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Since early April I have been looking and listening for Cuckoos on Dartmoor Devon. I saw one a couple of weeks ago being chased by two Meadow Pipits but no sight nor sound since then until Monday when I heard that familiar sound. Where did I hear it you ask, in the woodland on our nature reserve and outside our back door. Then on Wednesday whilst out walking the dog on Dartmoor with my wife I heard and saw a cuckoo.
I am really chuffed with our purchase of our nature reserve because the list of wildlife there is growing every time I go there. Apart from the cuckoo we have seen and heard a buzzard, it sits in a large beech tree calling away and the sound echoes through our wood. I have been reinstalling the wire fence above the wall on the lane side of the land. This is mainly to keep other people’s sheep out which would eat the vegetation which I am letting grow up to entice owls and raptors. The field is covered in colour with yellow, white, blue and purple jobbies everywhere. Yellow being the most dominant as there are buttercups, dandelions and lots of other yellow jobbies everywhere. There is also an abundance of ragged robin around the stone walls and bluebells in the wood. There are so many flowers that I will have to buy a book or an app for my IPad to find out what they are and then I will stop calling them jobbies. Likewise now the trees are in leaf I can find out what they are and if they are good for the reserve. A lot of the holly will have to be taken down along with some of the ivy as this will let in quite a bit of light on the ground floor. When the trees are in full leaf I will look around to see which ones are blocking too much light and mark them for coppicing in the winter. There are a few trees and branches hanging over the river Tavy that need taking out, but I will also lay some strategically placed branches just above the water for Kingfishers. Whilst sitting by our stretch of the river Tavy I have noticed that it is deeper than the stretch either side of ours. These stretches are full of rocks and boulders but ours is relatively clear. We have the fishing rights to this stretch which came when we bought the land and maybe the previous owner cleared it for fishing. This is good because there are a lot of fish in our stretch and is a possible reason that we see otter prints most times we visit. But it is also bad as there are no rocks for dippers or wagtails to rest on. I'll look at trying to move a couple of boulders into our stretch so that I might remedy this.
At home the house martins are back and have kicked out the sparrows which take over their nests each year prior to their return. I am going to make a couple of sparrow nest boxes so they have their own home. Sparrow boxes are different to other birds’ nests because they want several nests right next to each other rather than just one. They prefer a housing estate style rather than one house in the country! Throughout my married life I have moved eight times and this is the first time I have had sparrows in my garden so it is a great experience for me. On Saturday morning I drew back the lounge curtains at 5am and there sat in a tree eating the buds were a male and female bullfinch. I know they were causing damage to the tree but who cares they looked magnificent especially the male bullfinch with his bright pink chest and black head.
I went out with my camera early on Friday morning to get some flight shots of grey wagtails. Whilst walking to the area I check the river Dart to see if there were any dippers with no luck. It's strange but I saw a dipper twice in this area but when I take my camera, nothing. I have not seen the dipper for two months now but they could be anywhere along it. When I got to the spot where the grey wagtails are, I found four people in four tents just waking up to have breakfast. I greeted them good morning and settled on a boulder in the river which was just above the waterline. After about thirty minutes the grey wagtails appeared and started catching insects. Again, due to the bad light, I could not get a fast enough shutter speed. Even with an ISO of 1250 I could only get a shutter speed of 500th of a second, so I photographed them on rocks with insects in their beaks. The four campers behind me were being really cruel with the smell of bacon being cooked on an open fire, can you beat that smell? After a while a male mandarin duck swam by and hopped onto a small rock that was just protruding out of the water. What a fantastic coloured bird. I have taken photos of these ducks before but they were at a reserve and this was the first photos of a wild one. I was hoping he would do something so that I could get some sort of action photo but he just stood there looking majestic as if he was saying look at me can I be more beautiful. When it move on so did I as I was drooling over the bacon rolls that the campers were eating. I gave them a yearning look but they did not take the hint. I walked further onto the moor looking and listening for a pied flycatcher which I had seen previously. The good thing is that I heard and found it after about a ten minute walk; the bad thing was it was on the other side of the river. I waited for over two hours for it to get closer, taking a couple of record shots, but it never came across. The light then disappeared even more as it started to rain so I made my way back home.
If you are new to photography or are looking to improve or learn about photography then you might think about joining a camera club. First thing to know is that every club is different, some clubs are great, some are good and some leave a lot to be desired. You should attend a couple of meetings, which are usually free, to see if it's your kind of club and they suit your type of photography. Before you attend, research the club to see what they do, for you, and look at their current, and possibly past, programs to see the kind of speakers they hire also the kind of meetings they carry out. Some clubs have a good all round program that help beginners, intermediate and advanced photographers. Some clubs only concentrate on a certain level or type of photographer. Some want beginners but their program does not reflect this. I was informed once that this person took some photos, which he thought were good, to a club he wanted to join, for the president to examine and the president basically threw his photos in the bin stating that's where they belong, hearts and minds! This action knocked this photographer’s confidence and he was scared to join any club but even worse he stopped taking photos. I informed him to look at other clubs in the area and learn from this episode in other words get up, come back fighting and beat them. If you can, try and speak to some of the clubs members before you go or look at the membership list and see if the members have their own websites where you can see their photography. When you do go to a meeting speak to people and again see if it's your type of club. If nobody wants to speak to you then ask yourself if it's your type of club. Most clubs will welcome new members to boost their membership and to bring more money into the club but only you will know if it's the club for you, you have got to get something out of it. Sometimes you will have to join a club and stay a season before you know if it's right for you, I've had this a couple of times. A season normally lasts from September through to April but some clubs have social meetings during the “summer months”. These meetings could be just for a chat, to learn, to take photographs etc. A good club will have some speakers and some learning sessions during their meetings. Clubs usually have both internal and external photography competitions and this is where problems can arise. I don't mind one competition a month but some clubs have two and this seems overkill because they become so engrossed with competitions every other week that there is no time for “learning” and speakers which really help photographers. Some clubs have three leagues, beginners, intermediate and advanced, some two beginners and advanced and some only one league which does not help beginners especially if their images are being marked the same as advanced photographers. Some clubs have no league they just have separate individual competitions. During these competitions, or when the club’s committee asks for some, images will be picked for external competitions. Judges of all these competitions are as hated, by some, as much as football referees because everybody thinks they take fantastic photos and nobody likes their work slated. Judges should not slate an image they should give helpful advice stating where the photographer could improve their work. When I first plucked up the courage to enter one of the clubs competitions my two images were slated and I wanted to go and punch the judge on the nose. During a judges critique of the photos you have got to keep your comments to yourself unless the judge welcomes comments and has told you so prior to the start. I curtailed my anger and listened to what he had to say about mine and other peoples images. I did this during all the clubs competitions and moved on to critiquing other people’s images, to myself, and see what the judge says in his / her critique of the image. It was surprising how close I got to what the judge stated and is a great way to learn about club photography. The images can be marked out of ten, fifteen or twenty but the latest marking system is a “pointless system” which, I believe, is very frustrating especially for the beginner. On a pointless scoring system there is a first, second, third and highly commended but no other points are given only a critique. This means that the people without a score do not know how close they were to the top four and can't learn, on that aspect, from the competition. The only info they get is from the critique and if the judge is not good at this aspect then the entrants are left wanting. On one occasion a judge critiqued an image he wanted to see rather than the image he had in front of him! The trouble was the bird in the image never carried out the action the judge wanted and critiqued (a problem you get with a judge that knows nothing about wildlife photography) The bottom line to remember is that the critique is only “that judges view” of your image and every judge will be different. Proper Wildlife photography is a bit different to camera club photography because you cannot add things or take things out but with camera club photography you can, unless it states in the rules that you can’t. With competitions, learn to genuinely look at images and see what works and what doesn't and your photography will improve. Some people love camera clubs and some don't but if you find a good one then it is a great place to learn photography. Happy hunting (with a camera).