Dippers, Foxes, Frogs, Dartmoor views, Spring and Holding your camera for sharper photos

March 10, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

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.



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