Red berry bonanza on Dartmoor Devon, Redwings, Waxwings, Ring Ouzels & holding the camera

October 28, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

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.
 

RedwingRedwingRedwing
 

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.
 

WaxwingWaxwingWaxwing
 

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 http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2015/11/to-tell-or-not-to-tell-that-is-the-question 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! http://www.simonkingwildlife.com/  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.
 

KingfisherKingfisherKingfisher
 

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).
 


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