow eyes, and it did not seem too bothered with my presence. It then looked down and saw Murphy, didn’t like what he saw, and so flew off. They are stunning birds, again I know they kill the little birds but that is why the little birds have such big broods and it is nature.

Sparrowhawk with KillSparrowhawk with Kill

Those of you who regularly read my blog will notice that I haven’t mentioned taking any images this month. In July and August I don’t take many images of birds because of the light and the amount of people that frequent Dartmoor at this time of year, but this year I have another reason. Last month I tripped over and as I did so I knocked my tripod which had my camera, converter and lens setup on it. I looked, and in slow motion, it crashed to the ground with my camera taking the brunt of the collision. Thank goodness it was insured. It is all with Canon at the moment and I will get it back near the end of the month once it has been repaired. Even though I do not have a camera at the moment I am using the time wisely. I am visiting different areas of Dartmoor gaining valuable information about them so that I can come back later and photograph the wildlife there.

Throughout our lives we have to make decisions some good and some not so. The other evening I was walking along a leat with Murphy. The leat was on my right and on my left was a wood. The land dropped away quite sharply from the path next to the leat. In fact the slope is so sharp that after only a few metres I am looking into the top third of the trees. After about half an hour I came to a gate and I was going to turn around and walk back but about 50 metres the other side of the gate was a small stone bridge. In fact the “bridge” was a large granite slab over the leat. I decided to carry on walking and I would examine the slab and turn around there. I’m glad I made this decision because on my way to the slab I saw a Tawny Owl sat on one of the bigger branches near the top of an oak tree. It was a large oak tree but the branch was at eye level to me due to the slope. After a few seconds it noticed I was there and it flew off silently further into the wood. What a great experience and decision.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) brexit british army canon chris packham cornwall cramber tor danger area dartmoor dartmoor danger area dartmoor granite dartmoor ponies dartmoor walking devon eec european economic community facebook garden birds general de gaulle juvenile birds lighting storm live firing ranges merrivale military military training nature reserve nhs okehampton readers digest red flag redstart royal air force royal marines royal navy training camp vixen tor walking on dartmoor willsworthy world war 2 Sat, 15 Jul 2017 12:28:59 GMT
The Peter Tavy Inn, Redstarts, Cuckoos, watching wildlife with Bill Oddie and Lundy Island Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor, Devon.

I am sitting on a pile of stones, which used to be part of the wall I am leaning against, waiting. All around me is a carpet of bluebells, most of which are being visited by some sort of flying insect from bees to butterflies. In the valley in front of me lies the beautiful Devonshire village of Peter Tavy. From where I am sitting I can see the medieval church tower and behind it the excellent 15th century Peter Tavy Inn ( ) with its great ales and fantastic food that everybody, including me, raves about. I’ve been sitting her for nearly three hours, my bum has gone to sleep, I have been bitten by ants from a nest not far from me, the sun is shining brightly and the wall is shielding me from the strong breeze. Thinking about the inn is making me hungry and thirsty. If ever you visit this great area of Dartmoor in Devon make sure you visit this Inn for its great hospitality, a drink and a meal, you will not be disappointed. When we first moved here three years ago everyone we spoke to, from the estate agent to work colleagues that live in Devon and Cornwall, mentioned how good the Inn is. We and our Acorn Lodge B&B ( ) guests have visited it several times, because we informed them, and have never been disappointed, but I digress. I am waiting for a visit from either a Redstart or a Cuckoo both of which I have seen a few times in this area recently. Within a few minutes of me sitting down a Black Redstart, early this year as everything is, flew past followed a few minutes later by the common Redstart but since then, nothing. I say nothing but there are several birds flying this way and that but not the ones I want to photograph. Swallows are quartering the field flying a few inches above the bluebells catching insects. Robins, Wrens and Blackbirds are singing in the trees and bushes to my left. Then it goes quiet and this silence is broken by the laughter of a Green Woodpecker flying from one tree to another. I then notice a Cuckoo landing in a tree a distance behind the one I want it to land in. I don’t move but take some photos, they are only “record shots” to prove to the wife that I have seen one. In the next couple of hours the Cuckoo lands in every tree except the one I want! Never mind I enjoy watching and listening to it, an image would be the icing on the cake. This seems like a good spot so I will be back, for now though its home for tea, maybe we will go to the Peter Tavy Inn this evening.

After tea I decide to take Murphy out for a walk in an area I have just started visiting. During this walk I saw three Cuckoos and heard another in the distance. Two of them started chasing each other and flew close to and directly over my head giving me a spectacular view of them, where’s my camera? At home! When they are diving around like this with their wings swept back you can easily mistake them for Sparrowhawks.

In the morning I returned to where I had seen the three Cuckoos and just as I drove into the car park there was a Cuckoo sitting on a mound of earth not three metres away from me! Before I could even get to my camera it flew off. I saw it land in a tree quite some distance away and start calling. So with my camera in one hand and Murphy in the other I set off after it. The distance was about four to five hundred metres away and all up hill. As I was getting close to “photographing distance” it took off and flew all the way back to the car park. I was not going to play its game, as I don’t chase wildlife, so I just carried on with my walk. On the top of the hill there are a few gorse bushes, in full bloom and quite a few big rocks of granite. Have you ever noticed that when the gorse bush is in full bloom it smells a lot like coconut. My wife loves the smell but it’s not for me. I sat on one of the rocks to admire the view which was Vixen tor in the valley and Merrivale behind it. Vixen tor is one of the odd Tors on Dartmoor because it is in a valley rather than on top of a hill. It is a hard place to photograph because it does not stand out as there are hills all around it and its usually in shade. If Dartmoor had a lot of snow it might be a different matter. You cannot get close to it because it is fenced in. I was informed that it was fenced by the land owner to keep people out because people used to climb up it. The land owner was told that if they fell off then she would be liable so she fenced it in. I don’t know if this is true but in this day and age where nobody accepts responsibility for their own actions, in other words it’s everybody else that is wrong, it could well be. On another note along the same lines I was informed that a person I used to know tripped on a tree root whilst walking along a lane on a well known RSPB site. He is now thinking of suing the RSPB, REALLY! The countryside is not smooth and flat, just look where you’re going. Whilst sitting on the rock, putting the world to rights, a female Wheatear flew into my view. I sat still, slowly bringing my camera to my eye and waited till it came closer, which it did, before I took a few shots. I had to underexpose slightly because the sun was shining on her. The female is buff coloured, not as pretty as the male but still pretty. After it decided to fly off to another area I looked down at Murphy who was looking up at me giving me the “How much longer are we going to sit here?” look, so I got up and carried on our walk. Apart from one distant Buzzard, a few Meadow Pipits and a couple of Crows I did not see any other birds so I started my journey back to the car. On this particular walk there are several patches of bluebells and violets carpeting the floor. They will not be around for long as the bracken has started to push through and that covers the floor when it is in full bloom.


On my way back to my car the light was fantastic and I was itching to find something to photograph. If I were a Landscape photographer instead of a wildlife photographer I would have been in heaven. I know I do take some Landscapes from time to time but what I mean is that I was carrying around a 500mm lens and not a small telephoto or wide-angle lens. No I am not going to start taking other lenses and filters with me, my camera, lens, converter, spare battery, monopod and gimbal head is enough weight for me to carry. There were images everywhere except wildlife ones, the light was so good I would have even taken an image of a Pigeon!

On my way to work the other day I saw a baby Hare, known as a leveret, near the area I had tried to photograph two Hares a couple of months ago. I stopped the car and it ran off the road and onto the moor. I thought, well that’s one more Hare for me to try and photograph. The next day there was something dead on the road and by viewing its back leg I believe it was the Leveret. My hopes for a photograph were very short lived.

The next weekend I was back after the Redstarts. Through an image I had seen by a Facebook friend, Andy Brown ( ) I located the nest in a telegraph pole. According to all my books these birds are supposed to frequent woodland habitat. There are a couple of trees and bushes in the area but I would not have called its location woodland. It was 6am and I settled down with the sunrise behind me. Both the female and the male Redstarts were visible within minutes but as the area was still in shade I just watched and let them get used to my presence. As soon as the sunlight lit up the area I started taking images. I had to underexpose the image, by about a third of a stop on occasions, because of their white forehead. The colours of these birds, especially the male, were stunning. They were coming and going from their nest to areas surrounding me catching all sorts of food for their young, from spiders, caterpillars to flies and other insects. The average time away from their nest catching food was about a minute for the male and about two minutes for the female. One thing I did notice was that it appeared to be only the male that did the house cleaning (taking out the poo sacs). At one stage he took out three sacs within a few seconds of each other which gave a big hint that there were at least three young in the nest. As the Redstarts were so obliging I made the most of it and I took lots of images, some with food in their beaks and some without, some portraits and some landscapes, some front lit and some side lit, some on rocks, some on grass, some on ferns, some on moss, some at the nest and some away from it. I even took close-up shots when they were nearly filling the screen. The Redstarts were so obliging I had to keep challenging myself to come up with new image ideas. The hardest were flight shots as it was so windy it was blowing them everywhere. I only had my monopod so I could not do my usual trick, locking the camera in a position and using a cable release. Just before 08:45am I ran out of memory having filled two cards with images which equated to over seven hundred images. It sounds like a lot but after sifting through them I expect to keep just a handful. Thank goodness for digital as I could never afford to do that with film. I stayed for about another two hours just watching and learning their movements. I noticed that the male would land on two favourite perches, wait there a while, and then fly on to the nest, whereas the female would fly straight to the nest. Upon exiting the nest the male would fly off but the female would fly up to the telephone wire and stay there for a while before flying off. The male flew to the nest with ease but the female seemed to struggle flying due to the wind.


Redstarts 1Redstarts 1Change over

I know I have said it before but I love watching nature. I have just started reading a book titled “How to Watch Wildlife” by Bill Oddie. I have had it a while but never got around to reading it until now. It starts off by asking “Why watch wildlife?” It then gives a few answers and finally it gives his answer. The answers given are “Because it is: enjoyable, relaxing, therapeutic, calming, exciting, challenging, fascinating, mystifying, satisfying, solitary, sociable, amusing, dramatic, important…”. You might agree with all of them, which I do, but some might wonder about “important” and Mr Oddie goes on to explain. He states that there are lots of things in our lives that are important like: music, drama, sport, entertainment, comedy (he would wouldn’t he), love, kindness, understanding, beauty and peace because they enrich our lives and make them more enjoyable. What he doesn’t say is if people didn’t watch wildlife they would not find out things about our planet and certain technologies would not exist, planes flying for instance by examining birds in flight and the cone on the front of jet engines comes from studying Peregrine falcons. They have a cone in their nostrils to affect airflow and not damage their eyes. Jet engines need it to stop air pockets forming in front of the engine and stalling it. The other thing he doesn’t mention is that by watching wildlife it helps improve your wildlife photography. It does this because by watching wildlife you gain information: where they prefer to stand or sit, where they eat, where they meet, what they eat, how they scratch etc. and this all helps you to anticipate any action, that is about to happen, for you to photograph. Along with watching wildlife you should always listen. You could learn more by your ears than by your sight. Whenever I go out with my camera I always start off by listening to what is about. I listen to birds singing, for example, and if I hear a new song I try and investigate and get an image of the bird singing it. On the moor I always see a lot of birds but if I did not rely on my hearing, then I would be chasing every bird I see, mostly Chaffinches and Meadow Pipits.

On Sunday I finally got my chance to go to the Island of Lundy, an island 12 miles off the coast of Devon in the Bristol channel and owned by The National Trust. My two other attempts were scuppered, first by the weather and the second time due to my wife being ill. The trip was being organised by Devon Birds which I am a member of. We started boarding the ship at 08:00hrs at Bideford which meant leaving Peter Tavy at 06:00hrs. The crossing over was quite rough due to the strong wind and I’m surprised I kept my bacon butty down. Yes, OK, I had a bacon butty! As soon as I stepped onboard and went inside the cooking of bacon hit my nose and I could not resist it. For any meat eaters out there is there any greater smell than bacon cooking? When we arrived on Lundy, at 10:00hrs, we could have stayed on the boat as it was going to go around the island, for about an hour, to see what wildlife was about but my wife and I had had enough of sea travel. The sun was shining, there was not a cloud in the sky but it was windy. I was hoping that some clouds would turn up as I do not like taking images in bright sunshine as they turn out to be too contrasty but this never happened and my images suffered. Lundy is not a big island, 5km is the maximum length and covers just over 1000 acres. Most of the houses, including a lighthouse, are rented out but you have to book a couple of years in advance due to its popularity. Reading a few leaflets on the boat warned us of “biting horses and attacks by gulls” so do not feed them, “falling rocks” so keep a look up “and “cliff edges giving way” so keep back! After talking to a local it appeared that the falling rocks hitting people and people falling off cliff edges were mainly at night due to there being no light as the electric is turned off! For me Lundy is all about walking and looking for wildlife. Apart from the normal birds they tend to get rarities here but they also have a small herd of Sika deer on the island. Within minutes of walking up to the residential area we were being buzzed by Starlings and House Martins. Without looking too hard I located a Starling nest in one of the white painted stone walls. I took a few images of them feeding the young but dark coloured bird against a white wall with the sun shining on it! I was not hoping for too much and when reviewing the images later I was not disappointed, they were rubbish. I later found a Starling, beak full of food, on farm implements and the images I took were a little bit better but not much as they did not show the true beauty of these birds. The next bit of “wildlife” was the horses which were surrounding a small pond. Fresh water is always a good place for wildlife to gather, especially on an island. I sat down, to lower myself, and waited for some wildlife to appear which did not take long. Pairs of Linnets arrived at the pond and the males would bathe whilst the females watched! When the male finished they would fly off and another pair would fly in. I clicked away for about half an hour before moving off. We then walked over to the other side of the island to see the Puffins. Although I can say we “saw” the Puffins they were so far away you needed a scope to see them clearly. Speaking to other people they informed us that this was the only place to see them on the island, very disappointing. I was hoping it was going to be like Shetland, with Puffins around your feet, but far from it. Moving on I spotted a male Wheatear on some rocks and moved slowly towards lowering myself the closer I got. I love these little birds with their “bandit masks” faces. I had to overexpose the images because of the white rocks to get a reasonable exposure of the Wheatear. On the way back I spotted a juvenile Starling being fed on the ground. It was next to a footpath but the field had cows in it. Now I’m not scared of cows but when I’m lying on the ground engrossed in taking images they always get closer to have a better look at what I am doing and there are lots of reports of people being trampled. I took a few images but I could not concentrate properly as the cows were very close. My wife tried to scare them off by waving her hands in the air but that did not work, they just started jumping around and with that we moved off. We then went and sat in a field which sloped down to the sea. The sun was behind us and there were Linnets and House Martins flying around us. I was hoping they would settle in front of us so I could get at least one decent image, a Linnet did just this. At 16:00hrs we returned to the ship for our return journey. On the way back we had a really good view of a Peregrine falcon perched on the cliff face near the jetty. The downside of it was that it was in shadow so I didn’t bother taking an image. On the whole I was disappointed with the day’s photography results mainly due to the bright sunshine. It has not put me off coming back to the island again because there are wildlife photographic opportunities there if the weather and light is right. I found Shetland and Mull better but I was there for more than one day. This might mean a few days stay on the island to capture the opportunity when it presents itself.

Starling with foodStarling with foodStarling with food


My wife’s cousin, Julie, and her husband, Mick, were staying in our B&B, Acorn Lodge, and as they are interested in wildlife photography I took them for an evening session with the Redstarts. I observed the area from a safe distance and when the Redstarts flew away from the nest we all moved in and lay down quietly. I informed them of the camera settings and then we waited for the Redstarts to return. A few minutes later they returned and they started clicking away. After a while we all witnessed a wonderful sight. One of the juveniles was perched at the entrance of the nest. It looked very much like a juvenile Robin all brown and speckled with the usual yellow bill. A few seconds later we were all distracted by a close visit of a male Wheatear which we all took images of. While we were distracted the juvenile Redstart must have jumped out of the nest as it was walking / hoping / flying along the ground. Whilst it did this it flicked its tail and you could tell it was a Redstart by the red colour underneath its tail. The parents were there in a flash trying to entice it, using food, over the road and into the crevices of a dry stone wall. They would fly up to the juvenile with a beak full of food, pretend to try and feed it and then fly off in the direction they wanted the juvenile to go.  After a few scary moments crossing the road they succeeded in achieving their aim. It was at this point that Andy, who had been watching this pair of Redstarts for the past two weeks, joined us. About fifteen minutes later we had to leave the Redstarts to Andy as we had booked a meal in the inn, lovely jubbly.

The next day I took them to another part of the moor to photograph Willow Warblers and Stonechats. On arrival I heard Willow Warblers singing away to my right, the usual spot, so I made my way towards them. As the sun was shining quite brightly I informed them that they will need to underexpose their images by about one to two thirds of a stop so as not to blow the highlights on the Willow Warblers chest. Once we got into position it was not long before they were both clicking away getting images of Willow Warblers with their beaks full of grubs. It was obvious where the nest was but we did not get close to this because we did not want the birds to desert it. Before the sun got too high we packed up and because Julie wanted an image of a Dipper I took them down to my favourite Dipper location. When we got there the Dippers were not to be seen. We stayed for a few minutes and just before we were about to leave one turned up and Julie got the image she wanted. Both Julie and Mick came away from this short break in our Acorn Lodge B&B with some very good images. Mick had a stunning image of the male Redstart feeding the juvenile at the nest hole, an image I missed because I was catching up with them, but I’m not bitter. I’m just glad they enjoyed themselves and, with my help, got some good images. Just a reminder that I do take Wildlife Photography workshops on Dartmoor and Exmoor if you are, or if you know anyone that is, interested. For more information please click on the workshops tab on this website.

Willow WarblerWillow WarblerWillow warbler

During the last week this area of Dartmoor seems to be inundated with Stoats and Weasels. My wife has seen a couple near our nature reserve and I have seen several crossing in front of me either when I’m in my car or when I have been walking Murphy. In fact if Murphy had not been distracted by smelling some leaves he could well have caught a Stoat as one decided to cross only a couple of feet, sixty centimetres, in front of him. By the time he reacted he only just missed its tail as it dived into cover. This has given me an idea for our nature reserve. I want to setup two hides on the reserve and I’m thinking of building a small dry stone wall as a setting for one. If a Weasel or Stoat wants to frequent one then I will be more than happy to take its photograph. I will have to find out more information about this to see if it is feasible.




(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Acorn Lodge B&B Bill Oddie Cuckoo Cuckoos Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon Devon Devon Birds Devonshire Devonshire village Facebook How to Watch Wildlife Landscape photographer Landscapes Lundy Lundy Island Mull National Trust Peter Tavy Peter Tavy Inn RSPB Redstarts Shetland The National Trust Vixen tor Wildlife Photographer Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor watching nature watching wildlife wildlife wildlife photography Sun, 18 Jun 2017 17:32:05 GMT
Dippers in Devon, Heart stopping moment and Wildlife rich Scotland in the Cairngorms Greetings from Dartmoor in Devon 

I am a bit miffed at the moment because the other day I missed what would have been a really good shot. I was out on Dartmoor with Murphy and my camera and I could hear a Chaffinch singing away quite close to me. I stopped, turned around and there he was sitting on top of a gorse bush in great light. I quietly called Murphy who was on his lead, because of the sheep and lambs, to me. I set my camera up to take a photo of the Chaffinch when I noticed a female Chaffinch about half a metre to the male’s right. It too was in great light and had better background so I focused on her. I did not take a photo as she was looking head on to me. I then had a premonition that something was going to happen. It’s funny these moments in life that you know what is going to happen. People call it a sixth sense and I just wish I could have more of them. Years ago I was with my mate walking to college (shows how long ago that was). It was a sunny day and we had to walk past this high wall that was shading us from the sun. I said to him “I bet the other side of the wall would be a great sun trap, great for sunbathing. You could even take all your clothes off because nobody would see you”. We stopped and jumped up, as the wall was about 8 foot high, and peered over. We immediately dropped back down again because there were two persons sunbathing on the other side. The downside was that they were two elderly men and they were both naked! Not a pretty sight and I was scarred for life, but I digress. As the male was so close and it is mating time I hoped the male would come to her (females never go to males do they!). Whilst I waited for something to happen Murphy had started to wander and pull on the lead. How come no matter what length of lead you buy it is always a metre too short! As I pulled Murphy back it happened. The male flew towards the female hovered just above her, (the decisive moment); I thought they would mate, but the female was playing hard to get and flew off. I did not take any photos because I was pulling Murphy back. They say “Never work with animals or children”. I don’t have any children but I totally agree with the first. To be honest Murphy is usually quite good and this is the first time I had a problem with him. I can still imagine the image; both birds were looking at me head on with the female on the branch and the male hovering just above her. Both birds would have been in focus, as I had set a good depth of field, with the males wings would have been slightly blurred. C’est la vie.

In my last blog ( I informed you of a Devon Wildlife Trust site I have visited for the last three years. Each time I took Murphy I saw Dippers and each time I just took my camera I saw nothing. On my last visit I spotted something that, I hope, would change my luck. The chance sighting I had spotted was two Dippers collecting food and taking it to their nest site. Their nest site was not the usual “hole under a bridge” but it was situated in a large tree overhanging the river. So the next day I went there with my camera, set myself up and waited. I was sat between two trees and a large bush behind me. My monopod was in the river as were my wellington covered feet. I was wearing camouflaged clothing to suit the area. I must admit if you do not have the patience to do a lot of waiting then real wildlife photography is not for you. But on this occasion the wait was only about 5 minutes. One of the Dippers appeared with food, settled on the rock, which was just protruding out of the water, looked around and then flew up to the nest. Spent less than 5 seconds in the nest and flew back out again to land on the same rock before flying off down river to collect more food. I did not take any shots because I wanted to gather more information about what they do and not scare the birds away. Gathering this information can be risky, photography wise, because the bird might not return and you don’t get any photos but with this valuable information you can see where they land, their favourite perches, the direction they like to enter the nest, their exit etc. Therefore you can adjust your camera’s position to get a better image. I let this happen several times before satisfying myself that a better position would be slightly further to my left. So I waited for the Dippers to fly off and then moved. This position gave me a better background and lighting of the birds. It was in between another two trees, closer this time, but the bush behind me was a bit smaller. I stuck my monopod in between some rocks in the river, dangled my legs in the water and waited. Again I did not have to wait long before the Dippers returned and I started taking images. The light was not great and I had to overexpose my images due to the glare on the water. With the settings set at f5.6 and ISO of 2000 I could only get 250th sec shutter speed. I was hoping it would brighten up later so that I could try some flight shots. I must admit I do not like taking flight shots using a monopod as it “wobbles” about too much, I prefer using hand held or my tripod. Throughout the early part of the morning the birds kept returning to their nest with a good supply of food nearly every 2 to 3 minutes. After I’d filled a memory card up I stopped just to take in the glorious sound and view. During this lull the birds kept returning but I was looking for something different. A Red-Breasted Merganser flew by and landed on a rock further down the river. After I had been there for about three hours I decided to pack up as my bum and legs were going to sleep due to sitting on one of the tree roots and the light was getting worse. Before I moved I saw a female Sparrowhawk flying down the river about thirty centimetres above the waterline. I just hoped that Dippers were not on her menu.


I returned to the same position the next day because the light was slightly better, I was now getting 640th sec with ISO 2000. Once again I had brought my monopod so flight shots were going to be dodgy and in fact they turned out to be just so. I would not remember today for photographing Dippers though, it would be for something totally different and unexpected. Whilst sat watching the Dipper I heard, quite close to me, the high pitched call of a Kingfisher. I slowly turned my head to the left and saw it perched on a branch not three metres away from me. Too close for me to photograph I just looked at this magnificent bird. After a few seconds I caught a glimpse of another bird out of the corner of my eye. The Kingfisher screamed and flew further into the trees and bushes on the riverbank. It then screamed a couple more times and flew directly at me. As I sat still the Kingfisher flew between me and my monopod, which I was still holding, under my arm, its wings brushing the sleeve of my jacket and over to the other side of the river. My heart was in my mouth as I have never been that close to a live Kingfisher. Thinking about it the other bird might have been the female Sparrowhawk I had seen yesterday. I have asked a couple of friends, both great Kingfisher photographers, and they both agree that Sparrowhawk’s regularly take Kingfishers. What an experience for me and one that I doubt will ever be repeated. Can you ever beat real wildlife photography?

Well I have just returned from my wildlife photography visit to Scotland and had a great time. Even though it was five days and four nights but due to the flight times it turned out to be only three days. During these three days we had snow, rain and bright sunshine. This time I did not visit the Isle of Mull but I went and stayed in the Grant Arms Hotel ( ) in Grantown-on-Spey near Inverness in the Cairngorms National Park. I have wanted to stay and visit this hotel for ages because it was supposed to be really good for wildlife enthusiasts, whether watching or photographing. I looked it up on several sites on the internet and most people gave it a reasonable review apart from one person who complained that there were too many “wildlife type people there”! The hotel has several wildlife breaks with celebrity presenters like Iolo Williams and Nick Baker. It runs talks with guest speakers, walks and other wildlife events including the red deer rut. The Bird Watching & Wildlife club BWWC ( ) run the above events from this hotel. They have an extensive library, DVD collection, a notice board with what’s been seen and where, leaflets with walks / areas to visit to see wildlife and even a small book shop. I decided on a four night stay rather than seven nights because I wanted to trial it, bad choice. I also decided to go for a standard room, rather than a superior room, because I wanted a room at the rear of the hotel away from the main road and traffic noise, I needn’t have worried as there was hardly any traffic. Although the hotel states that it “has been recently refurbished and upgraded to offer modern comforts whilst retaining a traditional character”, I found the room I was in to be a bit dated and surprised that there was no clock/alarm. Having said that they had all the amenities I required. All the staff at the hotel were very helpful even though the hotel was fully booked. Finally the food, this was outstanding from a massive breakfast, if you wanted it all, to a fantastic choice for the superbly cooked three course dinner with coffee served in the lounge. All in all this is a fantastic place to stay for “wildlife types” and if you do stay, then stay for at least a week as there is so much to see and do, I can guarantee you’ll want to come back, I certainly do.

One of the main reasons of going there was to get images of Crested tits and Red Squirrels. A couple of days before I went I found out that winter is the best season to see Crested tits as they come down to feeders. The rest of the year they are up in the trees nesting and rearing young. I should have done more research but never mind there was still more wildlife on my list.

On the first day I went to RSPB Loch Garten to see the Ospreys. On my way there I drove through a place called Nethy Bridge. Just as I was driving over the bridge I noticed a flock of Siskins, about 30, flying into a garden next to the bridge. So I parked up and took some images.


When I finally got to RSPB Loch Garten I got out of the car and noticed some birds on the feeders in the car park. I viewed the feeders through my binoculars and the birds were…….. Crested tits! It had snowed a lot the day before my holiday and so the birds returned to the feeders for food. I did not take any photos because I do not like feeders in my images but seeing a Crested tit for the first time was a great experience. There was also a Red Squirrel on another feeder, good viewing but again no images. I set off into the reserve at my usual wildlife watching walking pace, two steps forward stop one pace back, and after a couple of minutes I noticed a Wren with a beak full of moss. I watched it fly down to the bottom of a tree and enter a hole under its roots. After it came out I set up my camera and waited for its return. This is one of the images I took.


After visiting the Osprey centre I went for a walk in an area, about a quarter of a mile away from RSPB Loch Garten, called Loch Mallachie. It was a circular route from the car park to the loch. On my way round I could hear Crossbills but could not see them. What I did view were several Treecreepers.


Near the edge of the loch I spotted a Common Sandpiper.

Common SandpiperCommon SandpiperCommon Sandpiper

Whilst photographing the Common Sandpiper the Crossbills were in the top of the trees above me. I took some images but with a grey sky background and looking up to them they were just record shots.


Whilst photographing the Crossbills two Crested tits flew past, why does it all happen at once.

After lunch I drove on to a place called Avielochan, just north of Aviemore, where a Slavonian Grebe had been seen. There is a hide here that is owned by the BWWC and guests staying in the Grant Arms Hotel can use it. You have to get a pass from reception which I did. To the left of the hide there were some feeders with Siskins, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Coal tits on them. I saw the Slavonian Grebe, a dot on the horizon, but it never came close enough to photograph. Whilst I was looking at the Slavonian Grebe there was a big commotion around the feeders. A Sparrowhawk had flown in, caught a Coal tit, and had settled under one of the bushes. I managed to get a couple of images but not good ones. The image below was taken handheld, leaning sideways out of a window and I had to use manual focus, very awkward.  After a few minutes it flew off and all was quiet. A couple of minutes later a single Coal tit came back and kept calling out, I really felt for that little bird but that is nature.


The second day, which was nice and sunny, I went to a place called the Findhorn valley which is just outside the Cairngorms National Park. I must have seen over 250 Red deer as I drove to the car park at the end of the valley. I also saw Wild Goats, Oystercatchers, Dippers, Grey Wagtails, Pied Wagtails, Lapwings, Buzzards, Kestrels and, the best of all, a Golden Eagle. In the afternoon and as it started to rain I decided to drive to a place called Lochindorb which is an estate which again is just outside the Cairngorms National Park. I was hoping to see if I could get any images of Red Grouse. Once I had got to the single track road I drove really slowly, so slowly you could overtake me by walking. The reason for this is that I was trying to spot a speckled brown bird in a speckled brown area whilst driving, not good. The reason I was staying in the car was because of the rain and snow. It was coming down so hard and being blown all over the place I did not want to ruin my camera equipment. In the end it was so hard my windscreen wipers could not cope so I had to park up. Finally it relented a bit so I carried on. Once I had got my eye in I spotted several birds and took several images from the comfort of my car. I stayed in the car because when I opened the door the birds would either run or fly away. It was nothing to do with the cold and rain, honest. I love the image below because of the atmosphere the rain and cold give it.

Red GrouseRed GrouseRed Grouse

The morning of the third day it was slightly raining so I dressed appropriately, it’s never bad weather just wrong clothing, and went for a walk along the river Spey at the rear of the hotel. Straight away I spotted a Dipper on a tree trunk. I watched it for a while from a distance. It would fly off down or up river but return to this tree trunk every now and then. When it flew away I moved in close, placed my mat and pad, and waited for its return. I did not have to worry about the light as this part of the river was quite open unlike the rivers down on Dartmoor in Devon. When the Dipper returned I could be fussy about the types of images I would take. I waited till it was doing something and then take the image.


At one time it flew off and a Common Sandpiper took its place. When that flew away a Grey Wagtail took its place. It was a very good spot. After a while I carried on with my walk but had no other photo opportunities. After the walk I drove to RSPB Loch Ruthven which is supposed to be the best place to see Slavonian Grebes. Just outside the entrance there were three Roe Deer which have such pretty faces. As soon as I got close with the car they disappeared into a wood. There is a hide there but as usual with RSPB hides it was no good for photography. I managed to see a few Slavonian Grebes, much closer than yesterday, and a Red-throated Diver. I also saw some Willow Warblers but they would not stay still for me to photograph and after twenty minutes I gave up, not very long I know but I was also being eaten alive by the midges. I then drove back to Lochindorb as the rain had stopped and I wanted images of Red Grouse that were dry! I did get a few but I feel that the rain and wet birds give the images a better atmosphere. Later I drove back to the car park at the end of the Findhorn valley. On the way there I saw no Red deer at all but I did see a Buzzard attacking a Golden Eagle and a Kestrel attacking a Buzzard. Good views but not close enough to photograph. When I finally reached the car park I spent a little while looking for Mountain Hares, a brown and white thing in a brown and white area! If it sat still you would think it was a rock. The sun was shining really brightly now and it was very warm. After two and a half days of driving and walking I was getting a bit jaded (that’s what I’m blaming and not old age!) and I wanted forty winks, a power nap, you call it what you want. The car park was empty so I put the seat back and closed my eyes. After less than ten minutes I woke up looking into the face of the Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams. He was grinning away as he greeted me with a hello. The rest of his 12 strong party turned up in another minibus. With peace and quiet gone I continued with my scanning for a Mountain Hare. One of the party spotted a Hare as it was running from left to right. I viewed it but as soon as it stopped it turned into a rock! Iolo spotted a male Merlin which was some distance off. He had a scope and I had 8x binoculars so all I could see was a dot. I spoke to a few of his party, who were staying in the Grant Arms hotel, and they wanted to see a Golden Eagle. I informed them that I had seen one being attacked by a Buzzard further down the valley and informed Iolo of the exact position. After a while I started my slow drive back down the valley. I again encountered the Wild Goats and spotted about 100 Red Deer at the bottom of the valley. I parked up, got out to have a better look and immediately spotted a Peregrine falcon dive bombing and attacking a Lapwing. This was then joined by a second, slightly smaller so most probably the female, Peregrine. They would take it in turns to dive bomb the bird which was doing a grand job of dodging their attacks. When the rain started to fall again the Peregrines gave up and headed for shelter on the mountainside, what an experience to end the day. Back at the hotel I was going to tell Iolo about the Peregrines but he “trumped” me by having a Capercaillie come within a couple of metres from their minibus.

Three days was definitely not long enough. Scotland is a great place for wildlife and the Grant Arms hotel is a great base for your holiday. I will certainly go back but for a longer time. Get rid of the midges and I might be tempted to go there in the summer time.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Bird Watching & Wildlife club Buzzards Cairngorms National Park Chaffinch Coal tits Common Sandpiper Crested tits Crossbills Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon Devon Devon Wildlife Trust Dipper Findhorn valley Golden Eagle Goldfinches Grant Arms Hotel Grantown-on-Spey Grey Wagtails Inverness Iolo Williams Kestrels Kingfisher Lapwings Lochindorb Merlin Mountain Hares Nick Baker Ospreys Oystercatchers Peregrine Pied Wagtails RSPB RSPB Loch Garten RSPB Loch Ruthven Red Grouse Red Squirrels Red deer Red-Breasted Merganser Red-throated Diver Roe Deer Scotland Sisking Slavonian Grebe Sparrowhawk Treecreepers Wild Goats Wren photography sixth sense wildlife wildlife breaks wildlife photography Mon, 08 May 2017 15:39:17 GMT
Problems photographing Brown Hares, white bums, weather forecasters, and killing things Greetings from Dartmoor

Woke up at 6am this morning 12th March 2017, looked out the window and the weather was doing what it has been doing for the past week, it was raining. I still decided to get up anyway just in case it stopped, you never know. I wanted to get out with my camera today because, whilst taking Murphy on his last walk of the day, I saw two big hares. They are known as brown hares and their Latin name is Lepus europaeus. When I used to live near Andover in Hampshire, many years ago, there were hares everywhere but I did not have the camera equipment I do now. Now I do have very good equipment hares are like the hairs on my head, non-existent especially on the part of Dartmoor I frequent. So you can tell how excited I was when I had seen two. At 7am it was still drizzling but I thought so what, got my gear together and went out. I went to the area I had seen them, checked the wind direction and it was in my face, perfect. I collected my things and looked around the area with my binoculars, no hares. I started my very slow walk stopping every few steps to scout around with my bins. After only a few minutes I spotted an ear sticking up in the air and I immediately dropped slowly to the floor. I don’t know how I spotted the ear, pure luck probably, because it was some way off and there were dead bracken stems, grass and rocks everywhere. I could not see the body of the hare which was in a hollow in the ground, just the one ear which now was slowly being lowered. Hares shelter in a shallow depression in the ground, which is known as a form. I started the process, on my hands and knees, of getting closer to it. The ground was soaking wet but at least the rain had stopped. Every couple of metres I stopped and looked in the direction of the location of the hare which was now hidden in the form. March is supposed to be a great month for seeing hares because early spring is their breeding season and you can see them chasing each other in circles, fighting and “boxing”. Because they are rarely seen during the rest of the year and they carry out this activity in the open in March, people called them “the mad March hare”, although I have seen this activity in February, April and in May. The males chase the females and the females “box” to keep them off. In the end she will pick the fittest one to mate with. This used to be great to watch but as there are so few nowadays the females do not have much choice and pick the only male in the area. Half an hour had past and I was only half way towards where I wanted to be. All I was carrying was my camera with my 500mm lens attached and my binoculars but I felt so unwieldy that it was a bit of a struggle, because I did not want to damage either or make any noise. My movement through the bracken stems was making quite a bit of noise, due to them cracking, so I slowed down even more. The sun started to break through behind me creating some great light, with a big smile on my face I plodded on. Another fifteen minutes went by and as I slowly peered towards the hare I heard a woman shout “Henry, come here Henry”. She sounded like Mrs Hyacinth Bucket, pronounced “Bouquet” off the TV show Keeping Up Appearances and she was calling her dog from behind me. The hare, which was about 40 metres in front of me, shot off doing its usual zigzagging run away. I turned to look at her, dressed in her bright red jacket, and thought WHY! A few minutes more is all I needed. I stood up and she was startled by my sudden appearance. “Oh! Hello, I did not see you there, did you get anything good?” If looks could kill! The sun had gone in and it had started to rain again so I went home. This image was taken in Cambridgeshire when I didn't get disturbed.

Brown HareBrown HareBrown Hares

On Friday 17th I was up and out early as it was a fantastic Dartmoor morning. I went back to the area I had seen the Hares but there was no sight of them. I saw a few Skylarks fighting and chasing each other again, but they didn’t hang around for too long so I moved onto another area. Whilst walking towards the other area I came across a flock of over 200 Golden plovers. I have often seen these birds in this area and their flock size has been increasing every time I see them. I would have got down and stalked them but there were too many dog walkers (Henry's!) around so I just took a wide berth and carried on. When I reached the pile of granite I laid out my mat and settled down. Within minutes a Meadow Pipit landed within range and started hunting for grubs. I took a few images but I wanted something more exciting not bird wise but action wise like a fight over territory between two Meadow pipits. The bird hung around for quite a while and I took more images every now and then. A Pied Wagtail joined the Pipit and it too started looking for, and eating, food. After about 20 minutes the birds departed. I hung around for another half an hour but as nothing appeared I moved on. I moved to another spot in amongst some gorse bushes and settled down there hoping I’d see a Stonechat. After about 15 long minutes; how come time seems to wiz by at certain times and at others it seems to really drag? It’s a bit like when I’m at work the time goes really slowly and yet when I’m on annual leave or the weekend it fly’s by, but I digress. After about quarter of an hour a bird flew into view. It was a bird that I was not expecting to see quite so early in the year, it was a Wheatear returning from its African migration.  They are about the same size as a Robin and are ground dwelling birds. They frequent open rocky country, pasture, moorland and heath, so Dartmoor National park is perfect for them. It can be distinguished, when flying away from you, by its characteristic tail pattern which is a black 'T' on a white rump. This white rump gave it the nick name of “white bum” or white, well you think of the different names this part could be called.


On 31st of March, whilst out walking Murphy on Dartmoor, I saw my first Swallow of the year. Later on I saw and heard something I’ve never seen before. I saw a Stonechat trying to hover which looked really awkward. Whilst flapping his wings he seemed to be “walking” with his legs. If you think of how you tread water then this is what it looked like, nowhere near as elegant as a Skylark’s hover. Whilst he was “trying” to hover he was also singing a different tune, a tune that is not in any of my bird books or cd’s. It sounded like the normal “stone tapping” but ended in a high pitched whistle.

Stonechat JuvenileStonechat Juvenile

To me wildlife photography reminds me of when I used to go sea fishing years ago, because I haven’t been for over ten years now. One of my mates got me interested in sea fishing and he’d let me use his rod to see if I liked it. He told me that the easiest fish to catch was Mackerel, just put some feathers on the end of your line, drop them into the water, jiggle the rod a little bit and pull them out. I did this and whilst everyone else on board the boat caught Mackerel I caught small Pollack and Bass. He took me to this sea wall and said if you put a worm on your hook and just drop the line into the water you will get a Wrasse. So I did this and I caught a Bass. The same thing happened when fishing for Flounders, I caught Plaice and when fishing for Cod I caught Ling. Nowadays I go out with my camera for certain birds and I come back with images of totally different ones. The other day I went out to get images of Dippers and Grey Wagtails and I came back with images of Robins! Yesterday I went out to get images of Stonechats and came back with images of Wrens. Now please don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, it is just wildlife doing its own thing.

At the end of last year I went out, several times, to a certain area looking for a rare bird that had been sighted, a Great Grey Shrike. This is a stunning bird that is the largest of the European Shrikes. A small number of these birds come to the UK in autumn and spend the winter here. They are very territorial so you're unlikely to see more than one at once. Shrikes are a medium-sized, long-tailed bird usually perched at the top of a tree or tall bush. The black mask and grey plumage are the distinguishing features. I never did get to see the bird even though other people had seen it on days that I was there. This year I got information that it had been seen so I shot off with my camera. After parking my car a woman saw my camera and rushed up to me stating that she had seen it thirty minutes ago. I rushed off like I was being chased by a swarm of bees. In the distance I saw a white object at the top of a big bush, I put my camera to my eye and there was the Shrike. It was a couple of hundred metres away so I had to get closer to get a photograph of it. I noticed that there were a couple of hikers walking the path that was close to the bird and the bird took off flying even further away. As you know I do not like chasing wildlife to get my images so I picked another big bush and waited there to see if it would come closer. I had several other big bushes and a couple of small trees in my view. After a few more minutes the Shrike flew even further away and disappeared out of view. I remained in position for about an hour and a half before moving off to another of his so called favourite haunts. Whilst walking to this area I noticed a Wren dip down into some dead tall grass. I positioned myself in some shadow and set up my camera just in case it popped out. After a few minutes the Wren flew to a branch just above the dead grass and started singing. I waited just that bit longer before pressing the shutter release, hoping it would turn to face me, When it did I pressed away with a big grin on my face. Sometimes the waiting pays off and sometimes it doesn’t but why take a photo of something when you know its not right and you will only delete it when you get back home. When the Wren finally flew off I carried on to the area. After an hour looking for the Shrike, with no luck, I headed back where I had come from. On my way back I spotted the Shrike and guess where it was, it was on one of the bushes just in front of where I had positioned myself earlier. As I said some you win some you lose.


I want your help with this one! On my way to work the other day I was listening to the news which was followed by the weather forecast. The woman stated that the weather was going to be “drizzle in the morning turning to rain later on.” Now excuse me for being silly but I have always thought drizzle was rain because you still get wet. It’s not snow, sunshine, fog or hail is it? So if drizzle is not rain then when does it become rain? How much water has to fall before it’s called rain? Maybe it’s the same conundrum as mist and fog, how thick does mist have to be before it’s called fog? Weather forecasters! Money for old rope if you ask me. Take last night’s forecast, no rain for the next week and within five minutes it was hammering down and it never stopped all night!

Today, 14th April I went to an area that I first visited when I first moved down to Dartmoor, Devon, nearly three years ago. It's called Blackadon down and it's owned by the Devon Wildlife Trust ( ) . It is sited next to the river Dart near Buckland in the moor. The very first time I went there I saw and heard so many birds that I thought it was a great place to visit with my camera. I saw Treecreepers, Nuthatches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Chiffchaffs, Willow warblers, Dippers, Grey wagtails, Red-breasted Mergansers, Jays, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and a Kingfisher to name a few. In the paperwork I had downloaded from the Devon Wildlife Trust site it stated that Otters have been seen on this site although I did not see any. I watched two Dippers for nearly ten minutes which made up my mind that I was going to return the next day with my camera. The next day I did return with my camera and sat for about five hours. Although I could hear a lot I did not see anything worth taking a photo of, just a quick glimpse every now and then. I have returned several times to this site and whenever I just bring Murphy I see a lot of wildlife but if I bring my camera I see nothing. This has gone on for three years now but I keep coming back because  my luck has to change at some time. Whilst on today's visit I saw a superb photo opportunity and I will be back tomorrow to photograph it, keeping my fingers crossed. In the afternoon I went to our nature reserve, which is coming along really well, to stack up, in piles, a lot of the fallen branches. Whilst there a Hobby flew over, a sight that is great for me but not so good for Dragonflies, other flying insects and small birds like Swallows and Martins. 

People talk a lot about composition in photography especially judges at camera clubs. Composition does not just relate to photography but it also applies to music, dance, literature and any other kind of art. To begin with, the term “composition” describes the placement of relative objects and elements in any work of art. Therefore composition is a main characteristic of good art and any aspiring photographer should give it the attention it deserves. A good composition has enough elements within the image to tell the story the photographer wants to show. Too little is not good because it makes interpretation of the image hard to understand. Too many elements are not good either because all the elements can become distracting. This is one of the main problems with a lot of beginners to photography because they try to cram the whole scene in the image, especially when taking landscapes, rather than picking out, and concentrating on, the element that’s making the view great. A good composition requires a good balance in other words; only include enough elements to tell the story. Remember less is often more.

There are a lot of “rules” to aid you in your composition (please read previous blogs There are several types of photography where you can arrange the elements within the image yourself like portrait or still life photography. In Landscape photography you pick the elements you need and you move about, yes walk, until you get the composition you want.  Wildlife photography is a bit harder because wildlife does its own thing and you never know where it will appear. You have to pick the scene, take the image slightly wider than you want and then you will have to crop the image to get the composition you wanted. This only works if you need a tighter framing to remove unwanted elements.

Composition is a way of guiding the viewer’s eye towards the most important element, the focal point, in your image. You could use a branch on the left to guide the viewer into the image and it leads to the two fighting birds, the focal point, on the right. A good composition can make a masterpiece out of the dullest objects and subjects but, a bad composition can completely ruin an image no matter how interesting the subject matter may be. The composition of your image should be given plenty of thought prior to pressing your shutter release. With wildlife photography think about the image you want to take before going out with your camera. Set your camera up for this image, including moving your auto focus point to where you want the focal point to be, so that you are ready if it happens. This does not always work but when it does you’ll are ready for it.

Finally a note to ponder. Humans believe they are the most intelligent species on this planet. If that is the case then why, if another creature does something against us, is our first reaction to kill that creature. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and he stated that a Fox had got in his chicken pen and killed a few of his chickens. He was disturbed and ran off otherwise he would have killed the lot. His answer to this was that he was going to lay a trap to kill the Fox. I replied why don't you just fix the pen so that the Fox can't get in, you might kill this one but if the pen is not fixed others will come. Another friend has got Rabbits in his fruit pen but rather than patch up the fencing he catches and kills the Rabbits! Why are we killing Grey Squirrels to save Red Squirrels? Why are we killing Badgers to save cows? After saving the Common Buzzard why are we now killing them? Years ago I bought a gooseberry bush and planted it in my garden. When I went to pick the fruit it was all gone and there were several "fat" Blackbirds and Song Thrushes about. The second year I covered the bush with netting. When I went to pick the fruit again it was all missing and behind the bush was the fattest Song Thrush I have ever seen. It was so fat it could not take off and it just waddled away. I therefore secured the netting to the ground and to the wooden fence behind it. That year the fruit was still there but I still did not get any because we sold the house and moved!!! Not a great ending but I did not kill anything and I had solved the problem.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Andover Buckland in the moor Composition Dartmoor Dartmoor National park Devon Wildlife Trust European shrike Golden plovers Great grey shrike Hampshire Hare Hares Hyacinth Bucket Keeping up appearances Shrike brown hare composition hare mad March hare river Dart sea fishing shrike weather forecast wildlife photography Sun, 16 Apr 2017 16:24:40 GMT
Dippers, Foxes, Frogs, Dartmoor views, Spring and Holding your camera for sharper photos Greetings from Dartmoor


It is 7am on 11th February and I am lying down on the side of the river Tavy with my camera and lens, pointing at a certain rock in the river, waiting for the light and a Dipper to show up. Snow is falling all around me (Children playing, having fun, SORRY that’s a Shaking Stevens song!) and it is laying but I am quite warm because I practiced what I preached about wearing a layering system in last month’s blog. I am in position this early because previously I have past this area several times at 8am, with Murphy, and the Dipper has been on “the rock” I am looking at. The light is very poor at the moment but I am keeping my fingers crossed it will get better. There is a nice dusting of snow on the rock which will add something to the image if, the Dipper settles on it. I was here yesterday for four hours and although the Dipper did not show up a Grey Wagtail did and I got a few images of that. I have not seen a Grey Wagtail on this stretch of the river Tavy for a few months so I’m glad they are back. 7:30am comes and goes with no wildlife to view. At 8am there are some Blue Tits singing above me in the trees and they are soon joined by Great Tits. Just after 8am I spot a Fox creeping out of the wood on the opposite bank of the river. I know I’m well hidden because the soles of my feet are just inside a fence and, on the other side of this fence, there is a sheep casually eating grass and it hasn’t noticed me. The Fox stops, looks around, listens and, I expect, sniffs the air to see if there is any danger. The only danger for Foxes nowadays comes from humans as Bears and Wolfs are long gone, mores the pity. It looks behind along the river and spots a sheep. That should not be there because the sheep are on this side of the river. It obviously found a gap in the fence and crossed the river because the grass, what’s left of it, is always greener on the other side. Where one sheep goes another is sure to follow and, low and behold, five more follow behind it. They all stop once they see the Fox. The Fox takes a step towards the sheep and the first one stamps its foot just like a disobedient child. The Fox takes another step and all the sheep scarper. The Fox then looks at the river for a few seconds before walking back into the wood. I love the things I witness whilst waiting for wildlife to appear for me to photograph. I was so transfixed watching what was happening I did not want to take a photograph because my camera’s shutter would have scared the Fox. The image would not have been very good anyway because the light is still bad. I just loved being at one with nature. Well another three and a half hours has gone by and the backs of my legs are covered in snow. There has been no wildlife sighting in that time so I am packing up because I have got work to do at home.


Walking Murphy along the old disused, Brunel built, South Devon and Tavistock railway line, which is now a footpath / cycle path known as the Granite Way. This path runs from Okehampton to Plymouth and is part of the national cycle network route 27 which actually runs right past our house. I joined this route just down from The Fox & Hounds Hotel on the A386 which is a great place to go once I have completed my walk. Along this path I notice that the ponds of water that cling to either side are brimming full of frogspawn. This is a nice sight to behold and reminds me that I need a pond in our nature reserve as it encourages wildlife. I know I have the river Tavy at the bottom of the wood and we also have a few little pools of water, which contained newts last year, but none of these pools hold stagnant water and they get dried out quite quickly. I will get some liner and dig out a pond in the summer ready for next year. I know I already have frogs on the reserve as I have seen them in my wood piles and in the long grass. The species I have on the reserve is the Common Frog and I have seen both green and brown coloured ones.


What a fantastic morning I have had. Yesterday on my way back home from work I drove past my Dipper spot and there it was, on the rock, dipping away. So that made my mind up, I was going to my Dipper location in the morning. There I was at 7am flat out on the ground waiting for the Dipper to turn up. Within minutes of me setting up not one but two Dippers turned up. I took a couple of shots but the light was not good, 100th sec at ISO 3200, I’ll wait and see the images on my computer monitor before I give judgement. They stayed around for quite a while sussing out different nesting positions before finally picking one. They both then started collecting nesting material. They would disappear for a while down river before returning, sometimes together, and going into their chosen nest. While they were away the waiting was not a chore because there were so many birds around singing, it sounded like the first day of Spring. Among the voices I could hear Blackbird warbling away, Blue Tits and Great Tits hunting, the beautiful song of a Robin, a Grey Wagtail’s high pitched song, Crows and Rooks cawing, a Dunnock’s repeated short song, a Green woodpecker laughing away and Wren. Actually the Wren appeared to be a bit angry tick ticking away for ages. Last week it was snow but today was bright sunshine and blue sky. Once again my camera and lens was pointing at “the rock” but I noticed that the Dippers were landing on a branch that was half submerged in the river. After the third occasion that this happened I moved my setup to point at the branch as it was very photogenic. Whilst it was pointing at the branch, and they were away, a Treecreeper landed in the tree above it. It started to “creep” up the tree and then flew to the next tree on the left. Usually these birds never keep still but when it landed on the next tree it just stayed in one position. It doing this meant I could reduce the ISO to 800 and take an image. Within the next ten minutes I had a Kingfisher land on a broken stem that was sticking out of the river. This stem, along with about five others, is about two metres away from me. It’s the closest I have ever been to a Kingfisher and far too close to get a photograph. I was hoping it would hang around and do some fishing but it just bobbed its head and flew off.

I have just taken Murphy for a walk up to a tor and back again and I am now sat in my car, which is parked in a car park on Dartmoor, just chilling. On the way round I saw something that disappointed me. Last year I found a lone tree that would have been a perfect perch for a reasonable sized bird, a Buzzard, Rook etc. It would use the tree to survey the area below before flying off. It was in a good, early to mid, morning photography position and you could be level with the bird because there was a large granite boulder not far from it. The background was another tor in the distance so would have been blurred with the right aperture. I had seen a few birds on it and I was going to use it this year. The sad thing was that storm Doris has blown it over, breaking its trunk about 60cm above the ground. Examining it, it does look a bit rotten, but it could have waited another year. I’m looking down into the valley at the Devon town of Tavistock and beyond into Cornwall. The light of the sun and the shadows of the clouds move along the valley like a flying carpet. In the distance to the left I can see Plymouth sound and the Royal Albert bridge which was built by that great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859 so that people can cross from Devon into Cornwall and vice versa by railway. The sad thing was that he died before the bridge and his work was completed. Next to it is the Tamar bridge which was built in 1961 for road vehicles to take the stress off the ferries. From my view point I do not have to pay a penny for the privilege of crossing over. From the car park towards Tavistock there is quite a drop off where Rooks, Crows and Buzzards are flying in the strong winds of storm Doris. While the Buzzards are just floating in the upstream the Rooks and especially the Crows seem to be playing. They fly high into the air before dipping down below my view returning high into the air again just like they are on a trampoline.

I’m looking forward to the end of February because my wife and I will have finished decorating the house. It has taken about eighteen months to complete but I’m sure there will still be “little jobs” to do here and there. With this completed I can concentrate on the nature reserve, my photography and several other things I’ve wanted to do. One of which is meeting a good photographer called Paul Fine. He is one of my friends on Facebook and lives not far from me. We have wanted to get together for a drink for a while but I have been very busy since I moved down here two years ago. Soon I will get my chance to meet him and talk photography.

The air was filled with bird song on my walk with Murphy this morning, 10th March 2017, whether it was because it was dry or because it was warm or because the birds are getting ready for Spring I don’t know but it sounded fantastic. The area I walked was full of Skylarks flying high into the air, Meadow Pipits chasing each other to get the best nesting area and see who is top dog; Wrens perched on the top of bushes singing out their drilling song to entice females and Stonechats doing the same as Wrens but with a very different song. It was marvellous to see and hear. I picked this particular area to walk today because I was hoping to see the 130+ Golden Plover I saw a while ago. I saw them on a really misty wet day and today being bright and clear, no sign of them. Whilst on my walk I examined some of the pools of water that had frogspawn in them and noticed that a lot had hatched, there were Tadpoles everywhere. This is great to see because the frog is quite low down on the food chain and there are so many animals and birds that eat them. This is one of the reasons they lay so much spawn, so that some frogs will survive. A week ago I found some kids picking out the spawn from the water and putting it out on the moor. I explained to them of the harm they are doing by doing that. Whilst I was speaking to them their dad walked up and asked what was going on, so I explained to him and his reply was “They’re only Frogs”! I managed to put it all back when they had gone. I find incidents and ignorance like this quite sad.

People who shoot long barrel weapons, like snipers with rifles, follow a certain set of principles, rules, to be able to hit their intended target, hundreds of yards away. These principles used to be called Marksmanship Principles pre “PC” days but nowadays they are called Shooting Principles. I wish people would concentrate and work on the real issues of this world rather than changing names, which is easy, just because the word “man” is within it. Maybe this is one of the reasons why people voted for Brexit and Trump, but I digress. There are four of these principles:-

  1. The position and hold must be firm enough to support the weapon.

    You must be in a comfortable position, standing, kneeling, sitting or prone, and be able to hold the weapon without shaking by getting muscle fatigue. You could use some sort of support for this like a bipod or other fixed object.

  2. The weapon must point naturally at the target without any undue physical effort.

    The weapon should be pointing at the target and you should not have to use any strength to push, pull or lift the weapon for it to point at the target. The test for this is to point the weapon at the target, close your eyes and relax, when you open your eyes the weapon should still be pointing at the target.

  3. Sight alignment and the sight picture must be correct.

    Your eye, looking through the rear sight, the fore sight and the target should all be in alignment.

  4. The shot must be released and followed through without undue disturbance to the position.

    Without moving any other part of your body apart from your trigger finger, you should squeeze the trigger gently and not snatch it. You then hold the trigger back for about a second before releasing it. This is done so that you do not move the weapon whilst the hammer or firing pin is striking the percussion cap and the bullet is travelling along the barrel.

All this is done during the right time within your breathing cycle. The normal breathing cycle, breathing in and then breathing out, takes about 7 seconds. You will need to fire the shot when your body is in the stillest part of your breathing cycle. This is not, as most people think, when you have breathed in but it happens to be just after you have breathed out. Normally a shooter will take in a few deeper breaths filling their blood with oxygen before breathing out; they then extend this pause and fire the shot before breathing in again. I wonder how many of you are thinking “what has this got to do with photography?” Well if you take out the word weapon and insert camera, carry out this same practice as I have written below, when taking a photograph, even when your camera setup is on a tripod (see principle 1) your images will be much sharper.

  1. The position and hold must be firm enough to support your camera.

    You must be in a comfortable position, standing, kneeling, sitting or prone, and be able to hold your camera without shaking by getting muscle fatigue. You could use some sort of support for this like a tripod or other fixed object.

  2. The camera must point naturally at the subject without any undue physical effort.

    The camera should be pointing at the subject and you should not have to use any strength to push, pull or lift the camera for it to point at the subject. The test for this is to point the camera at the subject, close your eyes and relax, when you open your eyes the camera should still be pointing at the subject.

  3. Sight alignment and the sight picture must be correct.

    Your eye, looking through the viewfinder, the lens and the subject should all be in alignment.

  4. The shutter must be released and followed through without undue disturbance to the position.

    Without moving any other part of your body apart from your index finger, you should gently press the shutter release and not jab it. You then hold the shutter release for about a second before releasing it. This is done so that you do not move the camera whilst the shutter is being released taking the photograph.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Brexit Dartmoor Dartmoor photography Dartmoor views Devon Grey Wagtail Kingfisher Marksmanship Principles Robin Stanbridge Photography Shooting Principles Skylark Treecreaper Trump Wildlife Wildlife photography Wildlife photography in Devon breathing cycle grey wagtail kingfisher marksmanship principles photographer photography photography in Devon river Tavy shooting principles skylark Fri, 10 Mar 2017 11:38:32 GMT
Wildlife Trust, Using Camouflage and Fieldcraft to get Close to Wildlife Greetings from Dartmoor

I have just been reading “Your Support” a magazine for members of the Devon Wildlife Trust  of which I am a member. I joined them as soon as I moved down here into Devon. Previously I had been a member of the wildlife trust where I had lived. I visit their wildlife sites regularly to take photos of the wildlife there and being a member is my way of giving something back. I feel that without all the hard work the wildlife trusts do then the wildlife would not be there for me to photograph. I am also a member of the RSPB for the same reasons. Every wildlife / nature photographer should be a member of their local wildlife trust. Back to the magazine which I read, it had an article within it that really startled me but thinking about it really shouldn’t have. It was titled “Losing our a, b, c of nature?” and it stated that “in 2015 the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed a list of nature-related words from its entries. They included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow”. This, I feel, is another nail in the “nature” coffin along with building on Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Building on Greenbelt, Parents not taking their children out to enjoy and learn about the countryside, Schools not teaching kids about nature, Computer games and Smart phones. The question I would like to ask them is WHY? Is it because kids know how to spell those words? Is it because they needed space for the more “exotic” words kids use nowadays? Or some other reason, whatever it is I feel it is wrong because kids need to know about nature. I totally agree with Chris Packham when he says “get your coat on and get out there” there is so much wonder out there for you to see and enjoy, while it is still there.

On Friday 20th January, I’d heard that people had seen Dartford Warblers at RSPB Aylesbeare Common ( ). This area is about an hour from my house and as I had never seen a Dartford Warbler I paid it a visit. It was easy to find, 6 miles off the M5 along the A3052. I wandered around for about 45mins and did not get very far, the reason for this is because I had a really bad back (more about this later) and it was hard going, feeling sorry for me? No! Thought not, you are a hard lot :-). Just as I was about to head back to the car I saw a small dark coloured bird with long thin tail and a red breast with white patches, my first Dartford Warbler. Close up it has a very stunning red eye. It was soon joined by another one, hunting on a different bush. Although I had my camera with me, they were moving so fast from bush to bush I did not get the chance to photograph them so for about the ten to fifteen minutes they were there, I just watched them do their work flitting from bush to bush. They appeared to stay, and hunt insects, in the top twenty five centimetres of the bushes which I found a bit odd because they are supposed to nest close to the ground. Southern England is the most northern edge of their range and because they do not migrate for the winter they are very vulnerable to cold weather. I will be back with my hide at a later date to get a photograph of them.

Since moving down from Bedfordshire to Dartmoor there is one thing I have changed about the way I carry out my photography. I have stopped listening to, or looking at, the weather forecast. In Bedfordshire I used to look up the local Metoffice 5 day forecast, which most of the time I found to be very accurate, to see if it was worth taking any annual leave to go out with my camera. Down here, Dartmoor appears to have its own climate and does its own thing. Not once has the local weather forecast been right. It might have been correct for the rest of Devon but certainly not Dartmoor. Whether it is because of the height of Dartmoor, I don’t know. Take for instance last year, from about the beginning of March we had a few days rain, who doesn’t in England, but most of the time it was dry with a lot of sunny days. Was that reflected in the weather forecast, no! Just this weekend gone by, the forecast stated Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be fine and sunny. Well it was on Friday, very grey on Saturday and raining on Sunday! So, the technique I use nowadays is that I wake up early and look out of the window. If I can see the moon and stars then it will be a sunny, if I can’t see the moon and stars then it will be cloudy, if there are marks on my window then it will be raining and if I can’t see the window then I’m still in bed asleep! The other technique I was told, in a pub by an Exmoor farmer, involves seaweed which you put up in the open outside your front door. You feel the seaweed and if it is wet then it’s raining and if it is dry it is going to rain!!!! The trouble with the first method, I’ll ignore the second one, is that I need to give a few days notice to get leave so it does not help with my predicament. Does anyone have any better techniques?

Over the last few weekends my wife and I have been very busy working on our nature reserve. The grassed area is now fenced to keep sheep out but low enough to still let deer in. The entrance has been widened so we can get our vehicle and trailer in and a new gate has been erected. Some of the stone wall had collapsed and we, with no building skills, rebuilt it, twice. Yes TWICE. The first time we built it up from the stones that were already in place but as soon as we walked away we heard it collapse behind us. The second time we took away all the stones and started from the ground up. It has been up for more than a week now and I must say it does look good but still keeping my fingers crossed. I have been busy with my chainsaw and coppiced a few trees although there are still a few to go. The cutting down of the trees is the easy part, although it still goes against the grain (excuse the pun) but stacking the wood in piles for wildlife and taking away the wood for our fire is a real slog because of the hill. This is where I have to go off at a tangent. When our bodies were made the “inventor” completely missed one organ. It’s an organ that would tell our brain that if we do any more hard workwe are going to suffer, a sort of warning light. I spent all day cutting, logging and moving these trees and although I felt tired I still felt great enough to take Murphy for a long walk when I got home. I felt great during tea and just as good sat watching TV in front of the fire. I went to bed still feeling great but when I tried to get out of bed in the morning Oh My Goodness. I had pains everywhere, even in places I didn’t know I had. My course of action was to have a very hot shower which appeared to work as long as I kept moving. As soon as I stopped for a little while I seized up. Just a little thought “inventor” would have solved a whole lot of pain. Now you know how I got my bad back that I mentioned above. Getting back to my blog. I’ve stacked big logs, small logs, twigs and branches for wildlife all over the nature reserve and so far the piles of branches seem to be working better than the piles of logs. I have seen spiders, frogs, mice and birds around these piles which is really encouraging. I presume the log piles will rot down and mosses, lichens and fungi will start to invade them which will encourage me to get my macro lens out. Dartmoor is nationally and internationally important for mosses, lichens and ferns. They have an action plan for them and for fungi. The action plan has four objectives: - 1 Maintain and enhance populations of key Dartmoor mosses, lichens, ferns and fungi. 2 Maintain and where possible improve air and water quality across Dartmoor. 3 Identify isolated trees and groups of trees of particular importance for lichens and mosses and promote their longevity. 4 Increase awareness of the unique value of Dartmoor’s moss, fern, fungi and lichen flora amongst land managers and the public. For more information please click on this link .

On Saturday 28th I went back, because the weather was good, to RSPB Aylesbeare Common to, hopefully, photograph Dartford Warblers. I walked around the area for two and a half hours to no avail. The strange thing was there was hardly any bird activity or bird sound, in fact, in all that time, all I saw was one Blue Tit, one Robin and a distant Buzzard. It does look a very good area so I was very disappointed coming away with nothing but, that’s wildlife.

On Sunday 29th I went down to the location on the river Tavy to keep an eye on the Dippers. It was still dark when I got there, 7 o’clock in the morning, so I set myself up and waited for the light. “The light” never appeared for the four hours I was sat there but two Dippers did. They hunted in the water just a few metres away from me. Although I had my camera gear with me I did not take any photos. The best shutter speed I could get was 20th sec with an ISO of 6400. With the constant bobbing of the Dippers they would not have been sharp so I didn’t bother. They stayed in the area for about 30 minutes before moving off down river. I waited there for a little while longer but they never returned and the light did not improve. Whilst walking along the river I noticed that all bar one of the branches that I had put up, for Kingfishers to land on, had either fallen down or been taken down. I put up a couple more but my main one, in a good photography position, was still standing. Having said that out of all the times I have been coming here I have only seen a Kingfisher once. Starting in February I will be down in this location more often to photograph the Dippers before the leaves are on the trees blocking the light out.

Well, on my way home on Tuesday night, after a day of torrential rain, I decided to visit the river Tavy again as I wanted to go there at the weekend to photograph Dippers. At the Dipper location I have one position where I sit which is a grass bank about a foot or 30 centimetres above the water. My tripod sits in the water and I lay down getting as low as possible to the surface of the river. The other position is on a lot of pebbles, which I have increased to keep me dry, and my back rests against a large tree trunk which was uprooted some time ago. I stood on the bridge looking at the bubbling cauldron of brown and white. The water was well above both positions and the width of the river was nearly three times it’s normal size. My last Kingfisher stick was gone. It will take a few days for all this water to subside so I might have to change my plans for the weekend. Driving home a small female Sparrowhawk flew in front of the car and flew on down the lane with me directly behind her. After about a quarter of a mile she veered right and landed on a gate. As I drew up in the car I could see that she was very small and very wet, one of this year’s juveniles I expect. We watched each other for a few seconds before I drove on hoping that she will survive and won’t get too cold. This would mean maybe killing something, and getting some shelter to keep warm, but that’s nature.

On Friday 3rd I went down to the river Tavy again to see the state of the river and to see what damage it had done. The water had slightly subsided, you could see half of the tree although a lot of pebbles had gone and the position, where I lay down, was level with the surface of the water. There was no sign of the Dippers, in fact there was no sign of any wildlife. Do they know something I don’t? (They did, the rest of the day was continuous rain). I went past our nature reserve on my way back home and straight away my heart sank. Due to the large amount of rain we had last night the stone wall we had built was down again. It will have to wait for a dry day before we rebuild it again because it helps us grip the large stones.

The other evening I was looking back through some of my old photography magazines, I have so many I can’t remember the exact one. Within it, there was an article about different types of hide to use for wildlife photography. Not only the different types but it also had what camouflaged pattern to use in different field conditions. There was plain light or dark green, Advantage pattern, Timber pattern, English oak pattern, Reed pattern, Old army pattern (green and brown), Woodland green pattern, Hardwood green pattern, Realtree pattern, Realtree extra pattern, Realtree Advantage Max4 HD pattern, All terrain pattern, Desert pattern and Snow pattern. So many to choose from but do you really need camouflage to get you close to wildlife in order to take good photographs? Humans being typically lazy think wearing camouflage will get you closer to wildlife and you won’t have to learn about this mysterious thing called “Fieldcraft”. Sorry but if that is what you think then you are going to be disappointed. I, like a lot of wildlife photographers, have got camouflage clothing, jacket, trousers, leggings, hat, gloves and a hood which covers my face. Being sad I even had a camouflaged multi-tool, but lost it! I have also got Stealth Gear clothing which is just green in colour. Which is the best? To be honest, for me, they both work about the same, the only reason I change the clothing I wear is because one set is warmer than the other. This, I believe, proves that it is not what camouflage pattern you wear, it’s the colour of the clothing and you’ll need to wear dull muted colours like greens and browns, natural colours. The two things I do wear constantly whilst I am out photographing wildlife is my gloves, either black or camouflaged, which cover my white hands, and my camouflaged hood which covers my whole head. The two main reasons for covering my head is 1. I only have hair just above my ears and being white it sticks out like a sore thumb and 2. It covers my facial features, eyes, nose and mouth. Eye contact in the natural world is very important and just by looking at wildlife can scare it off, especially with my face! There are a few other things you should do, known as fieldcraft, which gets you closer to wildlife. If you wear camouflaged clothing and move fast towards wildlife it will just run or fly away therefore your “walk” has got to change. You have to think about each step you take and where you place your feet, think twigs, leaves and noise. I approach wildlife downwind, very slowly and get lower the closer I get to the wildlife first on foot whilst bending down, crawling on my hands and knees or even lower using my elbows and knees. If I make myself small, wildlife will think I am less of a threat and feel more at ease allowing me to get closer. You should learn to listen for wildlife because most of the time, especially with birds, you will hear them before you see them. I have already said you should wear dull muted coloured clothing but it should also be “rustle or noise free” and you should not wear clothing with Velcro pockets because each time you open one it will sound like tearing cloth. The clothing you wear must be comfortable and you should always wear a light layering system, a thing I stipulate on my wildlife photography workshops. What do I mean by a light layering system? Well you should wear a base layer, long sleeved in winter and short sleeved in summer, and made of a good warm material like merino, silk or coolmax which is also good at wicking sweat away. Your mid layer should be a fleece which, if it is warm, you could wear as an outer layer. Both of these layers are very light but they will keep you warm and comfortable. If it is really cold then I add another two thin light layers, one between the base and mid layer and another over the mid layer. The one between the base and mid layer is made by Paramo ( ) and is reversible, one side for warmth and the other for cold. The other layer is a very light quilted lining jacket I found in an army surplus store. Over the top of all this I will wear my waterproof jacket either camouflaged (Jack Pyke) ( ) or green (Stealth Gear) ( I believe Stealth Gear are no longer trading, shame ). If I am walking to a location then I will carry most of these layers in a backpack and put them on when I get there. Do not wear cotton because although it is warm it will not wick away your sweat and when you start cooling down the sweat in the cotton will make you feel cold. If I am wearing my Stealth Gear trousers then they have built in knee pads which make a kneeling position more comfortable. I always carry two mats, one is a waterproof mat and the other is a very light but warm pad. Both of these make sitting and lying down more comfortable which stops you fidgeting and moving about. Remember you lose quite a bit of heat through your head so remember to wear a hat. As I have stated earlier I always wear a camouflaged hood but underneath it I wear a beanie hat made from merino wool. Last but not least I always take a fleece neck warmer so that the wind will not blow down my neck. This item is only worn if and when needed. If I am just sitting or lying down waiting for wildlife then I will keep really still and scan the area with just my eyes rather than my whole head. I’ll pick an area to settle down next to a bush or a tree that will hide my silhouette. It also acts as a back rest. I will also pick a comfortable spot to sit or lay down because if it is not comfortable then you will start to fidget and fidgeting equals no wildlife. The spot I pick will also have to suit the wind direction so my human smell is blowing away from the area I want wildlife to appear. Therefore to my question “Do you really need camouflage to get close to wildlife in order to take good photographs?”  My answer would be a resounding maybe but you definitely also need FIELDCRAFT.


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Advantage Aylesbeare Common Chris Packham Dartford Wrablers Dartmoor Devon Devon Wildlife Trust Dipper Dippers Fieldcraft Jack Pyke Oxford Junior Dictionary Paramo Realtree Stealth Gear Trust Wildlife Wildlife Trust camouflage camouflage clothing nature reserve photography photography magazines river Tavy wildlife wildlife photography Sat, 11 Feb 2017 13:11:13 GMT
New Photography Workshop, What is a good photo location and Misconceptions about pros. Greetings from Dartmoor

I hope you have all had a great festive period and received all the gifts you wished for. If it was camera equipment then I hope you rushed outside and took lots and lots of images. Now the period is over I want you to stop, go back and read the instructions that came with it. Yes I know it’s a pain, time consuming and you know everything! BUT, trust me, you might find out something you don’t know, a new tool perhaps that your camera has and then you can set up the equipment in the correct manner to either suit your photography or the photograph you want to take. I go back and read, or look through, the instructions for my camera every now and then and you’ll be amazed what I find out. When you get to my age, which is just a little over 21, although I do look a bit older, if I don’t do the same thing regularly then I either forget it or forget how to do it. Doing things in Adobe Photoshop on my portrait photographs spring to mind. Always keep the instructions with the equipment and always take them with you when you take the camera on holiday or on a photography workshop. Just to let you know that I still have places on my Photography workshops. These photography workshops are excellent value for your hard earned money. Not only do you get me tutoring you all day, if you wish, but you're also taken to some great wildlife photography locations and are not just stuck in a hide. In fact I have found out that some people just hire out a hide, with no tutoring, for more money than my workshops cost. For more information on my workshops please click on the “Workshop” button at the top of this website. Just to let you know that I have added a new Post Processing workshop to the list in which I will go through my post processing workflow using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. 

On Friday 16th December 2016 I went out in time to hopefully see the sunrise which did not happen due to the low cloud base. The first location I had chosen had thick fog and as there was no wind I moved on to my second location because I did not want to sit in my hide for another few hours staring at a grey wall again. Arriving in the car park at the second location the weather was still cloudy but no fog, perfect, so I quickly got my gear together and went to set it up. I set my chairhide up facing a gorse bush that was covered in yellow flowers as it would make a more pleasing image then just a green bush. I visit areas regularly and apart from looking for wildlife I look for good sites where I can place my hide. I mentally go through “boxes” that need ticking and the more boxes that are ticked the better the site is for me. The boxes are labelled: - Wildlife seen in area, Wildlife seen on the site my hide is looking at, Does it have a flat area to pitch my hide, Is the flat area more than my lens’ minimum focusing distance away from the site, Is the site photogenic, Has it got bushes/trees, What type of tree, What type of bush, Is there enough light getting through to light up the site, Is the site good for front/back/side light, Is the background far enough away to give a good bokeh etc. These should be some of the things you should consider when setting up a hide. Then again you should go through this kind of routine for any preplanned image you want to take not just for wildlife photography. Doing this still does not mean that wildlife will appear when you are there but if it does then great. Please read my blog about the different types of hides ( ( .

I had done this several times for this location and had noticed an area of gorse bushes which also contained a single small tree. When looking at sites that contain trees it is no good if the tree you are looking at, whilst in the hide, has lots and lots of branches interlocking each other. You need a tree with a few branches so that the branches do not spoil the image by overcrowding or covering up the subject.

Messy TreeMessy Tree

This is my preferred type of tree with branches that give the birds space.

Grey WagtailGrey Wagtail

I noticed previously that the area had Wrens, Robins, Bullfinches, Jays and Stonechats to name a few of the birds there. I was hoping that a Wren or a Bullfinch would settle in the tree for me to photograph. I have been here on several occasions and seen Robins and Wrens flitting around the bushes below the tree but they never perched on the branches in the tree. So here I am again, perseverance, one of the things every wildlife photographer should have in bucket loads. I’m sat facing the bushes and the tree which are covered in quite a hard frost and with the clouds thinning and the sun starting to rise over my right shoulder. I take a shot and check the histogram and the image on the LCD screen. The exposure needed compensating by plus two thirds so I adjusted my camera settings and waited. The background of the image was a very light green. In reality it was a bank of fir trees in the distance on the other side of the valley and there was nothing in between my tree and them. After an hour sat in my hide my feet were frozen as it was minus 2 degrees centigrade but I persevered as the light was going to be great. The sun started breaking through the clouds and I could see the shadow of the hill behind me, on the other side of the valley getting lower and lower as it got closer to my hide. Finally it reached my hide and I could feel the warmth on my back through the hide but the ground was still frozen, as were my feet. I was hoping some wildlife would appear before the frost disappeared. A couple of minutes later I noticed some movement in the bracken and a Wren appeared. I fired off a few frames before it disappeared in the undergrowth. I could see movement going to my right and then it flew out of sight to the next set of bushes. About 20 minutes later it flew back onto the gorse bush but before I could focus on it, it took off and flew onto the tree. For the next few minutes I could hardly contain my excitement with a huge big grin on my face and what sounded like bursts of a machine gun going off in my hand. When it finally flew away I examined some of the images on the LCD on my camera and they looked ok but I would check properly on my computer monitor.


This would be a while as my computer was in the "doctors" for repair. The solid state drive, with my windows operating system, had broken down. I thought they invented these type of drives because they were better  and more reliable than the normal hard drives! As long as my photos are OK I don’t mind. I have got some saved on an external drive but my next purchase will be a bigger external drive to save them all, I WAS LUCKY, they were. After 4 hours sat in the hide I packed up, struggled to get out of the chair due to my legs being frozen stiff and went home but, as Arnold Schwarzenegger stated, I’ll be back.

On Sunday 18th I went down to our nature reserve to cut up and collect the last of the fallen trees. Looking around at the next set of trees that need to be taken out, I’ll have to use my chainsaw and it’s in for servicing at the moment but I hope it isn’t going to cost more than a new saw does. I’m also hoping to get it back before Christmas so I can get started during the holiday period because once I go back to work on January 3rd I will be really busy until the end of March. A lot of plants will be growing up by then and it will make it more difficult getting to the trees and getting the wood out. Whilst I was working there were a couple of Jays “talking” to each other and flying from tree to tree within the wood. I am contemplating on planting some bushes at one end of the field. The end I’m thinking of is the one which would be best for the light and therefore photographically. I will start reading up about which ones to plant and ask a few questions down at my local garden centre as I want plants that will entice wildlife.

On Friday 23rd I took Murphy for a walk to an area I wanted to reconnoitre for putting up my chairhide. I have passed the area several times and I constantly see Jays, a bird I would love to get a great photo of. The area is a strip of moorland edged by Devon banks with a road running through it. It has trees, bracken, gorse bushes and a couple of small open areas. I wanted to site my hide away from the road so this narrowed down my options. Whilst walking the area I noticed two problems the first one was trying to find a flat area for my hide to sit on as the ground was quite sloping. I kept wandering around and around looking at places from different positions which was taking quite a while but Murphy didn’t mind with his nose to the ground smelling every bush he was in doggie heaven. I did find a couple of possibilities but they did not tick enough boxes for me. The second problem was the trees in the area were overloaded with branches and there was no way they would not interfere if a Jay landed in them. Whilst standing still contemplating what I was going to do, just to tease me, three Jays flew overhead and landed in the tree in front of me and proved my point about the branches. I wandered around for a couple of hours before heading back to the car. On my way to the car I saw a male and female Bullfinch. On days like this, bright but cloudy, the colours of these birds are stunning because they are so saturated rather than on bright sunny days when the colours are bleached out.

Female BullfinchFemale Bullfinch

It’s strange that in the wildlife world the male is normally the better looking of the species but, I feel and we are all different, it is the other way around in the human world. No matter how many times I hear “He is handsome”, “He is good looking” etc. I just don’t see it. Human males, including the one I see in the mirror, just don’t do it for me. Human females on the other hand, well that is another story! Anyway I’m digressing, back to my blog.

On Tuesday 27th I went for a walk along the river Tavy with Murphy. The part of the river I had picked to walk along is the same part that I will be trying to photograph Dippers in next year. The phrase “Next year” sounds as though it is a long way away and yet it is only a few days away. Is it me or does time seem to be speeding up. It seems like only a few days ago I was watching the fireworks bringing in the New Year, soon I'll be watching the next lot. Anyway I wanted to check the river to see if the Dippers were still around. Whilst crossing the bridge to get to the footpath I spotted one Dipper bobbing on one of the rocks that I want to include on a photograph.


There is a position I can get to that is quite close to the rock but the Dipper faces away from it so is not is a good photography position. I will have to get on the other river bank but then the problem is that I am facing the sun, great if I want a backlit image but that is not what I am after. I will have to spend some more time down here working my image out. After viewing it for a few minutes and Murphy getting impatient I carried on with my walk. He lets me know when he is getting bored by jumping up and kicking me with his back legs, I've heard of kung fu Panda but Kung fu Terrier! After walking a couple of hundred metres along the river bank I saw a second Dipper. This one was in a dark area of the river and no good for photography. After walking for about a mile our walk came to a abrupt stop. This area of the path has been eroded and you need to get into the river for a few metres before climbing back onto the path. Murphy was keen for this to happen but as I only had trainers on it was not going to. We turned around and on our way back Murphy, still on his extending lead, shot off the path and went to the river’s edge. He started sniffing around, caught the scent of something, and was off pulling me into the wood. I wondered what he was after. It must be a great world where we can tell what was around a little while ago by scent, we can do it for some animals, foxes for instance, but not for all. Compared to humans, dog’s sense of smell is out of this world. We went in a half circle and came back on to the path. At this stage he got really excited and started trying to stand up, the scent must have been higher in the air. He then shot off along the path and I started trotting along behind him (I knew I had worn trainers for a reason). After a few minutes I saw, up ahead, what he was after. There was a herd of about 5 Fallow deer standing next to the river. I knew there were deer in these woods as I had seen their tracks but this was the first time I had seen them. The deer saw us and shot into the wood, that’s more info logged for another photography session.

On Wednesday 28th I went to an area where I had seen several Redwings and Fieldfare. I had already looked around the area and there were several trees still full of berries. I positioned my hide facing four of these trees with the sun shining, when it rises, over my right shoulder and then moving round to my left shoulder about midday. After a few problems setting up my hide due to it being on quite a steep hill I settled down and waited for the birds to appear. The time was 07:30 hrs and there was a slight frost on the ground. My car was the only one in the car park and I was the only person in this valley. Whilst waiting for the birds to appear I was looking around for other wildlife to appear like Foxes and Deer but none did. After three hours of no activity, in fact I did not see or heard a bird, I decided to move to another location in the area. I had heard that there was a Greater Grey Backed Shrike in the area so I moved to a site that would appeal to it. After another two hours of nothing I decided to pack up, because my feet were frozen, and go home to carryon repopulating my computer which I had collected from the “doctors”.

On Thursday 29th true to my “Arnold Schwarzenegger “ word I again went out early to the valley after an image of a Wren on a frosted gorse bush. The temperature this time was minus 8 degrees centigrade but I was hoping it would warm up when the sun rose. When I reached the valley the ground was covered in a hard frost, perfect. I set up my chairhide and started my vigil. I set it up facing several gorse bushes all with yellow flowers. The sun rose and started shining for about twenty minutes before cloud covered it up again and the temperature did not rise, in fact it seemed like it was dropping even further. After four hours of inactivity I could stand it no longer. Although the rest of my body was warm my feet were so cold they were hurting. On my way back to my car I decided that I was going to buy some warm Caribou snow boots – I’ll give you a report on these when I’ve bought and worn them. I know I stayed in the hide for only a few hours and the chap on Planet Earth II stayed in his hide for 100 hours to get the shots of the Golden Eagle on a Fox carcass but his hide was wooden, had a floor and he had a heater. Mine was a thin sheet of semi-waterproof cloth, no floor and no heater. Plus on the big side that’s his job and he gets paid for doing it. Please don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the anticipation whilst waiting for wildlife to appear but I do have lots of other things I have to do especially at this time of year.

The next couple of days were spent repopulating my computer with the software I use and tidying it up, getting rid of a lot of crap that I don’t use. It’s surprising how long all this repopulating takes and then once the software is on the computer you then have to set it up how you had it before so you know how it all works.

We had a wildlife photographer as a speaker at our camera club the other night so my wife and I went to see him. Before he started his talk one of our committee members, Tom (he asked if I could say his name), said to me that this should be good because he is a professional! I asked "What is the difference between an amateur and a professional?" Knowing that a lot of amateurs nowadays have the same equipment as professionals and some take excellent images, just look at Facebook or Instagram for instance. He replied "He sells his photos."! I kept my thoughts to myself until I saw what the speaker had to offer. Now I know a lot of amateur photographers, not just wildlife photographers, that sell their photos but I knew where he was coming from. A lot of people, especially amateur photographers put themselves down and have this great misconception that if you are a professional then you must be better than me and take great photos to sell. Tom takes great wildlife images (I don't tell him that because he'll get big headed!!!) and he's an amateur. Some professionals are really good, but some leave a lot to be desired. I know I have seen some professional wildlife photographers websites and a lot of their images are of wildlife flying or running away. All this tells me is that he or she got too close and scared the wildlife away. Some people take a poor landscape photograph, add a high saturation in post processing and call themselves a professional landscape photographer! To me the difference between an professional and a amateur is that in order to make enough money to live they have to find a niche in which they use their photos or their knowledge to enhance other work because they would not live on just selling photos nowadays. Please read a previous blog for more information (  ). This niche could be anything from workshops to writing articles or books. This view of mine was actually proved by the speaker at the end of his talk. He was asked, by a club member, where he saw his photography going. He replied that he actually does very little photography nowadays because he teaches photography and leads workshops at university, he travels the country giving talks and he writes a lot of articles for magazines and accompanies his images with these articles. As a speaker he was excellent and I would go to another of his talks, he has about 20 in total, if he is in or around our area. As a photographer he showed us some really good images but, to me, others were not so good. Remember you can't please everybody all the time.

On a last note I have often told you that work gets in the way of my photography, like most amateur photographers, but today, Wednesday 18th January. it REALLY did. At about 9:15am I received this text from my wife " 30+ Waxwings are on our Cherry Tree". The tree is about 3 metres from my lounge window, the background is North Brentor church over the other side of the valley, the sky is blue and there were about 3 small clouds. Where was I? stuck at work feeling sick as a parrot. I hope you all have better luck and get to see plenty of Waxwings as they are such splendid birds.


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(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Adobe Adobe Lightroom Adobe Photoshop Bullfinch Caribou snow boots Deer Dipper Dippers Facebook Fieldfare Foxes Golden Eagle Instagram Jay Jays Lightroom Photoshop Planet Earth II Post Processing Redwings Waxwings Wildlife Wren camera great wildlife images photograph photography photography workshop post processing workflow social media wildlife wildlife photographer wildlife photography Fri, 20 Jan 2017 10:05:38 GMT
Experience Day with Canon CPS, David Noton, A Real Scare and Landscape Photography Greetings from Dartmoor

Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you have a Happy New Year.

The first thing I have to do is apologise to you as I have not included any photos in this blog because my computer, with all my photos, is at the doctors as it will not boot up. I am writing this blog on my wife's laptop.

Well in fact the first part of this blog is not from Dartmoor, in fact it is from Swanage in Dorset, England. Why am I here you ask, well I have been invited, along with about 40 other people, by Canon to attend an “Experience day” with them and a Canon Ambassador, the famous Landscape and Travel photographer David Noton. How could I refuse when I am in awe of this man’s photography. This is the second “Experience day” I have been on, the first being a “wildlife” day with Canon Ambassador Danny Green which was great. To be invited to attend one of these events by Canon you have got to be a member of Canon Professional Services, CPS. The membership of CPS is free but you have to have the right Canon equipment in order to qualify. The right equipment includes Canon semi-professional cameras, Canon professional cameras, Canon lenses, Canon flashguns and Canon converters. You can even join CPS by having Canon video equipment. Depending on the amount of equipment you own will depend on whether you are a Silver, Gold or Platinum member. To be a Silver member you need to own 2 qualifying bodies and 3 qualifying lenses. To be a Gold member you need to own 2 qualifying bodies and 3 qualifying lenses and to a Platinum member you need to own 3 qualifying bodies and 4 qualifying lenses. For more information please visit if you live in Europe. In America it is slightly different and I believe you have to pay but you receive some "bits and pieces" from Canon which you don't in Europe. For more information please visit if you live in America. You can use the CPS to carry out a top quality priority repairs or servicing on your equipment, including a sensor clean and AF adjustment, but other benefits include, access to CPS support at major international and local events, a news letter sent by email to keep you up to date with everything that is happening in the Canon world, hints and tips, training on your type of photography and being invited to “Experience days”. These “Experience days” are themed for different photographical experiences including photographing models on a catwalk during London Fashion week, “Wildlife” photography at the British wildlife centre, Landscape photography, Astro photography and Light painting photography to name a few, so there is a variety and a subject to suit every photographer. During these “Experience days” there is a Canon Ambassador and they are available to assist you and your needs, answer any of your questions and give two talks on the given subject. This “Experience day” was going to cover landscapes, Astro and light painting photography.

Last month I mentioned in my blog that if you wanted to turn professional then you need to be able to speak to people and to ad lib during the talk. David Noton is a superb speaker with a wealth of photographical knowledge gained during his 32 years as a top professional photographer. He was in the merchant navy before this so how come he only looks about 35!!!!! It must be all the good living and the wine!!!!! There seems to be a trait here because Ross Hoddinott is married, got kids, has been taking great photos for years and still only looks about 25!!!!!! There must be some hidden ingredient, in photography, that these great photographers are not telling us or maybe they are just so happy in their work and this is how it reveals itself. I’m not jealous, honest, OK only a little bit, but I digress so back to David’s speaking. The tones and pitch of his voice and the content makes you want to sit up and listen to him. This is aided by his passion for his work which really comes across during his talk and whilst examining his fantastic images.

We, my wife and I, arrived at the meeting location at 11:45hrs, 15 minutes early, I’d rather be early than late. We were greeted by a pretty lady who guided us into a car park before showing us into a hall where a cup of coffee and a huge slice of cake was waiting for us. It was a moist sponge with cream on top and strawberry jam on top of that, really delicious. Whilst eating and drinking we registered our name and had a look at some brand new photography equipment that was there for us to view. This included Canon cameras, including the new Canon 5D mk iv and the Canon 1Dx mk ii (I still wants it my precious), tripods from Manfrotto and Gitzo and filters from Lee filters. There was also a stand with HDbook, a photo book that Canon do using some fantastic paper. You can download the software, make up the book using your images and words, send the information to Canon and they will make up the book and send the finished article to you. If you go through to the Park Cameras website they are having an offer at the moment . There were staff from CPS on these stands to help you with any questions. When everybody had arrived we were ushered to another hall, passing the few cakes that were left (I should have had another one, did I tell you how good it was?), where we took a seat and waited for David to begin his talk. Before his talk started we were given a brief introduction to what the day entails by another pretty lady (this must be a requisite to work for Canon). After this David spoke and gave a digital slide show, for about 45 minutes, about landscape photography. If anybody does not get inspired for landscape photography after seeing his work then there must be something wrong with them. Photography is all about capturing the “decisive moment”, well with landscape photography you set the camera and tripod up choosing the composition you want but the “decisive moment” is when the light in the scene is just right. Wildlife photographers do not have this choice about light because the “decisive moment” is when the action happens. You can go out for sunrise and just after in the morning or late in the afternoon just before sunset to get good light and if it happens in then great, but if it does not, as is so often the case, then c'est la vie (my goodness, writing French in my blog, I am expanding my language skills). Landscape photographers can wait for hours or days to get the right light and David is no different. He waits for ages and is rewarded by recording and producing fantastic images. During a chat with him I stated that I could not wait for hours to get the right light for a landscape photograph. He replied that he could not wait for hours in a hide waiting for wildlife to show a bit of action. We both laughed but it showed that we might both be photographers standing behind a camera and lens but we will only wait for our individual passions to be ignited before we press the shutter release.

After the talk we drove to the chosen “Landscape” location which was a few miles away. We then had some sandwiches and drinks before moving outside for the sunset shoot. Just before we moved outside we were given the chance to loan some Canon equipment from CPS, cameras or lenses to test during the sunset shoot. I borrowed a brand new 16 – 35mm f2.8 lens and found it a very nice lens to use. I already own a 17 – 40mm f4 lens which I like, but the f2.8 lens would be better for Astro photography. Other people borrowed other lenses including a 300mm f2,8 and cameras including the Canon 5D mk iv and 1Dx mk ii. I did have another look at the 1Dx mk ii but decided on a lens rather than a camera loan. This is the only thing I find a bit odd about these days. You get to try some really good equipment, maybe like it a lot, but you cannot buy anything on these days. I feel that Canon are missing out and they should strike while the iron is hot but there must be some “red tape” stopping them doing this. When the sun went down we wandered back into the building to get warm, hand back our loan equipment and have our second digital slide show with David talking about Astro photography. This is where I learnt about using the 300 rule in Astro photography. The 300 rule is to get still images of stars and not star trails, white dots (stars) rather than lines.

Once the talk was over we were given a very welcomed hot meal and a drink. When the meal was over we could get another loan, this time I borrowed a 24mm f1.4 lens, and we went outside to carry out some light painting and Astro photography.  We were given some basic settings for the light painting photography and each photographer had to adjust them to suit their camera. We then had a 40 minute session with Lara who informed us of when to press the shutter and how to set our focus using Live View. During the exposure she would walk along with a light bar creating some stunning light work. I enjoyed this, as it was a break from the norm, but I doubt if I will pursue it any further. My wife, on the other hand, will because it is her kind of thing.  

When we had had enough light painting we made our way to the Astro photography area. I have never tried Astro photography before but I have a few images in my head that I want to bring to fruition and they all involve Dartmoor locations and Astro photography. What is the 300 rule I hear you ask. Well you take the lens you intend to use for your Astro image, say a 17mm f4 lens. You divide 300 by 17 = 17.6 and this gives you your shutter speed in seconds, you can try 17 or 18 seconds to start with. Your aperture is f4 so your lens is wide open. Those two settings of the exposure triangle are your starting position but you still have to set your ISO. Start in the region of 6,400 and go up or down to suit. I varied my ISO settings, and was pleased with my results at an ISO of 3,200. There was some light bleed from other photographers, there were about 40 of us after all, and Swanage but I just wanted to “fiddle” around and then take this new gained information back to Dartmoor where the real images will be taken. The hardest thing was focusing the lens but David did the “Mannequin” challenge with a torch and all was fine.

The day finished about 21:30hrs but we left at 20:00hrs because we had a three hour drive ahead of us and I was at work the next day. (Always gets in the way doesn’t it). Overall it was a fantastic day, meeting David, borrowing, and using, new Canon equipment and gaining some new photography knowledge. If you have Canon equipment and are not currently a member of CPS then sign up and join, it’s free, if you live in Europe, and you will not be disappointed. Thank you very much CPS.

Back to Dartmoor.

I had a real scare this week. On Sunday 4th I took Murphy, my dog, and my binoculars out for a 3 mile walk on the moor. The wind was blowing so hard I could not get out of the car on the driver’s side so had to shuffle across and get out on the passengers side. I wrapped up well and started my walk. I could tell straight away that the binoculars I was carrying were going to be useless as there was no wildlife to be seen due to the very strong cold wind. The temperature, due to the wind chill, was well below freezing and I was the only person on the moor, well it was 7:30hrs on a Sunday morning, am I mad or what? During the walk I was getting slower and slower as the wind was so strong and my muscles in my legs getting stiffer and stiffer, even Murphy appeared to be struggling. Two thirds of the way round I just had to find shelter from the wind and try and warm up. I huddled up against a wall and put Murphy in my coat to share our bodily warmth. (I learnt that from a James Bond movie with Roger Moore but he had a beautiful Bond girl and I had Murphy, he’s beautiful but its not quite the same!) My hands were white even though I had fleece gloves on, my nose had a constant leak even though I had a fleece muff on. I was shivering, my eyes were struggling to focus and I can truly say that I was so cold that I think my body was shutting down. I stayed there for about 20 minutes rubbing my legs and arms to gain some heat from friction. I then moved off and went from shelter to shelter keeping mostly behind walls and out of the wind as much as possible. I got back to the car and switched the heater on. The “pins and needles” feeling I got whilst thawing out was excruciating as I have never experienced anything like that before. I can now understand why people die of hyperthermia because it would have been so easy to just to give up. Next time I will stick to the roads around my house as they have the high Devon banks either side.

As the weather was bright and sunny, but with very strong cold winds, my wife and I went to our nature reserve in the afternoon to carry on our work there. As the leaves are off the trees now we started coppicing them on the slope down to the river. Instead of cutting all the trees down to the ground I was cutting some, leaving about a metre to a metre and a half of trunk, in the hope that they would sprout and turn into bushes. I have several areas now where I have laid the branches on top of each other and this seems to be attracting insects which, in turn, attract birds. Robins, Blue tits, Great tits and Dunnocks are already using this new bounty.

On my way to work on Tuesday 6th I had to stop and view a hunting Barn Owl. I have not seen a Barn Owl around my area for a few months and find these birds totally mesmerising. It was hunting over the moor not far from Tavistock golf course. I kept my car sidelights on, facing the road, but switched off my engine to reduce the noise. It was still dark but I could just pick out the bird, with its white plumage, to my right. I could have used my torch to light it up but this ruins the bird's night vision and that can last for up to an hour so no matter how tempting it is, do not do this. This might be the only successful hunt it has all night and I did not want to ruin its chances. It did make a dive to the ground and then after a few seconds it flew off and landed in a tree. I could not see if it had caught anything but the actions it carried out would suggest that it did. With this conclusion I carried on to work thinking that I might go back later in the afternoon, an hour before sunset, with my camera. I did this for a couple of afternoons but the bird did not appear.

I went out early on Saturday 10th and sat in my single chair hide for three hours staring at a grey wall. This wall was not built of bricks or blocks but of fog which did not shift all day. This day must go down in history as one of the dullest on record. I’m sure that a single candle light would have been brighter. I don’t mind spending hours in a hide waiting for wildlife to appear but on this occasion I did not see or hear anything throughout my vigil. After three hours it started to rain, you know the very fine stuff that you think is alright but you get totally soaked, so with this I packed up and went home.

Today, Sunday 11th, I went out early with Murphy and walked up to the top of Pew tor on Dartmoor and waited for the sun to rise. I was sat on a large rock of granite and Murphy was sat on my lap. We were joined by several crows, a magpie, 5 buzzards but no other humans. The crows and the magpie were quite content to sit on the surrounding rocks but the buzzards kept on flying from grassed area to grassed area picking up grubs and worms. This tor has a really great outlook when the weather is favourable as it is today. When the sun rose to my right I could see the Staple tors haloed by pink clouds. Moving on round I could see the church sat on top of Brent tor. Behind Pew tor, in the valley, is the town of Tavistock. Well I think it is there because, apart from a church tower, I cannot see it due to the low lying valley mist. Beyond Tavistock I can see Cornwall. Further round to my left I can just make out the Tamar river and the road and rail bridge crossing it. Beyond that is the open sea and to the left Plymouth. The light and conditions were to die for if you were a landscape photographer. I really should take more landscape photographs. I put some of the effort in like getting up and out early enough and I know, and I am surrounded by, lots of great dramatic locations. Its just I know I would kick myself if I came out with only my landscape gear and witnessed some great wildlife action. Before you say it, NO I am not taking both, unless you want to carry it for me.

If you are still looking for a Christmas present or a birthday present for a loved one or treating yourself remember that I have now started photography workshops. If you want a workshop on photographing Wildlife including Birds and Red Deer, Post Processing in Lightroom or Photoshop or Basic Digital photography including Camera Settings and field craft skills then i'm your man. For more information please click on the workshops tab at the top of this page or if you want a specific photography workshop then contact me using the comment link at the top, under the title, or at the very bottom of this website page and I will try and accommodate your wishes.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Astro photography Brent tor British wildlife centre CPS Canon Canon Ambassador Canon Professional Services Canon equipment Canon lenses Canon professional cameras Canon semi-professional cameras Cornwall Danny Green Dartmoor David Noton Experience day Gold member Happy New Year James Bond movie Landscape and Travel photographer Landscape photography Light painting photography London Fashion week Mannequin challenge Merry Christmas Park Cameras Pew tor Platinum member Roger Moore Silver member Swanage in Dorset England Tavistock Tavistock golf course Wildlife photographers beautiful Bond girl decisive moment how to set our focus using Live View hunting Barn Owl landscape photograph news letter photographical knowledge photography photography workshop photography workshops top quality priority repairs waiting for wildlife workshop on photographing wildlife Sun, 11 Dec 2016 12:14:28 GMT
Stoats, Slapton Ley NNR, Cirl Buntings and Turning a Photography Hobby into a Career Greetings from Dartmoor

Whilst at work this week, week ending 5th November, I had to instruct on a practical lesson so I took the class outside. We were situated in an open area about 80 meters opposite a gate to a field. During the lesson we all heard a loud scream coming from the other side of the gate. We looked at the gate and suddenly a large rabbit ran under it coming towards us followed closely behind by a small stoat mustela erminea, larger than a weasel mustela but smaller than an adult stoat. The stoat kept on jumping on the rabbit’s back biting the back of the rabbit’s neck. The rabbit would roll over, the stoat would fall off and the rabbit would run and the chase would begin again. You could tell the rabbit had a problem running away because it would stop every now and then letting the stoat catch up; the thought was in my mind that it was suffering from myxomatosis, a horrible disease that never seems to go away. Again and again the stoat would bite the rabbit’s neck and the rabbit would scream out. This scream alerted a magpie which came over to investigate. Once the stoat had killed the rabbit, about 40 meters away from us, it sat back catching its breath. This gave the magpie time for a closer look and the stoat then started attacking the magpie. It got close but the magpie would fly off just in time. Once it had got its breath back and because of the constant harassment of the magpie, the stoat decided it would drag the rabbit into the tall grass. The magpie sat on the fence watching the stoat really struggle with the rabbit. I walked over to give it a hand and put the rabbit nearer the tall grass, the myxomatosis was confirmed. The stoat took a few paces away from me and watched. As soon as I walked away it returned and dragged it about a meter into the grass, out of our view. We knew where it was because the magpie was still watching it whilst sitting on the fence. I can really agree with Chris Packham’s view of these tenacious creatures, they are fantastic. Where was my camera? Sat at home because I was at work, what a missed opportunity but I will always treasure the memory.

On the Friday I went, with my camera, to the area where I had seen all the Redwings, Fieldfare and Ring Ouzels and stayed for about 5 hours. There are now more fieldfare, more than 200, in this area than redwings, about 50, and no sight of the ring ouzel. I will return to try and get photos of this bird early next year when they return. A Greater Grey Backed Shrike and Crossbills have been sighted in this area, so I went to look for them. I located the crossbills, about 20 of them, in the tall fir trees sitting right at the top. Although you could tell they were crossbills by binoculars and the sound I did not get any photos because I did not like the image it would have given, looking up at a bird in a tall tree. There are smaller trees around so I waited for them to move to a better photographic position. After a few minutes they did move, but only to fly away to a more inaccessible, for me, area of the wood.


Once again I was at work during the week, week ending 12th November, and I had to take a similar practical lesson as last week so I used the same area. When I checked out the area to see if it was alright I noticed a stoat going in and out of holes on a small mound of earth. I wondered if it was the same stoat as last week because it looked about the same size. As time was pressing I had to move on and left the stoat to its own devices. The area was ok so I called up the students for them to attend the location. Whilst waiting for them I saw another rabbit being attacked by a stoat. This stoat was much larger than the one I had previously seen. This was happening about 30 metres from me. This time the rabbit was giving as good as it got, oh for a camera, but in the end the stoat killed its prey. The stoat started dragging the rabbit towards a disused building when the students arrived. I pointed to the “action” and nearly all of them got their mobile phones out and started filming it, oh for a mobile phone with a camera! THREE sightings of stoats in a week and two kills, what memories, but no photos.


On Friday 11th I went to the National Nature Reserve at Slapton Ley near Kingsbridge in Devon. It is the largest natural freshwater lake in south west England. There are several viewing platforms and a couple of bird hides one of which is reasonable for photography either at the beginning or end of the day, which is unusual as I find most bird hides are built for birders rather than photographers. There are a lot of different habitats here including: - the Ley (lake), reeds, wet meadow, hazel coppice, the beach and farmland all looked after for nature. There is a family of Otters here, Reed warblers, Great Crested Grebes, Hazel Dormice and most importantly Cirl Buntings which were nearly wiped out by the 1960’s because farming practice had changed. Farmers started sowing for cereal crops in autumn which meant the cirl buntings, which fed on the dropped seed on stubble fields, had no food over the winter. Along with this the increased use of herbicides and destruction of hedges they used for nesting amplified the cirls downfall. Because there were only about 100 pairs left in Devon in 1989 the RSPB launched the Cirl Bunting Recovery Programme with the help of DEFRA. This recovery programme included subsidies to farmers to leave standing stubble fields over winter, leaving bigger field margins and the restoration of hedgerows. Doing this helped boost the cirl buntings to nearly 1,000 pairs in 2015. During my 2 hour walk around this nature reserve I never spotted any cirl buntings or otters but the area shows a lot of promise and I will be back. Slapton Ley also has a field centre which runs free events and courses for individuals and schools for more information visit or or telephone 01548580685. Upon leaving at 3:15pm, driving out of the village towards Kingsbridge, I had the glorious sight of a Tawny Owl flying in front of my car. I presumed it was a female because it was the largest tawny owl I have ever seen and females are larger than males. My camera was on the front seat but I was driving, albeit slowly, at time and did not get the chance to get a photo.

Week ending the 19th I was again taking a practical lesson in the same area. This time I took my camera and my wife’s 400mm f5.6 lens so that I could go out during my lunch break. Three quarters of an hour sat in the car with high hopes and I was really chancing my arm a bit doing this with wildlife involved but nothing ventured, nothing gained and nothing was gained, not even a sighting of rabbit.

On Sunday I went to Venford reservoir and saw 8 goosanders 2 males and 6 females. They were swimming around the edge of the water. I tried to approach them each time they dived to get closer for a photograph but they seemed to know what I was up to and 7 would dive leaving one on guard duty.

On Friday 18th instead of going for a walk on the moor I decided to go for a walk with Murphy along the river. Whenever I walk along the river, especially early in the morning, I am always hoping to see 5 “bits” of wildlife: 1) An Otter on its last hunt of the night. 2) A Fox because nobody else is around. 3) A Dipper. 4) A Kingfisher and 5) A Grey Wagtail. I have seen 4 out of the 5 and the one I haven’t is the grey wagtail so maybe it gets up later than the others. When I arrived at my normal parking area I noticed that quite a bit of the vegetation and hedge had been cut down and I had no obstructions hiding my view of the swollen river Tavy. I say swollen because it has been raining for the last couple of days (well Dartmoor had to get some sometime). It’s surprising how quickly the river rises with just a couple of days of rain. The good news was it was not raining when I got out of the car; it was snowing, but not laying! What with the hedge, vegetation and the lack of the leaves in the trees, I was amazed with the amount of light getting through to the river; it would be a good time to photograph wildlife on it. On this occasion I saw a dipper quite early on a boulder that was just breaking the surface of the water in the middle of the river.


I quite often see dippers in the same feeding areas and this helps a great deal when trying to photograph them. I take notes using my Dictaphone and return to the same position at a later date with my camera. To us the river looks the same but to wildlife it must have hotspots for food and is better at different times of the day and year. If you think about it fish like to stay in different parts of the river mainly because their food is nearby or they have learned that if they stay in a certain position food will come to them. Years ago, when I used to go beach fishing, I noticed this with Bass hiding under a jetty near Southampton in Hampshire. They would gather under there and food would be delivered to them by the outgoing and incoming tide. During slack water the area would be clear, they are not as silly as people think.

Turning professional

If you do wildlife photography as a hobby and are good at it, because other people have said so or you have won a big competition or two, then at some stage I bet you have thought about turning your hobby into a profession. In life everything thing you do is give and take, in other words whatever you take in life you need to give something for it and wildlife photography is no different. Turning pro can be great because you are turning what you love doing as a hobby into a career and hopefully making money out of it. Before you even think about it you need to have a lot of passion, respect and knowledge about wildlife which will improve your photography and other areas of being a professional. You will need a big portfolio with lots of very good photographs of wildlife. You will also need very good camera equipment that can cope with the stresses and strains of being used every day. At present you might take 10,000 to 20,000 images a year but professionals can take up to 300,000 images in a year. For wildlife photography you will need the top of the range camera. For landscapes it could be the next level down but you will not get away by using the lower end cameras. All professional photographers will state that you do not need a very expensive camera to take a good photo and they are right. But then why do they have one? This is for several reasons which include: - professional cameras are more solidly built to take knocks from being used everyday, they can take more images because the shutter mechanism will last longer, there are more “bells and whistles” on the camera (this is to help speed up changing the settings to take a photograph quicker), the sensor is full frame, better high ISO performance, better waterproofing, faster frame rate etc. You get what you pay for in this game. Your lenses will also have to be really good ones and be sharp. We all enjoy doing something we love but is becoming a professional wildlife photographer all it’s cracked up to be with going to lots of great places, taking photographs all day and getting outstanding shots of wildlife to sell. The down side of talking all those images is that at some stage you will have to find time to look at, and process, them. Let’s face it wildlife photography is not for everyone because to be good at it you have got to be a bit selfish and put everything else on the back burner. This includes your home life, your family, your friends and your pets. Wildlife photography takes up a lot of time and you have got to put the time in to get the rewards. (visit ). I have taken thousands of wildlife photos but I regard my best images are the ones where I took images of really good action and this was as a result of a lot of time spent out in the field waiting, studying my subjects and getting to learn when action is about to happen. (Visit and ) I took these images when I had a lot of spare time. My house was decorated up to my wife’s standard and we did not have a dog. Now don’t get me we all love our dogs to bits but three walks a day, playing ring and ball all take time, at least three hours a day, and this time could be spent out in the field with your camera. It’s these kind of things that you might have to give up at the start of turning professional. The images I took are the more exciting images that people like because nowadays, with digital photography, people with only a little photography knowhow can take “basic” wildlife images. Therefore you will constantly need to take first class “different” or creative images that nobody else has taken to do well as a pro. Apart from having to spend a lot of time out in the field and traveling to get the photos, wildlife photos are extremely hard to sell because people are more interested in having a landscape image on their wall than an image of wildlife. So if it’s hard selling wildlife images you have a dilemma. You can either change your subject, to landscapes for example to broaden your photography, or you can diversify into other areas that are enhanced by your wildlife photography and knowledge.

These areas could include: -

Writing a book and using your photos to illustrate it. You could also do a photo book.

Writing articles for magazines and using your photos to illustrate them. This involves quite a lot of work contacting the magazines, finding out who you have to speak and send your work to and finding out exactly what they want or require for future magazines. This is a great way of getting your work noticed by lots of other people, the readers.

Selling your photos to magazines is similar to above but no written article. Only send in your best work. The trouble with this is that there are a lot of people out there “giving” their work away for nothing, just because they want to see their photos in magazines. They do not realise the damage they are doing to the photography industry. By doing this, magazine companies are getting images for free and some would rather use a bad free image than pay for a good image. Also, there are a lot of very good “amateur” (no disrespect intended) photographers out there who take excellent images of wildlife and they do not have to make a living from photography. Because there are so many they will always be in the right place at the right time to get that special shot. (weasel on the woodpecker springs to mind)

You can hire yourself out to clubs as a wildlife photography speaker showing your images. This could include a stall to sell some of your photos, books etc. I know a few photographers do this for no fee at all as long as they are allowed a stall and get to keep all the sales from it. To do this you need a lot of confidence in yourself to be able to stand up in front of an audience and talk about your subject. This is harder than you think especially if it is a big audience or people you do not know. I’ve seen a few speakers just dry up and lose their audience. It’s not a case of just learning some lines because you also have to learn to ad lib and be able to answer most of the questions put to you. One big “no no” is to pretend you know the answer to a question when you do not know it. The person, or someone else, in the audience might know the real answer and if you get it wrong then your creditability will be shot.

You can join a web-based stock photography company, like Alamy, Shutterstock, etc., and let them sell your images albeit for a fee. This used to be a very good way of making money but because of people giving their images away for nothing it has crashed and some images can be sold for as little as 50p but, something is better than nothing. To do this you will need a very good portfolio and once accepted you will need to keep supplying them with very good high quality images.

You have to learn to promote yourself. You need to get your name out there so you have got to advertise, win competitions, get your photos noticed etc. Participating in competitions, winning competitions, getting awards and letters after your name are very good ways of promoting yourself.

You have to utilise all of today’s social media to build a following. Doing this takes time because you have to upload quite a few times a week to build up your followers. You also have to learn how to really work these apps to get the best out of them. 

You can instruct on and take photography workshops. With these you really need to be very knowledgeable on photography, the wildlife and the area you are carrying out the workshop and all this takes time. Again your people skills need to be really good as it is not just about talking to and dealing with people that is required but you also have to learn about reading peoples body language. There are a lot of people that are afraid to ask a question in case they look silly but by reading their body language, non verbal communications (NVC’s), you will notice that something is wrong and you can step in and clear up the ambiguity. This will make them feel good, help with their photography and maybe they will end up booking another workshop with you.

You can lead wildlife photographic tours. (As photography workshops) These could be with other big companies that take photographers abroad. This kind of thing will come later on in your photography career.

You can hire out photography hides. These hides must be your own and not public hides. If you take someone to a public hide to photograph wildlife word will get around, your creditability will drop and this source or revenue will dry up because they will think why did I “pay” to use this hide when I could do it for nothing.

As you can see there is a lot to do and this does not include running your photography as a business and all what that entails. You will need a business frame of mind and it would be well worth enrolling in a business class in your local college. This aspect of the roll puts quite a lot of people off. Once you are a professional it is not all about taking great pictures because you like photography. It becomes a chore because you need enough money to pay the bills, the mortgage etc. You have to earn enough money to pay for all the expenses such as equipment, printing, travel, lodging, etc. and then make a living.

So with all the above to consider I think you should stay as an amateur wildlife photographer and do it alongside your job. That way you have some money coming in and are not just relying on your photography. If possible, try and get a job that brings you as close as possible to wildlife. Not only to spend as much time as possible with wildlife, but also to be able to learn about it. You would be surprised how many jobs are available for outside workers. I am not suggesting that you take photos whilst at work but you can build up your information about certain species and find out when it is best to photograph them when not at work.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog then please do not be afraid to leave me a comment by clicking on the link under the title or by leaving a comment in my guestbook ( ) Thank you.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Alamy Chris Packham Cirl Bunting Recovery Programme Cirl Buntings Crossbills DEFRA Dartmoor Devon Fieldfare Fox Greater Grey Backed Shrike Kingsbridge National Nature Reserve Otters Participating in competitions RSPB Redwings Ring Ouzels Selling your photos to magazines Shutterstock Slapton Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve Tawny Owl Turning professional Venford reservior Writing a book Writing articles bird hides camera camera equipment dipper full frame good photographs of wildlife images learn to promote yourself lens magpie photography photography workshops portfolio practicle lesson professional photographers professional wildlife photographer rabbit reading peoples body language river Tavy stoat web-based stock photography wildlife wildlife photography wildlife photography tours winning competitions Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:23:45 GMT
Red berry bonanza on Dartmoor Devon, Redwings, Waxwings, Ring Ouzels & holding the camera Greetings from Dartmoor in Devon England.

Whilst out walking on Dartmoor recently I have noticed that there is an abundance of red berries from Rowan trees and Hawthorn to the Cherry tree in my garden. This is after there seemed to be a bumper crop of Blackberries on the moor this year, very nice with a bit of apple, some pastry and custard. There used to be an old wives tale that when there was a bumper crop of berries in autumn then it was going to be a hard winter. This I know to be false because I have witnessed a bumper crop several times but the “hard” winter never materialised.  We do not get really cold winters nowadays like we used to when I was a kid, well not in the south of this country, of course up north, might be a different story. When we do get snow it seems to disappear within a day or so therefore you have to get up and at them quite quickly to get and images with snow.  All this fruit has enticed the wildlife to get out and gorge on it. There are already quite a few Redwings around consuming their fair share and I’m surprised not to see any Fieldfare with them which usually happens.


Redwing Turdus iliacus are a member of the thrush family. There are only a few resident Redwings in the country in a few odd patches but migrants arrive in abundance in Scotland during late summer and move down south in early winter. They rarely visit gardens preferring to stick to hedgerows and fields in the countryside. If you have trees and bushes with red berries in the countryside near you then at some stage you will get Redwings. There are other birds that like red berries: - Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Fieldfare and Waxwings being the main ones but quite a few smaller birds will be tempted by the bounty. The birds in the list above that, I would think, people would most like to see are Waxwings Bombycilidae.


These beautiful birds arrive in the eastern part of the country during October but will spread westwards to find food if it’s too cold for them there. This is a very rare bird in the west of this country and with me living on Dartmoor (can I be further west!) it will have to be a very cold winter for me to see them but I will keep my fingers crossed.

The other day I asked a friend of mine at my camera club if he knew where a certain bird was and he told me but the information he gave was very vague. This is up to him to tell or not, please read for more about this. He gave me the general area but now it was up to me to do some research to actually find this bird that I was after. After visiting several internet sites, reading up about this bird in my books, examining maps and looking on Google earth (wildlife photography is not just having a camera with a big lens and taking photos, that’s the easy bit) I had a very good idea of where to go to look for it. The information I collected was that this bird can be found in upland areas, they like to live in steep sided valleys and crags and there are just over 6,000 pairs that breed in this country but migrants do come from Europe to breed. I went to reconnoitre the area with my binoculars and Murphy, my dog. It took me a few hours of searching, Murphy didn’t mind, but I finally located one. During my search I had viewed several Whinchats, Robins, Chaffinches, Goldcrests, Warblers, Dunnocks, Buzzards and a Kestrel. Once I had spotted the one I then spotted three more of them, three adults and one juvenile, all munching away on the red berries of a rowan tree. They were accompanied by about 30 redwings and a couple of Blackbirds which made my job a bit harder as blackbirds and the bird I was after look very similar. The bird I am talking about is the Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus. It is slightly smaller than a blackbird, has a white breastplate and their beak is not as yellow as a male blackbird. As I have now located them I will be back with my camera to hopefully get some images but I will have to be careful because, due to its rapid decline, like a lot of birds in the world, 58% since 1991, it is on the Red list of conservation.

On Friday 21st I went back to the Ring Ouzel location and found that they were still there. Several internet bird sites, including the RSPB, stated that migrant Ring Ouzels will leave this country in September and return to breed about April. As it is the middle of October these either reside on Dartmoor all year long or are late leaving because once again Dartmoor is having fantastic weather. Even though I am glad, because of my photography, I do not understand why so few people come to Dartmoor after the middle of September. The weather, since we moved here 3 years ago, has been better during September, October and November than in July and August. But I digress. The redwings have increased in numbers up to about 150 birds and now there are about 20 Fieldfare with them. The ring ouzels were still playing hard to get photography wise. I set myself up in a single man chair hide sited so that I could get one complete Rowan tree and about a third of the one behind it but the birds kept on perching in the second tree right behind the first one so they were covered in foliage. I stayed until about 1pm but the whole stay was very frustrating with one thing or another going wrong. If it was not the birds being hidden then it was the weather. These birds are in a crag and sunlight only reaches half of it. I have to sit in the shaded part but, because of the heat of the sun and the coolness of the shade within the crag, my lens keeps misting up which dulls the images. So a lot of the time was just spent watching wildlife rather than photographing it. Throughout the morning I saw Redwings, Fieldfare, Ring Ouzels, Chaffinch, Robin, Goldcrests, Bullfinches, Willow Warblers, Blackbirds, Wrens, Crows and Stonechats.

On Saturday I returned to carry on my Ring Ouzel mission. I got there extra early to get in a higher position so that I could be level with the top of the Rowan trees they normally perch in. To achieve this I did not bring my hide I just dressed in camouflaged clothing and had my camera gear on a monopod instead of a tripod which I had the day before. The ground was covered in frost so I placed my waterproof Linpix mat on the floor, placed a foam pad on top and settled myself in for sunrise. Even though there was no moon it was surprising how quick your eyes get accustomed to the low light and can see quite a bit. This helped as I saw Mr Fox trot by about 20 metres below me. He must have caught my scent as just after he went by my location, he stopped and looked directly at me. I had a bush to the rear of me and I did not move so he then carried on trotting along without a care in the world. When sunrise started there was a thin bright orange line on the rim on the opposite side. This line got larger and larger the more the sun rose and it was a fantastic sight one which I never tire of seeing. I don't think I could live in the part of this world that does not see the sun for a few months due to them being so far north or south. When the light reached the tops of the Rowan trees I witnessed another sight that I have never seen before. The Redwing numbers had increased again overnight to nearly 400 and they were flying in from everywhere some only just missing my head, the noise was also incredible. I could not see any Fieldfare with this first wave but later on they also arrived but still only about 20 in number. I took several pictures because the sunlight on the bushes behind the Rowan trees looked as though they were on fire. The trouble is there is still too much foliage to get good clear shots of the birds. One Ring Ouzel showed but went straight into the middle of a leaf covered tree.

Ring OuzelRing OuzelRing Ouzel

At about 9:30am a thick fog started to come down and once again my lens started to mist up. As I had quite a few jobs to do at home I decided to pack up but I will return until I get a decent photo of a Ring Ouzel.

On my way back to the car I passed several walkers just starting out on their walk. One woman came over and asked me if I was Simon King!  I replied no I am Robin Stanbridge and she replied oh! Sorry I don’t know you. My thought was well you don’t know Simon King either. Now I know I was in camouflage clothing with a monopod and a camera and a big lens over my shoulder but do I honestly look like Simon King? Does Simon King have a moustache? Does he have my worry lines? There are only a few things that I have in common with Simon and they are that we are both human males, we both love wildlife and photographing it and that, I think, is it. He is better looking, has a better job, is younger, has more money, bigger house, spends more time photographing wildlife etc. etc. etc. Simon King I wish. Am I envious of Simon, of course I am because he gets to spend more time photographing wildlife than I do. I wonder if Simon has ever had someone go up to him and asked if he was Robin Stanbridge, NO, didn’t think so.

So far I have “planted” 15 sticks along the river Tavy, in photographical locations, in the hope that Kingfishers start using them to fish from. So far I have only seen kingfishers flying along the river and when they land it is either high up in the trees or in very inaccessible, photography wise, bushes.


The part of the river Tavy you can walk along is mostly very dark due to trees and bushes growing along the river bank so the areas I have “planted” the sticks are in a reasonable light area with light coming from the morning and in the afternoon for front light and back light of the subject.

Holding a camera and lens steady is one of the first things people should learn because it is the most common cause of blurred images, in other words, camera shake.  The longer the lens, the more likely you are to suffer from this problem. The way you hold your camera and lens, the basics, could reduce this. Using your third, fourth and fifth fingers on your right hand you should be gripping the right side of your camera’s body and your left hand should be cupping, about 2/3rds along, the underneath of your lens. Remember 2/3rds along so the longer the telephoto lens is, the further out your hand should be. You should stand with your feet shoulder width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other and keep your elbows in close to your body. Your body moves because you breathe so you have to pick the part of the breathing cycle when you are as motionless as you can be to press the shutter release. A complete breathing cycle takes about 7 seconds from breathing in to breathing out. Breathe normally and after you have breathed out, exhaled, hold your breath, then and only then, press the shutter release button. When I say press the shutter release button it is more of a roll of your fingertip then a press, go gentle rather than stab at it. Another rough guide to reduce camera shake is that while using the basics your shutter speed should always be above the focal length of the lens you are using. In other words if you are using a 500mm lens, then the shutter speed should be 1/500th of a second or more. Most lenses nowadays have some sort of image stabilisation or vibration reduction on them to assist in reducing this problem but remember the basics and still only press the shutter release when you have breathed out. Other ways of reducing camera shake is by using aids like tripods, monopods, bean bags, trees to lean on, walls to lean on etc. The trouble is that when people use these aids they forget the basics, these aids are only an addition to using the basics. If your camera is on a tripod then try using a cable release if you can or your camera’s self-timer. If you can’t because you are photographing wildlife or if you are using a monopod, or a bean bag, then all that these aids are doing is taking the weight of your camera gear. To get sharper images with these aids then, you still have to apply the basics but just alter the position of your left hand. Instead of placing your left hand underneath your lens, to hold it up, rest it on top of your lens and apply a very little bit of force in a downward direction.  An alternative method when using a monopod is keeping to the basics with your left hand underneath the lens and let the monopod take most of the weight of your camera gear. Either method steadies the movement of the lens and camera. Good hunting (with a camera).

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Blackberries Blackbird Bullfinches Buzzards Chaffinches Cherry tree Crows Dartmoor Dunnocks Fieldfare Goldcrests Google earth Hawthorn Holding a camera Kestrel Kingfishers Linpix Mistle Thrush RSPB Red list of conservation Redwings Ring Ouzel Ring Ouzels Robins Rowan trees Scotland Simon King Song Thrush Stonechats Warblers Waxwings Willow Warblers Winchats Wrens bean bag bean bags berries in autumn blackbirds camera camera club camera gear camera shake camera's self timer camouflaged clothing cause of blurred images focal length of lens get sharper images hard winter monopod moor photographical locations photographing photographing wildlife photography red berries redwings river Tavy rough guide rowan tree single man chair hide tripods walking on Dartmoor watching wildlife ways of reducing camera shake wildlife wildlife photography Fri, 28 Oct 2016 10:51:38 GMT
Wildlife Photography Workshops, work on our Nature Reserve & Dust Spot prevention & removal Greetings from Dartmoor in Devon England.

If you go to my “Workshops” tab on my home page you will see that my photography workshops are growing as I have now included a Red Deer rut workshop. For more information please click on this link More photography workshops are being planned for beginners and intermediate photographers.

Red Deer StagRed Deer Stag

For the last few weeks the weather on Dartmoor has been a bit strange. I wake up in the morning and when I draw the curtains usually my view is looking across the valley to North Brentor church but for the past few weeks it has been thick fog, so thick you could not see the hedge across the road. Then about 9:30am it starts to clear and by 10:00am it is bright sunshine, blue skies with a few white fluffy clouds and this lasts for the rest of the day. This routine has been so regular that I even tell guests staying in our Acorn Lodge B&B not to worry because by 10:00am it will be sunny, and it is. They told me that I am better than the weatherperson on TV. The trouble is that there are two kinds of weatherperson on TV; the first being the old f**t in a suit with a bald head and the second is the sexy babe in a pretty dress, I wonder which one they think is me!!!!!!

I know I harp on about reconnoitring an area for wildlife and when you have an area you should keep going back to it regularly to see what the wildlife is up to. Well at the moment I have 4 very large areas on Dartmoor that I visit regularly and when I say regularly I mean every other day at the very least. I walk these areas sometimes with my camera, sometimes with just my binoculars and most of the time with my dog Murphy. Every time I go to these places I learn and see something that helps with my wildlife photography. One of the biggest things I have noticed is the coming and going of different bird species. In April and May these areas of Dartmoor are filled with Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Great Tits, Wrens, Cuckoos, Rooks, Crows, Jackdaws, Buzzards, Wheatears, Coal Tits, Pied Wagtails, Grey Wagtails, Dunnocks, Dippers, Herons, Magpies, Bullfinches, Kingfishers, Willow Warblers, various gulls, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Pigeons, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Robins, Stonechats, Blackbirds, Thrushes, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatches, Jays, Mistle Thrushes and  Yellowhammers. It's quite a list and is one of the reasons why I am having my "Wild Birds of Dartmoor" photography workshops at this time, for details please click on this link Then in June even more birds appeared, Wheatear numbers rise, Linnets appear albeit only in pairs, House Martins and Swallows. In July the odd Whinchat appeared, a couple of Pied Flycatchers and quite a few Spotted Flycatchers. The biggest increase was in Linnet numbers especially when they all joined together to give me one of this year’s prize spectacles .

In August, Dartmoor is alive with birds but it can be a real struggle to see them because of the amount of vegetation and because of the number of humans on the moor. Just recently Redstarts have appeared in great numbers along with even more Spotted Flycatchers. One rarity I spotted was a Snipe hidden in the bracken which flew off in its usual zigzagging manner after I accidently disturbed it. Even when they are in the open their camouflage is superb.


Can you see it?

On Friday 2nd September, my birthday, the weather was as I described above so instead of going on the moor I decided to go for a walk along the river Tavy. Due to the overnight rain and the heavy mist the valley was quite damp. The path along the river is quite meandering and at times it takes you into a wood and away from the river before returning back to it. Likewise it also takes you into the riverside before you have to climb back onto the path. During this “diversion” I slipped on a couple of boulders and all I can say is that it is a good job I have got a bit of “padding” on my rear end. Whilst walking towards our stretch of the river Tavy I stumbled upon a Dipper. I was above it looking down, and the water was so clear, I could see the dipper hunting for food underwater so I sat for a while to watch it. In these situations Murphy is so good as he just sits there quietly taking it all in. The dipper appeared to be catching quite a lot of food, rising to a boulder above the waterline to eat before returning underwater to look for more.

After a few minutes watching I carried on my walk. As I got nearer our stretch I heard a very familiar high pitched whistle and a bright blue flash of a Kingfisher flew up river. In moments like this it reminds me of the old cartoon of the Road Runner, beep beep whoosh. That bird was blue as well but at least the kingfisher hasn’t got Wile E Coyote chasing after him. That’s a few times I have seen a kingfisher on this river so I have placed several branches in good photography locations and now I hope that it stops by on some of them.


We are still inundated with juveniles of several species of birds in our garden. I have never seen so many Goldfinches and Chaffinches all in one place, it’s great to see. We had a rare visit from a pair of Stock Doves the other day which was also nice to see. They are similar in size and plumage to pigeons but have an iridescent bottle green collar on the back of their neck. For the past couple of weeks we have had a warbler in our garden. I have viewed it several times but because it keeps on the move all the time I still have not been able to get a photo of it or identify it.

As I am writing this section of my blog the Great North run is being shown on TV. I have had the pleasure, if that is the right word to use, to run in this race three times raising a few thousand pounds for charity. On each run I was accompanied by a very good friend of mine and my wife joined us on the third run. My first run was the hardest because at about the half way point I started suffering greatly from a pain in my calf. My mate asked if I wanted to stop but I said no you keep in front and I will tag along, I did not want him to stop or to lose all the sponsor money. He kept looking back at me every now and then and I kept waving him on. At the end of the race the runners get split into the two finishes, he went left and I went right. We regrouped afterwards and he helped me hobble back to the bed and breakfast where I immediately started some first aid on my calf. When we got the results they stated that I had beaten him by a couple of seconds which could not have been right as he was ahead of me. He was fuming at this and I will always feel bad about this because it was wrong and if not for him I would never have finished the race and collected the sponsor money. Sorry I digress.

I have restarted the work on our Nature Reserve. This involved felling several trees, a job I find very hard to do. Not physically but mentally because it goes against the grain (excuse the pun). I love trees but they needed to be felled for the greater good. Even though they were between 20 and 30 foot tall they were not in the best of health because they were “hidden” under the canopy of bigger trees. They only had a few leaves at the very top and they were stopping growth on the bigger trees. I examined these trees as much as I could for wildlife before they were felled. Once these trees were felled you could see a difference with the amount of light being let in. These are the only ones I am felling on the easy flat part of the wood. Now the real hard work begins as apart from a few hazel trees that need coppicing there are about 15 to 20 Holly trees that need chopping down. The holly trees are the ones that are really sapping the light in the wood.

Well, my Isle of Mull holiday is over and what a fantastic holiday it was. We, my wife and I, stayed in one place, on the edge of a loch, and our only trip out was to Finnaphort as we had not visited that part of the island. My main goal for this trip was to see a Golden Eagle and this was achieved within the first couple of days. After this I could not stop seeing them, including seeing four at one time circling above us. On another occasion we were viewing three just playing in the high wind when just to our right appeared a male Hen Harrier, the cherry on top of a very nice cake, but don’t tell any gamekeepers.

The reason we stayed in one place is because I wanted to do what a great Landscape / Travel photographer, David Noton, states what everybody should do when taking photographs. He states you should “Work the subject”. I take this to mean that after you have taken an image, move your camera a little bit, even into portrait position, and take more images, move a bit more and take a few more. Unlike what most people do which is take one photo and then drive onto the next location. When you do this you will be surprised by which image you prefer when you processed them back home. This work ethic does not just relate to Landscape photography it can work with any genre of photography. Think about a studio photographer, he or she takes lots of photos from all angles and the picks the best afterwards. This is a bit hard for wildlife photography because you are not in control of the subject so I adapted it and instead of working the subject, I worked the location. When I say location I worked a quarter of the edge of a loch and I feel it paid off.

I was trying to photograph Otters and I knew they frequent the loch we stayed at so I concentrated all my efforts on a certain part of this location and when I located them I worked the area even harder. I walked and drove up and down the loch hoping to see one. On one occasion I was walking along the loch and I spotted an otter, that’s the easy bit especially in calm water, eating its catch about 50 metres out from the shore. It appeared to be coming ashore so I knelt behind a large boulder waiting for it. After a while nothing happened so I stood up to have a look where it was. Just at that moment it jumped on a boulder a few meters away from me. I immediately dropped to my knees to get my camera, focus and take the shot. As I did this the otter scent marked the top of the boulder and jumped off. I did manage to get an image but it was one of its backside and tail as it jumped off.


So Close.

This was not going to put me off as I have bags of perseverance so as it was going up the loch I carried on walking in that direction. Soon I was joined by another wildlife photographer, Alan Heeley. As we walked along the loch I spotted it again catching more food. We made our way level to it and hid behind a boulder just in case it came on shore again; it didn’t so we walked on. We could not get in front of it because the wind direction would have been wrong so we tagged along slightly behind it. I then noticed that it was getting closer to the shore so once again we hid behind a boulder. I watched it as it got to the edge of the seaweed with a fish in its mouth. The seaweed on Mull is a brightly green/yellow/orange colour and contrasts well on the black boulders on the edge of the loch. The otter dived below the seaweed and as it did the several tiny fish jumped out of the water to keep away from the predator. It rose again a couple of feet from the shore but all you could see was its eyes and nose above the water, it reminded me of a crocodile. It looked around for danger and just at that moment a Robin started singing behind us, I really wanted to tell it to be quiet but maybe it helped calm the situation. As it stepped out of the water and started to eat the fish behind a small boulder, about 20 yards away, my heart started beating about 300 times a minute. I started some breathing exercises to calm myself, deep breath in and deep breath out. I wonder if Ross Hoddinott feels like this when he is taking an early morning walk around the Tamar lakes and he finds an award winning image just waiting to be photographed or David Noton when he finds a new landscape and the light he wants to photograph it in is just appearing, or any wildlife photographer when their subject appears? I could see it now and then and at times it shook the fish just like a dog with a rag so maybe it was a “dog” otter, (sorry, had to be said!) The otter started grooming itself behind the boulder and I was praying it would show itself. At one stage it went all quiet and we thought it had gone to sleep. Then all of a sudden it jumped up onto the largest boulder and looked around, machine gun fire went off as Alan and my camera’s motodrives went into action. It scent marked the top of the boulder whilst looking in our direction, jumped off and went back into the sea.


Got it.

Both Alan and I had the biggest grin on our faces that we could manage. I didn’t stop there and carried on working the location for the rest of the week with more great results.  

Dust spot removal

One of the biggest drawbacks with digital SLR photography is dust on your sensor. The bigger the sensors, full frame for instance, then the bigger the problem. The camera manufacturers have tried to help with this problem, like shaking the sensor when you switch the camera off, but in time dust will still stick to your sensor. You can do a few things to help lessen the amount of dust that gets on your sensor. The first is to switch off your camera before you change lenses. This stops your sensor being electrically charged and attracting the dust particles to it. The second is to always have a cover on the bayonet fixing of your lens and keep a lens attached to your camera. Third is to get everything ready so that the lens change can be made as quick as possible. Fourth, always have your camera bayonet opening pointing downwards whilst changing your lens. Fifth, try and protect your camera and lens by changing lenses in a less windy location or if this cannot be achieved then use a coat, something similar or your body as a shield. Sixth, think about what you are going to photograph and if possible change your lens at home before you go out to photograph your subject. Seventh, if you need to use two lenses all the time then think about buying another camera body, although this is a bit extreme.

In the end there is no getting around it and you will get dust on your sensor. When you do get dust spots on your sensor then the only way to get rid of them is to get the sensor cleaned. But if the dust spots are relatively small then you can remove them by using spot removal tools in software such as Lightroom or Photoshop. (This tip is for older versions of Lightroom – I am using 5.7, I do not know if it is similar in version 6.) Spotting, (excuse the pun), the spots can be a bit of a problem but there are a couple of ways Lightroom can help.

1, Increase the image in the Develop module to one to one. Then starting at the top, I always start at the top left because I read that way, work across the image, slowly to view it properly, getting to the other side before moving down half a screen and then moving back to the other side. I do this until I have viewed the whole image. When I discover a dust spot I remove it with the dust spot removal tool using the smallest radius possible.

one 2 oneone 2 one

Click on the 1:1 and the image will increase to help spot the dust spots.

2, Go down to the Detail tab in the Develop module. Hold down the Alt key on your computer, the screen will turn white, and move the amount slider very slowly and I have never gone above seven. Whilst doing this, view your image, and you will see the image turning black. Whilst it is turning black if you have any dust spots in your image these will remain as white blobs. Once you locate these spots then use the spot removal tool to eliminate them using number 1 method.

White ScreenWhite Screen

On a PC, hold down the Alt key and click on the Masking slider and the screen should turn white.

Dust spotsDust spots

Moving the Masking slider whilst holding the Alt key down will start turning the image black but show up the dust spots.

These two methods are great if the spots are in a “clear”, unoccupied, part of your image. If the spots are in an intricate part of your image then you need to remove these, if you can, by cloning them out in Photoshop.


Any comments are greatly appreciated, just click on the comments link above or below. Happy hunting (with a camera). 


(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Acorn Lodge B&B Dartmoor Dartmoor in Devon England David Noton Detail tab Develop module Dust spot removal Great North run Isle of Mull Isle of Mull holiday Landscape Travel photographer Landscape photography Lightroom North Brentor church Photoshop Red Deer rut workshop Ross Hoddinott Wild Birds of Dartmoor Workshops award winning image buying another camera body camera camera manufacturers camera's digital SLR photography dust on your sensor dust spot removal tool focus genre of photography image images landscape our Nature Reserve photograph photograph Otters photographers photography workshops protect your camera reconnoitring an area for wildlife river Tavy spot removal tool studio photographer taking photographs using spot removal tools waiting to be photographed wildlife wildlife photographer wildlife photography Fri, 07 Oct 2016 13:31:30 GMT
Wheatears on Dartmoor in Devon England, A New Wildlife Photography Venture & Special Offer During the last week or so, whilst walking Murphy I have been searching for a very beautifully coloured bird which seems to frequent the rocks on Dartmoor in Devon, England. They are a summer visitor, a little larger than a Robin, and they migrate here from their wintering grounds in Central Africa. The male is particularly pretty with the top of their head and shoulders being blue-grey, their wings being black and a light orange chest. It is striking with its black mask with a white outline across the front of its face. When in flight you will see its white rump and black tail as it flies away from you. Females are browner / buff coloured and juveniles are light brown with speckles. Their Latin name is Oenanthe oenanthe and they are part of the Chats family. I am of course talking about the Wheatear.


Earlier in the year they were in abundance on the moor, especially juveniles, and mostly where there is bare granite showing.

Juvenile WheatearJuvenile Wheatear

Recently I have only seen 2 adults and 4 juveniles so I can only assume that they have either moved on from this area of Dartmoor or they have started on their long journey back to Central Africa. I can’t wait to see them back next year in April / May.


For the past few weeks I have not done much wildlife photography which is really disappointing for me. Within those weeks I continued writing my wildlife photography blog and recently started posting photos in my blog. This entailed taking up more of my time with the post production of images and less time out and about with my camera. I also would like to start a new venture with my wildlife photography (see details below). Therefore I have decided to cut back on my wildlife photography blog and will only blog once a month from the beginning of September 2016. The blog will still be along the same lines as before which will include photography hints, tips and what has occurred in the previous month with my photography exploits and progress updates on wildlife at my nature reserve and on Dartmoor. This will probably mean that the blog will be longer and more detailed. I would like to thank everyone who has commented on my blogs, website and Facebook posts, your comments are most appreciated and I hope you will continue to let me know what you think of my photography work in the future.

If you have been reading my weekly blogs you will know that I am nearing retirement, it is now only 2 years away (Yee Ha!). Throughout my life I have been interested in photography from film, where I used to process my slides, to digital photography. During this time I have gained a vast amount of both technical and artistic information and knowledge, learning photography secrets from my own experiments and from professional photographers. Therefore I have decided to combine my hobby of wildlife photography, with my teaching abilities and will be tutoring on some wildlife photography workshops. So to put the wheels in motion I have decided to start a selection of wildlife photography workshops in the months of April and May 2017. Although I state that it is wildlife photography, as you can tell from my images, it will be mainly birds to begin with, but any kind of wildlife could put in an appearance during the workshops. The workshops will be held mostly within the Dartmoor National Park in Devon, England and will be for beginners and intermediate photographers who want to learn real wildlife photography. Within my wildlife photography workshop package I have tried to include as much as possible to help you learn and improve all the aspects of being a wildlife photographer from using your camera, through the picture taking process, to the end image and post production workflow. The beginners workshop will be a 3 day course as I will be teaching you how to use your camera and the intermediate’s workshop is 2 days. You can book extra days if you wish and this will allow me to take you to more locations.

Bed and Breakfast accommodation is included in the workshop price, staying in our spacious and highly regarded “Acorn Lodge” for details please go to . If you have photography or non-photography friends or family they can also join you, up to 3 extra people can stay in the lodge which sleeps 4 people in one double bedroom and one twin bedroom. (Please see prices below). Therefore the group size could be from a minimum of 1 to a maximum of 4 people. Only if there are 2 photographers, unknown to each other, enrolled on the same course will you have to share the lodge otherwise you will have the lodge to yourself.

Beginners Workshop – 3 nights

Check-in time to the accommodation will be 4pm with a Devonshire Cream Tea on arrival and the workshop will begin at 5pm with a “meet and greet”. We will discuss your wildlife photography needs and draw up an action plan for your workshop. The next day after a hearty breakfast you will receive tuition on your camera and photography in general, before going out on location for the rest of the day returning at approximately 5pm, depending on the light (packed lunch is included). The following day will start at sunrise when we will go out on location, returning later for breakfast. After breakfast we will go back out again returning at about 5pm, depending on the light (packed lunch is included). On the last day, after breakfast you will learn about the post processing workflow of digital photography until 12 noon. Finally, check-out from the accommodation will be at 1pm.

The workshop will consist of learning how to use your Camera, Lenses, Autofocus modes, ISO, Settings, Exposure modes, Metering, File types, Depth of field, White balance, Histogram etc.

How to use light including front, side and backlight to achieve different images.

Learning where wildlife can be found, reconnoitring an area for wildlife.

Types of hide and Camouflage and where to use them.

Taking the photo, Focus, Exposure compensation, Composition, Background etc.

Post production workflow using Lightroom and Photoshop.

Although I have stated the above please use it only a guide as the workshop can be adjusted and tailor-made to suit your individual needs.

The Special Introductory price for this workshop including tuition, accommodation, breakfasts, packed lunches and all excursions is £330

Extra nights are £110 per night.

There are several local Inns which serve excellent food for your evening meals (not included).

Intermediates Workshop – 2 nights

The workshop will be as the Beginners Workshop but emitting the camera learning part unless you need help in this area (If so, you may consider an extra night).

Although I have stated the above please use it only a guide as the workshop can be adjusted and tailor-made to suit your individual needs.

The Special Introductory price for this workshop including tuition, accommodation, breakfasts, packed lunches and all excursions is £220

Extra nights are £110 per night.

There are several local Inns which serve excellent food for your evening meals (not included).


You will need to provide your own camera equipment, preferably a DSLR with the longest lens you own. Any lens or a zoom from 400mm up to 600mm is ideal but a 300mm plus a converter will suffice. Please bring a waterproof cover for you camera and lens. You will also require a tripod or a monopod and spare memory cards.

Please bring the manual for your camera.

Clothing – Please bring appropriate clothing to keep you warm and dry. Preferably a waterproof camouflaged or muted dark coloured jacket, waterproof trousers or leggings, hat and waterproof boots.

Please bring your own laptop computer to view your images as although there is Wi-Fi in Acorn Lodge, for you to use, there are no computing facilities.

Prices for extra guests

A non-photographer guest is £49 per person per night including a Devonshire Cream Tea on arrival, accommodation and breakfast.

If any person would like to attend a wildlife photography workshop then please contact me using the link above or below this blog or, send an email to and specify dates preferred and whether you require a Beginners or Intermediate Workshop.

(Robin Stanbridge Photography) Acorn Lodge Autofocus modes Background Bed and Breakfast accommodation Beginners Workshop Camera Chats Composition DSLR Dartmoor Dartmoor National Park in Devon England Dartmoor in Devon England Depth of field Devon Devon England Devonshire England Exposure compensation Exposure modes Facebook posts File types Focus Histogram How to use light ISO Learning where wildlife can be found Lenses Metering Post production workflow using Lightroom and Photoshop Robin Settings Types of hide and Camouflage Wheatear White balance Wildlife photography blog backlight beginners beginners workshop birds blog blogs camera camera equipment converter digital photography how to use your camera images intermediate photographers intermediate's workshop laptop computer learn real wildlife photography learning photography secrets lens light memory cards monopod nature reserve photo photographers photography photography hints tips photography secrets photography workshop photos picture post processing workflow of digital photography post production of images post production workflow posting photos in my blog process my slides professional photographers reconnoitring an area for wildlife sunrise tripod tuition on your camera and photography using Lightroom and Photoshop using your camera waterproof cover for your camera and lens website weekly blogs wildlife wildlife photography wildlife photography workshop wildlife photography workshops workshops zoom Fri, 19 Aug 2016 13:25:47 GMT